The cartoon above dates from 1928 and the caption has the caddie saying: “‘Ave yer finished with the links for today, Sir?” Sir is stomping off, clubs and caddie abandoned, radiating rage from every pore.
Every golfer, at whatever level, has to learn to cope with the frustrations of a game where the ball sits there waiting for you to hit it. There’s no opponent trying to kick it or hit it out of your way; no one trying to send you flying with a big hit, sorry, tackle; it’s just you and a ball, sitting there waiting quietly for you to do your best/worst. Easy-peasy. No problem…..
As every golfer knows, it’s not quite as easy as it sounds and Eddie Pepperell, an affable Englishman who’s still just in the top 50 in the world as I write, had some sort of meltdown at the Turkish Airlines Open last week. I don’t think he’s written one of his entertaining, thought-provoking blogs about the incident yet but he put four or five balls in the water, then walked off, saying he’d run out of balls. His partners Martin Kaymer and George Coetzee were gobsmacked and Pepperell was DQd for not completing the hole and the round.
Yesterday, the R&A tweeted a picture of the finalists in the 2009 Boys Amateur, who now have seven professional wins between them. Tom Lewis beat Pepperell 5 and 4 and the tweet asked: “Who would win now?” Pepperell, having recovered his humour and, with luck, his equilibrium, replied: “Probably Tom as I still have no balls.”
Dai, my late husband, had his moments on the golf course but the most memorable were mostly of the volcanic variety. Some of his former colleagues have some hair-raising tales, including behaviour the man himself would have excoriated as appalling: stomping off the course without finishing out or shaking hands, heading straight for the car – not the bar – and roaring off.
On one memorable occasion, at Whittington, Dai’s temper didn’t make it as far as the 1st green. Our 1st is a hole he used to call “the easiest par 5 in the country” and he invariably, inevitably, took at least six. This time he hit two crackers just short of the green and, for reasons best known to himself, took out a horrible, deep-faced, heavy-headed wedge that he’d liberated, again for reasons best known to himself, from the dark recesses of a friend’s garage.
The ground was wet, Dai duffed the ball into the dip in front of the green, considered the situation briefly, then let out a roar as he raised the club above his head and speared it with all his might into the sodden turf. As the head buried itself well en route down under, the shaft broke in half and the bit with the grip went spinning off towards the rough, with the bit in the ground vibrating wildly. My beloved’s temper was not helped when he saw me in a stomach-clutching, shoulder-heaving heap on the ground.
It took him some time to extricate the buried bit because it was hard to get a grip of the shattered, spiky-edged half of shaft but he managed it and hurled the two pieces into the trees behind the green never to darken his golf bag again.You may not have seen the comment from Des O’Reilly on Maureen’s post about our golf at Portrush and it bears repeating here. Mention of Lilian Starrett (nee Malone) brought the memories flooding back. “I remember my first introduction to Lilian at the Hermitage Scratch Cup (circa 1978),” Des said. “As a starry-eyed new boyfriend, I was cadddying for Therese [Des’s late wife, the incomparable Tiny], who thought Lilian was ‘great craic’.
“She was warm and friendly until after a couple of poor shots on the 6th or 7th hole she turned to her clubs and caddy car and quietly but with intent beat the living daylights out of both with a 4-iron. This scared the living daylights out of me. I never uttered a word for the entire rest of the day! In fact, it took a good few years before I felt at ease in the company of ‘the Starrett’!…..”
Not long after writing this, Des received a phone call from a woman puporting to be a solicitor ringing on behalf of said Starrett, mentioning defamation, libel and the like. It was, of course, Lil, insisting that she was a reformed character and would be battering her new TaylorMades only on the practice ground.
Even the sainted Bob(by) Jones had to learn how to curb a fiery temper. Famously, the man who received the freedom of the Burgh of St Andrews in 1958, picked up his ball and tore up his scorecard in the third round of his first (British) Open, at St Andrews, in 1921, describing it later as “the most inglorious failure of my golfing life”. He did win the Open on the Old Course in 1927 and the Amateur there in 1930, the year of his Impregnable Quadrilateral that also included the Open, the US Amateur and the US Open.
Jones also had an inglorious moment at the US Open in 1920. As a precocious 18-year old paired with the venerable Harry Vardon, aged 50, Jones made a mess of the 7th hole after thinning a straightforward pitch over the green into heavy rough. Vardon wasn’t much of a chatter and the pair hadn’t exchanged a word until Jones, embarrassed and nervous, said, “Mr Vardon, have you ever seen a worse shot?”
