Europe Travel

A green skirt moves into the focus of the golf world

Plenty of adrenalin early in the morning

Around eight o’clock in the morning, we start out of town in our rental car near the famous Villa Borghese. The extremely fast, offensive driving style of the Roman road users takes some getting used to for us, but after a short time it works fine. If you wait, you will not reach your destination in time. We get the impression that traffic signs and traffic lights are seen more as a recommendation. Unharmed and happy, we reach the Marco Simone Golf & Country Club on the north-eastern outskirts of the Italian metropolis a good half hour later.

Thumbs up (Photo Jürgen Linnenbürger)

Here in Guidonia Montecelio, the 44th edition of the Europe : USA golf competition will take place in September 2023, one year late. After 1997 in Valderrama and 2018 in Paris, it will be only the third Ryder Cup on continental European soil.

The biggest green skirt ever designed

World-renowned fashion and perfume designer Laura Biagiotti and her daughter Lavinia Biagiotti Cigna, thanks to the Italian Golf Federation, the Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI) and to the support of national and local institutions, brought the Ryder Cup to her club in 2015, which she founded in 1971. Since her death in 2017, Lavinia Biagiotti Cigna has continued the project and now heads the club as President.

Lavinia quotes her mother as saying “My mother used to say this is the biggest green skirt I have ever designed”.

Originally designed by Jim Fazio, the course has been completely redesigned as of 2018. This task was successfully taken on by European Golf Design, together with Jim’s son Tom Fazio II.

On an area of 150 hectares, a par-72 stadium course has been created, which is perfectly integrated into the open, partly quite hilly terrain. It is a course designed not only for players but also for the up to fifty thousand spectators expected daily. On both sides of the fairways, the terrain often rises, so that from these elevated places, the game action can be followed not only on one fairway, but on several at once.

Plenty of space on the course (Photo Marco Simone Golf & Country Club)

The paths are very well maintained and asphalted, the distances between greens and tees are pleasantly short. The course is fair and a pleasure to play. It is a real match play course and allows a good score for all HCP classes, provided you hit the right spots on the greens. If you do not, you get penalised.

The tee-offs are less challenging. But the ones into the green are, some of which can be hit blind.

We particularly like the two par-5s at the end of the front nine and the 16, a 322 m long par-4. For us, it is the most beautiful hole on the course. If you do not resist the temptation to attack the green with your steep descent tee shot here, you run the risk of experiencing your damp miracle. We are already curious to see how many balls will disappear here in 2023 during the Ryder Cup.

Fantastic 16th hole (Photo Marco Simone Golf & Country Club)

Construction of the new driving range has already begun. The clubhouse will also be renovated before the Ryder Cup.

A successful creation

I take up Laura Biagiotti’s comparison of the course with a skirt and describe it as if it were such a garment:
We really like the motifs on the green skirt. On its front, the 11th-century Marco Simone Castle, now Lavinia’s home, attracts our gaze. Also the astronomer Galileo Galilei used to live here.

Marco Simone Castle is omnipresent (Photo Jürgen Linnenbürger)

On the back of the skirt, the hill town of Sant’Angelo Romana catches the eye, as does Rome’s silhouette with St. Peter’s Basilica in the distance.

Cleverly placed are its 18 mostly not too big, wavy and smooth green buttons. Real eye-catchers are the four large blue dots of colour, two on each side, and the blue zips that snake over part of the back.

The skirt comes in two versions. We are introduced to the spring version, where the green fringes located on its sides are kept short and blend seamlessly into the colour of the skirt. In the autumn version, these are much longer and denser, so that it is easy to get caught in them. Their shiny golden-brown colour is the ideal contrast to the otherwise rich green and another visual highlight.

Golden-brown deep rough in autumn (Photo Marco Simone Golf & Country Club)

The bright white linings of the numerous pockets are velvety soft. Their edges are perfectly finished. You can get out of them easily, even if they get wet. A special textile layer ensures that.

Perfect bunker conditions (Photo Marco Simone Golf & Country Club)

The smooth surface is very elastic and its material handles even large amounts of rain very well. There is nothing to complain about in terms of its high-quality workmanship. We particularly like the fact that great importance is attached to sustainability in its production.

