COUNTY captain Lawrence Cherry will be a spectator for Hampshire’s first of the new South East Challenge League matches – against Sussex – at Army Golf Club, on Sunday.

The Challenge League has replaced the old South East Colts League – first competed for back in 1974 before being extended from an U21 to an U25 competition in the last couple of years.

The new county captain, who led Hampshire to last year’s South Easts Colts League title with a win over Bedfordhsire in the final game last August, had indicated he might play in the new league matches, after agreeing to run both the first team and the Challenge side earlier this year.

But having returned from his honeymoon with his new bride Izzy, Cherry, who is a member at Stoneham GC – and works as the assistant manager at North Hants GC – opted not to name himself in the team that will kick-off the new season at the Aldershot club, which borders Farnborough Airport.

Hockley’s Luke Hodgetts (pictured) – winner of Blackmoor’s national-ranking Selborne Salver last year – will lead the team as Cherry gets over the jet lag after two weeks in Mauritius.

Former Hampshire Junior Champion Alex Talbot – who has spent four years at Boise State in America – comes into the team, having played in Colin Roope’s team that lost the South East League Final to Essex five years ago, at Frilford Heath.

Blackmoor’s Robbie Boxall is rewarded with his Hampshire debut after his excellent 12th place finish in this year’s Selborne Salver – he shot a best-of-the-day 65 in round two in a field featuring many of the country’s top amateurs.

Lee-on-the-Solent’s Aman Uddin, another former county U18 champion – who spent three years at Dixie University – has experience playing in the Colts teams over the past two years.

Two regular members of Cherry’s Colts winning team are also selected – fellow Stoneham members Mat Thomas and Danny Coombs.

Rowlands Castle’s Harry Fairclough, who helped his club win the Elite Amateur Golf League title last year, and has been training with the Hampshire first-team squad since January, also makes his first appearance in the famous Hampshire blue.

They are joined by Royal Jersey’s James Draisey, who shone in Hampshire’s recent match against the Channel Islands, at Royal Jersey.

He picked up a foursomes points by beating Cherry and Blackmoor’s Mark Burgess, a veteran of three English County Finals, before giving Test Valley’s English Mid-Amateur Champion Stuart Archibald a fright in hard-fought singles match which went to the 17th.

With the likes of Surrey, Hertfordshire, and Berks, Bucks and Oxfordshire (BB&O), having withdrawn their Colts teams over the last decade, England Golf’s South Eastern Group voted late last year to switch to a new format.

Effectively the Challenge League will be county’s “reserve” teams giving opportunities for up-and-coming youngsters and those squad players regular competitive golf at a good scratch standard.

For counties like Hampshire and Essex, who have won the Colts League 11 times between them since 2010, it has always been a case of having “too many players.”

In Hampshire’s case, the presence of a strong mid-amateur group of over-35s who have formed the nucleus of the first-team over the past decade or more, the Challenge League will help with the need of giving that experience to younger players.

That situation was not helped by a change in the rules some six years ago, that meant players under the age of 18 were ineligible for Colts matches. There are no such restrictions in the Challenge League, a move which was greeted by county captain Lawrence Cherry.

He said: “I have spoken about my wish to blood more young players in the county set-up. We cannot rely on our golden generation of mid-ams for ever, but it has always been a big step up from Colts and junior golf to the first-team.

“With no age restrictions in the Challenge League those players who are knocking on the door for inclusion in the county first-team, can get competitive experience in the these games.

“It doesn’t matter if they are 17 or 18, or in their 20s. These matches will be of a high standard – as the Colts games were. I will be working closely with the Hampshire Junior manager Dave Matthews to ensure if he thinks he has players ready to make the step up.

“The Challenge League can then give them some exposure to the next level of county golf.”

Hampshire Colts South East League winners 2022

The winning Hampshire Colts team led by Lawrence Cherry (fourth from left), who is now the county captain. Picture by HAMPSHIRE GOLF

After the opening match at Army GC, Hampshire will face Sussex in a reverse fixture at Willingdon, on June 18. Cherry’s team then entertain Kent at Paulton’s GC, on July 23, with the return at Chiselhurst GC, on August 27.

The South Division winner will then meet the North Division champions in the League Final, on October 15, at a venue in Middlesex, yet to be confirmed.

Cherry has stressed he took the joint captaincy jobs because he is driven to win as much as he can for Hampshire, having also captained the county’s U18s to the South East Boys Qualifier title in 2015, leading the team at the English Boys Final, at Kings Lynn GC.

Sunday’s match at Laffans Plain will see Hampshire take on Sussex in four morning foursomes, with eight singles matches after lunch.

HAMPSHIRE CHALLENGE LEAGUE TEAM v SUSSEX (Army GC Sunday, May 21): Luke Hodgetts (Hockley); Alex Talbot (Stoneham); Aman Uddin (Lee-on-the-Solent); Harry Fairclough (Rowlands Castle); James Draisey (Royal Jersey); Mat Thomas (Stoneham); Robbe Boxall (Blackmoor); Danny Coombs (Stoneham).

Robbie Boxall Challenge League debut

Blackmoor’s Robbie Boxall shot a four-under par 65 in the Selborne Salver last month, to earn his Hampshire call-up. Picture by ANDREW GRIFIFN / AMG PICTURES

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