Mo is having a bit of a lie down this week – well, she’s in Ireland playing golf with some other old dolls – to recover from her Ryder Cup tour de force, so where better to start than with the Senior LPGA Championship. Presented, appropriately enough, by Old National Bank and played on the Pete Dye Course at French Lick, a rather grand resort in Indiana, it featured a field of over-45s that made me feel very nostalgic. All my yesterdays were there and I was delighted to be able to watch them (on the telly, hooray) battling away in ferocious conditions.
The players had carts – I think it’s that sort of course – and there didn’t seem to be that many spectators but I suspect that was largely because it’s not much of a walking course and if the players are in carts, you’re never going to catch up. It was also Arctic, Baltic, blooming freezing and although the rain stopped and the sun came out eventually, it looked as though the wind scarcely let up.Dame Laura Davies, who’s just turned 55, was suitably imperious – she’s still competing regularly, unlike a lot of her contemporaries – and broke par in all three rounds to finish on 208, eight under. She finished four shots ahead of Helen Alfredsson and Silvia Cavalleri, who ended up missing the crucial putts that the grande dame holed, with Michele Redman the only other player under par, on 215. Trish Johnson, the defending champion, was a respectable 6th on 219, three over.
It was great to see Alfie, still fidgeting and contorting into her trademark Body Swedish, still making a bit of a bog of putts she could have, perhaps should have holed, saying goodness knows what in Swedish to her husband Kent, once as big in ice hockey as Ian Botham was in cricket (I believe, rather hoping that ice hockey buffs will know bugger all about cricket and vice versa). And there was Lotta Neumann, muffled up against the chill but still managing to exude elegance. And Brandie Burton. Brandie Burton!
Who knows what might have been if the big-hitting American, a Solheim Cup player who won two majors and lost to an inspired Laura Davies at Dalmahoy but beat her at The Greenbrier, had been blessed with better feet and ankles? She was very good very young, set to break every record going but her body let her down. She’s only 46 but was due to have her 20th, 30th, 40th surgery – not sure of the total but it is more than anyone would want in several lifetimes – just after the championship. She doesn’t play much these days but she had a 66, six under par, in the second round and finished 5th, on 217, one over par. Outstanding.Neumann, Maria McBride (nee Hjorth), Catriona Matthew, Europe’s Solheim Cup captain at Gleneagles next year and the combative American Rosie Jones shared 7th place on 220, four over par, which meant that there were two Englishwomen, one Italian, three Swedes, one Scot and three Americans in the top ten. Juli Inkster, who’ll captain the USA Solheim team, for the third time, at Gleneagles, shared 12th place with Jane Crafter, an Australian wine buff and TV commentator, now in her 60s (what a great decade!), who is a passionate cheerleader for the senior women and their Legends Tour.
Now it’s up to the R&A, so keen to promote the women’s side of the game, to do their bit and lob a British Senior Women’s Open into the mix. Over 45 or over 50? Decisions, decisions. What do you think? I’m inclined to go down to 45 but am willing to be persuaded either way. These senior majors are a real celebration of golf, a chance for a competitive get-together and a thank you to some of the pioneers of the game. Perhaps nostalgia is what it used to be after all.
Congratulations also to Eddie Pepperell, fellow blogger, who ground out victory in the Sky Sports British Masters at Walton Heath, a proper, old-fashioned golf course that proved more than testing enough for today’s maestros. It was often wet and windy and not everyone learned quickly enough that heather is not to be messed with – ever. Sadly, however, there seems to be no one willing to sponsor the event next year, so Eddie might be polishing the trophy for quite a while.Finally, I’d better explain the cake at the top of the post. It was presented on Tuesday to Sue Marchant, who’s been a member of Whittington Heath for 50 years now and is still swinging away, fortified by a quick lesson from Mo a few weeks ago. Celebratory cake available on request until further notice.
I’ve been to ten Ryder Cups but my experience in Paris was like no other. For starters I wasn’t working. I wasn’t attending as a corporate guest either, but as a diehard, bona fide golf fan, in other words, as a normal punter. And, if Paris is anything to go by, you have to be really resolute and determined, not to mention possessed of infinite patience, to manage one day, never mind three, at a modern-day Ryder Cup.
When I had applied for our tickets back in February the instructions as to how to gain access to Le Golf National had come back loud and clear. You could drive your car to a designated car park from which you could hop on a shuttle bus to be taken to the course. The heavily touted option, though, was to take public transport to one of two railway stations, one on the east side of the course, the other on the west. From there shuttle buses would ferry everyone to the course. The trick for us, therefore, was to stay reasonably close to a direct line in to St Quentin-en-Yvelines railway station, seven kilometres from the course and from which our shuttles would operate.