The stylish unisex mini is available in four sizes for men and three for women. The XXL version is only 6.373 meters long. Usually it is not too tightly cut and offers plenty of freedom of movement in all variants. However, it can be made tighter for special occasions.

The brand and the high quality come at a price. For the use of the designer piece, one pays €180 on site. If you book online, you get a ten percent discount.

18th green in front of the clubhouse (Photo Jürgen Linnenbürger)

Sporty charming

With the 78th Italian Open being held in September 2021, the course has passed its sporting baptism of fire in the best possible way. The Dane Nicolai Hojgaard won with 13 under par and thus won his first tournament on today’s DP World Tour.

Stay and Play

Various hotels, including those outside Rome, offer attractive stay and play packages or green fee discounts. This also applies to the multiple award-winning, five-star Argentario Golf & Wellness Resort in Porto Ercole in the Maremma in southern Tuscany, where we will spend the next few days. I report on this in a separate article.
Jürgen Linnenbürger
April 2022

Highlights Tours

MacIntyre has his eyes on the prize at Betfred British Masters

Robert MacIntyre will aim to end a more than 20 year wait for another Scottish victory at the Betfred British Masters hosted by Danny Willett after confirming he will tee it up at The Belfry from May 12-15, 2021.

MacIntyre is riding the crest of a wave after encouraging debut performances at both the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, where he reached the Round of 16, and the Masters Tournament, finishing in a share of 12th and booking a return to Augusta National in 2022 in the process.

The 24-year-old finished joint runner up in the 2019 British Masters at Hillside – the first year of Betfred’s title sponsorship of the popular tournament which returned to the European Tour’s schedule in 2015 after an eight-year absence.

He is now hoping to go one better and follow in the footsteps of Bernard Gallacher, Sandy Lyle, Colin Montgomerie, Gary Orr and Sam Torrance as Scottish winners of the British Masters since the Tour’s inception in 1972, as he aims for a second European Tour victory, adding to the maiden title he won at the Aphrodite Hills Cyprus Showdown last November.

“I’m really excited to play at The Belfry for the first time in my career,” said MacIntyre, who moved inside the Top 50 in the World for the first time in February. “It’s an iconic venue and one that is steeped in history with its Ryder Cup and European Tour heritage.

“Some of the most iconic names in Scottish golf have won the British Masters and I’d love to add my name to that list. I came close to winning this event two years ago at Hillside and I feel as though I learned a lot from that experience of being in contention down the home stretch.”

Also joining MacIntyre and tournament host Danny Willett at The Belfry are British Ryder Cup players Jamie Donaldson, Stephen Gallacher, David Howell, Andy Sullivan, Oliver Wilson and Chris Wood.

Last year’s winner Renato Paratore, of Italy, will bid to defend the title he won last year at Close House as the Betfred British Masters marked the full resumption of the European Tour’s 2020 season following a three month pause due to the global Covid-19 pandemic.

The 24-year-old finished three strokes ahead of nearest challenger Rasmus Højgaard at Close House as he produced a superb display of front-running to win his second European Tour title.

“I’m really looking forward to defending my British Masters title,” said Paratore. “I’m very proud of the way I played at Close House, especially after returning from the break in the middle of the season. I had worked really hard on my game last year and in the build up to the tournament, so it was very rewarding to see that pay off.”

The Betfred British Masters marks the next stage in European Ryder Cup Qualification where all points earned on the European and World Points Lists will be multiplied by two, as the race to be part of Captain Pádraig Harrington’s team continues. MacIntyre is currently just outside the automatic qualification spots as he bids for a debut Ryder Cup appearance at Whistling Straits in September.

Text: European Tour Communications

European Tour

Rafa Cabrera Bello proud to return to Gran Canaria

Rafa Cabrera Bello is full of pride at returning home to Gran Canaria to play in and host the Gran Canaria Lopesan Open at Meloneras Golf by Lopesan.

The Ryder Cup star and four-time European Tour winner was born in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, and despite going on to ply his trade all over the world, he remains passionate about developing golf across the Canary Islands. 

