It’s that time of year, isn’t it, when you start readying yourself for winter by checking off all the maintenance jobs. The chimney sweep’s already been and done his thing and this week the man came to service the boiler, rather confusingly bedecked in shirt sleeves and a woolly hat. They do say, however, that we are about to leave this unseasonably mild weather behind us and experience a drop in temperature as we move further into November. Oh dear.
Across the other side of the world, however, temperatures were very pleasant for the players at the Butterfield Bermuda Championship but they had to contend with swirling, gusting winds that played havoc with golf swings and putting strokes and, of course, hearts and minds.
The man who outlasted them all was Ireland’s Seamus Power (top pic) who knows a thing or two about playing in breezy conditions. He needed all his experience and knowledge of the course to best Ben Griffin, a North Carolinian in his rookie year on the PGA Tour, who held a two-shot lead with seven to play. The man from West Waterford was equal to the task, however, and squeaked home by a shot, recording 28 birdies (a new tournament record) for the four rounds. This, his second PGA Tour win, shoots him up the world rankings to 32nd, pretty much assuring him of a spot in the first three majors next year and he also gains an exemption for the tour through to the end of 2025.The icing on the cake, though, is a fast start in his quest for a place on Luke Donald’s Ryder Cup team next autumn in Rome. I’m excitedly contemplating the idea there might be three Irishmen on the team (that’s including Rory and Shane-O), something that hasn’t happened since 2006 and the heyday of Darren Clarke, Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley.
That was arguably the most emotional match I’ve ever been at, taking place as it did at the K Club in Ireland, a mere six weeks after Clarke’s wife Heather had died from breast cancer. Talk about thousands of spectators combining to carry Darren in his grief through a difficult week – it was quite something to be part of and truly unforgettable. Darren defeated the current American captain Zach Johnson in the singles on the 16th green, at which point the grandstands rose as one to serenade the Ulsterman with “The Fields of Athenry”. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house and I remember thinking at the time how classy the US rookie Johnson was. The last 16 years have only reinforced that opinion.
Lowering my sights ever so slightly from the prospect of Ryder Cup golf, I can report that I have now officially set foot on a golf course – for the first time in a year. No, not playing yet but walking round seven holes and spectating at Whittington Heath’s Friday Frolics. The sister was drawn with Jayne Fletcher and June Organer and so I was afforded my first look at the new holes at this Staffordshire gem.
The first things to strike me were the panoramic views, the feeling of space and how quickly the course and the greens in particular were bedding in. The surfaces were true, and fast, and looked a treat to putt on. The bunkers were beautifully built and difficult to escape from – in fact, I think I’d take a couple of them out altogether. I was always a fan of giving a player options but having a route allowing you to run (or scuttle) the ball onto the green doesn’t seem too popular these days. I think sometimes designers forget their duty is to create a course that challenges and is fair to the entire membership – not just the best players.
The new clubhouse is impressive, to say the least and has a commanding view of the aforementioned new holes. It is the polar opposite to the old, quirky, slightly ramshackle (and reputedly haunted) building used by the club for more than a century [not sure it was that long – ed] but there is one thing that hasn’t changed one iota – and that is the warmth of the welcome and obvious enthusiasm for the game. That is always the essence and heart of a club and so much more important than fancy buildings, newly-designed holes and copious planting.
My day was made complete by bumping into Andrew Clark, one of the members, who used to work as a tournament director on the women’s tour in the 1990s. We hadn’t seen each other for around thirty years but the time just melted away and we had a great catch-up. That’s golf for you, though.
Finally, well done to our Women’s PGA Cup team for finishing third out in New Mexico last week. Apparently the teams battled some very low temperatures, so it seems the girls were getting an early taste of what’s in store here for us.
Better go and root out the hand warmers.