Neither of them won that championship – Ted Ray, an Englishman, was the champion – at Inverness in Toledo, Ohio and 101 years later, in 2021, when the club hosts the Solheim Cup, some of us hope that it’ll be another foreigner, a Scot, holding the trophy aloft.
To no one’s surprise, Catriona Matthew, who led Europe to victory at Gleneagles a few weeks ago, will be captain again at Inverness. She was at home in North Berwick, cooking dinner, when the call came asking her to do the job again and she was delighted to accept.
“Being captain of the winning team was the highlight of my career,” she said. “Capturing the Solheim Cup in Scotland, an hour’s drive from our home, with my close friend Suzann Pettersen making the clinching putt on the last hole in the last match on the course…..you can’t top that.”
It’ll be different away from home, with the crowd cheering the Americans on but Catriona relishes the challenge: “I love Toledo and Inverness is such a Scottish name, I’m hoping that’s a good omen! Winning the Solheim Cup in Scotland was a dream come true but backing that up with a win in America would be even better.”
This is the sport that keeps on giving………….and giving. A couple of days ago Patricia and I rolled in to Portrush for a day’s golf with great pals, Kath Stewart-Moore and Lilian Starrett. We were trying to work out when we had all first joined this great club and reckoned it was the late 1960s or at the very latest the early 1970s. There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since those days and even the odd decade has passed with very little contact, but as we all ease into our retirements we have found it so easy to pick up where we left off.
In the old days we were no slouches. Lilian was a wonderfully talented “feel” player who got down to scratch by the age of 20 and represented Ireland on several occasions. She continued her upward trend by captaining her country on three occasions, the most memorable trip being to Moscow which afforded a peep into the privileged existence enjoyed by the high-ups in the Politburo.
At her best Kath got down to four and played for Ulster. Like Lil she also captained Ireland in the shape of two girls’ International sides and she is arguably creeping up on her proudest moment in the game. In January she will become the Lady President of Royal Portrush Golf Club, a just recognition of her immense contribution to the sport and the club. Mind you, I was more than a little annoyed to hear she had demoted her victory over me in the 9-hole heats of the Collin Cup in 1982 to second place in her list of proud achievements.
Patricia’s lowest handicap was also four and her debut into girls’ International golf was seamless with a 100% win record at North Berwick way back in 1971. However, when questioned as to her most memorable moment in the game she still resolutely cites witnessing Alison Nicholas’ victory in the 1997 US Open at Pumpkin Ridge. Alison defeated the US favourite Nancy Lopez in a nail-biting finish and despite covering many of Tiger’s and Jack’s glorious victories for the Times nothing resonated with my sister quite like this. Her own 3rd place finish in the Heath Scratch Cup, although cherished, didn’t quite cut the mustard.
So, it was in the company of these three titans of the game, with 164 years of golfing experience between them, that I teed off on Wednesday. Fresh in my mind was the last time I was on that hole – namely on Sunday 21st July in the pouring rain, waiting for Shane Lowry to take history by the scruff of the neck and win the Open. We were aghast at his untidy bogey 5 up that first hole but looked upon it more favourably when our best player managed a resounding seven! I know it was an impossible pin, only ten yards on and front left, but, still – to win the hole with a seven!!!!
The course, obviously, has now been denuded of Open Championship furniture – the grandstands, the signage, the ropes, the camera towers and so on, have all gone. But, to me, it was so much more like the Portrush I’ve known and loved for so long. It was a perfect day, weatherwise, if a tad chilly at 4 degrees and, I have to say, the golf (apart from Kath’s) left a great deal to be desired. However, as always, this has to be the best club in the world for the welcome afforded to golfers at the initial point of contact with the customers. Gary McNeil, the professional, who so proudly played 36 holes as the marker in the Open at the weekend, runs a tight ship with his staff who are simply superb in the service industry. It is a pleasure to enter the sanctuary of the pro’s shop. Time stands still and conversations have time to be enjoyed.
It’s not simply time on the course that counts, obviously, but the time spent together – the “do you remember whens?”; the piecing together of the collective memories of the same events, some of them widely differing; the occasions one of us remembers something with total clarity as the other three look on blankly. It’s all grist to the mill for folk with a united love of golf.
Even when I was younger I was always acutely aware of how fortunate I was to be involved in a sport that tends to be played in beautiful surroundings. Thank God I wasn’t a swimmer whose playground would have been likely to be a 50 metre chlorinated, indoor pool! (Do they still put chlorine in pools? Probably not!) Not many beautiful, uplifting vistas there, however, to take your mind off poor performance.
