I’m missing out on two big events this week: the AIG Women’s Open at Muirfield and Spurs’s first match of the season, at home to Southampton. I’ll be able to keep an eye on both of them on the telly but it’s not quite the same as being there in person, soaking up the atmosphere and taking in the whole picture.
Muirfield looked fantastic from what I saw on a bright and breezy opening day and the scoring wasn’t bad either, as the world’s best women golfers got to grips with a course most of them had never played before.No less a figure than Jack Nicklaus has the course at the very top of his list. In the foreword to Norman Mair’s book to celebrate the club’s 250th anniversary in 1994, Nicklaus wrote: “I liked Muirfield from the first day I played it [on his Walker Cup debut in 1959]. It is essentially a fair course – as far as golf is meant to be fair – and, as everyone knows, it has more definition than most of the links on which the Open is played. What you see is what you get…
“I have always said that the Old Course at St Andrews is my favourite place in Britain to be playing golf because of its unique atmosphere, that feeling of history all about you. But Muirfield is my favourite course, to me the best on the Open championship rota.”
I’m not sure how long the rounds took yesterday – the women professionals are at least as slow as their male counterparts – but Muirfield members are used to galloping round, playing foursomes properly or speedy singles and expecting to get in two rounds – and lunch – even on short winter days. I remember playing there once (foursomes), many moons ago, when I was younger, fitter and a better player and two figures zoomed up out of the gloom, played through and dematerialised like golfing ghosts; we never saw them again!
Anyway, most of us are getting slower, much, much slower; just when and why did a 3-hour round become a thing of the past? Forget 2-hour rounds, they’re now the stuff of legend and determined record setting. The other day, on our ladies’ captain’s stayaway at Mottram Hall in Cheshire, I produced a ball marker that caught the eye of one of my playing partners. “Is it biblical?” she asked, not sounding too convinced.
“No,” I said. “It’s the time the LGU [Ladies’ Golf Union, now defunct] recommended a round should take, some time ago.”
Shamefully, many of the rounds I play these days take more than four hours. I suppose we’ve just fallen into bad habits: fiddling around with head covers; waiting until everybody’s ready before moving on; searching for glasses to fill in the scorecard; using a measuring device for a 50-yard shot on our home course; parking the trolley in the wrong place; and generally faffing about. We’re also older and slower but it’s arguable that the youngsters are even more glacial.
On an historical note, I usually have at least four markers in my pocket – thanks to the incomparable Linda Bayman, which will undoubtedly come as a surprise to her. It was the British (amateur, matchplay, women/ladies; don’t ask me what it’s called now) at Burnham and Berrow and Linda had led the qualifiers. At one point in her first match, she was asked to mark her ball and she took ages to retrieve a marker from her pocket – I think it was raining, which made matters worse. Her opponent’s supporters started muttering and it was clear they thought this was some sort of ploy, a piece of gameswomanship by an experienced old hand. It wasn’t. But I’ve never forgotten it and from that moment on I’ve overloaded my pocket with markers.
My markers and I played Prestbury on Monday, on a glorious day and we were the last visitors before they embark on a big revamp, with the bunkers in line for a major overhaul. The diggers were gearing up and moving into position; it felt just like home! Only hillier. And quirkier.
Walking Prestbury on a regular basis mightn’t equip you for a career in badminton or rugby 7s but you surely wouldn’t need any rocking at night. Even just watching the Commonwealth Games badminton at the NEC (Scotland beat The Maldives 5-0 in the mixed team event – women’s and men’s singles, women’s and men’s doubles and mixed doubles) and the 7s in Coventry (various teams running their socks off, from Australia to England to Fiji to South Africa to Kenya to Sri Lanka to Uganda – posture to die for, Esther would be delighted) was exhausting.
It’s the T20 cricket at Edgbaston that has taken priority over Muirfield and the mighty Spurs this weekend because a Commonwealth Games on your own patch is a rare beast, not to be missed.