Enid Wilson, who played in the first Curtis Cup match at Wentworth in 1932, was never less than trenchant in her views. She described the organisation as a shambles and she had a point. The home side arrived at teatime the day before the match, discovered the foursomes pairings on the way to the 1st tee and, not surprisingly, lost all three matches. The Americans, much more on the ball, had been practising hard for days, paying particular attention to the alien alternate shot format.
Enid endured what she described as “the worst day I have ever spent on a golf course” and her mood didn’t improve when she came in and found that there was no food left – the spectators had scoffed the lot. It didn’t bother the visitors because they had made arrangements to eat at their hotel.
There were hordes of spectators, most expecting a home win, not least because their side was led by the incomparable Joyce Wethered, unarguably the best woman golfer in the world. She was a player so sublime that the legendary Bob Jones said of her: “She has the best swing, man or woman, that I have ever seen. I have never played with anyone, man or woman, amateur or professional, who made me feel so utterly outclassed.”
Joyce was captain by default really, by virtue of her status as the best player and she later confessed that it was not a job that suited her, not that anyone had given the position much thought. She did lead from the front in the singles, defeating Glenna Collett Vare, who was a bit of a superstar herself and won a record six US Women’s Amateur titles but never got the better of Joyce in head to head combat.
The Americans held on to win the match, however, and the Curtis Cup was up and running. Margaret and Harriot Curtis, who had envisioned such an international match since 1905, when they played in the British championship at Cromer in Norfolk, could at last present their silver Paul Revere bowl, designed “to stimulate friendly rivalry among the women golfers of many lands”.
It was gratefully and graciously received by Marion Hollins, the US captain, non-playing, who is worth a book on her own. She was a flamboyant character who made – and lost – millions and built the Pasatiempo resort in California. No shrinking violet she. Her line-up proved as formidable on grass as on paper, comprising Vare, Opal Hill, Virginia Van Wie, Helen Hicks, Maureen Orcutt, Leona Cheney and Dorothy Higbie. Their opponents were also of championship-winning calibre: Wethered, Wanda Morgan, Molly Gourlay, Doris Park, Diana Fishwick, Elsie Corlett, Mrs J B Watson (aka Charlotte Beddows) and Wilson.
Subsequent matches were littered with nerve-wracking contests featuring great names like Pam Barton, Jessie Valentine, Patty Berg, Polly Riley, Bunty Smith (nee Stephens), Jean Donald, Louise Suggs, Philomena Garvey, Angela Bonallack (nee Ward), JoAnne Carner (nee Gunderson), Barbara Mcintyre, Judy Bell, Marley Spearman, Diane Bailey, Nancy Lopez, Mary McKenna, Carol Semple Thompson, the list goes on and on. It’s worth looking through the teams of the past, it’s a who’s who of golf.
Wilson watched many a match in her role as the Daily Telegraph’s women’s golf correspondent (where is such an animal these days?) and the US won most of them. The GB&I team did well in the 1950s but by the time they went to Prairie Dunes in Kansas in 1986 they were on a 13-match losing streak. When Enid heard that the team included Belle Robertson, who was competing in her seventh Curtis Cup at the age of 50, McKenna, who was a youngster of 37 but setting a GB&I record of nine consecutive appearances, Jill Thornhill, aged 43 and Vicki Thomas, aged 31, she was scathing: “It’s a case of bring out your dead. I think it’s wicked that these people keep on turning out instead of saying, ‘I made such a balls of it the last time, get somebody else in and give them a chance’. We’ve lost before we even set foot on the plane.”
Enid was not in Kansas to see these cadavers sizzle in the searing heat and win by the unlikely margin of 13-5 but they sent her a souvenir programme, signing themselves “The Living Dead”.
Not surprisingly, I’m making no predictions about the outcome at Dun Laoghaire next week (June 10-12).