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 At the 19th

I watched the girls... and I liked it
A clash of dates ruling out a week at Turnberry, our correspondent made for Royal Lytham where he found the Women's British Open even better than the real thing

Rather like a solar eclipse requires an extraordinarily freakish alignment of earth, moon and sun to briefly deny us daylight, so events occasionally conspire in an absurdly improbable way to rob us of something that we ordinarily take for granted. And just as astronomers can predict eclipses with unerring accuracy I, too, was able as far back as 18 years ago to see the catastrophic collision of inter-galactic matter that was inevitably going to render my attendance at this year’s Open championship a non-negotiable impossibility.

The seeds – and I use the word advisedly – of destruction were planted some time around the middle of October 1990. Having already made the calamitous error of becoming romantically involved with a woman whose July 18th birthday invariably falls smack in the middle of the Open, I then compounded the felony by fathering a daughter on July 16th.

Since chaps are far more sensible about these sorts of things, had it been a boy he would almost certainly not have minded my sloping off to some distant duneland while his mother supervised his birthday parties. Those who think it unfair of me to have left everything to her should perhaps reflect on the fact that it was she who declined to have the baby induced a couple of weeks early, which would have avoided the subsequent clash of dates.

Anyway, for 17 years I was as firm a fixture at the Open as either Ivor Robson or, indeed, the claret jug. Then came this year’s ‘eclipse’; my daughter was 18 and my wife was 60, respectively on the first and third days of the championship. Call me a ridiculous romantic if you like but I felt I could not in all conscience celebrate their birthdays from the remote conviviality of the Bollinger tent and so I missed one of the most gripping Opens just as surely as Old Tom Watson did that putt.

Although that was almost certainly his last chance of major glory, might there be some way that I could salvage my enviable record of having attended every British Open in the modern era excepting, of course, Ian Baker-Finch’s triumph at Royal Birkdale in 1991 when I was unavoidably detained in the maternity unit at the Royal Free Hospital. Astute readers might already have spotted the subtle insertion of ‘British’ before ‘Open’ and the possible route to redemption that that implies.

Natalie Gulbis
Tickets are cheaper, accommodation easier to find, getting to and from the event is a doddle and watching is a pleasure. Yep, the Women’s British Open has it all

By wrapping all my male prejudices in pretty pink paper, going all girlie and heading for Royal Lytham and St Anne’s, I was indeed able to repair the damage and can now give you an honest, impartial and, because I recognise that women have almost as much right to be on a golf course as men, a non-sexist comparison of the two genders of British Open.

Ever the consummate professional, I did some research before leaving for Lancashire which revealed some significant differences. For a start, the Ricoh Women's British Open is sponsored, which is something I suspect the R&A would not countenance for the men’s version – not yet, at least. And, having only begun in 1973, it perhaps lacks some of its older brother’s history. But it’s a major and 47 of the world’s top 50 women were there competing in it. Not many, I must confess, were familiar names to me. The legendary Laura Davies, of course; Natalie Gulbis, naturally; world number one Lorena Ochoa; Paula Creamer; Natalie Gulbis (or have I already mentioned her?); Michelle Wie and a handful of others. But I struggled, especially when it came to the 29 Koreans. Why Asian players are such a force in the women’s game but have made hardly any impact on the European and USPGA tours is baffling.

Natalie Gulbis

Although it sounds horribly condescending and I will doubtless be vilified for saying it – just as I was once for describing the Solheim Cup as the Ryder Cup with lipstick – the Women’s British Open is very similar to the real thing. However, it’s on a much more modest scale. There is a tented hamlet; the grandstands are more Nationwide Conference than Premiership; the galleries are healthy rather than huge; the TV towers are not quite so perilously high; both the competitors and the queues are considerably shorter; the prize money is significantly less and, apart from when Natalie Gulbis removed her waterproofs, the roars that reverberate around the links are a couple of dozen decibels down.

On a more positive note: tickets are very much cheaper; finding accommodation is no problem; getting to and from the event is a doddle; the competitors are friendlier and, forgive me, prettier; spectating is easier and, of course, there's Natalie Gulbis.

Two other differences struck me. There’s a lot more kissing on the 18th green than in the men’s game and I’m thinking how much nicer it would be if, say, Monty gave Sandy an affectionate peck on the cheek after their next round together. And the other striking contrast is that British players occasionally actually win the women’s version. Well done, Catriona Matthew!

Normal service should be resumed next year and I hope to be at St Andrews but there’s no way I’m going to miss Royal Birkdale.

August 2009

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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