Don't be caught short

The Prince's Trust tournament will be played on July 5 over the Hunting Course at De Vere Slaley Hall.

The Prince's Trust tournament will be played on July 5 over the Hunting Course at De Vere Slaley Hall. Slaley's Mark Stancer and Sam Oliver reveal some of its secrets to Tim Taylor.

It takes a lot to concern Slaley Hall's golf operations manager, Mark Stancer. At 48, he's been the genial face of De Vere golf in the region for 11 years and has dealt with most golfers' problems.

Lincolnshire born, his travels have taken in the Loire Valley as well as Oxfordshire and a post as the senior teaching professional at Royal Mid-Surrey in Richmond before pitching up at Slaley, set among 1,000 acres of forest and moorland in the Tyne Valley.

Ask Stancer about holes seven, eight and nine on the Hunting Course and he says: "Even a Tour professional would be happy to come away from that stretch with three pars. They are all real par fours - 432 yards, 423 yards and 453 yards - and they are as tough as any three holes in a row I have come across anywhere in the world."

The ninth, The Sleeping Giant, is the signature hole, a narrow swathe cut through a forest of mature, towering pines. Deceptively decorated by rhododendrons, it has evil lying in its middle and at its end. Where an average club player might expect his drive to come to rest lies a narrow brook. If you slightly hook or slice your ball off the tee, it is likely to plop into the drink.

Assuming you keep your drive either centre or slightly right, unless you are an in-form single-figure handicapper you should not even contemplate for a nano-second going for the green in two. This is because the green is (a) small, (b) not so much undulating as more a roller coaster and (c) elevated 60 feet up from where you are likely to play your second shot.

Even when Colin Montgomerie was in his pomp he almost came to grief at the hole 10 years ago before winning the Compaq European Grand Prix with the lowest total - an 18-under 270 - in any of the six PGA European Tour events that went ahead at Slaley Hall around the turn of the century.

Monty had eight shots to spare over the defending champion, Retief Goosen, shooting a record-equalling final round of 65, although the record is now held by Richard Green with a 63. That day in 1997, Monty birdied seven of the last 11 holes but he had Lady Luck on his side when he came to Slaley's Sleeping Giant.

He was only one under at that stage and among the spectators was Sam Oliver, then a 20-year-old assistant professional at Slaley Hall and now Slaley's resort sports manager, who revealed: "He pulled his tee shot to the left side of the fairway and it would have gone in the brook if it had not bounced sideways off the sawn-off railway sleepers at the back of the water.

"It was a big slice of luck and although Monty missed the green, he got down in two with a chip and a putt and got away with his par. That sparked him off. He got six birdies on the back nine and came home in 30."

That Montgomerie's birdie count got higher the longer his round went on is another clue for any golfer seeking to make a kill on the Hunting Course.

"The Prince's Trust event is not a corporate day out, it's a serious golf tournament," said Stancer. "It will be played off our white tees. The tournament is a two-tee start and if I was playing in it, I would want to be starting on the tenth tee. The key is the front nine, where accuracy is absolutely essential. The back nine is a little more open, so starting on the tenth gives you more chance to settle into your round."

The par-72 course, measuring 7,088 yards, has flat bottomed bunkers, with strong moulding around them. Many are cavernous but all of them were restored to the original design of the architect, Dave Thomas, at a cost of £40,000 last winter.

No doubt The Prince's Trust players will make a beeline to the pro's shop to acquire the plan of the course to take out with them and Stancer flags up which information needs most attention. "A lot of golfers, even many of our club members, don't notice the yardages on our planner run to the front edge of the green," he said. "When you take into account most of the holes are uphill, if I had a fiver for every time I have seen a golfer come up short on the Hunting Course, I'd be a rich man now. The big problem with falling short of the green is that this is where the vast majority of the trouble is. The greens are well protected."

"Generally you can get away with being a bit long on this course, so you need to club up a lot. Instead of a six or a seven iron, you might need as much as a three iron or a four iron.

"But I often see very ordinary club golfers puffing their chests out and thinking they're good enough to make the distance they need with nowhere near enough club.

"The one over-riding piece of advice I would offer to all the Prince's Trust golfers is, whatever you do, don't sell yourself short on the Hunting Course."

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