The Challenge Tour Championship has long been regarded as the flagship event on the Tour and that remains so this week when the tournament takes place at Bowood Golf and Country Club in Wiltshire, England.
The Championship has a new backer this year with the property company, Charles Church taking the title sponsorship for what will be the third and final time the tournament is played at beautiful Bowood.
What’s more, the Championship has been further enhanced with the news that the prize money has been increased by £30,000 to £130,000. The winner will now collect £21,660, a rise of more than £7,000, while second place is worth £14,440, slightly less than Shaun Webster earned in winning last year.
This will be the first time this year that the Challenge Tour has visited England. It will return again in late August for the Formby Hall Challenge in Lancashire.
The inaugural Challenge Tour Championship was held in 1995 at East Sussex National and was won by Thomas Björn. The Dane then went on to top the Rankings at the end of the season to earn his card to the main Tour and has since become a champion on the world stage, not to mention a Ryder Cup star.
East Sussex National remained the venue for the following three years with the title going in turn to Dennis Edlund of Sweden, Australian Greg Chalmers, and Warren Bennett.
Edlund is likely to be playing this week, while Chalmers has made great strides and is now playing on the US PGA Tour.
Bennett, who enjoyed a successful amateur career, being capped by England, won at East Sussex in 1998, a year that saw him capture five Challenge Tour titles and earn over £80,000 in prize money, a record that still stand. Since then he has won on the main Tour, capturing the Scottish PGA Championship at Gleneagles and earlier this season finsihed runner-up to Vijay Singh in the Caltex Singapore Masters.
When the Challenge Tour Championship moved to Bowood in 1999, Carl Suneson from Spain was victorious. Last year saw the first play-off for three years when Webster pipped Scotland’s Graham Rankin at the first extra hole.
Ironically, they were to fill 16th and 17th places on the final Rankings, just outside the top 15 who automatically earn their cards to the main Tour. However, both returned to the Tour Qualifying School in Spain and emerged successful.
So it is clear that the Charles Church Challenge Tour Championship is a stepping stone to greater things and this week’s winner will not only join an illustrious list of champions but could secure his Tour card for 2002.
The Bowood course, designed by Dave Thomas, this year’s Captain of the PGA, is set in the beautiful parkland estate of The Marquess of Lansdowne. Situated close to the town of Calne, the course offers a compelling test to players of all abilities.
This week’s field includes all the leading figures on the Challenge Tour, including the top 15 players who are on course to earn their cards to the main Tour for next year, as well as a number of special invitees including newly-selected Walker Cup amateur Jamie Elson.