James Hutchison and Kevin Bartlett work together to ensure Castle Stuart golf course, near Inverness, is in pristine condition but each hopes to tee up victory over the other in Saturday’s Cottages.com MacTavish Cup final at Bught Park.
Hutchison, 42, is course manager and very much the senior player in the Kingussie side aiming to lift the North championship trophy for the first time in 11 years.
Bartlett, 33, is senior greenkeeper and the oldest outfield player for Caberfeidh, who are seeking to win the trophy for the first time in 85 years.
The valiant veterans, who will be key figures in the battle for the 124-year-old trophy, are each bidding to hook the other’s silverware aspirations into the rough.
Hutchison, in his 25th year in the first team, has been in remarkable form at full centre.
He said: “It’s intriguing that Kevin and I will take a break from course care to chase our personal targets this weekend.
“I’ve already got 11 MacTavish winners’ medals but you never know when it’s your last final and most of our talented young team, beaten in extra time in last year’s final, are chasing their first triumph.
“We’re unbeaten this season but haven’t played well in our last couple of games. But we’ve talked it through and know what we’ve to do against Cabers.
“When we’re struggling a bit, players try to do too much themselves and we lose the ball. We’ve got to accept we can’t win by two or three goals every time. It’ll be a case of playing the way we want to and not getting caught up in the occasion.”
Bartlett actually has two MacTavish winners medals, gained with Lovat in 2013 and 2014 before returning to the club where generations of his family were playing legends.
“It would be great to take the trophy back to Strathpeffer,” he said,
“It will be my first final playing alongside my cousins Craig and Blair Morrison, who are important players for us.
“Craig’s the Premiership top scorer and we’ve got to ensure he receives plenty of the ball to pressure the Kingussie defence.
“The supporters’ buses are fully booked and we’ll have great backing. There’s been a real buzz about the place since we reached the final and it would be absolutely massive for the club if we can win.
“We know we’re huge underdogs, not having won any cup in over 20 years, but we’ve made good progress and young players like 18 year old Conor MacGregor and 17 year old Finlay Coleman have developed into exciting prospects. We feel we can have a real go.”
Another golfing connection is Kieran MacPherson, greenkeeper at Strathpeffer golf club, who rejoined Kingussie from Cabers two weeks ago but he is cup-tied and misses the final.
Hutchison said: “Having played in defence most of my career, I’m enjoying my midfield role because I’m more involved in the action.
“We’ll miss Zander Michie, recovering from a car accident, but we’ve an excellent young side and not winning this cup since 2011 is a long wait for a club like ours, so it’s time to put that right.
“We know that Cabers pose a threat, with their forward line the strong point, where Kevin links so well with Craig Morrison. They can change games if they get the sniff of a goal chance. But it’s all about who performs on the day.”
Bartlett added: “Kingussie are the best team in shinty just now with plenty of pace. But if we play as we can we can pose them problems. Our task is to keep them quiet and try to create our own chances.
“We felt unlucky to lose 2-1 to Kinlochshiel in last year’s MacTavish semi final, so it’s great to go one better this time. The lads are ready for a really huge effort to try to bring home this cup for the first time since 1937.”