As readers will know I love a good day out on the golf course with my friends. Usually I try to pick venues which combine great hospitality and catering with a beautiful course. Last week, as I have done almost every year since 1992 I went to watch the Ricoh Women’s British Open Golf, and I have to say the hospitality at Woburn Golf Club was exceptional.
I first went to watch the top women players play in the Weetabix, as it was then known, in 1992 at Woburn. Patty Sheehan emerged victorious on the Dukes course. The excitement and the atmosphere reeled me in and I’ve been going back almost every year since. Is there any other sport where 30,000 people can be spectating and yet you can hear a pin drop as a putt rattles into to hole.
Those first few years at Woburn have many highlights for me. Watching Karrie Webb burst onto the scene with her first victory; I’d also never seen a golfer who had the McEnroe like intensity with which Dottie Mochrie approached every shot – this was before she reverted to the much more appropriate name of Pepper! And then the very much unsung Sherri Steinhauer winning by 1 shot over Annika Sorenstam to defend her Weetabix title in 1999. I was standing right behind her as she was interviewed afterwards – probably the only time I’ve been on TV for more than 2 seconds!
Once the organisers decided that it was time for a change, I was completely hooked and not only followed the tournament to the Lancashire coast, but also discovered the joy of practice days. At Lytham St Annes the bunkers were taller than the players. On my first practice day I quickly realised that a practice round involved hitting a multitude of shots on each hole from different positions, to practice for every eventuality. Once I’d wised up to this, I stationed myself by the highest bunker I could find and watched everyone practicing hitting bunker shots which went almost straight up in the air. Emulating Beth Daniel was (and still is!) something to aspire to!
Practice days also have the benefit that taking photos is encouraged not frowned upon, the kids can get their hats autographed and the atmosphere is much more relaxed.
As I like to know who I’m watching on the practice ground, I’d re-introduce name boards behind the players on the practice range – or easier still require the caddies to turn the bags round so the names are facing the audience. They used to do this at Sunningdale many years ago and it was very helpful in identifying players you may never have seen in person before. For the same reason, I’d also make the caddies wear their name bibs on practice day.
From the North West to Scotland and St Andrews, the home of golf. Well all I can say about St Andrews is that as a spectator once was enough. There were some good points but not enough to tempt me to ever go back. We stayed in the University halls of residence just a short walk away from the course. The rooms were en-suite and much nicer than when I was at Uni – and I have to say the breakfasts were absolutely fantastic. As you know, I like my food, so the all you could eat buffet plus a selection of the Full Scottish; bacon, sausages, eggs, black pudding etc not to mention pancakes with maple syrup, fruit and pastries went down very well! Some of the players were also staying in the our hall and we were amused every day when one of them who shall remain nameless (as she’s still on tour) had breakfast then went back up for seconds with which she made her packed lunch! After the first 3 days of watching this, quite a few of us were doing the exact same thing 🙂
Not that the food on the course is bad. Far from it. We’ve often enjoyed a nice bacon or sausage roll for lunch. A particular favourite is Yum Yum’s run by 2 ladies who’ve been providing fine rolls and coffee to the professional golf tours for the best part of the last 30 years. They’re usually stationed by the practice range so if you see them do take the opportunity to say hello and have a coffee and a bacon roll.
The problem with St Andrews is that it’s not a course for spectators. it’s an out and back course built on a ridge. The holes are set close together on the top of the ridge so only one side of each hole is accessible. And as a spectator you have to stand below the fairways and greens. That makes it difficult to see what’s happening and if you’re not in the front row, even harder to see if it’s a good shot.
This leads me to one of the other two problem with ladies golf tournaments. Grandstands. At St Andrews, for the Open championship they erect a massive grandstand at the end of the course, where multiple greens and tees meet. A positive joy for spectating. However for the ladies, no such facility. So again very difficult to see.
By the end of the very windy week I’d firmly decided that that whilst I’d love to play St Andrews one day, as a spectator, it was going to be my last visit. I did however enjoy a visit to the historic fishing village of Crail with some lovely American ladies who had come over especially for the golf.
