The week did not start well, not well at all, in fact.
I was looking forward to a game of golf at glorious Hollinwell, or Notts Golf Club, to give it its rightful title, on Monday. Patricia and I were to be guests of one of the members and the date had been in the diary for months. Alas a couple of days beforehand, an Olympic-sized tumble on the conservatory floor had resulted in a swollen kneecap the size of a football and ensuing compensations set off my temperamental back issues. By the Sunday night I was a bit of a mess and reluctantly had to withdraw from a great day out at one of England’s finest courses.
Fortunately, I have played at Hollinwell before but a very long time ago indeed. It was the occasion of my first British Amateur Championship, now known as the Women’s Amateur and I remember in one of the practice rounds with Irish colleagues that we called through a lone figure on one of the par 3s. This turned out to be my first sighting of the Swedish-born French international Cecilia Mourgue-d’Algue. Her swing was as effortlessly elegant as she was and my mouth dropped open in awe. The realisation that I was playing in the same tournament as this person, who could have stepped out of the pages of Vogue, was thrilling, if not a little daunting.That was the start of many years of competing with and against Cecilia and a few years later, when I was nearing the end of my time on the pro tour, Cecilia’s daughter Kristen was making a name for herself on the same tour. But I digress….
In those days there were only 32 players who made it into the matchplay draw after 36 holes of qualifying. If there was a tie for the final placings, the player with the best second 18 went through – no such thing as earning your spot through a play-off. I can’t remember now what my 36-hole total was but I knew it would be touch and go as to whether it would stand up through the day. I stationed myself at the big window in the clubhouse from which you could see almost the whole of the 18th hole. I had marked on my drawsheet those players who were a threat to me not making the matchplay stages. Over the course of three hours I sat there and was still secure in my hopes of teeing it up the next day when the final group arrived on the last green. One of the threeball was qualifying easily, one was missing the cut and the other was borderline. Mrs Borderline holed a birdie putt across the final green to cement her place in the matchplay, relegating me to joint 32nd place with one other player, who, of course, had had a better second 18 than me. When the final standings came out there I was – 33rd, done and dusted. The agonies of scoreboard watching!
I did stay and watch the matches and learned so much from watching the finalists plot their way round a first-class golf course. Australia’s Edwina Kennedy eventually came out on top against one of England’s finest, Julia Greenhalgh. Great lessons learned don’t always come from playing yourself.
Since lockdown has clipped our wings somewhat I have found that over the past couple of years I have played fewer “away” courses than normal. It was exhilarating, therefore, in the first couple of weeks in June, to revisit old favourites like Royal Dornoch and Golspie but the jewel in the crown of that trip was a return to play the Carnegie Links at Skibo Castle with Gillian Stewart.
It was the thick end of 30 years since our last visit when we were welcomed and asked to play the course before it actually opened and to give our opinion. That was an interesting experience in more ways than one because there were no actual flags on the greens at that stage! Amazingly it didn’t deter from our enjoyment one iota.
This time, however, it was an experience of a different class, effortlessly overseen by the multi-talented head guru David Thomson and his staff. The course has undergone some stunning changes in the intervening years but it’s the little touches that set a day at Skibo apart. Personalised lockers and bag tags (see photo at top) awaited us when we arrived and fortified with a morning hit of caffeine we took to the course – a sensory, ever-changing, scenic overload if ever there was one. A complimentary tot of whisky served on the final green was perfect for celebrating the round of your life or perhaps, as in my case, smoothing away the ubiquitous frustrations of the game.
It’s never fun being sidelined through injury but while not out on the fairways at the moment I find I have a moment or two to dip into the memory banks of great courses played and visited and good company kept. Instead of feeling sorry for myself it reminds me of how lucky I am.
And doesn’t golf take us to some truly wonderful places?