St Andrews is an amazing place. It’s an out of the way corner of Fife, not that easy to get to even these days – my bus journey from Edinburgh took the guts of three hours – but it’s been renowned for centuries, for its theology, the excellence of its university and, latterly, its golf. The world beats a path to its door and even the least sensitive of us can feel a connection to the history, to appreciate that, whatever we’re doing, we’re not the first, we’re part of something special. There’s a buzz. Of course, it could all be down to the ozone and the sea air.
I was speaking at the St Rule Club coffee morning last Tuesday morning because Ros Rentoul, the St Rule captain and I played golf together at the University of Edinburgh more than 40 years ago. My memories of university golf are hazy – I think because all I can remember is playing badly – but the records show that I was club captain and secretary – a miracle we survived – and we did win the university championship.
My main memory has nothing to do with the actual playing of golf. We were at Waverley station in Edinburgh one day, laden with our clubs and grip bags and trying to manoeuvre ourselves through a narrow gap – in those days it might even have been a turnstile – and the ticket man said, irritably, ” Why couldn’t you just play table tennis?”
“Why,” sez I, “then we’d need a table tennis table.”
I should have died then and there, the look he gave me. And, in fairness, who wouldn’t loathe lippy, smart aleck students.
There were a few students, members of the St Andrews University ladies’ club, at the coffee morning and they were just smart. Well, I met a couple, both from the United States and one was studying physics and the other mathematics and, I think, chemistry. In my book that makes them more than smart. All I can remember of physics, which I believe is the key to life and the universe, if I understand Dr Brian Cox correctly, is that the exercise book was a rather fetching plum colour. Thank goodness you don’t have to be a scientist to be a golfer.
There are all sorts of ways to approach the game. You can be a technician, a cavalier or anything on the wide spectrum in between. That’s the beauty of it; anyone can play, whatever their temperament. Of course, some people find it harder to adapt than others but the best always find a way to make it work. The sainted Bobby Jones, one of the best players of all time, had a real temper as a young man and tore up his card on his first visit to the Old Course but ended up loving it. “The more you study it, the more you love it,” he said, ” and the more you love it, the more you study it.”
A man of many talents, with degrees in literature, engineering and law and one of the founders of Augusta National and the Masters, Jones was given the Freedom of the City in 1958. In his acceptance speech he said that he could take everything else out of his life but his experiences at St Andrews and he’d still have led a “rich, full life”.
I don’t know if Bobby Jones was ever invited to take tea in the St Rule Club – Lee Trevino was once and, apparently, emerged to say that he didn’t think that it was just tea that the ladies were imbibing…….The club is now 120 years old and is unusual in St Andrews in that golf was not its raison d’être. It was originally founded as a safe place for ladies to meet socially and the golf section, though sizeable, is just that: a section. Bridge and crafts are important too. And perhaps more sensible options on a freezing winter’s day.
One hundred years ago, in 1918, some women in Great Britain and Ireland were given the vote – the rest of us, in Britain anyway, had to wait until 1928. There’s been lots of celebrating of the suffragettes (and suffragists) whose tireless campaigning and refusal to accept no for an answer helped effect the changes that we now take for granted. But we relax at our peril: as the man said and women should never forget, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.
One day, perhaps, it’ll not be the least bit remarkable that a woman is prime minister, or president, or pope, or chief constable, or editor of The Times (if papers still exist) or archbishop of Canterbury, or head of the Bank of Wherever, or, even, captain of the R&A, or Royal Troon, or Muirfield (but not Portmarnock). In the meantime, we can rejoice in the fact that, in 2018, for the first time, the captain of the PGA in Ireland is a woman.
In 2005, Beverly Lewis, a woman of Essex, became the first woman to be captain of the PGA, founded in 1901 and now Gillian Burrell, a woman of Athy, is to be the PGA’s head honcho in Ireland, hooray. Better late than never.
Gillian is a teacher to her toes – or a coach if you prefer. The best coaches are proper teachers, real enthusiasts for the game and, particularly, for learning, educating, passing on what they know; they never stop. Gillian is now an Advanced Fellow of the PGA and she teaches coaches to teach as well as players of all ages and stages to play. Look at the pictures of her in action and her passion and enthusiasm leap off the page or screen.
Like everyone else, PGA pros have to be creative and re-invent themselves to cope with change, especially in challenging economic times when golf is seen by many as a luxury. “I’m encouraged to see PGA professionals working as directors of golf, in golf marketing and in golf travel,” Gillian said. “I want to promote the work of PGA professionals as I go around the country. There are opportunities out there but it does require some thinking outside of the box.”
It’s just lateral thinking, isn’t it, thinking outside the box. We all have to do it, surely, as the world swirls on around us. It’s how we solve problems, adapt to changing circumstances and cope with how the world works now. If we want to hunker down in our bunker, stand still and disengage from life, give up the fight, well, we have to stop breathing. Or go to bed. All the research shows that a good night’s sleep can change everything.