So, Patricia and I found ourselves a lovely little hotel in Boulogne-Billancourt, a lively, vibrant Parisian suburb not a million miles from Roland Garros. We knew that in all likelihood it would take us about an hour and a half to get to the course but we were OK with that because we also wanted easy access to Paris and all its wonderful sights. Many people were staying much further in than us – right in the heart of the city – but we felt we had the perfect compromise. Early in the week we did a test run to check our timings and an hour and 40 minutes was pretty much par for the course.
Friday dawned and the alarm went off at the ungodly hour of 4.50 am. We had decided to be at the course in loads of time to soak up the legendary atmosphere of a home Ryder Cup. We left the hotel just after 5.30am (the Metro opened at 5.30) and all went well with our four stops on the Metro and then the train journey to St Quentin where we arrived around 6.35ish. We were now only 7km from the course with over 90 minutes till tee-off. We missed the opening shots of the match.
From stepping off the train we were directed out to where the shuttles were parked, but first hundreds and hundreds of spectators had to funnel through an opening between TWO people checking we all had tickets. Talk about a bottleneck! Thinking the worst was over we shuffled on another 50 metres to a security section where four lines of us squeezed through, half-heartedly opening bags as we went. They were just as half-heartedly inspected. Phew! This was all beginning to take a bit too long. Emerging from the seemingly pointless security check we were dismayed to see there were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people ahead of us in line for the transport to the course. Time was marching on, but we most certainly weren’t and the ghastly thought occurred that perhaps we wouldn’t get too much opportunity to join in the pre-match singing.
In the cold morning air, with empty tums (no breakfast yet) and a need for that first caffeine shot of the day, we tortuously made our way closer to the nirvana of stepping onto the shuttle transport. We made it! Packed in like sardines, with standing room only, we swayed our way through the early morning traffic for 20 minutes, hanging on to pretty much anything we could and it was with no small measure of delight that we were disgorged at the course. Our spirits lifted momentarily – it was approaching 7.30am, almost two hours since we’d set off, but we were at the course now, (weren’t we,?) and the first tee off was at 8.05am. Once off the bus we joined yet another queue on the pavement, but this one was moving, albeit slowly, along by a hedge. Not long to go now, surely? With a huge degree of expectation we rounded the end of the hedge and couldn’t believe the sight that met our eyes – a car park of NEC proportions with literally hundreds of folk patiently shuffling, shuffling, shuffling to the speck in the distance that was…..the security checkpoint area!! Hmm, thought we’d done that….but no, this journey had turned into a nightmare and we were trapped helplessly in the middle of the most pathetically organised movement of people (or not) that I had witnessed in a long time.
Thankfully, all things come to an end and eventually we cleared security only to discover we weren’t even yet on golf course property. A fast, 15-minute route march delivered us to the West Village and a huge rectangular seating area bounded on all sides by the merchandise tent, catering outlets and at the far end a huge stage with a monumental screen. A corridor of no more than five strides width had delivered this sea of humanity to this oasis but to find the exit to the course – you know, where the GOLF was being played – was a little more tricky. Lack of signage didn’t help but our recce on Tuesday did. We weaved our way through the plethora of picnic tables to a similar corridor that exited the village diagonally opposite to where we had entered. Ah yes, another bottleneck! We were getting used to these by now. We filed through this narrow passage to be met by a staircase that we traversed and when we crested the top we caught our first sight of the course.
By this stage we were both plugged in to the on-course radios that we’d bought on Tuesday and were aware that the possibility of delaying the start had been mooted due to thousands of fans being trapped in endless queues trying to access the course. The decision was to go ahead on time, so when we finally got our feet on the green, green grass of Le Golf National, the Ryder Cup had already started. What a shambles it had all been!
We golf fans are nothing if not resilient, however, and we set off in pursuit of Justin Rose and Jon Rahm in the top match. The pedometers on our phones were set to go through the roof for this week! The day on the course ended better than it had begun and Europe rebounded from a 3-1 morning deficit to sweep the foursomes by four matches to nil. Hooray!
