A competitive Christmas

First published on the Golf Monthly website on Thursday 21st December 2006

One significant trophy is still up for grabs in 2006. The competitors have spent a full year preparing and the coveted title is sure to be hotly contested.

Yesterday witnessed the staging of the premier event on this year’s golfing calendar. Forget the Ryder Cup, forget the Open Championship, you can even forget the Alliance Championship. This was the big one: “The St Andrews Christmas Quaich”.

Every year in the week before Christmas gallant competitors battle it out around the Old Course at St Andrews for this prestigious and celebrated trophy. The list of players whose names don’t appear on this glorious piece of silver is impressive: Watson, Nicklaus, Jones and Vardon, none have captured this magnificent golfing prize.

The elite field that lined up in freezing conditions outside the R&A clubhouse at 11am yesterday included 2005 champion and bookies’ favourite Mr Fergus Bisset. Also on the start sheet was Fergus’ principal rival, a steely competitor and the 2004 champion Mr David Bisset (dad). The other competitors for the Quaich were conspicuous by their absence. This was because only members of the Bisset family, plus their spouses and offspring, can win the competition. We’ve quite a small direct family so, since the Quaich’s inception in 2002, there have been only two competitors. My younger brother Roddy may well get the call up in 2007, but this year the match and handicap committee decided his handicap was still too high so he would have been far too likely to win.

2006 did, however, see the inaugural running of a secondary competition: “The St Andrews Christmas Plate”, an event open to all-comers (including Bissets). The other protagonists competing for this less esteemed but still revered title were Jim Murray and Stewart Davidson.

With the tension palpable and the nerve ends jangling we struck off towards the Swilken Burn. After a few uneventful holes I was the first to come to grief. A ball in the gorse to the right of the 4th led to a triple-bogey 7. Big Stu swiftly topped that with a 9 at the next. This remained the highest score of the day until Jim managed to rack up an impressive 12 at the 14th; it included one ball in a gorse bush and two out of bounds.

The contest for the Quaich was close for most of the round and the game was played in the best possible spirit. At no point did I wish any ill fortune to fall upon dad and I certainly didn’t feel a sense of relief when he carved one into the Old Course Hotel pond from the 17th tee. In the end I crossed the line as winner by a six-shot margin. Dad could console himself with the fact his performance was good enough to secure the Plate. Stewart, on his first outing around the Old, will be happy with runner’s up spot and will know for next time that going right is never good and the bunkers are to be avoided. Jim, despite an admirable third-place finish, will be keen to improve in the 2007 Christmas Plate.

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