Friday, July 01, 2016

 The Belle of the Ball going strong in 80th year

She was the Queen of the Green, the Belle of the Ball and recently blew out the candles on her milestone 80th birthday.
BELLE ROBERTSON, MBE is regarded as one of the best Scottish golfers of all-time, an amateur legend who won countless titles at home and abroad and is still going strong, playing off a three handicap at her beloved Dunaverty on the remote west coast.
In the week of the Scottish Senior Women’s Open Championship at Fortrose and Rosemarkie GC, how fitting to talk with one of the nation’s favourite females. We caught up with Belle at The 19th Hole

Belle, a happy 80th birthday! We trust it was a fantastic occasion?

BR: “Thank you. I always think of my birthday as being on The Masters weekend, given it is 11 April. I also always used to say my birthday was the same day as Seve’s, but he was two days before. It’s always a nice way to celebrate with The Masters, you have people in the house and you are viewing the golf at night.
“This year I decided to have a weekend birthday, so we were watching Augusta for four nights and thinking about my birthday. We had some family and friends staying as well so that was nice and obviously we had a European winner in England’s Danny Willett.
" I actually celebrated the weekend with Fiona Mackay, Mhairi Mackay’s sister, and her two boys. They came and stayed and we had a great time. I’m just on the edge of Campbeltown in Kintyre. I was born in nearby Southend and now find myself here, which is very nice.”

Belle and Scotland football manager Gordon Strachan at the 2016 Annodata Scottish Golf Awards

Belle: “The Masters almost always has something exciting about it. Tiger’s chip in, Nicklaus’ famous putt. I was lucky enough to be able to go to the Masters twice in my lifetime, and the first time was when Sandy Lyle won in 1988. That was very special to be there. I guess not many Scots can say that.
" I was actually in the Eisenhower Cabin, as they call it, in the upstairs balcony when Sandy was going in below. The downstairs rooms used to be where the security men for President Eisenhower stayed. He owned that cabin and when he died he donated it back to Augusta.
“My ticket was as a guest from Sir John Carmichael, a past captain of The R and A. I was fortunate as he said ‘don’t struggle with the crowds towards the end, watch the last few holes on television with me’. It was very, very exciting.”

You enjoyed so many career highlights, winning the Ladies British Stroke Play (four times), Scottish Ladies Amateur (seven times) and the Dunbartonshire and Argyll Ladies (10 times), to your various international team triumphs, including playing in four Curtis Cups. It’s great to hear you are still enjoying your golf today…

Belle: “I don’t maybe play that much, but I played the other day at Machrihanish. Two helicopters of Mr Trump, one his personal one, and another one, landed on the golf course, as they had popped over from Turnberry to enjoy a game. So it was an exciting day!”

Which club are you a member of?

Belle: “I’ve always used Dunaverty as my home club. I started off golf there and the family farm was in Southend. Jock MacVicar (golf writer for the Scottish Daily Express) and myself play there. 
"Jock and I were both born in Southend, 10 miles from Campbeltown. My handicap is three but I don’t play enough. If you don’t, you don’t get a chance to put it up! I’ll need to play in a few more competitions. I think, in all honestly, I probably play off about six, but I haven’t played a great deal in recent years.”

Did you ever consider professional golf?

Belle: “I was in about my 40’s when professional golf started and, of course, I was too old then to start in that. At my stage, married and with all that entails, it wasn’t an exciting prospect for me.”

The Senior Ladies have been battling it out for the Scottish title at Fortrose and Rosemarkie this week, how much competitive senior golf have you played?

Belle: “I’ve never played senior golf at national level. I was lucky enough to play golf at the highest level until I was 50. I decided I had been away so much that that was me finished full-time. I played in a Curtis Cup at the age of 50 at Prairie Dunes, Hutchinson, Kansas (in 1986) and I thought I’ll never ever do that again, so I thought that was a great way to bow out.”

Was that a career highlight?

Belle: “I remember playing over the Old Course at St Andrews in the national Scottish Ladies’ Championship of 1986, thinking ‘I’m not going to make the Curtis Cup unless I win this’. I was 50, and I wanted to play in it again for one last time, so it was the only championship that I went into knowing I had to win it.
"And I managed to make myself win, with ‘Tip’ Anderson’s help! I was lucky enough to have him as a caddy. He was a wonderful caddy, he really was. He was always so positive, gave me great boosts. It was a cold day, I was ahead and was clawed back, but we came through and won. 
"Jill Thornhill, the English girl, she was 46, and I was 50, and we had a few others in their 30’s in that Curtis Cup team. We were the first-ever GB and I Curtis Cup team to win on American soil. Trish Johnson was in that team. It was a great success.”

How closely do you follow the amateur scene now and what are your hopes for Scottish Golf in the future?

Belle: “It’s difficult to read amateur coverage in the press, but I was recently at the Dunbartonshire and Argyll Ladies County Championship, they invited me up for the day. It was nice to see that. I was also at the Annodata Scottish Golf Awards earlier this year (pictured top with co-host Dougie Vipond and Crail GS’s David Roy), which was a fantastic night. I’ve never been to an event with so many people like that and I’ll fondly remember it for a long time.
“Most golf I see now is on television. Unfortunately, the amateur game has changed a lot. I went to the Curtis Cup in Ireland this year and there were five girls aged 17 in the American side. It would appear now that if you are an amateur you don’t finish school, you go straight to your job on the circuit as a professional golfer, unlike my day. So many amateur players now want to turn pro and it would be great to see some stay as amateurs longer. There were no Scots players in the team at the Curtis Cup, but I think these things come in waves. Let’s hope in Scotland over the next five years there is rejuvenation of young girls getting into golf.”

Thanks Belle, and enjoy your 80th birthday year!