Why fans will get huge thrill from being back at golf events in UK

As was the case last year, the Betfred British Masters marked my return to attending a golf tournament after a Covid-19 lockdown, and it was a privilege to be at The Belfry last week as opposed to covering the event remotely.

Richard Bland celebrates after winning the Betfred British Masters hosted by Danny Willett at The Belfry in Sutton Coldfield. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images.
Richard Bland celebrates after winning the Betfred British Masters hosted by Danny Willett at The Belfry in Sutton Coldfield. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images.

Just like at Close House last July, you had to enter a bubble to be part of the European Tour set-up at the Sutton Coldfield venue, which required a lateral flow test within 24 hours of arriving and then an on-site PCR test.

Following a four-hour wait, it was a definite feeling of relief to be informed that it was negative, which meant that you were in the bubble and now allowed access to indoor areas such as the media centre with social distancing measures in place.

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At the time, it felt frustrating that, for some reason, both myself and my counterpart at the Courier and designated ‘buddy’ for the week, Steve Scott, couldn’t immediately reach that area due to our passes, for some unknown reason, flashing up as red on a securing scan.

Looking back on it, though, it was actually quite comforting to know that the measures put in place by the European Tour as part of a medical strategy being implemented by a team led by Dr Andrew Murray doesn’t seem to have any holes in it and credit to them for that.

It was my first trip to The Belfry in a working capacity since the 2002 Ryder Cup and, over the course of the week, it was interesting to learn that a return could be on the cards for that event, with 2031 the first available slot.

There was always lots of talk about the Brabazon Course having been created on a potato field and still looking like one when it staged the biennial match for the first time in 1985 then again in 1989 and 1993, but that image is no longer fair.

Hundreds of trees have matured and it is now really pleasant on the eye, as well as providing a proper test of golf, as a winning total of 13-under-par - 14 less than the previous week in Tenerife - on Saturday testified.

Yes, of course, there are better courses in England, but, in addition to being steeped in Ryder Cup history thanks in large part to Sam Torrance through his endeavours there as both a player and captain, The Belfry ticks a big box in terms of location.

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It sits close to both the M6 Toll and M42 and, with the proximity of both Birmingham Airport and the NEC, which has been used for parking in the past, there are few venues that are better suited to host golf’s showpiece team event.

The European Tour had been keen to have some fans at The Belfry for the British Masters, but it was a week too early for the Danny Willett-hosted tournament, with more Covid-19 restrictions being lifted on Monday.

What that will mean for tournaments like the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open, the Trust Golf Scottish Women’s Open, the Hero Open and the AIG Women’s Open, all on Scottish soil over the next three months, remains to be seen.

But here’s hoping that “cautious optimism” about some spectators being able to attend all of those events is founded because, based on this experience for me, nothing beats being out there watching golf.

I’ll hold my hand up and admit that I did have an old man’s grumble on the opening morning about the pace being slow, but I honestly wasn’t too bothered about that for the rest of the week on this occasion.

Basic as it may sound, it was a thrill to see professional golfers in the flesh again, both watching them out on the course and also speaking to them. It helped, of course, that some of those individuals included Bob MacIntyre and Eddie Pepperell, two of the European Tour’s most engaging characters.

“Some days you are the dog and some days you are the lamp post,” said MacIntyre in delivering his verdict on the last round and that had me laughing all the way up the M6 on Saturday night.

Last, and by no means least, what also made being there in person at The Belfry a privilege was witnessing one of those great sporting moments as Englishman Richard Bland, at the age of 48 and playing in his 478th event, won on the European Tour for the first time.

“Today, I saw something that simply inspired me, and reminded me that golf is the greatest game,” said former Masters champion Fred Couples in delivering his verdict on that achievement and he was speaking for so many people.

Roll on that next event and let’s hope some fans enjoy that thrill, too, then.

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