There was some exciting yet surprising news for English golf fans recently, thanks to the announcement that The London Golf Club in Kent is scheduled to host the Volvo World Matchplay this October. The lack of professional events in England has been a much maligned problem among golf fans and has largely been put down to sponsorship problems since the 2008 financial crisis. The arrival of the Matchplay, in addition to the annual PGA Championship at Wentworth and an Open Championship at Hoylake, means that 2014 has the potential to provide English championship golf with the shot in the arm it may need.
The situation is a far cry from twenty years ago when England boasted holding the Benson and Hedges International which was held at new courses such as East Sussex National and The Oxfordshire, The English Open at Forest of Arden and the British Masters at the Belfry. Add those tournaments to the Open, the PGA and the Scottish and Irish opens, and the British and Irish golfing schedule used to look rather formidable. However, over the past decade sponsors seemed to have lost faith. Why take a client to a boggy Belfry when they are guaranteed four days of fabulous sun in the Middle East? Moreover, some of our grand old courses such as Sunningdale, Walton Heath and Ganton have been rendered too short for championship golf due developments in technology.
I must confess to some personal revelry over the recent news, as the London Golf Club was my home course prior to coming to Nottingham. It is no stranger to hosting tour events, having staged the now extinct European Open in 2008 and 2009. Ross Fisher took the course apart when he won in 2008, his long driving combined with firm conditions reduced the course to a pitch and putt at times. But the club learned from that experience. By pushing a few tees back and growing the rough in, they presented a formidable test of golf the following year when journeyman Christian Cévaër took the title. In fact, the 18th was the hardest finishing hole on tour that year by stroke average. Those two tournaments were staged on the clubs signature course, The Heritage, whereas the Volvo Match play will be held on The International.
Had the club been granted another stroke play event then the Heritage, as the sterner test, would probably have been chosen. The International ought to yield plenty of birdies; it is neither particularly long nor particularly narrow and offers five par-5s. Over the course of four days’ worth of strokeplay, the top players might well destroy it.
However, the tournament is head to head matchplay which means that excessively low scoring is not a concern; a player could shoot 64 and still be knocked out. The course lends itself well to matchplay, with many risk and reward holes and water frequently coming into play. No more so than the 8th and 12th holes; two 200-odd yard carries over lakes from an elevated tee. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the two nines switched so that the 8th plays as the 17th, in order to ensure that matches going down to the wire create maximum excitement. Moreover, The International drains far better than its neighbour, which could be crucial when you consider that the tournament will take place during the middle of October.
On that note, locals will tell you that the London Club has a climate of its own due to its location at one of the highest points in the county. The elements could well be the course’s defence. If the wind gets up, as it usually does, then the course could play more difficult than the scorecard would suggest. Graeme McDowell is a seasoned match player and excellent in the wind so he will fancy his chances of retaining his title. No matter who prevails though, there is a real buzz of anticipation at the prospect of seeing the world’s best back on our shores once again.
Images courtesy of pga.com