The European Seniors Tour launches its eighth season on Friday with a world-class field gathering for the Beko Classic at Klassis Golf and Country Club in Turkey.
The line up this week, one of the strongest seen on the Seniors Tour, includes 22 of the top 25 players in the 1998 European Seniors Tour Order of Merit. They will be joined by two former champions embarking on their first season on the European Seniors Tour - Bernard Gallacher and Ian Stanley.
Gallacher, a veteran of eight Ryder Cup Matches as a player and three as Captain, will be making his European Seniors Tour debut. Gallacher made a meteoric rise as a young professional, becoming the youngest ever winner of the Harry Vardon Trophy in 1969 and in the same year the youngest player to play against the United States in the Ryder Cup, a record later beaten by Paul Way. During his career on the main Tour, which he successfully combined with a career as head professional at Wentworth Club for 20 years, he won 13 European Tour titles and is now set to add another chapter to an illustrious career.
Another former European Tour champion, Australia’s Ian Stanley, will be renewing old acquaintances in 1999, particularly with Christy O’Connor Jnr with whom he shared first place in the Martini International Tournament at Royal North Devon Golf Club in 1975 for his only European Tour triumph. O’Connor Jnr, who played three events last year after reaching the age of 50 in August, will kick off his first full season on the European Seniors Tour with the AIB Irish Seniors Open at Mount Juliet.
Gallacher and Stanley will tee up this week alongside the established stars of last season led by Tommy Horton, who will be bidding for a fourth consecutive John Jacobs Award for heading the European Seniors Tour Order of Merit. Horton has amassed more than 860,848 euro and another season like the last three will see him become the first player to earn seven figures on the Seniors Tour. Indeed he is more determined than ever to continue his winning streak and will be dedicating even more time to tournament golf having retired this week as club professional at Royal Jersey after 25 years.
The 1999 schedule will contain no fewer than 19 events and a record 3.7 million euro prize money as the Seniors Tour prepares to move into the new Millennium. Prize money has increased by an average of 15% per tournament and five new events have joined the schedule – the MDIS & Partners Festival of Golf, the Montecastillo Seniors Grand Prix, the Monte Carlo Invitational, the Ordina Legends in Golf and the Greek Seniors Open.
The premier event will again be the Senior British Open, won by Brian Huggett last year, and other established events such as the Belfry PGA Seniors Championship, AIB Irish Seniors Open and Wentworth Senior Masters, which is for the first time to be shown by BBC Television, continue to form the backbone on the European Seniors Tour.
The season starts with the 250,000 euro Beko Classic which moves to the Klassis Golf and Country Club near Istanbul for the first time. American Bob Lendzion, a graduate from the Seniors Tour Qualifying School, will be defending the title he won after a three-man play-off at Gloria Golf Resort in Antalya twelve months ago. His final round of 69 left him tied with Antonio Garrido and Bobby Verwey but a birdie on the first extra hole secured his first Seniors Tour title.
Andy Stubbs, Managing Director of the European Seniors Tour, said: “Players such as Bernard Gallacher and Christy O’Connor Jnr have had a huge impact on the game throughout their careers and their support of the European Seniors Tour can only help as we approach the new Millennium. It is always a pleasure to welcome new players on to the European Seniors Tour and their presence is sure to add to what promises to be another new and exciting season.
“This year we have five new events and the addition of numerous world renowned venues such as Mount Juliet, Montecastillo and Monte Carlo, will again offer more opportunities to senior golfers. Our success is based upon the friendly and entertaining nature of the European Seniors Tour and with the on-going support of our sponsors and promoters we can continue to make strong, orderly progress into the new Millennium.”