The Aa St Omer Open proudly takes its place on The European Tour International Schedule this week, having formed an integral part of the European Challenge Tour for the past three years.
This year, for the first time, the popular event in northern France has been upgraded to “dual ranking” status with all prize money counting towards both the Volvo Order of Merit and the Challenge Tour Rankings.
The development of the Aa St Omer Open is a shining example of the ability of certain tournaments and venues to take a step forward in a form of promotion from the Challenge Tour to The European Tour and this week’s tournament is eagerly anticipated.
Two players whjo have experienced the drama and excitement of The Ryder Cup, Paul Broadhurst, from the 1991 team, and Philip Walton, who holed the winning putt in 1995 at Oak Hill Country Club, are both in the field.
Also making his first start in a dual ranking tournament is Australia's marcus Fraser, winner of last week's Nykredit Danish Open.
Nicolas Vanhootegem of Belgium will be defending the title after claiming his first victory in seven years when he charged through the field with a closing 65 last year. Starting the final day three shots off the lead, Vanhootegem then began with a flourish in the final round and opened up a lead he was never to relinquish, eventually finishing three clear of England’s Lee James and Gustavo Rojas of Argentina. It was a victory which helped Vanhootegem finish in seventh place on the 2002 Challenge Tour Rankings and earn his card for The European Tour.
There has also been plenty for the home crowd to cheer about with Frenchmen Pascal Edmond and Sebastian Delagrange winning the first two editions of the Aa St Omer Open on the Challenge Tour and once again the French are strongly represented, led by Gregory Havret, winner of the 2001 Italian Open.
With a prize fund of €400,000 on offer, there is an opportunity for the Challenge Tour Members to make a significant move on the Challenge Tour Rankings. Not surprisingly many of the leading Challenge Tour Members are in action including all seven winners from the 2003 season.
Johan Edfors of Sweden, with two victories to his name already this season, will be looking to extend his lead at the top of the Rankings. Scott Drummond is his closest challenger having twice finished runner-up this season and, having knocked on the door a couple of times, will be aiming to go one better this week.
Significant modifications have been made to the Val Course over the past two years, further enhancing the layout designed by renowned architect Dudock Van Heel and ensuring the tournament has made significant strides every year.