Our man on the ground at Diamond Country Club takes you behind the scenes of the Lyoness Open powered by Greenfinity…
Kafelnikov eyes golden double
One of the sponsor’s invitations this week was given to Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the former World Number One tennis player. After hanging up his racket in 2003, Kafelnikov has been working closely with the Russian Golf Federation to grow the game in his home country and, having since turned professional, his chief aim now is to represent Russia when golf makes its Olympic bow in Rio in four years’ time. After winning a gold medal in tennis at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, it would complete a stunning double if he could also get a golfing gold some 16 years later. More immediately, he will be hoping to make an impression on his first European Tour appearance outside Russia.
Whilst most of the attention this week will inevitably focus on Markus Brier and Bernd Wiesberger, there is no shortage of talent amongst Austria’s amateur ranks. Matthias Schwab came mightily close to becoming his country’s first winner of the Amateur Championship at Royal Troon Golf Club last month, only to be denied on the final hole by Northern Ireland’s Alan Dunbar. The pair are reunited for the first time this week, when Schwab – whose younger brother Johannes is also in the field – will be hoping to gain a measure of revenge.
More amateur dramatics
Another young Austrian to keep an eye on this week is Manuel Trappel who, like Dunbar, arrived in Vienna fresh from making his Major debut at last week’s Open Championship. Trappel earned his place in the elite field at Royal Lytham and St Annes after becoming the first Austrian to win the European Amateur Championship last year, when he beat Walker Cup player Steven Brown in a play-off at Halmstad Golf Club, in Sweden. This week will mark Trappel’s second appearance in his National Open, having made the cut on his European Tour debut at Diamond Country Club last year. To rework a well-known advertising, it seems that “the future’s bright, the future’s Austrian”.
Austrian golf on the march
The exploits of Brier and the more recent emergence of his fellow European Tour champions Martin Wiegele and Wiesberger has led to something of a golfing boom in Austria. There are now more than 100,000 registered golf club members in the country, and that number is rising all the time. Similarly, more golf clubs are sprouting up all the time in addition to the 140 already built, with three alone visible from the motorway on the relatively short journey from Vienna airport to Atzenbrugg. Boasting very pleasant summer temperatures and some truly stunning scenery, Austria is a golfing holidaymaker’s dream destination.
A polished Diamond
Diamond Country Club, host venue for this tournament for the third successive season this week, is undoubtedly one of the country’s finest courses. With water a constant menace – there are hazards on no fewer than nine of the 18 holes – the players’ skills will be tested to the very limit this week. Accuracy is particularly paramount on the two signature holes, the par three 11th and 15th, which are both played to an island green. Similarly, the testing finishing hole, with water on the left and out of bounds on the right, demands arrow-like precision from the tee. With some heavy rain having fallen last weekend the course will also be playing every inch of its 7,366 yards, which could give big-hitters such as Wiesberger a distinct advantage. Fortunately, one of the first things the new owner Christian Guzy did when he bought the club was to install a new drainage system, which has ensured that the course is in the best possible condition.
A headline writer’s dream
With Diamond Country Club hosting this week’s tournament, expect plenty of gem-based puns to be wheeled out ad nauseum by lazy headline writers (that’s me). In addition, the train tracks which run adjacent to the course could also provide a rich seam of puns, so expect plenty of players to build up a head of steam before the wheels come off and their rounds are derailed. I think it’s probably best for all concerned that we leave it there for now…