It’s a bit of a miracle that the Royal West Norfolk golf course at Brancaster is still in existence. It’s squeezed onto a narrow stretch of land between the North Sea and marsh land that is a paradise for birds and boats and has been battered from both sides since the golf club was founded in 1891. There’s no doubt that the founders would still feel at home because not all that much has changed all that much and the course is a wonderful throwback.
I’ve probably mentioned before that it was the course that Dai (my late husband, for new readers) chose every time anybody asked where he would play his last round of golf. And, by sheer chance, it was where he played his last round, not, sadly, a very distinguished round but he was used to that. It was the disappointments and the determination to do better that kept him coming back – after retrieving the clubs from wherever they’d been hurled.
The golf writers are still making their annual pilgrimage to Brancaster every November, though we’re dwindling in numbers and could do with an injection of new blood. It’s a long way from most places but it’s more than worth the detour and the Pat Ward-Thomas trophy really has to be played there – you may remember that Pat, one of The Guardian’s corps of irascible golf correspondents, was captain and is on the board above the fireplace alongside a variety of dukes, air vice-marshals and HRHs.
Last Saturday, we had a glorious, shirt-sleeve sort of a day, with a bright blue sky and a bit of a breeze – not too brisk – and my partner and I (it was foursomes, a format that can strain many a friendship and many a short fuse) started blob, blob, blob, blob…….His short fuse had been lit as early as his first shot but we settled down to play semi-respectably and even had an unlikely par 4 at Brancaster’s fearsome 9th, where the green is guarded by the marsh and a frightening array of vertical sleepers. It was too long for us to reach in two – unlike our singleton playing partner who ended in the marsh only because he pushed his second shot slightly – but by some sort of miracle (a mishit rescue club hit high off the toe and also sort of semi-duffed) our third shot landed on the green and stayed there and my partner holed from about 30 feet. One of those par things. Easy. High fives all round. Dai, who was scattered there ten years ago (well, the bit of him that is not on Bryher or in the hollow to the left of the 5th at Whittington Heath or in the kitchen cupboard), would have appreciated our delight, despite the dodgy nature of the execution.
Over the years, every now and again, I’ve played half decently at Brancaster, so I’m no longer too upset when it exposes my lack of golfing skills. It’s just a joy to play, even given the difficulties of the 8th and 9th and the challenge of clearing the cavernous chasm that is the monstrous bunker at the 15th, a formidable par 3.
However, none of those holes gets my vote as the most difficult in Norfolk – admittedly, there are plenty of courses in the county that I have yet to play and my choice takes into account my limitations, prejudices and many years of frustration and humiliation on said hole. Top of my list is the 6th at West Runton, a testing 9-holer where we’ve been playing our annual match for 30 years. Hence the medal in the picture at the top of the blog, presented to us golf writers by the opponents who’ve been beating us up for three decades now! They’ve been generous and welcoming hosts and we’ve been the perfect guests, doing our best but losing so often that, really, I think it’s time they started sending us for lessons. (Are you listening Mo!)
You’ve guessed it, we lost again but all the matches were close enough and, all being well, we’ll live to fight another year. My partner and I (greensomes this time, different partner) even won the dreaded 6th, which is nearly at the top of Beacon Hill, at 103 metres the highest point in Norfolk apparently. The views are spectacular and well worth the climb. I’ll decline to say more…..This is not the place to regale you with tales of the Staffordshire Union Of Golf Clubs’ annual county golf dinner – which, to the amusement (or horror) of many, was held in Warwickshire and included women for the first time. It finished late last night, even by this blog’s standards and I’ll try and do it justice at a later date. The guest entertainer, who entered the fray late, after the guest speaker who was conscious that he himself was starting late, did a brilliant job and had an excellent gag about Tiger Woods, which I’ll try and remember on request.
To finish on yet another losing note, my partner and I are already out of the (ladies’/women’s) winter foursomes at WHGC. We were beaten, in near darkness, at the third extra hole. It was so much fun but that’s us done. Round robin anyone?