The golf season has a different rhythm this year – and if it is noticeable to me, a somewhat part-time member of the media, it certainly will be noticeable to the top male players also. The principal reason for this is the change of date of the PGA Championship from August to May, which basically means the men have one major a month from April to July. So, for me, it feels as if the passport is in constant use and lots of other, more home-base commitments are squashed into little slithers of time. It is also the season of speaking at lunches, dinners and celebrations of one sort or another.
A couple of days ago I was at the delightful Shifnal Golf Club, nestled in deepest Shropshire, invited there by longstanding friend and erstwhile pupil of mine, Jackie Taylor. The great thing about golf is that it doesn’t actually matter how long it is since you have seen someone, the connections remain strong and it is oh-so-easy to pick up from where you left off. And so it was with Jackie.The ladies’ section, under the stewardship of captain Shirley Mathews, was running a charity coffee morning, raffle and lunch (at which Yours Truly was speaking) in aid of Parkinsons UK and Alison Knott, regional fundraiser, was on hand to help co-ordinate everything and educate us all in the important work the charity does. The morning raised quite a bit north of £1000, a terrific effort from all involved and will provide an injection of cash for this very worthy cause. This time last week I was back in Norn Iron, at Newcastle, for a fixture that has been in my diary for well over two years – the 125th anniversary celebrations of Royal County Down Ladies’ Golf Club. It wasn’t the greatest start to the weekend when my Easyjet flight from Liverpool to Belfast International unloaded the already boarded passengers and sent them all back to the terminal building. The reason – no captain! Thank God they noticed. An hour later, however, we were on our way and I was met at the airport by the indefatigable honorary secretary of the club, Kathleen Calvert.
I must digress here to say that it’s a wee while since I flew into Aldergrove and to say I was appalled at the state of the airport would not be an exaggeration. It was dirty and unwelcoming with an unpleasant aroma in the background. I looked around for the expected welcoming posters and banners proclaiming the arrival of the Open Championship in a matter of weeks – there was nothing, absolutely nothing. I tried to see the place through the eyes of visiting golf fans, players, their families and the International press. It didn’t make for a pretty picture and unless something is done, and quickly, we can expect to be embarrassed and ashamed in equal measure. You only get one go at making a first impression.
That disappointment was swept aside by the welcome I received from all at RCDLGC. A lovely catch-up dinner that evening at the home of captain Christine Crockett set the tone. We played on the same Ulster teams together back in the day and once again the years just dropped away and we quickly bridged the decades of non-contact.
In this part of the world nothing is done by halves and the following morning Storm Hannah arrived. The weather was so vile – torrential wind and rain – that the course was closed and we couldn’t even start the planned five-a-side, one-club competition. Secretary Kathleen came to the rescue with a five-part quiz which tested our golfing (and other) knowledge to the limits. It was a salutary lesson to get so many of the rules questions wrong. Mutterings all round the room could be heard: “Is that the old rule or the new one….?” More golf chat, with a few tips thrown in, was rounded off with a tasty lunch and the morning was a success despite being confined solely to indoor activities.
The dinner was a triumph but the undoubted highlight of the evening was the singing chef who came to serenade us all at the end. I had forgotten how, in Irish clubs, there’s always the chance of a sing-song at the drop of a hat. Throw in an unexpectedly sedentary day (no golf) and even the oldest members were soon up on their feet throwing a few moves.
I must give special mention here to Bunny MacGreevy who has been brilliant in providing the above photographs from the evening. There is one of mine (below) which may surprise her, however.
Later, as I crawled into bed at 3am my first thought was, “Now THAT was a good day!” My second was, “I’m out of training.” My third was, “Thank God Easyjet found a captain.”
Only one question remains – “Who’s going to sort the airport?”