The ISPS Handa PGA Seniors Championship was launched in style at De Vere Mottram Hall on Tuesday evening.
Former Ryder Cup Captain Mark James, defending tournament champion Paul Wesselingh and former European Senior Tour Order of Merit winner Peter Fowler were joined by Manchester City legend Paul Dickov, former England cricket stars Darren Gough and Steve Harmison, as well as three blind and disabled golfers in a unique three-hole challenge.
Following a £6 million renovation earlier this year, the stunning Cheshire venue will host some legends of the game when the hotly-anticipated ISPS Handa PGA Seniors Championship tees off on Thursday.
Cricket legend Gough teamed up with 1999 European Ryder Cup captain James and former serviceman Paul Swain, who lost an arm whilst on active duty, for the unique contest designed to highlight the dedicated work of ISPS Handa, who actively support and promote blind and disabled golf.
However it was the team of Ashes legend Steve Harmison, Wesselingh and Matt Mahoney who emerged triumphant.
The trio finished the innovative 3-hole challenge on 1-under, narrowly holding off the team of Dickov, the new Doncaster Rovers manager, Fowler and disabled golfer John Riordan.
Gough, who smashed his opening tee shot 350 yards down the par-4 sixth fairway, was full of admiration for all three disabled players, especially Swain.
"They were all amazing, especially Paul," said the former English pacer.
"I was fascinated because we all had a go at hitting it one handed, and I hit mine three yards! His desire and talent to hit the ball like that, and to play so well, is amazing.
"Paul hit a drive 250 yards, which was unbelievable. This is only my fifth round since November and I’m off 12, so it is not easy sticking to that. I’m trying to play a bit more and get into single figures. The driving, my natural hand eye coordination and putting is good but where I struggle with not playing is the chips from 30 yards."
The winner, Mahoney, qualified with Swain and Riordan to play in the launch event after topping a De Vere Blind and Disabled Grand Final at Mottram Hall on Monday. It followed their success in a series of regional events hosted at De Vere Golf Resorts around the UK over the last six weeks.
Mahoney, who plays off 22, was rich in praise of the experience, which illustrated the broad appeal of golf – for people of all ages and abilities.
“It was a fantastic experience; it’s not every day you get to play on a tournament course in such great condition, and it was incredible to play with last year’s Champion and an England cricketer," he said.
"Golf is truly unique in that sense, I can’t think of any other sport where you can compete against someone with one arm, a seasoned professional golfer and you’re all playing evenly. Events like this help break down the sport and show it is not exclusive and hopefully it can continue become even more inclusive."
Click here for our preview.