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.