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British Masters leaderboard 2019

Hillside have performed miracles – now let’s return the favour

Hillside are hosting a European Tour event with just seven months notice. So let's make this a British Masters to remember – because you can't ignore bums on seats, writes Steve Carroll
 

If you can grab a second – if a line of rope doesn’t appear to bar the way – take a moment at the back of the 18th green at Hillside.

Just gather your thoughts and gaze at what lies in front of you. If this view of links majesty doesn’t stir something within your soul then you’re lost. You can’t truly profess to love golf.

Plenty of people reckon that in this corner of Southport lies the best course not to have held the Open. Greg Norman wrote a letter to the club proclaiming the back nine to be the ‘Best in Britain’. Jack Nicklaus hailed it as a ‘wild links’.

But the Claret Jug will never come here. The huge travelling circus, the vast logistical operation that saw their practice ground transformed into a car park when Royal Birkdale so memorably bore witness to Jordan Spieth’s heroics two years ago, means it simply can’t be.

So the British Masters is Hillside’s Open and – if this week so far has shown anything – they are going to be excellent hosts.

British Masters

To see the grandstand at 18 is to truly understand the saying ‘less is more’. Eight weeks ago, I stood in the same spot at the back of the closing green, with secretary Chris Williams, and wondered how on earth they were going to get any structure into the space.

The putting surface is so close to the clubhouse it’s almost claustrophobic. Great for a bit of heckling from the balcony when the leaders are finishing out the club championship, not quite so appealing when you are welcoming tens of thousands onto the grounds.

And they should be coming in their numbers.

One of the most remarkable scenes I’ve ever witnessed at a tournament came around the first tee in this event at Close House in 2017.

Lee Westwood was waiting to hit and it felt like a swarm of humanity was reaching out to him. I was sure, stretching on tiptoes to raise as high as my 5’9” frame would allow, that I’d never bear witness to anything like that again.

British Masters

Yet now I’m unsure. Now I think there’s a real chance the attendance record at Close House – a number I’ve proudly spouted to everyone for the last 19 months as a member of the Newcastle club – is about to be broken.

And I think that in this spot on Sunday, when a new champion is crowned, we’re going to witness a scene to rival that majestic October Thursday in the North East.

We’re going to have a course to savour. If only God can perform miracles then we should all be genuflecting before links manager Chris Ball.

His course, like so many up and down the country, was ravaged by last summer’s drought – a heatwave that stripped fairways of their cover, left them rock hard and bone dry.

When you get a once in a generation event like that recovery does not come overnight. How many of our own courses still bear the scars of the scorching sun?

Now imagine having only seven months to change that – to produce a course worthy of some of the best golfers in the world.

Ball and his team have done something remarkable and it’s now down to us to return the favour.

They were reading the last rites to the British Masters after Walton Heath and Hillside, who thought they were hosting in the autumn of 2020, stepped in to plug the gaping hole in the stern.

The tournament’s place in this year’s schedule – a week before the PGA Championship – means only four of the world’s top 50 have made room for it in their calendars.

It’s hard to get the column inches if your McIlroys and Garcias are going to give the event a swerve.

But it’s harder to ignore bums on seats. Thanks to Hillside, we’ve got another chance to emphatically underline the demand for the game in these fair isles.

So let’s smash that record and let’s make it a week to remember for Hillside and British golf.

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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