Daffodils – cheerful, joyful and golden.  The welcome heralds of sunny days and the early evidence that the countryside is awakening from its winter slumber.  I just love them.

They still signal the start of the golf season for me.  They conjure up the leafy suburbs of Berkshire and Surrey; they bring to mind the Avia foursomes, often played in snowy conditions; they transport me to a little cottage in Chobham; they mean Mary McKenna; they mean the Sunningdale Foursomes.

The Sunningdale Foursomes is unique.  Played over the Old and New courses at Sunningdale the competition is open to men and women, pros and amateurs who must have a handicap index of no more than 3.4.  The players are handicapped but play from the same tees.  The men pros play off +1, the men amateurs off scratch, the women pros off 2 and the women amateurs off 3.

So oversubscribed is the tournament that it is limited to 128 pairs, many of whom are required to justify their acceptance into the draw by enclosing information on their golfing pedigree with their entry form.  Former Ryder Cuppers, Solheim Cuppers, Open champions, DP World Tour winners, Amateur champions and their ilk are probably spared that but, for some, simply making the first tee can be counted as a success.

Sunningdale – a little piece of heaven.  And we’ll be back there for this year’s Curtis Cup. [Kevin Diss]

This week sees the ninetieth playing of the tournament and, as I write this, 256 hopefuls will be setting off, clubs slung over their shoulders, all hoping for a good week.  By the time this blog is posted that number will have been whittled down to eight players with the semis and the final to be played on the one day.  Better be in decent physical shape.

It’s a great format, foursomes matchplay.  It’s a test of shotmaking, mental skills and, most importantly, your ability to gel with a partner and understand how to get the best out of both of you.  It’s all about doing your best and being part of a team.  And, if played correctly, it’s quick.  That’s why it’s not difficult to fit in 36 holes a day in early March – but you must play the game as it is meant to be played.  That means that if it is your tee shot, whenever possible your partner should already be trudging down the hole to a point where they are hoping to see your drive land.  With a bit of luck, if he/she pops the next on to the green you have a nice walk from the tee all the way to the green with your putter in hand.  What could be simpler, more fun or quicker?

I was taken aback to see this was the NINETIETH edition of the Sunningdale Foursomes.  The reason?  Because the golfing royalty that is Mary McKenna partnered/carried me to victory in the FIFTIETH edition and that feels like only twenty or so years ago at most.  Most definitely NOT forty.

Scrolling down the “Competition History” tab on the club website I was astonished to see we had participated in four finals in the space of seven years.  Our biorhythms obviously preferred the even-numbered years as that was when we made it through to the end of the week.  We managed to lift the title just the once but we did play an awful lot of matches in that decade and had so many memorable tussles.

A peek into the history books of the Sunningdale Foursomes.

We lost the third of our quartet of finals on the final hole to Roger Chapman and Ronan Rafferty, who whipped a 5-iron out of sand on the last and into the heart of the green.  It was a heck of a challenge with a nasty lip to be negotiated, but Ronan’s early pick up and wristy action were ideally suited to the task.  It’s a shot that has lived long in my memory and I think I enjoyed it almost as much as Ronan.  I’m pretty sure that was my final outing as an amateur before taking the plunge into the paid ranks. It was a joy to be part of a match like that.

Another match, not quite so enjoyable, was against two young male assistant professionals.  The mighty McKenna and I were two up playing the 12th and I had a nasty 3-footer down the hill for a half.  I stuck a tee peg in behind the ball, lifted, cleaned and replaced it – and managed to hole the little blighter.  The ball had hardly disappeared when one of our opponents stepped forward and said they were claiming the hole because it was against the rules to mark the ball with a tee peg.  We calmly told them if they could show us that in the rule book, they would be very welcome to the hole.  The pair of them left the green without a word, and made their way up to the tee of the short 13th.

Meanwhile, McKenna and I stayed on the green and waited and waited…………and waited.  (We were the fourth of the four quarter finals so had no one following us.)  Eventually one of our opponents came back down to the green and said, rather curtly, they weren’t claiming the hole and that it wasn’t in the rule book.

We finished them off on the 16th.

Two giants of the game – Carol Semple Thompson (left) and Mary McKenna. Don’t think CST ever played in the Sunningdale Foursomes – bit of a commute from Pennsylvania, I suppose but Mary (aka McKenna) and I were quite a fixture at one point. [Mary McKenna]

On arrival back in the clubhouse, where we were met by the assembled press, the first question we were asked was what we made of the gamesmanship of our opponents.  (I must add here that the lads had already departed the scene, not even coming in for a drink after the game.)  “How did you know about that?” we asked.

“They told us all about it and said they felt they had to try and upset you to have any chance of winning.”

Wrong choice of tactic.  I hope they learned:  never, ever poke the bear!

I’m inordinately proud of having our names on that board in the clubhouse at Sunningdale, not just because of the win but because we are, and have been, part of something that is woven into the fabric of those old walls and will outlast every single one of us. Great players have celebrated memorable shots there down the years and the wonderful tradition of foursomes is alive and well.

There is a sense of, for a time, having been a part of something that is bigger than both of us.