Golf: Jacklin ready to dine out on the seniors table: Gary Player Classic launches second season of the over-50s Tour as an American Ryder Cup player takes a back seat to a European contender

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The Independent Online
MOST people do not anticipate the onset of the big 50 with a burning impatience. Professional golfers are different. This is when they get their second wind and a chance to cash in their shares in Grecian 2000. Tony Jacklin will be 50 next year and he cannot wait to blow out the candles.

When Jacklin retired from the regular tour he had made, lost and made several fortunes but the one thing that did not appeal to him was to resurrect his career doing service with the seniors. 'I couldn't understand why people wanted to watch a load of old geezers hitting a golf ball about,' he said. 'The fact of the matter is I had it completely wrong. The public has a memory and names don't go away. Names stick in people's minds.'

For the old geezers life begins at 50 and this season it begins with the Gary Player Seniors Classic at the St Pierre Golf and Country Club. It is the first tournament on the PGA European Seniors Tour which had its inaugural season last year. 'Nine of the top 10 in the Order of Merit won more money than in any year of their careers on the regular tour,' Tony Gray, the managing director of the Seniors Tour, said.

Gray is looking, not for an elegy, but an analogy with the grey hairs in the United States. There old golfers never dye. The US Seniors Tour plays for dollars 25m, has 40 tournaments and commands as much television time as the regular tour. What it does have, of course, are players like Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino and Gary Player.

The European version is playing for less than pounds 1m, and has 12 events but it is in its infancy even if its competitors are not. Gary Player, who has just opened an office in London, cannot fit the Gary Player Classic here into his schedule. He has Gary Player Golf Equipment, the Gary Player Design Company, the Gary Player Foundation, Gary Player Enterprises and the Gary Player Stud to be going on with. At the latter the star performer is not the great man himself but the sire Mistral Dancer out of Northern Dancer.

The Gary Player Classic has the man's name but not his money. The purse is pounds 50,000, with pounds 6,000 to the winner, and most of the money - admission is free - comes from keen amateurs. They pay pounds 500 a head to play in the first two pro-am rounds and the 40 professionals play together in the third and final round on Sunday, retaining their individual scores from the earlier rounds.

There are numerous former Ryder Cup players here including Brian Huggett, Neil Coles and Tommy Horton. Huggett, the runner-up in the Open Championship in 1965, is the defending champion. Twelve months ago he defeated Horton at the fourth hole of a play-off. Extra time is something that these boys appreciate.