Wales hand the
spoon to England

The Welsh Golf-writers team returned in triumph from an excellent event in Turkey last week. We didn’t win the Home Internationals championship but we didn’t lose it either, beating England 3-0 in the 3rd/4th play-off.

Actually, we should have finished second but more of that later. Let’s concentrate instead on the fact that we gave the English a whitewash and sent them home with the wooden spoon that is normally our fate.

The Home Internationals have been going for 23 years and I am the last of the original captains — Alistair Nichol has died, Colm Smith and Michael McDonnell have retired — although I missed the last one through illness.

Bringing together four six-man teams of golf writers from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales for an annual tournament was the brainchild of Pat Ruddy, an Irish journalist and golf course creator, who figured that we spent all year covering grand events it would be good to have one of our own.

Accordingly, we had team colours, a band and a proper flag-raising ceremony at the St Margaret’s course, north of Dublin.

That was the pattern for the first few years and the internationals eventually moved to Pat Ruddy’s brilliant links course at the European Club on Brittas Bay, Wicklow.

The tournament then toured the rest of the home countries while maintaining its popularity as a hotly-contested annual battle. Finding the right venues has been increasingly difficult in recent years but we jumped at the chance of taking it abroad when we were invited to stage it in Turkey this year.

We couldn’t have asked for a better venue than the Montgomerie course at the Maxx Royal Golf & Spa hotel in Belek. This will be the scene of the Turkish Open next month so we did our best to leave it in one piece.

We were flown by Turkish Airlines from our various countries to Antalya ,which is only a short distance from the golf-rich area of Belek, Because of time limitations we had to truncate our usual format and draw for opponents with the two winners playing for the title on the second day and the two losers playing for the wooden spoon.

Wales drew Ireland which wasn’t good because the Irish traditionally have a very strong team. They seem to have a greater golf-writer per capita ratio of any other country. Wales, on the other hand, have a select but small selection of the golfing literati, hence my continuing role as captain.

And so it was that we took a hammering although it didn’t hurt very much on a sunny 75 degree day on such a lovely tree-lined lay-out.

I was playing with Paul Williams, late of the Western Mail and now the Celtic Manor, against Denis Kirwan of TV3 and Gary Moran, the RTE sports editor.

We were playing greensome foursomes in which both of you drive, you select the better shot and then play alternately. They were giving us ten shots and could have afforded to give us a few more.

We managed to hold our own for a while but they hit the ball so well that their consistency overwhelmed us and we lost five and four. A very friendly and enjoyable game but a hammering nevertheless.

Dave Facey of the Sun, who organised he trip, fared little better with freelance and top-twitterer Paul Mahoney. Simon Curle, of the South Wales Argus, and Martin Johnson, of the Sunday Times, put up a sterner show but also lost and we suffered a whitewash.

Meanwhile, Scotland overcame England 2-1 and earned the right to play Ireland in the final the following day leaving us and England to fight over the scraps.

That evening we were treated to a delightful Turkish meal that had more dishes than a Welsh dresser and afterwards retired to one of the Maxx Royal’s eleven bars.

Thankfully, we were not required to play until 11 am the next day. We had changed our partnerships and David Facey had to put up with me. Fortunately, we found ourselves matched against an English pair who ten years ago had made us a laughing stock.

We were playing at Carton House in Ireland against Jim Mossop, of the Sunday Telegraph, and Bob Cass, of the Mail and Sunday, and swept merrily into the lead. We were six up after seven holes and then suffered a series of golfing mishaps too embarrassing to recall. We finally lost 2 an 1 and they’ve never let us forget it.

When I wrote about it at the time they complained that I called them a pair of gnarled old Fleet Street veterans. I promised not to do it again. This time I have to refer to them as wizened old Fleet Street has-beens — a description from which I can’t spare myself.

But we got our revenge. It didn’t look that way at the start because Jim chipped in over a steep bank at the third to take the lead. And they soon increased it to two and kept us at bay until they began to flag near the end when Facey’s long hitting was the telling factor.

I wasn’t a great help and offered an air-shot as part of my contribution but I kept my end up and we were one up going down the 18th. . To cut a long story short, I needed a 15 footer to clinch the match and I sank it with some aplomb to a burst of applause from the terrace above.

To be fair to Cassy, he followed in with a slightly shorter putt to get the half but we won one up. Our other pairs, Curle and Williams and Mahoney and Johnson, also won to register a 3-0 victory, which is never a bad result against England.

