“Don’t you ever get bored with playing golf?” my brother-in-law, an occasional golfer who has pretty well given up fighting with his clubs, asked. He said it with the air of a man baffled as to why anyone could be in thrall to this baffling and frustrating game. I’d just recited what I’d been doing over the last few days and it included rather a lot of golf of one form or another, ranging in quality from good to bad to indifferent to downright dire.
Last Saturday, there was a ding-dong of a match at Whittington Heath in the mixed friendly against Beau Desert, where all four of us struggled to string a couple of good shots together but there was never more than a hole in it and Gareth, our opponent, hit a cracker of a 3rd shot to about 6 feet at the last to salvage a half. Undistinguished scoring perhaps but classic golf nevertheless.
On Monday, in a howling gale, three of us headed to Nottingham to play a practice round at Wollaton Park, where the women of Whittington are due to play Branston Golf & Country Club in the final of the Taskers on Sunday. Well, strictly we’re competing for the Ian Burtoft Trophy and the men’s Taskers Trophy final is between Hillsborough and Lutterworth, with Chevin and Beauchief contesting the men’s plate. The teams are seven-a-side so it’s a big deal for those involved, with photo shoots, team briefings and a starter on the tee.
There’s the added spice of having to steer clear of the deer that roam the course – it’s the rutting season and the stags are not to be messed with. If they want to tramp across the green just as you’re shaping to putt, you give way and repair the hoof marks as best you can and if they choose to lie down in the middle of a fairway, you may need a free drop to negotiate a safe route to the hole. I drove at the 15th just as a stag with quite a harem decided to warn off a lone stag that had been lying quietly munching the grass on top of a bunker on the 14th fairway (we picked up there, not wanting to get caught up in a potential power struggle). The loner took the roars seriously and ambled onto the 15th, where he lay down plonk on our line 100 yards or so from the tee. We weighed up our options, deleted bravado from the equation and walked to the adjacent 17th tee.
Then it was off to Harrogate for another serious seniors’ comp, the Brenda King Foursomes, organised by England Golf no less and not my usual habitat, with names like Janet Melville, Pat Smillie and Sandy Catford dotted about the draw and Claire Dowling and Tracy Atkins on the list of distinguished winners. I was a late reserve and my partner Anne Fern was patience personified, as she needed to be as I struggled to do anything right. I love foursomes but it’s a tough old format if it’s strokeplay and every shot counts, very unforgiving for us ordinary golfers, especially in tough conditions – wind on the first day and rain, with a bit of breeze on the second – with the course playing long and giving you nothing.
Still it was great fun and if more proof were needed that golf is a very small world, it came when we met our partners for the second round: Sue Stradling, of Worplesdon and Sue Hill, of Hankley Common. I was wearing my Royal Portrush gilet (please take note Wilma) and Sue Hill asked if I was a member there. Not any more, I said but I’m a member of Portstewart. Oh, sez Sue, I grew up in Portstewart. So did I, sez I. Looks of astonishment. It turned out that Sue’s parents were Nancy and Jim Rankin, stalwarts of the golf club and good friends of Mum and Dad. As a young teenager Sue played golf with Mum, who said she wished her two girls would take up the game! It wasn’t really a day for chatting – too much mopping and dripping – but Sue and I still did a pretty good job of upholding Ireland’s reputation as a land of talkers…
On the golfing front, Anne and I were leagues away from the leaders – congrats to Amanda Mayne, of Saltford and Joanne Shorrocks, of Bigbury, who won for the third year in a row – but we were far from last and improved substantially on the second day in the teeming rain. One of the stalwart ball spotters, cheerful on a cold, miserable morning, told us he lived five miles to the east and his wife had rung to say she’d just hung out the washing! Sodden, we didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Maureen hates it when I try to squeeze in too much but more congratulations are necessary this week: to Whittington members Bev Chattaway and Sue Spencer, who were in the prizes at Harrogate, with their respective partners Caroline Corrigan, of Ingestre Park and Caron Harrison, of Sherwood Forest; to Catherine Lacoste, on the 50th anniversary of her victory in the US Women’s Open, still the only amateur to win the title; and to Bethan Cutler and Tristan Jones, two of the nicest people in golf, who work tirelessly on behalf of the LET and got married last Saturday. Every happiness.