THE world’s best amateur golfers will descend on Seaton Carew Golf Club next week in the hope of joining a list of Brabazon Trophy winners that have gone on to become household names on the professional circuit.
Whatever nationality or whoever the eventual champion of the English Men’s Open Amateur Stroke Play Championship (Brabazon) is, they will have to overcome a huge challenge. The gruelling links on the North Sea coast on the outskirts of Hartlepool is showing its teeth.
The Brabazon course officially re-opened for business again this week in preparation for the start of a tournament it was named after when they hosted it for the first and only previous time in 1985. That year former Ryder Cup player Peter Baker and the North-East’s very own Roger Roper tied first place and the likes of Sandy Lyle and Charl Schwartzel are among the big names on the trophy.
Golf writer Paul Fraser was given an insight in to what the cream of amateur golf will face, having experienced Seaton’s fairways in the sun, with the wind blowing and the long rough eating up any wayward shots.
The golf club’s professional, Clifford Jackson, was a junior when the Brabazon was last played at Seaton and he is still at the club now. Few are better placed to offer hints and tips to those heading out to play from Wednesday, June 25 to Saturday, June 28 than he is.
This is how Jackson thinks the 6,920-yard Brabazon should be played and, with entry free for the competition all week, golf lovers can get along to view just how difficult the track can be.
HOLE ONE – ROCKET
A nice first hole, which most of the golfers will hit a two, three or four iron to the top and avoiding the out of bounds and pond on the right. Provided the tee shot was good, a drop in to the green from around 100 yards should ensure a relaxed opening.
HOLE TWO – LONG TRAIL
The wind direction will determine whether a long iron or driver is used on what is a good driving hole. It’s excellent to find the fairway, which slopes left to right. A long drive brings the green in to play on the second shot for an eagle opportunity, alternatively you lay-up short of the bunkers 50 yards from the front of the green.
HOLE THREE – DOCTOR
The first par three of the course and there is no real hiding place with the green surrounded by bunkers, some deep. You have got to be landing on the dancefloor otherwise all the slopes tend to be towards the traps.
HOLE FOUR – DUNES
The new tee adds length and demands a precise, distance drive. You need to find the fairway or it can leave a tight approach to the green. There are bunkers to the left so the pin position is crucial before deciding what to hit on the approach. The second has to be accurate or you could be in trouble.
HOLE FIVE – POND
The tee-box is right at the back, leaving 404 yards to make the green from the white tee. It is a good laying up hole with a three-wood or long iron to the right of the fairway. The approach opens up at the back of the two-tiered green so depending on pin positioning a lofted club is the best way in.
HOLE SIX – MASHIE
The top tee box is slightly elevated. Golfers want to be coming in over the top of the bunker at the front right but it has to be accurate otherwise the long rough surrounding the green or the sand traps come in to play. It’s what you can call a postage stamp green.
HOLE SEVEN – SAND HILLS
Most golfers will push the ball down 240 yards to the middle of the fairway which leaves around 100 yards to the green. It’s a really straight hole with a two-tier green. If you drop short it will spin down to the front edge, it can play really awkwardly depending where the pin is.
HOLE EIGHT – ROAD
The road cuts right across just before the bushes come in to play. The big hitters can cut the corner by crashing a drive straight over the bushes and that could even bring the green in to play from the tee. The risk is high because you can drive in to serious rough because you run out of fairway. Alternatively you lay-up and get a direct second shot in to the green.
HOLE NINE – LAGOON
You do not want to be in marshland to the right. There are also bunkers in the middle of the fairway to avoid and the ideal landing zone is just beyond those and to the right of the other bunker on the left of the fairway. That would leave a 106 yard blind approach to an elevated green.
HOLE TEN – GARE
This is the only hole on the course that goes out to sea. It’s a tight driving hole and the fairway has to be hit because of the long rough down both sides, even though there are no bunkers to hit. Depending on the wind direction it can play longer than 409 or it could also be in reach from the tee if scuttled along.
HOLE ELEVEN – CHAPEL OPEN
The tee box for the Brabazon will be at the highest point of the course on what is called locally as the helipad. It’s a great par five driving hole and the big hitters can drive over the gorse to the right and down the huge dog leg, which brings the green in to play in two. With a strong chance of a reload, most will just lay-up and aim to get there in three.
HOLE TWELVE – BEACH
This is a straight hole and it’s important that the ideal landing zone is found around 150-180 yards from the green. That way there’s a sensible approach to a green surrounded by gorse and a few bunkers. The gorse lines the right side of the hole and goes right round the back of the green.
HOL E THIRTEEN – WHINS
Turning back to play back down Beach and there is little room of the tee to hit. Some will take a drive on the long 561-yard hole and it is essential to hit the fairway to give you a chance to carry the cross bunkers. Otherwise golfers can try to leave 100 yards to the pin, which does bring the cross bunkers in to play and you do not want to be in there.
HOLE FOURTEEN – SAHARA
Another pretty straight one, but with gorse down the right and thick rough to the left it is far from easy. Most want momentum as they go down the fairway to leave them with a shorter second, but it is a risk-reward hole so the other way around it is to simply lay-up and attack the green in that way, with nine bunkers en route and around the dance floor.
HOLE FIFTEEN – COSY CORNER
This is the hardest par three on the course. Most of the time it plays in to the teeth, with two front bunkers, so most miss-hit left where the ball can go dead or too long. If you hit the front edge of the green the ball tends to filter back down and away from the flag.
HOLE SIXTEEN – DOG LEG
A great par four, albeit long. It plays a lot longer than the 453 yards it is down as. It is so easy to be eaten up by the rough on the left side and the thickness of it makes difficult to get out. Ideally you want to be in the centre of the fairway, between and beyond the bunkers, leaving around 160 yards to the green.
HOLE SEVENTEEN – SNAG
This is Seaton’s signature and played from an elevated tee, surrounded by gorse. The tee shot has to carry the thick rough and arrived in a fairly tight landing zone with the bushes to the right. Most play a long iron or three wood off the tee for accuracy to leave an approach of somewhere between 100-150 yards to green. The tiered green is narrow on entrance and has bunker waiting for you.
HOLE EIGHTEEN – BILL HECTOR
Named after our well-known former professional at Seaton. You must stay left because there is gorse all the way down the right. Out of bounds is everywhere to the right, back and left of the green, so an approach of around 100 yards is an ideal way to finish. There are no bunkers to consider.
With the rough long and the sea breeze rarely tame, the leading amateur golfers around could well struggle to shoot low scores at Seaton Carew next week despite the conditions on the fairway and on the greens being almost perfect. While the industrial Teesside heritage provides an uglier backdrop to the south of the course, one of the oldest and best courses in the country has an opportunity to show off its real beauty.