A disgrace
on Captain’s Day

Every year, I get a chance to embarrass a better golfer. Not by beating him but by playing with him. Such delights are part of our Captain’s Day at The Glamorganshire golf club which, I venture, is the best anywhere.

For a start, it is a most democratic competition in which the weak can be combined with the mighty, the shy with the braggarts, the abstemious with the bon viveurs….. in other words you get pot luck who you play with.

Club golfers normally tend to play within their own select groups, which is only natural, but it does us good occasionally to play with someone completely different. And the format of our Captain’s Day ensures that not only do you play with him, you spend most of the day with him in what usually degenerates into a big raucous party.

We play foursomes and the pairs are drawn at random, with the top half of the handicaps going in one hat and the bottom half in the other.

The mid-way point is 16. Thus you get many hackers mixed with the club’s elite in some very unlikely pairings most of whom have had little to do with each previously.

There is no greater test of a golfer’s forbearance than to be required to take alternate shots with a stranger. There are those who don’t find it an enjoyable occasion.

Indeed, such are the strains of the day that the best players rarely get to win the top prize. We have a sweepstake and each players is allowed to bet up to a total of £20 on the pair or pairs he expects to do well.

With up to 200 players involved, that amounts to a lot of money and it is not often that the favourites come in.

I once played with a good player whose level of patience can be gauged by his words to me after the first couple of holes:-

‘Do me a favour,’ he said. ‘Stop saying sorry after every shot — just make one big apology at the end.’

Happily, the rest if my enforced partners over 30 years or so have been far more forgiving — in fact, some of them have played worse than me — and have seen the day as one to be enjoyed. Just as well, because I have never featured among the winners.

This year, I was a little wary of entering because I haven’t been playing much because of my chemo treatment but I thought I’d give it a go and was delighted when I was drawn with Malcolm Wood who I have known for years.

When I was covering Cardiff City for the South Wales Echo in the early 1960s, Malcolm was on their books as very promising youngster. He wasn’t very big so they used to give him Mackeson stout to help build him up (pity they didn’t do that for Messi).

The crunch came when they wanted him sign full-time. He was two years into a carpentry apprenticeship and didn’t want to abandon that so he decided not pursue a football career at that stage.

He went on to play to a good standard as a part-timer in the Southern League for Barry Town and did very well in his chosen career. He also reached a single-figure handicap in golf.

But he was playing off 15 when we were drawn together which meant we had a combined handicap of 43 giving us the top allowance of the day of 22 shots. I wouldn’t say we fancied our chances but we looked forward to a good round.

We were off at about 11 am on a beautiful day with the course looking absolutely pristine. Malcolm was driving the odds and he put me bang in the middle of the fairway on the first.

I’d been having a little practice and felt confident that I could propel the ball a good way towards the green from about 180 yards with a five wood.

‘Swing smoothly’ I said to myself. And so I did. It couldn’t have been smoother because the ball didn’t get in the way. I missed the bloody thing completely

Is there a more embarrassing place to have an air-shot, with the ball sitting up nicely in the middle of the first fairway on Captain’s Day? I don’t think so and I immediately glanced up at Malcolm who somehow managed to arrange his face into a ‘never mind’ smile.

‘Do you fancy going back to the clubhouse and getting pissed?’ I asked plaintively.

’Don’t worry,’ he said generously. ’Just relax.’

I don’t think relaxation of a body contorted with contrition was entirely possible but I did my best to cheer up. We couldn’t have gone back to the clubhouse, of course, because we had to mark the card of the pair who were partnering us — Phil Parker and Malcolm House, who were very sympathetic.

‘It can happen to anyone,’ comforted Phil. I doubt if it ever happens to him because he is one of the keenest golfers in the club.

He drives what he claims is the most expensive vehicle in Cardiff. It’s a state-of-the-art, all-singing-and-dancing street–cleaning vehicle which he drives for the council. He is out scouring the streets of Cardiff from 5 am until 1 pm, after which he’s straight down to the first tee.

There’s not a happier man in the place and despite my appalling start we had a jolly time.

There are ample opportunities on Captain’s Day to drown your sorrows while still playing. Supplies of beer are left at various tees around the course and at the halfway house, the captain is waiting to shake your hand and offer you refreshment.

This year’s skipper is Leon Reece, a recently demobbed RAF officer who is doing a great job and had set-up an excellent half-way buffet of pulled pork and all the trimmings with strawberries and cream to follow.

