Gloucestershire maintained their grip on the Women’s County Finals when they won this year’s championship at Delamere Forest with a day to spare.
The reigning champions beat Norfolk, Surrey and Lincolnshire on the first three days of the annual round robin competition and they went on to retain the title when they defeated nearest challengers Yorkshire 5 ½ – 3 ½ in a tense deciding match.
The victory took Gloucestershire’s total to eight points which leaves them with an unassailable four point lead over Yorkshire and Lincolnshire with one round of matches to go. Surrey and Buckinghamshire have three points each while Norfolk have two.
Gloucestershire’s victory extends an impressive run that started back in 2016 when they claimed their first ever title at Waterlooville. They lost narrowly to Yorkshire at Felixstowe Ferry in 2017 but then won 12 months ago at Royal North Devon before making it three wins in the last four years in bright sunshine in Cheshire.
Yorkshire needed to win against Gloucestershire to have any chance of catching the leaders but their task was made more difficult when they lost the morning foursomes 2 ½ – ½.
Ffion Tynan and Issy Hopkins got the ball rolling for Gloucestershire when they beat Nicola Slater and Hannah Holden 4 & 2 and Alex Saunders and Sam Round extended their advantage with a 4&3 victory over Lily Hirst and Evie Cooke before Deb Henery and Melissa Wood gave Yorkshire a lifeline when they came from behind to halve with Claudia Ovens and Ebonie Lewis.
The singles also started brightly for Yorkshire when Hirst beat Hopkins 3 & 2 in the top match but consecutive victories for Bethan Popel and Tynan put Gloucestershire in the ascendancy again before Wood and Norton responded for Yorkshire with wins over Lewis and Round. Saunders took the final singles for the champions with a 3 & 2 win over Cooke.
A thrilled Gloucestershire captain Su Mallon couldn’t hide her delight after another exciting day of golf and heaped praise on her players. She said: “I’m so, so proud of them all.
“They just give it their all – they just love this County Finals week and come together as a team. When one is down they pick each other up.
“To win three out of the last four years is incredible – and we’re one of the smallest counties.
“We have lost funding but we do our very best to bring through talent. We start from our juniors and once they get a handicap of under 12 we bring them into our training programme and they go through the system into the second team and then progress.
“They have been exposed to competition right the way through and they all get the same training and that’s where this incredible bond comes from.
“They have all grown up with each other since the age of eight.
“We have two of the team who are not yet 18 – they can sniff the champagne in the trophy rather than drink it!
“The county is so proud, but this is also for the South West. We don’t just do this for Gloucestershire and I’ve had good luck messages from all over the region asking us to bring it back.
“Gloucestershire will be dead chuffed to win it back-to-back and now I have the nice problem of how to get the huge trophy into my car for the trip home!”
In the first match on the course Lincolnshire earned a narrow 5-4 win over Norfolk helped in no small measure by the battling Billy-Jo Smith who was four down with four to play against Eve Neild in the singles. However, she escaped with a halved match helped by hitting a three-wood to three-feet at the par-5 final hole.
The match was close right from the start with the two teams sharing the foursomes 1 ½ – 1 ½ before Lincolnshire squeezed home with victories from India Clyburn, Tilly Garfoot and Meg Illingworth in the singles. Abigail O’Riordan and Tiffany Mills were the winners for Norfolk.
The third match featuring Buckinghamshire and Surrey ended in a 4 ½ – 4 ½ draw after Buckinghamshire’s Daisy Kennedy beat Surrey’s Olivia Horsfield by one hole in the final singles on the course.
Surrey claimed a 2-1 lead after the foursomes but Buckinghamshire pegged them back with singles victories from Amelia Curtis, Rosie Bee Kim and Kennedy plus a half from Grace Rigby-Walden against Nicola Taylor. Lottie Woad and Rafiah Banday were Surrey’s winners in the top two singles.
The final day sees champions Gloucestershire take on Buckinghamshire, Yorkshire play Lincolnshire and Surrey are up against Norfolk.
Photograph credit: Leaderboard