THE entries are all in for this week’s Journal Champion of Champions now that Durham County captain James Handy has finalised his six wild cards.
That means 43-year-old David Innes will be challenging the young guns in the last three-ball to tee off when the event is staged at Rockliffe Hall for the first time on Sunday.
Innes was a frequent playing partner of European Tour player Graeme Storm (pictured right), now attached to Rockliffe, during the days when the former French Open champion represented the Hartlepool club as an amateur.
Another Hartlepool player, Lloyd Bond, captured this season’s club title to qualify for the Champions.
Innes won the Durham County Matchplay Championship by beating favourite Michael Curry (Brancepeth Castle) at the second extra hole of the final at Dinsdale Spa. Innes, who lives in Hartlepool, is joined in the Champions by other Durham wild cards Joe Fraser (Ravensworth), Steven King (Garesfield), James Simpson (Whickham), Ben Tetlow (Wynyard) and Julian Wynn (Eaglescliffe).
Innes will be in the same group as Morpeth’s Mark Penny, who yesterday won his fourth ZFL North East Masters event at Westerhope, and the defending Champion of Champions, Phil Ridden (City of Newcastle), the Northumberland strokeplay champion.
They tee off at 1.20pm and the players who have won national titles this summer will be in the penultimate group out ten minutes earlier.
They are British Universities champion Nicky Maddison, another City player, and Tom Rowland, Prudhoe’s St Andrews Boys Champion, playing alongside last season’s Durham matchplay winner Lee McCavanagh (Woodham).
Former Gleneagles man Tom Godwin, Rockliffe’s head professional, said: “It was a very busy Bank Holiday weekend and we are still compiling the draw.
“But as soon as we knew the entries we thought it only right to decide quickly who would be the marquee players of our first Champions.
“The star man from Rockliffe was going to be Roger Roper, well known in regional golf circles, but he can’t play. Our substitute, Andre Malo, will have the honour of hitting the first ball of the tournament.”
This fits in with the initiative Rockliffe have shown in a new way of devising the Champions draw.
Defending champion Ridden and the other leading contenders will tee off last, as normal. But all 86 clubs in Northumberland and Durham County are entered for this year’s Champions and it takes over two hours to drive from some parts of North Northumberland to Rockliffe’s five-star golf resort in Hurworth, just south of Darlington. “We felt we would be asking some players to get up at a ridiculous hour of the morning to make the earlier tee-times unless part of the draw was seeded geographically,” said Godwin.
“So a significant proportion of the field will be teeing off at a time which reflects how long we estimate it will take them to get to Rockliffe.
“We also have to bear in mind they might want as much as an hour’s practice before the tournament, after they have dropped their clubs off to be cleaned and have registered for the event.”
Durham wrapped up their Northern Counties League season at the weekend with a 11.5-6.5 defeat by Yorkshire at Wetherby which denied them their first title. They finished third in the table.
Northumberland won the basement battle beating Cumbria 10-8 at Furness to finish fifth with their opponents in last.
l SEE Thursday’s Teeing Off column for the Champions starting times.