The European Tour is renowned for seeking out and developing new territories on the International Schedule, so it is appropriate that this week’s return to the Continent of Europe takes the Tour to the former home of world famous explorer, Christopher Columbus.
The first ‘port’ of call in 2009 will be the magnificent Seve Ballesteros-designed Porto Santo Golfe, which hosts the 17th consecutive edition of the Madeira Islands Open BPI - Portugal.
Constructed on a unique site on the tiny island of Porto Santo lying off Madeira, Porto Santo Golfe is a stunning piece of golf course architecture that stretches up and through the island’s dramatic basalt cliffs to the wonderful par three 13th hole, where the tee shot must traverse a dramatic gorge to find the cliff-top putting surface.
Porto Santo Island itself is part of the Portuguese archipelago that includes the main island of Madeira in the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast of Africa and is widely regarded as one of the last ‘undiscovered’ holiday resorts in Europe – although clearly Columbus spotted its potential many centuries ago!
It is not difficult to envisage Ballesteros enjoying the design process of this beautiful course, and he has sculpted a lay-out that will require the kind of the shot-making vision with which the dashing Spaniard was synonymous during his playing career.
There are numerous players capable of producing the requisite magic to take home the majority share of the €700,000 prize fund this week, with 2000 champion and Ryder Cup player, Niclas Fasth of Sweden, joining in-form players like South Africa’s Thomas Aiken, who finished joint seventh in last week’s WGC-CA Championship in Florida and is the highest ranked player in the 156-stong field at Number 31.
Tournament Director David Williams of The European Tour, believes that Porto Santo possesses a number of holes which are “the most dramatic you will find anywhere in the world” He said: “The players will relish the challenge of the 200 yard 13th and the 393 yard 14th – back to back holes where you are playing across the clifftops with the sea 500 feet below.”
Other past champions such as Welshman Bradley Dredge, the Spanish pair of Pedro Linhart and Santiago Luna, Sweden’s Jarmo Sandelin, Jean Van de Velde of France and Argentina’s Daniel Vancsik could all threaten once again as the event moves to Porto Santo Golfe after 12 years at Santo da Serra Golf Club.
Dredge has warm memories of the tournament. Six years ago the Welshman fired a 12 under par round of 60 at Santo da Serra Golf Club – admittedly with preferred lies - on his way to capturing the first of his two victories on The European Tour International Schedule.
For Van de Velde, who finished runner-up to Paul Lawrie in The Open Championship ten years ago, his victory in 2006 was an emotionally charged one after his battle with injuries and illness.
Porto Santo Golfe has the potential to produce the same kind of excitement as its predecessor. The beautiful mountain-top venue of Santo da Serra played host to many a nail-biting climax to the Madeira Islands Open BPI - Portugal, none more so than last year when Alastair Forsyth made a brilliant extra-time birdie to defeat South Africa’s Hennie Otto at the first extra hole of a sudden-death play-off.
Several past Ryder Cup players are included in the field, England’s Paul Broadhurst, Sandelin, Per-Ulrik Johansson and Joakim Haeggman of Sweden, Andrew Coltart of Scotland, Welshman Phillip Price and Italy’s Costantino Rocca, who deserts the ranks of the European Senior Tour this week to ply his trade on The European Tour. Joining Rocca is England’s Roger Chapman, who is warming up for his 50th birthday and a new career among the seniors by playing in Madeira.
Given the dramatic and breathtaking nature of the Porto Santo Golf Club, The European Tour can expect another exciting edition of the Madeira Islands Open BPI - Portugal.