ON PAPER it is some thing of a mystery in Hampshire golf – why is it nearly 40 years since the Courage Trophy has been held at North Hants GC?
It was 1985 when the then Hampshire, Isle of Wight and Channel Islands Golf Union last staged the county strokeplay championship at the Fleet club – where 10 years later, Justin Rose would emerge as a future world star of the game.
Back in those days the event was open to the club champion of every golf club in the county and the islands. But the golf union also reserved the right to invite key individuals to contest the 36-hole tournament, which was originally sponsored by the big UK brewing giant Courage.
Today, it is a truly open championship for any player with a handicap below 6.4 – and on Sunday the Courage returns to North Hants GC for just the fourth time, and just in time for the county strokeplay championship to celebrate its 60th birthday.
Hampshire captain Neil Dawson is the current vice-captain at the Fleet club, which also stages the Hampshire Hog every April, one of the biggest 36-hole strokeplay opens in England.
That event has been won by a number of amateurs who have gone on to fame and glory on the European Tour, including Rose, the 1995 winner, Sandy Lyle (1977) and Hampshire’s other Ryder Cup star Steve Richardson (1988).
Neil, a non-playing captain for Hampshire, will play in the Courage and Hampshire Mid-Amateur Championship for the over 35s, although he admits the chances of having current club captain Bob Gamble presenting him with either trophy are almost non-existent.
The member, who lives in Hook, said: “While I would obviously love to win an event like the Courage Trophy – especially in its 60th year – I would have to have the best day of my golf life, and some of my players, who represent the county so well each season, would all have to a collective off-day.”
County events are organised on a rota featuring the county’s top dozen venues spanning from Royal Jersey and Royal Guernsey, via Shanklin & Sandown to Southampton’s Stoneham, Hayling’s tough links, East Hampshire’s Liphook and Blackmoor to North Hants and Aldershot’s Army GC in the north of the county – alongside the likes of Hockley and Corhampton plus the New Forest’s Brokenhurst Manor.
Neil added: ““I was very surprised when it was pointed out that North Hants has not held the Courage for 37 years. Our new clubhouse was built in time for us to hold the county championship in 2004, which was our centenary year.
“That involved some changes to the layout of the course, so having put all that work into staging Hampshire’s blue riband event, I can understand why we would not have held the Courage for a few years after that.”
More changes to the course – a series of new fairway bunkers on key holes, and a redesign of the third hole to make it a more challenging par five – have been carried out over the last 15 years.
Dawson added: “So while those works were being planned and carried out, it would have been hard to commit to staging either of the county’s two biggest events.”
North Hants has produced two Courage champions – former England international Lionel Smith, who led Hampshire to the English County Finals in 2002, was the first in 1973.
And Richard Johnson was crowned champion at Blackmoor in 1981, a year after he won the county championship at Liphook – making him the last North Hants player to win either title.
With English Amateur semi-finalist Charlie Forster already back at college in the States, North Hants’ Hampshire Colts star Robert Wheeler, and James Atkins, who recently made his county first-team debut, will be left to carry the North Hants flag when play gets under way on Sunday morning.
Courage is final order of merit event of season
WITH the Courage also being the last event on the Hampshire Order of Merit calendar, there will be everything to play for this weekend.
Brokenhurst’s Martin Young has been the most successful player in modern times, with five Courage wins – the last in 2018. Stoneham’s former R&A captain David Harrison’s seven wins between 1964 and 1972 is still the record.
Hayling’s Toby Burden, who has been a must pick for Dawson since he became county captain – is the defending champion, having become the first player to claim the Courage and Cole Scuttle on the same day to guarantee his first Hampshire Order of Merit title.
The treble, including the Cole Scuttle for the best 72-hole aggregate in the Courage and the county championship qualifier, had much to do with his performance when North Hants staged the Hampshire, Isle of Wight and Channel Islands Amateur Championship last summer, when he finished fifth in qualifying.
North Hants’ vice-captain Neil Dawson said: “It is fantastic for us to hold the Courage 12 months after seeing the Sloane-Stanley Challenge Cup go to Jersey’s Jo Hacker after a brilliant county championship final.
“Jo beat Toby, who made the final three years running – the best record since Richard Bland in the 1990s. I am sure the standard of golf will be very high again, and the long, hot summer, which has left the fairways baked very brown, will make North Hants a slightly different challenge to normal.
“The ball will run a long way and while the rough is pretty wispy now, the heather – which our heathland course is famous for – is still a very punishing, and colourful, hazard for those who stray off line.”
•Spectators are welcome to watch at the course at Minley Road. Play starts at 8am and will conclude in the late afternoon. Entry is free.