The seniors are at Forest of Arden this weekend – today, tomorrow and Sunday, weather permitting – and I was going to wander over, see a few of the not-really-so-old-codgers that I knew a bit first time around, take some happy snaps and have a congenial day chatting, reminiscing, whatever. Sadly, the weather did not lend itself to anything but staying indoors listening to the rain hammering on the roof and accepting that it was the ideal time to do all those jobs that needed the outdoors to be spectacularly uninviting. I didn’t do them of course but they’re on the list…It seems that Peter Baker, always a favourite, is now 50 and the host of the Farmfoods European Senior Masters at the Forest of Arden Marriott Hotel and Country Club. He’s there with a load of other Ryder Cuppers, including winning captains Sam Torrance, Ian Woosnam and Paul McGinley, a star-studded line-up by anybody’s standards. They’ve had great careers, great fun and they’re still going. Sam, who probably could never have imagined himself thinking such a thing, said that turning 50 was terrific and why wouldn’t ageing golfers love it? Colin Montgomerie, over in America, is winning majors at last and Bernhard Langer has been consistently grinding the opposition into the divots. No doubt their wives, quite a few of whom have been there for the duration, or as near as dammit, are relieved that their men are still hunched over on the putting green, obsessed with the game and outside, not cluttering up the sofa and wondering what to do with their retirement. I have a memory of talking to Sam’s father Bob, a great coach, in New Orleans – or was it that ghastly non-golf course near Atlanta, every hole a separate entity, every house a mansion on a tiny plot, an up-and-down route march of several miles that was a wonderful work-out pre the big Masters at Augusta? I think Bob was helping Woosie at the time and he was fascinating on the subject, though because he was so enthusiastic and speaking to someone he knew, it wasn’t always easy to catch his drift. I understood most of the words and some of the concepts and it still makes me smile and remember Bob fondly; sorry your knowledge was mostly wasted on me, Bob, but you did help me understand a bit more about the swing and golf at the sharp end, for which many thanks. It was always great to bump into you and June and have a chat.
There’s talk of a joint European tour event with the men and women next year but if it’s going to be a head-to-head affair, beware. I believe there were fisticuffs or, at the very least, full and frank exchanges, when the seniors played the women in Portugal in a season-ending “friendly” a few years ago. Sadly, I wasn’t there but it was matchplay and there was, I believe, a certain amount of disagreement about which tees should be used. The women won at the third time of asking and, funnily enough, that was that. At Whittington Heath we women play an annual match against the seniors – stableford matchplay playing off our own tees and card, which seems to work well enough in that the matches tend to be close – and it’s still going, probably because we always lose!
The LET, seemingly limping along, is hanging fire, apparently, on talks with the LPGA, the R&A and the European Tour but was making a presentation to the All-Party Parliamentary Golf Group at Westminster the other evening. It’s never a bad idea to have friends in high places and the MPs are keen “to support the sport of golf” in all its forms. The LET is keen “to promote and develop golf for women and girls” and Mark Lichtenhein, the chair who is trying to hold things together and Trish Johnson, a player with impeccable credentials and vast experience, are in the forefront of promoting the cause.
Golf is either struggling or thriving, depending on which study you read and sometimes it’s doing both in the same place at the same time. Nothing’s set in stone and you have to tailor your club or your course or your tour to the circumstances but the game’s the thing and I guarantee it’ll be frustrating somebody somewhere in some form or another for as long as there are people tempted to swing a club.
Tyrrell Hatton is after my time but how could you not take an interest in a sportsman with such a wonderful name? And it looks as though he might be able to live up to it after becoming the first person to win the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship two years in succession – at St Andrews no less. It doesn’t get much better than that. With a bit of luck and a fair wind, Hatton will prove to be a real diamond geezer and train on to win major championships but winning a big title twice in a row is a big deal in itself.
Defending a title is not particularly rare but it’s not common either and at the highest level the names tend to be familiar: Jones, Nicklaus, Sorenstam, Woods, Faldo, Inkster, Wright, Harrington, Watson, Davies, Hagen, Sheehan, Bradley, Vardon, Trevino – an elite bunch.
Laura Davies won the Standard Register Ping title at Moon Valley in Phoenix, Arizona, four years in a row and I think I was there for all of them. It was in the 1990s when Laura was in her pomp and it didn’t seem that outrageous because she was that good – and loved the golf course. On reflection, it seems amazing. And it was.
Tiger Woods was also good at winning the same tournament multiple times in succession – the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Jack Nicklaus’s Memorial Tournament, the WGC Bridgestone Invitational, to name just three – but it’s not the norm. No matter how good you are there are still a lot of variables and another player may be having a day of days or a week of weeks and holing everything. Tiger won the US PGA Championship twice in a row twice – in 1999 and 2000 and 2006 and 2007 – and he came second twice – to Rich Beem in 2002 and Y. E. Yang in 2009. Tiger won the Open in 2000 by miles (eight shots) but had a long(ish) wait before winning again, in 2005 and 2006.
Padraig Harrington, a different cat altogether but driven in his own way, elevated himself into the stratosphere by winning at Carnoustie in 2007 and Royal Birkdale in 2008. That put him in the company of, among others, Tom Morris Senior and Junior, J H Taylor, James Braid, Harry Vardon, Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen, Bobby Locke, Peter Thomson, Palmer, Lee Trevino and Tom Watson. Other genuine golfing greats like Nicklaus, Gary Player, Seve Ballesteros and Nick Faldo won the Open more than once but none of them won the oldest championship of all in consecutive years.
