Last week I found myself parcelled in to my car with my husband, my sister and one of my best friends, Gillian Stewart, a Scot from Inverness and owner of multiple European Tour wins in her time. Essentially I was kidnapped with scant clue as to our destination. The nose of the car was pointed south from Cheshire and we sped all the way down the country, on to Le Shuttle at Folkestone and once we found terra firma again at Calais, we turned eastwards. Bruges, I eventually discovered, was our immediate goal and the chosen spot for some serious big birthday celebrations.
Belgium is renowned for beer, chocolate and lace, in no particular order, and, for us it was time to reconnect with a great country and rediscover its treasures. I say “rediscover” but really that’s inaccurate because despite playing several tournaments in Belgium in my touring days the life of a professional golfer precluded much exploration. We tended to see the hotel, the course and the restaurant at night and that was pretty much it. Patricia chided Gillian and me for not taking more note of the glorious places that golf had taken us, so we felt it necessary to point out that not for us the pampered life of the journalist. Not writing for a Sunday publication, Patricia had every Saturday off and while we toiled on the golf course over knuckle-whitening par putts it became, for her, a designated, and dedicated, shopping and exploration day.
For some years the European Open was held in Belgium at the delightful Royal Bercuit Golf Club, close to the lovely, bustling town of Wavre.
On one of her Saturday jaunts Patricia took a liking to a rather cumbersome, curly-legged and frankly uncomfortable armchair. She coveted that chair, but how to get it home without doubling its cost with transport fees? Ever resourceful, she persuaded Ray, who was in charge of the scoreboards, to transport said chair back to England in his van, in exchange for a case of beer. The local shopkeeper duly arrived with the chair at the ornate club gates and Patricia’s French was just good enough to overcome the security man’s misgivings. The chair was safely unloaded at the press centre where it served for a day as a resting spot for all the photographers’ paraphernalia. There were many willing hands to heft the chair into Ray’s van at the end of play on Sunday and by the Monday, less than 48 hours after being first sighted, the chair was in situ in Patricia’s home in Sutton Coldfield.
The “Belgian Armchair” is only one of several items purchased over the years that is a physical reminder of great times in far-flung places, more often than not with some sort of yarn attached.
I worked out it must have been well nigh on 20 years since I had last been in Belgium and it was more than a surreal experience to celebrate my birthday there with scores and scores of messages flooding in via Facebook from the very people that I’d last been in Belgium with. Fellow players and caddies, now scattered worldwide, sent messages and cheeky quips and it’s amazing to discover how easy it is to reconnect, the intervening years just melting away.
Of course, when we were travelling as players, we were on a much tighter budget than on this occasion when we stayed in two superb city apartments, one in Bruges, one in Ghent. That’s one thing I don’t miss – checking the sheets for grubbiness on a scale of one to ten and having to be endlessly diplomatic when hospitality provided by the host club turned out to be almost unbearable. The latter happened to Gillian and me when we stayed with a very sweet old lady. The problem was she owned at least a dozen not-so-sweet cats of various sorts and every surface in the house, the kitchen especially, was covered with cat hair, opened tins of cat food, furballs and an assortment of water bowls and toys.
She was keen for us to have dinner with her every evening and we became massively inventive, citing sponsors’ dinners and commitments that would take us safely out of the house. We didn’t want to complain to anyone because she was so pleased to have us there and tried to be so helpful but the place was, quite frankly, filthy. It was a long week.
And so was the week that we spent in Sicily, on the slopes of Mount Etna. Our accommodation was an old convent and it was without a shadow of a doubt haunted…..and I don’t believe in ghosts. That was a very, very long week, probably worthy of an entire blog on its own, so I’ll spare you now. Safe to say, last week’s accommodation was something we could only have dreamed of all those years ago.
Special times with special people are precious. Last week was one such time and so was touring life 20, 30 years ago. Golf has been the strand running through the decades for me, linking me to places and people, most of whom I now seldom see. But the bond is there and always will be, I hope.
I am so grateful to have been gathered under the huge umbrella that is golf. Let’s gather in as many newcomers as we can and introduce them to this great game. It surely can’t be a coincidence that the great Arnie Palmer’s famous logo was a large, rainbow umbrella?