Christy O'Connor Jnr returns to Northern Ireland this week to defend the Senior British Open, presented by MasterCard, which this year moves to The Royal County Down for the first time.
O'Connor Jnr. won the title last year at his first attempt over the famous Dunluce links at Royal Portrush by three strokes from John Bland after a superb final round of 69. This year the Senior British Open, presented by MasterCard, will be played over the magnificent links of The Royal County Down, the second oldest club in Northern Ireland and rated among the best courses in the world.
The Championship boasts a total prize fund of £400,000 and will be hosted by The Royal County Down for the next two years.
Other past champions include Brian Barnes (1995 and 1996); Bob Charles, (1989 and 1993); Neil Coles, (1987); John Fourie (1992) Brian Huggett (1998), Gary Player (1988, 1990 and 1997) and Bobby Verwey, (1991) .
Among the American entrants is the 1991 US Ryder Cup Captain Dave Stockton who is making his first appearance in the championship. Stockton, who also played in the 1971 and 1977 Ryder Cup teams, led the United States to victory at Kiawah Island. He has also won the US PGA Championship on two occasions, 25 US Tour titles including 14 on the US Senior Tour and is one of only five players to have earned more than $6 million on the US Senior Tour.
Also in the field is Hubert Green, winner of the 1977 US Open at Southern Hills and 1985 US PGA Championship titles. He also led the 1978 Masters Tournament by three strokes going into the final round only to be overhauled by Player, who shot a closing 64. In total Green has won 19 US Tour titles, two US Senior Tour titles including the Audi Senior Classic earlier this year, and represented the United States three times in the Ryder Cup. He also demonstrated his liking for the Irish links courses with his victory in the 1977 Irish Open at Portmarnock. John Jacobs, who recorded his third US Senior Tour victory when he won the Bruno's Memorial Classic in May, is also in the field.
The Royal County Down is one of the oldest Golf Clubs in Ireland with traditions dating back over one hundred years. Founded in 1889, the club has long been revered as one of the world's classic links, laid out by Old Tom Morris and later approved by Harry Vardon and then by Harry Colt.
Situated beneath the Mountains of Mourne, the course enjoys a magnificent stage-like setting as it stretches along the shores of Dundrum Bay. As well as it being one of the worlds most beautiful courses, it is also one of the most challenging, with heather and gorse lining fairways that tumble beneath vast sand hills, with bunkers defending small subtly contoured greens.
The signature hole is the ninth demanding a high, long drive to clear the brow of the 'viewing' hill and down to the fairway. The line is on the spire reaching above the cluster of houses at the foot of the mountains. Then another big blow must be aimed, as if towards town, avoiding a pair of bunkers en route. In Vardon's own words, the ninth hole will “exhilarate and terrify”.
He might have said the same about the par three 4th hole, calling for a 200 yard carry over the inimitable gorse and no fewer than 10 bunkers, or of the much admired 13th hole. That's the way it is at Royal County Down.
The Senior British Open Championship is owned and operated by the European Seniors Tour, Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews and IMG and is staged in conjunction with the Northern Ireland Events Company.