The Journal Champion of Champions has long been an indicator of emerging talent, with the first winner in 1968, Doug McClelland from the South Shields club, going on to become the first North East player to compete on the European Tour.
This year brings an exciting debut in our tournament of the 15-year-old England player Matty Lamb from Hexham, who has won a significant national event this season in The Sir Henry Cooper Junior Masters, having captured the Scottish Under-14 Championship last season.
As much as The Journal enjoys encouraging youngsters, this is a big occasion for the golden oldies as well.
In a summer which has already brought a 50-year-old Durham County champion in Ramside Hall’s John Kirkpatrick, let’s hear it for another player heading towards the autumn of his amateur golf career.
When the Champions is played over the Lee Westwood Filly Course at Close House on Sunday-week, an unheralded golfer over three times Lamb’s age will also be making his first appearance in the event.
Step forward Tony Stevenson, a 49-year-old four handicapper from the City of Newcastle club, who has been awarded one of the six wild-card places allocated to theNorthumberland and Durhamcounty captains.
Skipper Andrew Minnikin uses the county Order of Merit rankings to determine Champions nominations from players not already qualified through winning their club championship.
Minnikin, the 2013 Northumberland strokeplay champion, has led from the front to head the final rankings and join the Champions field. Stevenson, an IT contractor from Gosforth, effectively clinched his first Champions spot in June when he won the George Renwick Memorial Medal at Tynemouth, the two-round qualifying tournament for the county strokeplay championship.
Having joined City as a 16-year-old, Stevenson estimates he has made between 25 and 30 unsuccessful attempts to win the club championship, yet has landed three top-20 places this season in county rankings tournaments.
Now he plays in the Champions mainly by virtue of toughing it out in violent winds at Tynemouth and giving as many as six shots to plus handicap players to sign for a seven-over total with 75 and 72.
Stevenson is the first City player to win the medal since David Moffat 46 years ago, the year before the Champions was first played.
His five-year-old daughter Eleanor went along for the presentation pictures at Tynemouth. “She has a bit of a putt now and then at City,” said Stevenson. “Eleanor likes playing shopkeeper in the club pro’s shop and it’s always nice to see her put a smile on people’s faces.”
Invariably, the Champions is a day which encourages smiling faces. What club champion could fail to enjoy a tournament such as this?
The 18-hole strokeplay event is the scratch sprint classic for the thoroughbred golfers of the North East.
It offers free entry and a complimentary practice round to every club champion in Northumberland and Durham County plus the elite amateurs of both counties.
Every player also has free use of the academy to warm up on the day of the tournament.
Close House not only give the courtesy of the course and the academy to every player but also sponsor gift bags and the maximum £1,500 amateur prize table.
There are three former title winners entered – Ricky Lee from the Tyneside club, who qualifies automatically as defending champion, Newbiggin’s Craig Penny and Sandy Twynholm (Morpeth).
Joining Minnikin and Stevenson as Northumberland wild cards are Seton Wakenshaw (Whitley Bay), Darren Smith (Northumberland club), Jamie McFarlane (Westerhope), and Andrew Gibson (Northumberland club).
CLUBS who have not entered their champions need to do so by the noon deadline on Monday. There is separate information for clubs and players on www.closehouse.co.uk where you click on golf then The Journal Champion of Champions 2013.