THE SCENE was one of the grandest events in the macho world of sport, the gala dinner which raised the curtain on golf’s Ryder Cup, that titanic struggle between America and Europe.
With all the men present at Birmingham’s NEC, at last the audience were introduced to the players. US captain Curtis Strange was first to itemise his roll: Azinger, Calcavecchia, Woods ... some of the game’s great names.
Then Sam Torrance, Europe’s captain, stood up: "This is Colin Montgomerie - and this is his wife Eimear."
You might have expected the earth to crack. When women achieve recognition in golf - even as wives, never mind as players - you suspect a determinedly feminine touch at work.
On Wednesday night that touch was provided by Suzanne Danielle, Torrance’s wife, a woman who is clearly out to make a difference.
The alterations may be small, but they amount to an attempt to change the perception of golfing wives. Gone are the uniform dress codes which apparently are still employed by those Stepford wives who comprise the American counterparts of Ms Danielle and her cohorts.
Instead of the US women’s harsh dark blues, and those less-than-attractive turtleneck sweaters, the Europeans are dressed for comfort, with a flash of jewellery here and an official scarf there. It’s the choice of the captain’s wife to set the dress code, and thanks to Ms Danielle, the European women are relaxed, as if to say: "We’re in tow to our other halves for a few days, and we might as well enjoy ourselves."
And they do just that, as Danielle makes clear. "On the Monday and Tuesday, the feeling is almost one of being back at school. The ice begins to break and you are left with a fabulous team spirit. By the end, you have made friends you keep for the rest of your lives."
Not that this kind of thing goes down well with the likes of those card-carrying male chauvinists whom you can find in many a clubhouse bar - and not just Muirfield.
As Bob Hope put it, golf is a game that needlessly prolongs the lives of some of our most useless citizens. There is a breed of unreformed sexist in the game who likes his woman barred from the 19th hole, and ready at home with his slippers and a good malt whisky when he returns from a lazy meander over the links.
Matters, mercifully, are rather different chez Torrance, where a sense of equality appears to prevail. Thoroughly modern Sam isn’t about to let golf come before family (even if their million-pound home is close to the course in Wentworth, Surrey).
"We discuss everything," he says. "Partnerships, teams, the whole lot. Suzanne has been a stalwart. She has helped me in almost every aspect of the preparations for the Belfry."
It has been a constant refrain from the golfer, ever since he met his wife. The couple have four children: Daniel - a veteran, at 14, of this year’s Junior Open at Balcomie Links in Crail - Dale, Anouska and Phoebe.
"They have changed my life," says Torrance. "The children mean something to me which I find difficult to put into words. I come off a golf course and seeing them puts me into a happy frame of mind, regardless of what I have shot."
Does it helps him to get the professional game into perspective? Well, yes it does. "Golf has become pretty secondary really," he admits.
Suzanne met her future husband just after she had ended a seven-year relationship with the actor Patrick Mower. "I am a keen golfer and Suzanne and I met Sam at the same time," Mower has recalled. "He helped me with my golf. It wasn’t like Suzanne left me for Sam."
Torrance proposed to her on a Concorde flight taking the European team en route to victory in the 1987 Ryder Cup in Columbus, Ohio, but it took another eight years for the couple to get married. For that great event, the golfer managed to hire Skibo Castle, a pipe band, a limousine and arrange a stag night without his wife-to-be realising she was about to get spliced (she thought she was attending a 40th birthday party).
When, inside Skibo, the golfer finally passed her a note asking "Will you marry me?", she agreed at once, and Dornoch minister Tom Milroy was on hand to perform the necessaries immediately .
If this happy occasion was a tribute to Torrance’s organisational skill, his hand-picked team for the weekend’s sport seems to have been almost as successful. His selection has helped Europe to a promising first day of tournament golf and confounded their doubters. Any magic touch though, he reckons, is owed to his distaff side.
"She has changed me a hell of a lot," says Torrance. "She has made me a much better person in every way. I wouldn’t be the person I am now if it wasn’t for Suzanne, and I wouldn’t be the captain."
If it is a marriage made in some strange golfing heaven, it is also patently true that Suzanne is no Germaine Greer. There is no stepping out on her own these days, far less any bold feminist statement. Instead, she dogs her husband’s footsteps and can often be seen at tournaments, walking through the crowds, just as she will be for the remainder of this weekend. But it really is a partnership, both sides insist.
If there are worthwhile distinctions to be drawn with other women, they are surely with Danielle’s counterparts in the American camp. Power-dressed, on Thursday the collective effect of the US women, according to one uncharitable observer, was enough to make Saddam Hussein plead for mercy. Others, even less complimentary, compare the wives to Barbie, or worse. It rankles with their spouses almost as much as it angers the women.
In the aftermath of the last Ryder Cup, one US performer, Davis Love III, responded to allegations of bad sportsmanship by the American team by implying a sense of deep hurt towards the European contingent. "How long have they been calling our wives flight attendants and blonde bimbos?"
In truth there are obvious similarities between the women on either side. For a start, beautiful women seem strangely attracted to rich and famous sportsmen the world over. Golf is no exception.
Danielle herself made her name as an actress, renowned more for her looks than her stagecraft. Her last notable credit is the oft-forgotten Carry on Emmanuelle, where she played the title role opposite her screen husband, Kenneth Williams, a camp French ambassador called Emile Prevert.
So it is with many of the others. These days, most snapped by the sports paparazzi is a former swimsuit model, Elin Nordegren, who makes a splash as Tiger Woods’ girlfriend. Amy Mickelson, hitched to US star Phil, is a former cheerleader, while Lisa Cink, married to Stewart, stands out only because she is a brunette among the massed ranks of blondes on the USPGA wives circuit. "That’s because they met before Stewart got rich," says another of the girls. Ouch.
WHETHER their backgrounds are as the girl next door or the woman he met at the country club, undeniably it’s a curious life for the camp followers of professional golfers. And not everyone lasts the course.
Confined for this event to the commentary box, the game’s most graceless man, 45-year-old Nick Faldo, has already worked his way through two wives and is currently fixed up with a fragrant PR girl, Valerie Bercher, 17 years his junior.
"His brains [are] in his trousers" reports Faldo’s second wife Gill.
Mel, his first wife, adds: "He demands enormous, unflagging emotional support."
But Mel offers a second and more trenchant insight into the down-side of life with a celebrity sportsman. "It’s terrible not to be seen as an individual," she says. "People would deal with me as if I was an extension of Nick. They would talk to me only with the intention of getting to the great man.
"If not, they would chat to me about Nick. It was impossible to have a normal conversation."
All of which proved too much for Deborah Couples, the former wife of the American player Fred Couples. She committed suicide 15 months ago after suffering from depression for three years.
Deborah had been a promising athlete in her own right when she met her husband at the University of Houston, but her sporting skills were soon eclipsed by his success. When her husband won the US Masters in 1992, she jumped forward to share the moment of triumph and a worldwide television audience saw her wrap her legs around Couples’ waist. But she admitted: "To travel around all my life and just watch golf? No chance. It would be boring."
If understandable, hers is plainly not the view of the 26 women marching round the Belfry course near Sutton Coldfield. "We’re at the Ryder Cup in a supporting role," says Danielle, and she means what she says. They’re happy to back their men to glory.
Not surprisingly, all this makes an impact on the players. "The wives are fantastic," Sam Torrance concludes. "They are the ones in the room when the players go back with the frustrations and whatever. They calm them down. They are a very important part. On the golf course as well. It is very nice to see someone who loves you out there."