The European Tour is back at The Belfry after a 12-year gap, hosting this week’s ISPS Handa UK Championship.
This well-known Midlands venue made its name as the course where Europe enjoyed their first ever victory over the United States in the Ryder Cup.
The Belfry went on to host four of these matches, most recently in 2002, and has been a regular site for many European Tour events.
Located approximately 12 miles north-east of Birmingham city centre, and five miles from Sutton Coldfield, the famed Brabazon Course was designed by two of Great Britain’s best-known golfers of the 1950s and 1960s.
Dave Thomas, twice runner-up in The Open, and TV commentator Peter Alliss were joint architects of a course which opened its doors during the mid-1970s.
This well-bunkered layout, with its selection of lakes and streams, demands good course management and this week’s event will be the 17th time the course has been part of the European Tour schedule – the first was in 1979.
Flat and tree-lined, water comes into play on 10 holes, and sometimes spectacularly.
Best field since lockdown ended
The UK Championship marks the end of the six-tournament UK Swing, before the Tour heads to the continent for three events on the Iberian Peninsula.
It will then return to the UK once again for three prestigious outings in Ireland, Scotland and England.
And possibly, because the US Open is less than one month away, the field at The Belfry is marginally stronger than it has been for any of the events staged on the European Tour since lockdown came to an end in early July.
The vast majority of those teeing-up in Thursday’s opening round have never competed over the Brabazon before.
Lee Westwood was champion there in 2007, before losing a play-off 12 months later, and will also have fond memories of being part of Europe’s winning Ryder Cup team 18 years ago.
Of those teeing-up, the only other two members of the world’s top 200 to have posted a top-10 at The Belfry are Ross Fisher and Pablo Larrazabal.
Further down the list Stephen Gallacher and Soren Kjeldsen, who are both now 45, have also had T-10 finishes at the course.
Check out the latest betting ahead of this week’s ISPS Handa UK Championship
Chances are, this week’s champion is more than likely to be making his Belfry debut.
After two weeks’ rest, teenage Dane Rasmus Hojgaard returns to action having booked his spot at September’s US Open thanks to three successive top-six finishes during the UK Swing.
Another Brabazon debutant is in-form Andy Sullivan, winner recently at Hanbury Manor and who was born around 25 miles from this week’s course.
Danny Willett, Matt Wallace, Victor Perez and Matthias Schwab are back in Europe having competed in much stronger fields on the PGA Tour during recent weeks, while Hao Tong Li and Jorge Campillo should be fully acclimatised to British conditions. Both Li and Campillo tied eighth at Celtic Manor on Sunday.
As for outsiders, England’s Callum Shinkwin is on a decent run with back-to-back top-12 finishes in Wales, where Malaysia’s Gavin Green followed a T-11 with T-8.
Green continues to impress in the Strokes Gained categories, while Swede Marcus Kinhult enjoyed some better form in Newport last week.
Please note: Finn Sami Valimaki is no longer named in the entry list on the European Tour website.
The only players listed in the course form datasheet are those who have competed at The Belfry previously.
Twitter: Andy Swales@GolfStatsAlive
Note: List Contains Leading Reserves