Golf: The golden age of Huggett, Coles and Co: Seniors golf, a moneyspinner in the US, is taking off over here. Guy Hodgson reports

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The Independent Online
HEADLINE writers used to love Brian Huggett. To have a name that rhymes with nugget was a blessing but to carry the sobriquet 'Bulldog' was like manna from heaven for men with an eye for the apposite phrase. He personified Brit grit too, short and wide, a square-shaped container of golfing aggression.

Half close your eyes yesterday and, well, you saw a 56-year-old man, more an irksome poodle these days than the matchplay terrier who used to sink his teeth into illustrious Americans in the Ryder Cup. He is an oldie with a gilt finish, reliving his great days in the way you would wish: on a golf course with a worthwhile prize in his sights.

Huggett was playing in the Gary Player Seniors Classic at St Pierre, Chepstow, a golfing Antiques Road show for reviving memories and, in every likelihood, back injuries. It is the first of a season that will comprise 12 events and provide an pounds 800,000 encore for Europe's finest golfers of the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies.

Huggett, who played in six Ryder Cups and was captain for another, was joined yesterday by Neil Coles (eight Ryder Cups, 28 tournament victories) and other luminaries such as Tommy Horton, Peter Butler and Harry Bannerman. In many ways they represent the nearly generation - the era between Max Faulkner and Tony Jacklin who glimpsed at greatness but could not quite grab it. Huggett was second in the 1965 Open Championship, Coles was runner-up eight years later.

Coles, now the chairman of the European Tour proper, managed to get to grips with St Pierre yesterday with a second round five under par 66. 'It's a tough course when you are not as far off the tee as you used to be,' he said. 'The greens are quite hard and it's difficult to stop the ball when you have to use a long iron for the approach and come in at a shallow angle.'

Huggett, meanwhile, had compiled a 73 to put him five shots behind the leader, Horton, and not without hope that he might repeat his victory of 12 months ago. Last year he played in six of the 10 tournaments and earned pounds 20,000, a lucrative sideline to his 'real' career as a course architect.

'In five years I foresee a tour with 20 tournaments, each with prize money of pounds 150,000,' Huggett said. 'The seniors have one great advantage: the people who are in a position to decide what companies should sponsor are in the 50 to 65 age group. They remember the older golfers, they are more likely to put money into our events.'

Huggett believes that Jacklin's entry next year will give the tour impetus which will be maintained when players of the calibre of Jose-Maria Canizares, John Bland and Vicente Fernandez follow. It is in 15 years or so that everyone is marking time for, however. Then Ballesteros, Faldo, Woosnam, Langer and Lyle will become eligible.

'You look at the big names in American golf and they are not the current crop.' Huggett said, 'They are Nicklaus, Floyd, Trevino and Palmer. The interest in them is huge. It's not difficult to see a similar thing happening over here when Faldo and co become eligible.'

Tony Gray, the managing director of the European Seniors Tour, detects a change. 'In the past European golfers have tended to retire at 40 because there was nothing left for them to look forward to. They went into course design or became club pros. In America they have carried on playing because there has been the seniors tour ahead of them. We hope to establish the same sort of thing. I see no reason why Faldo and Lyle should not continue for as long as they want to.'

More than 12,000 people watched the final day of the British Seniors Open at Royal Lytham last year and even the final day of a tournament in Belfast drew 3,000, which underlines the potential. Old golfers these days do not die, they merely attempt to draw or fade away.

(Photograph omitted)