In a rather idllyic corner of the Home Counties nestles the world famous Sunningdale Golf Cub, 36 holes of glorious rolling heathery heath that has seen its share of top-class golf and golfers over its 117 year history. And this week this little corner of England has once again witnessed the delightfully special tournament that is the Sunningdale Foursomes. The club’s website describes it thus: “A unique competition played since 1934 and open to Professional and Amateur, Men and Ladies. Played under special handicap.” Any combination of pairing is acceptable and top-class players and recognisable names litter the draw sheet. This year two Open champions were in the field – Paul Lawrie and Sandy Lyle – and down the years hosts of Ryder Cup players have tried their luck.
As an amateur pairing in the 1980s my fellow Irish international colleague Mary McKenna and I benefited from the slightly skewed handicapping system that would see us the recipients of 11 shots if we were playing two male professionals. Even though we played from the same tees we were completely capable of scoring in the mid 70s, which provided an almost insurmountable task for many of our opponents. In the space of half a dozen years or so we sailed into three finals and a couple of semis. The majority of matches were on the Old course but you couldn’t make your way through the draw without at least one match on the New course, where we felt we were slightly more vulnerable.
One of the highlights of any match was the almost obligatory refuelling stop at the renowned sausage hut, situated at the back of the 10th greens on both courses. On one occasion, having completed ten holes on the New, Mary was enjoying her sausage sandwich, leaning against the doorway of the hut. Leaning on the other side of the doorway was Sam Torrance with his Ryder Cup partner and friend, Irishman John O’Leary. They had just completed ten holes on the Old and were keen to see how we were doing but didn’t want to speak too loudly in case our opponents were nearby.
So Sam, in his best 007 style, stared straight ahead and spoke out of the side of his mouth: “How are you doing, Mary?”
McKenna never missed a beat and, without so much as turning her head, said from the side of her mouth, “We’re finished.”
Sam suffered an immediate choking fit and never did get to enjoy finishing that particular sandwich. Mary, however, thoroughly enjoyed hers as it had long been her ambition to finish off one of our matches by the time we got to the hut. Her killer instinct was always alive and kicking.
There are a few names – and partnerships – in the 2017 draw that I recognise from our day, namely Andrew Hall (Sand Martins) and Andrew Reynolds (Royal Cinque Ports). I suspect they’ve played every year since. How’s that for resilience, eternal optimism and keeping old age at bay? The two Andrews formed their illustrious partnership when assistants at Sunningdale and I cannot think of a pairing who have got more enjoyment from the week. They played two matches this year, each going the full distance, so they are still obviously intent on testing ageing nerves. If anyone knows of a longer partnership in this event do let me know.
It is the understated nature of the event that is so appealing – dogs make up the largest part of the gallery, there are no sponsors’ signs – and it is golf at its purest. Enjoyably serious but seriously enjoyable.