Sunday 15 December 2019

Trend-setting women have a special place in fabric of game

Anne Tunney
Anne Tunney

Dermot Gilleece

In the course of her president's address to the centenary dinner of the Irish Ladies Golf Union in 1993, Anne Tunney recalled arguably the most memorable newspaper line in the history of the sport. 'Sic transit Gloria Monday' was dictated by the great scribe, Henry Longhurst, to the London Evening Standard in 1933.

What Longhurst later described as probably "the only Latin tag to find its way into the sporting pages of that journal", came to mind on hearing of Anne's passing on January 10 at the grand old age of 95. And this year happens to be the 60th anniversary of the death of Gloria Minoprio, one of the greatest eccentrics ever to have played the game.

I'm sure there were those at the time only too ready to accuse Longhurst of butchering the classic line which translates as "thus passes the glory of the world". But I can still recall the mischievous smile on Anne's face while she explained the use of Monday instead of mundi.

Given the circumstances, the overall quality of her speech, both in content and delivery, was truly remarkable. It later transpired her mother had died on that very day, yet in discharging her presidential duties, she betrayed not a hint of the enormous emotional strain involved.

Mrs Tunney, who had a career as a Dublin schoolteacher, was one of the great administrators of Irish golf, most notably as long-time treasurer of the ILGU. In this context, her father showed admirable foresight in giving her life membership of Milltown GC as a wedding gift. As it happened, the club later made her an honorary life member in recognition of her contribution to the game.

Meanwhile, the story of Ms Minoprio has to do essentially with fashion on the fairways, which will come as something of a surprise, given that the 1930s were notable largely for jumpers, tweed skirts, "fairy-like" stockings and brogues. But style most certainly had its place, as PG Wodehouse illustrated in this piece from Keeping in with Vosper.

Describing his wife as "the best little woman in the world", the Young Man was still moved to complain to the Oldest Member: "I would like to bean her with a brick, and bean her good. I told her, when she wanted to play a round with me this afternoon, that we must start early, as the days are drawing in. What did she do? Having got into her things, she decided that she didn't like the look of them and made a complete change.

"She then powdered her nose for 10 minutes. And when finally I got her on to the first tee, an hour late, she went back into the clubhouse to phone her dressmaker. It will be dark before we've played six holes. If I had my way, golf clubs would make a rigid rule that no wife be allowed to play with her husband."

When the English Women's Championship went to Westward Ho! in October 1933, Longhurst was among a group of journalists assembled close to the first tee at an unearthly hour on the opening morning. "A rumour had gone around the village," the scribe explained, "that at ten o'clock that day, a lady intended to play in trousers."

He went on: "One or two even went so far as to suggest that not only did she play in trousers but that she used only one club. This was ruled out, however, as an unworthy attempt to paint the lily. Trousers, yes; or one club, yes. But trousers and one club - come, come, sir!"

Still, he and his journalistic colleagues couldn't risk missing such a happening, though there was no sign of the mystery woman at her appointed time on the tee. Somewhat deflated, the eager spectators were about to head back to the clubhouse when a yellow Rolls Royce suddenly appeared on the little road which crossed the links a few hundred yards away.

"The car stopped," recalled Longhurst, "and out into the headlines stepped Miss Gloria Minoprio. The deserters hastily retraced their steps from the bar, while among the ladies in waiting arose a clucking and fluttering as of an agitated flock of Leghorn pullets. 'My dear, do you see what I see?'; 'What a figure . . .'; 'What trousers!' 'Well, really!' cried the Ladies Golf Union. 'Good God!' said the journalists.'"

For her competitive debut, she was clad from head to toe in dark blue, while her cheeks, according to Longhurst, were heavily, almost grotesquely, powdered in white, like a mask accentuated by blazing red lipstick. And her young caddie carried in a small bag not one, but two straight-faced cleeks, the second model being a spare.

Though she proved herself to be a reasonable player, the limitations of her equipment couldn't be overcome and she lost her match by five and four. Which presented Longhurst with his wonderful line, when phoning his report through to the evening paper.

Though old Henry wouldn't dare admit it, he appears to have been smitten by the 25-year-old descendent of Italian immigrants, who became wealthy Liverpool merchants. She and her sister were brought up by a grandmother and two aunts near Hampton Court and in 1931, for a subscription of six guineas, she became a member of Kent's Littlestone GC, which gave her a handicap of four.

In the wake of her Westward Ho! appearance, she wrote to inform Longhurst that, for the benefit of her friends, she had bought 30 copies of Tatler, in which he had written a report. And on meeting her, he wrote: "She had a vacant, far-away look of Lady Macbeth walking in her sleep. . . The Ladies Golf Union, aghast at her first appearance, issued a proclamation that they 'deplored any departure from the traditional costume of the game'."

Yet Ms Minoprio's timing couldn't have been better. With the onset of World War II, the sight of women in trousers became commonplace in Britain and such attire was soon de rigueur on the world's fairways.

As for the player herself: she had varied and largely ill-fated relationships with the opposite sex, including war years with an elderly Hungarian producing cheese from sheep's milk on a farm in Northamptonshire. She subsequently married Stefan Godlewski, a Pole who had fought in the British army.

On changing his name to Caroll, he became a hotel restaurant manager while she worked as a laundry mistress. Little is known of what became of her from then on, other than having succumbed to septicaemia, she was only 50 when she died in Nassau, Bahamas on March 11, 1958.

Interestingly, her final championship challenge was in the 1939 British Women's Amateur at Royal Portrush, where she again lost in the opening round. By then, however, she had gained the distinction of becoming the first person to win a significant competitive match using only one club.

It happened in the 1934 English championship at Seacroft, Lincolnshire, where she had a 2 and 1 first round victory over a petrified teenager. Never mind that she was crushed by English international Mary Johnson the following day.

Her progress beyond Monday allowed Longhurst to deliver the line he must have doubted he'd ever get the chance of using. "Sic transit Gloria Tuesday," he wrote, to which Anne Tunney also accorded approval in her speech, 59 years later.

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