Ashley Mansell needs to finish no lower than third in the final event to guarantee winning the PGA in England and Wales (South West) ‘Order of Merit’ title for the first time this week.
The Clevedon assistant leads by more than 50 points going into 36-hole finale at The Point at Polzeath on Wednesday.
Although the tall, big-hitting Somerset man has been out of the limelight since winning the West Region Championship at Burnham and Berrow in August, he has been in Portugal attempting to qualify for the European Tour.
Four rounds in the sunshine at the first stage of qualification should ensure that he is in top form to take on some formidable opponents at the 6,274-yard, par-72 North Cornwall course which has been dramatically revamped to championship standards by owner Jeremy Davies.
“My first target this season was to win an ‘Order of Merit’ tournament which I have done. The second was to finish in the top three and qualify for the play-offs and the third was to win a Tour card,” he said.
“I feel I have improved consider- ably this season, helped from coaching from my club pro, Ryan Crowley, and my better course management has been important.”
The 28-year-old now faces stiff competition from a player 20 years older in Sion Bebb (Morlais Castle, Merthyr Tydfil) whose recent form has been electric in an event also backed by Marstons Brewery.
The former European Tour player claimed his second Welsh Professional title last month and has won his last two West pro-ams, at Polzeath where he made a special trip to play the course for the first time, and then in the lucrative M J Baker pro-am at Woodbury Park last week.
Paul Hendriken (Ivybridge), who is third a fraction ahead of Mark Searle (High Post), is the only player with a chance of returning to the play-offs after qualifying in third place last year and earning one of the ten places available in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.
Lee Thompson (Dudsbury), who has reached the play-offs in the past, is another veteran in form. He was runner-up to Bebb at Woodbury and is always capable of consistent low scoring. But he starts almost 200 points behind Mansell so his chances and those of the players below him depend on the leaders mis-firing.
Top ten contenders: Mansell, 753; Bebb, 703; Hendriksen, 594; Searle 594; Thompson, 567; Barry Austin (Downes Crediton), 549; Jon Bevan (Sherborne), 535; Chris Gill (Newquay), 499; Richard O’Hanlon (St Kew), 485; Michael Watson (Wessex Golf Centre), 478.
When Davies bought the course he described it as “more like a hayfield than a golf course.” The majestic parkland venue with outstanding views overlooking Pentire Point and Newland Island was originally known as Roserrow. The former city financier rescued the ailing club from administration. It has been transformed through substantial in- vestment, and re-constructed by architect Tim Lobb.
Davies has been a Cornwall-lover all his life. He lives besides the sec- ond fairway at Trevose where he has also been a long-standing member. He describes Trevose and his closest neighbours St Enodoc as “two great links courses” and feels The Point can become the third important venue in the area.
“We can make our parkland course another good venue where people can play and stay,” he said. “We want to raise our profile and the PGA are helping us achieve that aim.”
Davies, who plays off five, had no direct golf club experience although he has been a director of Huntercombe Golf Club in Henley-on-Thames and a member at The Berkshire.
When the club changed hands there were 45 members and that number has steadily increased as a result of the investment. The leisure, health club and holiday departments expand with the construction of two new buildings each year. “I wanted to build a club that broke the mould,” he said. “We actively encourage children here and have established a community spirit and relaxed atmosphere.
“It has taken time, energy and money. Now we have completed 90 per cent of what we set out to achieve, I can enjoy it a bit more and spend more time on the golf course.”
He is delighted that The Point was named England Golf ‘ClubMark club of the Year’ for 2017. Club professional Phil Brookes, who succeeded Richard O’Hanlon three years ago, has built up a successful junior squad and runs three clinics a week during the holiday season.