HAMPSHIRE has reached the English County Finals more times than other county in the south east in the 21st century.

And it looks as though they are guaranteed to be there in 2021 – as long as the lockdown is lifted at some point during the summer.

For the county that has been crowned south east champions eight times since 2001 – and seven times in the past ten years – will benefit from a change to the qualification process in 2020, brought in as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

England Golf has decided to change the format for September’s English County Finals – scrapping the four divisional qualifiers.

And instead of a four-county round-robin matchplay format, every county in the country has been offered the chance to enter a four-man team

They will compete in a three-day, winner-takes-all championship at Seacroft, a tough links course in Lincolnshire.

Hampshire captain Neil Dawson, who has faced a frustrating first four months in charge of the county men’s team because of the coronavirus pandemic, was a relieved man when county secretary David Wheeler was informed of the revised playing schedule for the rest of 2020.

Dawson had set his sights on success at the south-east qualifier in July, after taking over the reigns from Colin Roope.

His predecessor from Blackmoor was unable to extend Hampshire’s run of reaching the final four times in five years between 20013 and 2017.

Dawson, a member at Fleet’s North Hants GC, said: “Obviously with the major threat to life posed by the pandemic, golf just isn’t important. No sport is more important than life or death. We have to support our key workers and the heroes in the NHS.

“But we have a group of very talented players who were geared up to maintaining Hampshire’s unbelievable record over the past ten years – both as individuals and as a team.

“They need to play at the highest level to maintain their development – just like any top sport – and I was looking forward to the challenge of trying to win the south-east qualifier at Water Eaton, in Norfolk, in July.

“We may have won the English County Championship only once in 23 years, but we have collected back-to-back Amateur Championships, produced the youngest-ever winner of the English Amateur, and claimed the Brabazon Trophy – one of the biggest strokeplay events in the world – three years in a row.

“Many counties can’t boast that record in their entire history, let alone in one generation.

“Our programme to build up for the league season with a series of friendlies and squad get-togethers was scrapped before we had even really started.

“So finally, as long as it safe for us and every other club golfer in Hampshire, the Isle of Wight and Channel Islands who we represent, to get out on the course in the coming weeks, we have a target to aim for come September.”

The county’s four league matches against Dorset, Kent, Sussex and Surrey have already been cancelled.