Seemingly written off countless times in its history, the British Masters soldiered on with the help of Hillside and the generosity of local Southport boy, Tommy Fleetwood.
But why did the tournament find itself in jeopardy? And can we expect a repeat of this year’s shenanigans last year? Let’s unravel this intriguingly complex story.
A brief history of the British Masters
A mainstay for the European Tour, the British Masters was founded in 1946 as the Dunlop Masters. It ran as this until 1982 when Dunlop ended its sponsorship. Perhaps a sign of the turbulent times ahead, the tournament changed names and sponsors frequently for decades.
Silk Cut, Dunhill, Collingtree, One 2 One and Victor Chandler took the tournament into the millennium before the Daily Telegraph and Quinn sponsored the event up until 2008. Without a sponsor, the British Masters was removed from the European Tour between 2009 and 2014 until Sky Sports’ four-year-deal resurrected it with masters of the British game—Ian Poulter, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, and Justin Rose—instead playing host to the tournament at a course of their choosing.
Yet more shadows were cast when that deal ended, and it seemed inevitable that the tournament, this very British tournament which had clung on so diligently for decades, was once again in danger of being removed from the European Tour.
After an approach by the European Tour in late 2018, the board of directors at Hillside Golf Club gave ‘an indicative nod’ of interest to host the British Masters in 2020. Hillside’s secretary, Chris Williams, recalls going out to inform Tommy Fleetwood who was out on course with his dad at the time, of the good news. A local boy himself, Fleetwood was chuffed.
Meanwhile, Keith Waters, CEO of the European Tour, called Williams to suggest the feasibility of Hillside hosting not in 2020 as originally planned, but in 2019, leaving as little as eight months for preparation.
The hard work begins
What is miraculous is how quickly the golf club—everyone involved from directors to members—were able to agree so quickly, and so unanimously. ‘If there was any doubt, then we wouldn’t have done it’, Williams said, but ‘all directors were on board.’
With the 2018 drought leaving turf loss on the fairways and patchy greens of many golf courses, Williams and his team at Hillside had a reality check. Yet the club asked itself, ‘if we turned it down, would we get offered it again?’.
Southport didn’t disappoint
With the fairways rested from November, the course looked spectacular. With Tommy Fleetwood as host, the British Masters seemed invincible once again as Marcus Kinhult pipped Matt Wallace for his maiden European Tour title.
The event, from the logistics and organisation to the fairways and the greens ran spectacularly in the sun. British golf fans could enjoy what double Open Champion Greg Norman described as ‘the best back nine holes in Britain’.
Of course, a cloud continues to loom over the tournament long-term, but we can enjoy this fine exhibition of British golf in the meantime.
McClarrons Sport were more than pleased to attend the Masters at Hillside earlier in the month as we met lots of potential clients while enjoying golf at the heart of the famed North West of England golf coast.
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