I’ve always loved North Berwick and its old-fashioned, proper golf course with its walls, views of the Bass Rock, a par 3 called the Redan and the bewildering 16th green with what the club’s website calls a “gully” in the middle; it’s a veritable rollercoaster really. Of course, I’m completely biased because I played some of my best golf there in the junior home internationals and shared some memorable moments with people who are friends to this day. I think I nearly fell in love that week but was too gauche to realise it let alone make any sort of decisive move. In my defence it was a long time ago (1971) and I thought that blue mascara was the height of daring raciness – I had a very sheltered upbringing and was unbelievably slow on the uptake!
Whenever the Open was at Muirfield (remember those days?), we’d play at North Berwick early in the morning, then head off to cover the championship. Madness! I remember playing the last at just after eight o’clock in the morning and hearing an American playing the 1st say, in awed amazement, “Gee, do you think they’ve played 18 already?” We had indeed and I played the first few holes like a proper golfer because I was still half asleep and most of my faults were lying dormant. Magnificent! Those were the days. Where has all that stamina and staying power gone?
Still, stamina, stubbornness, endless enthusiasm and sheer bloodymindedness are pretty well essential attributes for all golfers, particularly women, as you’ll discover if you read Ailsa Fortune’s fascinating book Par For The Ladies: The Extraordinary Story Of The Women Who Golfed At North Berwick. I thought I’d have a quick skim through it and pass it on but this is a proper book, a real social history written by a woman who specialises in such things and I’ll be sitting down and reading it properly once the pre-Christmas mayhem subsides and the wrapping paper is cleared away for another year.
The photographs are brilliant and so are the names. For many years North Berwick was the haunt of the rich, the famous and the regal and was known as the Biarritz of the North. You’ll learn about Mary Constance Nisbet Hamilton; the Gillies Smith sisters; the Hamilton-Dalrymples; Blanche Anderson; the Hon Miriam Pease; Dorothy Campbell; Catriona Matthew (nee Lambert); Elsie Grant-Suttie and many more. The battle of the sexes features too, of course, although, as ever, men can be feminists too. Not all male golfers have to ask advice on how to cope with “the ladies”…..Instead they recognise fellow members of the human race (??!) and fellow enthusiasts for a mesmerising, infuriating game….North Berwick Ladies’ Golf Club (NBLGC) has been in existence since 1888 but it wasn’t until 2013 that Ailsa began her research, prompted by Anne McCarthy, lady captain from 2012-2014, who thought that a proper written record was long overdue. She was right and congratulations to everyone who worked so hard to make sure that this terrific book saw the light of day. It’s published by Stanton Press and is available from them (firstname.lastname@example.org) or major bookstores like Waterstones.
We wish Season’s Greetings to everyone, bearing in mind that it’s a sad time for people who’ve lost loved ones this year. Just as I was writing this I heard that Geoff Marks had died, another good man gone. He was a stalwart of Stone, Trentham, Staffordshire, England and GB and I and respected worldwide as a golfer and a person. Condolences to his family and friends.
I’ve always been partial to lists – shopping lists, to-do lists, Christmas lists, whatever. So, before Patricia and I stagger towards a few blog-free weeks I thought I’d post a little list of personal delights from the 2016 golfing season.
1 In top spot is the wholly unexpected fact that I discovered I actually LIKE Patrick Reed. “What?”, I hear you cry. “That arrogant, loud, boorish Yank who filled our screens at the Ryder Cup?” Yes, yes and yes! Take him outside that incredible arena of live Ryder Cup play and, yes, he is still super-confident but he also displays a genuine humility and an appreciation for the skills of his opponents. There is an openess about him and a refreshing lack of the self- absorption that can be commonplace among successful people. I did bump into his friends and family at the Ryder Cup (see my post “Inside the Ropes at Hazeltine”) and I can’t imagine them allowing him to be too big for his boots.
2 The month of June saw Great Britain and Ireland sweep to an amazing victory in the Curtis Cup at Dun Laoghaire Golf Club. Outclassed on paper, but not where it mattered, the team, led by an inspirational Bronte Law who won five points out of five, came together to prove incontrovertibly that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The Irish trio of Leona Maguire, Olivia Mehaffey and Maria Dunne sent home hearts soaring with displays of fearless aggression and consummate skill. I have been privileged to watch and commentate on the best golf worldwide for 20 plus years but there is absolutely nothing to compare to victory for a team you once played for. When this sport has a fierce emotional pull on your heart and victory is delivered in your native country – well, it’s truly glorious!
