The beautifully atmospheric and scenic St Pierre Golf & Country Club in Chepstow was the setting for the 1980 Curtis Cup. It was my sole, yet much cherished, appearance in the biennial contest between the best women amateurs of the United States and the best from Great Britain & Ireland. We were totally outclassed by an American side that included an inspired Patty Sheehan, a future Hall of Famer and we suffered our heaviest defeat on home soil by 13 matches to 5. What was so memorable about that?
For me, it was the realisation of a dream. I had been taken as a ten-year old to the 1968 matches at Royal County Down, had been totally mesmerised by the Americans in their red bermuda shorts and had sensed the fun and camaraderie between all the players. I wanted to be part of that and twelve years later I was.
The 2016 edition of the match features three Irish players and so did our team in 1980. Claire Robinson (nee Nesbitt) and I became the first two Ulster representatives in the match and we joined the evergreen legend Mary McKenna on the first occasion that the Emerald Isle had supplied a trio of players. That was special.
Also special was our captain – Cheshire’s Carol Comboy, later to become a close family friend. One of only a handful of captains not to have played in the match, she nevertheless struck the perfect balance between work and play, seriousness and fun. She was a class act in every way.
The American team had come over to these shores with an impressive range of uniform including very nifty checked woollen trousers which they had worn in practice. As the week continued and the temperatures remained stubbornly low the players realised the only trousers they possessed that were warm enough were the aforementioned all wool ones. So one of their officials was detailed to get the team’s trews laundered. She took them to the dry cleaners and every pair shrank to three quarters, if not half, mast. You’d get away with the three-quarter length nowadays but not back then! The opposition laughed about it as much as we did and sportingly posed for the accompanying photo.
The teams faced one of their most serious challenges of the week at the flag-raising ceremony. We waited to march out behind the ceremonial band who had brought along their mascot for the occasion. Said mascot was the regimental goat, uninspiringly named Billy, magnificent in his own uniform, and remarkably placid. What was not placid was his rear end! A succession of noisy and pungent explosions meant a quick jockeying for position by all the players and officials. Those placed upwind of Billy steadfastly refused to swap places with anyone. Another unforgettable and hilarious snapshot of a great week.
Yes, it was a drubbing in sporting terms and dwelling on the result is not a particularly happy pastime. But the friendships formed, the connections with players and captains, past and present, and the feeling of membership of a special club are priceless. As so often in sport, if you focus only on the result you may find yourself spectacularly missing the point.