ALONGSIDE coveted European Tour names such as Ian Woosnam, Mark James, Ronan Rafferty and Sam Torrance on the leaderboard at Rockliffe Hall over the next four days, there will be three locals trying to spring something of a surprise on the rest of the field.
Hurworth’s very own Roger Roper, Matfen Hall’s Middlesbrough supporting head pro John Harrison and Eaglescliffe’s Graeme Bell will all look to make their mark at the English Senior Open, when the European Senior Tour returns to County Durham for the second year in a row.
All three have received invitations to join the field, just as they did last October, and knowing all about the strong following there is for golf around the North-East, perhaps they know more than most about why holding such a prestigious event is so special.
After today’s pro-am, in which Tour pros play with members and corporate sponsors, the first round will tee off tomorrow morning to mark the start of the three-day competition and it is hoped there will be a healthy crowd turning up to watch.
Hartlepool-born Bell, the pro at Eaglescliffe, is well aware of how well received an attractive and appealing golf event can be in the area. “I’m always of the opinion that if a golf club’s pro is playing in an event then many members of that club will come to watch,” he said.
“For members to go along to an event and have an association with a golfer playing through their club then that adds to it and I’ve been told there are a few coming along from both Eaglescliffe and Hartlepool to come and watch. When I played at the Senior Open in July I know there were a few who kept an eye on me. It’s quite nice for them and for the golfer.”
More than 5,000 turned up ten months ago to watch Steen Tinning win the English Senior Open at Rockliffe Hall and, because it is an August Bank Holiday weekend, it is hoped more will head for the course this time and the weather holds up.
“I remember walking around Wynyard for the Seve Trophy in 2005 and thinking how great it was to see so many spectators watching the golf,” said Bell. “There have been other times when professional golf tournaments come up here ... I remember Slaley Hall and Fulford down in York hosting big events.
“I wish I had gone down to Fulford during that era in the 70s or 80s because when you look at some of the players on show, like Lee Trevino, then it would have been a privilege to go along and watch them. I always think tournaments like the English Senior Open gives people here in the North-East an opportunity to come along and see some big names play golf.
“If the nearest even in England is down at Wentworth, then to hear that there is some top class golf being played in Darlington should make people go along to watch. I know I have a friend in Hartlepool who is going along to Rockliffe just because he’s not been to a live golf tournament before.”
With Bell guaranteed to have a few following him around the Hurworth track, he will be keen to put on a decent performance. Finishing tied 46th at the Senior Open Championship last month arrived on the back of his tied 26th spot at the PGA Seniors Championship at Stoke-by-Nayland six weeks earlier.
Appearing in both of this season’s showpiece events and achieving credible finishes highlight his talent, but he is not taking anything for granted going in to his appearance round Rockliffe.
“If I was stood on the first tee and the weather and conditions were perfect I am somebody who would think I could go out there and shoot level par,” said the 51-year-old. “I’m not a golfer who likes to put pressure on myself because the likelihood is that I won’t shoot level par, even though I know I’m capable.
“I’m satisfied with how things have been going, but I’m not going in to this expecting too much. There’s no point. I will just go out and try to enjoy it. If I can do OK, get a decent finish, then that should get me in to the top 75 in the Order of Merit because I was sitting 42nd before the Scottish Open last weekend.
“If I can finish in the top 75 in the Order of Merit then if I go to Tour School I will be exempt from the first stage. I said ‘if’ because I don’t even know if I would even go to Tour School, that’s just the way I am. Would I want to go on the Tour full-time? I’m trying, but I don’t know really because it is a major change to your schedule as a club pro.
“This year I’m happy to have played in two big ones and I’m looking forward to this week at Rockliffe. If that leads to something more further down the line then we will see. I’m not thinking too far ahead.”
Tickets for the English Senior Open can be bought for just £10 (under 16s free) by visiting www.englishsenioropen.com or calling (01325) 729999.