I had in mind to write a blog entitled “The height of summer” this week, as so much is going on all around us at present, but after a day or two of incessant rain (forecast again today I hear) and after a quite lovely afternoon spent on Sunningdale (Old) golf course watching the Senior Open yesterday – I thought I’d put pen to paper (or fingers to keys) on a different subject also dear to my heart (other than wildlife).
Golf. (I'll find time to blog about "the height of summer" soon perhaps).
Firstly, a little background.
I first picked up a golf club before I hit my teens. A Tommy Armour Silver Scot 7 iron which once belonged to my Scottish Grandfather. A couple of years later and my parents (my father still played at the time) kindly bought me and one of my new (at the time) step-brothers junior membership (for about £90 per year then – with no green fees to pay) to a local golf club – Hazlemere, near High Wycombe. I upgraded to my Grandfather’s old full set of Silver Scots, including a hickory shafted wedge and putter!
So I’ve been hitting golf balls for about thirty years, on and off. I must have played ohhhh, I don't know... 500(ish) rounds of golf during that time,(when I was 15 or so I’d play every day if I could in the summer at least) but since getting married (7 years now), I’ve hardly picked up a club at all, until this June.
I firstly played alongside my stepbrother(s), then a friend or two at University, then when I started working for a living, with my work colleagues (fellow bakers mainly – plenty of time off during the “working day” (after OUR work had finished early in the morning) and also house mates (when I was single and living with friends).
I’ve also played alone occasionally (maybe 5% of my total rounds, i.e. 25 rounds (ish)) – something which bemused some of my friends or work colleagues who regard their golf (and therefore ANY golf) to be a social or indeed sociable pastime - which I agree it is, but it doesn’t have to be. (I’ve tended to see FAR more wildlife on a round of golf, which I’ve played on my own –readers of this “wildlife blog” will know how important that is to me).
I’ve never had a single lesson (never could really afford to, nor really cared that much to shell out (a lot!) to improve) but I’m not terrible at golf. At present I’m playing to a single-digit handicap, although my average would be about 12-16 over the years I suppose. I’ve always played with second-hand clubs and never regarded that as affecting my game at all. New clubs are expensive!
I’m a big bloke, but not trusting myself to put full (uncontrollable) swings on a ball, I don’t tend to smash balls down fairways – I’m not a long hitter at all. But considering my swing length is about half the length of most golfers, and the result is often very comparable (often favourably) – so why would I put a full swing on a golf ball?!
Not only that, but one of my British golfing heroes always was Sandy Lyle – who plays with a half swing too – I don’t doubt at all that I emulated his “swing” when I first started playing and it seems to have stuck. Without the skill, majors wins and fame for me of course!
I’ve been lucky enough to play on a few courses in England and Scotland. But never abroad and never by the sea on a “links” course (even though I’ve visited St.Andrews and marvelled at it (its also pretty-well where my Dad has retired back to now (a few years back)). Many of my playing partners have in the past remarked that I have a “Scottish links game” (low running shots, bump-and-runs etc) but that’s the only nod to links golf from me – I’d rather go rock-pooling by the sea than stare at a little white ball thank you very much (I’ve far better things to do on the coast than play golf).
I’ve also lucky enough to have watched many professional golf tournaments and indeed pro-celebrity tournaments. Other than both getting an albatross AND a hole in one on golf courses over the years, my other claim to golfing fame might be that I once let Jesus through on a golf course, who was playing behind me, but a little quicker than me (I was probably looking at fox footprints in bunkers knowing me!).
Of course, when I say I’ve let Jesus through on the golf course, I mean Robert Powell – but Robert Powell doesn’t have the same dinner-party anecdotal name-dropping gravitas as Jesus? Embellish when you can, eh?
I’ve mainly watched professional tournaments at Wentworth (I now live within a very short (car) drive of the famous West Course at Virginia Water).
My first trip to Wentworth was in 1985, to see the Whyte and Mackay (now BMW) PGA Championship with my Dad and another of my stepbrothers.
That’s when I first got to see (the sadly-late) Seve play – my ultimate golfing hero.
