“I’m not writing about The July Club this week,” I said to Patricia a few days ago. “I did that this time last year and I don’t want to do the same thing twice. I’ll do a tip.” For those of you who missed it, last year’s offering can be seen by copying and pasting http://www.madillgolf.com/places/portstewart-portrush-castlerock-a-trio-of-golfing-delights into your browser.
It only took a couple of glorious golfing days in Fife to make me change my mind and, after all, it’s not every day you get to play the Old Course at St Andrews. Actually, that’s not quite strictly true. There was a time many moons ago when, as a student here, I could indeed play the Old – well, maybe not every day, but in fact, quite a lot. My £12 student fee gained me access pretty much any time to the four courses that in those days made up the St Andrews Links experience, namely the Old, the New, the Eden and the Jubilee. But, of course, being young and foolish, there is a tendency not to take full advantage when something is constantly there on a plate for you. In those days there was still the practice of playing the course in reverse for three months or so at a time over the winter. And of course, being VERY young and VERY foolish, I spurned this opportunity, something I’ll regret to my dying day. It’s only the odd weekend that the reverse route is now used.
So, last Monday, the July Club (consisting of Yours Truly, Gillian Stewart, Mary McKenna and Sandra Ross) commenced its annual golf week on the Old under bright blue skies, with hope in the heart and a sleeve of new balls in hand to mark the occasion. Shortly after leaving the 3rd tee I had the feeling we were being followed by something. A couple of crows were walking and hopping up the fairway around us. They’d come to meet my caddy, Susan Squire, who has trained them to come and find her on the course for a small reward of a handful of porridge oats. I can’t say that crows have ever been my favourite bird but The Runner and Psycho Crow, both of whom returned for another visit when we were on the 15th, were remarkably friendly.
We had a great day on the links, all playing pretty well, with the exception of the 11th hole which vanquished us with ease – halved in six, double the par – and made our caddies laugh. Sue, Dave Hutcheson and Dave Lindsey, all experts at their craft, were good company and a fund of information, past and present, about the courses and St Andrews. They enhanced our Old Course experience immeasurably.
The perfect end to the day was sharing a drink with Gordon Moir, the Director of Greenkeeping, St Andrews Links Trust, to give him his full title, in the St Andrews Golf Club, one of three clubs of which he’s a member. As always, I’m drawn to the fascinating memorabilia on display and there was a great picture of the eminent professional and clubmaker Allan Robertson, who in 1858 was the first person to break 80 on the Old Course. Try that with a handful of hickory-shafted clubs and featheries. How strange to be looking at that picture a mere 24 hours after Ross Fisher had had a putt on the last for a 59. Three putts from the Valley of Sin meant a 61 was recorded, a magnificent achievement, but there’s no doubt in my mind at all which was the more difficult feat of the two. Sorry Ross.
So, next it was on to Ladybank Golf Club, the original stomping ground of our old pal Dale Reid and the principal reason this course has always been on my bucket list. Dale, one of Scotland’s finest women golfers, now living in Oz, was a ferocious competitor through her multi-titled amateur and professional days, recording 23 professional wins worldwide and topping the European Order of Merit twice. She played in four Solheim Cup teams and captained two, most famously in her homeland in 2000 when Europe defeated the USA at Loch Lomond. An honorary member of the Ladies’ European Tour, she was awarded the OBE in the 2001 New Year’s Honours List. Although short in stature, Reidy gave the ball an almighty thump and Gill remembers her using an old wooden-headed 2-wood off the tee. No driver for Dale! She just loved that 2-wood. It wasn’t always the same story with her putter, however, which I remember she was frequently changing. But when she had her eye in – look out! She was well-nigh unbeatable.
As so often happens when we come to play a course, we discover the pro has decided to take a holiday. Is there a message there, I wonder? Head professional Sandy Smith was away in sunnier climes but a congenial welcome from teaching pro Gregor Wright and the members ensured a lovely start to the day and with glorious weather the course was a treat. However, without our caddies from the day before we struggled with the reading of the greens. “Not as much borrow as you think,” was the advice on our return to the pro’s shop. “Too late, too late,” we cried. Ah well, that’ll just have to mean a return trip.
Later in the week we moved counties – up to Angus and Carnoustie, host of the 2018 Open Championship but more of that wonderful visit another time.
That was our sixth July Club outing and next year it’s Ireland’s turn again. So, new venues to be discussed, accommodation sourced and plans to be made. It’ll be a tough call to top having the Home of Golf as a base and a round on the Old. We can’t be bested by the Scotties, though, so any suggestions, anyone?