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  • Alistair Tait

Mixed golf isn’t new: Sunningdale’s been doing it for years

Laura Davies will tee it up in this year’s Sunningdale Foursomes. She’s not the only major champion in the field. Sandy Lyle is also playing in an event that’s been mixed long before men and women playing together became a fad.

This week’s Vic Open is rightly receiving plaudits for its mixed format. The European Tour and Ladies European Tour are plugging the Scandinavian Mixed big time. Also rightly so.

Yet long before the professional tours decided to get with the times and unite the sexes, Sunningdale had been doing it for years. And not just professionals. This unique tournament, which takes places over Sunningdale’s Old and New Courses March 10-13th, is also open to amateurs.

The inaugural Sunningdale Foursomes was staged in 1934, the same year the Masters began. The event has remained true to its original aim to unite the sexes, the amateurs and professionals. A cursory look at the list of winners proves that. Diana Fishwick and F. Noel Layton won in 1934.

The list of winners reads like a who’s who of British golf. Joyce Wethered won in 1935 and 1936 alongside J.S.F. Morrison. Open champions Alf Padgham and Max Faulkner are among the list of winners. Five-time Amateur champion Sir Michael Bonallack won in 1959. He’ll be thrilled his granddaughter is in this year’s field.

European Tour winners Neil Coles, Sam Torrance, Richard Boxall, Ronan Rafferty, Roger Chapman, Anthony Wall, Ross Fisher, Simon Khan and former world number one Luke Donald have their names on the trophy. Khan, Rafferty and Chapman are playing again this year.

LET winners Micky Walker, Corinne Dibnah and Dale Reid are past champions. TV commentator Maureen Madill is a former winner. There would probably be more LET players this year if not for a clash with the Investec South African Women’s Open.

The Masters is traditionally viewed as the beginning of the golf season. Not for many in the British Isles it isn’t. The Sunningdale Foursomes heralds the start of the golf season.

Just as anyone who is anyone gathers around that huge tree just outside the Augusta National clubhouse, the Sunningdale Foursomes brings together golfers from every sphere of British golf.

The format makes it possible for everyone to compete evenly. Male professionals play off +1. Male amateurs are assigned a handicap of scratch. Women pros play off 2, while women amateurs play from a four handicap. As the draw sheet states: “Matches will be played under FULL DIFFERENCE of the Sunningdale Foursomes Special Handicap.”

Davies teams up with Solheim Cup teammate Trish Johnson to take on the Scottish pair of Heather MacRae and Craig Lee on the Old Course at 10:06 March 10th. Davies and Johnson get three shots.

Perhaps the best part of the Sunningdale Foursomes is that it exemplifies understatement. The club doesn’t hype the tournament, there’s no advertising, no sponsorship, no gallery ropes. Professional winners get a little bit of cash while amateurs get prize vouchers.

I’ve been going for years and, like some other spectators, I always take my dog. Izzy looks forward to the dog sausages at the halfway hut as much as I look forward to my own sausage sandwich.

So well done to the Vic Open and the Scandinavian Mixed, but let’s acknowledge Sunningdale’s long-time efforts in promoting mixed golf, albeit in understated fashion.

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