Cleckheaton draws an eclectic field as competitive live sport returns to Yorkshire
The sight of Jamie Donaldson, a Ryder Cup winner six years ago, walking with his clubs on his back towards a first tee just a lob wedge away from the intersection of the M62 and the M606, rather neatly summed up the surreal setting for the return of live sport in Yorkshire.
No fans were in attendance – save for those who watched from an abandoned train track high above the course – there were no caddies for the players and, perhaps typically, no sunshine, despite the coronavirus-enforced shut down of society bringing nothing but glorious golfing weather.
Not that it deterred the 114 professionals and amateurs in attendance at Cleckheaton yesterday, a golf club that stood up admirably to the influx of visitors.
The 2020protour – the brainchild of professionals Chris Hanson and Adam Walker – started out as an ambitious gender-equal tour when it was launched in March. But the shutdown of sport and all the negatives that has wrought has given the 2020protour a window of opportunity to exploit, one they have taken by being the first golf tour to get back up and running again. Six weeks before the European Tour returns and with the Challenge Tour and the Ladies European Tour not yet ready to re-emerge, Hanson and Walker’s circuit has achieved greater exposure and a stronger calibre of field than they could have anticipated.
And they responded with a well-executed tournament, a one-round shootout for men and women, with the 12 competing ladies playing the par-70 course 11 per cent shorter than the men to give them as close to a level footing as possible. I say women, the two youngest players in the field yesterday would ordinarily have been in school.
“To say I’m 14 playing alongside all these great players, is very exciting and I’m very grateful,” said Abigail Taylor of Leeds, an England Under-18s representative who plays out of Headingley Golf Club.
“It’s a bit nerve-wracking, I just want to stay focused.”
She did just that, signing for a 75 that matched the score posted by Donaldson, the man who struck the winning iron shot at the 2014 Ryder Cup. “It’s nice to play competitive golf and to support an event like this,” said Donaldson.
It was an eclectic field, from Ryder Cup players like Paul Broadhurst and his son Sam who walked the course before their lunchtime tee-times, to Aaron Cox, a club professional from Darlington, originally from Australia.
“Aw mate,” said Cox, who brought colour to proceedings by wearing Union Jack plus-fours. “It’s only an hour’s drive for me. For us Aussies that’s just down the road.
“I don’t stand much chance against the Donaldson’s and Marcus Amritage’s of this world but I just love to compete.”
He did better than that, outscoring Donaldson by five with a round of 70, although Howley Hall’s Marcus Armitage posted a 68.
Joe Heraty, who plays in China, was another enjoying the shorter commute from his West Yorkshire home.
“It’s nice to have a tournament on the doorstep,” said Heraty, who would shoot a 71.
“There’s a lot of people here that I know from the junior and secior circuits.”
And local knowledge helped the joint-winners, Nick Poppleton of Wath and David Hague of Malton, who shot 64 to win the tournament - sponsored by local firm Hopkins Butchers of Birkenshaw - and split the top two prizes and take home roughly £1,450 each.
But there were plenty of winners as sport got back underway in Yorkshire.
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