Mike Ankers makes hole-in-one in Matchplay Championship Grand Final at The Els Club as tournament kicks off in style
For the second successive year competitors in the Matchplay Championship, the UK’s largest amateur event, have assembled at The Els Club in Dubai’s Sport City. Almost 6,000 originally entered the competition hoping to earn a trip to the Emirate, but only 40 finalists have made the flight to enjoy the renowned Dubai hospitality in between battling it out for the title. Staying at the stunning Courtyard by Marriott Dubai Green Community all week, the players are retiring to their luxurious bedrooms this evening after another beautiful day in the UAE.
Today was the first of three competitive rounds and saw players being tested by the championship course, designed by golfing legend Ernie Els. Greens are running at ten on the stimpmeter, but in typical Els fashion there are several severe slopes and run-off areas challenging the competitors’ short-games. Despite the challenge, many of the players have noted that the course is in immaculate condition and unlike anything in the UK, given the heavy rainfall over the past month.
Players are a mix of handicaps, ages and sexes, as the tournament encompasses a Men’s Pairs, Mixed Pairs and Men’s Singles event. They’ve all battled through several qualifying rounds throughout the year before heading to European Tour venue The Forest of Arden last month for the Regional Final. The process is long but the reward rich when you consider the £25 entry fee. “The players have enjoyed a couple of days relaxing but they got down to business today with some fantastic scoring. The conditions are perfect and the hotel is perfect; we’re looking forward to seeing how the rest of the tournament pans out,” noted John Woosey, MD of The JRW Group, which organises the Matchplay Championship.
Undoubtedly, the headline moment of the day belonged to Mike Ankers, an 11 handicapper from Sutton Coldfield, who aced the 159 yard Par-3 17th hole with a perfectly struck 8-iron. “It’s just unbelievable. To have my first hole-in-one in this environment is great. The funny thing is, I joked about it beforehand,” commented 48-year old Ankers. “The shot never left the pin and when I saw it go in I just dropped to my knees in astonishment. In a way it’s got us firmly back in the tournament because it was also a shot hole for me, so was worth 5 stableford points!
Ankers and his playing partner Chris Scott-Douglas finished second in last year’s final and are the only returnees from a year ago. With 41 points in the betterball stableford format, the two Midland-based players are just one shot off the lead held by Irishmen Matt Twomey and Jerry Kearney from Cork and Andy Brown and Paul Oliver from Bognor Regis in the Men’s Pairs Final. Meanwhile in the inaugural Men’s Singles event, 13-handicapper Paul Llewellyn from Drayton Park Golf Club in Tamworth holds a five-shot lead over second placed Chris Connorton after opening with 37 points. In the Mixed Pairs event, husband and wife pairing Ben and Gillian Brooks are tied with Peter and Kathy Clement on 36 points.
“It’s been a great start to the tournament and obviously some good scoring from the leading players,” noted Chris Brown, General Manager, The Els Club. “The course is in immaculate condition and players seem to have really enjoyed it out there despite being a bit warmer out there than most of them are used to. Huge congratulations, of course, go out to Mike who had a hole-in-one today, I’m sure he’ll celebrate properly later. He’s helped create a real buzz amongst the players and set us up perfectly for the rest of the week in what promises to be a very closely fought Matchplay Championship.”
First launched in 2003, the tournament has grown to become the biggest amateur event in the UK & Ireland. For further details on the Matchplay Championship or to enter the 2012/13 championship, visit www.matchplaychampionship.co.uk. For up to date tournament news live from the event follow us on Twitter @MatchplayUK and Facebook www.facebook.com/match10.