Belfast Telegraph

Couple who met at The Open in Portrush in 1951 still having a ball 68 years on

Ronnie and Jean Patterson
Ronnie and Jean Patterson
Ronnie and Jean Patterson n their wedding day in 1954
Max Faulkner who won The Open in 1951
Max Faulkner drives off the 10th at the 1951 Open in Portrush
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

The long-awaited return of The Open to Portrush this week will certainly bring back many happy memories for golf fans across Northern Ireland.

But for one couple, seeing the championship returning to the Dunluce Links is even more special as the tournament first brought them together.

Back in July 1951 the seaside town hosted the biggest names in the golfing world - and Ronnie Patterson from Belfast and Coleraine girl Jean Cobban, both aged 24, first set eyes on one another.

At 92 years old and as the golf heroes of today descend on the north coast, Ronnie and Jean are full of happy memories of The Open 68 years ago.

Ronnie, who is bouncing back after recent major surgery, says the chance meeting with Jean in a dance hall changed his life.

He told the Belfast Telegraph: "I always remember the date, July 14, which is Bastille Day. I had been down at The Open with some of my friends from the Crumlin Road.

"It was near the end of the tournament and we had a bit of money left so we decided to stay on in a boarding house close to the golf course for a few extra days.

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"The 14th was a Saturday and that night we went to the Palladium Ballroom after the pubs shut, which was at 9pm in those days.

"That's where I met Jean who had come up to Portrush with a friend from Newtownards.

"After a couple of dances, she had to get the last bus to Coleraine at 10pm so I walked her to the station.

"We agreed to meet the next day, when we walked from Portrush to Portstewart and back.

"Jean's family garden in Coleraine backed onto the railway track and she said she would stand and wave to me when I was on the train back to Belfast that night.

"My brother was with me and said there was no chance of her really being there but she kept her word and there she was waving at the train."

Recalling when golf's greatest competition last visited these shores, he said: "It was very exciting back in 1951 to see the likes of Max Faulkner, Bobby Locke and Fred Daly, who was our champion, tee off in Portrush.

"The prize money wasn't very good in those days, with the winner Max Faulkner getting just £300, but I think they get a bit more than that these days."

The couple exchanged letters for several months and met a number of times before getting engaged 18 months after their first meeting.

They tied the knot in front of family and friends on August 3, 1954, at New Row Presbyterian Church in Coleraine and spent their honeymoon in Southport.

After this, they settled in Dundonald where they still live.

The couple went on to have two daughters, Valerie (63) and Rosemary (57).

Over the years, Ronnie and Jean have enjoyed many trips back to the north coast, but sadly ill health means they won't be returning to catch a slice of the action this time around.

"I couldn't believe it when it was announced that The Open was coming back to Portrush," Ronnie added.

"I said to Jean that we would have to go up for old times' sake but sadly it's not to be."

However he will be tuning into watch the action on TV when play gets under way on Thursday.

And despite the like of Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler being in town, Ronnie admits he'll be rooting for a homegrown hero - Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke or Graeme McDowell - to lift the famous Claret Jug.

"The golfers of today are certainly very different to those back in 1951," he said.

"They're more classy and of course have much better equipment. I'd like to see the local boys like Rory doing well this time."

Ronnie and Jean's working lives ended on September 30, 1988, when they both retired from Ulster University where Ronnie taught naval architecture while Jean was a telephonist supervisor.

Alongside a few holidays throughout the world, Ronnie says that their grandchildren have been keeping them busy in their latter years whether being taught the piano or how to knit by Jean.

And there's one more family celebration coming up as the devoted pair will celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary next month.

Ronnie laughed: "It doesn't feel like 68 years since I first met Jean.

"It still seems like yesterday.

"She is nine months older than me, so I've always referred to myself as her toy boy but I certainly couldn't have got better."

Belfast Telegraph

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