Coming back to Rosses Point is a pilgrimage for Maureen and me because it was the place Dad loved most in the world and last year we scattered some of his ashes at the back of the 10th green – well, they’d be in the middle of the green now after its global expansion but that’s another story.
It’s a great place to play Maureen because she can’t come here without being overwhelmed, so you should be at least five up by the turn and she has no hope of winning the 10th. Once she’s paid her respects to Dad and turned her back on Ben Bulben, it’s a different story: her game is transformed, usually, and she storms home in a flurry of pars and birdies. That wasn’t quite the case this Wednesday past but that was mostly down to a contact lens malfunction – putting one-eyed is a difficult trick to master – and the insidious, debilitating, draining effect of having to speak with me at a function the night before. Maureen is a confident, accomplished speaker, who prepares meticulously but throwing me into the mix is a bit like going to a Crucible press conference with Ronnie O’Sullivan: you have to recall your Kipling and remember that triumph and disaster are twin impostors and you have to treat them just the same…..
Well, I enjoyed the evening immensely – Maureen really is awfully good; I was very impressed – and everybody seemed to laugh in all the right places. We slept well and were let loose on the course the next morning.
I’ve been to Rosses Point when it’s been so windy that getting out of the car has been difficult and it’s been a struggle to prevent the door being torn off its hinges. This time, we played in a heatwave! Sunscreen, lots of it, was the order of the day and there was barely a breeze. The place looked immaculate and if the greenkeeper was praying for a bit of rain, for the rest of us it was bliss. Even better, I was playing with Maureen and Mary McKenna and that’s a rare treat.
People are usually glad to see Maureen, who still has a bit of a reputation in Ireland but go to any golf club with McKenna and you’ll have a sense of what it must be like to be Cristiano Ronaldo in Madrid or Sir Alex Ferguson in Manchester (the red bit anyway) or Theresa May in Westminster or Her Maj the Queen anywhere. You think I’m exaggerating? You haven’t been in Ireland with the great Mary Mac!
Anyway, on the 1st tee the balls fell my way and I was lucky enough to be partnering Maeve Rooney, a young member who plays off 4 and was in training for the Irish Women’s Open Strokeplay at Co Louth this weekend – and she had a bit of a masterclass on Wednesday. The two double Ms are not so finely honed as in their heyday, both are recovering from various ailments and creaking their swings back into gear but it would be hard to find a more competitive, crafty pair anywhere. They still love the game and never give up without a fight.
McKenna’s par at the 4th, a short hole that would grace any course anywhere in the world, would have had any golfer you can name – Vardon, Watson, Nicklaus, Woods, Sorenstam, McIlroy, Ballesteros – beaming and preening. Having missed the green to the right (not a difficult thing to do), the doyenne of Donabate, from deep in the dip, ran the ball up the hill, kept it on the green (a very difficult thing to do) and holed the putt. It’s the sort of thing that keeps us playing this game and was a salutary reminder always to expect the ridiculous in matchplay!
After the match, which Maeve and I won – well, Maeve won it really but I did claim the glory by managing an unlikely par at the last – we had a tour of the Cecil Ewing room with Ann Bradshaw, Cecil’s daughter. It’s full of wonderful photos, trophies, medals, letters and invitations, all documenting a sporting life second to none. “The great Cecil Ewing”, as our Dad always referred to him, put Rosses Point on the golfing map, thanks to his exploits in championships far and wide, in the Walker Cup and numerous other international matches.
One of Cecil’s great friends was Charlie Yates, who beat him in the final of the (British) Amateur at Troon in 1938. Charlie, an ebullient Georgian who was a member of Augusta National and a close friend of Bobby Jones, putted the lights out that week and a few days later, at St Andrews, also defeated Cork’s Jimmy Bruen, a teenage prodigy and genuine golfing genius, in the top singles in the Walker Cup.
Great Britain and Ireland still managed to win the trophy for the first time – Cecil won his singles – and it was Charlie Yates who led the crowd in a rousing rendition of “A Wee Deoch an Doris” at the presentation. Years later, he said, “I think back over my golfing years and realise that the friends made along the way are far more important than victories or defeats.”