Northern golf in 2021: A year in review

Dean Bailey looks back at the biggest stories of the year, from international success to record-breaking wins

The 2021 golf season began under the dark cloud of Covid and many questioned how much golf we would get in 2021 coming out of England’s longest lockdown to-date. However, when the region’s golf courses reopened on March 29, our golfers wasted no time in getting the ball rolling again. From international success on the world’s biggest tours to amateur titles, team wins and success stories for players of all ages, our corner of England punched well above its weight in 2021. Here are our biggest stories of the 2021 season, we can’t wait to see what our region’s golfers achieve in 2022…

Golfers got their first chance to get to grips with the World Handicap System, which had been launched in November 2020, and got to experience for the first time the new average-based system, the volatility in building your record to 20 scores, and the massive change it would make to club golfers. Meanwhile, the Northumberland Ladies County Golf Association got its delayed centenary celebrations underway.

Matty Lamb starred for GB&I in the Walker Cup at Seminole – winning three of his four matches – before turning professional. Maggie Whitehead shocked the sporting world – and appeared on sports news channels including Sky Sports News – by coming within three holes of winning a professional event at the age of 14 when she made her debut in the Rose Ladies Series at The Berkshire. Elsewhere, Faye Wheatley won the North Regional Schools Girls Championship; John Kennedy won the Durham County Matchplay Championship at Heworth – 25 years after winning the event for the first time; James Maw won the NE/NW PGA Championship at Dunstanburgh Castle; Rebecca Ferguson lifted the Northumberland Ladies County Championship trophy at Bamburgh Castle; Alex Dixon won the season opening North & South Trophy at The Northumberland; and the 20th Northern Golfer Match Play Pairs tournament got underway.

An emotional Marcus Armitage claimed his maiden European Tour title at the Porsche European Open, Northumberland’s boys won the Northern Counties Boys’ Qualifying Championship (AKA The Little Six) at Ilkley Golf Club, and Durham captain Chris Pascall accepted the nomination to become the next president of England Golf. Durham’s Shannon O’Dwyer, Cumbria’s Nicola Wood and Northumberland’s Andrew Minnikin lifted their respective county championship trophies; David Clark won his fourth Northumberland & Durham Open title at Close House; and James Wilson won the Northumberland 72-hole Strokeplay Championship at Newbiggin. Yorkshire won County Match Week at Alnmouth and the Northern Counties Junior Jamboree took place at Wynyard.

Maggie Whitehead built on her success in the Rose Ladies Series by winning the biggest event of her career to-date – the English Girls U16 Open Championship at Morecambe – by nine shots. Phil Ridden survived a nail-biting finish to win the Logan Trophy and bring the English Mid-Amateur Championship trophy back to Northumberland, and Rosie Belsham helped England win the European Ladies’ Team Championship. Mark Ridley competed in the Senior Open Championship at Sunningdale, and Adam Charlton produced a gritty performance to win the Durham County Strokeplay Championship at Durham City.

Callum Tarren earned his PGA Tour card for the 2022 season, just days after a flying visit to the UK for the birth of his daughter. The Northumberland team won the Boys’ County Finals for the first time, while Ramside’s juniors won the English Junior Champion Club title – both candidates for the team performance of the year. Northumberland’s Rosie Belsham, Maggie Whitehead and Rachel Gourley helped England enjoy triple success in the Home Internationals at Woodhall Spa, while Northumberland’s men won the Northern Counties Men’s Qualifying Championship – AKA The Big Six – at Manchester Golf Club for the third time in four tournament years. Morgan Blythe won the Faldo Series England North Championship at Dunstanburgh as Faye Wheatley also qualified for the event’s Grand Final.

Andrew Minnikin won the Men’s County Champion of Champions title at Woodhall Spa. Durham’s girls’ champion Faye Wheatley and the county’s ladies’ champion Shannon O’Dwyer picked up second place finishes in their respective County Champion of Champions events, and City of Newcastle’s men’s team won the Dixon Cup. Mark Ridley won the North East & North West PGA Tour Championship at Brancepeth Castle and the circuit’s Matchplay Championship at Slaley Hall.

Faye Wheatley won the 25th Faldo Series Grand Final at Brocket Hall and Rachel Gourley won the Justin Rose Telegraph Junior Golf Championship. James Wilson signed off his amateur career with victory alongside Jeff Pitt in the Inter County Foursomes before securing a card for the 2022 EuroPro Tour season. The Northumberland Boys ended their season with victory over Yorkshire to secure the Northern Counties league title as Maggie Whitehead completed a remarkable season as the leading English girl in the European Golf Rankings having finished inside the top-10 in every national event in 2021. Brancepeth Castle’s Vaughan Raine and Shaun Elliott signed off their season by winning the 20th edition of the Northern Golfer Match Play Pairs tournament.
In November, Andrew Wilson secured his card for the DP World Tour in 2022 with a remarkable finish – birdieing four of his last five holes – at the Challenge Tour Grand Final.