As I weaved my way round the links the other day I was able to recall so many of the deft skills Shane Lowry displayed on his way to his greatest golfing achievement. It was quite something coming down the last in the gloaming to hark back to the tumultous scenes we had all witnessed there in July. Then, I was totally caught up in the moment, lustily joining in with the thousands of voices serenading the winner with the Fields of Athenry, followed by Ole,Ole, Ole!
This time there was no singing, rather a weary relief that we could now make our way to the sanctuary of the bar, chew the fat, put the world to rights and gird our loins for our next day’s play. More beautiful, and changing vistas, to enjoy; more time with lifelong friends; a bit of fresh air and exercise and the never-ending challenge of getting the ball into the hole as fast as possible.
How lucky we are.
“Why on earth are you driving all the way up to Cairnryan?” my friends asked, puzzled beyond belief. “Shortest sea crossing, ” sez I. “Herself doesn’t want to be on the water too long at this time of year. And apparently they put on the slow, old ferries now that the season’s over.” Trouble is, if you live in England, Cairnryan’s a long way up but we made it in plenty of time for the boat, even with a couple of stops, including one at the Cally Palace, one of Mum and Dad’s favourite hotels, in Gatehouse of Fleet.
Mo and I called in for old times’ sake and the place didn’t seem to have changed a bit. Staff just as pleasant, grounds just as beautiful, with a golf course that’s well worth a visit.
It had been a bit wet and worryingly windy round about Shap on the drive up but the weather improved the further north we got and, wonder of wonders, the crossing was flat calm. Even Maureen, far from the world’s best sailor, sat playing patience without feeling ill and was able to drive us off the boat and to our destination (via an annoying diversion that gave us a tour of previously unexplored countryside) without any need to call on the reserve who had been sacked by her advanced driving group at the end of last year.
It was still flat calm when we played Dunluce the next day, perfect conditions for four oldish dolls taking on one of Harry Colt’s masterpieces – don’t forget that Whittington Heath is also a Colt course, less majestic than Royal Portrush perhaps but it has also stood the test of time and is a joy to play. I digress, as usual but one of the reasons I fell in love with Whittington the first time I played it was because it was fast and hard-running, conditions that reminded me of the links courses I’d grown up on. Admittedly, Lichfield and Tamworth, distinguished though their history is, are about as far from the sea as you can get but you can’t always have everything.
This week, I, a resident of landlocked Staffordshire, have been getting a life-giving fix of sea air on golf courses that rank with any anywhere in the world. Yesterday it was the Strand course at Portstewart, the club where Mo and I started the game. There’s a gala dinner tonight to celebrate the club’s 125th anniversary but busy though they were everybody had time for a chat and it felt as though we’d never been away.
The view from the 1st tee still puts it in the running as one of the most scenic in the world – though the weather was a bit grey and gloomy for it to appear at its most majestic – and the dunes are as massive as ever. Like Portrush, it’s not a course for the faint-hearted.
All the apps and the forecasts had predicted rain about lunchtime but it swept in for elevenses and a chilly wind didn’t help. We struggled womanfully to play some canny golf as our hands got colder, our grips wetter and our determination to play 18 holes dwindled to nothing.
Kath Stewart-Moore, whose golfing pedigree is unsurpassed – her father skived off school all week to watch Joyce Wethered win the British at Portrush in 1924 and it would take a whole book to list the extensive achievements of equally extensive S-M clan – parred the 8th and birdied the 9th to square the match, so we took that as a sign to head for the clubhouse. Time for a Guinness and a toastie or celeriac soup with wheaten bread and a glass of red.
It wasn’t so much the course as the weather that brought us to our knees and when we saw the state of the intrepid souls (or stubborn eejits) who’d played 18 holes, dripping into the lockerroom on the verge of hypothermia, we knew we’d made the right decision.
Another good thing is that I now know that my waterproof trousers are still sound; my waterproof shoes are getting to the stage where the toes are letting in just enough to relegate them to the dry-days-only corner; my water-resistant top can cope with quite a lot of water; thermal underwear is a gift from on high; my bag’s claim to be waterproof is not yet in contravention of the Trades Descriptions Act (is there still such a thing?); and if I will insist on playing golf in the rain, I should stop being so squeamish and invest in some contact lenses…..
Oh yes, and I’ll never again pour scorn on American golfers wearing ear muffs or insulated coats. Promise.