After taking up the game at the age of six, the 36 year old went on to win the Spanish National Championship every year from under-7 to under-18 level. He then had a memorable European Tour debut as a 17 year old amateur, finishing tied fourth as his future Ryder Cup partner Sergio Garcia won the 2002 Canarias Open de España – the last time a European Tour event was staged in Gran Canaria. 

In 2019 the 36 year old established the Circuito Juvenil Rafa Cabrera Bello, an annual series of tournaments for children and young golfers around the idyllic Canary Islands. The circuit will celebrate its third test this Saturday in Gran Canaria, as its founder aims to seal a first European Tour victory on home soil. 

Meanwhile last week’s Austrian Golf Open winner John Catlin is aiming to draw on his experience of Spanish success in a bid to secure the Race to Dubai title. The American now has ten professional victories worldwide, including three on the European Tour, with the first of those coming after a battle with Major winner Martin Kaye just eight months ago at the Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucia Masters.

Interview with Rafa Cabrera Bello

“It’s a really, really cool experience. As a kid you don’t really grow up dreaming about being a tournament host, but once you see the other guys who have had the opportunity and that huge honour, I thought it’d be cool to be host one day. We’ve come back to Gran Canaria, and I’m loving it this week. It’s a very nice feeling because you look back on your career and you think ‘maybe I’ve done one or two things right’. I have the opportunity and the honour to be host this week. It’s a huge pleasure.

“We have six Junior Circuit events throughout the year. We started three years ago, last year was a bit of a hiccup because it was a difficult year. Our goal is to become a nice junior ranking in all the Canary Islands. Golf has given me a lot, if I have a chance to give a little bit back to kids and try to get them to love the game as much as I do, and learn from the values of sports, in particularly the values that golf teaches all of us, that would be the only reward I need. It’s really cool when you see a smile on a kid, you don’t need anything else.

“Meloneras Golf is a beautiful course, the views you’ll see throughout the week are breath-taking. You can expect good scores – lots of birdies. The biggest trick about the course is if the wind does pick up. They can be very windy islands, and that’s the defence of the course. The back nine does have some daunting shots, both to the green and off the tee. You can also see one or two players get nervous and struggle a bit.”

Text: European Tour Communications

European Challenge Tour

Hurly Long eyes big year as Road to Mallorca begins in Limpopo

Germany’s Hurly Long is determined to secure one of the 20 European Tour cards on offer on the 2021 Road to Mallorca, with the season set to get under way with the Limpopo Championship at Euphoria Golf Club from April 22-25.

This week’s event in South Africa is the first of three co-sanctioned events with the Sunshine Tour to begin the European Challenge Tour’s 2021 campaign, as players battle it out over 26 events across the globe for one of the 20 graduation spots on offer through the Road to Mallorca Rankings.

Long finished eighth on the Rankings in 2021 following a strong maiden campaign which yielded the 26-year-old’s first Challenge Tour victory at the Italian Challenge Open Eneos Motor Oil, and he now has his sights set on securing graduation this year.

“I had a pretty good season last year on the Challenge Tour, finished eighth and just missed my card,” he said. “I’m more focused on doing what I can do, but at the same time if I play well and to my abilities I will have a good season, and playing on the European Tour next year is the goal.

“My game is good. It’s early in the season, so you’re fiddling around with some things. My putting hasn’t been quite sharp, but the ball-striking is good and I’m looking forward to it.”

The 2019 Pro Golf Tour Order of Merit winner made his Challenge Tour debut in last year’s Limpopo Championship and, despite missing his first three cuts, is excited to be back in South Africa.

“I’m loving it,” he said. “Literally the only thing I was talking to my caddie about in Austria was how I was looking forward to the weather, it was going to be so much nicer.

“Austria was a nice course, but I love it here. It’s special. It’s my second trip to South Africa. I loved it the first around, it’s one of the coolest places on earth.

“I love the nature aspect of this place. That’s one of the cool things about our job, we see so many different places and cultures. It’s still new to me, in a way. It’s special. Golf is very important to me, but enjoying life and seeing the world is all part of the journey. You have to live in the moment.”

