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Open qualifiers face stiff challenge

Club scretary Ian Symington. Picture: MIKE WATERMAN
Club scretary Ian Symington. Picture: MIKE WATERMAN

THE Open Championship hopefuls competing in the final qualifying round at Royal Cinque Ports on July 13-14 can expect a severe examination of their credentials, according to club secretary Ian Symington.

The four final qualifying courses - Royal Cinque Ports, Prince’s, Littlestone and North Foreland - will each see 96 players trying to earn one of the six Open places up for grabs at each venue.

Mr Symington said: “I think even scratch golfers will struggle out there at the moment, and if the wind blows (during final qualifying) it’s going to be very interesting.”

His foreboding is based on the fact that the Royal & Ancient GC, who organise the Open Championship, have asked the club to reduce the width of the semi-rough on the fairways.

“We were operating with three mower-widths of semi-rough," h said, “but the R & A have asked us to reduce it to two mower-widths, which of course means that you get into the really rough stuff more easily.

“In my opinion it’s too severe a test at the moment, especially off the back tees, and the moment the final qualifying is over we will be widening the semi again to three mower-widths.

“But Royal Cinque Ports is a very fine example of a links course. There are very few better anywhere, and if you hit the ball straight you will score well.”

A former Leicestershire farmer, Ian decided on a career change 10 years ago and his first club secretary appointment was at the High Post club, in Wiltshire.

He was there for three years before becoming secretary of Hollinwell, in Nottingham-shire, where he again stayed for three years before succeeding Colin Hammond as Royal Cinque Ports secretary in March.

Ian plays off 12 handicap and is always keen to accept an offer to play with a club member, saying: “I think it is important for the secretary to get out there and see what the course is looking like, and it’s the best way of finding out what the members are thinking.

“I learn more by being out on the course than by sitting in my office waiting for the members to come to me with their comments or grouses.”

The R & A invariably invite the Royal Cinque Ports to stage final qualifying whenever the Open is held at Sandwich, such is the reputation of a course that has itself staged the Championship twice, in 1909 and 1920.

The Open proper is unlikely to return to Deal again because there just isn’t enough room at Royal Cinque Ports for the massive tented village that now goes hand in hand with the Championship.

So staging the final qualifying will remain the height of the club’s Open involvement, with Mr Symington stressing: “It is a huge honour to be asked to stage the final qualifying because, at the end of the day, there aren’t many courses that are good enough.”

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