Golfing in the South of France: Pont Royal

Dave and I welcome a new player to the GHClub Tour

After a back and forth battle for the last two games at Ballards Gore and the Caldy Club, the GHClub Tour was definitely in full swing and the only way for us to continue our excellent runs of form was to take our games overseas. 

Recently, Dave and I had got in contact with a reader of the blog from France – his message read as follows:

Hello Grace and Dave!

My name is Pierre and I live  in Salon-de-Provence. I’ve been a golfer for nearly all of my life (I am 57 years old) and would love to have a game with both of you to witness this legendary family rivalry first hand. Although I can’t offer you a place to stay, I’d be more than happy to invite both of you to play at Pont Royal, the club which I am a member of here in France. We’re very proud of the courses here at the club and you no doubt would’ve seen it on the television, if you keep up to date with European Golf. Please come and visit me this Summer, I would very much like to meet both of you.

All the best

Pierre LeGrande

That’s how Dave and I found ourselves cruising under the English Chanel on our way to the south of France and a date to play at the Pont Royal.

Brits driving abroad are often warned to be careful, as there are more than a handful of hazards that can sink a hole in your pocket and potentially ruin your trip away. Thankfully, both Dave and I avoided any run-ins with corrupt law officials and so we arrived in Salon-de-Provence just after nightfall on a balmy June evening. We were staying at a villa in the south of France close to the club so that we could down there early in the morning, but Pierre was still there to greet us with a bottle of wine, which I quickly passed off on to Dave.

Rather cunningly, Dave decided to ‘save’ that bottle of wine for the next night, so we were both fresh-faced, eager and more than a little nervous to tee-off bright and early at Pont du Royal. We had both assumed that playing at the likes of Lahinch would have prepared us for anything, but it was the sheer class of the occasion that was putting us off, rather than any perceived lack of skill – that and the evident skill that Pierre and the rest of his peers presented.

Having played golf for nearly all his life, rather than the handful of years Dave and I have between us, we soon discovered that we were about to be horribly outclassed. Despite valiantly teeing off and surpassing Pierre on a number of attempts, it soon became obvious that his knowledge of the course, coupled with his well-practised Little Game was about to put us to shame. On the up-side, at least the weather was pleasant and, for a Frenchman, Pierre was not one to gloat.

On our first European jaunt, with our first guest player, Dave and I were happy to concede defeat to a far superior player.

Congratulations Pierre!

Irish Roadtrip: Showdown at Lahinch

It was a long month after my defeat to Dave at the Caldy Club.

With the weather cheering up throughout May I’ve (thankfully!) had plenty of time to sort my game out and get some much needed practice in down at our local club. Having always espoused the virtues of playing golf free of any memberships, Dave and I finally bit the bullet and joined our local club.

As our golfing trips have been growing more extravagant over time, we’ve found that we’ve had to spend longer saving up for them, which has led to our games (or mine at least) deteriorating. Despite how much I’ve improved over since I first picked golf up, I’ve conceded now that I need regular practice to stay on top of my game and have a hope of beating Dave in what has now become a monthly excursion, rather than a weekly one.

Thanks to having unlimited access to 18-holes as well as a putting green and selection of short holes, I feel like I’ve been able to iron out the kinks that have been present in my game for a while. Unfortunately, whilst I’ve been sharpening up game, Dave has also had time to perfect his.

I’d already got the upper hand by the time we’d made it to hole 1 of the legendary Old Course at Lahinch Golf Club, thanks to the frequent stops on our way through Ireland. Dave has had a penchant for Guinness since his university days and, sure enough, the promise of a freshly poured pint of the black stuff was too much for him to resist. As I was driving, we ended up stopping for frequent breaks along the road from home to Dublin then on to Limerick and finally Lahinch. By the time we arrived at the course for our tee-off at the world-renowned Old Course, Dave had some significant bags under his eyes and a ‘sore head’.

The first game of golf was played at Lahinch in 1892 by a Lieutenant of the Black Watch Regiment and a Limerick businessman, on a course marked by feathers and sticks. Two years later Alexander Shaw and other officers from the Black Watch Regiment enlisted the help of Old Tom Morris to design a new links course that emphasised the sandhills of the area. Upon its completion Morris declared it ‘the finest natural course he had ever seen’. Whilst Dave and I certainly don’t have the same golfing pedigree as Old Tom, we were both inclined to agree with his sentiment.

