You can’t write about Ireland again, Maureen said.
Why not, sez I, it’s our blog, we can write about whatever we want.
Last Saturday, we flew over for the 125th Anniversary celebrations of Royal Portrush Golf Club Ladies’ Branch and I realised just how hardy golfers have to be in this neck of the woods (not that there are many trees withstanding the north Atlantic gales). Even the locals conceded that it was “baltic” i.e. bloody freezing, blowing a hooley and, just for the hell of it, raining more often than not. No wonder Darren Clarke, reared in these conditions, barely noticed the wind and the cold when he won the Open at Royal St George’s; for him that far-from-summery Sunday in July 2011 was a relatively benign golfing day.
Our friends, playing in the 125 Flag Competition on the Valley course, were so muffled up they were unrecognisable. How Lady Margaret Scott and her long-skirted, tight-jacketed contemporaries of the 1890s, clad in weighty, rain-absorbing wool, coped without Gore-Tex and fleeces beggars belief. I confess. I’ve become a southern softie. Maureen and I repaired to the warmth of the welcoming ladies’ clubhouse for soup, delicious wheaten scones, cakes, tea and chat.
We were also able to play the age-old game of identifying the battered and bedraggled male golfers who’d battled to what is still the final hole on the Dunluce course, several hundred yards short of sanctuary. They were all a lot older than the last time we’d seen them play but we managed to identify quite a few of them, some from their set-up, some from their swings – although not one was as free-flowing 0r powerful as it used to be – and some from their gait. It was good fun and we had some laughs but most of all we were lost in admiration for their dogged determination. I have included the photo (taken through the window) because of the rainbow not the tiny, muffled up, barely visible figures!
The 125th Anniversary Dinner was in the big clubhouse, which was beautifully turned out – even a connoisseur like Elton John would have swooned at the flower arrangements, real works of art – and the occasion oozed fun, friendship, love and laughter. No, that’s not me being soppy and sentimental or even a bit maudlin in vino veritas; I was on water for most of the night and unusually clear-eyed.
It was emotional when Maureen read out her letters from Violet Hezlet, whose family went all the way back to the start of it all and recalled her lessons in course management from Zara Bolton. Zara, the elegant Englishwoman who captured the heart of an Irishman and moved to Portrush, played in the Curtis Cup in 1948 and later captained the team. The women of Royal Portrush were always at the top of the game and passionate about promoting it and encouraging girls and boys to play.
Some of those boys and girls achieved great things in golf but the really great thing is that most of us, whatever our level, continue to play and enjoy the game and the lifelong friends we made. I can think of no greater legacy.