Alison Davidson on golfing friendships meaning more than titles
Until a fortnight ago, Alison Davidson was the last Scottish player to have been crowned as the R&A Women’s Amateur champion, having landed the prize at Cruden Bay in 1994.
Only time will tell what lies ahead in the game for Louise Duncan after she ended Scotland’s drought in the event, but Davidson has shown that satisfaction can be found by staying in the amateur ranks.
The Stirling woman never even gave turning professional consideration at the height of a career that also saw her win four points out of four in a Curtis Cup and insists she has no regrets whatsoever.
How did you get into golf?
AD: My dad, Tom, was a very keen golfer when we lived through Larbert way and was a member of Falkirk Carmuirs and I used to pester him all the time by saying “take me to the golf, take me to the golf”. I used to go to a grass area near where we stayed and I used to hit balls for hour after hour. I then joined Carmuirs when I was 14 before we moved to Stirling, joining there at 16 and I’ve been there ever since.
It sounds as though your dad was a big influence on you?
AD: He was probably my No 1 fan over the years and, sadly, he passed away quite suddenly last year. Even latterly and even if I was playing in a medal at Stirling, he’d be on the phone asking how I got on. We had a really strong bond through golf.
Did you take to it quickly and have instant success?
AD: I’d say I was probably a late developer. I didn’t play in the Scottish Girls Championship and I only played in one Scottish Under-21s Stroke-Play. I played for Scotland in one Junior European Team Championship in 1988 out in Belgium. We lost 8-1 to England in the final and I was the only one to win my match. That made me think I could play the game a bit more seriously and it spurred me on to put in a bit more work.
You lost in the final of the 1996 Scottish Women’s Championship. What do you remember about that?
AD: I’d won the St Rule Trophy in 1991 and won the Welsh Stroke-Play as well, I’d won a few big events, in fact. But, in the Scottish Championship, the best I’d managed until then was getting to the semi-finals. The Scottish was at Dornoch that year and Anne Laing beat me on the last hole in the final.
What did it mean to go one better the following year at West Kilbride?AD: I beat Hilary Monagan at West Kilbride and that was a special moment. It was funny because I went through a spell from losing in that final at Dornoch through to winning the Women’s Amateur at Cruden Bay in 1997 where I never lost a singles match and that also included the Home Internationals and European Team Championship. I think it was an amazing run of winning 25 singles matches in a row in top-level competition. I just seemed to take to match-play and get the bit between my teeth.
That run, of course, included the 1996 Curtis Cup at Killarney, where you actually won four points out of four in helping secure a thumping 11.5-6.5 win over the Americans. How special was that?
AD: That was an incredible week. Having not played in a Curtis Cup before, I didn’t know what to expect and I remember standing on the first tee on the first morning, when I was playing with Lisa Dermott, a Welsh girl, and I was teeing off first. As I stood up, the first hole was lined with people and I remember thinking to myself, ‘you must hit the fairway (laughing)’. All my family were over and a lot of fellow lady members from Stirling as well. It was just tremendous.
You were due to play in the Women’s Amater Championship at Hoylake the following week, but had to pull out due to a family bereavement?
AD: The day we won the Curtis Cup, my grandmother, my dad’s mum, passed away and the whole family - my dad, mum Rena, sister Diane and brother Brian - were in Killarney. They got a phone call at their B&B just after the match had finished to say she’d died and they were all coming to the big gala dinner that night. They didn’t tell me as I was on a high and partying away with the others. I don’t know how my family coped with it, but they did as they put on a brave face. The next morning, I was getting ready to go on a coach to fly over to the British when I got a call in my room to tell me that my dad was downstairs and I knew then there was something wrong. He took me aside and broke the news and I immediately spoke to Julie Hall, who was a team member at the time but was going on to become secretary of the LGU, that I wasn’t going to Hoylake and I drove back to Stirling instead with my family. But, after the funeral, my brother and I drove down to Hoylake to watch the final and say ‘hello’ to everyone.
Having been one of the favourites when that happened, what did it mean to then claim that title the following year at Cruden Bay?
AD: I still feel, and it may be rubbish, but to then go and win it the following year was fate and I did it for my grannie. I remember the week before that I wasn’t actually playing brillant, even though I’d won the Scottish three weeks before. After that, I found it hard to pick myself up again, to be honest, and I went out for a lesson with John Chillas, who was my coach at the time. We went out for a game at Glenbervie and Elaine Ratcliffe, who was a student at Stirling University at the time, joined us. I hit it terribly that day, but when I got up to Cruden Bay something clicked and I played solid all week. I had a couple of games that went to the 18th and 19th and I could easily have gone out, but I just kept plugging away and I found myself in the final against Mhairi McKay and I played really well that day to win 4&3.