In the main match, the Irish team led by their captain Brian Keogh of the Irish Sun demolished the Scots 3-0 to claim the Joe Carr trophy we’ve been competing for since 1993. Our Turkish hosts generously added another splendid trophy to play for in the future.

It was a sad day for the Scots and their captain Martin Dempster of The Scotsman. Their team included John Huggan, who was one of the UK’s top amateurs in his day and who now writes for Golf Digest, and some other doughty performers.

I hate to mention it but they won only two games over the two matches while Wales won three but I’m not claiming second place because I’m sure it was the bloody referendum that wore them out.

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A woeful
weekend

It was a double-whammy weekend that fell well short of my hopes if not my expectations. My last chance to break 100 in 2014 came in the Centurions’ Medal — a competition especially for those who had failed to score below 100 at least once in the season.

The following morning was the first day of our winter league, the Snakes and Ladders, an altogether different proposition because it is foursomes and hackers are only responsible for half the shots.

Considering my form in the few medals I’ve played this year, I wasn’t over confident of success in the Centurions but, ever-optimistic, I sailed happily into the fray and not even an eight on the first dampened my enthusiasm.

That eight was the result of a three-putt which turned out to be the pattern of the day. I didn’t hit the ball all that badly but I just couldn’t get the pace of the greens.

It was a rare round for me because I didn’t score double figures on any hole. Usually, my card is ruined by two or three disaster holes but this time damage was more evenly spread around the 18 holes Perhaps consistency is creeping into my game.

But my wretched performance on the greens was depressing. The 18th was typical. My tee shot on the 190 yards par three was high and straight and finished about 20 feet from the pin. I had visions of a birdie and a share of the ball-sweep but I proceeded to three-putt again.

My final score was 113 which doomed me to finish the season on a low note. However, there appeared to be one consolation — I was told that mine was the highest score and I’d win a bottle of scotch.

Sad to say, another saddo came in with 113 and to cap both of us someone else weighed in with 126 and deserved a series of stiff drinks.

But I did enjoy the round which started off in pouring rain but gradually turned into a decent day. My two playing companions were Dan Barnett, who plays off 22, and Dave Virgin who is a 20 handicapper.

Both were far steadier than me. Dan and I had both paid two quid to enter the ball sweep and on the tenth I was on the green from the tee but my attempt at a two was miles out and I three-putted again. Dan, however, chipped in for a two from 25 yards away and the sweep paid out nine balls — so I’m so pleased we’d agreed to share.

Sadly Dan, who’d looked certain to break 100 by a distance, found a bunker on the 17th and scored a ten that saw him finish with exactly 100. David, who’d scored a ten on the third, recovered well for a 97.

The following morning I was back for the start of the winter league with my usual partner Dave Ellis who is a perfect partner because he not only plays a good game off 14, he is patient and forgiving enough to put up with my golf for ten Sundays in a row.

Our opponents were Paul Mathias, off 21, and Graham Prothero, off 19, and they had to give us one shot — which looked to be last thing we needed because we were five up after the first five holes.

We were playing quite well. Even I was hitting good shots while they were struggling to get their act together.

The fifth hole summed up their plight. It is a sharp dog-leg left and way to the right is our half-way house, a cabin situated behind the eighth green and the ninth tee.

Graham’s drive went so far right it finished underneath a table outside the half-way house where half-a-dozen or so were scoffing their pies. You can imagine the ribaldry when Paul arrived to play the next shot.

While the pie-eaters reluctantly relinquished their seats, he took a drop and proceeded to execute a shank that threatened a few pies, narrowly missed the cabin, bounced off the toilet wall and rebounded back to finish nestling against the cabin wall.

To the background of merciless laughter, Graham had to play a left-handed shot with the back of a club to put the ball back in play. Needless to say, we won the hole and our opponents were gloomily looking forward to getting back to the clubhouse for an early drink.

We never won another hole. Paul and Graham underwent an unbelievable transformation. Graham, particularly, began hitting the ball long and straight and we could hardly contain them.

I contributed to their cause by cocking up the eighth but I’m not sure thery needed my help as they won three of the next four holes. We managed to keep them at bay by gaining a few halves but they went one up after 15, two up after 16 and won two and one at the 17th.

Five up after five and getting beat. It takes a bit of doing and it didn’t help that Graham confessed that he hadn’t played for ten weeks.

’If he played regularly, he’d be a very good player,’ said Paul.

’He’s not too bloody bad now,’ we said, but not in a nasty way.

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