Sneak peek at Masters course
A ROUND at Close House last week was like none other since Graham Wylie began his transformation of the Heddon-on-the-Wall club in 2004.
The imposing presence of huge hospitality buildings, and tee-box hoardings featuring images of a beaming Lee Westwood, created a stadium-like feel to Close House's Colt Course.
Thousands of golf fans will descend on the venue when it hosts the prestigious British Masters from September 28 to October 1.
Thewas invited to play the course which will challenge the European Tour's best, including major winners Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer, and Danny Willet.
Joined by Close House head professional Matthew Naylor and assistant Craig Smith, the round was both insightful and demanding, as an average handicap newspaper journalist was given the chance to take on the challenges which will be faced by household name golfers.
Modifications to the Colt Course include five new tee boxes, adding 200 yards, while some of the impressively contoured greens have been modified to ensure difficult pin positions.
It's a true test of golf, but even as an average Joe golfer, I found it to be a fair course which rewarded good shots.
I couldn't stop the ball like my esteemed colleagues, which also included Paul Lambert, director of the nationalmagazine, but the greens were receptive enough for those who could.
The media day also provided a fascinating look behind the scenes at Close House.
At the press conference, Steve Todd, deputy communications manager for the European Tour, praised Close House founder Graham Wylie for his drive and vision in producing a venue fit to host a tournament previously won by the the likes of Seve Ballesteros and Sir Nick Faldo.
Mr Wylie said: "It's an honour to host this event on a course which is quite mature, despite being only six years old.
"We are a golfing region and I want people to come and see this high quality golf."
This is the first time the European Tour will stage an event in the North-East since Slaley Hall hosted the Great North Open (to use its third, and final, name) from 1996 to 2002.
The tournament week will get under way on Tuesday, September 26, with the floodlit Hero Challenge, with tour players taking on celebrities, including former Newcastle United footballer Les Ferdinand, in a one-hole par 3 shoot-out.
The Hero Pro-Am, on Wednesday, September 27, which will be hosted by daytime TV legend Jeremy Kyle, will be a star-studded affair with footballers Andrew Cole, Steve Harper, Kenny Dalglish, Lee Cattermole, John O'Shea, Jason McAteer and Robbie Fowler, jockeys AP McCoy and Ruby Walsh, and musicians Brian McFadden, Keith Duffy.