'Everyone said it was the best working week of their lives'May 12, 2019 The Scoop
The British Masters will return to a familiar spot in 2020. Steve Carroll reports on what that means to those involved
The British Masters suite at Close House is a monument to the greatest week the Newcastle course has ever had.
The walls are packed tightly with memories – framed moments of those few days when Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and the cream of the European Tour thrilled the massive North East crowds in 2017.
Those pictures burst out of this room, lining corridors towards to the bar at the club’s plush No.19 clubhouse.
The British Masters suite is being updated with the best pictures captured from the event. We’re also going to be adding some to the corridor leading into the bar and Westwood suite in our No.19 clubhouse. Be sure to have a look next time you’re visiting 🇬🇧 pic.twitter.com/iDahN8baqU
— Close House Golf (@CloseHouseGolf) December 5, 2017
The flags on the Colt course still proudly bear the Union Jack, while the British Masters livery lines the drive down towards the 36-hole complex and stares back at you from the academy.
And now the tournament returns next year. Lee Westwood confirmed at Hillside that Close House will host the British Masters for a second time in 2020, with the tournament moving into a new slot at the end of July and the start of August.
It’s news that has understandably lit a fire under everyone who works at and is a member of the club, which has been transformed in the last decade by businessman Graham Wylie.
“We’re all very excited about hosting it again, and hopefully we will get a great field,” said Westwood, who has made Close House his base for the best part of a decade.
“I’m sure it will be a great spectacle like it was a couple of years ago. The crowds in the North East really come out and support their events and Close House will be at its best so it should be a cracking week again.
“I’m really looking forward to it. It was different for me, as a player, to see how a golf tournament was run and what goes into promoting it.
“We, as players, don’t really understand the amount of work and effort that goes into a tournament.
“There is months and years of planning that goes in from a lot people. Everybody at Close House will be working towards the tournament next year. It’s over a year away and everybody is thinking about it.
“The frenzy builds as the tournament gets closer.”
Hillside have staged a remarkable event this week – having previously been pencilled in for October next year – and turned a course hit hard by drought last summer into a venue loved by players and spectators alike.
But for some scheduling difficulties, though, we could have been back at Close House this week, explained managing director Jonathan Lupton.
“[The European Tour] wanted to come back to the North East and we wanted to have the tournament back,” he said.
“When the initial discussions took place about 2019 the dates really didn’t work for us. We didn’t feel they were the right dates.
“We spoke to them throughout the year and, in the end, decided not to proceed. But on the back of those discussions last year, it was a case of if we can’t get it done for this year then let’s start looking ahead for 2020.
“From that point discussions have been ongoing and we found a date where Lee is confident he can attract a good field to the North East again and we think works best for us. So we decided to go ahead with it.”
A mid summer date is attractive for a number of reasons, even though the tournament will go head-to-head with the Olympics.
There is a big difference in climate between holding an event in the summer and one in the early autumn in the North East of England.
It will give the club’s greenkeeping team the opportunity to show the maturing Colt course in its best light. That process has already begun.
“In terms of the golf course, a lot of the investment has [already] been made,” added Lupton. “We continually invest anyway at Close House but we would probably look to put some top dressing on the fairways and we’ve already started overseeding the greens with creeping bentgrass.
“We knew for a while that this might be happening. We have previously used colonial bent and we’ve put creeping bent in. After four, five or six weeks we can see a different coverage on the greens that we are happy with.
“We will do that a couple more times this year, to overseed and get that embedded in there. It’s tweaks, really.”
Those tweaks probably won’t extend to the logistics, with the club delighted with both the position of the spectator village and the course configuration, which saw the usual 4th hole become a climactic par 3 finish in front of large grandstands.
Perhaps of most hope for those pleading to see some of Europe’s best tee it up once again is the tournament’s proximity to the Ryder Cup. It will come only a few weeks before the end of qualification for Padraig Harrington’s team.
Westwood said: “People are passionate about the Ryder Cup and are desperate to qualify for it and desperate to accumulate as many points as they can.
“You would expect a few last minute entrants.”
Key to the former World No. 1’s plan to amass a field that resembles the quality of that which lined up in 2017 – Ian Poulter and Martin Kaymer were among the other stars of the world game that participated – is getting it in their diaries early.
“I just asked them well in advance so they could plan their schedules,” he said when quizzed on how he managed to assemble the stellar list of competitors last time.
“That’s the main thing. The very top players need a lot of notice for any event coming up.
“I’ve made a lot of relationships over the years and it’s nice when they come and support events that I am hosting.”
With McIlroy conflicted over the Olympics could he spurn them again for another spell with Westwood? It’s an open question, according to the 46-year-old, but he concedes he would make a big difference to the event’s lustre.
“Who knows? Rory is committed to the PGA Tour this year, but who knows what he will do next year? He might be playing in the Olympics, he might have a change of mind. It’s just a conversation at some point.
“Obviously he’s one of the biggest draws in golf. He gets people through the gates and people want to watch him.”
“We certainly didn’t plan to have the field we had in 2017,” added Lupton. “We are confident that Lee, with the relationships he has built up over the years on Tour, can once again apply some leverage and hopefully get some of the guys to play again.”
The British Masters left a massive legacy at Close House. It revealed the club to a worldwide audience and the results were considerable – both in prestige and the pride it instilled in the team that work there.
Lupton continued: “We have seen an impact in membership and in stay and play. In all areas of the business we have seen an increase.
“For every member of the team at Close House they said it was the best working week of their life and we can’t wait to do it again.
“We’ve got 15 months to get behind it and push and promote. Hopefully everyone will come out again and support and we can make it bigger and better than last time.
“2017 exceeded all of our expectations but we are delighted we have it and that Lee is supporting the event.
“We now know how we work with the European Tour and the logistical side is probably a bit easier than it was in the past and we can’t wait.”