The MBE in the headline is a bit of a cheat in the name of what passes for symmetry in this parish and refers to Mary McKenna, a bona fide golfing legend from the Donabate club, just outside Dublin. She played in nine consecutive Curtis Cups, from 1970 on, is a past president of the ILGU and is a proud Irishwoman who was happy to accept her honorary MBE from the British ambassador in Dublin in 2012 in recognition of her services to golf throughout Britain and Ireland.
McKenna is at this year’s Curtis Cup in Dun Laoghaire doing what she does best, looking after her many friends not just from Ireland but from across the Atlantic and the Irish Sea, leaving centre stage to the latest protagonists, most of whom are playing in the match for the first – and only – time. If they’re lucky, they’ll already be starting to realise just what a special group they’ve joined even if they’ve set their sights on turning professional and making their fortune.
They’ll meet people like Jeanne Bisgood, Bridget Jackson, Belle Robertson and Angela Bonallack, who’ll bring players like Philomena Garvey, Bunty Smith, Maureen Garrett, Elizabeth Price and Jessie Valentine back to life. They might want to learn more about Polly Riley, Tish Preuss and Anne Sander Quast Decker Welts, in no particular order – at the last count she’d had twice as many Curtis Cup appearances as husbands. And if you ask, you’ll find someone who can tell you first hand exactly how good a player Barbara McIntire was. In fact, if you ask Mrs Robertson, she’ll tell you all about playing with and learning from Tom Morris – or maybe it was Tom Watson……Certainly, she quizzed Seve on his practice routine and has picked up tips from all the greats. For a golf nut, Dun Laoghaire is the only place to be this weekend.
Sadly, Carol Semple Thompson (CST), McKenna’s American soul sister, whose total of twelve Curtis Cup appearances as a player will surely never be equalled, is not here because her husband Dick is in poor health. We wish them both well and really miss Dick’s signature stars and stripes stovepipe hat, a look he carried off with aplomb and no little panache.
McKenna and Semple Thompson, competitors to their core, were quintessential team members and lifelong amateurs but they share a bond with two women who chose a different path: Laura Davies and Michelle Wie. Davies, a blonde bombshell from Surrey, who confounded the headmaster who told her she’d never make any money out of golf and became a Dame, played in the Curtis Cup at Muirfield in 1984 and Wie, a 14-year old wunderkind from Hawaii, played at Formby in 2004. They were exceptional talents who stood out from the crowd even then and have continued to do so.
This week, Davies and Wie are at Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish, Seattle, playing in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, hoping to add to their tally of major championships.
Davies is now in her 50s and Wie, a wealthy woman the moment she turned professional as a teenager, has had enough injuries to make the strongest heart quail but they are both driven by a passion for the game and the competition. And that, more than anything, is what links them with Dun Laoghaire this week.
These days women’s amateur golf tends to be a specialist subject, relegated to a nano niche barely visible to the naked eye and who knows quite how the R&A, who have been financial saviours of the Curtis Cup for some years, will cope with their impending merger with the LGU. An alarming number of ladies have morphed into women but perhaps that’s a subject for another day!
In the meantime, it’s game on. Good luck to all. Play away please.