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I’ve played golf since I was aged 10, probably peaking when I was 13 as I was playing almost every day in the hot summer of 1976. On holiday in Bournemouth I’d be up at 6am. On the Queens Park course at 6:30am, play nine holes, go down to the beach until 4pm, then come back to play the other nine on the same green fee ticket. Perfect.
Nowadays, with family and working commitments, I rarely pick up the clubs more than a couple of times a year – and even then I’m just hacking around. As a fair weather golfer who doesn’t brave the winter, I always joke about worrying that my trusty slice has deserted me, but come the spring, it’s still loyally there, like a faithful friend.
I do miss the game – and plan to play a lot more when I retire. It is great exercise, especially for those over 50. My father played for 20 years after he retired, keeping himself physically fit as for four hours, walking for miles, swinging his arms and plenty of fresh air.
It is a game that you can take up at any age – and play until you are too old to walk. The way that the handicap is worked out means it is the only true game where anyone of any ability can have a competitive match with someone much better – even a pro.
The companionable nature of golf means that a drink afterwards in the clubhouse – always known by golfers as the 19th hole – is the perfect way to rue missed shots or celebrate the triumphs of your round with friends.
The 5th major
From 30 September to 02 October this year, arguably the world’s greatest golf tournament took place: The Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota.
Regarded by the pros as golf’s 5th major, the Ryder Cup is seen by many fans as the biggest event of all. It only takes place every 2 years between Europe and America. A rivalry across the pond for the honour of an 89 year old gold chalice.
Origins of the Ryder Cup
While some early amateur and unofficial professional international matches had taken place, the first official Ryder Cup was in 1927. The golden chalice was donated by Samuel Ryder an enterprising seed merchant from St Albans. To improve his health, Ryder took up golf and was hooked. He was taught by Abe Mitchell, a professional golfer from East Grinstead, Sussex – who stands as the golfer on top of the 17-in gold trophy, but although Mitchell was captain, he was unable to play due to an appendicitis attack.
It wasn’t practical to be a yearly tournament, so it takes place every other year, except in WWII. After 9/11 in 2001, several American golfers were unwilling to travel, so the Ryder Cup was moved to 2002 and now takes place on every even year.
Brexit in reverse: Great Britain joins Europe
Great Britain won only 3 of the 22 Ryder Cups between 1927 and 1977, the last in 1957. It was dull, predictable and a slog. Years of American domination drained any excitement. Jack Nicklaus, the greatest golfer of all time with 18 major titles, suggested that Europe join Great Britain and Ireland in the tournament. It became Team Europe and meant that it could include exciting European stars like German Bernhard Langer and Spaniard Seve Ballesteros, whose heroics had captured the nation’s hearts when winning The Open that year at Royal Lytham. The tournament has never looked back and has become much more competitive:
Team From To Won Lost Tied
United States 1927 2014 25 13 2
Great Britain & Ireland 1927 1977 3 18 1
Europe 1979 2014 10 7 1
Why is it so important?
Why is it so important? Well, week in, week out tournament golf is an individual sport. Just you and the ball against the scoreboard. The Ryder Cup is different: it’s a duel. You play the man, not the score. It’s gladiatorial golf – dog-eat-dog fighting. It pits Europe against America. It’s sheer drama, pure passion and totally unmissable.
They play as a team for the honour and their country – there is no prize money.
Each of the 28 matches are worth 1 point. and teams select 8 players play fourball and foursome matches on the Friday and Saturday, while all 12 players plays head-to-head singles on the final day.
Each team of 12 is selected on merit with ranking points based on previous tournaments, or as one of 2 ‘wild card picks’ or ‘captain’s picks’.
In part 2 we’ll see how sometimes that passion has spilled over into ugliness which threaten the future of the game.