Ladies’ tournament was a big success at Stoke-by-Nayland

WPGA ProAm team pic
left to right Donna Harvey-Arnell,
Mike Bacon, Nicole Broch Larsen and Chr

WPGA ProAm team pic left to right Donna Harvey-Arnell, Mike Bacon, Nicole Broch Larsen and Chris Abbott - Credit: Contributed

If you are wondering whether women’s golf is on the rise or wane – I’ll tell you now – it’s very much on the up.

And I have recently enjoyed first-hand experience as to why.

The LET (Ladies European Tour) Access Series is the official feeder tour to the Ladies European Tour and Stoke-by-Nayland golf club was the most recent staging of the 14-round series.

Like all major events and before the real competition begins there is often a Pro-Am.

It’s a chance for amateurs like myself to hack around with a more than overly-patient professional who wants to use their time to get used to the course they hope to destroy over the next few days.

However, they invariably spend much of the time visiting parts they would never normally go to on any other day of the week, looking for balls you or I have sliced and hooked to all quarters.

Yes ladies and gentlemen, with a Pro-Am record that reads played four, won one, second in one, middle of the pack in one, and last in one, I was delighted to get the opportunity to play with two of my Archant Suffolk colleagues, Chris Abbott and Donna Harvey-Arnell in the LET Access Series women’s Pro-Am at Stoke-by-Nayland last week.

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Our professional for the day was Nicole Broch Larsen from Denmark.

It was a beautiful September lunchtime and, as the four of us met up on the ninth hole – our first in the shotgun start – Chris and I were already wondering how far we were going to be outdriven today and would our egos be able to cope?

Nicole introduced herself and, after a bit of gentle prodding from three media folk who are used to extracting information, admitted she had only turned professional on August 1 that year . . . six weeks ago!

That fact caused an audible gasp from me which thankfully turned into high-fives all round when Nicole coolly added . . . “but I’ve won two events already.”

So, we had a professional at the top of her game and all she needed now was for us to be at the top of ours!

The first tee-shots of the day are always rather nerve-wracking and strangely seemed to sum up the way the day was set to go for all of us.

Nicole, who played off the championship tees with myself and Chris, struck a glorious iron to the edge of the par 3 green, Donna did likewise, off the ladies tees with a very tidy shot, while Chris went sort of left and not far. I went in a bunker!

Yes, a bunker.

Why is it when you go in a bunker on the first hole of the day, you can be assured to find almost every bunker on the course? I didn’t disappoint and four hours later limped back to the clubhouse with enough sand in my socks to make one of those sculptures you see on the beach.

After a shaky first ‘team’ hole all four of us set about the Gainsborough course, which was in fine fettle.

Donna and Nicole continued to ping the ball down the middle off the tees impressively, while Chris’ game improved, but I lurched from one bunker to another only adding any points to the team score when I somehow managed to avoid them.

Nicole was good company and was soon being dragged into the banter of ‘playing for 10p’ with Donna to see who could knock in par or even birdie putts on the greens.

Chris and I didn’t seem to ever be in a position to participate!

At first I think Nicole wondered what on earth Donna was on about with the 10p challenge . . . but by the 17th it was now Nicole challenging Donna and enjoying the day.

Meanwhile Chris and I were going on our merry way, occasionally stunning the scorecard with an odd par here and there, rarely out-driving Nicole.

Indeed when I skied one off the par five 16th my ball landed just five yards in front of the ladies tee.

“That was close,” Nicole laughed.

Ho! Ho! Ho!

Nicole dropped two shots and had two birdies in what was a level round of golf which was as impressive as it was great to watch.

I’ve always been taught that golf is ‘all in the swing’.

And although it is something I’ve never actually put into practice myself, Nicole showed me exactly why that statement is true.

Our final team score of 83 didn’t challenge the honours board, but we finished ninth out of 25, a decent effort.

After a gala dinner enjoyed with Nicole and other top lady golfers including the wonderful Alison Nicholas, multi-playing Solheim Cup star and captain of the team in 2009 and 2011, it was time to wish ‘our’ Pro-Am partner the best of luck for the event as we went our separate ways.

Nicole went on to finish tied eighth, picked up almost 800 euros for her efforts and more importantly cemented third place in the Order of Merit – the top five get a full European Tour card next season.

She is clearly talented, determined and hungry for success.

Had we just played with the next Laura Davies? Who knows?

But whatever Nicole achieves in her career I’m confident she will never forget her Pro-Am at Stoke-by-Nayland in 2013, and those words . . . ‘10p on this putt Nicole?’