How did you feel when West Kilbride’s Louise Duncan became the first Scot since then to claim the title with her recent win at Kilmarnock (Barassie)?
AD: It was nice to have that title of being the last Scot to win the British Amateur, but it was time someone else won it and I am absolutely thrilled for Louise. I think Scottish golf is in a great place right now and hopefully Louise can move on and, fingers crossed, we can have some Scots in the Curtis Cup later this year, if it goes ahead. Twenty-four years is a long time and it had to happen at some point, though I am surprised it took so long (laughing).
Louise has secured spots in the AIG Women’s Open, the US Women’s Open, the Evian Championship and the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. What rewards did you get back then?
AD: It’s a changed world, but, at the same time, I got to play in the Weetabix Women’s British Open, as it was called back then, at Sunningdale. That was great and I played with Pat Hurst and Amy Allcot, missing the cut by a shot. It was a great experience to see the likes of Annika Sorenstam and Karrie Webb playing. I also played in the McDonald’s WPGA event at Gleneagles a couple of times and made the cut. But Augusta would have been nice (laughing).
So, at the height of your success, what was your mindset in terms of turning professional along with the likes of Catriona Matthew, Janice Moodie and Mhairi McKay?
AD: That was never on the cards for me. I’m very much a home bird and I’m very much a family person. I have always enjoyed golf as a hobby, but it was never the be all and end all. You an be great at it when it’s your hobby, but it’s a different game altogether when it’s your living and it’s your job and I don’t think the lifestyle would have suited me. People sometimes ask me, ‘why didn’t you turn pro?’, but I don’t regret it one bit. I’ve had some great memories through golf and still am. I play a lot and I still really enjoy it. I’ve made so many friends through golf. We’ve got a wee group of pals whose husbands all play as well and we go on trips etc and it’s just great fun. I just don’t think the professional game would have been for me. When I was away playing in amateur events, I was always glad to get home. We’ll never know what might have happened, but I don’t regret it. I’m quite happy with the route my career took.
What were you doing work-wise when you won the Women’s Amateur?
AD: Back then I worked for the Bank of Scotland, which I did for 20-odd years. I left eight years ago and I work in a physiotherapy clinic now locally. The bank was very good to me, giving me loads of time off. There was one summer, I think it was 1995, I went off and played in the European Championship, the Vagliano Trophy, the Commonwealth Tournament out in Australia and I had something like 17 weeks off. There’s not many employers who would put up with that, so I was very lucky. THat doesn’t happen nowadays. A lot of the girls playing in these events are pretty much full-time amateurs whereas I was working full-time, came home and hit balls for two hours and was back at work the next day. It was very different to what it is nowadays.
How many Stirling and Clackmannan county titles have you racked up over the years?
AD: I think I’ve got eight, though I didn’t play in it when I was playing in all the international events as I just didn’t have enough time to play in everything. I’ve also got a few East of Scotland titles as well.
Do you have any goals to achieve in the senior ranks?
AD: I turned 50 a couple of years ago and I’ve played in a couple of Senior Home Internationals. It was great being back and seeing a lot of faces I knew from 20 years ago. I played pretty well at County Sligo a couple of years ago and it was good to get the competitive juices flowing again. I really enjoyed it. The Home Internationals are slightly different this year as it’s a combined team made up of four men and four ladies down at Woodhall Spa in August.
You mentioned him earlier. How much of an influence has John Chillas been on your career?
AD: John was the pro at Stirling when I joined there then he moved to Glenbervie and I continued to have lessons from him for 20-odd years. Even if I was out hitting balls, he’d come over and offer me advice. In fact, John and his wife are in a group heading to Islay and Machrihanish next month to celebrate some big birthdays and anniversaries. He’s now retired and Craig Lee has helped me a wee bit lately. He’s got his own golf studio now just along from where I stay.
Stirling seems to be a very forward-thinking club, having opened a new short-game area last year?
AD: I love playing golf at Stirling. It’s a beautiful course in a beautiful setting. You know, we’ve now got something like 108 lady members, which is incredible when you think that some clubs are struggling to get lady members. They don’t all play all the time, but I’ve seen us having 60 ladies in a medal on a Tuesday and we also have quite a few low-handicappers now. It’s a fantastic club and I love being a member there.
You might already have partly answered this one, but sum what golf has meant for you?
AD: Mainly it’s a game that I love. Even though I don’t play as much competitively now as I did, I still go out and give it my best shot every time I go out. I’m very passionate about golf and one of the main things I love about golf is the friendships I’ve made. All my good friends are golfers and I still follow all the girls I used to play international golf with. In my first Home Internationals, my foursomes partner was Catriona Matthew and I still follow their careers. I just think it’s a fantastic game for friendships.
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