Sunningdale in Surrey is one of my favourite courses to watch at – and not just because it’s local and I can stay at home! I know it’s not a links course – even though it’s sometimes described as an “inland links” – whatever that means. It’s joy is that it has plenty of good vantage points from which to see the action, and also the organisers are generous with the toilets – always important at a ladies golf tournament as the majority of spectators tend to be ladies who require adequate facilities. No prizes to Birkdale on this score for marking toilets on the course map and then forgetting to put them in, or Royal Liverpool who had just one bank of toilets on the entire course! Thanks goodness there were fewer spectators that year because of the weather.
It was at Sunningdale I saw my first hole in one. I was standing next to Catriona Matthew’s mother, Mrs Lambert, on the 8th hole when she scored a fantastic ace. It was the same year that (2004) Karen Stupples became the first British player since Alison Nicholas to win a Major (and still no MBE to further mark the achievement). As the home player, she had a huge gallery following her from the start and the incredible roar from the crowd as she holed out the second shot on the 2nd for an albatross in the final round was quite something.
So now back to another tree lined course in Woburn. This must have been one of the best tournaments for spectators. The Marquess course was beautiful and in stunning condition – a small miracle considering that June was one of the wettest on record. Everything from the car parking onwards ran smoothly. Their members were marshalling the final two holes and could not have been more friendly and welcoming. Toilets were plentiful, queues for food were short (the roast chicken with sweet potato fries were particularly good) and everyone I spoke to was having a great day out.
So what were my highlights of the week at #RWBO16?
The one which stands out was on Friday, Laura Davies took out her driver on the picturesque 300 yard 12th hole and tried to drive the green! As far as I’m aware she was the only person who had a crack at it all week. She had the length but sadly not quite perfect direction, as we all ducked her ball landed pin high in the front row of spectators.
Having spent several hours sitting by the 11th hole where almost everyone who tried to hit the green in 2 ended up in the greenside bunker, I was blown away by the accuracy and distance judgement of the bunker shots. Almost all of those shots ended up within 2 feet of the hole for tap in birdies. Unlike the 50 yard pitches in which had a much more random result and, in comparison, could almost be called mediocre.
The biggest gallery all week belonged to Woburn member and local hero Charley Hull. She was exciting and frustrating to watch in equal measure. Brilliance with some score killing double bogies from her adventures with trees and bushes.
I thought the scoring all week was particularly good so I was amused to hear Charley Hull say that she’s never played the course when it was so short as she usually played with the boys from the back tees!
Whoever put Suzann Pettersen, Laura Davies and Alison Lee in the same group really did the spectators a disservice. After last year’s Solheim Cup debacle this was by far the frostiest group on the course. Well done to Alison Lee for playing so well, but as European spectators we want to see our Solheim Cup heros at the weekend and this atmosphere was not condusive to good scoring. The TV groupings are clearly not random, so whoever thought this was a good idea should have known better.
Slow play was a perpetual problem, the length of time it took some players to decide what to do in and around the green was painful. The sooner the LGU has the guts to bring in penalty shots for slow play the better. Anyone can have a disaster hole, but all the spectators can see who the consistently slow players are. In the words of Helen Alfredson “Hit the ball today, please”.
On the final day I followed the penultimate group of Matthew and Martin, It looked like it was going to be a forgone conclusion, but the Brit in me is ever hopeful for a home winner. Indeed it did get quite exciting over the closing holes as the leader dropped a couple of shots, but Catriona was beginning to look tired and she and Mo couldn’t quite raise their games far enough. Ariya recovered her composure and a well deserved win was the result.
The winner had played consistently brilliantly all week – without a driver! The first 3 rounds were all under 70 and only Mo Martin matched that feat, So it was a well deserved victory for the very talented and hard working Ariya Jutanugarn. It was nice to see that the first and second places were taken by the longest and shortest hitters. Just goes to show that golf is for everyone, not just the youngest and strongest!
All photos taken by me and therefore copyright Helen Kennedy.