Vivien Saunders, who contributed to the prize money for the first playing in 1976 of what is now the AIG Women’s British Open, and won the event herself in 1977, remains positive.
A tough call when the Eynesbury Hardwicke Golf Course, which she purchased in 1986 and renamed the Abbotsley Golf and Squash Club, was destroyed by a vandal and his weed killer in 2017, only to be wrecked still more comprehensively by the company called in to effect repairs. Now, the likelihood is that this popular venue, along with its 43-bedroom hotel, will not open again until 2022.
It is typical of Saunders that she refuses to admit defeat. “Things could be worse,” she says. “I could have gotten caught up in the floods in Jakarta or the bushfires in Australia. …”
GGP+ were given an update on Saunders’ unlucky lot in her Christmas newsletter, the second paragraph of which read as follows:
“With the golf course in ruins and abandoned, life at Abbotsley is now very difficult for my corgis and myself. … No more the endless tings of club-head on ball. No more shouted expletives echoing across dewy fairways to wake me at six in the morning. No more chuckles at my simple golfers’ dress code: ‘No wobbly bits showing please.’ Or at my local rule for visitors: ‘If you are in a field without a tee or a green, you are out of bounds.’
“Gone, gone, it’s all gone. Firstly destroyed by people unknown in early 2017, and then completely wrecked by contractors paid vast sums by insurers to repair it all.” (Though Saunders mentioned how the contractors were known to have done some excellent work in the realm of golf course and tennis court repairs, she said they well and truly messed up on this occasion, bringing in defective turf which, apart from anything else, ruined the drainage system.)
“So the whole place,” she continued, “the Abbotsley Course, the second course, the par-3 Cromwell, and the hotel, had to be shut down. Kaput. Major litigation looms and maybe, just maybe, the course will open again in 2022.”
The staff had to be made redundant and, in March of last year, Saunders had no option but to auction off such things as the greenkeeping machinery, sundry outhouses and hotel furniture, along with every seat, flag and marker on the course. Indeed, the whole place had to be emptied to save Saunders from forking out £65,000 a year in business rates.
“I’m looking out of my bedroom window as I speak to you,” said the first European professional to qualify for the LPGA Tour, “and all I can see are the old eighth and ninth greens, both of them hugely overgrown, with trees and gorse springing up all over the place. It’s not even fit for the corgis with their little legs.”
Plenty of golfers would come to Abbotsley and not least because it was among the best courses in the UK with a hotel attached. “Usually,” she explained, “you get great hotels with a relatively poor-quality course. The arrangement here was the other way round – a four-star course with a two- to three-star hotel.”
Many of the visitors would take lessons from Saunders. A two-time winner of the British Sports Coach of the Year award, she has always been a standout in that area, not just for her mastery of the technical side of the game but its mental demands. Saunders graduated in psychology, with one of her many books, The Golfing Mind, a best-seller in the States.
Four more books are in the pipeline as she divides her time between writing and tying up loose ends regarding the closing of Abbotsley. Even though she has additional qualifications as a solicitor, she will tell you that it is far more difficult to close a club than it is to open one. Recently, she was at war with Anglian Water, who would not have it that she, as an individual, was no longer using the same amount of water as she did when the golf course was in full swing.
The six squash courts which were once part of the complex are now given over to housing, while she is working on planning permission for the same to happen on the Cromwell Course.
Yet it goes without saying that she is missing her Abbotsley members. She wonders if they will be back when things start up afresh or whether they will have settled at other venues. And she wonders, too, whether her clinics will attract a new wave of students. Such golfing luminaries as Dame Laura Davies, Alison Nicholas, Karen Lunn and Janet Collingham have all attended her squads at some time or another.
She would love for the equivalent to happen all over again but, to be honest, a return of those tings of balls on clubheads and a few expletives winging their way through her bedroom window would be enough of a result.
Vandalism ruined much of the Abbotsley Golf and Squash Club course, and attempts to repair it made things worse. Photo: Courtesy of Vivien Saunders
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