You’d think I’d learn, wouldn’t you? I had a few days up in Nairn last week and – guess what? I didn’t pack any shorts!! What was I thinking? It’s September, as you know, I had 36 holes to play, and with the temperature soaring up in to the 20-something degrees centigrade I knew I’d made a mistake.
I had been invited up to play in the Ladies Pro-Am in aid of Marie Curie by longtime friend and erstwhile England golf coach, Pat Smillie, along with her fellow Ganton member Jo Davy. Our team was rounded out by former ladies’ captain of Nairn, Jane Rhodes, who was ever ready with lots of local advice, some of it even useful. Despite Jo’s best efforts at singlehandedly carrying the three of us round we failed to trouble the prize table, as we did the raffle table also. It was a brilliant day, however, and the golf course had on its best bib and tucker as we three visitors saw its much talked about changes for the first time.
The changes have certainly toughened the course up and I’m a big fan of the siting of the new 7th green, set back closer to the water and with wonderful views down the Firth. I also like the removal of the cross bunker at the downhill, par 3, 14th hole, as I’m a firm believer in every hole on a links course offering the player a channel through which to run the ball up on to the green. Expanding the back of that green has also created the opportunity for many more pin positions, while still maintaining the character of the putting surface.
Opinion is divided over the planting of clumps of heather atop the bunkers. It seems to be a purely cosmetic move, which for me is unnecessary. You have cosmetic gorgeousness all around you if you deign to lift your eyes and it’s not as if the bunkers and rough aren’t penal enough already. Anyway, in my opinion, fairway bunkers should be just that – in the fairway. No need for any rough or heather on top of them at all.
It’s impossible to be a golfer and not love Nairn and I love clubs with a diverse range of age in the membership. However, it’s important not to forget our less skilled and/or older members. As long as there is still a challenging, and not overwhelming, test for them, golf is in a good place. We mustn’t design courses simply for the better player.
My second round of golf at lovely Nairn was in the company of Gillian Stewart, multiple winner on the Ladies’ European Tour, and Gordon Moir, recently retired director of greenkeeping at St Andrews. It was the first time for a long time that I’d played a late afternoon/early evening round of golf and I had forgotten how delightful it is. Gordon was on his way up north to meet up with some American friends who were flying in for their annual golfing odyssey, which was to comprise a mere seven, or was it eight, rounds in five days! If I play that much in two months I think I’m doing well!
As we left the course that evening the club was readying itself for an influx of more female visitors, some from home and some from abroad, all arriving to play in the Women’s International Team Challenge, an event started in 2010 by pioneering women members of the Olympic Club in San Francisico. There are ten clubs competing this year, four from the USA, one from Canada and five from Great Britain and Ireland. The roster is as follows: the Olympic Club, Southern Hills, Merion, The Country Club, St George’s Golf & Country Club, Lahinch, Royal Portrush, Royal Liverpool, Aberdeen Ladies and Nairn.
By the time you read this Nairn will have been wonderful hosts, starting with each visitor having a designated, named locker awaiting them on their arrival. The welcome will have been warm and the hospitality unparalleled with the craic mighty and the competition keen. I have no doubt the players in the WITC will continue to uphold the ideals in their mission statement, namely to bring women together “to share their passion for golf and to enjoy serious competition, and relish the joys of friendships made through the game of golf”. With all the fracturing going on in the world we could do with more of this.
Turning my eyes south and towards next week there is a wonderful festival of golf about to take place at my own club, Delamere Forest in Cheshire, namely the England Golf County Finals. The best counties have earned the right to compete there, Buckinghamshire, Gloucestershire (their 9th consecutive appearance in the finals), Surrey, Norfolk, Lincolnshire and ever present Yorkshire. One of the Norfolk players, Tiffany Mills, is acting as an assistant greenkeeper at the Solheim Cup at Gleneagles and will have a mad dash to Cheshire on the Sunday night to tee it up for her county on the Monday morning! The teams will play each other on a round robin basis and the victors will be crowned National Women’s County Champions for 2019.
The club has been a veritable hive of activity for weeks now with all hands to the pumps, but I must make special mention of Andy Ralphs, our head greenkeeper and his team. The course looks sublime and the greens are superb. I’m sure the players will really enjoy and appreciate all their hard work, as do we on a weekly basis.
I hope the Solheim Cup inspires you and if you’re in the vicinity of Delamere from 16th to 20th September, please drop in. A great course, a warm welcome and some fierce, competitive golf await.