Well, you’ll probably all be breathing sighs of relief at the news that this is the last blog of the year – one less thing to read in the run-up to Christmas, the Heathland stableford, the general election, birthdays, Hogmanay, whatever. All being well, Maureen and I will be back in January, refreshed, revitalised and raring to go.
Usually I don’t put up the decorations until my brother-in-law’s birthday on the 12th of December but I gave in early this year and the tree – small but real – is already up, assorted Santas are being scattered about the place, there’s a (fingers crossed) healthy-looking poinsettia in a new pot (T-K-Maxx’s best) and all the lights seem to be in better working order than my golf swing.
We had a 15-hole, 3-a-side Texas Scramble on Tuesday and it was a glorious day, sunny, almost warm, mulled wine with mince pies and stollen at the halfway house. All three of us hit some decent shots and one of us, a new member, holed some cracking putts once she’d recovered from the shock of meeting her playing partners, two people that she’d never encountered before but is unlikely to forget in a hurry…..Of course, if we’re lucky, she’ll never recognise us.
You won’t be surprised to learn that I’ve always been in favour of abolishing the dress code altogether – although maybe not in favour of playing in the altogether, certainly not at this stage of the proceedings and certainly not at this time of year in the UK. It’s two-duvet weather in my book and thank goodness for inside loos, double glazing and central heating. Most of us no longer wake up with icicles on the pillow and scraping ice off the inside of the windows is an indication that you need new windows.
We’ve come a long way in a few decades but golf still seems to have a problem with shorts, if not long socks, which seem to have gone the way of the tie and become a relative rarity. Can you believe the brouhaha over the European Tour’s landmark (!!) decision to allow the players to wear shorts at Leopard Creek in South Africa last week, not just in practice but in competition. Sportsmen wear shorts, shock, horror. Blimey.I no longer have Sky so I like to go up to the golf club after tai chi and watch people playing in sunshine: the men are in Mauritius, Sydney (the Australian Open) and the Bahamas, to name just a few of the venues and the LET’s last event of the season is the Magical Kenya Ladies Open at the Baobab Course in Vipingo Ridge. In “the old days”, players like Nick Faldo, Sandy Lyle and their contemporaries honed their professional skills in Africa – Kenya, Zimbabwe, Zambia – so there’s nothing much new under the sun, although the resort seems posher than the old-fashioned courses of yesteryear. Pete Cowen’s only tournament win was the Zambian Open of 1976 and he’s now one of the world’s best coaches.
I won’t be having any lessons from Pete in the New Year – way beyond my skill and purse level – but I will be trying to improve my game (did I really write that?!!!) and paying closer attention to the rule book. The scale of my ignorance was brought home to me the other week when four of us were playing in our 9-hole Friday roll-up. One of us hit a very respectable shot to the 9th green (it was a waltz, so three out of four scores were to count*), we walked a few yards to the next ball and there came a plaintive cry, “This isn’t my ball……..you’ve played the wrong ball…..”
Ah. The mistake was easily rectified but we had to work out what the penalty was. “I’m pretty sure it used to be two strokes,” sez I, “but I’ll check the rule book.”
That’s when confusion reigned and hope sprang in our hearts that, in fact, there wasn’t a penalty at all (we were struggling to register any points). In match play it would have been loss of hole and in stroke play disqualification – unless the error was recognised and rectified in time. Well, it had been recognised and rectified, so were we in the clear? Had the rule changed? Seemed a bit generous but…….
Eventually, in the clubhouse, after much discussion and consultation, a clued-up soul pointed out the words “general penalty” in the rule book. It was there, under 6.3c Wrong Ball, in bold red letters: “Penalty for Playing Wrong Ball: General Penalty.” None of us is colour blind but we’d managed to ignore/overlook the red letters. If we’d gone back to page 19, rule 1.3 Playing by the Rules, we’d have come across (not in red) General Penalty: Loss of hole in match play and a two-stroke penalty in stroke play…….
So, there you are, a general penalty is pretty severe. Maureen knows that only too well, having had one of her most humiliating moments on the golf course when playing with Fred Daly, Open champion in 1947 and Ireland’s only winner of the Claret Jug until Padraig Harrington opened the floodgates 60 years later. Mo, aged about 15, had been having an uncomfortable day but at the 18th she hit a cracker onto the green, in front of a few of Fred’s cronies, who’d come out to cheer him in.
Sadly, it was all in vain. Fred walked a few yards, looked, then turned and said the immortal words: “You’ve played the wrong ball, sweetie.”
[*A waltz is 1, 2, 3: one score to count at the 1st, two at the 2nd, three at the 3rd; then 1 at the 4th and so on.]
Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.