Long is joined in this week’s Limpopo Championship field by defending champion JC Ritchie. The South African triumphed at the first two editions of the event in 2019 and 2020 and is bidding for a hat-trick as he tees it up on home soil this week.

World Number 98 and three-time European Tour winner Brandon Stone and World Number 80 Daniel van Tonder, who won his first European Tour event at the Kenya Savannah Classic supported by Absa last month, will also tee it up at Euphoria Golf Club this week.

The Limpopo Championship begins at 6:30am local time on Thursday April 22, with Long teeing off from the tenth alongside Chris Swanepoel and Jordan Wrisdale at 12:50pm.

(Text: European Tour Communications)

European Tour Highlights Tours

BMW International Open: Major winners Kaymer, Harrington, García, Oosthuizen and rising star Hovland head strong field

This year’s BMW International Open will once again see a top-class field battle it out for the title at Germany’s most prestigious professional golf tournament. Making his first appearance will be Norway’s rising star Viktor Hovland, who will be taking on a selection of major winners, Ryder Cup stars, tournament legends and an impressive German quartet.

The decision whether to allow spectators and, if so, how many, will be taken over the coming weeks in close cooperation with authorities and the European Tour. Until then, tickets will not go on sale. Organiser BMW will offer all golf and sport fans an extensive and multimedia tournament experience.

“After the unavoidable cancellation of the tournament last year, we are delighted that Munich will host world-class golf again in June, and that we are able to continue the history of the BMW International Open, which stretches back as far as 1989,” says Christian Masanz, Head of Sports Marketing BMW Germany. “Recent months have shown that professional tournaments can be run safely with appropriate concepts in place. Health and safety takes top priority, even if this unfortunately means that we are unable to allow as many spectators, if any at all. We are working closely with the European Tour and authorities on various scenarios.”

The following players have already confirmed their participation in the 2021 BMW International Open:

Martin Kaymer: In 2008, the two-time major winner won the 20th BMW International Open at the age of 23 years and 177 days. This makes Kaymer the youngest winner in the history of the tournament, and the only German to lift the coveted trophy.

Viktor Hovland: The rising star from Norway is set to make his debut in Munich this year. At just 23 years of age, the world number 15 (as of 19th April) has already established himself among the very best in the world and has his sights set on a first Ryder Cup appearance this year.

Padraig Harrington: The current European Ryder Cup captain and two-time major winner is a welcome guest at the BMW International Open. The Irishman may not have won the tournament yet, but he and Retief Goosen came very close in 2006, missing out in a play-off to eventual winner Henrik Stenson.

Sergio García: The 2017 Masters winner was part of an all-Spanish play-off in 2011, which went down in the annals of the BMW International Open as the most dramatic conclusion in the history of the tournament. In the end, García had to settle for second place behind Pablo Larrazábal.

Bernd Wiesberger: The Austrian has claimed eleven tournament wins over the course of his career – however, victory at the BMW International Open is still missing from his collection. His best result to date: fourth place in 2013.

Louis Oosthuizen: At the start of the millennium, the South African was a regular guest at GC München Eichenried. However, he has yet to claim a top-ten finish. The biggest success of his career so far came at the legendary Old Course in St. Andrews, when he won the Open Championship in 2010.

Rafa Cabrera Bello: The Spaniard is a popular regular at the BMW International Open and has been in contention at Germany’s most prestigious tournament on several occasions. In 2010 he was third. Four years later, he went one better, finishing runner-up after a play-off.

Thomas Bjørn: With two wins to his name, the Dane is the joint record winner of the BMW International Open alongside Paul Azinger, Pablo Larrazábal and Henrik Stenson. The 2018 Ryder Cup captain won the tournament in 2000 and 2002.

Andrew Johnston: “Beef” made his debut at the BMW International Open in 2012. Since then, the Brit has regularly featured in the high-class field – and has always been hugely popular with the fans at the course. Alongside the German contingent, Johnston is always one of the crowd favourites.

