The Senior Open presented by Rolex comes to Royal Lytham and St Annes next month – and for David MacLaren such a prestigious venue highlights the growth of the seniors game on this side of the Atlantic.
For the past three years MacLaren has been head of the Staysure Tour, as the European tour for players aged 50-plus is now known , and he is relishing bringing its Major championship to the Fylde coast from July 25-28.
He told The Gazette: “I’m absolutely delighted. We have progressed from 10 or 11 events in 2015 to 19-20 this year.
“We have been able to do that partly through the overall sponsorship of Staysure, who came in at the beginning of last year and gave everyone a huge boost in terms of knowing we had commercial appeal.
“The Senior Open is our Major on this side of The Pond. It’s a joint venture with the R&A and we benefit from Rolex’s support too.
“We tend to use a combination of Open venues, such as Royal Lytham and St Annes, and great links courses that have not necessarily staged an Open Championship before, like Royal Porthcawl in Wales, where we went last year.
“We also go to other prestigious venues that are not of the same character, like Sunningdale, which will stage The Senior Open next year.
“But every time professional golf comes to the north-west of England we know we will get great golf and great support.”
MacLaren visited the Fylde coast venue last week with Colin Montgomerie, one of a host of great golfing names who will shortly be competing for the senior version of the Claret Jug.
But it isn’t just the calibre of the golfers who give the Staysure Tour its unique selling point, as MacLaren explains.
“We’ve been able to focus on our particular DNA, which is the personality of our players. We know there are a lot of great players out there, but when you look at the players over 50 – the Ryder Cup players and captains, and the Major winners – they bring something very special.
“They are still very competitive, so their golf is really good which means we are able to sell a credible golf tournament. But also the time they are prepared to give to sponsors, pro-am players, spectators and the media is what makes senior golf very special.
“I see how hard they practise and how most of them – though not all of them – look after themselves. We have fantastic personalities, like Constantino Rocca, who isn’t necessarily at the top of the leaderboard every week but he brings such charisma and personality that his scoring becomes less important in a way.
“But most of them are very competitive and we are able to offer them a good living in Europe. Some of our guys can make an even better living by playing in America. I think it is great such an opportunity exists and they appreciate that.
“A lot of professional golfers in their forties are no longer as competitive as they would like to be on the main tour, but now they can prepare themselves for the magical age of 50 when this whole new world opens up.
“They are professional athletes and competitors who love this platform to showcase their skills in their slightly later years.”
David was looking forward to playing the course for the first time after our interview but he was already familiar with Royal Lytham and St Annes as a venue for top-level championships.
“I came here last year to watch my daughter Meghan play in the Ricoh Women’s British Open and the crowds were phenomenal,” he added..
“Watching Meghan as she made the cut for the first time showed me what a fantastic course this is because you see all the contours and all the places where a good-looking drive will end up in a bunker.
“Our ticket sales are very healthy compared to previous years. It always feels that the north-west is a real hotbed for professional sport and I include golf in that.”