Many faithful readers of the blog are aware that for the last, ooh, almost 30 years there has been a little, almost annual, get-together of the not-so-great and the good at Muirfield, home of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers (HCEG).  The occasion is the Madill Trophy which is contested keenly by the host team, a Secretary’s selection known as “the Lads” and the visitors, a team invited by me and known as “the Lasses”.  The winning name engraved on the trophy for the last couple of years has, however, been “Covid” but I’m happy to report that, despite exerting some last-minute influence on this year’s match, Covid was denied a hat trick of victories.

Happiness is……….a perfect day out at Muirfield.

Stuart McEwen, the secretary of the club and leader of the Lads was, indeed, sidelined by Covid and I am not yet able to swing a club or travel too far (Long Covid) so we both had to appoint stand-in captains.  Andrew McInroy took over for Stuart and was the perfect person to give the teams a little overview of the whole event having been present at the very first meeting way back in 1993.  Apart from the Covid years I think we have been denied a couple of playings because of snow but mostly we have had days like last Sunday – a mite on the chilly side but with cloudless blue skies, a perfect course laid out for us and the skylarks singing fit to burst.

Andrew takes possession of the trophy – again!  Third from the left is John Prideaux, secretary back in 1993 and hugely influential in starting this wonderful fixture.

Nowadays we have eight-a-side with four foursomes morning and afternoon.  We play the match under Dallmeyer handicapping which means that handicaps are not taken into consideration and you start off playing a level match.  When a side reaches 3 up, however, they give a shot at each hole until the match gets back to 1 up.  This results in very keenly contested encounters and six of the eight matches finished on the last green and two on the 17th.  It’s a great format – if you haven’t tried it, give it a go.

Back in Cheshire I was receiving reports through the day and was gratified to hear we were leading by a point at the halfway stage.  It’s been a few years since we won the trophy and I was looking forward to becoming reacquainted with it.  However, a lengthy Sunday lunch and a few wee libations saw the hosts burst from the starting gates in the afternoon and record three wins, resulting in victory by a single point.

Was it the legendary lunchtime Muirfield hospitality that turned this winning bunch into runners-up in a two-horse race?

At least the lasses could lay claim to what Gill Stewart called the “shot du jour”.  At the 9th in her afternoon match in partnership with Pat Smillie.  Gill drove down the left hand side, in the rough and Pat advanced the ball further down the left, still in the rough.  Studying the lie for their third shot, Gill thought she could just get one of her rescue clubs on the back of the ball if she came in a little more steeply.  The pin was back right and the yardage was 209 to the flagstick.

“What yardage do you think Pat had left after my shot?” she asked me.

“Six inches,” I guessed.

“No,” said Gill.  “210 yards – I hit the ball BACKWARDS!  I’ve never done that in my life!”  She then had the ignominy of having to call to Pat, who was stationed up by the green and gesture for her to trek back down the hole to face their longer-than-expected fourth shot!  Ah, the joys of foursomes – there’s always something memorable to recount.

Jane Connachan, my stand-in captain did her best to rally her troops and led from the front with two victories but the lasses came up that one point shy.  We may be getting on a bit and have knee, back and assorted injury problems but the competitive juices are still flowing and I’ve heard whispers of instigating a practice match in the future before the “big” match!  Surely not!  We’d probably not be fit enough for the actual match then!  We shall see.  Perhaps we need an American Ryder Cup-style task force – or is that taking it just a tad too far?

The HCEG plays host to another massive fixture later in the year – the AIG Women’s Open, when honorary Scot, Swede Anna Nordqvist (she married a Scotsman last year), defends her major title.  In truth, although it may surprise you, there aren’t that many similarities between the two fixtures.  I imagine on championship Sunday there will be a few more spectators vying for a good vantage point than there were last Sunday…….

and I suspect the first tee may be a mite busier than this…….

Even so, these two wildly disparate events will share some common denominators, not least a first-class golf course – unfussy, untricked up and always in superb condition.  The major championship players will mirror us in not being able to avoid feeling special and privileged walking in the footsteps of those who have gone before us.  If you are of golf, and steeped in golf, you will assuredly feel the hand of the game’s history on your shoulder.

So, it’s back to the drawing board for the Lasses.  We have to up our games in every department on the golf course but most definitely we must learn to pace ourselves at lunchtime.  We have a year to practise.

Thanks to all those who provided the photos.