3 For one reason and another I didn’t manage my customary ten games or so this year and yet again my New Year Resolution is to get out and play more. Two of my 2016 games were on the soon-to-be Open venue, the Dunluce course at Royal Portrush. On each occasion I recorded a birdie 2 on the fearsome par 3 Calamity Corner. This was easily as unexpected as liking Patrick Reed! Confirmation of the truth of this boast is available upon application to, firstly, Patricia and Lilian Starrett, and, secondly, to Mary McKenna, Sandra Ross and Gillian Stewart, aka The July Club. If you look at one of my previous posts, “Portstewart, Portrush, Castlerock: A Trio Of Golfing Delights”, you’ll find this is not the first time I have mentioned this feat. Indeed, I find it working its way into an amazing number of the golf conversations I have. And I used to suspect Patrick Reed of being self-absorbed!
4 Finally, meeting India’s Aditi Ashok and her family and following the 18-year-old’s progress on the world stage has been a real bonus. Aditi won the Ladies’ European Tour Qualifying School at the end of 2015 by a considerable margin. The family live in Bangalore and aren’t half racking up the airmiles. In August, at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Woburn, Aditi was sponsorless and had Dad on the bag for her first major appearance. Her Mum, Mash, a former radio DJ, was number one supporter. Since then Aditi has won back to back tournaments in Europe as well as Rookie of the Year honours, represented her country at the Olympics and has gained enough status on the LPGA to merit plenty of starts stateside in 2017. To cap it all, she is a trailblazer in her country and is becoming one of their most recognisable sports stars. It gives me a lovely fuzzy feeling to know that the good guys can and do win. This girl has replied to and acknowledged any tweets I’ve put out about her whether necessary or not. She’s a class act and fingers crossed for more of the same for the family in 2017.
5 And the final, final delight of 2016. Patricia and I did, eventually, start this blog. And, contrary to my deep-seated certainty that it was inevitable, I haven’t yet killed her and diplomatic relations continue, mostly. But, while we may be enjoying it – are YOU? We hope so.
Have a great festive season and, unless we hear to the contrary, we’ll be back mid Jan.
The striking thing about Tiger Woods during his comeback in the Bahamas last week was how happy he looked. He was positively beaming. He exuded enjoyment and even bonhomie. He seemed to engage with everyone around him, looking interviewers in the eye as though they were fellow members of the human race, not treating them with the ill-disguised contempt of his playing prime.
No matter how many majors you’ve won, how many records you’ve broken, how much money you’ve won, if you’ve been away from the game you love for nearly 16 months, you’re going to be ecstatic to be back. Just playing five rounds in a row (including the pro-am) was a triumph for a man who confessed that there had been days when he couldn’t get out of bed, let alone walk, let alone hit a golf ball, let alone play a few holes, let alone compete in public. Anyone who’s had back trouble – and they say there are two sorts of people in the world: those with backs and those without – will empathise. It’s scary as well as painful and debilitating.
Tiger is an ultra when it comes to training and working out, so he’ll do all the stuff needed to keep his back and the rest of his body in some sort of working order and then trust to luck that a sneeze here, a tweak there or a slip or missed step or two don’t put the kibosh on all his best efforts. He’s in his 40s now, so there should be a lot of life left in him, his prime even, just not on the golf course.
Tiger had a golfing prime like few others and he’s not going to get that back but as an ever-formidable competitor, he’ll doubtless be coming back cleverer, cannier, hungrier (in a different way) and even more determined to show that he can still win against the best. It should be fun to watch, especially if he keeps smiling.
Rory McIlroy, who watched the event on telly, said, “The excitement levels are huge any time Tiger tees it up and he looked comfortable, he looked happy, which I thought was the most interesting thing. He looked happy to be out there, which we probably haven’t seen in a while.
“Any time we saw him on a golf course in the last couple of years he had the furrowed brow and he’s been so concentrated. But he looked happy so obviously that tells you he has been away and he has come back out happy and he is in a better place.”
Rory was talking to Brian Keogh (see the ever-informative irishgolfdesk.com) in Dublin after winning Sportsperson of the Year at the Excellence in Sport Awards in aid of the Irish Youth Foundation. Padraig Harrington, ever positive and generous, was also impressed with what he saw of Woods: “Before last week I wasn’t sure if he’d ever win a major again. I think he will now. There were a lot of good signs…….It’s exceptionally good for golf that he’s back. It’s incredibly big for the game.”
Not quite as big but very important from a European point of view and huge for the man himself was the announcement of Thomas Bjorn as Europe’s Ryder Cup captain for the match in Paris in 2018. The Dane played in three matches (all won) and has been a vice-captain four times (only one defeat, at Hazeltine last year), so he knows what it’s all about. He made his debut under Seve Ballesteros at Valderrama, winning his second day fourball with Ian Woosnam against Justin Leonard, the Open champion and Brad Faxon.
Leonard had had five birdies and an eagle in that defeat and he continued in the same vein when he set off in the singles – against Bjorn. Four down after four, the Dane was counselled to relax by his peripatetic (and very unrelaxed and unrelaxing) captain. “I AM RELAXED,” Bjorn bellowed from the depths of his soul. Seve retreated and his rookie managed a very valuable half point (although he lost the last when his captain reappeared).
Bonne chance en France, Thomas.