Champions of Europe

Phil Ridden, Alex Dixon and Andrew Minnikin bring an international title back to Northumberland

City of Newcastle Golf Club is Europe’s champion club.

England’s champions led the field of 25 teams from across Europe to become just the third English team to win the title – and the first since Ealing Golf Club won the event back in 1990.

“I couldn’t have imagined a better year as club captain,” said Simon Coultas on his return from France. “I’d set my sights on winning a fifth Newcastle & District league title in a row – I never thought we’d miss picking up that trophy at the presentation night to get our hands on a European title in Bordeaux.”

Winners of the Northumberland County Clubs Championship earlier this season for a third consecutive year, the team of Phil Ridden, Alex Dixon and Andrew Minnikin won the club’s second English Champion Club title in three years at Romford Golf Club in Essex before capturing the European title at the Golf du Medoc resort near Bordeaux.

Phil, one of the North East’s most decorated club golfers, was part of the team in 2017 – alongside Alex and Mark Wharton – that finished third in Bordeaux. He said: “Coming back to the golf club and hearing from all the people that have taken an interest in what we’ve been up to has been fantastic. It is a huge honour for the club and everyone that has been involved this year.

“I’ve been lucky enough to win a number of titles over the years, but this is the pinnacle of my achievements on the golf course.”

The City team started the second and final round of the event six shots adrift of Germany’s Stuttgarter GC. With two out of three scores counting towards the team total, a pair of level par rounds from Alex and Andrew had left City in the chasing pack and requiring some final day fireworks.

Those fireworks came from Alex. His five under-par round of 66 was backed up by Phil’s one under-par round of 70 as they overcame the deficit in style to lead the field on six under-par. Icelandic team GKG finished four shots adrift in second place.

Alex’s final round included five birdies on the front nine and helped him finish second in the individual event, one shot behind Frenchman Raphael Le Bot.

“The response from the members, and all our supporters and followers has been great. It hasn’t sunk in for me just yet, but it is an incredible experience to be able to reflect on,” said Alex. “We’re all very proud to be European champions, but also to be members of the City and part of Northumberland golf. The North East doesn’t get a great deal of recognition for the quality of the players we produce, but this shows how good the golfers here are.”

Alex’s final round got off to a fast start with five birdies on the front nine, but it wasn’t until the 15th tee that he knew the team had a chance to win.

“I had 18 pars in the first round and knew I had a lower score in me,” he added. “With one round to play and being six shots behind, we knew it would be tough. Once I got to the 15th tee and saw we were two shots ahead, the pressure really ramped up. 

“I just got stuck in and tried to focus on hitting fairways and greens, knowing that a solid finish would give us the win. To be able to do that was a great feeling and gives me loads of confidence to take forward into next season.”

Andrew, who joined the City earlier this year, added: “I couldn’t have imagined we’d be European champions at the end of my first year as a member of the City.

“The experience at Golf du Medoc was very similar to what we’d gone through at Romford as a three-person team. Knowing that only two of the three scores were going to count both days gave us a chance to put a low score together. On the second day, Alex pulled a sensational round out of the bag.

“We would have liked to have been a little bit closer to the leaders going into the second round, but chasing the lead was our preferred position. Our return to defend the title is already in the club diary and I’m looking forward to earning my place to head back to the event in 2020.”

For Simon, the event brought an end to a remarkable, if nerve-wracking, year as club captain.

“We had a good sense of what was going on, but you couldn’t see that in context until all the players were through 14 holes.

“We knew going into the second day that the guys were due some putts going in and Alex took full advantage. He could have gone really low, but he held it together superbly and put together one of the lowest rounds of the event under immense pressure. We had a long wait after the guys finished, but getting the text to say we’d done it was incredible.

“We’ve been successful in the last few years as a club, but this is another level. We’ve had messages from all over the world. It’s been great to receive all those congratulations and to shine a big spotlight on the quality of golf in our region.”

The three-man City of Newcastle team – all of whom have plus three handicaps – stopped a winning run from home favourites Racing Club de France La Boulie, who entered the 45th staging of the event looking to win their fourth title in five years. City of Newcastle will return to the event in 2020 to defend the title.