Tait: Sunningdale Foursomes is golf at its best

Paul McGinley and his dog Febe at Sunningdale Golf Club in Surrey, England (2003).

SUNNINGDALE, England - If there’s a more unique tournament in the world of golf than this week’s Sunningdale Foursomes, then I have yet to find it. Tournament sponsors and promoters who are tired of the endless, boring diet of 72-hole stroke-play events could do worse than copy this eccentric event.

Where else in golf can you find one of the world’s leading female amateurs playing against an ex-Ryder Cup player? In what other tournament could a three-time Ryder Cup player team up with his wife? Where else can you find a father-and-son duo, father-and-daughter pair or even a mother-and-son tandem?

Nowhere else but at Sunningdale. This quintessential British event has been staged over Sunningdale’s Old and New courses every March since 1934, the same year the Masters started, excluding the World War II years.

The Masters may herald the start of the golf season in the United States, but here in the British Isles it’s the Sunningdale Foursomes. It is for me. My golf juices don’t really start to flow until I’ve taken in the first day’s play of the Sunningdale Foursomes.

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, Peter Alliss, Sir Michael Bonallack, Peter Oosterhuis, Sam Torrance, Ronan Rafferty, Chubby Chandler, Luke Donald, Ross Fisher and Stiggy Hodgson are among past winners.

This year, 15-year-old Charley Hull, ranked seventh on the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, partnered with Ian Poulter’s one-time coach Lee Scarbrow and prevailed over two-time Ryder Cup player David Howell. Former European Tour winner Andrew Murray played with son Tom. Respected coach Jim Christine partnered with daughter Felicity. Three-time Ryder Cupper Paul McGinley teamed with wife Alison. Meanwhile, 2000 winners Carol and Richard Caldwell - a mother/son combo - also played.

Aficionados of classic courses will know all about Sunningdale. The Old was opened in 1901, while the “New” dates to 1923. Bobby Jones made the Old famous in 1926 when he scored 66 in qualifying for the Open Championship. It was considered the perfect score in those days, because Jones had 33 putts and 33 shots. His scorecard hangs upstairs in the Sunningdale clubhouse.

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

So low key that I took my dog Izzy along on Tuesday and no one batted an eyelid. Izzy wasn’t alone. There was no shortage of people walking their dogs on the golf course. 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 was one of Sunningdale’s dog sandwiches. She passed on the Bovril (a beef-based British drink) and Sherry!

My reward was another year of taking in the action from this extraordinary tournament. On second thought, tournament organizers and sponsors please ignore my earlier notion of copying the Sunningdale format. There is only one and will only ever be one Sunningdale Foursomes.

Consider the 2012 golf season officially under way.

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