I’ve always loved North Berwick and its old-fashioned, proper golf course with its walls, views of the Bass Rock, a par 3 called the Redan and the bewildering 16th green with what the club’s website calls a “gully” in the middle; it’s a veritable rollercoaster really. Of course, I’m completely biased because I played some of my best golf there in the junior home internationals and shared some memorable moments with people who are friends to this day. I think I nearly fell in love that week but was too gauche to realise it let alone make any sort of decisive move. In my defence it was a long time ago (1971) and I thought that blue mascara was the height of daring raciness – I had a very sheltered upbringing and was unbelievably slow on the uptake!
Whenever the Open was at Muirfield (remember those days?), we’d play at North Berwick early in the morning, then head off to cover the championship. Madness! I remember playing the last at just after eight o’clock in the morning and hearing an American playing the 1st say, in awed amazement, “Gee, do you think they’ve played 18 already?” We had indeed and I played the first few holes like a proper golfer because I was still half asleep and most of my faults were lying dormant. Magnificent! Those were the days. Where has all that stamina and staying power gone?
Still, stamina, stubbornness, endless enthusiasm and sheer bloodymindedness are pretty well essential attributes for all golfers, particularly women, as you’ll discover if you read Ailsa Fortune’s fascinating book Par For The Ladies: The Extraordinary Story Of The Women Who Golfed At North Berwick. I thought I’d have a quick skim through it and pass it on but this is a proper book, a real social history written by a woman who specialises in such things and I’ll be sitting down and reading it properly once the pre-Christmas mayhem subsides and the wrapping paper is cleared away for another year.
The photographs are brilliant and so are the names. For many years North Berwick was the haunt of the rich, the famous and the regal and was known as the Biarritz of the North. You’ll learn about Mary Constance Nisbet Hamilton; the Gillies Smith sisters; the Hamilton-Dalrymples; Blanche Anderson; the Hon Miriam Pease; Dorothy Campbell; Catriona Matthew (nee Lambert); Elsie Grant-Suttie and many more. The battle of the sexes features too, of course, although, as ever, men can be feminists too. Not all male golfers have to ask advice on how to cope with “the ladies”…..Instead they recognise fellow members of the human race (??!) and fellow enthusiasts for a mesmerising, infuriating game….North Berwick Ladies’ Golf Club (NBLGC) has been in existence since 1888 but it wasn’t until 2013 that Ailsa began her research, prompted by Anne McCarthy, lady captain from 2012-2014, who thought that a proper written record was long overdue. She was right and congratulations to everyone who worked so hard to make sure that this terrific book saw the light of day. It’s published by Stanton Press and is available from them (email@example.com) or major bookstores like Waterstones.
We wish Season’s Greetings to everyone, bearing in mind that it’s a sad time for people who’ve lost loved ones this year. Just as I was writing this I heard that Geoff Marks had died, another good man gone. He was a stalwart of Stone, Trentham, Staffordshire, England and GB and I and respected worldwide as a golfer and a person. Condolences to his family and friends.