PGA National Pro-Am Championship

14lombardtrophylandingIn 1979 two national institutions came to the fore – Margaret Thatcher and the PGA National Pro-Am Championship.

Much has happened to both parties in the intervening years but while the Iron Lady’s reign is now a distant memory the tournament has continued to go from strength to strength and has become the biggest pro-am in Europe.

The event attracts entries from more than 1,000 clubs, has more than 100,000 amateurs taking part and requires 16 regional finals to cater for the huge demand.

Its appeal however is obvious – for the amateur there is the pride, prestige and honour of representing their club in a nationwide tournament, not to mention the prospect of having a shot of reaching the grand final and enjoying a seven day luxury stay in the sun.

Spain and Portugal have been the most popular destinations although it went further afield in 1982 when the final was played in Nairobi at the Muthaiga course, site of the Kenya Open.
As far as the pro is concerned the tournament offers a welcome respite from the day to day club duties, the opportunity to grab some fleeting fame and acclaim and also the not inconsiderable incentive of playing for a first prize of £10,000.

State Express sponsored the first Pro-Am Championship and it proved a hit from the very start with 70,000 golfers taking part and entry forms from more than 850 clubs.

The inaugural winners of the tournament were Notts Golf Club’s Brian Waites, a former Ryder Cup player, and his playing partner George Stockley, a retired civil engineer and oldest competitor in the field at 64, who triumphed in the grand final at the Henry Cotton designed Penina Hotel Course in Portugal.

The following year back at Penina in the grand final, concerns were voiced over mossy growth on the greens prompting the legendary Cotton to apologise for their poor state.

“But,” said Cotton, “one thing’s for sure whoever wins won’t be complaining”. He was right!

Royal Mid-Surrey’s David Talbot and his university professor partner, John Treasure, were all smiles after edging out Brampton’s Steve Harrison and Peter Hetherington in a sudden death play-off.

Play-offs were to become a regular feature in the opening years of the tournament with six in the first 11 years that it was played.

After State Express’s sponsorship deal ended in 1983, the pro-am was off the national schedule but returned in 1986 when Hennessy signed a five year deal.

Another absence followed until Lombard began its long and successful association with the tournament which ran from 1995 to 2006.

Portugal’s San Lorenzo course became synonymous with the event, staging the grand final 10 times between 1995 and 2004 when Ganton’s Gary Brown and Michael Adamson triumphed.

A new venue was unveiled for 2005 in the shape of the Algarve’s Vale Do Lobo course and it proved a happy hunting ground for popular Kedleston Park pro Paul Wesselingh and partner Chris Nye, whose second round eight-under-par 64 helped them on the way to a three stroke victory. In 2007, the PGA National Pro-Am Championship announced a new grand final destination at Turkey’s Antalya Golf Club.

Antalya Golf Club hosted three successive finals including the 2009 tournament which marked the first year of sponsorship by Virgin Atlantic wiht support sponsors BMW and SkyCaddie.

In 2010, the grand final was staged at Sandals Emerald Bay Resort in the Bahamas where competitors fought out an exciting contest over the Greg Norman-designed Emerald Reef Golf Club with Pannal Golf Club pro Dave Padgett and amateur partner Jonathan Honeysett coming out on top.

Twelve months later, Biggin Hill duo Craig Sutherland and Colin Rutter from Cherry Lodge Golf Club took the honours at the Jack Nicklaus designed SouthShore course at the Loews Lake Las Vegas Resort.

Virgin Atlantic flew competitors to the Moon Palace Golf & Spa Resort in Cancun, Mexico where an exciting duel between the Welsh clubs of Vale of Llangollen and Parc Golf Academy ended in favour of the former when Lee Rooke and Nick Jones fired a final round of six-under-par 66 to win by a stroke.

In 2013 Lombard returned on board as sponsors with a three year agreement to support the event with the tournament again called the Lombard Trophy.

Lombard’s sponsorship included a £30,000 increase in the prize fund to £80,000 and a grand final at Gleneagles PGA Centenary Course, scene for the 2014 Ryder Cup, with Kedleston Park’s Ian Walley and Ian Neal victorious.

The 2014 grand final will take place at Gleneagles King’s Course.