He came close to winning his first major at the weekend, but golfer Lee Westwood made sure he did not miss the chance to open Northumberland courses bearing his name.
Fresh from The Open at Muirfield in Scotland, where he tied for third place, the sporting star was delighted to officially unveil the world’s first Lee Westwood Golf Courses at Close House Hotel and Golf Club yesterday.
He also brought with him the historic Ryder Cup, which was put on show for visitors to see and get their pictures taken with.
The former world number one said it was an honour to open the two Heddon-on-the-Wall courses owned by entrepreneur Graham Wylie, adding they were now the “jewel in the crown of the North East golf scene”. Westwood, 40, said: “The idea of being associated with Close House is so that local people and people at the club have a pro that they can latch on to, support and cheer for.
“I'm like an adopted Geordie now, I suppose!
“At The Open you get fantastic support for everybody but it is amazing how you can pick out the Geordie accent cheering you on.”
The opening of the Lee Westwood Colt and the Lee Westwood Filly courses mark a significant milestone in the history of Close House and its vision of being a top golfing destination.
The British sportsman has been involved in the design and renovation of the two 18-hole courses, working with course architect Scott Macpherson to improve them.
Westwood added: “Golf needs supporters like Graham - people who are prepared to put money in and promote places to play, encourage juniors to play.
“With that association we can try to find the next great North East player.” Sage co-founder Graham said Westwood was a fantastic addition to the company and fitted in well with the ethos of Close House Hotel and Golf Club.
He said: “Lee is such a great ambassador for the club and he personifies what I’m trying to do here.
“He is very professional, very dignified, relaxed, fun and we get on really well together.
“He is just so friendly to all the members. He sits in the club house and has a drink with them, so they really bond with him.”
It was Newcastle United legend Alan Shearer who helped Graham secure the professional golfer as the former striker rang Westwood’s agent, Andrew ‘Chubby’ Chandler, to see if the golfer would open the courses, years before they were linked to his name.
Graham said: “Alan rang Chubby and said ‘My mate’s got a golf course and would Lee come and open it?’ Chubby said of course he will, on the one condition that he plays golf with you – as Lee is a big fan of Alan’s.
“About two weeks after the opening of the courses I got a phone call from Chubby saying Lee was not associated with any golf course and he would like to be attached to Close House.
“Lee was world number one at the time and I wanted the best and that’s what I got.”
Since buying the 18th century mansion in 2003, Graham has invested heavily in the building and surrounding land to bring it a multi-million pound turnover each year.
Ian Dinning, marketing director at Close House, said: “It is huge to have Lee linked to Close House and it is huge for North East golf and the region.
“To have the attachment of a golfing superstar like Lee puts us on the map. We have had recognition from outside the area because of the attachment.”