This golf is a funny ole game.
Long considered to be the domain of predominantly white, middle-aged, middle-class males, it is easy to be disheartened at the seemingly unchanging attitudes and fuddy-duddiness of it all. Yet, at last, I really do detect the winds of change whispering across the sport.
As I mentioned last week there is the new joint venture between four pillars of the game: the LPGA and the LET, (the female professional golf sporting bodies in the States and Europe respectively); the governing body of the game, the R&A; and the European Tour. There appears, finally, to be more than lip service being paid to supporting and boosting the presence of women in golf. Undoubtedly the R&A’s Women in Golf Charter has been significant and Martin Slumbers, the boss up there in the auld grey toon of St Andrews, has more than once stated his intent to encourage more women and girls to take up the game.
European Tour chief Keith Pelley is also to be congratulated for his vision of having male and female professionals tee it up together. The European Tour has introduced the mixed GolfSixes team event to its schedule, and last year players from the Ladies European Tour, the Staysure Tour (seniors) and the Challenge Tour competed against each other in the inaugural Jordan Mixed Open. Small steps you may say but fingers crossed for more giant reverberations similar to the aforementioned new alliance.And there’s more. Take the Berkhamsted Trophy, a longstanding top amateur men-only tournament. The Berkhamsted Golf Club, who have run this event for 60 years, have decided to invite female amateurs to compete alongside their male counterparts, thus creating a world first for elite amateur golf. Club manager Howard Craft explained their thinking: “We are not afraid to challenge the status quo here. There is a lot of talk in golf about embracing change but the pace at which things fundamentally change in the sport can be a little slow. We are enthusiastic supporters of the R&A’s Women in Golf Charter and what could be a more shining example of this than allowing men and women to play together in competition at the very top of the amateur game, as they naturally do anyway in general play?”
Unsurprisingly, but gratifyingly, this bold move has been universally acclaimed and it came as no surprise to me that the idea was first gently put to the club by none other than Peter McEvoy, one of the greatest amateurs that Great Britain and Ireland has ever produced. A former winner of the Berkhamsted Trophy, as well as a two-time Amateur champion and much-decorated Walker Cup player and captain, McEvoy had been engaged by the club in his role of course architect to consult on the course. [No putting in any bunkers, McE! – ed.] No stranger to thinking outside the box it was McEvoy who introduced the idea of six-hole golf to us 20 years ago and any idea he puts forward merits serious consideration.
“I am thrilled that Berkhamsted Golf Club has made this move, and to have such enthusiastic support from the R&A and Engand Golf is the icing on the cake. Berkhamsted is a superb test of golf and particularly course management skills. It will be fascinating to watch men and women compete for the same trophy over 72 holes on such a magnificent golf course.”
The Berkhamsted course winds its bunker-free, yes, repeat, bunker-free, way through glorious Hertfordshire heathland with gorse and heather abounding. It’s certainly on my list to play in 2020. We must all support any club with this sort of forward thinking, so, if you can, why don’t you go along anytime from April 2nd to 4th to watch the 61st playing of this venerable trophy? It is, after all, a rare opportunity to witness a world’s first.
Changing tack a little, I was astounded to learn that Jack Nicklaus turned 80 last Tuesday. I mentioned it to Patricia and, of course, we immediately started reminiscing about “the greatest golf trip we have ever taken together in our lives”. For those of you new to the blog that would be a trip in 2009 to Jack’s tournament, the Memorial, at Muirfield Village, to represent Patricia’s late husband Dai, who had been selected as one of the tournament’s journalistic honorees. Jack and his wife Barbara, whom Patricia had got to know a little bit when writing for The Times for so many years, were gracious hosts and threw their home, tucked away back from the 9th fairway, open to us. I still have to pinch myself that for that week we were invited “to drop in any time” for coffee or whatever. And we did.There was only one day of that glorious week when I could get out on the golf course on my own to watch some golf without any pressure of watching the clock to see when the next appointment or meeting was (all with wonderful people I hasten to add, so it was no hardship). I was relishing a little time on my own, however and was thrilled when the day dawned bright and sunny.
By this stage I was beginning to run out of clean clothes so decided I could get away with a top that had seen better days. But it would be just fine on a VIP-free day and I’d be off out on the course all day….and no one would know me anyway. I’d casually mentioned to Patricia that I was going out to watch Olazabal and we arranged a meeting place at the end of the day.
Imagine my surprise when at the 6th hole I saw Patricia in a buggy driven by Andy O’Brien, Jack’s go-to man for everything. And they were obviously looking for me. Quickly reassured there was nothing amiss at home I let out a sigh of relief only to be told to get into the buggy as we were going straight back to the house to have our photograph taken with the Nicklauses. The resultant pic sits on Patricia’s desk at home and I cringe every time I see it – I doubt I’ll ever forgive her for setting up that photo opportunity with golfing royalty on that day when I was in one of my wardrobe disasters.
Needless to say, it’s one of Patricia’s favourite photos – it makes her roar every time she looks at it! A couple of years ago I banned her from reproducing it here in the blog but, hey, life’s about a few laughs – so, here it is!