FOR the first time in the event’s 10-year history, the Hampshire Order of Merit will have been decided before a ball has been struck in the season’s finale at the 2023 Courage Trophy.

With Joe Buenfeld back at Texas” University of the Incarnate Word for the start of his third year of his golf scholarship and neither Blackmoor Bowl winner Sam Parson, or Rowlands Castle’s former county captain Colin Roope entered in this weekend’s Courage Trophy, Liphook’s Darren Walkley is guaranteed to win the Cullen Quaich for 2023 – regardless of who is the eventual victor at Barton-on-Sea GC.

It means the former mini-tour pro who regained his amateur statues last year will be crowned winner of the Hampshire Order of Merit for a record third time.

Walkley won the first two season-long competitions back in 2014 and 2015 when he then a member at Hayling GC, before turning pro at the end of that season.

Infact, he won the very first event to be included in that inaugural year – the Delhi Cup at Hockley, when he was unable to receive the trophy because thieves had stolen the original and a replacement was still being sought by the club.

Sam Parson’s win in the Blackmoor Bowl at his home club more than a week ago gave the former Hampshire first-team player a mathematical chance of overhauling Walkley.

But he would have had to win the Courage at Barton-on-Sea on Sunday, and hoped that Walkley finished no better than 11th.

This year has seen a slight modification to the points system, with the county’s two WAGR ranked events – the Hampshire Hog and Selborne Salver – earning points for the first time.

But instead of bonus points being awarded for the other two 72-hole competitions on the Order of Merit – the Solent Salver and Cole Scuttle – the number of points awarded for the qualifying strokeplay competition at the county championship, and the Courage Trophy, Hampshire’s strokeplay championship, has been increased in 2023.

Roope Order of Merit trophy

Blackmoor’s Colin Roope receiving the Cullen Quaich from Tony Cullen in 2016. Picture by ANDREW GRIFFIN / AMG PICTURES

Instead of earning 15 points for the win, and 12 and 10, for the runners-up – and from nine points for fourth down to three points for 10th place – the points distribution is now 20, 16, 13, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6 and 5.

Walkley, who lost a play-off to former England junior Zac Little in the Selborne Salver, in April, was one of three player tied on the same score in the county championship qualifier at Hockley, in June,

Although Buenfeld took the Pechell Salver on countback – denying Walkley and Basingstoke’s top US college player Charlie Forster – the Bramshaw member did win his first Stoneham Trophy last month, with a sparking 64 in his first round at the Southampton club where he is also a member.

But with the 2019 European Junior Open some 5,000 miles away in San Antonio, Roope – the only other player who could have caught leader Walkley – is not pegging it up on the picturesque New Forest course, which overlooks the Solent’s Needles landmark.

Roope, who finished fourth at Blackmoor, where he was once a member after moving to Hampshire from Surrey, seven years ago, would have needed to win the Courage for the first time – and hope Walkley was no better than ninth.

So Sunday will now be a victory lap for the 33-year-old carpenter, who knows his day will be plain-sailing as he enjoys the views of boats from nearby Lymington and Cowes out on the water.

Darren does have some unfinished business with the Courage however. He first came to the attention of the Hampshire selectors when he lost a play-off to Martin Young at Hayling, in 2012 – the day after Harry Ellis became the youngest English Amateur Champion in history, aged just 16.

Young is one of three past Courage champions in the field – he has claimed the trophy five times, including sharing it the first time with La Moye’s Richard Ramskill, at Hockley, in 2004.

The play-off win over Walkley sparked a hat-trick of victories at Stoneham in 2013, and on his home patch at Brokenhurst 12 months later as he completed the Hampshire Slam, winning all four men’s titles in one season.

Blackmoor’s Mark Burgess has a chance along with Burden of joining the three-time Courage winners club having claimed the trophy in 2006 and 2010.

Brokenhurst’s former English Amateur Champion Kevin Weeks won the strokeplay title six times between 1975 and 1990.

The record of seven Courage wins is held by Stoneham’s David Harrison, who won it four times in a row from 1964 – his final win was at Hayling, in 1972.

The only other multiple winnners were Corhampton’s Tim Markwick (1995 and 1999), Bobby Eggo (1979 and 1998) and future European Tour player Matt Blackey (1994 and 1997).

•R1 tee times 2023 Courage Trophy

Martin Young Hampshire Slam

Martin Young is the only player to complete the Hampshire Slam, winnning all four major trophies in the county back in 2014. Picture by ANDREW GRIFFIN / AMG PICTURES

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