FOUR Helensburgh and Lomond golfers headed for the hills of Perthshire this week to take part in the Scottish men’s amateur championship.

The Helensburgh Golf Club trio of Douglas Willoughby, Graeme Proud and Shey Donald were joined in the 264-strong field at Blairgowrie Golf Club by Jack Keating of Cardross.

All four played 36 holes of strokeplay golf over the Lansdowne and Rosemount courses on Tuesday and Wednesday ¬– completing their second round after this issue went to press – with the top 64 players qualifying for the matchplay stages, which get under way today.

Last year’s champion, Sam Locke, made headlines around the world when he won the R&A’s silver medal as the leading amateur – and in fact, the only one to make the cut – at the recent Open championship at Carnoustie.

For at least two of the Helensburgh and Lomond contingent, though, their Blairgowrie aim was a simple one: to play as well as possible and, hopefully, to qualify for the knockout stage of the competition.

Before the start of the competition on Tuesday, Willoughby, currently a student at Glasgow Caledonian University, told the Advertiser: “I just want to play as well as I can and try not to leave any shots out there.

“There are 264 players in the field and only the top 64 get through to the knockout matchplay stages, but if I get off to a good start on the first day and can make it into the top 64 that would be incredible.”

The handicap limit for this year’s championship was set by Scottish Golf at 4.5, with all the players who met that standard then entered into a ballot for a place at Blairgowrie.

“I’m having a pretty good season so far,” Willoughby, a former pupil of Rhu Primary and Lomond School and a past junior club champion at Helensburgh, continued.

“I’ve played in a good few open competitions across the country and I scored a hole in one at Helensburgh last month.

“I’ve been playing off four for a good couple of years – I’m desperately trying to get down to three, but it’s hard.

“However, seeing Sam Locke win the silver medal at Carnoustie was a great example to amateur golfers out there of what you can achieve through hard work.

“I’d love to go as far in the amateur game as possible. I’m only 22, which is still quite young in golfing terms – the current club champion at Helensburgh, Peter Haggerty, is in his mid-50s.”

Proud, meanwhile, a fellow four-handicapper, went into this week's competition with a similar aim to his Burgh clubmate, though his task might be viewed as more of a challenge – not least because his work commitments keep him off the golf course for weeks at a stretch.

“I work for Caledonian MacBrayne on the Stornoway ferry,” he said.

“I work three weeks on and three weeks off – but during my time off I’m on the course pretty constantly.

“My goal is to qualify for the matchplay stages and then, if I do, to take it from there.”

Proud, however, is realistic about his chances of following in Sam Locke’s footsteps.

“Sam is only 19,” he said, “and I’m 28, so turning pro is probably a bit beyond me now – but if I play well this week, who knows?”