Thanks to Dave’s unmarked Guinness-related handicap I was able to get off to a flying start on hole 1, avoiding the troublesome bunkers that Dave plunged straight into. After having troubles on the 2nd and 3rd, however, Dave was still breathing at my neck and I had to get my head firmly screwed on to maintain my focus.

Despite his hangover, the opulent environs and World-class environment had lit a fire in his belly and soon he was playing with the confidence of a pro. Thankfully, after a couple of duff drives on the 10th and 11th, it became apparent that Dave’s brief comeback was waning and I soon managed to putt my way to a 3-stroke victory.

Dave refused to admit that the Guinness might have affected his play and shook my hand firmly at the end, although we both know that the next time we meet will be our true battle.

A Trip to the Wirral: Caldy Golf Club

Our journey to the Wirral was a smooth one.

Travelling during the week often grants us a few benefits, one of them being quiet roads.

Radio 2 played quietly in the background as Dave and I discussed our last game, almost a full month ago now, where he had succeeded in breaking my 22-week winning streak. He’d done a very good job of not gloating since that day, something that I was surprised at considering his ebullient celebrations back in May.

Despite having played as a youngster, Dave had yet to return to his younger form before our game at Ballards Gore. Now, buoyed by his win, he was keen to turn the screws and ‘get in my head’ before we teed of at Caldy Golf Club.

A little bit about Caldy Golf Club

Old Tom Morris (1821-1908), uncle of Jack Morris the designer of Caldy’s original 9-holes.

Unlike the relatively young Ballards Gore (built between 1979-80), Caldy has a rich golfing heritage behind it. Jack Morris (the nephew of Tom Morris, four-time Open Championship winner between 1861 and 1867) drew up the plan for the original 9-hole course back in 1906 with the course officially opening in 1907. Over two decades later James Braid, himself a five-time Open winner, revealed his plans to extend the course to a full 18 holes.

Illustrious origins aside, at times it was feared that the Course at Caldy was not long for this world. Significant erosion of the cliffs that it rests on began only 2 years after the course was completed. By 1936 a short hole had to be abandoned, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that the club took measures to prevent any more loss of the ground – by this point the 5th hole had already been lost to the sea, along with the back of the 3rd and another short hole.

Towards the end of the 80s £125,00 was invested in protecting the 3rd green, but even after this work was completed it was clear more needed to be done. A further £250,000 was ploughed into shoring up the cliffs – this work was completed in 1994 and has gone a long way in preserving this lovely course. Our enjoyment of the course, thankfully, wasn’t marred by any land erosion.

We followed a UPS delivery man down a well-kept drive to be greeted by a handsome clubhouse, parking alongside the van as the driver delivered his cargo to a chef waiting out front. As we entered the cook explained to us that he was currently in the midst of upgrading his kitchen, hence the package of Britannia cooker spares he was holding in his hands. We enquired as to whether we’d be able to order some lunch after our game, to which he replied in the affirmative – clearly a chef with some confidence in his engineering skills!

I’d like to tell you that I was able to wipe the smirk of Dave’s face and return to the top position in the Grace Hill Golf Club rankings, but unfortunately that did not happen. Although I drove well, clearly I was still lacking confidence after my recent loss which the caused me to collapse around the 5th hole. Dave, in comparison, confidently shot on part throughout the day peaking with an eagle on the final hole.

I’d like to say that I was proud of him, but that would make me a liar…

July’s Golf Preview

This month in international golf:

As ever, July is a huge month for golf fans with ‘the biggest golf tournament in the world‘ taking place at Carnoustie, as well as a number of other mid-range tourneys which are sure to pull a few cashless pros out for a hole or two.

Here are our thoughts on the upcoming comps:

The Greenbrier Classic

The Old White TPC, White Sulphur Springs, WV

Only in its 8th edition, The Greenbrier Classic has been played on The Old White TPC at The Greenbrier since 2010 (in 2016 the competition was cancelled due to flooding) and serves as a neat warm up and quick-entry for the Open Championship later in the month. Last year, young buck Xander Schauffele took home the winner’s share of $1,278,000 after winning by a single stroke  under Robert Streb with a 14 under par score. Taking place over the Independence Day weekend, it’ll be a hotly attended event that should play host to some of the best pros in the country.

