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ABBOTSLEY

I bought the golf club at Abbotsley in 1986. At that time it was known as Eynesbury Hardwicke Golf Club - not exactly a name to dribble off the tongue - and the hamlet of Eynesbury Hardwicke doesn't feature in most UK maps. ...... (Now hang on here. "Remember Viv", reminds Edward, "you mustn't be seen to promote your own golf club or say you own it. Those Amateur Status rules don't allow it!"

You mean, Nigel Mansell can't say he owns a golf course in Devon. No of course he can. But he can't say that he, Nigel Mansell, is a good golfer too. He can say, former World Racing Driver Champ, Nigel Mansell, owns the golf course, but can't link it to his golfing ability. Got it. Because then he'd be a pro. Correct. So anyone who is a completely appalling golfer who owns a golf course can promote it in any way they like, but if you are a good amateur golfer who owns a golf course, you can't tell them you own it - what because you might be using your name to promote it. Correct. So why can R and A members like Peter McEvoy, Gary Wolstenholme, Michael Bonallack (all former men's amateur champions) promote golf courses or make comments about golf courses with which they are linked. You just don't get it, do you. They run the show. Now I've got it.

OK - Ed - you take over and run us through a bit about Abbotsley. Well, Viv bought Abbotsley (formerly Eynesbury Hardwicke) in 1986. The club is just outside St. Neots, which is just off the A1, some 40 miles north of the M25, and near the village of Abbotsley. It is right on the Bedfordshire/Cambridgeshire border - which literally runs through the back of the practice ground. (Just in case Cambridgeshire sounds a long way from civilisation and flat - Abbotsley is in the old county of Huntingdonshire - with woods and rolling hillside).

Why did she buy Abbotsley? Well, she was national coach to the England ladies and it was very hard to find good coaching facilities. Relatively few courses had ranges and it was difficult to find clubs that would welcome an international squad, with the opportunity to coach on the course. (Viv did get great help from Telford, Frilford Heath, Alwoodley, Temple and several others - but it was hard to find great coaching facilities. She approached ELGA when Abbotsley was for sale, but no one would have been able to act quickly enough to buy the club. So Viv sold her house in Oxshott in Surrey, managed to extract a loan from the Midland Bank and bought it herself. It became a great centre for her national coaching, with the Irish and Welsh squads also coming to her for coaching at Abbotsley.

Anyway, when Viv first bought Abbotsley she stupidly imagined the members would be delighted that the course was to be bought by a golfer, rather than the Iranian hotel group which were the other potential purchasers. Not a bit of it. The committee virtually summoned her to meet them - you know the sort, all smart blazer, grey flannels and yellow socks. Some of them had been on a first class fiddle - free snooker  for committee, blocking the tee sheet for the committee, ruling the roost, not allowing the juniors to play in men's competitions. Anyway on Viv's first meeting the delightful man who was due to take over as captain told her he was not going to be made a fool of by playing at a club owned by a woman. In his boringly, dour Scottish drone he told her it was absurd  woman owning a golf club and asked it any other woman owned a golf club. Viv's response was that the Queen owned a perfectly nice one at Balmoral.  With that, thank God, he resigned and retreated to St. Neots Golf Club - hopefully never having returned to Abbotsley. Fortunately the rest of the blazered buffoons departed in his wake within a year or two. What this experience did tell me was that all golf clubs should have a men's bar, not for their gratification, but to protect right minded men and women from their type - the drunks, the trouser droppers, the misogynists, Harry Hacker and Gary Lager.

Fortunately once the dross had gone our lovely men members were able to enjoy their golf - the juniors to play in competitions and everyone with a chance to compete.

Viv continued to run an enormous programme of golf schools, with people coming from all over the world for her coaching - from Brisbane to Bahrain, Bombay to Baltimore. And even Bodmin. (Yes, Edward, even Bodmin). And New Zealand. Yes, Edward.

And then, what happened? Well when Viv moved to Abbotsley, the Lady Captain, Jenny Wisson, decided to take a break from teaching PE to work in golf. Jenny was really the brains behind all the development at Abbotsley. (Viv just did the teaching - well more or less). They added another golf course - the Cromwell course. Why Cromwell? Well Huntingdon is the home of Oliver Cromwell. OK - and also the (adopted) home of John Major. Yes, we thought about calling it the Major Championship course. No seriously, we felt Cromwell was appropriate. The complex also includes a large covered, floodlit driving range, six squash courts (now four courts and a fitness centre), a par 3 course (which goes under the humble name of "The Huntingdonshire" or the "Adventure course" and Abbotsley also has a 42 bedroomed hotel.

The course is a real gem. As Golf Monthly described it - "the design is a revolution, the presentation superb". The course has hosted the English Intermediate Championships, Two England Rosebud pro-ams and a host of local and county championships. It is a firm favourite with visiting parties and has a large and very enthusiastic membership.

In 1999 Viv leased the club to American Golf, now Crown Golf, and it is one of their flagship centres. Viv still lives in the moated manor house in the centre of the golf course. Yes, Edward, with you. We mustn't forget Edward (and Sophie - the other delicious cat!)

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