Not only Seve but two people who would become other home grown golfing heroes of mine – Sandy Lyle and Sam Torrance amongst many others (Els, Watson, Woosnam, VJ Singh, Olazabal, Garcia, Poulter, Donald, Rose, Faldo, Darren Clarke etc etc… I could go on all day with that list!)
I’ll come onto Sunningdale in part two of this extended blog.
Very often in my twenties and thirties, a day at the PGA was pretty-well heaven for me. I’d go with a few friends or eventually Anna and we’d just poddle about watching superstars close-up for ten hours a day (watching professional golf is DIRT CHEAP compared to sayyyy… football matches for example) and drinking far too much cider in the sunny, beautiful “countryside”. What’s not to like?!
Talking of “sunny”…. I remarked to a good old mate t’other day when we half-set-up playing (we never managed it in the end) at my local course in the rain, that I’d never played golf in the rain before.
I suppose I must have but I cannot remember doing so. Possibly in a shower but not in constant rain.
A fair weather golfer I most certainly am!
He first replied that he had played "countless" rounds in the rain, which genuinely intrigued me (assumed exaggeration aside).
So I asked "why?!"
He replied "when you play with other people you have to book a tee time and so put up with the weather you come across [at your pre-booked tee-time]”.
A bizarre reply I thought, for a number of reasons.
As he knows (I would assume), the vast, vast majority of my golf has been played with up to three other playing partners, certainly not required any tee-time booking and even if it did, someone (not often me granted) would book a tee time on the day, often at the course itself and always on a dry (or even sunny) day. But even if someone did (strangely) book a tee-time in advance (with perhaps no thought to look to any weather forecast) and on the day of the proposed round, rain fell incessantly, we'd just not play. We'd postpone. You certainly don't "have to put up with the weather" at all, should you choose not to.
Admittedly, when I was playing golf with my fellow bakers (for a decade or so), we had the considerable luxury of being able to turn up to courses when “office monkeys” (of which I am now, sadly, one) were generally at work, so there were plenty of “tee-times” to be had, but there is very often no necessity to to book (set-in-stone) “tee-times” days in advance.
So no. I don't remember playing a round in the rain, but I certainly DO remember hitting balls in the rain, on the recreation ground behind our house when I was a teenager. In the rain generally because that tended to reduce the number of dog walkers out on "the rec," who I had to avoid (or be reported!) whilst hitting golf balls around a public park!
My clubs were ancient with grips that were shiny (through wear) and sleek; and as I've never played with a glove, even just holding onto the club through a swing in wet conditions on the rec would quickly become very difficult. Maybe that has something to do with me not wanting to play whilst its raining? It's not that I dislike rain (like I certainly dislike wind... and I play a lot in the wind), I quite enjoy the rain very often when I'm out and about (I used to LOVE running in the rain for example) but keeping myself AND a set of clubs etc dry in the rain has never filled me with any enthusiasm.
I would also probably suggest that (as with the seaside) I have far better things to do in the rain than drag a golf bag around a park for four hours – but maybe that’s just me? I play golf to relax and look at wildlife. Both those activities for me are facilitated by being dry.
Golf has never infuriated me or frustrated me like it does to the more competitive types who take it (or their poor play) seriously. It relaxes me completely.
But sure, I do care (a bit) about my eventual score. Just not much.
I do like to hit the ball as well as I can (it’s remarkably satisfying, even for me, to hit a golf ball nicely) but I never cared too much about my “stats”* or whether I won or lost games. I don't really hit the ball that well really (most people I've played with over the years can hit the ball better than me WHEN they manage to hit it well - it's just that they don't manage to hit the ball consistently - whereas I at least hit the ball OK most of the time).
I also practiced a lot when I was younger. And not the long game - the scoring part of the game - chips, bunker shots and putts.
Most people who play occasionally regard the long game to be the most important (I guess it's at least the most impressive to watch) but it isn't the part of the game that really matters. Regularly these days I hit a driver off the tee, then one of four differing, specific wedges I have in my bag as an approach to a green and then a putter (if I'm lucky). My long, mid irons and fairway woods may get a handful of outings between them in one round, whereas my wedges get at least a dozen or more and my putter thirty or so outings.