What’s the Purse? $7,300,000 When? July 5th-8th 2018

John Deere Classic

TPC Deere Run, Silvis, IL

For decades the John Deere Classic was held in high esteem but hadn’t quite entered into the public consciousness, that all changed when a teenage Michelle Wie was given a sponsor’s exemption to play in the men’s event in 2005 and 2006. Although Wie failed to make the cut on both occasions, the media storm that this cause propelled the John Deere Classic (as well as professional golf) back into mainstream sports coverage. This year you can expect to see Jordan Speith (who became the first teenager to win on the PGA Tour since 1931) return to potentially take his third victory at the Deere Run.

What’s the Purse? $5,800,000 When? July 12th-15th 2018

Barbasol Championship

Keene Trace Golf Club, Nicholasville, KY

Although it’s unlikely to receive the same kind of coverage that a certain British Tournament will get, this alternate tournament is still worth keeping your eye out for as it will no doubt highlight some of the upcoming players and wily pros who will no doubt be looking to secure a sneaky pass into the PGA Championship, as well as a valuable two-year PGA Tour exemption. Last year’s winner Grayson Murray failed to make much of an impression in 2017’s Championship, but it’s unwise to discount any underdogs in this game of ours…

What the Purse? $3,500,000 When? July 19th-22nd 2018

The Open Championship

Carnoustie GV, Angus, Scotland

No discussion of July’s golfing events is complete without at least a mention of The Open Championship. Last year’s champ Jordan Spieth, who has remained a consistent threat since winning last year, will return to defend his title although he’ll need to watch his back as the likes of Justin Rose and Rickie Fowler will be looking to provide some fierce contest; not to mention Rory McIlroy and a potentially ascendant Tiger Woods. Needless to say, it’s sure to be an enjoyable tournament!

What’s the Purse? $10,250,000 When? July 19th-22nd 2018

RBC Canadian Open

Glen Abbey GC, Oakville, Ontario, Canada

Finally, the RBC Canadian Open will be on hand at the end of the month to give us a last dose of golfing action. Although the status of the Canadian Open is somewhat diminished today (it’s widely regarded as ‘the fifth major’) it has enough heritage behind it with the inaugural competition taking place in 1904. This year you can expect to see Jhonattan Vegas returning to attempt to defend his title for the second consecutive year, Venezuela’s most celebrated golfer is sure to have his work cut for him, considering his spotty recent form.

What’s the Purse? $6,200,000 When? July 26th-29th 2018

Golfing Update: June

This month in golf:

Women’s US Open ends dramatically, two more qualify for open, the rich list is revealed and Tiger docks in Hamptons.

Thailand’s Jutanugarn claims US Women’s Open title

At only 22-years old Ariya Jutanugarn finds herself making a play for the No. 1 seed after claiming her second major title at Shoal Creek. Things started well for Jutanugarn (who currently sits at No. 5 in the World Rankings) as she confidently cruised her way to a seven-shot lead, however she was forced to dig deep after making a series of mistakes during the last nine holes. A triple-bogey seven at the 10th hole was the start of the No. 5’s troubles and she soon found her lead being whittled away through her own drop in performance, as well as her rival’s tenacity.

The Thai golfer was given no space to relax as South Korea’s Hyo Joo Kim made a series of incredible long-range putts to narrow the gap. After 72 holes the pair found themselves tied on -11, thanks to Kim finishing on a 67, whilst Jutanugarn ended disappointingly on a couple of bogeys and a score of 73. Both golfers made the journey back to the 14th hole for a two-hole majors play-off. Play was formidable on both parts, but it was Jutanugarn who managed to dig deep and deliver some career-best shots to secure her victory.

The Golfing Rich List is revealed as Tiger docks his yacht

Professional golf is one of those sports that, similar to tennis, is associated with big brands and expensive tastes. It’s arguable that the huge sums of money on offer at each competition is part of the reason the sport is as popular as it is, so its no surprise that a number of golfers have worked their way into Forbes’ Highest Paid Athletes list this year. Although it was headline grabbing boxer Floyd Mayweather that claimed the top-spot for his mind boggling earnings of $285m, five golfer still managed to feature in the Top 100 list.

