My three-week drought of golf was broken last Monday at lovely Enville Golf Club, home to two beautiful courses, right on the Staffordshire/Shropshire border. It was where Diane Bailey (nee Robb) played a great deal of her golf and is rightly an honorary member. Diane, now an MBE, was a British Girls’ Champion, an England International, a Curtis Cup player and president of the Ladies’ Golf Union but she will mostly be remembered for being the first to captain a winning British and Irish team (male or female) on American soil. That was in the 1986 Curtis Cup at Prairie Dunes in Kansas – unforgettable for many, including Patricia who was there covering the match.The Enville club is buried in a rabbit warren of lanes and this week plays host to the Girls’ Under 16 Amateur run so ably by the R&A Championships division. Nowadays everything in junior golf seems to be organised into age groups, which trebles the workload for the organising bodies, of course. In my day everyone under 19 years of age was lumped in together in the one tournament, which was quite daunting if you were playing in your first Girls’ Championship at a measly 13 years of age. That was when I had my first foray into British Girls’ championship golf, which took place at North Berwick, Catriona Matthew’s home club in East Lothian. The Girls’ was preceded by the junior home internationals so I had the opportunity to watch great players like Mickey Walker, Josephine Mark and Cathy Panton, all of whom went on to represent Britain and Ireland and two of whom became top professional players. They were certainly inspiring to me and my path wouldn’t have crossed theirs at all if I had been restricted to an age category tournament.
It’s interesting to ponder which is the better approach as regards bringing on youngsters in the game. At 15 Rory McIlroy was teeing it up in a professional European Tour event, something hard to imagine happening had he been restricted to playing in age appropriate competitions as opposed to skill appropriate ones. Tiger always felt the best way to develop was to win at every level, which he did, of course, but he wasn’t restricted from playing against boys a lot older. I’m pretty sure the current system will encourage many more very young ones to get involved. Being solely with their peers will probably mean they’ll keep going for longer, not get too discouraged and hey presto, before they know where they are the bug has bitten! And that may just keep them in the game for life.Anyway, back to my own age appropriate threeball at the start of the week. Patricia (sister) and Anita (friend and member of Enville) and I managed to dodge most of the rain and, despite claiming never to have played a skins game before, Anita swept the board with Patricia being her closest challenger. I was a distant third. This didn’t bother me unduly until we returned to the clubhouse. First, Patricia disappeared in the rain to rummage in the bin at the first tee where she had inadvertently jettisoned a pair of earrings along with a pocketful of broken tees. No sooner had she triumphantly returned with said earrings than we had to undergo an entire emptying out of the handbag by Anita in search of missing car keys. Ten minutes later these were located resting innocently on a bench in the locker room.
I was laughing at the pair of them and shaking my head at their senior moments when I realised that these were the very folk who had absolutely trounced me on the golf course! “And I used to be quite good,” I thought. A chastening moment.
Anyway, I plan to return during the week to see the girls and how it ought to be done!
The past week has seen wonderful tributes pour in from all over the world for Renton Laidlaw, broadcaster and writer extraordinaire on many subjects, but specifically on golf. Renton would always have been on my list of favourites to have as a dinner companion. Be that as it may, I have one Renton tale which I would like to share with you.
Forty years or so ago I was working for a golf promotion company which organised pro-ams in the winter in the south of Spain. I was a general dogsbody in the running of the tournaments and I am hazy as to how it came about but I actually caddied for Renton in one of these 54 hole pro-ams. He had arrived out in Spain, a member of well-known professional David Huish’s team. David was a terrific player and a great ball striker – we were, after all, only a handful of years removed from when he had led the Open at Carnoustie after 36 holes. To David’s horror Renton had come armed with a new set of John Jacobs’ clubs which claimed to be anti-slice. David had completely dissed these clubs in the press, totally rejecting, at that time, that clubs should be tinkered with to mask skill deficiencies in the player. And boy, had Renton skill deficiencies!
Anyway, Renton and the clubs (and I like to think the caddy also) performed like a dream team. Drives were straight and true, no trademark deviation to the right-hand side of the course, and a final triumphant chip in from off the final green sealed the win after three tense days of competition. It was hilarious, one member of the winning team claiming victory despite the anti-slice clubs and another claiming victory precisely because these new weapons had been in his bag!
We had a lot of fun that week and Renton certainly had the last laugh.