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Boro fan Harrison ready to roll at Rockliffe
WHEN the European Seniors Tour visits County Durham next week, one of the three North-East representatives on show is excited about competing on a track close to his football loving heart.
John Harrison might have been born in Manchester, brought up in the Lake District, works in Northumberland while now living in Newcastle, but the Matfen Hall head professional remains a very strong Middlesbrough supporter.
So when he heads down to Rockliffe Hall for the English Seniors Open from October 4-6 he might just disappear over the fence to his beloved Boro's Rockliffe Park training HQ for a chat with his old hero Tony Mowbray.
“That was the era when I first started to watch Middlesbrough, the days of Pallister and Mowbray at the back under Bruce Rioch,” said Harrison, now 53.
“It started when I worked at Barnard Castle from 1978-1994. During the winter time you would often get some harsh winters and there was one particular winter when the weather was so bad the course hardly opened.
“The captain at Barnard Castle at the time was a lad from Darlington, John Hodgson, and he was a season ticket holder at Middlesbrough so I ended up going along with him to Ayresome Park. That's how it started.
“I kept my season ticket on after that, through the Bryan Robson years, the Terry Venables season. I'm still a mad Middlesbrough fan now, I just don't get to go as much because I play the Seniors Tour and with coaching.
“It will be great to be down at Rockliffe Hall next week, playing next door to Middlesbrough's training ground. Hopefully it will bring me some good luck and I can play well there too.”
Rockliffe Hall was the brainchild of Boro chairman Steve Gibson, who invested heavily in the luxurious hotel, golf and spa complex despite holding no desire to play golf himself.
Yet the prospect of holding a Sky televised Seniors Tour event is exactly the sort of step Gibson has been looking to make and he holds longer term plans of successfully hosting a main European Tour competition.
Former Ryder Cup players Ian Woosnam and Mark James are among those competing at Rockliffe next week, when Harrison hopes the North-East can prove itself as a worthy host once more.
“I just hope the weather is good,” said Harrison, after returning yesterday from a short break to Monaco having spent last week finishing tied 58th at the French Riviera Masters in Provence.
“It would be a shame if the area has an opportunity to showcase one of its best courses on TV and the weather doesn't do the area justice.
“Rockliffe does have the advantage of being a bit further south. In the past when Slaley Hall had bad weather, because it is up in the Pennines, it's a bit harder for the water to drain. I've heard Rockliffe should have no problems like that, but it would be still nice if the weather was ideal.”
As Matfen Hall's main man he is delighted to see the North-East back on the Tour map, with a £200,000 prize pot on offer for the field next week, suggesting the region's golf pull is on the increase again.
“I remember when I first moved to Matfen in the 1990s and as well as Matfen courses like Ramside, Wynyard and Linden all opened for the first time,” said Harrison. “Golf around here was really on the increase and attracting people to the area, five or six new developments opened.
“Then it went quiet, but in recent years there has been a lot of investment again at places like Close House, Rockliffe, Longhirst and that has been great for the North-East again. It's being noticed and the better standard of courses we have here helps to enhance golf's reputation up here.”
But does Harrison expect his own reputation to be enhanced when he tees off in the first round at Rockliffe a week tomorrow?
“I have actually had a bad season,” said Harrison, who is 62nd on the Order of Merit. “I could really do with a top ten finish at Rockliffe or in one of the last few competitions to get in to the top 40.
“That would secure my card again for another year. I've finished top five on three occasions before so I know I am capable. I also feel like I am playing neatly again, so I could have a chance.
“I just need to get my putting head on and we will see. Rockliffe's a tough track, but maybe being in the North-East can inspire me to a greater finish.”
His first aim is to finish as the top North-East man ahead of Eaglescliffe's Graeme Bell and Rockliffe's very own Roger Roper.
* Tickets for the English Seniors Open at Rockliffe Hall in association with The Northern Echo are priced £11 and Under-16s go free. To buy tickets or register an interest in being a course marshal and volunteer go to rockliffehall.com or call 0800 0232557.
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