Stephan Jäger: The man from Munich, who grew up around the corner from the venue in Eichenried, returns home again in 2021. In April, Jäger celebrated his sixth tournament victory on the US Korn Ferry Tour – and he would love to repeat the feat on the European Tour.

Alex Cejka: Second place in 2003, third in 2004 and 2010: Alex Cejka regularly hits top form at the BMW International Open. Now 50 years old, he played at the inaugural tournament back in 1989.

Max Kieffer: A BMW International Open without Max Kieffer? It’s hard to imagine! Kieffer is in excellent form: just two days ago, the German narrowly missed out on his first European Tour victory, coming up just short in a play-off.

As well as a total prize purse of 1.5 million euros and 2,750 Race to Dubai points, the pros will also have their sights set on a spectacular Hole-in-One Award at the BMW International Open. The first player to hit an ace on the 17th hone (par 3) will be rewarded with a BMW iX. The BMW iX heralds a new era of mobility. The BMW Group’s new technology flagship impresses thanks to sheer driving pleasure with zero local emissions, the sportiness you have come to expect from BMW, efficiency, and excellent range, as well as a holistic understanding of sustainability that is of implemented consistently from scratch.

(Text: BMW Press Release)

Senior Tours

Four qualifying venues confirmed for The 2021 Senior Open Presented by Rolex

Three of England’s finest golf courses have been named as venues for the Monday Qualifying event for The Senior Open, with an overseas qualifier set to take place in the United States for the first time in the Championship’s history to enable overseas players the opportunity to earn a spot in the field while minimising international travel.

Bearwood Lakes Golf Club, Burhill Golf Club, Hindhead Golf Club in England, and Firestone Country Club (Fazio Course) in Akron, Ohio, United States, will play host to hopefuls in their bid to secure a spot in Europe’s only Senior Major Championship when it returns to the Old Course at Sunningdale Golf Club from July 22-25, 2021, a year after the Championship was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A number of spots will be available for players hoping to tee it up alongside some of the world’s greatest over-50s players at the stunning Berkshire venue.

A record 591 players entered Qualifying events in 2018, while 525 golfers fought for 49 places at The 2019 Senior Open at Royal Lytham & St Annes.

Burhill’s New Course was opened in 2001 and hosted Regional Qualifying for The 148th Open at Royal Portrush, while Bearwood Lakes, which opened in 1996, is set amidst 200 acres of beautiful Berkshire countryside and was one of the host venues for the Rose Ladies Series in 2020.

Hindhead Golf Club, which was founded in 1904 and ranks among Britain’s best, is a true Surrey heathland course and hosted Regional Qualifying for The Open from 2000 – 2005.

The United States’ Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio will host Qualifying for the first time, on the Fazio Course, which was designed by Tom Fazio and opened in 2002. The links-inspired course will play host to Qualifying on Monday June 21, in the lead up to the Bridgestone SENIOR PLAYERS Championship, which will be contested from June 24-27 on Firestone Country Club’s South Course.

David Williams, Tournament Director of The Senior Open Presented by Rolex, said: “We have chosen four fine golf courses to stage the Qualifying events for The Senior Open in 2021 and they will provide a true test of golf for the hundreds of players aiming to earn a spot at Sunningdale Golf Club.

“We thank our friends at PGA TOUR Champions for their support in helping us stage a qualifier in the United States as we provide the best opportunity to American golfers to take part in this prestigious Championship.

“After last year’s tournament was cancelled, we are extremely excited for this year’s Championship and the qualifying events will be a thrilling start to the week.”

Johnnie Cole-Hamilton, Executive Director – Championships at The R&A, said: “We are greatly looking forward to the return of the Senior Open at Sunningdale and to the drama of the Qualifying events at four such outstanding courses.

“We appreciate the tremendous support we have received from the PGA TOUR Champions in staging an additional qualifying event this year at Firestone which will give players from around the world the opportunity to qualify and greatly assist us amid the continuing challenges with travel caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.”

The Qualifying events in England are planned to be held on Monday July 19, 2021, with official practice days taking place on Saturday 17 and Sunday 18. The Qualifying event at Firestone CC will take place on Monday June 21. 

