Back in the day – before amateur golf acquired a wraparound season just like the pros – the women’s amateur golf scene kicked off in earnest in April with the Helen Holm tournament at Troon. It was – and still is – a testing 54-hole stroke play event with two rounds on the Portland course and the leading qualifiers playing a final round on Royal Troon, home of this year’s Open Championship. It was a treat to play two such fine courses even though, more often than not, we were blown to pieces by late equinoctial gales or flurries of snowstorms.
My relationship with the 8th hole, nicknamed the Postage Stamp, had always been reasonably cordial – mostly 3s and 4s and even the joy of a couple of 2s – until one fateful day. There was what my father would have described as “a bit of a breeze” but was, in fact, a veritable gale. By the time I got to the elevated tee of this most famous of par 3s, there were also hailstones. And there was a hold up, with two groups waiting to tee off ahead of us. My mother, who was caddying, and I hunkered down as best we could behind the brolly and slowly turned to ice as the minutes ticked by. I was well in the hunt for the famous old trophy having started the day in the third last group out and, despite the conditions, I had only dropped one shot in the opening seven holes, so I was reasonably confident I was in or near the lead.
Finally, it was our turn. Squinting through the driving rain, fingers frozen to the bone and with a drip on the end of my nose I took out my 6-iron and fashioned a rigor mortis type action which was designed to produce a bit of a windcheater of a shot over the 123 yards. It almost worked. The green is surrounded by a necklace of five bunkers but my ball was flying, crouched down, towards the putting surface. It landed, briefly, on the green but inexorably began the slide back down the steep slope into the front right-hand bunker. Not to worry, I was a good bunker player – or so I thought. I descended gingerly into the the depths of the bunker not realising I would be there for some time. Several swipes later and the ball was nestling deep in one of my own footprints.
My mother, heaven help her, decided that this was the time to speak up: “How many’s that?” When she received a strangulated snarl in response, she decided to take charge: ” For goodness sake, pick the blinking thing up and come on out of that. You’re holding up the entire course!” (This, as you may guess, has been modified a teensy weensy bit). She was right – the final two groups were up on the tee – but if I could have got my hands on her I swear I would have strangled her.
With one final, desperate effort, I extricated the ball from the sand and it went off like an exocet missile heading for deep rough on the way to the 9th tee. It clattered full bore into Molly, a family friend, who was the only spectator on the entire golf course in those conditions. Molly, bundled up like the Michelin man, felt no pain and dutifully stayed there to mark the ball as I raked the decimated bunker and Mum crossly pulled the trolley into the deep rough. Soaking from head to toe, I had a lash from the rough and sent the ball back from whence it had come. Down once more into the bowels of the bunker and after a short prayer I got the ball on the green and staggered in a second putt of a yard.
Thirteen it came to. A decimal bogey? I doubt that that term exists but murder was still on my mind and caddy and player negotiated the remaining ten holes without a syllable of dialogue. I didn’t drop another shot and with the par then being 75 it all added up to 86.
Afterwards in the clubhouse, the waiting press turned away disinterestedly when I revealed my score. “But I had 13 at the Postage Stamp”, I piped up. They reporters turned back, notebooks at the ready. John Campbell of the Daily Telegraph informed me that that was only two short of the record of 15, set by Hermann Tissies, a German amateur. “I can’t believe loads of people haven’t taken more than 13,” I said. “Course they have,” he replied, ” but they always give up before they’re finished”.