Ethel Jack, the immediate past president of the Scottish Ladies’ Golf Association, was about right. She thought that team uniforms were in danger of taking over from the golf.
Jack was speaking during the recent Scottish Ladies’ championship at Craigielaw. Though that event, like the Welsh, English and Irish women’s championships, was being staged well in advance of the forthcoming Curtis Cup in Boston, none among the competitors was in a position to influence the Great Britain and Ireland selectors.
The reason for this apparent anomaly is that the team had been chosen way back at the end of April. In other words, seven weeks before the match.
Why? To allow time to sort out uniforms – and never mind that uniforms can cause players much the same grief regardless of whether they are delivered well-ahead of time or at the eleventh hour.
In the same week as the subject of Curtis Cup clothing was being aired at Craigielaw, there were allied woes at Wentworth where the likely Ryder Cup wives/partners were having an early fitting for Celtic Manor.
The opening ceremony clothes were getting rave reviews but there were problems elsewhere which, for the record, had nothing to do with Colin Montgomerie’s wife, Gaynor, who is the epitome of good taste. Instead, the concerns had more to do with sizing. It was some way removed from what the women thought they had requested.
Having played in eight matches, Colin knows that wives’ uniforms can assume an importance out of relation to everything else in a Ryder Cup week. Though a counter-worry will often do a man no harm, Montgomerie remembers a day when a couple of players had to work on wives who were anguishing over what they were expected to wear at the opening dinner. How, they were asking tearfully, could they possibly appear in public?
Still, at least the wives don’t have to play in their outfits.
In the case of the Curtis Cup and Solheim Cup sides, there have been occasions when the GB&I or European team could not have felt more unhappily self-conscious had their uniforms been chosen by the most mean-spirited of opponents. They were beaten before they started.
Laura Davies has never been one to disguise her dislike of team gear. In a Solheim Cup context, she was seldom more wretched than at the 1994 match at The Greenbrier.
Though the temperature was up in the 80s on the last of the practice days, Laura was out and about in her waterproofs. It was preferable, she said, to being seen what was a singularly ill-fitting pink European shirt. She disappeared in the afternoon to try and buy something which could take its place but, as always applies in such vexed circumstances, there was nothing suitable in sight.
Away from the matches versus the Americans there were some European Team championships of not too long ago where one of the GB&I teams was kitted out in shirts which had been purchased on the cheap. The offending garments had high, stiff collars in which the players could not turn their heads to the right or the left let alone hold them down.
Tony Jacklin knew what he was doing when he was the Ryder Cup captain. For years, the home side had looked like the poor relations in comparison to the Americans – something which, sadly, often continues to apply on the women’s front. He introduced first class travel and cashmere and, simply on that score, his men felt better about themselves and their chances.
No-one can remember how long that uniform took to prepare but it was right for the times. As indeed was Suzanne Torrance’s decision to relax the unwritten rules when she chose her wives’ outfits for the Belfry in 2002. She kept the uniform down to fine pashminas and quality knitwear – a move which left the beautifully and expensively-suited American wives feeling bafflingly over-dressed.
No-one would suggest that uniforms are things of the past. Golf thrives on its old standards and players will always feel a rush of pride as they don their country’s colours.
Yet since neither the Ladies’ Golf Union nor the Women’s European Tour has quite the same clout as their American counterparts when it comes to asking sponsors to supply too much in the way of top-of-the-range attire, they might as well loosen up a bit. And find a uniform to marry with a more late-in-the day approach. Nike, for one, indicated that they would be able to turn a team uniform round in a couple of weeks.
It goes without saying that any decision to pick the team nearer the contest might cause the officials some alarm.
On the other hand, they might sleep all the more easily for knowing that they had given themselves a significantly better chance of identifying the right players.