Tuesday, 01 July 2003
Ireland's Des Smyth makes his European Seniors Tour debut when he tees up in the £500,000 Ryder Cup Wales Seniors Open, to be staged at Royal St David's, Harlech, from 4-6 July.

The former Ryder Cup golfer heads an impressive field that also includes Bob Charles, Eamonn Darcy, 2001 champion Denis Durnian, defending champion Seiji Ebihara, Carl Mason, Manuel Pinero, Christy O'Connor Jnr and 2002 Senior British Open champion, Noboru Sugai.

Smyth turned 50 on February 12 and one week later got his senior career off to a wonderful start, finishing second behind Argentina's Vicente Fernandez at the Ace Group Classic on the Champions Tour. Since then, he has gone on to record a further five top ten finishes in 11 starts in America, the most recent coming when he claimed a share of fifth place behind John Jacobs at the US PGA Seniors Championship at Aronimink GC in Pennsylvania.

Smyth is not the only competitor to be making his European Seniors Tour debut over the testing par 69 links at Harlech. Joining him is former Scottish Open and Turespana Masters champion, Carl Mason, who turned 50 on June 25 after an illustrious career during which he won twice on the European Tour and on three occasions on the Safari circuit in Africa.

Mason first hit the headlines when he won the 1973 British Youths Championship at Southport & Ainsdale. He turned professional later that year and made such an immediate impact that he was installed as the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year at then end of 1984.

The Englishman went on to play on The European Tour for 22 years, winning twice at the 1994 Turespana Masters and the 1994 Bell's Scottish Open and amassing an impressive haul of 62 top ten finishes.

Mason returns to competitive action having spent the last two seasons working as a referee on the European Seniors Tour.

"It is going to be a bit strange switching for one side of the fence to the other but I am really looking forward to it," admitted the Englishman.

"I have thoroughly enjoyed being a referee but I have got to admit that it is going to be even better to be back playing again. In an ideal world, I would have liked to have played a couple of tournaments before I came to Wales but that was not to be.

"I am just going to have to get on with it and see what I can do."

Mason is one of a number of former European Tour players who will be teeing up at the Wales Seniors Open for the first time.

Another well-known debutant is former Ryder Cup star, Manuel Pinero, who turned 50 last September, finishing third on his first start at the 2002 GIN Monte Carlo Invitational.

Pinero won no less than nine times on The European Tour and competed twice in the Ryder Cup in 1981 and 1985. On the later of those two occasions, the Spaniard had the distinction of winning four out of five of his matches. He teamed up with Seve Ballesteros to earn three points in the foursomes and four balls and then went on to defeat the formidable Lanny Wadkins in the top singles match.

Scotland's Bill Longmuir is another former European Tour player who will be making his first appearance in Harlech. He spent the winter honing his game at the Florida home of his great friend, Greg Norman, and all his hard work almost paid off when he opened with a 64 on his way to finishing tied fifth behind Malcolm Gregson on his debut at the recent Irvine Whitlock Jersey Seniors Masters.

"It's great to be back," said the Scot, who claimed three Nigerian Open titles during the 1970s and 1980s and twice led the field at the Open Championship after the first round.

"It's strange, once you get to 47 or 48 all you think about is turning 50 and getting back out on Tour again. I thoroughly enjoyed Jersey although I am a bit disappointed that I wasn't able to win after the start I had. But I know I have to be patient. The one thing I have realised already is that there is a lot of good golfers on this Tour."

The field at the Wales Seniors Open was also boosted by the news that Ireland's Eamonn Darcy and Japan's Noboru Sugai will also both tee up for the first time.

Darcy has spent most of the season in the States, where he came close to winning recently, losing to Doug Tewell after a sudden-death play-off for the Farmers Charity Classic.. Last summer, Sugai caused something of a surprise when he became the first Japanese golfer to win the Senior British Open, presented by MasterCard. Nevertheless, he won in considerable style, closing with a battling 74 in wet and windy conditions to finish two shots ahead of Canada's John Irwin.

This year's event marks the third time the Ryder Cup Wales Seniors Open has been staged at Royal St David's.

The first time the event was held England's Denis Durnian emerged victorious, holding off a challenge from America's Jay Horton and Scotland's Bernard Gallacher to win for the first time on the Seniors Tour. Last year saw Japan's Seiji Ebihara claim victory by beating a high quality chasing pack which included former Open winners Tony Jacklin and Bob Charles, defending champion Durnian and 1989 Ryder Cup hero, Christy O'Connor Jnr. The victory helped the Japanese golfer finish Number One on the Order of Merit at the end of the year.

Charles, Durnian, Ebihara, Gallacher and O'Connor all return this year, as does current 2003 Order of Merit leader, Terry Gale, the winner of this season's Royal Westmoreland Barbados Open and Tobago Plantations Seniors Classic. The field also includes four other 2003 winners, Ray Carrasco, Malcolm Gregson, Noel Ratcliffe and Hank Woodrome, as well as Delroy Cambridge, Neil Coles, Tommy Horton, Ian Stanley and Bob Shearer.

Secretary of Royal St David's, David Morkill said: "The club is delighted to act as host once again to the Ryder Cup Wales Seniors Open and warmly welcomes the players and the Tour back for a third year.

"The event acts as an excellent boost to the local economy - from hotels, which were fully booked for some distance around - to local suppliers and the golf club itself. Green fee receipts last year were greatly ahead of those for 2001 and it's already looking very promising for 2003."

Ryder Cup Wales 2010 Manager, Rob Holt, said the situation at Royal St David's was being mirrored throughout the country. "The general trend of golf visitors to Wales is up, very much as a result of the Summer of Golf tournaments and the publicity that they're giving to the sport in Wales.

"The Seniors Open, on a magnificent links course featuring Harlech Castle as part of its spectacular backdrop, is becoming one of the mainstays of this calendar, and the 2002 event attracted huge worldwide television audiences," he added.

"With the tournament increasing in stature each year, we're confident it will help Wales consolidate its position as Britain's fastest growing golf tourism destination."

Andy Stubbs, Managing Director of the Seniors Tour, confirmed that the Seniors Tour players and officials were looking forward to returning to Royal St David's for a third time.

"It is going to be great to be back at Royal St David's," Stubbs said. "In just two years, the Ryder Cup Wales Seniors Open has developed into one of the most eagerly awaited events on our schedule. Through talking to the players, I know how much they enjoy the golf course and also the local hospitality. It is one of those places they look forward to visiting right from the start of the year."

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