Delighted that the matches had finished early and in our favour we were keen to get back to our hotel and find a nice little bistro and bottle of red for our post-match ruminations. Hold on – not so fast! We faced the nightmare journey in reverse, starting with the treacherous, and frankly dangerous funneling of everyone down the staircase into the tented village area. An hour later and we hadn’t reached the security checkpoint only to be told over the loudspeaker that it would be another hour before we boarded a bus to the station and why didn’t we enjoy the tented village a little longer? That brought wry smiles – we had been queuing 40 minutes since we had exited said village, locked into an immoveable mass of human beings. Eventually, however, we squeezed onto a bus, standing room only, of course, and lurched our way back to the station. On to one of the fabulous double-decker trains at last – and once again, sardine-like, standing for the 40-minute journey. We made it back to our hotel some fifteen hours after we had left it, a long, long ole day, but fabulous – despite some six of those hours having been spent queuing! And this logisitical movement of people had only been ten years in the planning, I’m told!
Allow me to finish regaling you with the travel challenges of the Ryder Cup. Saturday was a revelation! Everything ran like clockwork and we whizzed into, and away from, the venue in around an hour and 40 minutes – still sardine packed, but very happy sardines given the experiences of the Friday. On Sunday, lulled by a false feeling of security and the knowledge that the first singles match didn’t tee off until after midday we were confident that THIS would be the day we would get there in time to join in the 1st tee singing. We thought we’d leave the hotel around 8.30 and have breakfast at the course…. but we had not reckoned with the trains running to their normal, once-an-hour, Sunday timetable – and, no long trains, of course, only short ones! Having just missed the 8.30, we didn’t panic and waited patiently for the 9.30. It was like watching a train in India coming into the station – the only place people weren’t hanging off the train was on the roof. The train pulled in……..and pulled out. A couple of folk may have squeezed on, but it was dangerous and hundreds of fans were left standing on the platform. Bearing in mind we were relatively close to the start of the train’s journey and had no hope of boarding, this scenario was repeated all the way down the line.
Of course, there was no information, no help, and we were left to our own devices to find a solution. Banding together with a lovely Italian fan and a couple of American supporters, who were completely bemused by the whole experience, we sorted an alternative route complete with change of line and train to St Quentin-en-Yvelines. Once there we navigated the buses, the security, the bottlenecks and the route march like the old hands we were and arrived at the course with fifteen minutes to spare. A world record of three and a quarter hours to go from A to B. Thank God it wasn’t a four day event – we might not have lasted the pace.
If you are still reading – well done for hanging in there, and you are probably thinking that it was a pity the travel was poor, but everything else was well organised, right? Wrong! In no particular order, these were the other challenges the humble fan faced.
1 Catering – slow, slow, slow service. Unforgiveable in fact. Pleasant staff, but no sense of urgency and manana was a little too immediate for them. More time spent in queues.
2 Cost of food. A cardboard carton of fish and chips was 15 euros. I bought two pork and apple sauce baguettes (very dry despite the sauce) and three small bottles of still water – 34 euros. This was rip-off city – and on the Sunday the catering place behind the 14th tee was sold out of baguettes by the time the FIRST match got there. Underprepared and underwhelming quality.
3 Not nearly enough rubbish bins. A few bin bags tied on to the rope line simply don’t do it. The bins were full to overflowing by 10.00am and although most people piled their rubbish by the base of the bins, by the end of the day those of us behind the ropes were wading through a rubbish tip. It was all cleared up by the next day, but I’ve never seen a golf event looking like that.
4 Not one single, stand-alone scoreboard on the golf course keeping us up-to-date. There were screens showing the Sky Sports coverage and when Sky chose to show a scoreboard you could catch up on the overall situation – but only if you were quick and had your binoculars handy. Suggesting everyone was using the Ryder Cup app is no defence. It isn’t true – and apps chew up your phone battery in no time.
5 We are experienced golf watchers of 50 years so were armed with periscopes as well as binoculars. Patricia’s periscope had been purchased at a previous Ryder Cup. I lost count of the number of times people asked where they could get them and had we got them in the merchandise tent? Despite the stadium-style mounding around the course, when you’re standing ten deep you can’t see anything – unless armed with a periscope.
It seems to me that the ordinary golf fan is endowed with endless patience and good humour. It undoubtedly helped that at the end of each day we were buoyed by our team’s success, but it seems evident to me that the real golf fan is not considered one jot. The powers-that-be must remember that it’s the fans who make the atmosphere and provide the great platform for the Ryder Cup. Where would the tours be without a solid fan base? They’re not asking to be mollycoddled – just to have reasonable and affordable facilities in place and to have well organised movement in and out of the venue. And they are paying through the nose, remember.
