A FAMILIAR TV face in the morning Naga Munchetty lives for the afternoon, when she can get out on the golf course, finds Ed Hodge
“I’ll be honest, golf has changed my life.” For a woman who confidently presents information to a mass audience on a regular basis, it’s a sit-up-and-take-notice remark. “It’s helped with my temperament and my focus and, when you work the hours I work in a studio, being outside for four to five hours a day is good for you.” Unquestionably, BBC Breakfast’s Naga Munchetty loves her golf. Indeed, she’s so passionate that she chose the Ryder Cup as her specialist subject for her appearance on Celebrity Mastermind. And won.
I just loved the fact you are competing against yourself
“I got into it about eight years ago when I started to have lessons,” she explains. “My husband, James, was hacking around a couple of times a year and I refused to play, as I used to think golf was an old man’s game, a posh game, and not for me. But I started taking lessons, and was taught by Anna Radford, who used to be on the Ladies European Tour, then I started playing. I just loved the fact you are competing against yourself. I love team games as well, but I love that in golf it’s just me.”
The broadcaster, who plays off a handicap of nine, fits in rounds as often as she can. Her early starts offer the chance to unwind later in the day, and she’s enjoying the golfing opportunities provided by these long summer nights.
“With the hours I do, if I didn’t play golf, I’d have a real risk of sitting in front of the TV all day,” she admits. “Instead, I meet amazing people from all walks of life and socialise with people I wouldn’t necessarily choose to socialise with, but I learn something every day.”
A winner of the Hertfordshire De Paula Cup at Bishop’s Stortford Golf Club in 2012, Londoner Munchetty’s profile has seen her tee up in leading Pro-Am events, notably the BMW PGA Championship Pro-Am at Wentworth alongside big-hitting Spaniard Alvaro Quiros, and in last year’s Aberdeen Asset Management Ladies Scottish Open at Archerfield Links where she and Dame Laura Davies made it to the final day.
Munchetty believes these are exciting times for the sport. “There are some great role models for young people in golf. Justin Rose is friendly and willing to talk to anyone at any time, Rickie Fowler is another one. Ian Poulter does a lot at Woburn,” she says. “I think there are some amazing characters coming through in the women’s game, from all over the world. It’s great to see women like Lydia Ko, who doesn’t look like your typical golfer. Golf has had this image of older ladies, with money, and now you are seeing the likes of Charley Hull who has come from humble beginnings, seeing girls who are strong, fit and athletic.”
Munchetty believes the up and coming female professionals are setting a great example for younger girls looking to get into the game. “It shows people that golf is not just about skill, but you need to be athletically fit, mentally strong and have good manners. Whenever I’ve been lucky enough to play with professionals, like Lotte Neuman at St Andrews a couple of years ago, the temperament they have is fantastic. “They [female golfers] are getting more media coverage, but not as much as what is needed.”
This month’s “joyous July” for golf in Scotland will certainly help propel the women’s game further forward. While some feared a golfing hiatus after last year’s Ryder Cup, the summer tee’d off in earnest with the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Gullane, continued with The Open Championship’s return to the hallowed turf of St Andrews’ Old Course, before the world’s leading ladies take centre stage.
Dundonald Links provides a new venue for the Aberdeen Asset Management Ladies Scottish Open, with top-ranked Ko, Suzaan Pettersen, Cheyenne Woods and a number of homegrown players like Catriona Matthew, Kylie Walker and Pamela Pretswell teeing up, before they make the short trip down the west coast to Trump Turnberry for the prestigious major, the Ricoh Women’s British Open.
With the new Saltire Energy Paul Lawrie Match Play heading for Murcar Links and the Fairstone Scottish Amateur Championship, returning to Muirfield for the first time since 1968, it’s another big year for Scottish golf.
Given the challenges of falling membership at clubs in recent years, Munchetty has supported England Golf’s developing programme and, back in May, helped front National Golf Month, a UK-wide initiative aimed at getting thousands of golfers back into the sport, alongside victorious European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley and Ladies European Tour star Hull. So she’s been pleased to hear about Scotland’s pioneering Get into Golf initiative.
Launched last September at the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, it aims to attract beginners, as well as returners, to the game, with almost 90 clubs in Scotland now running coaching programmes and offering introductory memberships.
Munchetty says: “We need to encourage golf clubs to set the course up for younger people, give them time, let them enjoy nine holes, let them play in groups, and put an effort in with their pros to focus on young people. In the long term, it could make a real difference. We know golf clubs are struggling in terms of membership and they have to look to the future and not just be pandering all the time to older or established members.”
Can more be done to make golf more mixed at clubs?
“I think the barriers can be broken down. Often there is an attitude that women do their thing and men do their thing, but it doesn’t have to be that way. At my club they have men’s and ladies’ medals on the same day and rotate the ladies field each week, with them starting at the beginning of the day, to the middle, to the end, and that has made a massive difference.
“Why should women go out at the end and wait on every shot? Clubs also have to work on speed of play, it’s a real issue. Golf has to be played quicker to encourage more people into the game.”
Munchetty returns north later this month for the Aberdeen Asset Management Ladies Scottish Open at Dundonald, competing again in the Pro-Am event. The 54-hole tournament, played over three days, is the only annual professional Ladies European Tour event in Scotland. Eighty amateurs and celebrities tee up alongside a limited field of 80 of the top female golfers in the world. In a further boost for golf fans, spectators get in for free.
“There is great access to golf in Scotland,” says Munchetty. “The courses at St Andrews, for example, are public courses. It feels like it’s a way of life in Scotland, that every child gets the opportunity to play and that’s great.”
Her experience in Perthshire last September was “amazing” as McGinley’s Team Europe enjoyed “Glory in the Glen,” which jogs a memory. Munchetty won Celebrity Mastermind in 2013, thanks to her specialist subject of the Ryder Cup from 1979 to the present.
She remembers: “It was just after the match at Medinah and I did a lot of cramming.
“I got two questions wrong on general knowledge but everything right on the Ryder Cup.”
• The Aberdeen Ladies Scottish Open is at Dundonald from 24-26 July, ladiesscottishopen.com; and the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry is held the following week, 30 July-2 August, ricohwomensbritishopen.com/ Get into Golf in Scotland this summer by visiting www.getintogolfscotland.org