Lee Westwood tells Dean Bailey of his pride that the Northumberland resort, where the courses bear his name, is to host the European Tour’s British Masters in 2017
The world’s best professionals will return to the North East for the first time in more than decade when Lee Westwood hosts the European Tour’s British Masters at Close House Sept 28-Oct 1 2017.
Announced during this year’s event at The Grove in Watford, hosted by Luke Donald, the tournament will head north to the Northumberland club, which has been represented by Westwood on the international stage since the launch of the Colt Course in 2010.
“It’s been a lot of hard work with the European Tour and with Graham (Wylie) and his team, to get the British Masters here. I’m sure it’s going to be a great occasion for Close House, for the area, and for the North East,” said Westwood.
“It will be very different to host a tournament for the first time, but I’m looking forward to welcoming people here. People in the North East are passionate about sport, whether it’s football, the Great North Run or golf and it’s fantastic to bring a world-class golf event here, and to northern England.”
The 43-year-old, a past winner of the Great North Open, has championed bringing the event to the North East since he, Donald, Ian Poulter and Justin Rose became British Masters ambassadors in 2015. The tournament will join the Open Championship, which takes place at Royal Birkdale, as one of the North’s biggest sporting events in 2017.
“There haven’t been too many tournaments in the North of England so to have the Masters and the Open Championship in our part of the world next year will be fantastic and hopefully generate a lot of interest,” Westwood added.
“The event is a little bit different with the extra things we put on with Sky Sports on the range and after the day’s play. Golf has to try different things to make it an even better experience for the fans. They really engage with the clinics and the feedback has been great so I’m sure that will only enhance the experience.”
The Lee Westwood Colt Course, which hosted the ISPS Handa PGA Seniors Championship in 2015 and the EuroPro Tour in the last two seasons, has undergone a programme of development in preparation for the event, with further alterations to the Scott Macpherson design, which overlooks the Tyne Valley, planned in coming months.
“It’s been interesting to be part of developing the course with a view to the world’s best players coming here,” said Westwood. “We’re not only looking at the British Masters, but the club golfer as well. I think the changes will enhance what is already a great golf course.”
The alterations to the course, overseen by golf course and estates manager Brian Clark, have seen new tee boxes added on five holes, while bunkering has been altered to change landing areas and green complexes. Greens have also been enlarged at the second and 12th holes to provide tournament pin positions.
Work will continue in coming months to improve drainage, while the rough will be brought in to present a tougher test to the leading players in the world. The largest change to the course will be in its routing for the tournament. The uphill par four fifth hole will become the first, while the par three fourth, with its stunning views back across the Tyne Valley, will stage the finale of the event.
Close House owner Graham Wylie, who bought the property in 2003, said: “We are incredibly proud to bring the British Masters to the North East, a place I am passionate about championing on the international stage. To bring the European Tour to the Colt Course just six years after it opened is remarkable.
“Bringing Lee on-board to open the course in 2010, and then as our attached professional, has been a huge part of our story. Lee has championed our cause and has been instrumental in bringing the tournament here. We were honoured to be considered for the event and, following work with Lee, Brian and the European Tour, we have invested in alterations to the course required to host the event.”
For Wylie, welcoming the world’s best golfers is the final step in inspiring people to take up the game.
“We have always wanted to be a club for golfers of all abilities, from those picking up their first club through to those competing for the world’s most prestigious titles.
“Lee has played a big part, our work with the PGA and becoming home the North East’s only PGA Academy has been part of that, and hosting tournaments is all part of inspiring people to take up the game and maybe one day make it to the top level.
“Golf needs to be welcoming and inspiring, and we’ll be continuing our work across all levels of the game in the coming 12 months and well beyond 2017.
“Come and support the tournament. Show that the North East can put on an event to rival anywhere in the UK.
“The course will be challenging, the golf will be excellent, and we want to see people here taking in the experience and cheering on the players.”