The golfing landscape has changed considerably in my lifetime of playing and being involved with the game.  Some of the changes have been good and some……well, not so good, in my opinion.  Granted, however, it is possible to say that about pretty much everything in any walk of life.

Way back in the day, in the elite ranks of Great Britain & Ireland amateur female players, there were two big, big goals for the best players.  The absolute top one was to make a Curtis Cup side, representing GB&I against the might of America.  There were eight on that team.  The other was to make the three-woman team to represent GB&I at the World Amateur Team Championships (WATC), which, like the Curtis Cup, was played every other year.

Now, you’d think the blue riband team would be the World Amateur one with only three souls representing the whole of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.  Not so.  I was fortunate enough to make both these teams but if only one were to be on my CV I’d choose the Curtis Cup every time.  The history, the tradition and the esteem in which this match was held meant I’d heard about it since I first picked up a club – and, being a member of Royal Portrush I had met (and played with) the great Zara Bolton, a winning Curtis Cup captain, no less, by the time I was nine.

Zara Bolton, winning captain of the 1956 Curtis Cup team, was kindness itself to me in my very early golfing journey. [From Roger C Anderson’s wonderful book, “History Made, History in the Making…….The Story of Royal Portrush Golf Club”]

My ambitions and focus were, therefore, very much set on the transatlantic match and it was only when I was quite a bit further up the ladder that I learned that the WATC, aka the Espirito Santo Trophy, even existed.

The 2023 edition is being played this week in Abu Dhabi, (photo at top) following on from the men last week.  The United States emerged winners of the Eisenhower Trophy, at the top of a pile of 36 teams and runaway winners of the gold medal.  Eleven shots back were Australia and Norway – fingers crossed there are a few more Viktor Hovlands emerging to grace future European Ryder Cup teams.

Each team comprises three players and the format is 72 holes strokeplay with the best two scores counting each day.  The Americans hadn’t won since 2014 but they more than stamped their authority on all-comers on this occasion.

The women’s tournament has the same format but one significant change since yesteryear is that there is no GB&I team any longer.  The four home countries each field their own teams of three players, which seems to me to be eminently sensible and fair.  If that had happened in my day, however, I would have missed out on one of the most enjoyable teams I was a member of throughout my whole career – namely the GB&I team of Belle Robertson, Mary McKenna and myself.  Even now I pinch myself to think I was alongside these two doyennes of the game, dripping in experience, titles, sublime skills……and fun.

One not-so-fun element was that Mary Mac suffered a back injury and was unable to play.  We had a very young Jane Connachan attending high school in the States at the time and she was called up as reserve and flew to North Carolina to join us.

We had the good fortune to be playing the wonderful Pinehurst No 2 course with its trademark, upturned saucers of greens.  What a privilege to play such a renowned Donald Ross-designed course, the one course out of his 400 creations where he chose to live and where he continued tweaking and refining this masterpiece throughout his lifetime.

Pinehurst No 2 – bring your “A” game or else…..! [USGA]

The icing on the cake was that the sister, in the early years of her golf writing career, was at the tournament as well, covering the action for Golf World magazine.  She stayed on the following week to cover the men’s competition for the Eisenhower Trophy and that’s where she met her future husband!  I never did read her reports on that week’s golf so am unaware of the quality of her writing.  I suspect she was a little distracted.

Twenty years after playing in the Espirito Santo, I was back as part of a GB&I team – this time as coach.  A familiar figure was by my side – Mary McKenna was also back, but she, too, was in a different role, this time captaining the team.  Two of the three players were also from the Emerald Isle – Susie O’Brien and Alison Coffey – and the only “foreigner” in our group was the phenomenally talented Englishwoman, Rebecca Hudson.  By the end of the week we had renamed her Rebecca O’Hudson and were teaching her to speak with an Irish accent.  It was a very happy week and a happy team and it showed with the players bringing back a bronze medal.

O’Brien, McKenna, Coffey and O’Hudson. Bronze medal winners.

The coverage we got in those days was extensive – every major newspaper in the land sent their scribes to cover the action and it was easy for folk at home to follow the action and be aware that the tournament was imminent.  Not so nowadays.

I discovered, almost by accident, that the two World Team Championship events were on over this last couple of weeks.  I trawled through the International Golf Federation website looking for the names of the players on each of the 36 women’s teams.  This was before the first-day tee times were posted.  Nothing – or, at least, I couldn’t find it.  On Thursday I spent ages trying to find a list of the first-round scoring – and only succeeded when I finally clicked on the “Watch Live” button.

Now, I don’t claim to be a digital whizz, but why are so many websites difficult to navigate?  And why are these big events prone to sliding  by us in this, supposedly, hi-tech communications era?  Saturation, perhaps?

Indeed.  Now THERE’S a topic for another day.

In the meantime, let’s see if the holders Sweden can repeat their feat of two years back and win a second consecutive Espirito Santo trophy.  They have a very special playing captain in Ingrid Lindblad, the world No 1.  It should be a great tussle.

The defending champs, Sweden. From l-r, Ingrid Lindblad, world n0 1; Meja Ortengren, world no 10; Kajsa Arwefjall, world no 37. [International Golf Federation website]