The Betfred British Masters hosted by Lee Westwood is set to take place from 22nd – 25th July 2020 at Close House, near Newcastle. We spoke with course owner Sir Graham Wylie to understand how he is preparing for the event, and what it will be like to host a major sporting competition with no spectators!
Is Close House now fully reopen following lockdown restrictions?
We have two golf courses and they have been booked solidly since we reopened on 13th May. We’ve been offering tee times every ten minutes from 8am – 7pm seven days a week, to try and accommodate as many golfers as possible.
Do you think the lifting of lockdown rules specifically for golf has given the sport a boost?
Golf is perfect for social distancing. It’s actually safer on the golf course than in the supermarket and I think that’s really given our older members the confidence to return. During a round of golf you will generally walk 5-6 miles and we’ve seen a lot more partners accompanying players around the course, just for the exercise! Every single one of our members has played the course in the last 3 weeks which is a testament to the popularity of the sport. We’ve also welcomed 60 new members which a huge number given we are the premium club in the north of England.
You previously hosted the British Masters three years ago, how different will it be this time around?
When we hosted the tournament in 2017 we welcomed roughly 18,000 spectators a day and 70,000 over the course of the event. This year, due to social distancing rules we can only have 450 people on site each day! 300 of those will be golfers and their caddies, the rest will be officials, TV crews, greenkeepers and European Tour staff. Numbers are being very tightly controlled.
Does that make it a bit of an anti-climax?
Not at all. This is one of the first major sporting events to take place since lockdown began and the first return of golf, so it’s very exciting. This year the tournament marks the start of a new six-week ‘UK Swing’ from the European Tour. The whole tournament will be televised on Sky and I expect it to be watched by millions around the world. I’m sure it will attract more interest than normal, given the lack of competitive sport on TV right now, which will be great exposure for both golf, and our fantastic club.
Will hosting an event with no spectators benefit Close House?
When we hosted the tournament in 2017 it was great exposure for Close House due to our hospitality efforts and the tremendous amount of visitors who experienced our club first hand. This year it is still really positive, but it’s required us to pivot our marketing efforts to talk to members and prospective members in different ways. We are relying on TV, social media and digital marketing to promote our club and our brand.
Tell us about Golf for Good?
Golf for Good is a new initiative from the European Tour which aims to give back in three key areas:
▪ Supporting the Communities where the European Tour plays.
▪ Rewarding the true heroes, such as the front line workers.
▪ Promoting the many health benefits that golf offers.
Golf for Good will see £500,000 from the European Tour being distributed equally between charities local to the tournament venues and charities chosen by the leading ten players in a mini Order of Merit which will run across the six tournaments. As the hosts of the Betfred British Masters, my own Charity the Sir Graham Wylie Foundation, will benefit from a £50,000 donation, which we are using to help families who have been affected by COVID-19. We are also hosting our own fundraising drive in order that golf may make a real difference in our local community.
To donate to Golf for Good and the Sir Graham Wylie foundation visit www.justgiving.com/grahamwylie-foundation