Well, this is a first for the blog: it’s being written in the car as I hurtle – at a legal speed, natch – along the A55 in North Wales towards the Conwy (Caernarvonshire) Golf Club or, in Welsh, Clwb Golff Conwy (Sir Gaernarfon). It’s where we’ll be heading for the Curtis Cup in 2020, a treat in store.
You’ll be glad to know that I’m not driving and being able to clack away on the keyboard while someone else attends to the important task of getting us to the do on time and in one piece just confirms my view that having a chauffeur is one of life’s great luxuries. If I had unlimited funds that were not quite so unlimited that they rose to a helicopter of my own, I’d have a chauffeur. Bliss. Perhaps that underlying lack of commitment and enthusiasm explains why I’m still in the remedial class (the longest-serving and sole member) at the Lichfield group of IAM, the Institute of Advanced Motorists.
Don’t tell Mo but my latest observer (the brave soul who cowers in the passenger seat and assesses your competence), to whom I confessed my chauffeur fantasy, is also a biker and he and his pal, dressed in their leathers and brimming with joie de vivre, gave a very entertaining and hair-raising talk to the motoring group on the joys and perils of taking to the road on two wheels. Perhaps I’ll ditch the car and get a motorbike, not so much a mid-life more an end-of-life crisis.There’s a lot of talk about golf being in crisis, hence initiatives like GolfSixes, a speedy two-person team matchplay competition over the short sprint of six holes. This year the men were kept on their toes by two women’s teams – the England pair of Georgia Hall and Charley Hull and Mel Reid, another Englishwoman, who was playing with Spain’s Carlota Ciganda – and a mixed team featuring Solheim Cup captain Catriona Matthew and Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn. The weather was great, from what I saw on the telly everyone at the Centurion Club, just west of St Albans, was having a lot of fun and the competition was fierce.
The captains looked a little rusty but Hall and Hull and Reid and Ciganda made it through the group stages before losing in the quarter-finals. Hall and Hull lost to Ireland’s Gavin Moynihan and Paul Dunne, who went on to win the whole thing, while Reid and Ciganda were beaten by the Australians Wade Ormsby and Sam Brazel.“We got a lot of exposure and that’s what we need,” Reid said. “We don’t get that. So it’s been really, really good for women’s golf, which hopefully helps it because it needs help….
“We’ve hopefully opened a few more eyes to women’s golf and that we can compete and that we are pretty good at what we do…..Hopefully, it’s inspired not just a few more young girls but young guys and men, women, all over to take up the game. That’s ultimately what we want to do.”
It’s not so much getting people into the game that’s the problem, it’s keeping them there. And what’s the point of getting loads of kids and adults interested if there’s nowhere for them to play, if, when push comes to shove or pull comes to slice, it’s just too hard for them to get a game? That’s a conundrum that remains to be solved – and remaining solvent is also a big part of the problem. The game has to be accessible in every sense of the word.
By most measures, the Centurion Club is an exclusive, high end joint – that’s how it promotes itself in the stuff I’ve read – and in my naive way I always thought it was a bit of an odd choice for a swinging, allegedly populist shindig like GolfSixes. There’s still something jarring about that match but I don’t suppose there was a local muni or 9-holer that fitted the bill.
Instead of closing local munis we should be nurturing them and enhancing them but that takes money, time, effort and will. It’s not a cheap option but at its best golf is a game for a lifetime, with health and social benefits that have been widely touted. We’re testament to that but how lucky were we to grow up within (short) walking distance of one of the best courses in the world and have easy access to many more at affordable prices? I read somewhere recently that everything in life comes down to luck and looking around it’s hard to argue.
Talking of luck, I took part in a flashmob singalong in amongst the market stalls on the Parade in Sutton Coldfield last Saturday – not a sentence I ever thought I’d write and not something the friends who know me as a tone deaf standing at the back and miming will believe. It was great fun in the sun and was enjoyed by young and old. Roll on the next one.
