A MONTH before September’s Ryder Cup heads for Gleneagles, some of the biggest names in the competition’s proud history will descend on County Durham. Mark James, Gordon Brand Jnr, Costantino Rocca and Manuel Pinero are among Team Europe’s former players likely to be heading for the second English Senior Open held at Rockliffe Hall.
The timing of this year’s rerun of last October’s success story on the Hurworth course should guarantee even greater numbers in terms of spectator attendance. The Bank Holiday weekend in August (22-24), sandwiched between the SSE Scottish Senior Open and Travis Perkins Masters, should also secure a couple more high profile golfers.
European Tour chiefs have taken notice of the venue, which has often been described as capable of hosting the Ryder Cup in the future, and its ability to deliver last year’s event with just six weeks noticed has led to even greater expectations this time around.
The search is ongoing for a sponsor, which will determine the size of the prize purse on offer, but the hopes are for an even greater buzz than six months ago just four weeks before the Ryder Cup arrives at Gleneagles.
“There’s no doubt we will have former Ryder Cup golfers here and there could be even more than we would initially be expecting,” said European Senior Tour’s managing director Andy Stubbs. “You just have to think of all the guys we have on Tour already like Sam Torrance and Mark James to know there will be plenty here at Rockliffe that week.
“We have names like Ronan Rafferty, Brand Jnr, Barry Lane, Manuel Pinero and Antonio Garrido ... all these guys have played Ryder Cup. Then you have former captains, like Mark James and they will all be thinking who has qualified who has not qualified for this year’s Ryder Cup. It will be a good chance for fans to get in their ear to see what they think building up to it this year’s Ryder Cup.
“There is even a chance Monty (Colin Montgomerie) could be here in August, but we will just have to see. He has been over playing in America. He recently shot a 62 over in the States and he will be back to defend at Woburn the week after Rockliffe. It will just be a case of where he is the week before. Hopefully he will be.”
Good weather will clearly benefit Rockliffe in terms of walk-up numbers over the three-day tournament in August, while acquiring a sponsor could determine whether the English Senior Open returns for further years. Provided the finance can be found, there is also no reason to believe that a main European Tour event cannot make an appearance in County Durham in the not too distant future.
Stubbs, who made an overnight visit this week to Rockliffe to launch the English Senior Open 2014, said: “The course will be set at around 7,000 yards for the senior guys, so it’s capable of adding a further 7-800 behind that with different tees. We will see in August just how good a facility it is. Even last October we saw how it would suit our needs. “There’s no doubt you could have a regular Tour event here at Rockliffe Hall, what that comes down to is a sponsor. We do have a number of UK events for Senior Tour, but in the European Tour there is only one in England if you don’t think about the Open Championship. You just have to find a sponsor to host and a venue, Rockliffe could do that easily.”
Rockliffe’s chairman Warwick Brindle has been exploring different avenues in the hope of coming up with a sponsor and he has enlisted the help of the events team at Stockton Council, who have previous experience of preparing for the Seve Trophy’s visit to The Wynyard Club in 2005.
Brindle was pleased with the 5,000-plus turn-out in October and expects more in the height of the summer. He said: “We hope it will be even busier. We are pretty sure all the international players will be here again and maybe a few more.
“Golf-wise it is a build up to the Ryder Cup. We are hopeful we will get really support from the public. We got it last year. We are looking for a bumper weekend. Mark James will definitely be coming again, there is something like eight ex-Ryder Cup players involved. They don’t want to announce the big names until they are sure, though. “ Derbyshire’s Paul Wesselingh, the 2013 winner of the Senior Tour Order of Merit, finished fifth at Rockliffe Hall in October but thinks the North-East has a jewel capable of long term success.
He said: “The course is superb. It is so well presented. The feedback we got from all the players afterwards was that it was all wonderful. The winning score from Steen Tinning was 17 under for a three round event which was phenomenal.
“That score is testament to the course and how well we were looked after. I am looking to defend the Order of Merit trophy this year. There are a lot of good players coming on this year and the standard will be high, but it should be a great year and it will be great to be back at Rockliffe.”