The European Tour returns to De Vere Slaley Hall this week with Welshman David Park defending the Compaq European Grand Prix title. Twelve months ago Park burst onto the European Tour scene when, just a week after losing a play-off for the Moroccan Open in what was his first European Tour event, he bounced back to claim his maiden European Tour title.
The young Welshman underlined the Tour's policy of opportunity and incentive by holding off David Carter and Retief Goosen with a 14 under par total of 274. Park, a member of the 1997 Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup team, was leading the Challenge Tour Rankings before taking the step up to the European Tour and went on to finish 40th in the Volvo Order of Merit in his rookie year.
This week he faces another world-class field including the current leader of the Volvo Order of Merit, Darren Clarke. Clarke won the last tournament to be held on English soil when he shot a magnificent 65 in the final round of The Compass Group English Open earlier this month to overcome a six-shot deficit and successfully retain the title. It was his second title of the year following his victory over Tiger Woods in the WGC - Andersen Consulting Match Play Championship and extended his lead at the top of the Volvo Order of Merit.
Open Champion Paul Lawrie is also hoping to play following his injury which forced him to withdraw from the Volvo PGA Championship and the US Open.
Lee Westwood, currently lying third in the Volvo Order of Merit having won the Deutsche Bank SAP Open - TPC of Europe last month, is also in the field along with other champions of the 2000 European Tour International Schedule - Brian Davis, Lucas Parsons, Jamie Spence and Wei-Tze Yeh. David Howell, runner up to Steen Tinning in the Celtic Manor Resort Wales Open a fortnight ago, is also back on form.
Australian golfer Adam Scott, 20 next month, who finished tied fifth in the Benson and Hedges International Open and joint sixth in the Morrocan Open, will be making his professional debut having announced he has turned pro.
The course, with its mix of imposing pines, rolling moorland and water, has become a flagship venue in the north east alongside the spectacular De Vere Slaley Hall Hotel. Massive bunkers and raised greens make it a typical Thomas course but it is the 453-yards ninth hole that is the Slaley Hall's signature hole.