CITY of Newcastle Golf Club are setting up a company to support Phil Ridden, who is turning professional after winning The Journal Champion of Champions for the second time in three years last season.
Club chairman and noted golf philanthropist Jim Screen yesterday revealed plans to back Ridden to the tune of £45,000 over three years.
City have just finished a series of meetings which have resulted in a share option scheme being launched at £50 a share.
“This enables anybody to become an investor and have a stake in Phil’s future success,” said Screen. “It’s like owning a bit of a thoroughbred racehorse, you get the thrill of the chase.”
Coincidentally, the first sponsors of the player who was to become Northumberland’s only multiple European Tour winner Kenneth Ferrie, County Durham company Barrier Surveillance, were going to put their money into a racehorse until Ferrie’s coach, Matfen’s John Harrison, persuaded them otherwise.
As an amateur, the 26-year-old Ridden has rarely stopped serving up excitement, particularly during his farewell to the amateur ranks last season.
The quietly spoken civil servant from Cramlington, who has a dry line in wit, not only won the Champions but also a top amateur prize in the Lagonda Trophy, captured in the past by players such as Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Ferrie.
Ridden, rated by many good judges as the best player never to be picked by England – his snub by the southern dominated selectors was a standing joke – also triumphed in the Marshalls North East Masters series of scratch 36-holers.
An honorary member of City, he leaves the amateur ranks as a former county strokeplay champion on a plus three handicap holding seven course records in the region – at Goswick, Close House, his own club City, Bamburgh, Heworth, Seahouses and Teesside.
City chairman Screen is one of Newcastle’s leading businessmen, who has been a personal backer of the club’s other star player, McGregor Trophy holder Jack Hermeston, and also donated heavily to last season’s Graham Willis Fund. The winner of Dynorod’s national Franchisee of the Year award twice in three years, Screen said: “The club have set up a small support group for Phil.
“It is vital he can concentrate on practice and playing and not have to worry about sources of finance to fund himself at the start of his career.
“Our initial estimation is that a year on tour would need financial support of around £15,000 and we are looking to support Phil for three years, after which we hope he will be well established and self supporting.”
The other members of the support group at City are Simon Coultas, Jonny Todd and Neil Elborn.
“The first thing that matters right now”, said Screen, “is that we are putting on a tournament at City to support Phil in which our members can play either this Saturday or Sunday.
“This is one of many fund raising events we have in the pipeline for Phil, who is one of the best golfers ever produced by Northumberland.
“We hope as many members as possible will take part in the 18-hole stableford on one of the two days.
“Among the prizes are free fourballs to play at the venues where Phil won his Journal Champions titles – Close House and Slaley Hall.”
While Screen was speaking yesterday, Ridden was playing as an amateur for the last time at Mottram Hall in Cheshire.
Scores of 70 78 for a four over total in difficult conditions were easily good enough to take him through regional qualifying for the Europro Tour.
Ridden will play as a professional for the first time in the three-day final stage of at Frilford Heath in Oxfordshire, which starts on Wednesday.
Joining him there will be six other North East and Cumbria golfers – Chris McDonnell, Richard Robson-Crosby, James Housby, Danny Shevill, Mark Penny and Steven Fawcitt.
Ridden said: “I really appreciate the support from the members at City, and everybody else who is getting involved. It’s all very kind and takes some of the heat off going into my pro debut.
“I have still got to go out there and do it, but it helps with my peace of mind.”
ANYBODY interested in buying shares in Phil Ridden should contact Jim Screen on 0191 265 0329 or 07791 088733.