I think I’m probably the least competitive person I know (male or female) and that was my attitude (much to the dismay or frustration of many of my playing partners) in many of my past rounds. (I often beat them, without seeming to care whether they won or I did).
*I think I care a little more about my stats these days – I now play golf with a GPS App running on my Smartphone in the background, which logs all my shots – see screenshots below.
*EDIT - these screenshots were taken before my latest two rounds - a total of 18 holes played at a total score of +1 (gross). So my current stats are even better now.
I’ve not felt great for the last two days (nasty phlegm bug going round our house) but as soon as I walked onto the golf course yesterday, even though I wasn’t playing – I felt completely better. I know, I know, but there you go.
These days, peering into a computer screen all-day-long like I’ve pretty-well done since meeting my (now) wife (I turned my back on a very physical career when we met), the escape to the golf course is probably even more important for me.
Yes, I’ve played a lot of golf in the past thirty or so years but also hardly touched a club for the past seven or eight, since meeting Anna. This break from golf has coincided (understandably I think) with a career change (having less colleagues having the time to play golf with), a life change (having less time myself to play golf – there are other very important people in my personal life than just me and some friends these days), several location changes (so not really knowing about my local courses), and an extended period of poor general health (which meant I had no desire and even less actual capability to play).
In June this year I decided to dust down the “bats” and see if I could still hit a ball. I thought it would do me good to get out on a course again – I thought it would do my head and body a favour.
Two months later and I’ve played 10 rounds. That’s eleven rounds of golf in eight or so years then – and all but one of those in the last two months – and it HAS done me good.
A lot of good.
I’ve always been far more comfortable outside, in fresh air – and I’ve missed that hugely in the past few years since becoming “an office monkey”. I don’ t think I realised just how much until I started spending four or five hours on a golf course each week for the past couple of months – that time has genuinely, literally made me feel better – both physically and mentally.
All but the last of those ten rounds (in the last two months) I’ve played on my own (like I’ve alluded to earlier – pretty rare for me) whilst I’ve found my golfing feet again and used my time on the course(s) to relax, watch wildlife and escape from the grey drudge and red frustrations of office and work reality.
Next week I’ve been invited to play another local course by some of my current work colleagues, who know I used to play a bit and also know I’ve recently started playing again. (They’ve asked me for a few years now, but mainly due to poor health I’ve had to say no thanks, every time. I’m lucky I guess that they’re still asking me!)
I’m looking forward to next week – the boys are a good laugh and it will be nice to start playing again in a group, rather than ‘on me tod’ – although like I say, I’ve thoroughly enjoy playing golf on my own too – I see FAR more wildlife on courses that way.
All the above serves as a (lengthy – sorry!) background to the reason I’m writing this two-part blog, which doesn’t really involve talk of wildlife (although as I’ve said, wildlife is a HUGE reason why I started and continued playing golf).
Anna and I have been to a few professional golf tournaments during our time together.
Always at Wentworth.
Yesterday we decided to take ourselves and our two-year-old boy Ben on a ten minute train ride (Ben’s first wide-eyed train journey) to the famous Sunningdale golf course (Ben’s first time at a professional golf tournament too – a bit risky for a noisy toddler amongst precious golfers demanding silence!), nestled on the Berkshire/Surrey strip of Bagshot sand next to Wentworth.
The seniors (professional golfers over 50 years old) were (still are as I write) playing their Open Championship there, a week after the main tour played The Open (proper) at St.Andrews.
So it was chance for the three of us to escape to a quite stunning part of the world, grab some fresh air and a cider or two and watch some of the legends of golf hit balls around what some people describe as the best inland course in the UK.
I’ve walked round Sunningdale Old Course before, about ten years ago, watching an Open qualification round (with the likes of the Molinaris, Langer, Monty, Woosnam and Parnevik all competing) and I was keen to return –especially as we live so close these days.
So off we went. And we had a wonderful day.
My day walking around Sunningdale reminded me what I LOVE about golf and also what I really HATE about it.
And on that… I’ll leave part one of this blog; grab a kwarfee and start to pen part two…. See you there?