There’s only one place to start this week and that’s by wishing Jeanne Bisgood, the pride of Parkstone, many happy returns on her 100th birthday. Maureen and I are delighted to pay our respects to the oldest living Curtis Cup player and will not spoil her day by recording a rendition of “Happy Birthday”. Admittedly, that’s as far beyond our technical skills as it is beyond our singing skills. We sent a card instead.
You may have heard that the most honest assessment of my singing ability came from our school singing teacher many decades ago: “Shows no aptitude for this subject,” he wrote. Harsh but true. I can’t imagine Jeanne ever received such a scathing assessment, being one of those people who seemed to be good at everything, including golf, perhaps the most frustrating game of all.
The Englishwoman played her best golf in the 1950s, winning her native championship three times, plus the Swedish, the German, the Italian, the Portuguese and the Norwegian. She was Surrey champion in 1951 and 1953, then popped up again in 1969. She played for England many times and played in three consecutive Curtis Cups, in 1950, 1952 and 1954. She was also the non-playing captain in 1970.
This info is from the invaluable Avia Watches Who’s Who (1985), in the days when everything was in print and the internet was barely a gleam in the most far-seeing eye.
There was also some valuable information in The Shell International Encyclopedia (sic) of Golf (1975), one of my favourite reference books. And there was a pretty aged pic (below), which, if I read the credits right, was taken by Frank Gardner.
Somebody told me that Jeanne edited her own Wikipedia entry, so it should be accurate and here’s a sample: she went up to Oxford to read history during World War II, lasted a year or so before joining the WRNS and working at Stanmore, an outstation of Bletchley Park, code-breaking and all that cerebral sort of stuff; qualified as a barrister; joined Poole Council, specialising in education; became a magistrate; appointed CBE in 1982 as chairman of Dorset Education Committee; made an honorary Doctor of Education at Bournemouth University in 2018; oh, and there’s the charitable trust to mention too.
No wonder she came across as formidable at first but you couldn’t hope to find a kinder, more generous and entertaining companion. Bridget Jackson, the pride of Handsworth, who won the British Girls’ title in 1954 and was English champion two years later, recalled that Jeanne couldn’t have been more friendly or encouraging to her new home international colleague.
And Jill Thornhill, current president of Walton Heath, remembered being terrified when Surrey captain Diane Bailey told her that Jeanne was to be her trolley puller at the county finals. Not quite like having Jack Nicklaus pitching up to caddy but overwhelming enough nonetheless…I believe Jill and Jeanne proved an unbeatable combination.
No doubt there’ll be cake to celebrate the century and on a fleeting visit to the media centre at Walton Heath earlier this week, I wondered if Mary Berry had discovered the joys of golf and was opening up the game to the baking fraternity. There was a lot of cake, proper cake, on offer, replaced almost as rapidly as it was scoffed. The photographers in particular need plenty of sustenance because even in this digital age they have to lug around an inordinate amount of heavy kit. And that’s just coming from the car park…
It was delightfully sunny on Wednesday during the pro-am (not a sentence you ever write about the Open) and guess who had forgotten the sunscreen? Not only that but I’d chucked at least three waterproofs into the boot of the car and not a single sunhat. Given the summer we’ve been having, I thought it was a brave decision to head for the course without a brolly and there were some in use at the practice ground – but not to keep the rain off.
Out on the course, where the players play the 1st, then promptly get into buggies to be driven to the 2nd tee, this spectator decided not to roam too far but still witnessed one notable player so absorbed in her own game that she ignored her pro-am team altogether. Blimey. Perhaps they had an agreement of some sort. Or had had a mega row. Or perhaps she was just plain rude, which is what it looked like to the casual observer.
Fortunately, Angel Yin and her team pitched up at the 16th green and restored my faith in professional manners. They were laughing, teasing and encouraging each other, engaging with the spectators and everybody looked as though they were having a great time. Angel duffed her first attempt at a chip from the back of the green, said to the gallery, “You didn’t see that,” then nearly holed her second attempt without missing a beat. “That’s more like it,” she said, in unison with her newfound fans.
And it wasn’t just the youngsters who were opting for a dash of colour.
Think I’ll be ditching the navy and white…