Maureen’s away this week, so I’m in sole charge of the blog and admit responsibility for this post; perhaps the power has gone to my head……There were plenty of serious topics about but the Ryder Cup will loom large next week; the leaking of the health records of Justin Rose and Charley Hull and their TUEs (therapeutic use exemptions) is part of a story that will run and run; the Solheim Cup is next year but many congrats to Marta Figueras-Dotti on being named as one of Annika Sorenstam’s vice-captains, another great choice (and already one of our q and a’s); and well done to the Ireland team of Leona Maguire, Olivia Mehaffey and Annabel Wilson, who won the bronze medal in the Espirito Santo in Mexico. They finished just a shot behind Switzerland, who were a whopping 21 shots behind the champions South Korea.
So, of course, I’m going to muse about headcovers or “those little hat things” as a non-golfing friend calls them. I’m not alone in finding this subject of interest: the latest newsletter from the LET has a feature called Head Covers On Tour but I’m not proud and I prefer headcover to be all one word even if the computer doesn’t. Many of them have names and they all have a story and they don’t complain if you drop them or keep them hanging about during a photo shoot. The main danger came from Meg, the lovely but bonkers collie next door, who likes to attack the fence if she thinks anything is threatening her side of it. Good thing she couldn’t see the furry animals being snapped.
First up is Dornoch, the moose who protects my driver. He’s a bit heavy and unwieldy so doesn’t get out much but he reminds me of a Canadian friend called Lorne Rubinstein, who once spent a year in Dornoch and wrote a lovely book about it. Its title is A Season in Dornoch, Golf and Life in the Scottish Highlands, and the foreword is by Sean Connery.
Caradoc, a battered old red dragon that I gave to my husband many years ago, covers the 3-wood and reminds me to douse my fiery temper in a way that Dai rarely did his when he was alive. I get a lot of practice because it’s a club a bit out of my league and is serviceable rather than spectacular, specialising in the sort of worm burners that irritate the hell out of opponents.
My rescue club has a new cover, as yet unnamed, a retro, old-fashioned looking red and white knitted thing with a big pompom and the Ricoh Women’s British Open trophy on it. I think I’ll call it Woburn because that’s where I won it, in a press putting/chipping comp conducted by Master Professional Luther Blacklock. I was chuffed to bits and am very proud of it.
The lion with a multi-coloured mane is a John Daly confection that looks after a precious persimmon driver made for me by a craftsman called Peter Broadbent. I don’t know if I could hit it now, having got used to drivers with heads at least twice the size but I still love it. And I love the cover because I bought it in Augusta, from John Daly, who was manning his (very posh) stall in the car park of the Hooters just down Washington Road from the golf club that was then run by Hootie (Johnson, the chairman of Augusta National at the time). From Hootie’s to Hooters was a very hot trek but worth it.
Lastly but by no means least there’s Gilly the Galah, a pretty ghastly creation that sheds vile pink fibres every time he’s touched. He still squawks if his beak is pressed but he has pride of place near my front door because our inimitable captain Jayne Fletcher bought us all one when we reached the finals of the Mail on Sunday. It’s a fantastic team competition that attracts entries from several thousand clubs and is fiendishly difficult to win. We (Whittington Heath) were beaten by Farnham from Surrey in the final at El Rompido, in Spain – Sale and South Moor were the other semi-finalists – and we all had a ball. So Gilly, named after the Spurs (and Dundee) legend Alan Gilzean, is, quite simply, the greatest!
I have many happy memories of playing in the early days of the Evian prior to its elevation to major status. It was always a classy affair with top notch accommodation, courtesy cars, wonderful off-course activities, no cut and a very hefty prize fund. There are simply some things that the French do better than anyone else and the Evian thoroughly deserves its reputation of being the women’s equivalent of The Masters. If I were able to turn the clock back and was allowed to play just one more tournament, it would have to be The Evian.
My fondness for France goes back a long way and I had an inordinate number of marvellous experiences in that country when playing on tour. One of the tournaments towards the end of each season was the Biarritz Open played down in Mare-Laure de Lorenzi and Sandrine Mendiburu country.
In the late 1980s I was playing in the pre-tournament pro-am on the Wednesday and had been matched up with a very amenable team, one of whom was a vivacious single-figure handicapper called Danielle. As we were going up the 9th hole I noticed that a pal of Danielle’s had come out to walk a few holes with her. I was on the other side of the fairway and so was unable to greet this newcomer, who was supremely elegant and regal in her bearing. After hitting a good shot into the green I holed for birdie and we moved en masse to the 10th tee, but I was still not close enough to say hello. After a pretty mediocre drive at the 10th I promptly, and astonishingly, holed my 4-iron second shot.
The next conversation changed my life.
I looked straight at this stranger and said, “What are you doing for the rest of the week?”
“Why?” she asked.
