It’s been quite a year! Twelve months ago the cheers of Ole, ole, ole were ringing out around the Golf National Golf Club near Versailles as Europe romped to a terrific Ryder Cup victory. April meant Augusta in the spring sunshine and the extraordinary 15th major win for the injury ridden Tiger and then……. well, then July and the Open at Portrush – for me, arguably the absolute pinnacle of all my years of playing, watching and working in golf. But the game has kept on giving and last week Europe squeaked home in the Solheim Cup at Gleneagles, against the US, by the narrowest of margins. Ole, ole ole indeed.That was the 16th edition of the Solheim Cup and between us Patricia and I have been present at 14 of these encounters. Our roles have altered over the last 30 years. Patricia has morphed from a supposedly unbiased, sensible, considered golf writer for the Times into a bona fide European supporter, actually (whisper it quietly) sporting a Scottish ginger wig one day. Of course, that WOULD be the day she chose to drop in to the TV compound, popping in to the BBC production office to say hello to Peter and Jackie Alliss. I, meanwhile, have moved from being fellow tour player and friend of the players to broadcaster, member of the back room team and then back to commentator. My own blue and yellow wig is not far away, I think. You have to accept that at the moment Europe and the US are not exactly the powerhouses of women’s golf. That accolade lies a little further east but you don’t necessarily need the best teams to get the best contests and I don’t agree with those who say the Solheim Cup is no longer relevant. The BBC highlights programme peaked at over 650,000 viewers. Add in Sky’s live coverage averaging 250,000 and that’s considerable interest for what some commentators have called a second rate contest. And let’s not forget the 90,000 spectators actually at the match.
I confess I still find it difficult to get past the R&A’s decision to remove the Open, the Women’s British Open, the Walker Cup and the Curtis Cup from terrestrial TV. Obviously none of us was party to the behind-the-scenes discussions that took place but the net result is golf on television is only available to those who can afford a hefty monthly subscription. Those people tend to be avid golfers and already hooked on the game. Slim chance of inspiring interest in non-golfers. Funny way to “grow the game” isn’t it? If the R&A felt the BBC coverage of the Open was tired and dated, why not make more stringent demands on the Corporation? Was it REALLY only ever about the money on the table?
I’d like to emphasise here that I think Sky do an excellent job but their reach is small and I don’t believe that is good for golf. It certainly won’t help the Ladies’ European Tour who will be desperate to capitalise on this great win in a very uncertain commercial climate.
One of the downsides to doing a highlights programme is that I do not get much of an opportunity to get out on the golf course during the matches. I’m buried away in the TV compound commentating from a TV monitor. I do, however, get to sit next to Peter Alliss for a straight eight to ten hours and I can tell you that is never dull! I do, occasionally, escape to do a small piece to camera with Eilidh Barbour, our presenter, and it’s great fun getting prepped for the camera by one of the make-up artists. They are magicians!
Opportunities to bump into old friends from tour days are therefore limited but a great week came to a perfect conclusion for me when I spotted a familiar figure as i was leaving our hotel on the Monday morning – the always elegant Swede, former European Solheim Cup captain, Lotte Neumann. Lotte had been supporting the team all week and was looking forward to a few rounds of her own in Scotland. She was off that day to play at St Andrews and had Muirfield on the list for later in the week.
I came away reflecting yet again on all that golf has given me across most of my life – competition, fun, friendships, principles and a living, to name but a few things. All I really want is for others to have a chance to know and love this game as I do and it’s imperative we keep striving to be all-inclusive and welcoming. Time to ditch the exclusivity label that sticks to our sport and the outdated views that hold us back. Time to welcome all with arms outstretched.