Meet the ladies tour superstars of tomorrow
Barely reaching parity with the headcovers sticking out of her trolley, Fulford looked like it might swallow up 10-year-old Rosie Bee Kim.
But looks, as they say, can be deceiving. The youngest player in the field at the inaugural R&A Girls Under-16 Open, she amazed everyone in the second round by dominating a championship course renowned regionally for its difficulty.
“I was watching her play pushing her trolley with a bag,” said Fulford general manager Gary Pearce. “She was really small and knocked it round in 1-under-par gross. She had five birdies in a row.
“It was just incredible to see and she will be competing in this tournament for the next five years.”
If that is a story of achievement against the apparent odds then Fulford’s tale isn’t too far behind.
The York course was a fixture of the European Tour scene for 23 consecutive years from the 1970s to the ’90s.
Seve, Faldo, Trevino, Lyle, Woosnam, Norman – the list of golfing greats that strode Charles Mackenzie’s fairways during the Benson & Hedges International Open and Murphy’s Cup goes on and on.
It was a who’s who of the sport at the time, not to forget a certain Bernhard Langer scaling what is now a very famous tree in the early 1980s.
Fulford held the very first Women’s British Open, won by Jenny Lee Smith in 1976, a tournament that’s now a major on the LET and LPGA Tours.
But technology moved on and so did the professional game.
The course continued to hold elite amateur tournaments, such as the European Ladies Team Championships in 2013.
But they had never held an R&A event – until a call late last summer set the pulses racing among club officials and members alike.
Even so, there were no high expectations as they prepared for the first of a three-year run of this new early season competition.
“We hoped, between the R&A and ourselves, to have 60 to 80 players,” remembered Pearce. “We were completely unsure what the international field would be like – whether it would be more of a national field or not.
“In actual fact, even with the short notice, it was over-subscribed and the standard was a lot better than expected.”
The lowest handicap was +3.5, courtesy of Switzerland’s Elena Moosmann who finished third, and there were plenty of scratch and plus handicaps to watch despite the tender ages of the competitors.
It was won in dramatic fashion by Scotland’s Hannah Darling, whose 40-foot putt at the last saw her pip Beth Coutler, who took a closing eight. She had to content herself with the Under-14s trophy, while Kim parred the last three to take Under-12 honours.
‘The ladies course at Fulford is a par 74. They actually used all white tees and two of the yellow tees, so they played a longer course than normal.
“Our course record was 70 and we had a 14-year-old and a 15-year-old who shot 5-under-par 69s on day one and day two. The standard was just incredible.”
If setting up an event from scratch was one obstacle, ensuring it could be played on a course of tournament standard was quite another – and would turn out to be a far more formidable challenge.
It’s difficult enough preparing a course in the north of England for elite competition in the early spring.
Imagine how much more difficult that becomes when you’ve come off one of the wettest, and most relentless, winters of recent years.