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B&H International switches to The Belfry

By Paul Trow - Golf Today

The Benson & Hedges International Open will move to The Belfry for the next four years with a 25 per cent increase in prizemoney to 1 million. The event, which will celebrate its 30th birthday in 2000, will continue to be screened by the BBC throughout its scheduled four days from May 11-14.

The Brabazon Course at The Belfry, famous for three Ryder Cup contests in 1985, 1989 and 1993, is the fourth different venue for this prestigious event following Fulford in Yorkshire, St Mellion in Cornwall and The Oxfordshire where it has been held for the past four years.

Defending champion Colin Montgomerie, who finally came good in the tournament last year after several close shaves, said: "I enjoyed the Brabazon in 1993 when I last played it. We are all aware that it's been remodelled since then and having visited the site recently I can assure everyone that the test of golf has been strengthened to make it a much tougher examination.

"I am delighted that we will also have the opportunity to play two Benson & Hedges tournaments on the course before the next Ryder Cup (in 2001) and that experience will be invaluable for all of us. I personally very much look forward to defending the title next year."

The 36-year-old Scot, who used his B&H triumph last May as the springboard to five tournament victories and his seventh successive European order-of-merit crown, is one of a distinguished cast list of title winners, starting with Tony Jacklin in 1971. Also on the role of honour are Lee Trevino (1978), Tom Weiskopf (1981), Greg Norman (1982), Sam Torrance (1984), Sandy Lyle (1985), Mark James (1986), Jose Maria Olazabal (1990), Bernhard Langer (1991 and 1997), Seve Ballesteros (1994) and Darren Clarke (1998).

Nigel Northridge, director of sales and marketing for Benson & Hedges, said: "Whilst we enjoyed a very good relationship with The Oxfordshire and are sad to leave, we are at the same time delighted to be going to The Belfry. Since the Ryder Cup was last played there, there has been major investment in the course by De Vere Hotels. I'm sure the European golfers will benefit from playing it before 2001 and we are also hoping to tempt some Americans to come and try the course before the next Ryder Cup."

Mike Maloney, executive director of The Belfry, said: "Everyone at The Belfry is delighted that the Benson & Hedges International Open will be staged here from May 2000. Benson & Hedges are sponsors of the highest calibre and it is appropriate that an event of this importance will provide the platform to relaunch the Brabazon.

"There have been many changes at The Belfry since 1993, including an overall investment in excess of 40 million - with 120 significant changes and 3.5 million spent on the Brabazon course alone."

Tournament director Jim Elkins confirmed that the BBC were again on board for 2000 and added that he expected a contract would be signed with the Corporation in due course for the subsequent three years. He was, however, unsure about the event's future beyond 2003 because that is the year in which sponsorship of sporting events by tobacco companies is due to become illegal in the EU. Even though this issue is currently an issue before the EU courts, the July 2003 deadline is unlikely to change.