DAVE Thomas, who designed the Hunting Course at De Vere Slaley Hall, has been awarded honorary life membership of the European Tour.
Now 78, Cramlington-born Thomas learned his golf in Northumberland before becoming twice runner-up in the Open Championship and a renowned designer of almost 150 courses.
He said: “The Hunting is one of my favourites.
“It is the only course I have ever designed in the North East.
“The landscape is fabulous and it gave me the chance to use everything I had learned from playing all over the world to create a course round the building which blended in with the breathtaking natural terrain.
“I am particularly proud of the ninth at the Hunting, one of the best holes in the world.”
Ten times a tour winner, Thomas tied the Open with Australian Peter Thomson at Royal Lytham in 1958 before losing a 36-hole play-off.
Eight years later at Muirfield, he was joint second behind Jack Nicklaus.
Thomas has Northumberland mining roots.
His uncle Charles Nelson owned the Hartley Main Collieries and his Welsh father Bill was a mining engineer.
The family moved home from Nelson Village to Burradon and Gosforth, where his father played his club golf.
Educated at what was then Jesmond Towers public school, Dave Thomas was playing off two at the Gosforth club at the age of 14 and turned professional at 15, becoming an assistant at the Northumberland.
Bill Thomas died when Dave was 16 and his mother Bessie moved the family back to Leeds.
One of Dave’s fondest memories from his first year as a professional was watching Sam Snead play the 1949 Ryder Cup at the Yorkshire club, Ganton.
Thomas played in four Ryder Cups between 1959 and 1967 and chose to represent Wales – the country of his father’s birth – 11 times in the World Cup of Golf before arthritis ended his playing career.
Co-designer of The Belfry with Peter Alliss, Thomas was also captain of the Professional Golfers Association during their centenary year in 2001 and five years later was made an honorary life member of the PGA.
European Tour executive director George O’Grady said: “It has been remiss of us not to have presented this award a long time ago, but today we are righting that wrong. We have recently honoured Tommy Horton, Brian Huggett and Peter Alliss, and Dave is in that league in helping build the game in Britain and all over the world.”
Thomas added: “I have very fond memories of my playing career, but by 1969 my back had gone and it was time to do something else and what do you do?
“Someone suggested some design and architecture. Alliss was involved and we became designers.
“Who would have thought all these years on I would be close to designing 150 courses?
“It has been wonderful to have been part of it all for the last 60 years. I am honoured to receive this award.”