James Crampton is the Director of Championships at England Golf. No mean player himself, James represented England and maintains a scratch handicap at Spalding Golf Club.
What James doesn’t know about England Golf championships isn’t worth knowing.
James is also a qualified referee and last year worked with The R&A on The Open at Royal Portrush.
We sat down with James to preview another exciting season of championship golf and find out what goes into staging these top-class events.
What can we look forward to in the months ahead?
Well, here at the National Golf Centre at Woodhall Spa we will be staging the European Seniors in June and English Men’s Amateur at the end of July.
That will involve lots of work and planning with Richard Latham and Lisa Brown from the golf club.
It will be really interesting to see what impact the recent changes to the Hotchkin course has on scoring compared to past events.
We kick off the main events this year with an England v France match at Ganton – always a great venue in May when it’s sometimes hard to find courses in their best condition.
Sherwood Forest is an old favourite and a really good venue for the Brabazon Trophy.
Luffenham Heath is a new one for a championship of the size of the Senior Men’s Amateur.
Sheringham will have the Women’s Amateur and is anew venue as we celebrate the 100th staging of the championship.
Typically, though, we repeat a lot of venues because of the number of events we stage.
This year we will also have championships at Broadstone, Torquay and Burnham and Berrow – all places we have used before and who are very supportive.
The elite events are fantastic, but aren’t the handicap events also a huge draw?
Yes. We’ve done something different with the Golf Captains and Senior Series this year which adds real value to these programmes for the members.
Because we choose our major venues three years in advance, we decided this year to ask our 2021 venues if they wanted to host Captains’ events in 2020.
This allows us to build an early relationship with clubs and secondly it provides them with additional revenue.
The Captains now get to play some terrific courses and get great value for membership. A real positive.
You mention England v France – as well as the golf, tell us about the plans to celebrate a special anniversary.
That event also co-incides with VE day celebrations and we have a number of things in the pipeline to mark that occasion. Stay tuned!
Ganton will host the Brabazon next year and this international match gives us a chance to work with Gary Pearce and his team ahead of the 2021 Brab.
How much planning does go into an event such as the Brabazon?
We choose venues three years in advance. A year prior to the event we will have planning meetings and go through everything associated with event – course closures, practise days, branding, health and safety issues, catering.
We would see them another one or two times prior to the event and go through final plans.
At the event itself we’d arrive one or two days before practice and that time is used to set up our championship office, the branding, ensure the buggies arrive, look at course marking, penalty areas, boundary definitions, GUR. We then draft local rules.
This year we will have a chief referee who will manage things on the course.
The standard of the field dictates pin locations. It depends on weather too. We have detailed weather forecasts to pre-plan where we might want to put tees and pins.
We want to generate good scoring despite potential weather conditions.
The amazing volunteers are key to these events, right?
Yes – the referees and volunteers are priceless for the smooth running of championships.
We have a championship panel of 60 refs across the country. We had six on site at every championship and allocated them duty points where they could manage their area.
With the new rules being simplified they are not needed for many rulings so a lot of the work is about pace of play.
This year we will have five refs including a chief ref and he or she will manage the team throughout the day and co-ordinate breaks and the pace of play.
We want golfers to get around in a suitable time.
All our volunteers come from the golf club and they will look at play control with blind tee shots etc.
We have on course scoreboards and they are manual that need updating. The volunteers take scores from games as they pass through holes, put them in ipads and that feeds the website and golf box scoring system that everyone can access to track live scores.
You mention new scoreboards – tell us about an innovative move for 2020.
We have two new electronic scoreboards for on course in the 2020 season and we are excited about this upgrade.
In January 2019, The R&A introduced new rules to improve the game. Have they had an impact?
We saw rule changes as a positive. There was a quickening up of play around leaving the flagstick in. That was noticeable. We have reduced our round timings for this year as well because of the impact of leaving the flag in and reduction in time for looking for balls.
Players have grasped it pretty well.
The Women’s County Finals are at your home course of Spalding – have you warned the members what to expect?
You mean the decorated buggies and the carnival spirit? Yes! It’s been a tradition for a number of years at this event and adds to the colour.
The counties dress up their buggies and it’s great. It’s a quirk that the Women’s County Finals has – they celebrate the event more than the men who are a little more serious. The women want to win, but it’s a more fun atmosphere.
They do similar things at regional rounds as well and it spreads from there. There’s a real camaraderie.
Ribbons in hair, buggies dressed up, face painting, dining room tables branded in county colours – it all adds to the event.
Felixstowe Ferry even painted beach huts in county colours a few years ago!
These England Golf events have proved to be the launchpad for some great players over the decades.
I played in these events with Lee Westwood back in the day. Can I drop in that I beat Luke Donald in the English Amateur too! David Howell, Eddie Pepperell, Justin Rose, Paul Casey, Gary Wolstenholme – someone I knew well – all came through. The lists go on.
When we merged with the Ladies association, I saw Bronte Law win the Women’s Amateur at Hunstanton by millions. She was so good. Georgia Hall came through and now we have Lily May Humphreys on the scene and with a bright future.
Having a winner that goes on to achieve great things is terrific for a club to reflect on years down the line.