Last Saturday, I sat on an uncomfortable chair in an undistinguished meeting room in St Andrews and realised, with a happy sigh, that I could retire. Now, I can hear those of you who know me well – and a husband from beyond the grave – falling over each other to get in first with the obvious question: “Retire from what?”
Being opinionated? Loving golf? Asking questions? Writing? Learning? Put like that, I hope I won’t retire until I stop breathing, or become so demented there’s no hope of recovery. In the meantime, I say yes to almost every invitation, play as much golf as I possibly can, usually with friends and always with congenial people and enjoy producing this blog with Maureen. Somebody asked me if it had become a chore and I said, “No,” without hesitation. Blimey!
But it’s true, the blog is still fun for us and, it seems, for our friends who read it. They’re not all golfers but most of them are, hooked, devoted to a game that non-golfers can’t fathom. The trick is how to widen the appeal, though you wouldn’t be asking that question if you’d ever played the Himalayas, the (ladies’) putting green at St Andrews, plonk in the middle of the Home of Golf and packed out on a Bank Holiday weekend.
Grandchild with grandparent; wife with husband; non-golfer with golfer (and the n-g winning); every age, stage, gender, nationality – all striving, contorting, snorting, laughing and having a ball. I’d never played it before and my three friends and I couldn’t have had more fun.
We played with a member so it only cost us a quid each (£3 for those without a member) and because the holes change on a regular basis, she had no advantage over the rest of us.
If you discover golf at the Himalayas, you’ll understand its essence: the fact that it’s for everybody and is, at base, fun. Fun with a bit of a masochistic streak at times but fun nonetheless.
Of course golf is big business these days, an industry no less and it’s desperate to keep up with tennis, rugby, whatever, in the popularity stakes, trying to hoover up the crumbs from the soccer table. Football has become the King Kong of sport, a rampaging monster with no sense of restraint or social responsibility – though its basic simplicity and universal appeal is undeniable – and it dominates the airwaves and the papers. It doesn’t need to re-invent itself – yet – but others feel the need to be more imaginative. Cricket has come up with Twenty20, now European professional golf is trying GolfSixes, briefly six-hole matches between teams of two. It’s not on terrestrial television, however, which automatically limits its reach and potential appeal.
There was quite a lot about the format in The Guardian on Thursday, a rare non-major outing for Ewan Murray, who would count as the paper’s accomplished golf correspondent if the paper went in for such things these days. In truth, golf is no longer on The Guardian’s sporting radar, consigned to fighting with every other sport known to man (and sometimes woman) for the few paragraphs not devoted to the Great God Soccer. Bitter? Moi? Still, what does it matter? Those of us who love a proper page to read instead of a screen are dying out and giving up. Have you seen a printed blog yet?
I digress, as usual. In truth, I’m not quite sure what I was at last week, apart from a very congenial gathering of people, mostly women, who care about golf. I think it was called a forum, a replacement, sort of, for the LGU AGM, which no longer exists because the LGU has now, sensibly, merged with the R&A. There is, slightly confusingly, a new president of the LGU, with Gillian Kirkwood taking over from Diane Bailey but confusing or not, it can only be encouraging that one dedicated, competent, passionate woman is being replaced by another.
Also, Martin Slumbers, the R&A’s chief executive, among other roles, a self-confessed corporate and commercial animal, who said he’d found the merger negotiations some of the most challenging he’d engaged in, did anything but put his audience to sleep. He was calm, measured, thoughtful and compelling and I believed him when he talked about his – and the R&A’s – passion and commitment to the game and the desire to develop it for everyone, women, men, boys and girls.
Mmm. On reflection, that means none of us can retire until we’re pushing up the divots.
Play away please.