Rory McIlroy has said that he wants to be the best European player ever and he has to start by winning more major championships than Vardon, who won six Opens and a US Open and Faldo, who won three Opens and three Masters. Only he, Nicklaus and Woods have won at Augusta in consecutive years. If Rory manages to harness his desire and win a green jacket but then sticks on five majors, does that grand slam trump Faldo’s six titles? Mmmm. Good question. I think Rory has to move on to the magnificent seven and beyond to win that debate.
As time goes on, it’s easy to forget just how good Faldo was. In his book For Love or Money, Peter McEvoy, who won the Amateur Championship twice (but not consecutively) said, “We didn’t know that Faldo would go on to win six majors but there was something about him. He had charisma and talent….Throughout my amateur career there was only one British golfer who emptied clubhouses and that was Nick Faldo. Even the most cynical amateur put down his drink and went out to watch Faldo hit a golf ball.”
Tyrrell Hatton is, as yet, no Faldo but even if he never wins a major or even another tournament, in years to come he’ll always have those iconic photos of himself perching on the Swilcan Bridge clutching a very large trophy and the joy of musing: “Now, which year was that? Was I wearing those trousers in 2016 or 2017?”
“I’m not writing about The July Club this week,” I said to Patricia a few days ago. “I did that this time last year and I don’t want to do the same thing twice. I’ll do a tip.” For those of you who missed it, last year’s offering can be seen by copying and pasting http://www.madillgolf.com/places/portstewart-portrush-castlerock-a-trio-of-golfing-delights into your browser.
It only took a couple of glorious golfing days in Fife to make me change my mind and, after all, it’s not every day you get to play the Old Course at St Andrews. Actually, that’s not quite strictly true. There was a time many moons ago when, as a student here, I could indeed play the Old – well, maybe not every day, but in fact, quite a lot. My £12 student fee gained me access pretty much any time to the four courses that in those days made up the St Andrews Links experience, namely the Old, the New, the Eden and the Jubilee. But, of course, being young and foolish, there is a tendency not to take full advantage when something is constantly there on a plate for you. In those days there was still the practice of playing the course in reverse for three months or so at a time over the winter. And of course, being VERY young and VERY foolish, I spurned this opportunity, something I’ll regret to my dying day. It’s only the odd weekend that the reverse route is now used.
So, last Monday, the July Club (consisting of Yours Truly, Gillian Stewart, Mary McKenna and Sandra Ross) commenced its annual golf week on the Old under bright blue skies, with hope in the heart and a sleeve of new balls in hand to mark the occasion. Shortly after leaving the 3rd tee I had the feeling we were being followed by something. A couple of crows were walking and hopping up the fairway around us. They’d come to meet my caddy, Susan Squire, who has trained them to come and find her on the course for a small reward of a handful of porridge oats. I can’t say that crows have ever been my favourite bird but The Runner and Psycho Crow, both of whom returned for another visit when we were on the 15th, were remarkably friendly.
We had a great day on the links, all playing pretty well, with the exception of the 11th hole which vanquished us with ease – halved in six, double the par – and made our caddies laugh. Sue, Dave Hutcheson and Dave Lindsey, all experts at their craft, were good company and a fund of information, past and present, about the courses and St Andrews. They enhanced our Old Course experience immeasurably.
The perfect end to the day was sharing a drink with Gordon Moir, the Director of Greenkeeping, St Andrews Links Trust, to give him his full title, in the St Andrews Golf Club, one of three clubs of which he’s a member. As always, I’m drawn to the fascinating memorabilia on display and there was a great picture of the eminent professional and clubmaker Allan Robertson, who in 1858 was the first person to break 80 on the Old Course. Try that with a handful of hickory-shafted clubs and featheries. How strange to be looking at that picture a mere 24 hours after Ross Fisher had had a putt on the last for a 59. Three putts from the Valley of Sin meant a 61 was recorded, a magnificent achievement, but there’s no doubt in my mind at all which was the more difficult feat of the two. Sorry Ross.
So, next it was on to Ladybank Golf Club, the original stomping ground of our old pal Dale Reid and the principal reason this course has always been on my bucket list. Dale, one of Scotland’s finest women golfers, now living in Oz, was a ferocious competitor through her multi-titled amateur and professional days, recording 23 professional wins worldwide and topping the European Order of Merit twice. She played in four Solheim Cup teams and captained two, most famously in her homeland in 2000 when Europe defeated the USA at Loch Lomond. An honorary member of the Ladies’ European Tour, she was awarded the OBE in the 2001 New Year’s Honours List. Although short in stature, Reidy gave the ball an almighty thump and Gill remembers her using an old wooden-headed 2-wood off the tee. No driver for Dale! She just loved that 2-wood. It wasn’t always the same story with her putter, however, which I remember she was frequently changing. But when she had her eye in – look out! She was well-nigh unbeatable.
As so often happens when we come to play a course, we discover the pro has decided to take a holiday. Is there a message there, I wonder? Head professional Sandy Smith was away in sunnier climes but a congenial welcome from teaching pro Gregor Wright and the members ensured a lovely start to the day and with glorious weather the course was a treat. However, without our caddies from the day before we struggled with the reading of the greens. “Not as much borrow as you think,” was the advice on our return to the pro’s shop. “Too late, too late,” we cried. Ah well, that’ll just have to mean a return trip.
Later in the week we moved counties – up to Angus and Carnoustie, host of the 2018 Open Championship but more of that wonderful visit another time.
That was our sixth July Club outing and next year it’s Ireland’s turn again. So, new venues to be discussed, accommodation sourced and plans to be made. It’ll be a tough call to top having the Home of Golf as a base and a round on the Old. We can’t be bested by the Scotties, though, so any suggestions, anyone?