Rising star Tommy Fleetwood will be hoping to go one better when the English Challenge returns to the prestigious Stoke by Nayland Hotel, Golf & Spa near Colchester, Essex, from July 21-24.
Aged just 19 and still an amateur at the time, Fleetwood finished one stroke behind eventual winner Daniel Gaunt of Australia at the inaugural edition of the €160,000 Challenge Tour event, which will again be sponsored by internationally-renowned management company Hambric Sports Group and supported by the English Golf Union (EGU).
The following week, he went on to win the English Amateur Championship en route to topping the Scratch Players World Amateur Ranking. Since then, Fleetwood has turned professional and has made an encouraging start to his first full campaign on the Challenge Tour, finishing in a tie for ninth place at the season-opening Kensville Gujarat Challenge and joint 16th at the recent Barclays Kenya Open.
He will now hope to match the achievements of his close friend and former EGU team-mate Matt Haines, who also played alongside Fleetwood at the 2009 Walker Cup. Despite only turning professional in May 2010 and starting the season without a category, Haines took the Challenge Tour by storm, winning the season-ending Apulia San Domenico Grand Final en route to finishing in second place in the final Rankings.
The closest Fleetwood came to joining Haines in the winner’s enclosure was at last year’s M2M Russian Challenge Cup, where he finished in a tie for second place, and he is confident of making another bold bid at Stoke by Nayland’s stunning Gainsborough Course in July.
He said: “I had a great run as an amateur at the English Challenge last year, and although I came up just short in the end, it gave me confidence that I could hold my own on the Challenge Tour. Playing some events on the Challenge Tour last year was a great education for me, and I’m hoping to build on the experience in my first full season as a professional this year. I’ve been fairly happy with my form so far, and with a run of events in Europe coming up, hopefully I can now build up some real momentum.
“The English Challenge was one of the first events I looked for when the schedule was published, and I’m already looking forward to going back to Stoke by Nayland to see if I can go one better this time. The EGU played a massive role in my development as a golfer, and the advice they gave me helped make the step up to the professional game that much smoother. It’s great that we have a Challenge Tour event in England to help the development of some of the up and coming players in this country, and I hope the English Challenge will again show the strength in depth we have at grass roots level.”
John Petrie, Chief Executive of the EGU, said: “The English Challenge is a great opportunity for some of England’s best amateurs to experience a professional Tour event. The quality of players at the top of the elite amateur game is improving all the time and, as Tommy demonstrated last year, these golfers have the ability to seriously challenge those who have already joined the professional ranks.
“The EGU provides the best coaching experience for our up-and-coming players. Our support of the English Challenge also allows us to provide them with real experience of a professional Tour event, which is invaluable to their future development.”
Rocky Hambric, owner of Hambric Sports Group whose clients include European Tour Members Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño, Francesco Molinari and Oliver Wilson, as well as Haines and his fellow 2010 Challenge Tour graduates Thorbjørn Olesen and Joel Sjöholm, said: “We are very excited to be part of an outstanding tournament such as the English Challenge.
“We believe in the Challenge Tour, and all the benefits it brings young players. Helping to re-establish the Challenge Tour in England was Hambric Sports Group’s way of giving back to a Tour which has given our players so much opportunity. The first English Challenge at Stoke by Nayland was a massive success, and we look forward to an even better one in 2011.”
The 6,757 yards (6,179 metres), par 72 Gainsborough Course at Stoke by Nayland Hotel, Golf and Spa, which is situated in stunning ‘Constable Country’ on the Suffolk / Essex borders, has previously hosted events on both the European Senior Tour and the EuroPro Tour.
England’s Nick Job praised the course’s greens as “among the best in the world” after his victory at the 2008 Weston Homes PGA International Seniors. The club, which has been awarded the Golf Mark hi-achiever accreditation by the EGU and English Women’s Golf Association in recognition of its junior and beginner-friendly facilities, also offers an 80-bedroom hotel, self-catered chalets (from December 2011), a conference centre, an extensive spa and two 18-hole championship courses.
Susanna Rendall, co-owner of Stoke by Nayland, said: “It is a real honour for us to be hosting this wonderful event for the second year running. We are privileged to have Hambric Sports Group, the EGU and the European Challenge Tour all working together for the English Challenge, and this gives us, our members and staff at Stoke by Nayland the opportunity to experience this union, and witness the fantastic golf played by these very talented professionals on our beautiful Gainsborough course.”