One of the key months of the Challenge Tour season get underway this week with the Charles Church Challenge Tour Championship, contested this year for an increased prize fund of €250,000.
Last year’s prize fund was €210,000, the increase meaning that the winner this week will now collect €41,660, a rise of more than €6,000, while second place is worth €27,770, around €4,000 more than Shaun Webster earned when winning the tournament in 2000.
The Charles Church Challenge Tour Championship, one of the tour’s ‘major’ dates, has long been regarded as the flagship event on the Tour and that will be the case again when the tournament tees-off at Bowood Golf and Country Club in Wiltshire, England, on Thursday.
The Championship has been played at beautiful Bowood for the past three years and is a perfect arena on which the leading Challenge Tour players will battle for the prestigious title.
Since the inaugural Challenge Tour Championship in 1995 at East Sussex National, the title has been won by some talented players, none more so that that first winner, Thomas Björn. The Dane then went on to top the Rankings at the end of the season to earn his card to The European Tour and has since become a champion on the world stage, not to mention a Ryder Cup star.
The Championship remained at East Sussex National for the following three years with the title going successively to Dennis Edlund of Sweden, Australian Greg Chalmers – after a play-off against Heinz Peter Thul from Germany - and England’s Warren Bennett, one of five titles he collected in winning the Challenge Tour that year.
When the Championship moved to Bowood in 1999, the first winner was Carl Suneson from Spain, who also went on to top the Rankings. The 2000 Championship brought the second play-off when Webster pipped Scotland’s Graham Rankin at the first extra hole.
Last year, England’s Mark Foster emerged victorious after a closing round of 69 for an 11 under par total of 277 to win by two strokes from fellow Englishman, Philip Golding and Sebastien Delagrange from France. All three went on to finish ranked in the top 15 and secure their European Tour cards.
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 2003.
This week’s field of 156 includes 12 Challenge Tour Champions from the past 12 months. Among them is Lee James, current Rankings leader, who gets back to action after taking last week off. The entry list also includes a number of special invitees including Walker Cup amateur Jamie Elson.
The Bowood course, designed by Dave Thomas, current Captain of the Professional Golfers’ Association, is set in the beautiful parkland estate of The Marquis of Lansdowne. Situated close to the town of Calne, the par 72 course, which will measure 7,317 yards (6,689m), offers a compelling test to players of all abilities.
Suneson’s winning aggregate of 16 under par 272 at Bowood in 1999 remains the record for the Championship.