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  • Alistair Tait

Sunningdale Foursomes kicks off 2020 golf season

The British golf season officially starts today. The great and good of British golf – male and female, amateur and professional – gather for the Sunningdale Foursomes. If there’s a more unique tournament in golf then I’ve yet to find it.

This quintessential British event over Sunningdale’s Old and New Courses began in 1934, the same year the Masters started. The list of past winners reads like a who’s who of British golf, amateur and professional, male and female. Joyce Wethered, Dai Rees, Max Faulkner, Alf Padgham, Peter Alliss, Sir Michael Bonallack, Peter Oosterhuis, Sam Torrance, Ronan Rafferty, Andrew “Chubby” Chandler, Maureen Madill, Dale Reid, and Luke Donald are among past winners.

In an age when everyone’s jumping on the mixed sex tournament format, Sunningdale was way ahead of the curve. The Foursomes has always featured men and women. It’s the only tournament in the world where you will find elite amateurs, male and female, playing major winners, also male and female. Sandy Lyle and Laura Davies are in this year’s field.

Davies (pictured) teams up with Solheim Cup teammate Trish Johnson to play the all-Scottish pair of Craig Lee and Heather MacRae. Lyle partners NC State graduate James Bunch.

Charley Hull plays this year with European Tour pro Ryan Evans. Two-time senior major winner Roger Chapman is teeing it up.

You’ll often find husband and wife tandems (Paul McGinley has participated with wife Alison, a former Curtis Cup player), father and son duos (former European number one Ronan Rafferty is playing this year with son Jonathan), father and daughter pairs and even mother and son tandems. Past winners (2000) include the mother/son team of Carol and Richard Caldwell, both Sunningdale members.

I remember attending a Sunningdale Foursomes years ago where an ordinary club golfer by the name of Tony Hawkins was thrilled to have been drawn against European Tour player Steve Webster, who was in the world top 100 at the time.

“No other tournament that I know of gives ordinary club golfer like me the chance to tee it up against someone in the top 100 in the world,” Hawkins said. “One of the beauties of this event is that you might get drawn against someone who plays on the Tour. For someone like me that’s a big deal.”

Aficionados of classic courses know all about Sunningdale. The Willie Park Jnr designed Old opened in 1901, while Harry Colt’s “New” dates back to 1923. Bobby Jones helped make the Old famous when he scored 66 in qualifying for the 1926 Open Championship. It was considered the perfect score then since Jones had 33 putts and 33 shots. His scorecard hangs in the Sunningdale Clubhouse.

Maybe the best thing about this tournament is that it’s the epitome of understatement. There’s no sponsorship, no advertising hoardings, no gallery ropes, no fanfare. Everything is sedate, low key.

So low key that I’ve taken my dog Izzy along on numerous occasions and no one batted an eyelid. Izzy wasn’t alone. There was no shortage of spectators walking their dogs. Indeed, dogs are just as welcome at Sunningdale as humans.

Sunningdale’s halfway hut is famous for its sausage sandwiches, not just for golfers but for their four legged best friends, too. Izzy’s reward for staying patient on her lead is one of Sunningdale’s dog sandwiches. She always passes on the Bovril.

There is only one and will only ever be one Sunningdale Foursomes. Let the 2020 golf season begin.

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