Move over the Ryder Cup, the July Club has arrived!
The July Club holds an annual international competition to showcase its unremarkable skills and questionable physical fitness and comprises four members. Allow me to introduce them: Mary McKenna MBE, winner of eight Irish Championship titles along with a British title and nine Curtis Cup appearances (all of them in the last century); Gillian Stewart, triple Scottish titleholder and winner of multiple professional tournaments (probably also all dating from the 20th century); Drive Up Drive Off Sandra Ross, inspiration of the inaugural warm-up tip on this blog, chief of all Open Championship scoring information for the media for 34 years and winner of the Hawco mixed foursomes at Nairn in September 2016 (with Rob Smith, a plus 1 handicap, playing at the top of his game); and me, with all of 36 holes under my belt in 2016 and awaiting various surgeries ranging from teeth to shoulder. What a motley crew!
Our digs for the week were a glorious house in Castlerock, owned by friends. Nestled on the banks of the River Bann and looking over the estuary across the sand dunes to Portstewart, it is a little piece of heaven.
This was my chance to take my three pals round my home patch of golf courses on the north coast of Ireland. Mac, of course, has played most places in Ireland many times but Gillian and Sandra, the two Scotties, were entering unchartered waters.
First up on our list was Portstewart, my childhood home and place where I first hit a ball. The best view from any first tee in the world, it fills your soul with joy just to be there. A rousing welcome from Michael Moss, secretary manager of some renown, and his sidekick, my cousin, John Breadon, meant we were itching to get out on the course. Our advancing and current stages of decrepitude mean we are now accompanied by a buggy and two electric trolleys. The weather was perfect and the match was tight, with Ross securing the win for our partnership on the 17th over Stewart and McKenna.
Portstewart is hosting the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open next July and a little tweaking is taking place on the course. Head greenkeeper Bernard Findlay and his crew are working hard on improving this piece of golfing paradise.
It’s now Tuesday, so it must be Portrush, home of The Open Championship in 2019. Patricia and I last visited here in May and spent a very enjoyable day in the company of Martin Ebert, the celebrated architect in charge of the new holes and improvements for the Open. Although not yet in play the two new holes look as if they’ve always been there and the entire membership can’t wait to play them, though that probably won’t happen till next spring. Having been a member since the age of nine, I saw familiar faces round every corner but nonetheless, it would be hard to find a more welcoming club anywhere in the world. Wilma Erskine, the woman behind everything good that happens at Royal Portrush Golf Club, rules with a light but no-nonsense touch.
The last time Mac and I played this course in each other’s company was in the 1982 final of the Irish Women’s Championship. She finished eagle, birdie to beat me on the 17th and had one of her hordes of young cousins kick my ball off the 16th green. It’s not that I’m bitter or anything. Oh, yes, Stewart and Madill beat Ross and McKenna with my personal highlight a birdie 2 (just as in May) at Calamity.
Our next links challenge was the delicious little gem that is Castlerock golf course, rather less well-known than its two bigger, noisier neighbours but not to be missed on any golfing visit to this part of Ireland.
Secretary-manager Bert McKay had decided he was safer on holiday in Portugal but we were warmly welcomed by Shona in the office, Chris in in the pro’s shop and afterwards, John, Edel and an assortment of members in the bar. Castlerock’s only fault is it is really far too welcoming to visitors – the Scots beat the Irish on the last!
We intend to round out the golf with a return visit to Portrush, this time to the Valley course, which at our stage and age should do us very nicely, thank you.
Busy as we were on the course, we found time to be equally busy off it. There are simply some things you must find time to do when in Norn Iron: go birdwatching on the Bann estuary, take in the majesty of the Titanic exhibition, visit the Mussenden temple and, of course, eat the best ice cream in the world at Morelli’s in Portstewart.
So, the fifth meeting of the July Club draws to a close. But, why, I hear you ask, is this august body that meets in October named the July Club? Well, that’s a story for another day but if you are impatient for the answer, just drop in to The European Club, ask for Gerry Ruddy and tell him we sent you.
Photo accreditation: Mary McKenna, MBE