FOR those around to remember the last time the Brabazon Trophy paid a visit to Seaton Carew Golf Club, the first day could not have been much tougher for the golfers in May 1985. The wind blew, the rain fell and the bogeys, plenty of them, flowed.
Twenty-nine years later, things were different; a lot different. With the sun shining, the sun-block required and the coastal breeze hardly posing a problem to the world’s top amateurs, there were plenty of red figures on the giant scoreboard by the putting green in front of the clubhouse.
Whoever stayed away from the knee-length rough by hitting straight off the tee got their push to become Brabazon champion off to the finest of starts.
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It was a 73 from Whickham’s Tony McLure in '85 that earned the lead when the tournament last visited this neck of the woods, this time around Ciaran Doherty (Bury GC), Tom Fox (China Fleet GC) and Norway's Sebastian Mork Andersen all posted blistering five-under 68s to earn the clubhouse lead.
“I remember that year they had to bring the fourth tee forward just to give us a chance,” said Blackwell Grange’s Don Robinson, a scratch golfer back then who enjoyed returning to watch the first round unfold yesterday.
“You couldn’t even get down the fairway that time because of the conditions we were all faced with, we’d have loved to have played in these conditions here today. It’s fantastic to see the Brabazon back here again. It’s a great place to play golf.”
That was the theme coming from almost every mouth around the fittingly named Brabazon course on day one. Whether young or old, English or Portuguese, a competitor or spectator, the message was similar, with Seaton enjoying the spotlight of hosting international golfers from around the globe.
Arthur Gatenby, 73, has been a member of Seaton Carew since 1970. This year is his captaincy year and he could not hide the pride he feels to be in such a position for such an important chapter in the golf club’s proud history.
As he tried to hold back a tear in the office of secretary Allison Malham, an emotional Gatenby said: “I couldn’t even tell you how much this means to us all. To see the championship golf being played here today is fantastic.
“The course is magnificent especially when you consider the inclement weather which we have had here. It would be nice to see the bitter wind that this course is famous for to come in over the final few days, just to make sure that the greater test of golf we all know is out there for these golfers.”
Gatenby, a 17-handicapper, remembers 1985 when Peter Baker and Roger Roper shared the trophy. The regulars out on the course watching the action unfold shared the captain’s view. ‘You don’t normally get such favourable conditions like this around Seaton,” said one, parked on the bench next to the signature 17th green.
The competitors were well aware of that too. Whickham’s James Simpson, who had played the links regularly, was an early starter and posted a steady level par 73. He said: “There’s not much wind, you can get at a few of the pins, the greens are running nice so you can get a good score if you are playing well. It’s easier than it has been here in the past.”
Yet as one of the ten oldest courses in the country, one which is often regarded in the top 100 bracket too, there is another way to look at the way Seaton Carew played. With the warm June weather making it an enjoyable walk, the sunshine provided an opportunity for many of the visiting golfers to hold positive memories of a course also unfortunately renowned for its industrial backdrop.
Whether those memories continue through to Saturday is likely to depend on what happens over the final three rounds. But with birdies flowing and the forecast promising with a chance of a slight increase in wind power, golfers should be able to cope with the challenges just north of Hartlepool’s Nuclear Power Station and the Seal Sands plants.
England international Ryan Evans, from Wellingborough, won the Biarritz Cup last year and two titles in Australia during the winter. He is prominently placed three shots off the lead after his 71 yesterday and has quickly warmed to the course on his first visit.
“I have heard so much about needing to be on my game but it has been pretty calm. If the wind did get up it would be brutal round here,” said Evans, who missed a few chances on the front nine for a better score.
“I am aiming for four rounds under par to give myself a chance. The greens were tricky, with subtle breaks. It’s also funny because a lot is said about the scenery around here, and you do notice that on a practice round. When you are in a tournament though you play the course. It’s not the best view around but you rate the golf course and the golf course is great.”
* It is free entry to Seaton Carew throughout the four rounds of Brabazon Trophy action and there will be a cut at the end of the second round today.