You could have your choice of drinks, including a chilli flavoured Zambuca which I found particularly welcome, before continuing with your round.

Although my play did improve I did manage to disgrace myself on at least two further occasions and despite Malcolm’s efforts we came in with uninspiring 25 points. Phil and the other Malcolm had 29.

Happily, there were enough other pairs with much lower scores and I felt better as we sat down to our free lunch and had a few pints. If it wasn’t for the air-shot, it would have an utterly enjoyable day.

The following week, Malcolm won the monthly medal with a nett 66. ‘Playing with you turned out to be an inspiration,’ he told me. I’m not sure what he meant but I’m daft enough to take it as a compliment.

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Etiquette
in the rain

There are few harder challenges to a golfer’s sense of etiquette than when it is pouring down. When you set out with two playing companions for a monthly medal it is right and proper you all return together; if not successfully then, at least, in harmony.

Unfortunately, rain can have a dissolving effect on the resolution of some of us and I suspect much depends on the state of your card when the wet starts penetrating the nether regions.

With regular partners, you have a good idea of your collective attitude to playing in the rain. Some will head for the bar at the first appearance of a dark cloud; others will give it ten minutes before deciding whether it is a passing shower or ‘ in for the day’.

But playing in a medal with unfamiliar partners it becomes a more delicate and diplomatic decision. If there is a good card blossoming among the three of you then it is matter of honour that, no matter how foul the weather, the possessor is accompanied for as long as he wants to be.

Whatever the circumstances, however, it is not done to be the first to bring up the subject. You may be desperate to call it a day but you’d prefer someone else to moot it. Saying; ‘How much longer are we going to put up with this crap‘ is not very helpful when the other two are trying to concentrate.

Neither is moaning about your shoes leaking or your grip being affected. You have to soldier on until a natural consensus arrives.

In the May medal I was playing with one of my regular partners, Max Kipling, and Alan Davies, who was coach to the Welsh rugby team in 1991-95 and was previously coach to Nottingham RFC and a member of the England coaching staff.

Rain had been forecast but we were hoping we could get in a good few holes before it struck. Unfortunately, it started before we got to the first tee and the gloomy sky was scarcely promising.

It wasn’t too bad for the first few holes but it was gradually getting worse. We took it like the brave souls we are but it wasn’t easy going especially not for me. Because of my chemo I am not playing regularly and my game is not even up to my low standards.

I wasn’t complaining because I was delighted to be out and I’m happy enough to get around in whatever state. But when we got to the halfway house after the eighth hole the rain was starting to be a real pain.

Still, we munched our meat pies without even a mention of quitting. One of the group behind us poked his head around the cabin door and asked: ’Are you boys hoping to hear the hooter?’

The hooter is sounded when they decide to cancel the round and call everyone in. We assured him we were going on but they were welcome to go through. He said they wanted to stop for refreshment.

When we walked out to the tee and gazed up the ninth, it wasn’t an inviting sight. The ninth is a 533 yard uphill par five which takes you away from the clubhouse towards the furthest extreme of the course.

The rain seemed to be getting worse and I didn’t fancy it at all. I’d already scored 65 and my prospects of bettering that on the back nine were slim but I wasn’t going to be the first to buckle.

Then one of us, I can’t remember who, said it would be just our luck if they called it off when we got to the far end of the course. Then we agreed that the greens were already showing signs of ponding.

There was a unanimous turn of the bodies back towards the clubhouse. ’No point in going on,’ was the tacit agreement. Nobody was more delighted to see us depart than the group behind us. We’d made up their minds as well and as soon as they finished their pies they followed us home.

When we got back to the clubhouse a few hardy souls were on their way out. We warned them but they wouldn’t listen. We were comfortably ensconced in the bar three-quarters of an hour later when the hooter sounded to postpone proceedings. We felt good — home and dry and with honour intact.

6 thoughts on “Etiquette
in the rain

    • Sorry Mark. Just reached the end of my chemo treatment and will be restarting the Hacker soon. But I’m feeling fine thanks. Cheers, Peter.

        • Thank you, Ian. I’m raring to get out and murder Royal Porthcawl like Bernhard Langer did — although perhaps not in the same way. Cheers, Peter

  1. Glad to hear you are ok. Hope to see you when Wallasey come down on August 2nd & 3rd to fight for the BOW TIE.

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