“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.