The Isle of Man Men’s Close Amateur Golf Championship swings into action at Douglas Golf Club this Saturday, writes Don Beggs.

Grant Thornton will once again be sponsoring both the men’s and women’s competitions which both run throughout next week, and everyone involved would like to thank the company and Denis McGurgan for the continued support.

Gerald Bradley of Castletown Golf Club will have the honour of striking the first shot of the qualifying stages at 7.30am.

Qualifying day is back to the traditional 36 holes of stroke play in the one day, with the top 16 combined gross scoring golfers going forwards to matchplay rounds on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings and the final taking place over 36 holes of matchplay on Sunday, July 14.

What might the qualifying score be on the day? Well, the recent Willy Kirk stroke play competition is the traditional benchmark for the magic number and 148 stood as the score for the top 16.

This was in blustery conditions so, with different weather on the day, this could change significantly and anything can happen.

The younger players will be looking to not only qualify but also to win the Game Cairns best score for under-21s - a number of past winners have gone on to win the main title.

Not to count the over-50s out, with age being just a number, the keenly-contested Bob Cowin trophy is another big part of the championship, with Ray Sayle winning it and the main title oddly enough at Douglas GC some two decades ago.

Could one of the more senior competitors walk away with the main spoils? The evergreen (and other vibrant colours) Keith Ward knows the course extremely well and, with the experience of being a past finalist at Rowany, could get his second bite of the cherry.

One serial entrant over the past 20 or so years who will be looking to finally rid the qualifying day monkey from his back is Marc Harrison who moved back to the island from America last year - although he is a Mount Murray member, he played his golf at Douglas from a young age prior to leaving the island.

If memory serves me correctly, he was involved in the lowest score not to qualify in an island golf championship with his 141 at Peel in 2006. Maybe the golfing gods will be looking down on him this weekend.

Douglas would be naturally delighted with a home grown winner and there are certainly a good number in contention. Former champions Kevin Moore and Peter Glover will be keen to add to their titles, with the latter certainly hoping to set the record straight after being beaten in a play-off for the WA Kirkpatrick.

Past finalist Richard Skillicorn would probably give his back teeth to fulfil another Skillicorn family win following grandfather Jim and uncle Kevin. Island boys champion Tommy Fenlon will be keen to make the last 16, as will the consistent Stephen Skillicorn, Michael Curphey, Peter Knight and Douglas course record holder Liam Cowin.

After his Willy Kirk disappointment of missing out on a play-off by a single shot, the impressive Rob Noon will be looking to secure the William Woods Trophy for leading qualifier on his way to potential island championship.

Winner of the recent Douglas Town Cup and just last weekend taking the Castletown Club Championship, Noon is one golfer that could certainly become a serial winner of the Island Championship given his talent

In-form Jamie Arniel and David Kinrade lead the Ramsey crusade with Paul Allison, while recently-crowned Peel Town Cup champion Daryl Callister and Mount Murray Cup winner Joe Raeside are spearheading the Santon challenge.

Others that could cause an upset are Tom Doyle - whose great grandfather was the green keeper at Douglas a number of decades ago - after he did well in the Port Erin Cup at Rowany last Saturday.

Also Tim Calladine, the Order of Merit winner from Douglas last year, and of course not forgetting the younger statesmen Tom Cain, Freddie Dancox and Sam Crawford.

One thing is for certain: only one man in the field is capable of back-to-back major wins this year, with newly-crowned Willy Kirk Champion Neil Caine looking to add to his trophy haul.

Unfortunately Andrew Challenor will not be taking part this year, but Jon Corke, Gerald Bradley, Lewis Howland and 2000 finalist (at Douglas) Mark Curphey will be flying the flag for Castletown.

Rowany has produced some excellent past winners over the decades - who can forget the Geoff Gelling v Mike Rae final in 1991? The latter man won at Douglas in 2007 and he could well remember some of the magic again at Pulrose this year.

Jack Gilbert will tee off last on Saturday, while former champion Mark Sutton must be keen to catch up dad and eight-time champion Julian on the family tally.

Defending champion Paul Lowey, a player that oozes talent, was absent from the Willy Kirk last month but, with multiple island championship wins under his belt already, he won’t want to give up the trophy without a good fight.

An excellent long game and incredible short game, if Lowey is on song we might see some records set next week.

Port St Mary’s Chad Wilby, a first-time qualifier at Rowany last year, could well seal back-to-back qualifications. Joining the big-hitter from Fistard is Jay Gandy who has himself been showing some steady form this year, a very neat performer who is more than capable of following in younger brother Tom’s footsteps.

A strong showing from Peel is expected with two very much in-form players, 1990 winner Mark Pugh and Lee Morgan who could well set the pace with both being matchplay specialists. The newly-retired and very steady Alan Gault could turn back the clock and show the youngster how it’s done, while Danny Bell might go further in the matchplay this year now that the football season is well and truly out of the way.

King Edward Bay’s current club champion Kevin Murphy can afford a lie in with his 11.20am tee time and joining him will be Mike Harrison, forner semi-finalist Nicky Kelly, the powerful Ben Watson, father and son John and Paul McMullan and, provided there’s no further DIY injuries, Don Beggs should make his 7.40am tee time!

One thing for sure Murray Jones and his troop of ground staff have the course in exceptional condition, there can be no excuses on what will be a very fair course.

In charge of scoring, past Isle of Man Golf president Barry Skillicorn will be running his usual tight ship collating scores from the various score relays around the course for all spectators and competitors alike to view.

The organisation of such an event needs accurate planning and organisation and it is down to the contribution of those volunteers from the host golf club on top of the IoM Golf officials’ roles that make for such an excellent event.

Douglas Golf Club’s current captains Jim Cairney and Nicky Vincent will I’m sure be taking in all the action and atmosphere that goes with the island championships in what will be a memorable year for them both.

One final mention will be to Mike Vipond and his team at Douglas who will be looking after all competitors and spectators needs, whether it’s refreshments during the interval or more drinks and golf balls for the second 18 holes, everyone will be very well looked after.

Isle of Man Golf president Niall Keenan will be on duty for his first island championship and will certainly want to wish all competitors in both the men’s and women’s events all the best.