Since the Betfred British Masters was restored to the Tour’s International Schedule in 2015, it has been hosted by some of British golf’s leading players, starting with Ian Poulter at Woburn, followed by Luke Donald at The Grove (2016), Lee Westwood twice at Close House (2017 and 2020), Justin Rose at Walton Heath (2018) and Tommy Fleetwood at Hillside (2019).
Danny Willett joined that illustrious who’s who of British golf as the tournament returned to The Belfry for the first time in 13 years. Along with the iconic course, the Englishman is back for 2022 and is hungrier than ever to put on a show for the British golf fans who have been unable to attend the event for the last two years.
Willett is no stranger to putting on a show having produced spellbinding performances to win some of the game’s biggest events, including the Masters Tournament, DP World Tour Championship and BMW PGA Championship. Hosting a tournament is a whole different ball game, but like everything that comes his way, Willett has taken it into his stride and dived into the deep end to ensure a fantastic experience for fans and players alike.
Here, the 34-year-old gives us an insight into the preparation that goes on behind the scenes in putting on an event of this magnitude.
You joined an illustrious list of golfers in hosting the British Masters last season and you’re back again this year – how proud were you to get that call to host such a popular event for the second year running?
It’s a privileged place to be. We were hoping that last year we would have some fans at the tournament but we were unfortunately unable to do that. It’s a special thing to host an event, especially one as big as the Betfred British Masters. We wanted to host it for a second year so we could host it in front of friends and family and get the best out of the week. It’s a really nice opportunity to be able to host the event again and I’m looking forward to what will be an incredible week on one of the best golf courses in the UK.
As a host of an event of the first time what did you learn about the preparation that goes into putting on a tournament of this stature?
As a host you have a real behind the scenes overview of things and some of the biggest things I learned last year was what the tournament directors do, what the green staff do, how much prep goes in to getting a golf course ready for a tournament in May. I’ve had some really good chats with Mike Stewart (Tournament Director) and the agronomy team at The Belfry. They’ve made a few changes for this year’s tournament with my help to make things a little tougher – giving a golfer’s view of how we see things on a course and why we’d hit certain shots. It was nice to see how it was done last year and I really got my teeth stuck in this year to help make this event a special one.
You’ll be returning to the Belfry for a second successive year – how much does it mean to the players to have one of one of European golf’s most historic venues hosting this tournament?
To be able to host an event at such an iconic venue really makes for a great tournament. Betfred have put in a hell of a lot of money into this event and helped keep it going, even when there were no spectators there. It means a lot to the guys. Every event on the DP World Tour is a good event these days, but to have the Betfred British Masters at such an iconic European venue, it just adds a little bit more to the event.
I believe you don’t live too far away from the course – what memories do you have, if any, of the three Ryder Cups that have been hosted here since you were born?
I live around an hour and 20 minutes from here. My first memory was The Ryder Cup in 2002, we went to practice with my PGA professional at the time Peter Ball – he took a group of four or five of us to give us a taste of what it was. We went to the Wednesday practice and it was chaos, there were so many people it was so loud. To have experienced a Ryder Cup here was really cool, with tens of thousands of people around such an intimate venue. We were stood at the back of the tenth and near the practice green watching guys coming through, that was one of my first memories.
You finished in the top 11 last year – it would seem from that result that you didn’t find it too difficult juggling hosting duties along with competing?
It was a good finish. The hosting duties weren’t too strenuous last year – due to Covid there weren’t too many activities going on. I can only assume this year will be a bit busier. I spent last week practicing at home to make sure that my game is in a good place so I can juggle both duties as well as possible. Hopefully the guys get a great experience on a great golf course, but the sponsors and fans get a good interactive experience as well
How special was it to hand Richard Bland the trophy after his fairytale win?
Blandy’s win last year was nothing shy of amazing. I was stood on the last green, I finished about 45 minutes before him, and I was there with Tim Barter – who has taught him throughout his career. There was nobody begrudging him the win, especially in the way he did it. It was a brilliant way for him to finish in the play-off. To have done that in front of 10,000 people would have been amazing, so fingers crossed we’ll have plenty of fans cheering whoever wins this week.
Fans are back at the tournament his year for the first time since 2019. How excited are you and your fellow Englishman to be playing in front of a home crowd once again?
To be British and playing in front of British fans, they are the best fans in the world. They know golf – they know what a good and a bad shot is, they enjoy watching great players play great golf. Being clapped onto tees and greens, the appreciation they give us is amazing. To host the Betfred British Masters on home soil, not too far from where I grew up is awesome.
You’ve selected Prostate Cancer UK as the official charity of the tournament once again. You have been a long-term advocate of the charity – how did you become involved with them and why does it mean so much to you?
I became a supporter of the charity after hearing the story of fellow Yorkshireman John Brownless. John was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2004 and has since raised tens of thousands of pounds for the charity by organising golf days in England and Spain. We became more involved when my brother had a scare. It’s not something I’d ever thought about, as men we don’t tend to talk about these things in great detail. Thankfully he was fine, it shed a light on this. When we went into the numbers and chatted to the guys at the charity just about how many men in the UK and around the world are diagnosed every year, it’s a staggering amount. The money we raised last year was amazing, Betfred donated £1,000 for every birdie and £2,000 for every eagle I made, totaling £19,000. I’m grateful that they have pledged to do the same again this year. With fans at the event this year we want to raise awareness of the Man of Men and give guys a reminder to get checked and to stay healthy.