Making a name for themselves

The North of England Open Amateur Youth Championship has long been recognised as an important event in the amateur golfing calendar.

Some of the biggest names in world golf have played in the event including three Masters champions in Sandy Lyle, Ian Woosnam and Danny Willett. Lyle was, in fact, the third winner of the tournament while Woosnam and Willett went home empty handed, as did Colin Montgomerie.

The event began in 1975 out of a suggestion by the 1967 Middlesbrough Golf Club champion John MacGill and the trophy bears his name. The R&A and the English Golf Union (now England Golf) gave their blessing to the event and in August 1975 the first drive of the very first championship was struck by Teesside’s Jeff Knaggs in a field of 119 competitors.

In 1977 Claude Fairweather presented The Fairweather Salver for competitors under the age of 18 and in 1994, Frank and Sheila Bates presented a salver to be won by the best home player.

In 1976, David Marquis organised radio transmission of scores for a full hole-by-hole scoreboard – which he designed. The scoreboard was produced by Dents Automotive Repairs of Middlesbrough and financed by Neashams Motors, and is still used today with computer-generated name cards rather than chalk ones.

At the first championship, members responded enthusiastically by providing free accommodation for 70 of the 119 contestants. Most provided bed and breakfast, but some even supplied evening meals and many long-term friendships were forged.

David Hunter has meticulously recorded the stories of the championship over the years and much of what is being read here is from his files and the comprehensive programme he produces every year.

Other North of England Youth Open winners include Sky Sports’ Richard Boxall, Michael King, David Horsey and Richard Finch. All became winners on the European Tour, as did the likes of North East players Graeme Storm and Kenneth Ferrie, Jonathan Lomas, Andrew Oldcorn and Simon Dyson – although none of them claimed the North of England title.

Walker Cup player Jonathan Lupton became the first Middlesbrough player to win in 2000 – a popular triumph – while Richard Walker, from Brancepeth and Wearside, was a winner in 1990 and 1992. The first North East winner, Newcastle’s Craig Cassells, was another Walker Cup player.

More recently, Darlington’s Andrew Wilson, an England international and Northumbria University student, won in 2013, and with the tournament backed by England Golf and counting in the World Amateur Golf Rankings as well as the England Under 18 Order of Merit, it continues to attract the best amateurs from across Europe.