Every renaissance arrives with a cry of exaltation — just ask Hawke's Bay senior men's golf representative players after they reached that point despite not going all the way to the end of their fairytale script in Northland at the weekend.

The Bay men dipped out 4-1 to Auckland in the semifinals of the Toro Men's Interprovincials at the Mangawhai Golf Club to finish fourth after entering the country's elite teams' matchplay tournament as the 14th seed.

Bar top seed Ben Swinburne, who succumbed 3&2 to Johnny Tynan, the other Bay players' results on the 18th hole reflect a tenacity that once defined the status of a proud province.

Bay No 2 Mako Thompson halved with Jared Edwards, No 3 Adam Winter was 1 down to Mason Lee, No 4 Tyson Tawera shared the spoils with Matty Tiplady while No 5 Russell Mitchell slipped 1 down to Jang Hyun.


Pre-semifinal, HB Golf president Allen Forrest had boldly predicted they were going to give the city slickers a fright and everything suggests they did.

"Some of the games could have easily gone the other way because it came down to the last holes and there was nothing in it," says Forrest after the Bay last made the semifinals 13 years ago under Hastings PGA coach Brian Doyle and Forrest as the manager.

The last time was in Napier and, again under Doyle and Forrest, they last made the final 16 years ago in New Plymouth. The Bay last won the crown in 1963.

But it isn't that the Bay men reinvented the wheel in trying to reach the threshold of the yesteryear that qualifies them as the renaissance men this year.

No, it's the struggles that ensued in trying to lift the code out of the doldrums that signal the rebirth of a universally dying game.

The desire to go forward was undeniable but the maturity to realise early they had to go backwards must be applauded.

Consequently the acceptance among the predominantly youthful players and the administration that the reformation makes them feel like they are part of something much larger than themselves is something many codes should take note of.

"We're trying to lift our image as Hawke's Bay Golf," he says, disclosing the players had come under the tutelage of Maraenui GC PGA professional Scott Overend a week before they embarked on their campaign.

"We're looking at perhaps involving him with eight boys next year," says Forrest who noted an invigorating atmosphere within the team this year.

"I've been to about 20 of these things in my time and, you know, it was one of the best team atmospheres we've had," he says, attributing that to team manager Steffan Hepburn.

The players' rapport with Northlanders was evident because the host fans were rooting for them all the way.

"They were just thrilled that we got as far as we did."

Forrest paid tribute to the selectors had, in a meeting last year, put a few measures in place to attain a desired culture.

"We did go through a crisis," he says, singling out administrator Wayne Mudgway and the entire board for dedicating their time and expertise as volunteers.

"They never asked for anything so it's all voluntary work. We don't have a CEO so we have Jack Sanders now who does a certain amount of work and he also puts in all those funding applications.

"Without the volunteers we wouldn't be where we are now because we turned things around financially as well."

While other regions' memberships continue to dwindle, he says the bay remains stable.
Thompson, the New Zealand Under-19 champion this year, was perhaps the best amateur in the group but they didn't want to expose him to other top seeds.

"We just felt he'd put too much pressure on himself because he's hoping to go through New Zealand Golf," says Forrest of the Maraenui GC member who has rekindled his flame for the game after his father, the late Paul Thompson, died of throat cancer in July last year.

The co-joint HB Golfer of the Year in September with final-year Napier Boys' High pupil Winter, Thompson hopes to turn professional after cutting his teeth in the amateur circuit all the way to representing his country on the global stage.

The "old men" of the team, Swinburne, 28, of Ongaonga GC, and Mitchell, 29, of Maraenui GC, became the bookends. The former fell on his club, so to speak, to bear the brunt of the top guns while the latter, who had selflessly become the sacrificial lamb for three years, was offered the licence to express himself with all that experienced garnered as former No 1.

"Ben was quite happy playing at No 1 against other elites and the biggest loss he had was a 4&3 so he fought pretty well although he didn't have too many wins.

"Russell's older and he's steady golfer so it was quite good to get him in the bottom end," he says, emphasising that gave the Bay the chance to expose Winter, 17, and travelling reserve and Karamu High School pupil Dylan Bagley, 15, of Hastings GC, to some crunch games.

Tawera, 22, also of Hastings GC, was the best of Bay golfers, with 5.5 wins out of a maximum 7, while Mitchell finished the campaign with five wins.

"Tyson played solid golf all week to get to where he was," says Forrest.

The signs of a turnaround were there in October when an eight-member team won the annual Shand Cup in Wellington against the hosts, Whanganui, Taranaki and Manawatu.

"We have beaten Wellington two out of three times that we played this year," he says.

Teenagers Cosmo Graham. of Lindisfarne College, and Sebastian Kettle, of Napier Boys' High, as well as 12-year-olds Zac Swanwick and Turangi Wilson excite him.

"They are unbelievably talented so if we can keep them going it'll be great but there are other young ones out there."