2006: Cup’s rivalry needs restoring
I saw the ghosts. They were here, the spirits of all the great amateurs who have been Curtis Cup captains.
I listened to the Three Wise Women, captains from the 1930s, all of them legends – Joyce Wethered, Marion Hollins and Glenna Collett Vare.
Here’s what they said: “Yo, Dawg, this Curtis Cup is so like yesterday.”
The Curtis Cup is a wonderful old event that needs a contemporary facelift. It is chock-full of atmosphere, charm and international flavor. The only thing missing is some additional golfing talent.
I say this in all seriousness. Please do not think I am making fun of the Curtis Cup.
The 2006 Curtis Cup at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort was spectacular in many respects. Walking down the middle of the fairways with the players was a joy.
Just think how great it would have been with a legitimate, suspenseful tug-of-war between the United States team and the Great Britain and Ireland squad.
I am tired of pretending that the Curtis Cup is a fair, equitable or compelling competition. It isn’t. The GB&I contingent has won only six times since the inaugural event in 1932. The United States has captured five in a row, a trend that is likely to continue for a long time – win five, lose one, win five, tie one, win five.
The Curtis Cup is an honorable tribute to international golf fellowship. Friendships among captains, players, officials and even fans are forged for a lifetime. This is the essence of golf at its best.
But the competition is a dog. Matching GB&I against the United States is like matching Massachusetts and Rhode Island against the other 48 states.
It is high time to change the composition of the Curtis Cup. It should be the United States against Europe. Throw Sweden and Spain into the mix, and the Curtis Cup would become an extremely interesting showdown.
The actual Curtis Cup, a silver bowl donated by sisters Margaret and Harriot Curtis, carried an inscription that perhaps should inspire us to rejuvenate this event with new countries: “To stimulate friendly rivalry among the women golfers of many lands.”
The timing is right. The international growth of golf supports the concept of expanding the Curtis Cup.
Once again, let me say I am not trashing the purpose or significance of the Curtis Cup. It’s just that the people who love it most – in its current form – are captivated by tradition and sisterhood. More attention should be paid to the competition.
Changing the Curtis Cup from two days to three, which was approved July 27, is a move that should be loudly applauded. This will provide a format similar to the Ryder Cup, with all players competing in singles on the final day.
Now let’s take another giant step. Let’s throw some strong-armed competition at the United States.
Nobody enjoys a walkover. The U.S. team, ahead 7-2 after the first day of this renewal, snoozed all the way to the finish.
It was as predictable as sunset. The only way to inject mystery into this competition would have been to add Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple to the GB&I team.
Everybody knew what would happen. This was Goliath against David, only David had no slingshot. This was soccer powerhouse Manchester United against a club team, only Manchester United was the United States.
That being said, there is nothing in golf as intimate as a Curtis Cup or Walker Cup. Spectators mingle with the players and have an armchair view of every shot.
Bandon Dunes is extraordinary. Its 2,500 acres include three golf courses, zero residences and one big ocean. Everywhere I looked, I saw happy spectators wandering among the fescues, European beach grass, Scotch broom and gorse. This was a communion with nature.
In the four days before the Curtis Cup, the wind roared down the Pacific coast, at times reaching speeds of 30 mph to 40 mph. This suited the GB&I team, which was hoping for sustained wind.
Once the event officially started, the wind ran away. By Bandon standards, it was positively calm.
This made it terribly ironic that U.S. captain Carol Semple Thompson, herself a living legend, had pronounced at the opening ceremony: “The wind is up, let’s play.”
When the wind died down, the GB&I team went with it.
Mike Keiser, founder of Bandon Dunes, tried to be humorous with his own “down” sentence.
“The weather let us down,” Keiser mused. “Thousands of people came to see the windy Oregon coast, and what did they get? Hawaii.”
I say the golf let us down. It was another smash-mouth victory for the United States, and it was about as welcome as pot holes on an interstate highway.
Golf fans want to see a hard-fought, well-earned victory in any tournament or competition. The secret of Ryder Cup popularity is no secret at all: By adding all of Europe to face the United States, the Ryder Cup guaranteed parity and unpredictable results far into its future. It was transformed from a ho-hum event to an intriguing, immensely popular extravaganza.
The Curtis Cup should follow this same road. Too much tradition has saddled a Curtis Cup with the burden of lackluster golf, which is a blemish on an otherwise distinguished golf gathering.