The European Challenge Tour makes its annual return to northern France for one of the longest running and most storied events on the International Schedule. Here is the scoop on the Hauts de France – Pas de Calais Golf Open.
Bring your A game
One of the beautiful things about the Challenge Tour is the variety of golf courses the rising stars get to play as they hone their skills in preparation for a career on the big stage. Last week, players took on a stunning mountainside course in Switzerland, and now, they face the daunting Aa Saint-Omer Golf Club.
Aa Saint-Omer consistently plays as the hardest golf course on Tour, so difficult in fact, that only two players—Christan Nillson and Sébastien Gros— have completed the tournament on double-digit under par figures.
The course features several elevation changes, which demand elite distance control, and also requires players to have total command of their shot shaping abilities as it twists and turns in both directions through narrow forests.
Bringing out the best
While some may find the course too difficult to handle, Aa Saint-Omer has a way of getting the cream to rise to the top. In fact, the last five winners of the Hauts de France – Pas de Calais Golf Open—Jordi Garcia Pinto in 2014, Sébastien Gros in 2015, José Filipe-Lima in 2016, Julien Guerrier in 2017 and Stuart Manley last year— have all gone on to graduate to the European Tour at the end of the season.
In fact, last year’s play-off featured two eventual graduates in Manley, and Scotland’s Grant Forrest, who finished the season in eighth on the Rankings despite never winning.
The 2019 tournament marks the 15th consecutive year the Challenge Tour has stopped at Aa Saint-Omer, and the 18th time overall, after it was first played in 2000. Over the years, the Hauts de France – Pas de Calais Golf Open has welcomed the biggest names in golf on their journey to the top.
In his three-win 2013 season, Brooks Koepka finished in a tie for tenth place on one over par, the same year Tyrrell Hatton carded a six over par total for a share of 33rd.
Alex Noren fought his way to a tied 53rd position in the 2006 edition, where he finished four over par on a much kinder, par 72 layout.
In 2011, that year’s Challenge Tour Number One failed to break 80 on day one, carding a ten over par round of 81. We told you the course was hard.
For the third straight year, France will be the most visited nation on the Challenge Tour International Schedule. The Hauts de France – Pas de Calais Golf Open is the first of four stops across the country. In addition to this week in Lumbres, the Challenge Tour will also play in Le Vaudreuil in July for Le Vaudreuil Golf Challenge, the Open de Bretagne in Pleneuf at the start of September and the Hopps Open de Provence in Mallemort at the end of the month.
French players continue to excel as a result of their time on the Challenge Tour. Last year’s regulars, Victor Perez and Romain Langasque both progressed to the European Tour, and in 2017, Clément Sordet, Guerrier and Adrien Saddier moved up to the global stage. This year, there are currently four Frenchmen inside the top 25 on the Rankings, including current leader Antoine Rozner and Matthieu Fenasse, who finished in a tie for third last year at the Hauts de France – Pas de Calais Golf Open.