The Challenge Tour moves from southern Italy to the south of Switzerland this week for its annual date in the picturesque town of Ascona. This will be the third playing of the Credit Suisse Private Banking Open at the magnificent tree-lined Patriziale course on the shores of Lake Maggiore.
Since its successful launch in 2000, the Credit Suisse Private Banking Open has become an important fixture in the European Challenge Tour and this time the field of 156 will battle it out for prize money of 130,000 euro, an increase of 25,000 euro on last year’s total purse, with 21,660 going to the winner.
The event promises to be a close run affair with nine of the leading ten players on the Challenge Tour Rankings in the line-up. Also teeing up are nine of the past year’s winners including defending champion Greig Hutcheon from Scotland.
A year ago, a closing round of 66 for an 18 under par 266 saw the Aberdonian pip Germany's Kariem Baraka and Jesus Maria Arruti of Spain by a shot. It was Hutcheon's second Challenge Tour title in two years following his play-off victory over Alastair Forsyth in the 1999 Formby Hall Challenge.
After the heavy rain that plagued the earlier rounds, the final day brought brilliant sunshine and a spate of low scores. Baraka, the nephew of Bernhard Langer, set the clubhouse target of 17 under by carding a nine-birdie 62 which would have equalled the course record if preferred lies had not been in operation.
Although Arruti caught Baraka with a round of 64, including three eagles, 17 under looked like a winning score, especially as Hutcheon reached the turn in 35 for 14 under. But a run of four birdies in five holes from the 11th propelled the Scot one in front with three to play. "I knew I had to make pars over the last three holes to win but it wasn't easy," he said.
The field also includes the first three champions of 2002: England’s Lee James (Sameer Kenya Open), Marc Cayeux from Zimbabwe (Stanbic Zambia Open), and Frenchman Jean-Francois Lucquin (Panalpina Commerciale Banque du Maroc Classic) as well as Panos Karantzias, believed to be the first Greek to play on the Challenge Tour.
Two of the biggest names in Swiss golf – Andre Bossert and Paolo Quirici – will be at the tournament but only Bossert has the chance of winning.
The Zurich-born golfer is still looking to gain a place back on the European Tour through the Challenge Tour, while Quirici is there to provide support and advice for other players after retiring a year ago. The title sponsor, Credit Suisse Private Banking, has engaged Quirici as an advisor and with 13 years experience on Tour he is the ideal man for the task.
“The tournament and organisation can only benefit from his vast experience,” explains Adrian Kohler, head of Event Marketing at CSPB. “For many years, Quirici was an important ambassador for the sport as a member of the SwissGolf team. As the principal sponsor and partner of SwissGolf, we are delighted that he is continuing to offer his services.”
It would be a major boost for SwissGolf is a home bred player were to win this week. Since the Challenge Tour was introduced in 1989, Swiss golfers have completed five victories, Bossert and Quirici accounting for three. But no Swiss has won since Juan Ciola three years ago in Austria. Dimitri Bieri recorded the best performance by a Swiss in Ascona with tenth place in 2000.
This year’s field contains 18 Swiss including six amateurs, most of whom were members of the Swiss under 18 team that finished runners-up in the last European Championships. It will be interesting to see how they measure up against the professionals and national coach, Graham Kaye is convinced that “this year one of these youngsters will make the cut for the first time.” However, last year’s most successful Swiss players, Raphael de Sousa from Geneva, will not be there as he is in the Europe team that is facing Asia/Pacific in the Sir Michael Bonallack Cup in Japan.