(Text: European Tour Communications)

European Tour

Annika Sörenstam to tee it up at mixed event in Sweden

Annika Sörenstam has announced she will tee it up on home soil for the first time in 13 years alongside fellow tournament host Henrik Stenson at the Scandinavian Mixed Hosted by Henrik and Annika at Vallda Golf & Country Club in Gothenburg from June 10-13, 2021.
During her 16-year Hall of Fame career, Sörenstam amassed 89 victories worldwide, including ten Major Championships before retiring in 2008 to start a family. The 50-year-old was initially announced as a non-playing host alongside Stenson for the inaugural edition of the event, scheduled to take place at Bro Hof Slott Golf Club in Stockholm in 2020, however it was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m excited to tee it up at the Scandinavian Mixed and to be back playing competitively in my home country of Sweden for the first time in 13 years,” said Sörenstam.
After 13 years away from professional golf, Sörenstam made the cut in February this year at her first competitive outing at the Gainbridge LPGA at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club in Florida and will now return to action in Sweden this June following her last appearance on home soil at the 2008 Scandinavian TPC in Stockholm.
The eight-time Solheim Cup player’s decision to join the field of 78 men and 78 women brings a new level of excitement to the innovative mixed tournament co-sanctioned by the European Tour and Ladies European Tour.
With a prize fund of €1,000,000 for the entire field and Official World Ranking points on offer for both Tours, plus Race to Dubai and Ryder Cup points for European Tour members, and Race to Costa del Sol and Solheim Cup points for the Ladies European Tour.

“It’s going to be a great week and I’m sure a real thrill for all of the players in the field to have someone of Annika’s stature playing in the tournament”, Henrik Stenson added. “I can’t wait to see the dynamics of having both men and women going head-to-head for the same trophy and putting it all on the line come Sunday afternoon.”

Text: Press Release European Tour

Highlights Tours

European Tour: Kaymer hopeful of comeback win in Austria

Martin Kaymer has arrived at this week’s Austrian Golf Open, confident of clinching a result which can kick-start his 2021 campaign and help him back on the path to Ryder Cup and Major glory.

The two-time Major winner drove from his home in Germany to Diamond Country Club, in Atzenbrugg near Vienna, with his eyes on the prize as he targets a route back to the kind of form which made him a World Number One and 11-time European Tour winner.

Kaymer’s form has improved event-by-event this year and he enters this week following a top 20 finish in his last European Tour appearance at the Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investments Advisors.

Home hope Matthias Schwab is regarded as one of the favourites this week, especially after a strong weekend in his most recent appearance at the Kenya Savannah Classic supported by Absa, where he carded 66-65 in the final two days to finish in a share of seventh place.

Another player who finished in a share of seventh position in the most recent event in Kenya is Joost Luiten, a man who has enjoyed an enviable record in this event – in his seven appearances he has recorded one win, two top threes, two further top tens and two further top 20s.

Martin Kaymer says he’s happy to be in Austria

“I like to come to Austria. It’s a nice country with good food, good golf courses. This week it’s a great golf course, it’s just the weather; nobody can influence it. It’ll be a good week and there will still be one winner on Sunday.

“I played 18 holes yesterday, which was an interesting one because it was almost snowing. It was very difficult to see how the golf course will play once the first day comes. Maybe the weather will improve a little bit, but I think it will be a battle.

“It’s difficult to see the ball flying with the cold. But it’s a week that I always prefer, it’s a country I like to come to, it’s close to my home country – I could drive here this week. There’s a lot of comfort for me.

“The top 50 in the world is huge, you can get into all of the Majors and the WGC events and once you can do that you can play yourself into events that I haven’t played in a couple of years, and I still haven’t given up on The Ryder Cup.

“The Ryder Cup is huge and it was a real pain not to be part of the team in France. I know I’m quite far away right now but I feel like I’m doing a lot of things right at the moment to have a good summer.

“If I could get a couple of big results, that would make a big difference for me. Knowing that I’m very close – or I feel like I’m close – but you still need the results. No one cares how you feel, as long as you don’t put the right results on the scorecard and that’s something I’m longing for.”

