2018 Ladies’ County Champion – Olivia Rael-Brook (Dyrham Park)

2018 Ladies’ County Champion – Olivia Rael-Brook (Dyrham Park)

CHAMPION OLIVIA RAEL-BROOK ON THE RIGHT AND RUNNER UP CHIARA NOJA ON THE LEFT

SEMI FINALIST MILLIE PRATTEN 

Our flagship annual Ladies’ event, the County Championship, was played over last weekend (Friday 20th to Sunday 22nd April) at the picturesque Brookmans Park course and this was the first time the event was played under the auspices of the new merged body of Hertfordshire Golf.  

27 lady golfers took part on the Friday in the strokeplay element of the event, this year played over 18 holes, including defending champion Rebecca Earl of Bishop’s Stortford and current English Ladies Senior Champion Jackie Foster, also of Bishop’s Stortford. The top 16 gross scores from the strokeplay section qualify through to the matchplay section, starting on the Saturday morning with the Round of 16 through to the final match on the Sunday afternoon. This year the Lane Salver event for the Round of 16 losers was not played.

The weather over the three days was not in keeping with the year to date with dry and warm conditions and a course drying out after the soggy start to the year and firming up fast. The course was very well presented and the greens, which were ‘ironed’ before the start of each day, in particular received many plaudits over the course of the event.

The ‘medalist’ at the end of play on Friday was our defending champion Rebecca Earl who returned a gross round of 72 (-1), finishing with a flourish with an eagle 3 on the short par 5 (for ladies) 18th hole. Rebecca was followed by two junior girls’, Ellen Hume of Mill Green, a 1 handicapper and current Herts Girl’s Schools Champion, with a 75 (+2) and Millie Pratten of Essendon with a 77 (+4). Other qualifiers were Ladies 1st Team Captain Kelly Hutcherson of Welwyn Garden City with a 77 (+4), the aforementioned Jackie Foster who struggled on the front 9 but still managed to qualify through to the Saturday with an 83 (+10), and several promising junior golfers, including 12-year-old 6 handicapper Chiara Noja of Sandy Lodge whom recently performed excellently in Cyprus at a youth event finishing 3rd. The qualifying mark was made on 87 (+14) with a card countback required with Holly Hunter of Redbourn edging out Sarah Marley of Essendon with a better back 9.

The ‘televised’ match of the Round of 16 was arguably the bottom match of the aforementioned Jackie Foster against Esther Strous of Welwyn Garden City, whom had comfortably qualified with a solid round of 78 (+5) the day prior. A replay of a tense and tight Lane Salver final a few years previous. Unsurprisingly another tight match ensued which Esther just held out to take a big scalp 1up.  Elsewhere the matches generally went with form or handicap with Rebecca and the main favourites for the title progressing to the afternoon round.

The Saturday afternoon quarter final match ups were all interesting and tight matches, three of which went at least to the 18th hole, but in the bottom match Esther ran out of steam and lost out to Millie Pratten 4&2. The top match was a high quality encounter between Rebecca and Bronagh O’Keeffe of Sandy Lodge and credit to Bronagh she took all her all the way, which required Rebecca to play her A game to take the match on the last green. Kelly was surprisingly knocked out by the precocious young talent Chiara on the 18th hole despite Kelly being 1 under par gross! In the other quarter final match extra holes were required to determine the winner and also saw a surprise with the long hitting 16-year-old Olivia Rael-Brook of Dyrham Park defeating Ellen on the 3rd extra hole (21st hole).

The conditions on the Sunday were still dry after a large storm had passed through overnight, but a blustery wind played a factor all day making club selection more difficult and keeping the temperatures at the more average April level, rather than the fairly sweltering conditions the previous two days.

The first semi-final match saw Rebecca take on Chiara and once again we were in for a shock when Chiara won on the 21st hole. This ensured an all junior final match and although disappointing for Rebecca, it was an excellent effort and defence of her title, particularly considering she hasn’t had the opportunity to play and practice as much as she would have liked in the lead up to the event due to her schooling commitments.

The bottom semi-final match was also a close encounter which saw Olivia just edge out Millie by the narrowest of margins 1up on the 18th hole.

The final match was played in great spirit between two very promising youngsters and interestingly both girls would have a parent caddying for them, Olivia would have her mother Laura, a good player in her own right and a former County Girl’s Champion, on her bag and Chiara would have father Thomas. The match was played in front of a respectable crowd of spectators, many of which with county golf connections.

As was in keeping with the past few days of matches we were in for yet another nail biter, as although Chiara got off to an excellent start to lead at one stage by 3 holes, she would be pegged back by Olivia who fought back to all square after the 17th, the first time since the 1st hole that they were level. The last hole was played impeccably by both girls, despite the high stakes and the pressure and both made easy birdie 4’s to take the match to extra holes. The 1st and 2nd were halved and the match was finally resolved when Chiara made a mistake and bogeyed the par 5 3rd hole which allowed Olivia to make par and take the title.  

Our congratulations go to our champion lady golfer of the year Olivia and commiserations to Chiara.

Olivia will now proceed to represent Hertfordshire in the Ladies’ Champion of Champions event played at Frilford Heath, Oxfordshire in September.

The event was a great success and highlights the excellent production line that our current county player pathway, coaching structures and various playing opportunities all help shape and create.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE COMPLETE FINAL MATCHPLAY DRAW

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