The experiment of playing the Hunting course at De Vere Slaley Hall “the wrong way round” in the PGA Cup was such a success it should stay that way.
That is the view of Slaley captain Doug Ellison and Benn Barham, who instigated a memorable comeback by Great Britain and Ireland as first man out in a memorable last-day singles charge against America in the club professionals’ version of the Ryder Cup.
All through the three-day tournament, the players teed off on what is usually the tenth and finished on the ninth, the Sleeping Giant and the Slaley signature hole.
Cramlington-born course designer Dave Thomas, who died this year and who helped to design the iconic Brabazon at The Belfry, rated the ninth at Slaley as one of his all-time favourites calling it “one of the best holes in the world.”
The decision to reverse the two loops of nine holes at a former European Tour venue went down well with skipper Ellison, a single figure golfer.
A chartered surveyor and property manager, Ellison, who lives near Shotley Bridge, said: “I would say the vast majority of the Slaley members would rather play the course the way it was played in the PGA Cup.
“As things stand now, the back nine is easier to play than the front nine and ideally you want the drama at the end of the round.”
Also a member of the Consett and District club, Ellison added: “The way the Hunting was played in the PGA Cup meant we had the current sevem eight and nine holes playing as 16-17-18, which gave the tournament three cracking finishing holes.
“When you have important club competitions like our club championship, the ninth is better as a viewing hole and it is closer to the clubhouse. That makes it easier for us to all to come out of the club house with our pint pots and watch the finish of a tournament.
“We’d also like a halfway house in that vicinity – complete with toilets – like they have at Gleneagles. That would be ideal for both courses.”
The 37-year-old Barham (below left with GB&I captain Russell Weir), from the Kings Hill club in Kent, was a key man when GB&I started five behind going into the closing day singles following two days of foursomes and fourballs.
With the US leading 10.5-5.5 and only three points away from outright victory, GB&I badly needed blue on the board right from match one.
Barham delivered and, as GB&I turned the screw relentlessly, at one stage of the final session, there was no red on the board at all.
The contest went right to the wire with GB&I victories in the final two matches leaving the singles total at a spectacular 7.5-2.5 and the overall final score 13-13.
This was a magnificent effort in a biennial contest which has brought GB&I only one win in the last 14 tournaments.
Barham is no stranger to taking on difficult tasks. Three years ago he battled back into golf after having a kidney removed.
He got GB&I in the mood by winning the opening singles against Mike Small, three times the US club professionals champion and a former PGA Tour golfer who has played in 11 majors, three times making the cut in the US PGA.
He said: “Once I got into the lead, I was hoping I would not have to play those three very tricky three holes at the end of my round - and thankfully I didn’t have to because I won 4&3.
“At the seventh – which was the 16th for the PGA Cup – there is a massive tier on the green, at eight you have a really difficult drive over the corner and nine is just about the trickiest green I have ever come across.
“It’s slopy, fast and not very big and you cannot relax until you have putted out and signed for a score on the hole which I reckon could range from anything from four to ten!
“Both your first two shots on the existing ninth pose a high degree of difficulty and we were given a print of a well-known picture of that hole, the one in which the rhododendrons are out in bloom.
“It is a beautiful portrait of a lovely- looking hole, but it is a good job the prints were signed by both teams and their captains because otherwise I might have thrown mine away. The ninth at Slaley is so hard I felt nauseous just looking at the picture!
“So, yes, those are definitely the best finishing holes for the course and a halfway house would seem to me to be a fitting legacy to the memory of Dave Thomas.
“There is a plaque dedicated to him on the current first tee, which would become the tenth tee if the course is played the way we played it in the PGA Cup and a halfway house there would also help to preserve his memory.
“A halfway house would be well situated for both courses at Slaley if it was at the back of the green on that hole.”