To women professional golfers of a certain era that single word has the power instantly to transport us back to our touring days. We seemed almost to live at Woburn. More than a decade of the wonderful season-opener, the Ford Classic, and umpty-ump Weetabix Women’s British Opens, spearheaded by the hugely supportive Sir Richard George, who died in March, far too young, made us all feel as if Woburn were our second home. And our second family included Alex Hay, the first professional to become a general manager of a golf facility and his lovely wife Ann. They not only knew every single player in the field, they also knew their friends and family supporters as well.
Eddie Bullock, the professional, was the go-to man for everything and Glenna Bonallack, in the clubhouse, knew everything that everyone else didn’t. Her family golfing pedigree didn’t hurt either.
Sometimes the Ford Classic was played on the Duke’s course, sometimes the Duchess, which requires a fair degree of accuracy, being rather narrow. The year we celebrated 25 years of Ford sponsorship in golf we were due to tackle the intricacies of the Duchess course, which opened with a par 5, followed by a really testing short hole. That year I was off on the Thursday morning at 9.20 with Laura Davies and Dennise Hutton, a close friend and colleague from Australia. The three of us birdied the first and when I popped a five iron into the hole at the 2nd, Laura turned to me and said, “Well, I think we can safely assume you’re leading the tournament, Mo!”
As we walked towards the green and took in the proliferation of banners she turned to me for a second time and said, “There’s a car on offer for a hole-in-one – do you know which hole it is?” Rather unusually, none of us did. I can only put that down to it being the first tournament of the season and a relatively early first day start. By the time we got to the 8th hole the photographers were out in full force. It was from the snappers that we learned I had, indeed, won a car.
This seemed to me to be heaven sent. I was starting the season carelessly carless and hadn’t got the funds to buy myself one. I had been relying on a good cheque from this very tournament. I played the rest of the round in a bit of a happy daze. As I sailed up the 18th I looked across to the 1st, which ran parallel, and saw wild, happy waving from my close pal Gillian Stewart. I knew word had spread and she’d be thrilled for me…….but, oh no, wait a minute!
For the first time it crossed my mind that in previous seasons we’d always agreed to be on a share of hole-in-one prizes, a fairly common occurrence amongst players. We hadn’t actually had the conversation for the new season but I knew that was simply because this was the first tournament of the year. We would definitely have agreed to carry on with the arrangement. Gill’s wild happy waving was because it was OUR car!
The outcome was more than happy, however, because later that week I signed a deal for a sponsored car and Gill and I split the proceeds of the hole-in-one prize. What a start to the season!
The tournaments at Woburn always attracted high class fields and huge crowds. On one occasion the colourful American player Muffin Spencer Devlin was one of the main draws. Always popular with the fans Muffin provided one of my favourite memories from my time on tour. We had all played in the pro-am and were at a sumptuous dinner in the Long Room in Woburn Abbey. At almost six feet tall Muffin was resplendent in a white tuxedo and, anxious to meet with the Marquis and Marchioness of Tavistock she took herself off to the top table a couple of times to engage them in chat. When this looked like happening yet again, David Parkin, the tournament director, was dispatched to our table to speak to Muffin.
He was on a hiding to nothing. Our whole table fell silent as we heard David tell Muffin she wasn’t to go to the top table again. We could see Muffin taking huge exception to being told what to do. In a voice that was steadily rising she demanded,
“What is it you want me to do?”
“Stay here and look after your pro-am team,” David said. By this stage the raised voices had silenced the diners and Muffin’s unforgettable response echoed through the Long Room.
“I’ve spent five f…ing hours with them on the golf course and that’s enough for anyone!”
And with that she marched the length of the room and left a stunned audience in her wake. We all naturally turned to see how the abused pro-am team were going to react to this. One of their number, Tim Glover of The Independent, just shook his head and said, “Well, it’s hard to argue with that.”
Muffin, who suffered from manic depression (bipolar disorder) and had not been taking her medication, didn’t play in the tournament that week but valiantly returned the following year to apologise and make amends.
Ah, Woburn – it’s SO good to be back!