I always loved going to Mission Hills for the Dinah Shore. The very best golfers in the world were there and everything about it was glamorous, a bit exotic even, if you came from Portstewart. California, Palm Springs (well, Rancho Mirage technically but even so), roads named after film stars even I’d heard of, hospitals named after POTUSes and their spouses, wow, wow, wow.
Then there was Dinah, a proper star, who’d had her own TV show, was a mate of Frank Sinatra and was truly mega. The pro-ams (in the plural) were testament to her pulling power, choc-a-bloc with top, top names (the double top is obligatory these days isn’t it?) of stage, screen, sport and business. The tournament oozed class and from the start offered money that the women of the LPGA could barely believe. The first purse, in 1972, was $110,000, with the winner earning $20,050. To put that in perspective, the average tournament purse in those days was $32,000. The Dinah lifted the women golfers into the sporting stratosphere.
The man behind this influx of cash and charisma was David Foster, CEO of Colgate-Palmolive, a keen and competent golfer, a member at Sunningdale and a shrewd promoter of his products. He persuaded Dinah, a tennis player, to turn to golf and she threw herself into her new role with such enthusiasm that she eventually became an honorary member of the LPGA Hall of Fame. Her name is no longer in the title but the course is named after her, there’s a walk of champions and a statue, so, with luck, the tour will never forget her contribution to its growth and the women’s game as a whole. If you get the chance, speak to Judy Rankin, Jan Stephenson, Jane Blalock, Helen Alfredsson, Amy Alcott, Kathy Whitworth, Laura Davies, Nancy Lopez, Juli Inkster, any number of players now of a certain age or beyond, about Dinah.
The Dinah in many ways was the women’s Masters, the first major of the season, played at the same course every year, with a limited, mostly elite field. From the very beginning it was a big event and it was designated a major in 1983 (although the champions prior to that were not similarly elevated, women perhaps being more pernickety than men in such matters. See The Open, US Open, USPGA and Masters.) Over the years, however, an event that set the standard in every way lost some of its lustre and started trading on past glories. For this observer at least, penny-pinching was the phrase that came to mind. The purse started lagging behind that of the other majors and, I’m sorry to say, it still is, according to the figures I’ve seen.
The ANA Inspiration, as the Dinah is now, has lots of initiatives that are designed to inspire, including the very important one of providing more varied, sometimes healthier, certainly more interesting food for the fans.
I’d mark that down as inspirational and I’m all in favour of innovation but important as the peripherals are, the core is the golf and if you’re a major, you have to behave like one and pay out accordingly. The argument that golfers are paid too much and purses are ridiculous is for another day. If you’re a major, your purse has to reflect that status and, frankly, in that regard, the ANA is neglecting its duty.
The current offering, according to the LPGA website, is a less than inspirational $2,700,000. The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, the Ricoh Women’s British Open and the Evian are all well over $3,000,000 and the US Women’s Open (which swings to a different beat) is a whopping $5,000,000. If the ANA, which starts next week, is to live up to its name and be true to the tournament’s traditions, it has to do what the players always do when there’s a major about and up its game.
Upping the purse from $2.6 million last year to $2.7 this is not just a joke, it’s an insult. It’s saying that women are second-class golfing citizens who should be grateful for what they’re given. No doubt they are and the best women golfers in the world are not going to stay away but if you’re a tournament with delusions of grandeur, with aspirations to be a proper major and a penchant for promoting yourself as inspirational, you have to show that you mean it.
And in this day and age, as in any other, that means putting your money where your mouth is.
Apologies to Lionel Shriver, author of “We Need To Talk About Kevin” for nicking her title and also to the Open Championship for associating it with the monstrous Kevin.
The Open has not yet become a monster but it is a behemoth and not long ago I (and numerous others) had an email from the R&A asking for ideas for improving the Open. Well, on closer inspection, there wasn’t that much room for suggestions, it was more about your Open and sports-watching habits in general.
Not being a corporate, big business being, it seems to me that quite a few of the R&A’s recent decisions have conspired to make the Open less open, to make it, frankly, more dull and boring and uniform, more about money-making than making golfers, or golf fans, of non-golfers.
The most appalling decision was to ditch terrestrial television, at a stroke (a very bad stroke) slashing the audience by millions. People have to work much harder to find the golf now, which is why many of them will end up not bothering at all. Perhaps the numbers will be made up eventually as we oldies die off and are replaced, if all the promotional campaigns work, by on-line-streaming, tech savvy, social media junkies who play most of their games on a device with a screen. Golf is all about connectivity after all.
By far my favourite worst decision, however, was the corporate sanitisation of the exhibition/merchandise tent, although perhaps I should thank the R&A for turning it into a place I don’t have to visit any more and saving me a shedload of money. (Although I do usually go in once, for a quick recce, to confirm that it’s still a soulless temple to Mammon.)
