Members of the European Seniors Tour head into uncharted water this week when they compete for the biggest first prize in the Tour’s history at the Wales Seniors Open over the glorious Royal St David’s Golf Club in Harlech.
The tournament offers a record first prize of £83,330 out of a total prize purse of £500,000 and as a result has attracted a hugely impressive field that includes all of the leading European Seniors Tour Members.
Australia’s Noel Ratcliffe, the Number One on the 2000 European Seniors Tour Order of Merit and the winner of this year’s Beko Seniors Classic in Turkey, heads the field at Royal St David’s and he will be joined by a strong cast that includes Neil Coles, Priscillo Diniz, Seiji Ebihara, Bernard Gallacher, John Grace, Tommy Horton, John Morgan, Denis O’Sullivan, Bob Shearer and Ian Stanley.
Also on hand will be local hero, Brian Huggett, who was born in Porthcawl, has taken part in seven Ryder Cups and is now one of the key figures in the Welsh campaign to bring the 2009 Ryder Cup to the Principality.
The veteran Coles, who is now 67 but showed while winning last year’s Microlease Jersey Seniors Open that he has lost none of the guile required to play links golf, will start out among the favourites but he will face a stern challenge, not just from the Senior Tour’s stalwarts but also from an impressive group of rookies who joined the Tour at the start of this season.
Top of that list is the New Zealander, Simon Owen, best known for finishing second behind Jack Nicklaus at the 1978 Open Championship over the Old Course, St Andrews.
Owen, who hails from Wanganui, sold his farm Down Under in order to finance his first sortie onto the European Seniors Tour and it has proved to be a shrewd investment because he has produced several strong showings in his first four starts among the over-50s.
The New Zealander made his first mark when he finished second behind Japan’s Seiji Ebihara at the AIB Irish Seniors Open at Powerscourt GC south of Dublin and he also one of the central figures at last week’s De Vere PGA Seniors Championship at Carden Park where he tied for fourth place. What’s more, he also crossed the Atlantic between those two performances, where he played in all four rounds at the US PGA Seniors Championship at Ridgewood GC, New Jersey.
“It has been a steep learning curve for me,” said Owen. “When I arrived over here, I hadn’t played much competitive golf for a couple of years. I wasn’t tournament sharp but, little by little, it’s been improving.”
Owen is not the only newcomer to impress so far this season. Scotland’s Mike Miller, a veteran with more than 20 years experience on the European Tour and Challenge Tour, has scored the lowest round of the season to date, a nine under par 63 during the second round of the Beko Classic, and Jamaica’s Delroy Cambridge, arguably the Tour’s biggest hitter, has notched three top-10 finishes in his first four starts.
All in all, the inaugural Welsh Seniors Open promises to be an intriguing contest and one of the highlights of the 2001 season.
“We are delighted to be returning to Wales after an absence of seven years and it’s particularly exciting because we are returning for a tournament as big as this,” said Andy Stubbs, Managing Director of the European Seniors Tour.
“A few years ago, it would be unthinkable that European Seniors Tour members would be competing for £500,000 purses but this year we have two, firstly here at the Welsh Seniors Open and then again at the Senior British Open, presented by MasterCard.
“We all looking forward to visiting Royal St David’s and I like to take this opportunity to thank Brian Huggett for all the hard work he put in behind the scenes getting a tournament in Wales. It’s very much appreciated.”