Matthias Schwab is finally back on home turf

“It’s always nice to have a home Open. I’ve played here quite a lot of times so I almost feel like I’m at home, although I live three hours from here. I think the first time was 11 years ago as an amateur and I’ve come back five, six, seven times, I’m not sure.

“I know the course, I know the people that work here, I know the head of the club and they’re all very friendly and I’d say they’re all fans of me, so I like to come back here and I hope to have a good week. 

“The home support is obviously not that big this year with no spectators but the local knowledge I think is nice to have, it is a bonus. Looking back, say in Kenya, I didn’t really know the course and I’m still quite new to the Tour, I consider myself quite new so a lot of time I go to places for the first time and I have to learn the course, the layout, the strategy and all that stuff, but here I don’t have to do that anymore.

“I’ve played the course enough times and I know the changes from the last year or two, I’d say. I feel good about the course; I know where to go and where not to go. Obviously it will play a little bit different in the conditions we face this year, but I think it’s definitely a bonus week.”

Joost Luiten is coming in with confidence

“I’m feeling good, the game is good. I had two weeks off, I’ve been practicing at home. I’m feeling ready to go this week. I’m using the practice days to get used to the conditions, it’s a bit nippy today!

“For some reason I like this course, it just suits my eye. You’ve got to hit the ball well, you’ve got to hit the greens so if I can play my game I know I can play well on this golf course and I know I can win on this golf course.

“It always helps when you’ve won in the past, you always go to that venue with a little bit more confidence and hopefully I can bring out on to the golf course this week.

“My game is always about consistency, hitting fairways and hitting greens and if I can putt well then I should be up there on Sunday which happened a couple of times. I couldn’t finish it last year but I think I’m very consistent with the ball-striking and if that’s there every week you’re never going to be far off scorewise.”

Text: European Tour


Matsuyama can turbocharge Asian golf. So can research.

Hideki Matsuyama is a golfer who feels like he has been around much longer than he has.

Part of the effect is generated by his beautifully struck irons, which carry him serenely from tee to green and make his game seem mature beyond his years. In part it is his composed, friendly demeanour. Mostly, it is because of how much he has accomplished in the sport.

Matsuyama first finished at the top five in a Major in 2015 and rose to the top five in the world in 2016. The next year, he romped to a WGC title at Firestone, shooting a barely believable 61 in the final round to win by five. Now, with a victory at the 2021 Masters, he finally has the Major title that his talent has demanded for some time.

With his triumph, the 29-year-old completes a pair of Japanese doubles at Augusta. For Matsuyama himself, it is a Green Jacket to go with the Silver Cup he won a decade earlier as the leading amateur. For his country, it means Japan is now home to both the Masters champion and the Augusta National Women’s Amateur champion, following Tsubasa Kajitani’s triumph earlier this month.

Matsuyama joins female players Hisako Higuchi and Hinako Shibuno in Japan’s stable of major winners. 2021 now holds the chance for him to improve his already impressive best finishes at the tournaments that define golf’s calendar. Ties for fourth and sixth at the PGA Championship and Open Championship, combined with a second place at the U.S. Open, prove that this is a player capable of winning on all types of golf course in any conditions.

He will be hotly fancied in particular at an even rarer chance for glory. It is common to talk of a home favourite being cheered by an Olympic crowd. Following Tokyo’s decision to restrict foreign fan travel as a result of the COVID pandemic, that will never have been truer than in 2021. Olympic glory is a challenge that England’s Justin Rose, the first-round leader who Matsuyama overhauled with his Saturday charge, has conquered, claiming golf’s first Olympic title in 112 years in 2016. As for Hideki, he is no stranger to gold medals, having already topped the podium in both the individual and team golf events at the 2011 World University Games. If he can follow Rose’s lead again and win in a home Olympics, golf in Asia might just find itself in overdrive.

