Golf: Europe's senior servants tee off: Over-50s getting in the swing

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE only physical contact in golf is club on ball and, if the 19th hole is treated with respect, a professional player can earn a living beyond the point at which he reaches the swinging fifties. The fortysomethings, hard pushed to compete against the regiment of younger players on the regular tour, cannot turn the clock back.

Fifty is the age at which they become eligible for senior service and the European Seniors Tour, which is in its infancy, opens today with the St Pierre Seniors Classic. The highlight of the schedule will be the British Senior Open at Royal Lytham in July when Tony Jacklin, who reaches the big 50 that month, is expected to play. It was at the Lancashire links in 1969 that Jacklin became the first British-born winner of the Open in 18 years.

The following year he won the US Open and helped to transform the image and ambition of European golf. Whether he has the time or the inclination to do the same for the senior game here, at least this season, is questionable. Jacklin has moved to Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, and has been playing in tournaments on the Gold Coast in preparation for a tilt at the US Seniors Tour which has several heads start over the European version. In players like Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Bob Charles, the American circuit has its own Mount Rushmore.

'We need as many as possible of our top players from the past,' Andy Stubbs, the managing director of the European Seniors, said. 'The trouble is the Americans have a lot of venerable major winners. We only have Jacklin. I don't think we can wait for Sandy Lyle to turn 50.' Stubbs hopes to initiate joint ventures with the Americans and the possibility of a senior Ryder Cup has also been discussed.

'My aim is to grow steadily and wisely so that by 1997 we will have a 25-week tour. Sponsors can have a bloody good tournament for a budget of pounds 250,000.' This summer's 13- tournament schedule has been reduced with the loss of the Czech Seniors Open. The deal was being brokered by the Olympic committee which now says there is no sponsor. It may have something to do with the fact that the Czech Open on the regular tour has paid to attract Seve Ballesteros and Lee Janzen.

In the meantime Tommy Horton, Brian Huggett and Neil Coles will be challenged here by two fresh fiftysomethings, Malcolm Gregson and John Morgan. Next year Stubbs will be placing 50 candles on the birthday cakes of Brian Barnes, Maurice Bembridge and Clive Clark.

David Fisher, 22, from Stoke Poges, defends his English Amateur Strokeplay title this weekend at Little Aston.