Patricia and I are always exchanging bits and pieces of golfing news throughout the week, forwarding on to each other emails we think the other may find of interest. There is plenty to keep us busy – in fact, it’s quite hard to keep up with it all – and that’s without any actual competitive golf to follow. And so, this week an email thudded into my inbox from the big sister, “Posts from Paris Diary by Laure”. The latest post was of particular interest to me, announcing as it did that an old friend of ours, Nathalie Jeanson, current vice-president of the French PGA, had been asked to revamp the practice and teaching facilitites at Golf Paris Longchamp. The largest junior golf school in France with over 600 children is based there, right in the middle of the Longchamp racecourse and the revamp will accompany the opening of a new sportsmen’s restaurant with the aim of it becoming a go-to lunchtime meeting place.
I can’t think of a better person for the job and it prompted me to ask Patricia when we first met Nathalie. I have a suspicion it was at the British Girls’ Championship back in the 70s, possibly at Royal Norwich. A strong player in the junior ranks, Nathalie trained on, winning her national championships at junior and senior level before turning professional and playing in the US. She subsequently became the first foreigner to play on the Japanese tour, which she did for seven years, and her fluency in several languages (including Japanese) has been a great boon to her in her many and varied international business dealings.
We last ran into Nathalie at the Ryder Cup in Paris in 2018 and she sent on to us a wonderful book she had written about her friend Lally Segard, the Vicomtesse de Saint-Sauveur, whom I was fortunate to meet and know, although not well. In winning the British Amateur at Royal County Down in 1950 Lally had become a great favourite of my grandfather’s who, quite frankly, had never seen women’s golf of such extraordinary quality. He remained a lifelong fan. Lally, who became a member of the R&A, will forever be mentioned high up in the discussion as to who is France’s best ever female golfer.
Thinking of things French and golf related sent me in to one of my reveries, harking back to all those wonderful encounters on and off the course with these terrific French players. Our paths crossed, sometimes only fleetingly, through this great game but I have an anecdote or two attached to most of the names!
Marie-Laure de Lorenzi, a premier league player in every way and way above my grade, oozed power, finesse and class. (I did manage to beat her once in an important amateur thing which just goes to show that even a dog will bark at the right time once in a while); Cecilia Morgue d’Algue ( Swedish-born but a French International) and her daughter Krystal, who went on to play professionally – such elegant swingers of the club; the Palli sisters, Veronique and Anne-Marie who leads a professional life combining wine and golf – a dream existence!; Valerie Michaud and Karinne Espinasse, two of their country’s most talented, well-liked and entertaining people; Patricia Meunier-Lebouc, modest to a fault, major winner and Solheim Cup star; Corinne Soules, who went on to become a revered coach; Elisabeth Quelhas, pretty unbeatable at her home course of Fourqueux; Ludivine Kreutz, a powerful, thoughtful player; Sandrine Mendiburu, hailing from that iconic golf facility atop the cliffs at Biarritz; Gwladys Nocera, hooverer up of many titles and, of course, more recently Celine Boutier who had a stunning, unbeaten rookie performance in last year’s Solheim Cup. The list is long and so, so classy – and I haven’t even typed the legendary Lacoste name yet! Catherine the great!
Many of these inspiring women are still in the game of golf in one capacity or another, passing on their experience and knowledge to the generations following on after them. They are bound by a love of the game and I, for one, feel lucky to have met them on my own random journeying through golf.
In my professional playing days we had several tournaments in France, playing some great courses – St Germain and Chantilly spring to mind. The Hennessy Cup used to be played at the former and was a magnificent tournament in every way. Then one day the French changed their laws as regards sponsorship and alcohol and the tournament moved to Germany. It was never quite the same after that. Chantilly stands out for me as well. I played my second professional tournament there and was going well. The night before the final round I was out in a supermarket (how glamorous!) doing a bit of shopping. As I lent over to inspect something in one of the freezers one of my contact lenses popped out, down among the frozen fish, never to be seen again. I played the final round with one lens. No, of COURSE, I didn’t have any spares! Another lesson learned. I think I managed second place, however, but, oh, what might have been!
There is a rich, rich history of French women in the golfing world forging their paths with skill, dedication, humour and common sense. We would all be so much poorer without their invaluable input and involvement. Their legacy is thankfully ongoing, it would seem, with Nathalie’s latest appointment.
And I have absolutely no doubt there is more to come.