Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist is defending her AIG Women’s Open title this week at the home of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers (HCEG), otherwise known as Muirfield. I count it as a home gig for the six-feet tall, triple-major winner who is defending the title she won in fine style last year just up the road at Carnoustie.Anna is an honorary Scot having not long ago married her husband, Kevin McAlpine, who hails from Dundee. Next week she is set to do it all again, this time with all the bells and whistles denied them at their first ceremony. Retaining her Women’s Open title would surely be the icing on the top of a very tall cake at what promises to be a scintillating party.
Faithful readers of this blog (heavens, we’ve been going for over six years now!) will be aware that I’ve enjoyed an almost thirty-year relationship with the HCEG. Across the decades we’ve had an annual match between my pals from tour days and the members who are the most hospitable and courteous hosts you could ever hope to meet. Only four feet of snow and a global pandemic thwarted the playing of our matches in a handful of years but we have resumed them again and the competition, though perhaps not the skill level, is as keen as ever.The majority of my Muirfield golf has been played in March and April and even in those months I always felt the infrastructure belonging to a major championship could just roll up and get started, such is the day-to-day quality and condition of the golf course. The front nine follows an outer, clockwise circular route and then comes an inward nine, largely playing in a snaking, anti-clockwise direction. The result is don’t bother turning up if you can’t learn to master several cross breezes and wind directions.
There is nothing “in-your-face” about Muirfield. It is a delightfully understated course but disregard it at your peril. It is a beguiling, teasing test, full of nuances and subtleties. To win round here requires a great deal more than bomb-and-gouge, one-dimensional golf. It requires nerve, shotmaking, tactical nous and short game skills. This is why, by far, it’s my favourite course on the Open Championship rota – and this coming from a Portrush member! Of one thing I’m certain – there’ll be a worthy winner crowned at the end of the week.Normal life is beginning to pick up for me again (albeit slowly) after being struck down with Covid last November and last weekend I made my first solo trip for eight and a half months. The occasion was the Dublin wedding of the son of a lifelong friend and it was strange to once again set foot in an airport, queue at security and deal with car hire – which always was the bane of my life. To say I was apprehensive about the whole thing would be an understatement but all went well and it felt a little like getting back on a bicycle.
The bride, and her whole family, are keen golfers and members of Elm Park, one of Dublin’s, if not Ireland’s, foremost clubs, and I believe the father-of-the-bride has just become vice-captain of the club. I have spent many happy times in Dublin playing in various tournaments at Elm Park and some of my great friends from past Irish golf teams are members there still – Mary McKenna, Ita Butler and Nano Brennan, to name but a few. Now, that’d be a nice fourball if I ever get my toe back out on a golf course again!I’ve been tuning in to a fair bit of the Commonwealth Games of late. Alas, there is no golf to watch, which is perhaps something that can be rectified in the future now that we are back in the Olympic fold. Scheduling, though, would always be tricky bearing in mind how crowded the golf calendars, amateur and professional, have become.
The variety of sporting contests on show at the Games, however, is mesmerising and addictive. It’s always refreshing to have the spotlight on any sport where the competition is full of honest endeavour and passion. No sign here of very rich, entitled athletes becoming even richer by defeating fields with limited depths of talent.
This is proper sport – just as it is at Muirfield – and I’m looking forward to several exciting hours of compulsive viewing in front of the telly.