There was a bit of a Staffordshire blitz in Biarritz the other week as a load of intrepid senior souls, amateur and professional, headed for south-west France – never a hardship – to compete in the Trophee Simone Thion De La Chaume. The event is hosted by Catherine Lacoste and her daughter Veronique and named for Catherine’s mother, who won the British Girls’ title in 1924 and the British Ladies’ Championship in 1927.Catherine’s sporting pedigree is hard to beat: her father Rene was a tennis champion of some renown, winning Wimbledon twice, the US Open twice and the French Open three times. He was one of the Four Musketeers – Jean Borotra, Jacques Brugnon and Henri Cochet were the others – who helped France win the Davis Cup in 1927 and 1928 and the Lacoste polo shirt, with its trademark croc, was the foundation of an enduring brand.
Catherine, born in 1945, was never one to do things entirely conventionally and in 1967 she won the US Women’s Open in Hot Springs, Virginia, the first, and so far the only, amateur to take the title. Two years later, she won the Ladies’ British Open Amateur Championship, the title that she probably coveted more than any other, simply because her mother had won it too, at Royal County Down and they became the first mother and daughter to win the championship.
Catherine won at Royal Portrush, beating Ann Irvin by one hole after what my father always claimed was an outrageous piece of luck. One down playing the 10th, Lacoste’s second was heading for deep rough when it hit a spectator and ricocheted back onto the green. The Frenchwoman holed the putt for a birdie and went on to win at the last. Mind you, Irvin had been lucky to beat her fellow Englishwoman Dinah Oxley in the semi-finals, when Oxley, one up, missed a knee-knocker at the 18th, then lost the 19th to a par. Thanks to Kath Stewart-Moore’s excellent book, Royal Portrush Ladies – a backward glance, for the details.
Of course, having looked a few things up (there is sometimes some research involved in this blog), I get distracted, sidetracked, intrigued, amazed, awed, interested – and that’s always dangerous. I look at all these names and realise that I’ve met a lot of them. They’re not just names in the record books, they’re people I’ve spoken to as though they’re perfectly normal people, albeit not quite golfers like the rest of us. In that regard they’re exceptional, champions, dedicated, skilful and ruthless enough to take most players to the cleaners time after time. But there’s the rub, when it comes down to it they are just people too, then you look them up and think……..Blimey. (I was looking for the asterisk but couldn’t find it.)
Anyway, you’ll be glad to know that Dinah won the title at Gullane the following year (beating Belle Robertson by one hole) and Ann won at Carnoustie in 1973 – hope she’s a special guest at the Open this year. Anyone who wins anything at Carnoustie should be carried back there shoulder high and celebrated at every opportunity. Have you seen those finishing holes, let alone played them?!!
Another question: will a Frenchman win the Open at Royal Portrush next year? Might be worth a punt. As well as Lacoste and her mother winning in Northern Ireland, the sainted, late lamented Lally, then the Vicomtesse de Saint Sauveur, won the British at Royal County Down, as did Brigitte Varangot, who also won the title at St Andrews and Walton Heath; and in 2015, at Portstewart, our home club, Celine Boutier became the first French champion since Marine Monnet won at Royal Birkdale in 1999.
France’s women have always been at the forefront of European and world golf and the men have more than held their own, so if anyone questions why the Ryder Cup is going to France this year, just ask them why it’s taken so long!
Talking of long, Jordan Brooks plays a game with which few of us are familiar. Not even his brother Ryan, who is the club champion at Whittington Heath, hits the ball a long way and has hopes of a professional career nor Dan Whitby-Smith, one of our professionals, who is no mean golfer and is also on the tournament trail. Jordan accepts that scoring is not his forte and is playing to his strength – which is length.
He’s around at the right time because there’s now a Long Drivers European Tour, which means that there are big bruisers bashing the ball miles elsewhere in the world too and, of course, there’s big money to be made in America. “Far and True” was one of the early golf mottos and it’s still a recipe for success, well over a hundred years later.
Jordan came second in his last outing, in Belgium – his longest drive there was 383 yards – and he’s off to Sweden now for the next bash. At the moment he’s using a driver that is 48 inches long, has a loft of 4 degrees (the 2 1/2 degree is waiting in the wings) and an XXX stiff shaft. Mmmm. Don’t think I’ll be taking him on any time soon. Good luck Jordan, give it some welly.
P.S. The wee photo at the top is of yours truly (left), Eileen Geddes and Jenny Smale, winners of the South Staffs past captains’ outing at Druids Heath on Monday. It was cold and windy and I doubt our combined Sunday Best drives would have troubled Jordan at all.