Close encounter

British Masters host Lee Westwood looks ahead to the European Tour’s return to the North East with Dean Bailey

Former world number one and Ryder Cup stalwart Lee Westwood steps into the role of tournament host for the first time this month when the British Masters arrives at his home club, Close House, September 28-October 1.

The 23-time European Tour winner has juggled his worldwide tournament schedule with his role as host in the last 12 months and is looking forward to welcoming the world spotlight to the North East.

“It’s been a full-on year. It’s opened my eyes to what it takes to put on a golf tournament and I now understand why the hosts often don’t play well.

“It’s been fun to be part of and I’d like to do it again at some stage. It’s going to be a tough week with everything going on, but I know the golf course very well so I’ll be ready for it.”

Lee has been a big part of the preparations for the event since early 2016, at Close House and out on tour.

At Close House he has been part of the team tweaking the course to test the best players in the world, while on tour he has been drumming up support among his peers.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of players and they’re all looking forward to coming to one of the friendliest places in the world to play a great golf course for a prestigious title,” he said.

“It’s great to see the European Tour back in the North of England for a change; it’s a while since we had world-class golf up this way and all the players are looking forward to it.”

Among those players will be Masters champion Sergio Garcia, who Lee has watched grow from teenage sensation to major champion.

“I’ve known Sergio for a long time, since he came out on tour. When he was playing events as an amateur I kept an eye on him as everyone was talking about him.

“We’ve also been partners in The Ryder Cup, which is always a special experience. I remember playing together at the Belfry when I was in a bit of a slump and Sergio was the ideal partner. He really helped me; I ended up having a good week and we’ve been friends ever since.

“The response so far from fans has been brilliant, particularly in the North East where people are talking about it everywhere I go. It’s shaping up to be a great week.”

As well as playing the event, Lee will be hosting the Junior Masters – an event he added to the week’s schedule to bring young players inside the ropes, while giving them a chance to meet their heroes.

“I wanted to have juniors involved in the event and the Junior Masters was the perfect way to get them here,” he says. “I’m looking forward to seeing the looks on their faces when they’re practising next to their heroes.”

While the juniors will be playing the Filly Course on Tuesday, Lee and his European Tour colleagues will be getting to grips with a Colt Course which will play far tougher than its average monthly medal setup.

“We’ve tweaked a few places and toughened the course up where it needed it,” explains Lee. “I think the course will be a tough test, particularly when the wind blows up at the top of the hill and the rough is up.

“Despite what the weather does, the fans can still expect these guys to be making plenty of birdies and the atmosphere will be incredible when the scoring gets going.

“To have Close House on the international stage for the week is going to be huge and I’m looking forward to being part of the club’s progression into 2018 and beyond.

“With a club like Close House capable of hosting tournaments of this calibre, and the huge passion for world-class sport in this part of the world, I hope we’ll see more events like this back here soon.”