Catriona Matthew chips onto the green
Catriona Matthew chips onto the green

Scotland’s Solheim Cup golf captain Catriona Matthew

Scotland’s most successful female golfer Catriona Matthew is gearing up for a new challenge, as she captains Team Europe at this year’s Solheim Cup.

The competition takes place at Gleneagles, from 13-15 September, posing a new challenge for Catriona, who was born and bred in her beloved North Berwick and loves coming home to East Lothian.

I was born and grew up in North Berwick and, apart from ten years in America, I’ve lived here all of my life. I have a lot of really happy memories of growing up here with my parents and two older brothers. And of course it was also the place where I learnt to play the sport from which I earn a living.

I went to Law Primary School and then North Berwick High. I really enjoyed school, which was good fun. I was fortunate in that I was fairly clever and very sporty. I had a great childhood growing up in North Berwick. I have two older brothers and we’d play a lot together – I was a bit of a tomboy.

I have a lot of really fond memories of being on the beach with my brothers and friends. We spent a lot of time there and when I was a teenager we’d have barbecues. I think the weather always seems warmer when you’re a kid. Now when I’m at the beach with my kids, they’ll splash about in the sea whilst I’ll just dip my toe in the water. The beach at North Berwick is really good for kids and has a man-made sea pool, which makes it really safe.

Catriona Matthew chips onto the green

We’re a very outdoorsy family, which makes North Berwick the perfect place to live. We regularly take a walk up Berwick Law, from where you have great views of the town and, if the weather’s clear, the rest of East Lothian.

We also enjoy a walk around the pretty harbour at North Berwick, coupled with a visit to the Seabird Centre, which my kids love. They offer boat trips around The Bass Rock, and we did it years ago although the girls aren’t so keen on the idea just now.

Further afield, East Lothian is full of great places to visit. Just outside North Berwick are the ruins of Tantallon Castle, built in the 14th century. Perched on the clifftop, it has a visitor centre and is definitely worth visiting. Further along from the castle is Seacliff Stables, from where you can have lovely coastal pony treks. My eldest girl went for her birthday, even though it was in December and freezing!

As well as North Berwick, East Lothian has a wealth of great beaches, which is ideal for a place that is one of the sunniest in the UK. We tend to go to Yellowcraig, near Dirleton. There’s a small swing park there, which the girls love. It’s a bit of a hike to the beach but it’s worth the effort. Even in winter there’s a really nice walk through the trees, along part of the John Muir Way, which runs across the East Lothian coastline. Other beaches include Longniddry Bents, which is ideal for rockpooling, while the beach at Gullane is very popular.

Other attractions in East Lothian include Dirleton Castle, which the kids can run around, and East Links Family Park near Dunbar. The Museum of Flight at East Fortune and the Myreton Motor Museum are also a great day out. There’s a small golf museum next to the pro’s shop at Gullane and we even have a distillery, Glenkinchie, near Pencaitland. The swimming pool at Dunbar is also really good for the kids.

Catriona Matthew On the beach, with Berwick Law looming large in the background (Photo: Catriona Matthew)

Of course we’ve been all over East Lothian. It’s full of lovely wee villages, such as Dirleton, Gullane and Aberlady. When I was a kid, when it snowed we used go to Gifford and sledge in the Lammermuir Hills. And we’d always pop into the Goblin Ha’ Hotel on the way home for a bite to eat.

There are so many golf courses in East Lothian it’s ridiculous. As well the championship course at Muirfi eld, where last year’s Open was played, there are three courses at Gullane and courses at Kilspindie, Dunbar and Archerfield, where I now practice. The Old Course in Musselburgh – which is inside the racecourse, which makes for one of the most memorable experiences in golf – is the oldest in the world.

North Berwick has two 18-hole courses: The Glen, and North Berwick Golf Course, of which I was a member when I was growing up. I’m lucky enough to live right next to the eighteenth tee. It’s where I started so it will always mean a lot to me. It’s a real old-style links course, designed by East Lothian’s golf legend, Ben Sayers.

I was about seven or eight when I started playing golf, on a small nine-hole course in North Berwick. My dad and brothers played; and my mum took it up when I went to school, just to keep up with us. She still plays now. When I was a kid there were lots of competitions on the small putting green.

Until I was about sixteen, as well as golf I played hockey, badminton and tennis. It was a very sporty childhood, but all of that made way for golf when I was about sixteen and I realised that I was actually quite good at it. I entered local tournaments and won a few, and did the same with tournaments further afield. So before I went to university I got some coaching from Jimmy Hume at Gullane.

Catriona Matthew at North Berwick harbour (Photo: Angus Blackburn)

At that point golf pretty much took up all of my weekends and holidays. Prior to that I’d had a variety of summer jobs. My first job was picking strawberries at Ferrygate Farm, just outside Dirleton, for five pence a punnet. I also caddied for visitors at North Berwick Golf Club, collected money on the kids’ course and worked in a local hotel.

I went to Stirling University and did a degree in Financial Studies. I was one of the first students on a sports scholarship; they paid for me to attend tournaments all over the world. During this time I was coached by John Chillas at Glenbervie.

I turned pro after leaving university in 1994. My first season was a disaster: during my second tournament I took ill and had to go in for emergency surgery and missed half the season. I managed to scrape a bit of a card, but it was a struggle. Luckily things took off after that.

Winning the Women’s British Open in 2009 at Lytham St Annes was a great feeling. It was only eleven weeks after I’d given birth to my second child, so to win a Major was amazing. My husband, Graeme, was caddying, which made it even more special.

I’ve also been lucky enough to play in the Solheim Cup on seven occasions. It’s nice to be part of a team in a sport that’s usually all about individuals, and it’s always a great atmosphere. Last year we beat the Americans on their turf for the first time, by 18-10, which was great.

Catriona Matthews, winning the Ladies Scottish Open

It is always difficult to strike the right balance between golf and the family. I’m away about half the year, although I’m never away for longer than three months at a time. So when I do come home I don’t really want to do anything; even driving to Gullane is a feat. But North Berwick is perfect because everything is within walking distance. We lived in Florida for ten years, which was great, but you have to drive everywhere, even to buy a pint of milk. That can become very wearing but it made us appreciate just how easy it is to live in a place like North Berwick.

We’re not great cooks, but with having two girls, and being away a lot, we tend to eat in the house. When we do get out there are some nice restaurants in East Lothian. In North Berwick, for example, there’s Zitto, a little Italian restaurant on Quality Street. My eldest had her birthday party there recently and it’s one of my favourites. Osteria is also really nice. And the North Berwick Fry does great fish and chips.

When you travel so much it’s always a great feeling coming home. For me, I know I’ve arrived back home as I drive into North Berwick from the north, and I can see the trees on the left hand side of the road. When I’m back I have all these ideas about what I’m going to do, but to be honest I don’t really want to be anywhere else. A holiday for us is just the whole family being together at home.

Catriona Matthew will be captaining Team Europe at the Solheim Cup, the 16th edition of the competition between Europe and the USA.

(This feature was originally published in 2014)