Bob Charles had a very distinguished career. He won The Open in 1963 and five other PGA Tour titles, as well as four wins on the European Tour. One honour is going to be taken from him soon, though: the title of the last man to win the British Masters in the North East, which he did in 1972 at Northumberland Golf Club. At the end of September, for the first time in 35 years, the British Masters are coming to the North East.
It’s a top level event which will ‘give North East sports fans the chance to see some of golf’s leading professionals,’ says Jonathan Lupton, Managing Director at Close House. Having played elite courses around the world before, we ask, what particular challenges will the Tyne Valley course pose to top golfers?
‘Due to the changes in elevation the players will find choosing the correct club a challenge,’ says Jonathan. ‘Add into that very fast greens, long rough and deep bunkers, and it should provide a very stern test.’
The competition will be hosted by former world number one Lee Westwood, Close House’s attached touring professional and a winner of the British Masters himself in 2007. As well as helping to keep Close House’s profile up, having Westwood on board at Close House has helped to stiffen the challenge on the course too. ‘Lee has been involved with all of the recent changes to the course,’ explains Jonathan. ‘This includes three reshaped greens and numerous new bunkers.’
Preparing for a championship like the British Masters is certainly a big job. ‘It’s such a big event that we have been planning with the European Tour for over 18 months,’ says Jonathan. ‘Golf course consultants, agronomists and the logistics team have been supporting throughout. We have made some big changes to the course and drainage ahead of the event.’
Of course this is all very impressive, but it will all be for nothing if the players weren’t keen on it – and with a history which includes winners of the calibre of Seve Ballesteros, Sir Nick Faldo, Sandy Lyle, Justin Rose and 2018 European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjørn, the event demands a strong field.
And that’s exactly what they’ve got: Sheffield wunderkind and 2015 British Masters winner Matthew Fitzpatrick will be there; so will his 2016 Ryder Cup teammate Chris Wood; defending champion Alex Noren is confirmed too; and, most excitingly, US Masters champion Sergio Garcia is confirmed to play.
‘We are delighted that Sergio has agreed to play and to have the US Masters Champion taking part in the event is massive,’ says Jonathan. ‘His appearance is based upon a strong personal relationship with Lee. They have shared many fantastic experiences winning numerous Ryder Cup matches.’ In fact, that friendship is so close that Westwood was at Garcia’s wedding in the United States at the end of July.
Once the tournament’s over, Jonathan’s keen to build a legacy which permanently shifts golf to the centre of the North East’s sporting landscape. ‘I would suggest a structured programme to get golf out to schools and let as many children as possible try the game,’ he says. ‘There is also a tourist angle as there will be hours of coverage of Close House and the region screened on TV during the event. I would love to see this attract more golfers into the region to stay and play.’
Part of the youth drive is the Junior British Masters, a competition for players from local golf clubs with categories for under-18s, under-15s and under-12s, which will run just before the main event in late September and will give youngsters the chance to play at Close House itself. It’s something Jonathan feels passionately about. ‘From a personal point of view I had the chance to play in a similar event when I was 11 and instantly became inspired to make a career from the game,’ he says. ‘I hope this event has the same effect on other young golfers.
‘When we built Close House we aimed to create a destination within the North East and a Top 100 course in Great Britain and Ireland. Hopefully the exposure will lead to more golfers coming to visit the North East where they can play great golf, and have a good time doing so.’
The British Masters runs from 28 September to 1 October. Get tickets at www.closehouse.com