Changes are par for the course at Northumberland

GOLFERS usually need to do homework on a course before an important tournament, a factor which will come into play frequently

Saviour of the Northumberland course Paul O'Connor
Saviour of the Northumberland course Paul O'Connor

GOLFERS usually need to do homework on a course before an important tournament, a factor which will come into play frequently when regional qualifying for The Open Championship is staged at the Northumberland club for the first time on Monday.

I played there this week and saw how the Park has been smothered with TLC by course manager Paul O’Connor, who previously worked at Carnoustie golf links and who has a vast amount of tournament experience.

Most of us long handicappers enjoying good courses mainly notice how it all looks in good nick, taking into account the inevitable effects of the early-season saturation, and that the greens are smooth, true and fast running.

When the region’s finest club pros and elite amateurs gather on Monday, the club are welcoming spectators with free entry to the course and the clubhouse.

The players – including the home club’s Andrew Minnikin, the county captain, and Kris Gray – will have to work harder to get at the greens.

They will need to negotiate alterations in places where us much lesser players sometimes do not even notice there are places. O’Connor, an eloquent and quietly-spoken Irishman, said: “The brief I have been given by the club is to firstly make the playing surfaces as good as is possible and to develop the overall green complex areas so the variety of shot-making is enhanced.

“I very much doubt whether anybody competing who has not played the Park over the last two years has not put in a practice round.

“If they have not, then they will already see big changes around the third, fourth 12th and 16th greens.”

Routes towards the greens via fairways are fiercely protected.

Harry Colt, who died in the middle of the last century, is noted for his work at Wentworth, Muirfield, Sunningdale and Hoylake.

The diagonal rows of fairway bunkers on the third and 18th holes at the Park are a classic Colt trademark.

Given any heathland course such as the Park is equipped by nature to be halfway between parklands and links, there is scope for something out of the ordinary.

O’Connor said: “This is a thinking golfer’s course but nothing is tricked up.

“We presently have a firm running course reflected by the recent dry spell which is ideal for showcasing the heathland experience at the Park.

“You will need different shots and different lofts to find your way round the greens depending on the challenge of each particular hole.

“Also, the natural contours of the course lend themselves to the variety of designs we have around the greens and the undulations make the greens themselves equally as great a test.

“The holes do not all run in the same direction – the direction of the tees to the greens runs to all points of the compass.

“The essence of playing at the Northumberland club is the diverse variety of the overall test of golf.”

Given firm conditions on Monday, O’Connor, a scratch golfer, suggests the seventh, a 161-yard par three, might yield the least birdies.

He added: “The undulating green slopes from right to left and if the pin is set on the right it requires a shot of very high quality to get the ball close to the flag.

“For golfers of this ability I would guess a high cut short of the flag with a seven or eight iron will be the optimum shot.”

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