“Because since you arrived I’ve gone birdie, eagle. I think I need to book you for the rest of the week.”
We laughed, Danielle introduced me to her friend, Sol, and we spent the next few holes chatting. We hit it off instantly – probably something to do with the fact she had an Irish mother. At the end of the round she left, declining to join us in the clubhouse. Sol turned up every day and walked nine holes with me but never came into the clubhouse once. I had a good tournament, finishing 15th, and we went on our way to the next venue.
A month later I was travelling by car with members of my family down to visit my aunt who lived on the south coast of Spain. We stopped in Biarritz for a couple of days and I took my folks out to see the wonderful, clifftop practice facility that is Golf d’Ilbarritz. There, in the little clubhouse, I bumped into Danielle and Sol and before I knew where I was I had agreed to a game of golf the next day at a new course north of Biarritz. Sol organized it all, accompanying us around the 18 holes in a buggy, but not playing, and then she welcomed us all to her home for a late lunch.
I was beginning to discover a little bit about her – she played international bridge for Spain, owned 17 dogs and “had something to do with horses”. It was at that point she invited me to come out later in the winter, stay at her house and practise at the terrific nearby facilities. That was the start of a wonderful 27-year (to date) friendship with one of the most intriguing people I have ever met.
Sol, or the Marquesa de Moratalla, to give her full title, became my sponsor and remained so for the remaining eight years I played on tour. She was the largest breeder of racehorses in south-western France, owned multiple winners of The Gold Cup at Cheltenham and the King George VI Stakes at Kempton and sent numerous horses to the world renowned Kentucky Derby. Her coffee table was crammed with photos of friends who looked vaguely familiar (the Spanish Royal family); her late brother, Alfonso Portago of motor racing fame was afforded a Spanish state funeral; she was a great pal of the late Peter O’Sullevan, aka the voice of racing, and his wife Pat. Sol is a remarkable woman whose tale would fill a book and were it not for this ridiculous game of chasing a little ball into a hole our paths would never have crossed.
Vive La France et vive le golf!
An awful lot of water has passed under the bridge since Evian appeared on the women’s golf scene in 1994 with the intention of promoting water and the town it came from via the medium of a golf tournament played by women. Girl golfers, juniors in general, football, iconic, eccentric hats (presented to the champion) and charity were also part of the mix. Evian, a key part of the Danone empire of Franck Riboud, even sponsored the women’s European Tour briefly but that proved uncontrollable, unsustainable and unsatisfactory and Riboud decided to concentrate on turning the Evian Masters into the best tournament in the world.
A determined man, he’s come close and The Evian Championship is now in its 4th year as a major championship, one of five in the women’s game. Even in the days when the field was limited and there was no cut, it was a special event in a special, spectacular place. The players, usually in the company of family and friends, were so spoiled and pampered that they found it hard to concentrate on the job in hand. High above Lake Geneva, with views to gladden the heart of the most jaded traveller, the resort specialises in helping guests relax and recharge. Karrie Webb, the Australian Hall of Famer who was renowned for her fierce competitiveness and concentration, once admitted that she found it hard to remember that she was at work and not on holiday.
Webb won the title in 2006 and most of the champions have been top-notch. The few that have been goods rather than very goods or greats can bask in the glory of a title that is never less than hard won and includes names like Annika Sorenstam, Juli Inkster, Laura Davies, Ai Miyazato and Helen Alfredsson, the mercurial Swede who won the inaugural event in 1994. Ever unpredictable, Alfie also won in 1998 and completed her hat-trick (please, no insistence that that has to be three in a row) in 2008. France, and Evian, suited Alfie like nowhere else and no one else has won the event three times.
The one anomaly is that there has never been a French winner. It’s ridiculous really because for years France’s women golfers were vastly better than their men, in that they were world-class rather than just all right, not bad, pretty good, promising. On reflection, perhaps that was the amateur era of the likes of Catherine Lacoste, Brigitte Varangot and Claudine Cros. France’s women professionals have been excellent without quite taking the world by storm. Marie-Laure de Lorenzi, Patricia Meunier-Lebouc, Karine Icher, Gwladys Nocera, Karine Espinasse and many others have been stalwarts of the game but the country has yet to produce a Sorenstam or a Lydia Ko.It’s easy to forget, in these days of FedEx, Ryder Cup and Evian Championship fever, that all golfers start out as amateurs. The first Women’s World Amateur Team Championship for the Espirito Santo Trophy was held at St Germain in Paris in 1964 and was won for France by Cros, Lacoste and Varangot. The competition is still going and is taking place in Mexico as you read (providing it’s not after September the 17th). Did you realise that? Have you read about that elsewhere? The Republic of Korea was leading after the first round, Switzerland were second, Ireland third, with Denmark and Thailand tied for fourth. Golf really is a global game. Keep playing!