Open Championship great Tony Jacklin was the guest of honour at the Golf Foundation’s annual Gala Dinner, held at the start of Open Championship week, at Aintree Racecourse near to Royal Birkdale. The former Open Champion, US Open Champion and Ryder Cup hero as player and European Team Captain, was presented with the Foundation’s ‘Spirit of Golf Award’ on Monday, to recognise his inspiration and contribution for youngsters to take up the game.

This was the second such award made by the Golf Foundation – a charity committed to the sporting and social development of young people through golf – with Gary Player receiving the honour last year at Carnoustie. The awards evening has become a fixture of the Open Championship diary.

A packed crowd of VIP guests dined overlooking the famous racecourse after a golf demonstration was held involving local youngsters. After hearing from Red Rum’s trainer Ginger McCain, sportswriter and broadcaster Brough Scott and BBC golf commentator Tony Adamson, it was left to Golf Foundation President Ken Schofield CBE to present the award to Tony Jacklin.

Ken Schofield said: “Tony was a very, very special Open Champion. He carried the hopes of his nation and what would later be the hopes of European golf, and he never failed to deliver. What Tony achieved inspired others to follow and culminated in the success of the European team in the Ryder Cup. It’s my pleasure to present the Golf Foundation Spirit of Golf Award for 2008 to Tony Jacklin.”

On receiving the award, Tony Jacklin said: “Thank you everyone. I’m very flattered to be chosen for this award from the Golf Foundation, which does so much for youngsters. It was great watching the kids playing earlier and it took me back to my first junior championship. Giving opportunities to youngsters is very important.”

Before the dinner, children from Southport’s local sport partnership enjoyed a taste of The Open Championship’s magic with the staging of their own ‘Road to the Open’. Two winning teams from around 50 local schools had won a Tri-Golf challenge and their prize was the opportunity to show their skills to a watching Tony Jacklin. The project was made possible by PESSYP funding and a funding award of £4,000 by Sport England through the National Sports Foundation.

The dinner was sponsored by Bauer, which publishes Golf World and Today’s Golfer magazines. The high profile of the event in its Grand National setting helped to produce a lively auction which raised more than £22,000 for the Golf Foundation. The Gala Dinner evening will have raised a total of around £25,000 for junior grass roots golf.

Apart from the Spirit of Golf Award, the occasion provided a welcome opportunity to showcase the work of the Golf Foundation that is carried out in schools, communities and golf clubs during the rest of the year, initiatives that see around 700,000 children introduced to golf in schools, and major inroads made in linking schools to clubs to increase junior memberships.

The Golf Foundation is present during the whole of The Open Championship, welcoming youngsters to the R&A Junior Golf Centre in support of the England Golf Partnership, which is growing the game in England. Around 2,500 youngsters are expected to visit the centre during the week to have a go at Golf Foundation Tri-Golf activities.