Some friends can be very annoying……..and some very persistent…….and some are both – all at the same time.

Gillian Stewart, one of my oldest, longest golfing pals, certainly falls into this category.  She’s been mithering me for a few months now to get myself back on the golf course from which I have been missing for a whole two years.  This is due to ongoing Long Covid battles that have left me with varying degrees of pain throughout my body and with questionable reserves of energy, which have to be carefully nurtured and cossetted like the most precious possession on earth.

Shamefully, I must confess that I made no great strides in this direction over the past season, concentrating instead on managing to work at the Masters in April, the PGA Championship in May and the Open in July.  After the Open I barely left the house for five weeks it took so much out of me – but Gill still wouldn’t let me off the hook.  So we arranged to meet for a five-day break in Gullane, in the very heartland of Scottish golfing territory and we agreed that I’d “hit a few balls”.

With the 270-mile drive behind me we ventured out the next, very stormy morning along the coast to Craigielaw golf club to see if we could use the practice range.  Travelling with Gill to Scottish golf clubs is akin to travelling throughout Ireland with the great Mary McKenna – it’s travelling with golfing royalty and first-class greetings and hospitality are frequently rolled out for us.  And so it was at Craigielaw where we were made so very welcome by Stephen and the golf team.

Spot the rust! [Gill Stewart]

I found I wasn’t really itching to get out there and started dredging up delaying tactics such as, “Let’s go for a coffee.”  My query of “Shall we have another?” was given short shrift and suddenly there was no turning back.

My allocation was a whole twenty balls and I gingerly started stretching the ole. creaking bod just to alert it that some sort of action was imminent.  Four shanks in the first half dozen balls didn’t make it any easier to disregard the aching limbs, but slow practice swings and a sage piece of advice from Gill and suddenly the wedges were going away like……well, wedges.  Some 7-irons and rescues off the deck followed suit and even a couple of 3-woods off the tee peg went away with a pleasing sound.  The last was a beaut and that forgotten feel of a well-struck shot had me grinning from ear to ear like a Cheshire cat.

I had finally made a start.

In preparation for our trip we had decided that it might be prudent to suss out some nine-hole courses, so where better to start than at the oldest course in the world, which neither of us had played?  Time to rectify that huge oversight and gap in our golfing education.

Great fun and lovely to be back on a course.

We made our way to the Musselburgh Links, the website informing us that the first documentation of golf being played there dated back to 1672, although Mary Queen of Scots had reputedly played there in 1567.  The course is enfolded into the bosom of the Musselburgh racecourse and with the usual Scottish understatement the signage to the all-important starter’s office was challenging, to say the least.  We made it, however, and Kenny gave us a warm welcome and a starting time for the following morning.

Bright, sunny conditions with very little wind met us the next day and in no time at all we had skipped round the Old Links.  There were even a couple of reasonable shots to be enjoyed, including an up and down from the sand at the last, in amongst the dross.

And boy, was there dross!  No matter.  Gill’s sensible barometer of the whole exercise was simple.  “Do you feel any worse than when you started?” she queried.  The answer was no, so that officially makes the whole exercise a bit of a success.

“Narrow fairways here at the Musselburgh Links,” says Gill.

Next on the list is a morning tee time at Gullane with a friend, but I think that may be a bridge too far for me just at the moment.  Small steps are the answer, I feel, otherwise attempting too much too soon will put me off.  My plan is to plough on, as and when I can, and in a year’s time look back and see if there has been decent progress in energy, pain and skill levels.

Meeting up with friends is such a tonic and the golf world is really a very tiny one.  Mooching about in North Berwick we bumped into Graeme and Catriona Matthew who were being taken for a walk by their cockapoo Rio.

I’d last seen Catriona across the course at Marco Simone at the Ryder Cup but had had no opportunity to catch up with her there.  It was interesting to hear how she was enjoying the world of broadcasting which she has recently joined.  It can be a bit of an eye-opener for many a player to step into the world of media but as with most things, she’s taking it in her stride.  She knows her place, however, and a barked reminder from Rio that he was hungry put an end to our blethering.

This blog is very fond of a dog or two and the sister is always championing the sainted Alice, whose picture has graced many of her blog posts.  So, in the interests of balance, here’s the boss of the Matthew household.

Rio Matthew, the boss and the star. [Catriona Matthew]