James Crampton has more than a bit of history with the Brabazon Trophy. In 2005 he shot a 69 in biblical conditions to open up a three-shot lead before being reined in by Lloyd Saltman at the Oxfordshire. Crampton, who would play the last two rounds with Oli Fisher, would eventually finish 2nd.
These days he operates as the director of championships. That means, since 2012, he runs the Brabazon Trophy as well as still playing off an impressive +2 handicap. One of his key responsibilities is the course set-up.
We sat down at an England Golf gathering at this year’s venue, Alwoodley. The Brabazon Trophy gets underway on May 30.
Where are you in terms of preparations?
We had the English Amateur here at Alwoodley a few years ago so I’m here to familiarise myself with the course again. They’ve added a couple of new tees and taken some trees out. I’m also checking boundaries and penalty areas. With the new rules there are a few things that have an impact on how we define the course from a local rules point of view.
What specifically would those be?
Alwoodley doesn’t have a huge number of penalty areas but to the right of the 10th there is a pond with yellow stakes. The R&A suggested default is red so we will potentially change that as there’s no reason for it not to be. The location of the pond doesn’t require you to play over it so the integrity of the hole isn’t lost by going to red.
Take the 17th at Sawgrass. If you went to red the intimidation factor disappears massively. As long as the ball bounces on that green you’re dropping on the island as long as it’s not nearer the hole.
Amateur golf has a bit of a reputation for sticking to the back tees. Where do you stand on that when it comes to the Brabazon Trophy?
That was very much how it was back in the day. When I played at The Oxfordshire we had 50mph winds and the tees didn’t move. I don’t do that. I try and set the course up to the conditions.
The 18th is a good example. It’s 485 yards from the back tees and if there’s a strong wind into we will move it. It’s got to be playable and you have to give them a chance of good scoring. Nobody wants to see 10 over winning so I’ll move the course around.
We all like to obsess about winning scores. Are you the same?
It’s difficult as it depends on the rough and how that grows and the wind. But if the conditions play ball then I’d like to think the winning score might be 10 to 12 under.
What’s your policy for doing the pins?
I have a policy of rotating it around the green. So it would be front, middle and back and left and right rather than think about easy, medium or hard as that purely depends on your shot shape. A middle-left pin might not be very accessible to someone who fades it but it would be ideal for a draw. I like to have a nice spread.
Take the 1st. If the wind direction is 30mph and blowing off the right then I’m not going to put the pin on the right. One of my beliefs is if you hit the middle of the green the wind will help you feed it to the flag.
How about the pins?
I’ll move the 9th tee (above) around. From the very back it’s 235 yards and there’s one at 191 we’ll use as well. That allows me to put pins in some slightly different positions. From the back into the prevailing wind you would have it in the middle every day as they will be hitting 3-woods.
I’m all for pushing par 4s up. The 2nd is an option even from the very back but that might be dictated by wind. If I move the tee forward and the pin is in the middle then they might have a go. If I tuck the pin away then they might lay back.
The 8th is a par 5 which they will play from the very back on all four days. There is out of bounds part of the way down the left and if you moved the tee forward they would be able to get it past that. So that would take away the possibility of reloading.
What level of detail goes into your preparations in terms of the weather?
We have a company who support me with the weather so I’ll know the wind speeds and wind directions. That allows me to set the course up properly.
On a strong downwind hole you might not put the pin behind a front bunker. If it’s into then it’s helping them access the pin so being aware of wind in advance is key.
And the green speeds?
They’ll be 10.5-11 which is spot on for us. We’ll talk to the greenkeepers as we go through the week but they’ll be no quicker than that.
Which courses are particularly fun to set up for tournaments like the Brabazon Trophy?
Parkland or newer courses with water have more fun with the par 5s. At the London Club for example I could play around with things off the tee and almost make them go for the greens as the lay up would be with a wedge and that is hard mentally.
What kind of a test do you expect Alwoodley to provide? What kind of player do you think it will best suit?
It will depend on the conditions as if it is windy it will prove a very difficult test. It will be imperative that players play from the fairways as the rough and heather that can very penal.
What do you make of how far players can now hit it?
Players are now getting physically stronger and quicker these days. So while clubs and balls might not have changed too much they are generating some ridiculous clubhead speeds.
I spoke to one player who had been on a 12-week training programmes and his clubhead speed with the driver had gone from 110 to 122mph. That is an additional 40 yards. And that is just their training. Even people of my age (47) are doing it. If I had the inclination to do it I could hit it 30 yards longer.
All images courtesy of Leaderboard Photography. For more information on the Brabazon Trophy, visit the England Golf website.