Leicestershire travelled to The Shropshire Golf Centre for 2019 Inter County Week eager to impress in the new match format. In previous years, matches against the other five Midlands North Counties were each played over a whole day, comprising three foursomes in the morning and six singles in the afternoon, with the Inter County Week lasting five days. This year, to reduce costs and expectations of host clubs, and players taking leave from work, family and other responsibilities, each match comprises two foursomes and three singles, enabling two matches to be played in a day.
On Monday, Leicestershire took on a strong Nottinghamshire side and host county, Shropshire. Despite the recent wet weather, the course has been prepared to a very good standard by the hosts, with firm, fast running greens, many of which have significant slopes to contend with. Quite a challenge, even for the high calibre players taking part this week.
Thankfully the predicted bad weather held off on Monday as Leicestershire started their campaign against Nottinghamshire in overcast, muggy, conditions. Jo Mayfield (Rothley) and Eleanor Parkinson (Willesley Park) making her County Week debut lead the team off in the foursomes and endured a tough start as their steady opponents played virtually mistake-free golf through the front nine. Good wins on 9 and 10 saw them pull the match back to 2down, but Nottinghamshire responded with back-to-back birdies and despite a spirited finish from the Foxes, closed out the first point of the day. Gemma Parkes-Walley (Lutterworth) and Suzanne Pretty (Longcliffe) in match two also faced tough opponents making few errors. This saw them take a significant lead over the early exchanges, but Gemma and Suzanne fought back to close the gap to 3down at the turn. A run of good play from Nottinghamshire at the start of the back nine proved decisive and gave Notts a 2-0 lead from the foursomes.
In the first of the singles matches, Kirsten Thorpe (Charnwood Forest) faced an in-form opponent in Esme Hamilton and having gone behind, birdied the 8th to bring her match back to 1down. A fine series of holes from Esme saw the lead extended before Kirsten birdied 12 and won 13 to draw the match back to 2down, but Nottinghamshire closed out the match 3&2. Caz Parkes-Walley (Lutterworth) took on Libby Kilbride in the second singles and a run of three wins starting with a birdie on 4 saw Caz take a 3up lead, which she held through to the turn. Some classy play from her opponent and a rare uncharacteristic error from the County Champion saw the lead pegged back to all square and in a to-and-fro conclusion to the match, Nottinghamshire just managed to edge it on the 17th. In the anchor single match, Helen Lowe (Scraptoft) continued her recent fine run of form with a high quality display against Lauren Spray. After losing the first, Helen responded with back to back birdies to lead 1up, extended to 2up by the turn. A mini-fightback from Lauren on 14 was quelled on 15 when Helen made a terrific birdie after an up-and-down from a fairway bunker and another solid par was enough to close out for Leicestershire’s first point of the week in a 4-1 loss against tough opponents.
In the afternoon match, Shropshire playing at home was always likely to be a tough game as the hosts sought to put their home course practices to good use, and so it proved. In a repeat of last year’s multiple near-misses in tight games, Leicestershire eventually fell 2-3 in an enthralling match that neither side deserved to lose.
Jo and Eleanor were again teamed together and lead the team out against experienced opponents. In a very tight match, the Foxes held a 1up lead at the turn before Shropshire had a run of fine holes 11 through 13. Again, showing the Foxes Never Quit mentality, Jo and Eleanor hit straight back to reduce the deficit at 14 then with holes running out, took 17 to make the match all square playing the last, a testing par 5. A well-played hole saw both teams on the green in regulation but a tricky pin position and home familiarity made the difference as Shropshire ran out the narrowest of winners. In the second foursomes, Gemma Parkes-Walley and Rachel East (Cosby) making her County Week debut, made a solid start before a fabulous run of play saw them build a 4up lead by the turn. It was a lead that they never looked likely to relinquish as they played positive attacking golf throughout, extending the lead to 5up at the 13th. A well played 14th saw Shropshire briefly threaten a comeback, but our girls secured an excellent point with a 4&3 victory.
With the foursomes halved, all came down to three singles matches and the band of loyal spectators were treated to another set of excellent matches that epitomised the excellent Leicestershire team spirit. Kirsten Thorpe trailed 2down over the opening holes but secured the 9th with a well-played par to a perilous pin position to be 1down at the turn. A blip on the 10th saw her opponent stretch the lead to 2up again before two excellent wins on 12 and 13 saw Kirsten take the match all square. Shropshire dealt a blow with a win on 16, but undeterred she hit back on 17 to take the match down the last. With the crowd on tenterhooks, the 18th green complex was again Leicestershire’s bête noire as an agonising putt slipped past the hole to give Shropshire the point and a 2-1 lead.
The match rested with experienced campaigners Caz and Helen in the final two games and they proved to be “games of two halves” that saw the momentum of the overall match swing first one way and then the other. Caz had played her usual impressive game to build a 2up lead by the turn, whilst Helen found herself 3down at the same point. Holding her 3up advantage until the 12th, extended to 3up at 10 before a combination of Shropshire’s good play and a couple of uncharacteristic shots from Caz saw the deficit eliminated by the 15th. Meanwhile, Helen was launching an excellent fightback to win 10 and 13 to leave her just 1down through 15.
A grandstand finish was in prospect but needing both points, sadly for the Foxes it didn’t go their way. The momentum shift to Shropshire proved too hard for Caz to stop and she unfortunately lost on 17. Meanwhile, in the last match, Helen drew on all her experience to overturn her opponent, winning 17 and 18 for a 1up win. A 2-3 defeat in such a tight game was heartbreaking for the Foxes, but they live to fight another day and look forward to matches against Staffordshire and Derbyshire on Tuesday.
Tuesday match schedule:
Morning: Leicestershire vs Staffordshire (8:30 start)
Afternoon: Leicestershire vs Derbyshire (13:50 start)