Amateur golfers take on world class stars as English Senior Open returns

PRO-AM: Phoenix House team player Paul Nichol putts a shot watched by team pro Paul Wesselingh at Rockliffe Hall Picture: ANDY LAMB

PRO-AM: The Phoenix House team in the pro-am competition at Rockliffe Hall from left Ges Almond, pro Paul Wesselingh, Jason Wilkes and Paul Nichol Picture: ANDY LAMB

PRACTICE SHOT: Ian Woosnam practices before playing in the pro-am tournament at Rockliffe Hall Picture: ANDY LAMB

PRACTICE SHOT: Ian Woosnam practices before playing in the pro-am tournament at Rockliffe Hall Picture: ANDY LAMB

MAKING HIS MARK: Santiago Luna marks his golf balls with felt tip before playing the pro-am tournament at Rockliffe Hall Picture: ANDY LAMB

TEE OFF: Ian Woosnam, centre, shares a joke with team mates at the pro-am tournament at Rockliffe Hall. From left Kevin Brown, Stuart Grindlay and caddy Scott Barnes Picture: ANDY LAMB

First published in News The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter (Darlington)

A GENTLE breeze whips through the trees surrounding Rockliffe Hall’s perfectly manicured course, while golfers in brightly coloured jumpers make last minute adjustments to their swing.

Buggies weave their way through the stragglers, laden with golf bags and the eager faces of both world class golfers and amateur club members.

As the anticipation builds, a firework cuts through the cold County Durham air, heralding the start of the English Senior Open’s pretournament pro-am event.

The charity competition gives amateur golfers across the north the chance to take on the likes of former Ryder Cup captains Ian Woosnam, Sam Torrance and Mark James.

Making their competition debut were Jason Wilkes, Ges Almond, and Paul Nichol – a team of veterans from the Phoenix House recovery centre in Catterick Garrison - together with last year's Order of Merit winner Paul Wesselingh.

For the past three months, the team have undergone intensive coaching with Rockliffe Hall professional Martyn Stubbings to bring them up to pro-am standard.

Mr Nichol, a former member of the Royal Army Medical Corps who suffered a serious spine injury, said he and his team were extremely grateful for the training, and the opportunity to play against world class golf stars.

“When I’m out on the course I am normal – nobody can tell there is anything wrong with me,” he said.

Mr Wilkes served in the army for 19 years and suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“Looking at us you would never think we were injured. We hope that by taking part in the event other people like us with invisible injuries can see that they don’t have to suffer in silence,” he added.

The English Senior Open returns to the region for a second time after last year’s event pulled in more than 5,000 spectators to Rockliffe Hall, in Hurworth, near Darlington – making it the biggest single sporting event in the North-East this year.

Chairman of Rockliffe Hall, Warwick Brindle, said: “To have three Ryder Cup captains at Rockliffe Hall in the year that the cup returns to the UK is a massive coup for the North-East.”

Managing director of the European Senior Tour, Andy Stubbs, added: “After the immense success of last year’s English Senior Open at Rockliffe Hall and the incredible support we got from the North-East, it’s going to be great to be coming back again."

Money raised from the pro-am tournament will go towards The Northern Echo’s £100,000 appeal for a performing arts facility at Phoenix House.

To donate visit thenorthernecho.co.uk/news/campaigns/helpforheroes/donate

Tickets for the English Senior Open are £10. To book call 01325-729999 or visit englishsenioropen.com

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