Longhirst Hall attracts top golf tournament

PUBLISHED: 08:31 23 June 2010 | UPDATED: 17:25 20 February 2013

The Clubhouse

The Clubhouse

Few sports are more rooted in history than the honourable game of golf, yet there a definitely modern feel about the game in the North East. Roger Tames explains

During the past couple of decades, major championship golf courses like Slaley Hall and Wynyard have established themselves on the tournament circuit. Now, this summer, Longhirst Hall near Morpeth is staging its first European event.
Junes Dawson & Sanderson Classic is part of the PGA Europro Tour which is itself a very 21st Century project. It was set up in 2002 to develop the next generation of tournament professionals, by giving them the same competitive experience as the circuit pros.
For Longhirst, which was only opened in 1997, its a fitting reward for astonishing ambition and a genuinely fresh golfing philosophy. Within six years of its first public tee-shot, a second course had been constructed and opened, with a new clubhouse following in 2006.
The facilities may be new but so to is the attitude. Right from the start, Longhirst wanted to attract new people to the game by encouraging more casual golfers to pay as they play
At one time you used to have to know someone to belong to a golf club, explains Golf Manager Graham Chambers, referring to the old days when you needed a proposer and seconder before you could go before the membership committee.
We were quite visionary I suppose. We wanted to bring golf to the masses. So we encouraged casual golfers who might not want to be members of a club.
The game has changed so much. It used to be a game just for businessmen. Now theres so much more awareness with increased media coverage. New clubs like ours have been pro-active in attracting people to golf.
The Europro Tour were looking for new, forward-thinking venues so Longhirst got its chance to stage three days of top competition, attracting 156 professionals playing for a 40,000
prize fund.
Longhirst has a really modern feel to it, enthuses a clearly impressed PGA Tournament Director Gordon Dewar. In many ways, the club has been flying in the face of tradition but its done it with such a positive attitude. We see the future as encouraging all kinds of people to play golf.
That wasnt the main aim at the clubs big week though. The Europro event has a more specific eye on the future. This tournament is a major stepping stone for players who want to be tournament pros warns Dewar.
Its a massive step-up from county and regional competitions for the players and gives them a fantastic opportunity to cut their teeth in a tournament environment. Theyre always amazed at how competitive it is.
For local players like Matfen Halls Paul Fiddes, the Longhirst event has brought a key opportunity into his own backyard. Paul, who was off scratch by the time he was 15 years old, is very much a working golf professional.
When I was 18, I decided I wanted to be a professional golfer, explains the 25-year-old and former Northumberland County Champion. So I started picking up the balls on the range at Matfen till they offered me a full time job.
I wanted to get a proper grounding in the game and have a job to fall back on if I didnt make it as a player. So Ive just finished the PGAs three-year Foundation Degree, where you learn about accountancy, physiology etc. I work long days in the shop and also teach after work but I love it all.
Making sure he has a potential career as a club pro has involved neglecting the actual playing side. To have a chance you need to play full time but that needs support and sponsors. You cant do it without the backing, says Paul, who was playing for England at Under 16 and Under 18 level.
The Europro tour is a chance to get a foot on the ladder. Some of the players I used to beat have been lucky enough to be full time. Now I want to take the chance to see how good I can be.
You need the work ethic to succeed, and the belief in yourself as well as the skill. I love playing, though golf has got to be one of the most difficult sports in the world.

Is golf in the North East appealing to a wider clientele, or have the new pay-as-you-go courses resulted in the clubhouses losing their cosy exclusivity? Leave us a message with your views.

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