Already, the sport has been enjoying something of a boom in the East. On the professional side, Matsuyama’s maturation comes at the same time as other standout young stars like Sung-Jae Im and Si Woo Kim are making strides up the rankings. The women’s world rankings are currently led by three Koreans. On a grassroots level, the demand to play golf has been fuelled by lockdown and travel restrictions, leading to golf membership enquiries and prices reaching record highs in the region. While this has benefitted those managing golf courses, or selling on memberships, which, at top private clubs, are often tradeable debenture type subscriptions, the continent still has much to do to ensure that everyone who wants to play can find a tee time to do so. High population density and a relative lack of golf facilities means that tee time availability can be expensive as well as competitive.

Eric Lynge, chief executive of the Asian Golf Industry Federation (AGIF) and SMS’ special advisor for Asia, commented:

“It is a fantastic result for Asian golf! The region’s golfing community is thrilled. The challenge now is to capitalise on the momentum and make sure that Matsuyama and Kajitani’s Augusta triumphs are channelled towards broadening access to golf on the continent. Another key initiative in that respect is gathering robust, regular data on participation and playing habits across the region. The AGIF and SMS are exploring the possibility of launching new research to start quantifying fluctuations in participation and examine how this is impacted by a range of factors including the professional game, national or local initiatives and media exposure.”


European Tour

European Tour: Belgium back in European Tour with Soudal Open

The European Tour will return to Belgium in 2022 with the announcement of the Soudal Open.

Golazo, the organiser of the event, Rinkven International Golf Club, Soudal – a leading producer of Sealants, Adhesives and PU foams – and the Royal Belgian Golf Federation are delighted to announce the return of Belgium’s national Open next year.

With a prize fund of €1 million, the Soudal Open will be held in May or June 2022 (exact dates to be confirmed) at The Rinkven International Golf Club in Schilde, near Antwerp. The tournament will be played over four days in a 72-hole strokeplay format with 156 players and a cut after the second round. A pro-am competition will be held on the Wednesday of the tournament week.

The three-year partnership with Soudal, revives the tradition of Belgium’s national Open which spans more than a century.

First played in 1910 at the Royal Golf Club of Belgium, the Belgian Open became part of the European Tour schedule in 1978 following the Tour’s inception six years earlier and it was last held as a strokeplay event at Royal Zoute Golf Club in 2000. It was then reborn in 2018 as the Belgian Knockout, an innovative format combining strokeplay followed by matchplay, which was staged for two years at Rinkven International Golf Club.

Vic Swerts, Founder and President of Soudal, himself an avid golfer, said: “As a global company present around the world, we are very proud to support such an important competition in Belgium. Our current Belgian champions shine around worldwide thanks to their amazing performances. We want to create an event that celebrates golf and becomes a place to be for all golf lovers in Belgium.”

Keith Pelley, CEO of the European Tour, commented: “Belgium has a strong tradition of European Tour events as well as history of producing some terrific talent, so we are delighted the country’s national Open will be part of our schedule again next year. Soudal is a fantastic partner for this tournament, and we are very happy that such a recognised global company is now part of the European Tour family.”

Emmanuel Rombouts, President of the Royal Belgian Golf Federation added: “The organisation of such a tournament is a real honour for our country and will certainly underpin the continued growth of our sport.

“Our current professional champions, as well as our future talents, will be able to benefit from a home tournament and we will be there to support them.”

Dimitri Rombouts, President of Rinkven International Golf Club, welcomed the announcement and said: “We are delighted and proud to welcome back the best Belgian and European players to our club after a two-year absence.

“We would like to thank the title partner Soudal and especially our member, Vic Swerts, for their support. Our members and all our staff will be at the service of this magnificent tournament.”

Bob Verbeeck, CEO of Golazo, said: “With the Soudal Open, we hope to recreate the magic of great golf tournaments in our country.

“We organise many golf events every year and an important tournament of this level fits well with our company’s vision.  We especially want to help with the accessibility of the sport as we believe it’s a great way for Belgians to exercise regularly.”

More information about the event and the full programme of activities will be announced later this year.

Meanwhile, the European Tour also announced it will co-sanction the 2021 Australian PGA Championship with the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia.

It will take place from December 2-5, 2021 at Brisbane’s historic Royal Queensland Golf Club and will form one of the early events on the European Tour’s 2022 schedule.

(Text: European Tour)