Breaking news!  It absolutely IS possible to travel through time.  I know.  I’ve done it.  Last weekend in fact.  Move over Dr Who.

Let me set the scene.  Last Friday the sister and I set off from her place in Lichfield to Thorpeness Golf Club and Hotel on the Suffolk coast to a reunion of  founder members, early members and folk involved in the early days of the Ladies’ European Tour.  It was all the brainchild of one of those founder members, Chris Langford, who is currently the director of golf at the aforementioned Thorpeness.  Having recently suffered the loss of some of our colleagues from those days Chris decided she most definitely did NOT want funerals to be the driving force behind future get-togethers.  And so the idea of the reunion was born.

If you’re anything like me you experience a range of reactions whenever the “R” word comes up.  My initial response is always really positive – probably due to an inherent nosiness – but also I’m like my Dad in really enjoying reminiscing and tripping down memory lane.  As the date approaches that eagerness and interest tends to dwindle into a feeling of apprehension and a fair degree of anxiety.  Will I recognise anyone?  (I do, after all, suffer from a level of face blindness.)  Will they recognise me?  Should we be wearing name badges?  What will we have in common nowadays, forty years on?  What will we talk about?

At a conservative estimate I’d say it took about five minutes for every one of those questions to be answered and for the remainder of the weekend I was carried along on a wave of joy, delighted and thrilled to reconnect so easily with players and friends from yesteryear.

The menu cover for our celebration dinner. I needn’t have worried about not recognising anyone. Alison Sheard (row 5, 2nd from left) didn’t recognise herself even though she’s holding the British Open trophy in the snap!!

Time now for a little bit of background info.  In October 1978 a number of players decided to take the plunge and turn professional, forming the Women’s Professional Golf Association (WPGA).  Up until that time the only pathway for women into the professional playing ranks was to head over and try their luck in the States at the Ladies’ Professional Golf Association’s (LPGA) qualifying school.  Forming the WPGA was a bold move with zero guarantee of success but a first season’s schedule was cobbled together for 1979 with the year’s prize fund totalling a dizzying £80,000.

Ten of the original founder members of the WPGA. Chris Langford (fourth from the right) organised an amazing weekend at Thorpeness.  How many others can you name?

By the time I joined the tour in 1986 things were well established and ticking along nicely and in my second year we had a total of 27 tournaments on the schedule.  By the early nineties, however, recessions had hit and the tour was struggling.  This rollercoaster continued over the ensuing decades with the serious prospect of the tour not surviving never far away.  Resilience has been the ever-present thread running through the WPGA (now Ladies’ European Tour, LET) however, and this year today’s players are competing for 34 million euros.

Let me just say that again – THIRTY FOUR MILLION EUROS!  That would have been an inconceivable amount of money to us all back then but it is now a reality for the modern player – and all made possible by those very special people who paved the way for the rest of us.  In a video message to us all Trevor McClintock, the first sponsor of professional women’s golf in Ireland, was clear about the importance of the tour to him in growing a business in the North of Ireland during the Troubles.  The WPGA, he said, was the first international sporting body to regularly visit the province at a time when folk simply weren’t going near the place.  The knock-on effects on business in the country were huge and slowly other golfing visitors and sports bodies followed the lead of the WPGA.  He has never forgotten it and is still in touch with some of those players – an enduring relationship if ever there was one.

Executive chef David Margas of Thorpeness Golf Club & Hotel did us proud with amazing food and a stunning anniversary cake.

Another to send a message through to everyone was Laura Davies, the one player who can claim to have straddled the time span from the early years to the modern day.  As ever, the Dame was succinct in her summation of things:  “They may be playing for a lot more money nowadays but I can guarantee you they don’t have anything like the fun we had back then.”

How right she is!  After all, the advent of the ubiquitous mobile phone ensures today’s players never have to deal with some of the little challenges facing those of days gone by.  One of our number present at the weekend often found herself in a few scrapes.  On one occasion she arrived late in Germany for a tournament so the organisers kindly gave her the last tee time for the opening round the following day.  What she hadn’t been told, however, was that you needed a key to get out of the hotel in the morning.  By the time she was ready to leave everyone else had gone, including the staff and the door was locked.  Undaunted, she climbed out of her bedroom window, shimmied down the drain pipe and made her tee time with ease.

On another occasion the tour had moved to Jersey where all the players were being hosted by members.  This same player had been lent her hosts’ car to go to the club for a sponsors’ dinner and she duly set off in her finery.  At the end of the evening she drove for three hours round the lanes in Jersey, couldn’t locate her hosts’ home so returned to the clubhouse and slept on the bench in the locker room.  She was first on the putting green the following morning – still in her frock!

Present at the weekend were three golf writers who had chronicled the ups and downs of the tour from day one.  They were heavy hitters in their own right with Patricia (sister) going on to write for The Times, Lewine Mair for the Daily Telegraph and Liz Kahn for The Guardian.  Along with the early members these folk have so much knowledge and archive that is in danger of being lost in the mists of time if not chronicled soon.

It was a privilege to be in the company of such an inspirational group of people.  Some have gone on to become authors, artists, raise families and run businesses.  Some are still involved in the game.  Whatever paths everyone has followed it was astonishing the ease with which we all reconnected.  Or was it?  Our common backstory was golf and always will be and we did share many special times.

How lucky we are.  Thank you founder members.  Thank you, Chris.