In the tented village at Troon last year, there was a big advertising poster thing featuring a family of four clad in the R&A’s favoured brand and I couldn’t help wondering how many hundreds their bill would come to. Luke Donald is lucky that he doesn’t have to clothe himself at his sponsor’s prices but, of course, you do get 10 per cent off if you pay with a particular card. That applies to ice cream and food too and you will need more than loose change to keep yourself fed and watered at Open prices. I think they’re iniquitous but no doubt some diligent number crunchers beavering away at their spreadsheets will say that the figures make sense. Not to those of us who crave a bit of variety, a smidgeon of flair, a hint of the unexpected and value for money they don’t. But at least the main event didn’t disappoint, with Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson putting on the performance of their careers in the last round.
Unparalleled golfing excellence notwithstanding, I have a friend who won’t be going to the Open again because of the boozing. “Too many pissed up lads,” he said. “I don’t want to be in the middle of it any more. And the crowds prevent any decent view of the golf.” So that’s him off the attendance list.
You have to be canny and clued up to watch golf at the big events and staying sober throughout a long day in the fresh air or the hospitality tents can be a big ask for those who are there for the day out and haven’t signed the pledge. Encouraging the crowd to feel involved can be a double-edged sword if they take heckling and partisanship to extremes and start interfering. Not everyone knows what the limits are.
Mind you, I was sorry to hear that the Bolly will be gone at Birkdale, or at least its champagne tent will. Bollinger didn’t sell enough bottles at Troon apparently. I hope I’m misinformed because I have many happy, if slightly fuzzy memories of long, entertaining, informative sojourns therein, particularly on a Saturday when no deadline loomed. One non-golfing friend still waxes lyrical about her visit to a particularly wet and windy Muirfield (welcome back to the rota by the way) when the weather saved her from having to watch any golf at all and she babbled the afternoon away on a sea of bubbles.
Golfers have a long association with drink – though today’s highly toned athletes seem to be more abstemious than their predecessors – and I love the story about Harry Vardon and his response to the woman from the Temperance Society who knocked on his door and tried to persuade him to sign on for abstinence. Vardon drew himself up to his full height and said: “Madam, I have never knowingly been beaten by a teetotaller. I bid you good day.”
Slainte. Happy St Patrick’s Day everybody.
In a rather idllyic corner of the Home Counties nestles the world famous Sunningdale Golf Cub, 36 holes of glorious rolling heathery heath that has seen its share of top-class golf and golfers over its 117 year history. And this week this little corner of England has once again witnessed the delightfully special tournament that is the Sunningdale Foursomes. The club’s website describes it thus: “A unique competition played since 1934 and open to Professional and Amateur, Men and Ladies. Played under special handicap.” Any combination of pairing is acceptable and top-class players and recognisable names litter the draw sheet. This year two Open champions were in the field – Paul Lawrie and Sandy Lyle – and down the years hosts of Ryder Cup players have tried their luck.
As an amateur pairing in the 1980s my fellow Irish international colleague Mary McKenna and I benefited from the slightly skewed handicapping system that would see us the recipients of 11 shots if we were playing two male professionals. Even though we played from the same tees we were completely capable of scoring in the mid 70s, which provided an almost insurmountable task for many of our opponents. In the space of half a dozen years or so we sailed into three finals and a couple of semis. The majority of matches were on the Old course but you couldn’t make your way through the draw without at least one match on the New course, where we felt we were slightly more vulnerable.
One of the highlights of any match was the almost obligatory refuelling stop at the renowned sausage hut, situated at the back of the 10th greens on both courses. On one occasion, having completed ten holes on the New, Mary was enjoying her sausage sandwich, leaning against the doorway of the hut. Leaning on the other side of the doorway was Sam Torrance with his Ryder Cup partner and friend, Irishman John O’Leary. They had just completed ten holes on the Old and were keen to see how we were doing but didn’t want to speak too loudly in case our opponents were nearby.
So Sam, in his best 007 style, stared straight ahead and spoke out of the side of his mouth: “How are you doing, Mary?”
McKenna never missed a beat and, without so much as turning her head, said from the side of her mouth, “We’re finished.”
Sam suffered an immediate choking fit and never did get to enjoy finishing that particular sandwich. Mary, however, thoroughly enjoyed hers as it had long been her ambition to finish off one of our matches by the time we got to the hut. Her killer instinct was always alive and kicking.
There are a few names – and partnerships – in the 2017 draw that I recognise from our day, namely Andrew Hall (Sand Martins) and Andrew Reynolds (Royal Cinque Ports). I suspect they’ve played every year since. How’s that for resilience, eternal optimism and keeping old age at bay? The two Andrews formed their illustrious partnership when assistants at Sunningdale and I cannot think of a pairing who have got more enjoyment from the week. They played two matches this year, each going the full distance, so they are still obviously intent on testing ageing nerves. If anyone knows of a longer partnership in this event do let me know.
It is the understated nature of the event that is so appealing – dogs make up the largest part of the gallery, there are no sponsors’ signs – and it is golf at its purest. Enjoyably serious but seriously enjoyable.