One fellow professional, a golf tragic like us, had bought tickets for all three days and attended the match with two others. After Friday’s experience, totally disgruntled, they caught a 3.00am Eurostar home and were in front of their own television sets on Saturday for the TV coverage.
So, to the powers-that-be – please don’t talk to us about “growing the game” if you’re not prepared to address these issues and please, please lift your eye momentarily and occasionally from the profit line.
Now, what do you think the Italian organisation will be like in 2022? Dare you go and find out?
We don’t have long to save the planet, so it behoves us golfers, irrespective of whether we have children or grandchildren, to do our bit, don’t you think? The other evening I caught the tail end of a programme about the damage that fashion – yes, clothes, shoes, the sort of thing all of us wear every day – does to the environment. Setting aside the exploitation of many of the people who work long hours in rubbish conditions for very little pay so that we can buy tee shirts for tuppence halfpenny (or fippence, as my Spiddle-born Galway granny used to say, well ahead of decimalisation), it’s the tsunamis of water used in the making of garments, the grunge from the dyes discharged into rivers that turn into death traps rather than life-savers that pollute more than almost anything else. Fracking? Not in the same league. Coal? Ditto. You get the picture.
For instance, have you ever given a single solitary thought to the provenance of your golf glove? No, neither had I. And that’s not just because it’s many years since I’ve worn one. That was not a case of social conscience, more lack of funds allied to congenital meanness, big hands and a dodgy grip (despite the best efforts of some very sound teachers). It was hard to find one that fitted properly, they didn’t last long and they cost a lot. I moved onto Elastoplast (think that probably needs a trademark sign despite having achieved the status of a generic term for plasters), then gave that up and relied on skin and battled through the pain of the odd blister.
As usual I digress. It may be different now but at one time, not so long ago, a leather glove’s life started in Africa, on the stomach of a young goat – yes, a kid, a mere baby – before being shipped to the creme de la creme of tanners in Somerset; then it travelled to Taiwan, to be stitched by nimble-fingered seamstresses, perhaps with state-of-the-art machinery; after that it was off to the United States (it was the days when they always won the Ryder Cup, so they were probably great), where it was packaged and shipped off across the world to wherever, including your own professional’s shop, should you deign to support her or him – cheaper from the high street golf shops perhaps or tax giants like Amazon.
That got me thinking about that magic material Gortex and all the wonderful, easy, stretchy things we wear nowadays as a matter of course. Those things that mean I don’t have to own an iron or ironing board. How are they made? What damage do they do? Does that make us all culpable? Guilty of turning a blind eye to our part in buggering up the planet? How many millions of us are there? If we all did one little tiny thing to change, we’d make a difference, if we all made the same tiny little change at the same time, we’d be dangerous!
I used to think that I wouldn’t mind if Florida, which is only a few feet above sea level after all, sank but then, as it started being battered by storms, I started to think about all the friends I had who lived there and I realised that, selfish git though I was, Florida mattered to me. Admittedly, I cared more about my friends and the manatees than the golf courses but the health of Florida is important to the health of the planet and the more Floridians who wake up to that fact the better. The golf courses, sensitively and ecologically managed, could be a big force for good. And I think that goes for everywhere in the world.
It’s a bit scary to think that what we do, every single one of us, makes any difference whatsoever but, inescapably, it does, we do. Can we cope with the responsibility?
This week, on a less global note, the redoubtable women of WHGC (Whittington Heath GC) took on the seniors in our annual match. As usual, we lost, but this time only narrowly 3 1/2 – 4 1/2. Seniors are sensitive souls – I suspect it comes with age – so we don’t like to beat them up too badly, if at all. We’ve now got a very equitable format – stableford match play, with the men playing off their card and we women playing off our stroke index. As a rule it makes for close, competitive matches. My partner and I won on the 18th – she holed a bit of a monster putt to win the 16th to get us back to all square and then won the last, where she had a shot, with an immaculate par, for three points.
The next day we were off in a coach, to Blackpool, for a tea dance at the legendary Tower Ballroom, the mecca of ballroom dancing. It was brill. It was just wonderful to see so many people of all ages and stages swirling around with a smile on their face, loving every minute. My partner and I, who must still rank as 35-handicappers at best, can now say that our dance shoes have set foot on one of the most hallowed floors in the world – think St Andrews, Augusta National, Royal Melbourne. And the good thing about Blackpool is we didn’t take any divots…..