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  • Alistair Tait

Glorious Ganton

GANTON, England – Call me nostalgic, but I long for the days when European Tour events were held on classic courses like Ganton Golf Club, venue for this week’s Senior Amateur Championship.

I wonder how the game’s top players would handle the tough layout that faced the best senior players in the British Isles? Maybe at 7,016 yards, par 71, it’s a bit like the delightful Dukes course at Woburn, a tad too short now for today’s players who bomb drives 300 yards plus.

Shame, because a walk through the Ganton clubhouse reveals a rich history of hosting meaningful golf tournaments. As well as three Amateur and three Women’s Amateur Championships, a Curtis and Walker Cup and a host of other prominent amateur tournaments, Ganton was venue for the 1949 Ryder Cup. Ben Hogan was non-playing captain following his near fatal car accident. Sam Snead, Jimmy Demaret and Lloyd Mangrum were in a U.S. team against notable British and Irish players like Fred Daly, Max Faulkner and Dai Rees. The U.S. won 7–5.

Faulkner is part of a classy trio of Ganton champions who won professional tournaments over the Yorkshire jewel. Bernard Gallacher and Nick Faldo complete the all-star three-ball with respective wins in the 1953 PGA New of the World Championship, 1975 Dunlop Masters and 1981 Sun Alliance PGA Championship.

Of course, the Ryder Cup long ago outgrew classic members’ courses like Ganton, Moortown, Southport & Ainsdale, Lindrick, Royal Birkdale, Muirfield, Royal Lytham and Walton Heath. The match is now so huge and needs so much room for infrastructure the European Tour would probably need to appropriate half of Yorkshire to stage the competition. Besides, the Ryder Cup is the European Tour’s cash cow. It only goes to venues that can pour large sums of cash into the tour’s coffers. Who cares about the quality of the golf courses when there a chance of money flowing into the tills?

Again, shame.

I’ve had the privilege of attending four tournaments at Ganton including this week. I first experienced its joys at the 2000 Curtis Cup, when the U.S. defeated Great Britain & Ireland 10-8. I was back the following year for the 2001 Boys Amateur when Spain’s Pablo Martin defeated compatriot Rafa Cabrera Bello. No way back then did I think Cabrera Bello would play in a Ryder Cup before Martin, or that Martin would be currently floating in golf’s wilderness.

Funny old game.

I got another taste of the layout when Garth McGimpsey led GB & I to a third successive Walker Cup victory, defeating the U.S. 12 ½ – 11/ ½ in 2003.

I’ve had the chance to play Ganton on a few occasions and loved each experience. I’m even more in love with it now. In fact, it’s fast becoming my favourite English inland course.

Take Ganton about 10 miles east, place it hard by the North Sea and I bet it would be even higher ranked up the respective top 100 course rankings of any golf magazine than it is now. Rankings are heavily swayed towards links golf.

Thing is, Ganton often plays like a proper links. It can play hard and fast, especially in the middle of summer when baked out under a hot sun. Many of the fairways bunkers have the classic rivetted faces so conspicuous on championship links. Stay out of them and you have a chance, albeit slim, of playing to your handicap.

Scores in the Senior Amateur Championship proved just how much of a test Ganton is. The average score in the opening round was 79.91 against par of 71. It rose to 80.28 in round two. There was only one score under par in the first 36 holes, a 1-under 70.

The average score for the 61 players who made the cut was 79.91 in round three. Only three players broke par over the first three rounds, and only one score was under 70, a 3-under-par 68. And these are the best over 55s in the British Isles. Not one player complained. Even those who were shooting in the high 80s had nothing but praise for the course. Many who have been coming here for years said it’s in the best condition ever.

It’s certainly the best I’ve seen it.

Get yourself to glorious Ganton. You won’t regret it. It’s as good a day’s golf as you’re likely to find anywhere in the British Isles, and arguably England’s best inland layout.

#JustSaying: “Undoubtedly one of the best inland tests in Britain. Ganton, droughts or not, is almost always in superb condition.” Peter Alliss

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