This week we welcomed the long-awaited arrival of very good friends from South Africa and a much looked-forward-to rendezvous in Crieff in glorious Perthshire.
Crieff was where our parents spent their honeymoon in the 1950s having taken the ferry over from Ireland and the train north from Stranraer. They stopped over a day or two in Edinburgh, visiting an eccentric great aunt of Dad’s who, when wishing to cross Princes Street, used to hold her umbrella imperiously aloft and step out, confident she could stem the tide of traffic instantly. For some reason it never failed to work.
Our first family holidays were always in Scotland and one of these was to Crieff where we stayed in the imposing Hydro, well known for offering endless activities for children. I loved it – there was always lots to do and loads of new playmates. I remember a group of us, aged about eight or nine, amused ourselves one rainy day by taking it in turns to run at full speed at the revolving front door, hurtle round it as fast as possible and then we’d be spat back out at the front again – or not, as happened to a wee lad taking his turn before me. His trail leg was caught half-in, half out of a segment of the door jamming the whole mechanism and making it impossible to move the door at all to release his ankle. His screams brought every parent in the hotel running and it was a gruesome twenty minutes (a lifetime for the boy and his parents) before the maintenance man was able to release him. Thankfully, he suffered no lasting ill effects.
Many years later, before turning pro, I worked for a Scottish golf promotion company called 3D and one of the teaching pros who worked with us on the golf weeks was the charismatic Crieff professional, John Stark. John was a larger-than-life character who spent 35 years at Crieff before retiring in 1996. He was well travelled prior to settling in his native land having taken his considerable teaching skills to Sweden in the 1950s, becoming fluent in the language during his time there.
A wonderful player with a gift for teaching, John was a consummate raconteur and much sought after on the after-dinner speaking circuit. Many honours came his way including captain of the Scottish PGA, but perhaps the strangest one was in 2000 when he was appointed chieftain of the Crieff Highland Games, a role he approached with his customary good humour and gusto.
Being back in Crieff this week has reminded me of all the fun times we had together and of yet another friendship born of, and nurtured by, a shared passion for golf.
Swedish and Scottish golf are both on the rise if the results of last week’s ISPS Handa World Invitational are anything to go by – see the featured pic at the top. Played in blistering sunshine in good ole Norn Iron over the Massereene and Galgorm Castle courses there were two separate male and female tournaments with the players battling for equal prize funds of $1.5 million each.Ewen Ferguson, who is attached to Bearsden Golf Club in Glasgow, triumphed in the men’s event adding a second title to the one he procured in Qatar earlier in the season. Ferguson has diligently worked his way up the greasy pole of success for a decade, starting with winning the Boys’ Amateur in 2013. Scottish International honours soon followed, along with a Walker Cup cap in 2015. He joined the pro ranks the following year and it was an eighth place finish on last year’s Challenge Tour rankings that earned him his promotion to the DP World Tour for the first time this season.
And now he has two wins and accomplished that rare, and difficult, feat of being a wire-to-wire winner. Opening with a world class 61 provided him with a buffer but also brought extra pressure. He can rejoice, however, in not just surviving, but also thriving.
“It feels unbelievable. I just can’t believe how calm I was out there.” He added, “Just can’t believe I’m a winner again.”
Believe it, Ewen.In the women’s tournament the day belonged to Maja Stark, the latest in a long, long list of outstanding Swedish female players. A stunning course record of 63, ten under par, blew the field apart and the 22-year old recorded her sixth win since turning professional last August. The icing on the cake, however, is that this victory gives her status on the LPGA for the rest of this season and next.
“I’ve been dreaming about playing on the LPGA Tour for a long time,” she said, going on to explain how she hates the rigmarole of going through the qualifying process. “It’s really nice to just skip that part and just go ahead to the fun stuff.”
Keen followers of the game will have spotted Maja’s caddy – eight-time Solheim Cup player and multiple title holder (including virtually every time she teed it up in Ireland), Sophie Gustafson. I can think of no better person for Maja to have had at her side during the whole week and certainly no more experienced a companion for enjoying a good old Irish celebration! Slainte!