The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the most significant disruption to the international sporting calendar since World War II,  but it did not deter the world’s top  golfers travelling Yorkshire to compete in the inaugural Ian Woosnam Senior Invitational.

Organised by Leeds based SGH Sporting Events and supported by Welcome to Yorkshire, it was the first professional tournament of such stature in the county since Fulford put on the Murphy’s Cup in 1991.

Sponsored by Aberdeen Standard Capital, the high profile event at Ilkley Golf Club was the initial  step towards testing the viability of  staging a bid to host the Solheim Cup, golf’s biennial match contested by the women’s teams of Europe and the United States, possibly as early as 2027.

The Solheim Cup is quickly becoming one of the biggest sporting events in the world and Yorkshire would be a perfect fit with a storied history of hosting major team events in golf. Moortown in Leeds was the first British host of a Ryder Cup in 1929 while Ganton held it in 1949 and Lindrick in the south of the county eight years later.

Back in September, at the inaugural Ian Woosnam Senior Invitational, former European Tour player Liam Bond took the trophy back to South Wales with him following a round of 65, triumphing  by a shot from five-time European Senior Tour winner Phil Golding, and by two from Gary Wolstenholme,  who won the first of his British Amateur titles at Ganton in 1991.

Bond said he liked his chances after shooting three under par in the pro-am which was his first sighting of the course: “Ilkley  really suits my eye as you have to drive the ball well and that is one of my strengths. I didn’t miss a green until the last hole and that was due to me putting the ball in the right place from the tee. I’m delighted to have won this event which has been organised brilliantly, and to receive the trophy from Woosie was special.”

Home favourite Mark James, an honorary life member of Ilkley Golf club finished in a tie for 6th on level par, while tournament host and fellow ex-Ryder Cup captain Ian Woosnam carded a three over par round of 72.

It was a fond return to the Broad Acres for Woosnam who said: “It really all started for me here in Yorkshire when I finished second to Greg Norman in the B&H (Benson & Hedges International Open Golf Tournament) at Fulford in 1982. I had eight consecutive birdies in a 62 and nearly beat him at the prize presentation Greg said, ‘watch out for this guy he can really play’, and that gave me a big boost in confidence. I went out and won my first European Tour event the following week and never looked back.”

This is the first time I have been to Ilkley and it is truly a great course. Yorkshire is a fantastic place to play golf and I look forward to returning next year.”

The two day, COVID-19 safe and socially distanced event,  saw dozens of Pro-Am  teams tee off in stunning sunshine, including  footballing stars Ryan Giggs, former Leeds players Robbie Fowler, Tony Dorigo and Lee Sharpe and ex-manager Simon Grayson, alongside cricketer Ryan Sidebottom, former Hull KR and Rhinos player Danny Maguire and BBC TV presenter Dan Walker.
Participants then enjoyed a  socially distanced Q&A where 1991 Masters champion Ian Woosnam was joined by  Catriona Matthew, who captained Team Europe to victory at the 2019 Solheim Cup in Gleneagles, Scotland, and will again serve as the European captain for the 2021 Solheim Cup ,and former US Senior Major winner Greg James.

And there was an unexpected boost for the event’s chosen charity Cancer Research when amateur Peter Daffern showed an extraordinary act of kindness by donating his £10,000 prize for holing-in-one at the 154-yard par 3 15th during the Pro-Am.

Welcome to Yorkshire’s Chief Executive James Mason said: “Wow, what a great two days with the backdrop of some stunning Yorkshire scenery. The success of the event has given us just a taster of the kind of things we might see here in Yorkshire in the future and a hint of the boost this could be for tourism. There are so many amazing golf courses in the county with spectacular countryside and coastal backdrops and we want to make sure everyone knows about them.”

James continued: “We know how Golf tourism has benefitted Scotland by almost £290 million a year and while they have 500 plus courses, we have more than 180 here in Yorkshire, many of which are world class so there is huge potential.

“Golfers tend to also spend as they visit places for a few days so restaurants, hotels etc all benefit. As we all adapt to life with COVID-19 this event has proved there’s still plenty of fun to be had in the beautiful outdoors of Yorkshire whilst staying safe.”

Next July  leading men and women amateurs will compete in the English Men’s and Women’s Amateur championships on the neighbouring  Leeds courses at Moortown and Headingley .This will complete a fabulous fortnight of golf in Yorkshire after Alwoodley was  confirmed as the venue for the European Ladies’ Amateur Championship between 21-24 July.

England Golf’s Director of Championships, James Crampton, said: “Moortown and Headingley are two terrific venues and I’m sure the standard of golf on show in 2021 will match the quality of the surroundings.”

“The European Ladies’ Amateur Championship is one of the most prestigious events on the amateur golf calendar and we are delighted to be the host nation and playing at Alwoodley,” added Crampton.

“Both the set-up and the reception that is guaranteed at Alwoodley – a fantastic venue as demonstrated when they successfully staged the 2019 Brabazon Trophy – will, I’m sure, do the event justice.”

“Hopefully, conditions at that time will allow the golfing public to witness some of the world’s best amateur golfers playing for three prestigious titles, over three top-class golf courses in the space of just two weeks.”