OLD Thorns, Liphook celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Fuller’s County Sevens by becoming the first club to defend the Hampshire inter-club knockout competition since Rowlands Castle crowned their centenary celebrations by winning the trophy on home turf back in 2002.
And in seeing off a brave challenge from Guernsey’s La Grande Mare – like their fellow finalists, also bidding to become the 14th club to have won the trophy more than once in six decades – Old Thorns completed a remarkable hat-trick of appearances in the finals with some of the most dramatic scenes in the competition’s long history.
First, Matt Bonney, who last year produced a world-class chip on the 18th against Stoneham, survived a controversial ruling behind the 17th green at Meon Valley Golf & Country Club to snatch the winning point in the semi-finals – again against a desperately unlucky Stoneham team.
This time, it was Old Thorns captain Paul Martin who did a premature jig of delight as he watched his five-foot putt for par roll into the cup on the 18th to beat La Grande Mare’s Ross Bateman, who had recovered from a poor drive on the last to give himself a chance of a par from 20 feet, by one hole.
That gave the defending champions four points from the first five matches out on the course, leaving Richard Williams and Bonney to shake-hands with their Guernsey opponents.
Williams had lost on the 17th to Paul Cosnett, who won the hole to go three up, before news spread back down the fairway as their joyous team-mates jumped into the golf buggies to begin the celebrations.
Three of the first five matches reached the 18th green, with only La Grande Mare’s C J Elmy making light work of victory, beating Old Thorns 10-handicapper Roy Randall, going five up with three to play.
Ten-handicapper Robert Craig beat Wasif Annees, playing off 4, by two holes after the Channel Islander drove out of bounds on the last.
Then Old Thorns’ lowest handicapper, Chris Knowles (6) beat Louis Sheppard (9) 2&1.
Paul Gill (hcp 12) regained his composure at the 17th after slipping into the lake up to above his knees to take Wayne Harwood (8) down the 18th and hang on to his one-hole advantage.
Richard Williams (7) had been six down after nine against La Grande Mare’s Paul Cosnett (5), but battled back bravely before losing by three on the 17th.
Matt Bonney, trusted to bring his team home as he had been at Lee-on-Solent 12 months earlier, was one up in his match against the Guernsey club’s captain David Jeffrey as news arrived of the victory.
He promptly took on his approach over the water at the penultimate hole, and when that ended up in the drink, he shook on a half.
The morning drama also occurred on the 17th when Bonney’s approach went over the back of the green in his match with Andy Hickson.
The ball came to rest on some loose chippings beyond the white line marking the out of bounds. But when the Hampshire, Isle of Wight & Channel Islands Golf Union’s referees had inspected the course earlier in the week, there had been no line painted and the local rules stated that any ball resting on the tarmac was out of bounds.
As those rules had been circulated to all four semi-finalists in advance, Bonney was not only declared in bounds, but also given a free drop.
To rub salt into Stoneham’s wounds, he pitched to four feet to make his par to win the hole and go one up before claiming the last to make it 4-3 – a repeat scoreline of last year’s final.
Paul Martin said: “We had three players from last year’s final in Paul Gill, Robert Craig and Matt Bonney. I played in last year’s qualifying rounds, but missed the final. Three of the other four players from last year’s team were here to watch us defend the County Sevens, including Peter Skidmore, who has moved to Crawley.
“Peter still wanted to be part of the proceedings and caddied for Matt. I think that shows what a wonderful team spirit there is at Old Thorns.
“We have a comparatively small membership compared to many of the clubs we have played over the last three years getting to the finals.
“We beat Hayling 5-2 on their own course back in the first round, which was an amazing feat in itself as links golf is not what we are used to at all.
“After that, we had home draws against Paultons Park, Portsmouth and Bramshaw Manor in the quarter-finals.
“To win the Sevens in the 60th year when so few teams have successfully defended the title, makes our win even more satisfying.”
In the other semi-final, Ryde, who had ended Blackmoor’s hopes of winning the Sevens for the first time since 1980, lost 5-2 to La Grande Mare and then beat Stoneham 41/2-21/2 in the play-off for third place.