It’s a badge of honour of someone who really loves golf that they make the trip to East Sussex during the first week in January and watch the President’s Putter, one of the most eccentric events in world golf. I have been a few times and it is unique and special hanging around with a cluster of die hard golf fans who brave 40 mph biting winds, freezing temperatures and untethered dogs to watch the annual meeting of the Oxford and Cambridge Golf Society. You may think this is a haven for snobs, but in fact the opposite is true. The matches are played in a tremendous spirit and the club members are so welcoming despite the scary notice No entry except by permission of the Secretary which seems to be to deter people from the Butlins Holiday camp across the road. The links are hardy but fair and a scramble over the dunes leads to the glorious sandy beach at Camber Sands. The matches often finish in twilight and the gloaming over the course makes this a special sight. Women are now accepted to play although it took many years from the event’s birth in 1920 for this to happen. The first Cambridge blue to play, Fiona McDonald, was allowed only to participate when she was awarded the status of “honorary man”. This was about 1984 if I remember right. The trophy is a hickory shafted putter which belonged to 1891 Open Champion Hugh Kirkcaldy with the winning ball from each competition. The event began in the time of Bernard Darwin, 1920 and the society was founded in 1898. Competitors come from home and overseas, particularly Americans, and play until their late 70s and the oldest winner was 58 years old. In my visits to this event I have always been welcomed. The Society organise trips playing the finest courses in the United States such as Seminole and Pine Valley and how lucky they must feel to be part of all that. I’ve also had a couple of visits to their Varsity Match which were played at Frilford Heath and Royal West Norfolk. The latter course I fear for because the coastal erosion looks to be wearing away at the edges of the links and the course often gets flooded. But talking to one of the members he said there was no happier place to play golf, even alone with just the skylarks above for company.
So two out of three, as they say, isn’t bad. The third event of this kind I have less kind things to say about. Yes, the Halford Hewitt. This is the event which is played at Royal Cinque Ports, Deal in the week of the Masters. The local townspeople talk of “putting up the boys” in their houses for the week, but boys they are not. They are old boys of many ages who play for the old school tie. And as you would expect it is very much an old boys club. I went once and never again. I walked the first nine holes and was confronyed several times about why I, female, was there. So to the halfway hut where there seemed to be only one drink on offer, whisky macs. Now I am not a whisky drinker because I think it does make people more bad tempered than other alcoholic beverages, but I decided this time to buy one and sip it. There was only one place at the crowded bar and as soon as I sat down the octoganerian sitting next to me decided to have a bit of fun and squeezed my knee. I yelped and stood up quickly and the shooting stick seat I was carrying knocked his drink over and straight into his face. Served him right I thought as I made my quick exit. But not before hearing the booming voice of the barman exclaim “For Godsakes woman, I can see you are a right pain”. There was stunned silence in the hut until two greenkeepers got up and escorted me out and gave me a ride back to the town on their tractor, laughing all the way that this was the very worst week of their year. Royal Cinque Ports GC I shall never darken your doors again.