I jumped for joy on the course at Whittington Heath on Monday, before the snow arrived in earnest to threaten life and limb let alone golf.Bev Chattaway and I were engaged in our Winter Foursomes semi-final against the redoubtable sisters Anne Fern and Rachel Rowe, giving seven shots, on winter greens on the frozen fairways. A few days earlier, I’d been so vociferous in stating that we hadn’t got a snowball’s chance in hell that our revered president, who hails from Wales, said he’d buy Bev and me a drink of our choice should we lose. “Done,” sez I and we shook hands. Rather to my surprise, he did not add that if we won, we’d be buying him a drink of his choice.
Well, again rather to my surprise, we did win and, really, I should buy the pres a drink, not least because Ireland had beaten Wales – just – at the weekend, to have us all trying not to think about a Grand Slam. After all, if the Scotland that mangled England at Murrayfield turn up in Dublin a week on Saturday, they’ll be hard to beat and England are no pushover at Twickenham. But I digress, which will come as no surprise to our regular reader.
I didn’t jump up and down because we won – by that stage we were all so cold we hightailed it to the clubhouse as quickly as possible – but because something wonderful had happened at our 8th hole. It took a while to sink in. Anne and Rachel had won the 7th hole, so Anne had the honour and hit a decent drive. I hit next, not in any trouble and we all set off from the tee, Bev and Rachel a few yards ahead of Anne and me.
Suddenly, I did a double take and stopped in my tracks. Wait a minute, there’s something different here, what on earth is it? When I realised what it was, I started screeching and lepping up and down like a mad thing, a bit like watching Ireland v Wales at the weekend, a shameless, unedifying display that mystified my companions, who thought I was in pain. Ecstasy more like. Because they’d gone. All of them. At long, long last. Hooray, hooray, hoo-bloody-ray.
For far too long they had been the bane of golfers of all ages and stages, invisible to the longer hitters but far too often the ruination of almost everyone else. Every round you’d see people, bum in the air, poking around in a desperate attempt to even see their ball, let alone retrieve it. As for playing it. No chance. And now they were no more, scrubbed out, defunct, deceased, destroyed.
The 8th has become a proper golf hole again. It looks different, better. You can see its lovely, subtle shape and most of us will still have more than enough trouble getting a par four. Harry Colt, who designed the original, might even give a satisfied smile of recognition.
The offending gorse bushes, they that no longer have to be feared, that are no more, were just in the wrong place, plonk in front of the tee at a perfect length for the shorter hitters. It wasn’t their fault that someone, at some time, thought they were a good idea. Off to the side, right or left, no problem but where they were, in the middle, lots of players could hit their No 1 stonker and where would it end? Unplayable, in amongst the prickles. There was no viable alternative route and that, no matter which golf architect you consult or erudite tome you read, is an absolute no no. You’ve got to give players, whatever their skill level, a route to the hole.
Everybody sees things differently and there are lots of people who hate winter golf. As long as I’m well wrapped up I love it. It reminds me of growing up at the seaside and playing a fast, hard-running course, keeping the ball low, pitching and running and using a putter from all over the place. You learn that the vagaries and irritations of the bounce are an integral part of the game, not a random source of annoyance. And, as a putter with a longstanding ropey stroke, bad greens with lots of lumps and bumps tend to suit me.
Also, when it comes to foursomes, when it’s your partner who has to get you out of trouble, it helps to have a Bev on your side, a 4-handicapper who can come back from two weeks off, including a skiing holiday and make the game look so ridiculously easy that you wonder why you make it look so ridiculously difficult.