The youngest athlete on the list, Jordan Spieth made $41.2m last year thanks to his performance at the Open this time last year, behind him was Rory McIlroy with $37.7m and behind them all was World No. 1 Justin Thomas who pulled in $26. It might come as a surprise to some but it was Tiger Woods who bested his golfing rivals appearing at No. 16 on the list with earnings of $43.3m (the majority of which earned from endorsements). Tiger recently docked his $20m superyacht in the Hamptons ahead of next week’s US Open, who he is considered to be shoe-in for winning. The 155ft-long ‘Privacy’ comes complete with five guestrooms, a gym, walk-in fridge and contemporary doors.

Two more notable golfers earn entry to the Men’s US Open

For the third year in a row, crowd favourite Andrew Johnston has gained entry to the US Open after finishing T1st at the Walton Heath qualifiers on Monday. Beef qualified alongside the likes of James Morrison, Scott Gregory and Matthew Southgate on what is jokingly described as ‘golf’s longest day of the year’. The popular Englishman finished top of the pile that day alongside Morrison, who hit two 67s to match Beef’s 65 and 69.

Walton Heath saw a number of other notable players who also gained qualification to the upcoming Open which included Throbjorn Olesen (fresh off claiming his fifth European title at the Italian Open) and the 2006 US Amateur champ, Richie Ramsay. After a nine-man playoff for the top spot, fourteen players from the comp qualified to have a go at Shoal Creek which commences on the 14th June.

Golfing Update: May

This month in golf:

McIlroy declared Master the ultimate tourney, Tiger makes bid for return and Westwood digs deep.

McIlroy: ‘I don’t care about the Open.’

Four-time major winner, Rory McIlroy has gone one record saying that he no longer cares about The Open and that The Masters is now the biggest competition in the world. Speaking to Sports Illustrated he said:

The Masters has now become the biggest golf tournament in the world, and I’m comfortable saying that. I don’t care about the US Open or the Open Championship, it is the biggest golf tournament in the world, the most amount of eyeballs, the most amount of hype, everything is at Augusta.

McIlroy has yet to take a victory at Augusta, so clearly the legendary course is weighing on his mind somewhat. This April, the Northern Irishman missed out once more finishing tied in fifth place with a number of other players. Clearly somewhat miffed by his lack of a Masters trophy, McIlroy will have to go looking to complete his career Grand Slam at next year’s competition…

Tiger will be back for Carnoustie Open

There is perhaps no other golfer that has courted such controversy and greatness in such equal measure as Tiger Woods. After missing out on two Open championships due to various injuries, the legendary player will be seeking to claim his fourth Claret Jug this July. Winning his first title Open title all the way back in 2000, Woods followed this with two back-to-back wins at St. Andrews and then Royal Liverpool in ’05 and ’06, respectively.

Tiger’s 14 major championships puts him one place behind Jack Nicklaus on the all-time list, he’ll need 5 more to surpass the man, a challenge considering that Woods has only just broken back into the top 100, after dropping out of the top 1000 for the first time in his career back in July 2017. Having won two of his Open championships in Scotland, as well as another in England, Tiger’s hoping to make a complete return to the game come July – although he’s admitted that it might be a challenge:

Carnoustie can be a brutal golf course and it was brutal that year [1999]. It’s just so tough, but it’s all there in front of you. There are no tricks, there’s nothing hidden. It’s just come and get me.

Lee Westwood donates big to Edinburgh charity shop

After ending the reign of Tiger Woods and ascending to the top seed of international golf in 2010, English golfer Lee Westwood has slunk somewhat into the shadows in recent years. Despite still competing, the Worksop-born player doesn’t look in a position to claim a major championship victory anytime soon in a period of declining form which has seen him drop down the rankings to settle just outside of the top 100. This drop in form doesn’t seem to have deterred the 45-year old from making a recent move to Scotland.

Westwood donated thousands of pounds worth of golfing memorabilia to Shelter Scotland recently after moving in to the city earlier this month. The charity, which is celebrating its 50th birthday this year, will be selling the rare personal items at their Morningside shop with the proceeds going towards tackling homelessness and bad housing throughout the country.