As some of you know, Troon, now Royal Troon, was always top of my hit list, well ahead of Muirfield, Royal St George’s, Portmarnock and all the other “no women here” bastions of golf. We could always play golf at Troon but there were conditions imposed and as for being members or persona grata at all times, allowed to use the front door or the loo whenever the need arose? Forget it.
Times, I’m glad to say, have changed.
This week, the AIG Women’s Open (there was once a British in the title and I’m not entirely convinced that it was a good idea to drop the geographical designation) is being held at Royal Troon for the first time, behind closed doors or, more accurately, since this is an outdoor game, without spectators. The R&A, who are running the championship, are serious when they say that they want more women and girls involved in the game at all levels and it’s a joy to see one of the game’s governing bodies using its clout to promote golf as a game for everyone.
Next year the AIG Women’s Open will be at Carnoustie, then Muirfield (not a misprint) in 2022, Walton Heath in 2023, the Old Course in 2024 and Royal Porthcawl in 2025. Wonderful venues, proper golf courses for what is now a bona fide major championship.
Dame Laura Davies, who is playing in her 40th (British) Women’s Open, hit the opening tee shot at Troon – in a bit of a breeze (aka a howling gale) – at 0630, an honour she appreciated despite having to get up before dawn. At least it meant she wasn’t going to be held up by the people in front.As a lot of people have pointed out, this is golf’s time to shine. So many other sports are struggling to reappear after lockdown and golf is perfect at all levels: played in the open air; easy to keep your distance; good for heart and health. The trick is to go with the flow and accommodate people who are blissfully unaware of the more nonsensical “traditions” of the game, people who don’t know that jeans, trainers and shirts without collars are the work of the devil. Knowing how to behave on the course and off is more important than what you’re wearing. One of the “traditions” that seems to have gone by the board is pace of play, playing without undue delay. Non-golfers can be forgiven for thinking that golf, far from being a moving game, a game that flows, is a static endeavour, performed by near-statues, beings who can’t decide what to do without consulting endless charts in the misguided belief that they can remove every variable from the equation. I have a friend who consults the yardage gizmo whenever they’re within 20 yards – perhaps even less – of the green; on their home course, a place they play week in week out; they can’t trust their eye; they never have the club out of the bag as they approach the ball; they reach the ball, take out the gizmo, ponder, take out a club and, eventually, hit the shot. It’s taken enough seconds to turn into minutes and it’s repeated time after time, so we’re all taking at least an hour longer for 18 holes than we should do – and longer than we used to do a few years ago.
I blame the pros. They don’t care how long they take, they have nothing else to do all day, being on the golf course is their job after all. All those pace of play guidelines aren’t worth the charts they’re written on unless they’re enforced and stroke penalties are handed out on the spot, sod the warnings. Padraig Harrington, Europe’s Ryder Cup captain, was a notorious slowcoach but realised that he needed to change his slothful, selfish ways and practised speeding up his routine all round. Every pro needs to do that and it would be great if they also learned how to read their yardage books and walk at the same time, so that they’d be pretty certain of what club to play when they reached the ball.
Stacy Lewis, a woman who’s learned how to make up her mind on the hoof, endured some tedious play by playing partners Azahara Munoz and Jennifer Song, not two of the world’s fastest decision makers, to win the Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open, at the Renaissance Club, North Berwick, with a birdie at the first extra hole. Lewis, a former world No 1, whose daughter Chesnee was watching at home, hitting the telly with her plastic clubs as Mom sank the winning putt, last won in 2017 before the birth of her daughter.Chesnee has given Lewis a new outlook on life, let alone golf and apart from now having more important things to do than watch others consult yardage books as though they were tablets of stone, she is well aware that golf mustn’t miss its chance to impress. The last round took more than five hours (not including the play-off) and Lewis knows that that’s not acceptable, viewers will switch off and sponsors will look elsewhere to spend whatever money they have: “I do think an effort needs to be made across the board to play faster…..I’m sure it couldn’t have been fun to watch on TV.”
Chesnee being the exception.
Not long ago Luke played Worplesdon, West Hill and Woking in two hours 47 minutes – and that included running between the courses. Don’t ask me how he managed it but his scores were 75, 81 and 77. “My life in golf has given me great confidence and belief in myself,” Luke said, “and I wanted to share some of this positivity, firing the imagination at the same time….For those who would like to support my adventure with a donation, you will be helping the Golf Foundation to inspire many kids from all backgrounds to love golf and acquire life skills that will help them to cope with this changing world around us.
“Golf should be a joy for everyone and it has great mental and physical health benefits. It’s a beautiful game.”