By Will Pearson, europeantour.com
at Rockliffe Hall
When Steve Van Vuuren was assigned a caddie for this week’s English Senior Open, the South African could barely have believed his luck when Rockliffe Hall course designer Marc Westenborg was selected to carry his bag.
With the assistance of fellow South African Westenborg, Van Vuuren signed for a solid two under par 70 on Friday to climb into contention in the north east of England and said it was a unique experience for both parties.
“I’ve never encountered anything like this before and it was pretty interesting for both of us,” said Van Vuuren, who was four shots off Peter Mitchell’s lead with 36 holes to play. “We both learned from one another. Of course he knows the contours of the greens which was quite a help; if I had any doubts there then he would say ‘watch this slope here, watch this slope there’ which was great.
“And I think he learned a little bit from our threeball as to the setup of the course and what he had in mind, what things haven’t quite worked out how he liked and what things he might make alterations to.
“He didn’t know my game, of course, in terms of my distances and what lines I could take off the tee but there were certainly a lot of advantages to having him on the bag!”
Although not originally in a brief that initially specified the need for a “resort” type golf course to complement the five red star hotel in County Durham, Westenborg noticed the possibility was there for a long, championship course and, as he says, “one thing led to another” and within four years of opening its doors Rockliffe Hall had its first major golf event.
“It’s amazing to see my course step up to the big scene,” said the affable Westenborg, who works for renowned international design company Hawtree Limited. “When I first heard about it a couple of months ago I was astounded and incredibly proud.
“Seeing all these guys play the course and what great condition it is in gives a real sense of achievement. Hopefully none of them will come up to me and say they don’t like it!”
“What did I learn from the experience of caddying for Steve? Mainly how bad I am at golf and how good they are but seriously, I think on the most part I think I got everything about right.
“It seemed to challenge them enough and provide quite a fair test.”
At almost 7,900 yards from the back tees, you would think Rockliffe Hall would be long enough to test even the biggest of hitters, yet Westenborg observed the need to increase the carry in a couple of places.
“One other thing I did notice,” he laughed, “was that none of the guys in my group went into any greenside bunkers, so either they are all playing very well or they are not positioned in the right places!”
Westenborg’s links have been well-received by the Senior Tour membership, who are playing the course at just under 7,000 yards this week, as overnight leader Mitchell proclaimed Rockliffe Hall “the best conditioned course we have played all year.”