“Let the train take the strain” is an advertising slogan from a wee while back and it’s one that has remained lodged in my brain even though I’ve never been a prolific train user.  I am, however, finding that the purchase of a senior railcard has been one of my smarter moves recently and after only one Crewe to Edinburgh return journey it has proved quite sound economically.

Mind you, I’ve yet to get to grips with reserving my seat.  Despite each time booking a window seat travelling forward I have found I  have been allocated a seat going backwards (which I loathe) and with a view of a yard of formica and a maximum of  eighteen inches of glass.  So, I have just sat somewhere else each time and hoped I wouldn’t be ejected by an exasperated fellow traveller.  There hasn’t been any indication to let you know which, if any, seats have been reserved, so each time we pulled into a station I crossed my fingers and feigned sleep.

The reason for the aforementioned trip was the annual playing of the Madill Trophy, a never-ending tussle between a team of my talented friends, mostly from the pro ranks, and the might of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh golfers.  To be on the grounds at Muirfield has been a treat and a privilege for me for decades regardless of the standard of play coughed out on any particular day.  And the craic and the company are a delight.  But where does the time go?  Last Sunday was the 27th playing of the match and the scores on the doors are – fifteen wins to The Lasses, seven to The Lads with five halved.  In addition we have had one match snowed off and two lost to the Covid years.

The protagonists in this year’s match plus former secretary John Prideaux, fifth from the left. [Photo taken by Christine]

This year Peter Brown, erstwhile captain of the Scotland rugby team and an oft participant in this encounter, joined us for lunch and brought with him a little photo album of past matches.  How young we all looked!  It was a lovely reminder of friendships formed, games played and evidence that at least 80% of the matches were held under bright blue skies, despite being scheduled for March.

With the inimitable PC Brown.

It’s true many of us are creaking a little bit more nowadays and my own back means my captaining role is of the non-playing variety.  But we’re not ALL creaking.  Another Scottish rugby legend, Andy Irvine, has his own version of Miguel Angel Jimenez’s warm-up routine and it included a lengthy demonstration of the plank.  Much advice came raining down on him from my team, not all of it well-meaning, but he survived it all with great good humour.  Sadly for Andy and his partner Mark MacLean, a former squash international who rose to the dizzy heights of No 5 in the world, it wasn’t enough to overcome the formidable partnership of Pam Chugg, former Welsh champion and founder member of the Ladies’ European Tour and Catriona Matthew, major champion, Solheim Cup player and captain.  That was some foursome.

International sports people are competitive to their finger tips. Andy Irvine aka The Plank.

It was a joy to reconnect, also, with John Prideaux who joined us for coffee in the morning and tea in the afternoon.  John was the charismatic secretary of the Honourable Company back in 1992 when the Open Championship was being played there and Patricia (sister) interviewed him for The Times.  The meeting was scheduled for a ridiculously early hour because of John’s lengthy list of commitments and it gave birth to a sentiment she expressed in her piece that “every woman should be charmed before breakfast”.  It’s become one of our family sayings over the years and it was from that meeting that John, upon hearing about my back issues, (yes, – even that long ago!) proffered the invitation to me to come and play Muirfield when I was better.  And…..the rest is history.  So thank you, Patricia and John, the early, albeit unwitting, founders of the Madill Trophy.

The Lasses were triumphant this year though every match was keenly contested.  I was thrilled to lift the trophy (top picture) – it’s a very rare occurrence nowadays!  We play under the Dallmeyer handicapping system which essentially means no strokes are given until or unless one side becomes 3 up.  That side will then give a shot a hole until the match returns to 1 up.  I’m not quite sure just why this works so well but nearly every match goes to the 17th or 18th green thanks to this ingenious invention by former member of the club, Lord Dallmeyer.  I’m reliably informed that several visitors to Muirfield have taken this format back to their own clubs, but I do suspect it is lightly used as the modern trend seems to be to play your own ball whenever possible.  Foursomes is not so widely played which is a great shame.

Stuart McEwen, current secretary of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, drives off the 1st in his morning match.

Finally, it was a thrill for me to meet Andy Nicol, another former Scotland rugby captain, who happened to be at Muirfield the day of our match.  Our paths had failed to cross when we both were working for the BBC so it was lovely to put that right on this occasion.  Andy is one of a number of prolific fundraisers for the My Name’5 Doddie foundation whose stated goal is a world free of Motor Neurone Disease.  The irrepressible Doddie Weir, a former Scotland international and British Lion, died of MND in November 2022 but the amazing charitable foundation he led is still doing fantastic work.

Andy was part way through his preparation for the next challenge when we had our little chat.  He already had 36 holes under his belt and had one more round to go.  Come June, on the day of the challenge, it’ll be 90 holes that face him.  Five rounds of golf in a day – five, of course, in recognition of Doddie’s number at his clubs and in so many of his international matches.

Well done to Andy and fingers crossed that the weather will be as kind to him as it was to us last weekend.