His Grace The Duke of Bedford, owner of Woburn Golf Club, was presented Honorary Life Vice Presidency of The European Tour during a glittering staging of the European Senior Tour Annual Awards Dinner on Thursday.
On the eve of the Travis Perkins plc Senior Masters, being held this week for a 13th consecutive time on the Duke’s Course at Woburn, the stars of the Senior Tour – including four former Ryder Cup Captains in Mark James, Colin Montgomerie, Sam Torrance and Ian Woosnam – plus staff and guests gathered at the magnificent Sculpture Gallery at Woburn to celebrate a stellar 2012 season.
England’s Paul Wesselingh also received the Rookie of the Year award for a superb maiden season in the Senior ranks last year, while in absentia Roger Chapman was voted Rolex Player of the Year and American Dick Mast picked up the Lawrence Batley award for the leading player in the 2012 Order of Merit over the age of 60.
Including this week’s Senior Masters, Woburn has hosted 53 professional tournaments since it was opened in 1976, having also previously staged The European Tour’s British Masters at differing times between 1979 and 2002, the Heritage Tournament – a one-off European Tour event won by Sweden’s Henrik Stenson in 2004 – as well as the Women’s British Open (1984 and 1991-99).
In recognition of his continued involvement in The European Tour, and golf in general, the Duke was afforded the honorary title by George O’Grady, Chief Executive of The European Tour.
“The game owes this venue a great deal, they have always made us so very welcome,” said O’Grady. “We wanted to honour His Grace in making him a member of The European Tour family, making him one the key people – led by Sir Michael Bonallack – and ten other Vice Presidents across the field of golf and indeed the world who we can lean on and look to for advice.”
After making his way as a club professional for much of his career, Wesselingh made a flying start to life on the Senior Tour after securing the second card at the Qualifying School.
The Liverpudlian finished runner up in the Mallorca Open Senior on his debut before winning The ISPS Handa PGA Seniors Championship, holding off the challenge of defending champion Andrew Oldcorn en route to a fifth place finish on the 2012 Order of Merit.
In a touching speech, the 51 year old, who has continued his first-season form by twice winning so far in 2013, said: “It was always a dream to play at the top level but for various reasons I never quite got there. Maybe I didn’t think I was quite good enough and then the family came along and I wanted to spend time with them.
“But having watched these players for so many years, they inspire you. We have legends everywhere on this Tour.
“I remember, like most people, Sam Torrance holing that massive putt on the 18th at The Belfry (in The 1985 Ryder Cup), arms aloft and tears streaming down his face. That was a defining moment in golf, an iconic one.
“And then you go to 1991, when Ian Woosnam holed that six-footer on the 18th at Augusta (to win the Masters Tournament) and went ballistic, his caddie chucking him around the green.
“And who am I playing with in the first round here at Woburn? Sam Torrance and Ian Woosnam. That’s a dream – I’m living the dream.”
Chapman was voted Rolex Player of the Year after creating history in 2012 when he became the first Englishman to win the US Senior PGA Championship with a two stroke victory at Harbor Shores, in Michigan.
He then returned to the same State to win the US Senior Open at Indianwood, overturning Bernhard Langer’s four shot lead. In doing so he became only the fourth player after Gary Player (1987), Jack Nicklaus (1991) and Hale Irwin (1998) to do the double in the same season.
The 54 year old won the John Jacobs Trophy with earnings of €356,751.
American Mast, meanwhile, won the Over 60s award after finishing 19th in the 2012 Order of Merit with €90,549.
It was a fitting opening to what promises to be an excellent week at Woburn Golf Club, with what is widely regarded as the finest field ever assembled for the event taking to the Duke’s Course from Friday August 30 to Sunday September 1 including 34 former European Tour winners and 12 former Ryder Cup players.