Over in America, the LPGA and the Executive Women’s Golf Association have combined to launch the LPGA Women’s Network, which, as I understand it, is keen to encourage more women and girls to play golf. It’s all very well introducing people to the game but the trick is to keep them interested, to ensure that they have places to play on a regular basis, where they feel welcome and at ease.
I’ve been playing for more than 50 years and it took me a very long time to realise that, as a woman, I wasn’t really meant to be playing at all…Mind you, despite Maureen’s best efforts, you might wonder what on earth I’ve really been playing at for the last 50 years. More lessons and more dedication are on the bucket list.The men have had their very lucrative additional pension fund, aka the Seniors/Legends/Champions Tours, for quite a few years now but there’s been a dearth of competition for older women. Now the USGA, which is keen on even-handedness and equality, has introduced the US Senior Women’s Open for the over-50s. Dame Laura Davies is on the list to compete in the inaugural championship at Chicago Golf Club, one of the oldest clubs in America, from July 12-15, the week before the Open Championship at Carnoustie. Think it’s probably come a bit too late for me.
Last week I found myself parcelled in to my car with my husband, my sister and one of my best friends, Gillian Stewart, a Scot from Inverness and owner of multiple European Tour wins in her time. Essentially I was kidnapped with scant clue as to our destination. The nose of the car was pointed south from Cheshire and we sped all the way down the country, on to Le Shuttle at Folkestone and once we found terra firma again at Calais, we turned eastwards. Bruges, I eventually discovered, was our immediate goal and the chosen spot for some serious big birthday celebrations.
Belgium is renowned for beer, chocolate and lace, in no particular order, and, for us it was time to reconnect with a great country and rediscover its treasures. I say “rediscover” but really that’s inaccurate because despite playing several tournaments in Belgium in my touring days the life of a professional golfer precluded much exploration. We tended to see the hotel, the course and the restaurant at night and that was pretty much it. Patricia chided Gillian and me for not taking more note of the glorious places that golf had taken us, so we felt it necessary to point out that not for us the pampered life of the journalist. Not writing for a Sunday publication, Patricia had every Saturday off and while we toiled on the golf course over knuckle-whitening par putts it became, for her, a designated, and dedicated, shopping and exploration day.
For some years the European Open was held in Belgium at the delightful Royal Bercuit Golf Club, close to the lovely, bustling town of Wavre.
On one of her Saturday jaunts Patricia took a liking to a rather cumbersome, curly-legged and frankly uncomfortable armchair. She coveted that chair, but how to get it home without doubling its cost with transport fees? Ever resourceful, she persuaded Ray, who was in charge of the scoreboards, to transport said chair back to England in his van, in exchange for a case of beer. The local shopkeeper duly arrived with the chair at the ornate club gates and Patricia’s French was just good enough to overcome the security man’s misgivings. The chair was safely unloaded at the press centre where it served for a day as a resting spot for all the photographers’ paraphernalia. There were many willing hands to heft the chair into Ray’s van at the end of play on Sunday and by the Monday, less than 48 hours after being first sighted, the chair was in situ in Patricia’s home in Sutton Coldfield.
The “Belgian Armchair” is only one of several items purchased over the years that is a physical reminder of great times in far-flung places, more often than not with some sort of yarn attached.
I worked out it must have been well nigh on 20 years since I had last been in Belgium and it was more than a surreal experience to celebrate my birthday there with scores and scores of messages flooding in via Facebook from the very people that I’d last been in Belgium with. Fellow players and caddies, now scattered worldwide, sent messages and cheeky quips and it’s amazing to discover how easy it is to reconnect, the intervening years just melting away.
Of course, when we were travelling as players, we were on a much tighter budget than on this occasion when we stayed in two superb city apartments, one in Bruges, one in Ghent. That’s one thing I don’t miss – checking the sheets for grubbiness on a scale of one to ten and having to be endlessly diplomatic when hospitality provided by the host club turned out to be almost unbearable. The latter happened to Gillian and me when we stayed with a very sweet old lady. The problem was she owned at least a dozen not-so-sweet cats of various sorts and every surface in the house, the kitchen especially, was covered with cat hair, opened tins of cat food, furballs and an assortment of water bowls and toys.
She was keen for us to have dinner with her every evening and we became massively inventive, citing sponsors’ dinners and commitments that would take us safely out of the house. We didn’t want to complain to anyone because she was so pleased to have us there and tried to be so helpful but the place was, quite frankly, filthy. It was a long week.
And so was the week that we spent in Sicily, on the slopes of Mount Etna. Our accommodation was an old convent and it was without a shadow of a doubt haunted…..and I don’t believe in ghosts. That was a very, very long week, probably worthy of an entire blog on its own, so I’ll spare you now. Safe to say, last week’s accommodation was something we could only have dreamed of all those years ago.
Special times with special people are precious. Last week was one such time and so was touring life 20, 30 years ago. Golf has been the strand running through the decades for me, linking me to places and people, most of whom I now seldom see. But the bond is there and always will be, I hope.
I am so grateful to have been gathered under the huge umbrella that is golf. Let’s gather in as many newcomers as we can and introduce them to this great game. It surely can’t be a coincidence that the great Arnie Palmer’s famous logo was a large, rainbow umbrella?