Yorkshire golf: Thirsk & Northallerton's new approach reaps success in Dales Alliance League

THIRSK & Northallerton have had to wait 13 years to win the men's Dales Alliance League.
Thirsk & Northallerton's men's captain Dave Brown, left, and Dales Alliance captain Andy Bell show off the league trophy.Thirsk & Northallerton's men's captain Dave Brown, left, and Dales Alliance captain Andy Bell show off the league trophy.
Thirsk & Northallerton's men's captain Dave Brown, left, and Dales Alliance captain Andy Bell show off the league trophy.

But now they are wearing the crown for the first time since 2002, playing captain Andy Bell is already making plans for what he and the team hope will be a successful title defence.

Crook, Bedale, Catterick, Richmond and Blackwell were the clubs who trailed in the wake of a Thirsk side that used 23 players through the course of the championship.

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The format sees each club host a match in both series - Spring and autumn.

Ten-man teams are sent out in five pairs, with the best Stableford score, off three-quarters handicap, counting for each pair at each hole.

The aggregate for all five pairings is then used to decide the winner of each match, who earn six points. The team that finishes second get five points, third fourth and so on.

Thirsk won both of their home matches, and also triumphed at Richmond in the Spring and Bedale in the autumn.

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To this they added three second places - two at Blackwell and one at Catterick.

Bell, a six-handicapper, was captaining the team for the first time and adopted a new approach.

"Normally you'd get a 15-handicapper and a six playing together, for instance, but I brought in some new faces and played low with low," he said.

"I'd play a six- and a four-handicapper together, for example.

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"My strategy was to play people who get on together and people who are playing golf and playing well.

"I would ask myself, 'are they mates together, do they get on?'. If they did and they were playing well, they were an automatic pick."

Among the newcomers introduced to the competition was junior Richard Fawcett, a 14-year-old who plays off eight.

He played five matches, in the company of Bell, and averaged an impressive 39.6 points.

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Leading the way to victory was Jamie Appleton, whose average for his best six cards was a mighty 41.5.

Four other players averaged over 40 from their best half a dozen returns - Tom Hogg and Phil Hindson (both 40.7), Rich Turner (40.5) and captain Bell (40.3).

"We did have a blip halfway through the Spring set, but we still ended up winning," said Bell. "That gave us a springboard into the autumn set.

"We were winning by two points going into the autumn set and every game we played we widened the gap.

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"It was three, then four, then five, and when the final event at Crook was cancelled for the second time the title was awarded to us since we were so far ahead."

He believes his strategy of favouring lower handicap players worked well because of their ability to hit the ball further through the air from the tee during what are often damp conditions in both seasons.

"The Alliance is designed to give players a bit of a run out before and at the end of the season, so normally courses are pretty wet and you don't get a lot of run," he said.

"You need players who can hit a ball further through the air, and our lads certainly proved that."

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With the title defence due to start in March, Thirsk's captain will be keeping an eye on players through the winter as Spring approaches.

"There are a few competitions, bits and pieces, on at Thirsk through the winter, but I'll be looking to play people who've been committed to it this year," he said.

"I'll be saying 'if you're interested then sign up', but there will be others wanting to play because everyone wants to join a winning team."