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Dunhill Links confirmed for 2002

Top American players are set to add gloss to next year's $5 million Dunhill Links Championship after confirmation by the organisers that the event will, after all, be part of the 2002 European Tour schedule.

The second Dunhill Links Championship, to be staged at the links courses of St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns from October 3-6, immediately follows the postponed Ryder Cup at The Belfry and Dunhill organisers hope to benefit from this.

"We are very hopeful that a fair number of the American Ryder Cup players will stay on in Britain for our event," Iain Banner, Dunhill Links Championship committee spokesman, told Reuters on Monday.

The pro-celebrity Dunhill Links Championship, the richest tournament ever staged in Britain, was held for the first time in Scotland in late October.

Although widely supported by both the professionals and the celebrity amateurs, the inaugural event was blighted by bad weather and heavily criticised in the British media.

Until this weekend, doubts remained over the tournament's second staging as the organisers asked for the pro-celebrity event to be removed from the 2002 tour schedule while they reconsidered their position.

But on Sunday the Dunhill championship committee confirmed the lucrative event would go ahead, over the same three courses but three weeks earlier.

"The overwhelming support for the event, from both professional and amateur participants alike, was the deciding factor," Banner said in a statement.

"We firmly believe that links golf should be promoted and will continue to evaluate all aspects of the tournament with a view to building it into the premier links championship on the international golfing calendar."

Ken Schofield, executive director of the European Tour, said: "We welcome the confirmation that the Dunhill Links Championship, won so superbly by Paul Lawrie in October, will retain its place on the 2002 European Tour international schedule."

Scotland's Lawrie won the inaugural title and the 551,000 pounds first prize after a grandstand finish, edging out South Africa's Ernie Els by holing a 40-foot putt from the Valley of Sin at the last.

His lengthy uphill putt was later named the European Tour's Shot of the Year.

The 2001 Dunhill Links Championship replaced the Alfred Dunhill Cup team competition, which was staged at St Andrews for 16 years from 1986.

Top European Tour players have welcomed the return of the $5 million Dunhill Links Championship to the 2002 tour schedule, despite the bad weather and media criticism which beset this year's event.

The pro-celebrity championship, the richest tournament ever staged in Britain, was held for the first time in Scotland in late October but organisers only confirmed last weekend it would take place next year after weeks of deliberation.

Celebrities to take part this year included film stars Michael Douglas and Hugh Grant.

"I'm delighted that Dunhill decided to commit to the European Tour for next year and that the event will go forward," seven times European number one Colin Montgomerie told Reuters on Monday.

"I really enjoy links golf and it would have been a sorry loss if the links championship had not taken place next year."

The second Dunhill Links Championship, to be staged at the links courses of St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns from October 3-6, will be held immediately after the postponed Ryder Cup at The Belfry in late September.

Irishman Padraig Harrington, the world number 10, said: "I think that the earlier date, combined with the lessons learned at the year's end, can only make the Dunhill Links Championship even more successful in 2002.

"Even with the terrible weather, we all enjoyed playing in this year's event and would have been very sorry to have lost it from next year's schedule."

"It's great news for the European Tour and it would have been a real loss if the event had not gone ahead as originally planned," said U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen.

Denmark's Thomas Bjorn said: "Despite the bad weather, I really enjoyed the event and it would have been a huge disappointment for the players, both pros and amateurs, had it not taken place next year."

This year's event, held from October 18-21, was plagued by fog and rain and was forced into an extra day because of countless weather disruptions.

The late October scheduling also contributed to disappointing attendances and no American golfers committed to the tournament, following the September 11 attacks.

Various logistical problems were also created by the staging of a 312-player pro-am event over three separate links courses and event organisers were heavily criticised for their decision to amend the handicaps of some of the amateur players.

But, despite some hard-hitting headlines in British newspapers, the competition has always been fully backed by both professionals and amateurs.

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