A Tough Battle
With The Belfry

Spent three days at The Belfry earlier this week to play the Brabazon course which was the venue for the Ryder Cup in 1985, ‘89, ‘93 and 2002 — and it broke my heart.
Not that being there broke my heart. It was an absolute pleasure because the course is in tremendous nick, the sun shone brightly and the grub and the bars were as good as ever.
But my comeback that had started so well at Cardigan the previous week stuttered badly. It was silly of me to expect anything else. The Brabazon is not a course that a hacker convalescing from a major operation should tackle with much hope of success.
It is a tough test for anyone — evidenced by the fact that our party of nine lost 71 balls between us over our two outings.
I wrote last week that, feeling a little tentative about how my re-arranged chest and stomach would fare, I was swinging slower than I’d ever done and was hitting the ball much better as a result.
Reader John Town emailed to warn me not to expect the slow swing to last more than a couple of weeks. There’s a man who knows his hackers. But, as difficult as it is to quell the demons who force you to speed up your swing, it wasn’t that which caused my downfall.
It was losing seven balls on the first nine that destroyed me. They all went in the water. I hadn’t played the Belfry for some years and I’d forgotten how much water snaked around the place. Most of them were decent hits but acted like water-seeking missiles.
When you have only three points at the half-way mark, demoralisation can set in pretty quickly but at least I did better on the back nine and came in with 11 points.
That was by no means the worst score in our little society we call the Dregs. We are all golf writers, mostly retired, and we’ve seen golf all over the world and on our travels we’ve seen a lot of dregs at the bottom of glasses.
My playing partners were Andy Dunn of the Sunday Mirror, who plays off 11 and who scored 19 points, and John Collard, the Belfry’s media consultant who plays off 22 and scored 16 points.
Two of the others, who shall remain anonymous, finished with six and seven. Peter Higgs, of the Mail on Sunday, had 11 points like me and we were only 10 points behind the leader, Bill Elliott, the chairman of the Association of Golf Writers. The scores summed up how difficult the course was.
But The Belfry has never been more popular. Director of Golf, Gary Silcock, told us that the number of rounds played over the Brabazon, the PGA National and the Derby courses rose by 10 per cent in 2011 taking the total to more than 300,000 over the past three years.
The place was in the news on August Bank Holiday when Today’s Golfer Demo Day was held in the PGA National Golf Academy and hundreds of golfers took advantage of free custom fittings.
They also witnessed the phenomenal long hitter Joe Miller become the first British golfer to drive the green at the 301 yards tenth with his putter. Joe also let loose a 440 yards drive at the sixth which finished ten feet from the pin. I’d like to say he four-putted but he was only there for the driving.
Thanks to four Ryder Cups and many other tournaments, The Belfry’s 10th and 18th holes have iconic status in the game and it is remarkable that only this year has anyone achieved a hole in one on the tenth.
They estimate that more than a million golfers have played the hole, including the finest players in the world, but it was only in March that it was aced. The honour went to a Welsh teenager, Dan O’Connor a three-handicapper from Maesteg, who was playing the course for the first time.
For the record, I took a five on each day and, since I was getting two shots, that’s three points. I do love short par fours with low stroke indexes.
My performance on the second day was hampered by the failure of my driver to connect with any consistency. Consequently, I struggled even to reach double figures. I scored a wretched nine and was expecting the booby prize. But Mike McDonnell, formerly of the Daily Mail, managed an even lower total and was presented with the four-feet long wooden spoon.
First place, and the handsome trophy, was shared by Andy Dunn and Bill Elliott. The others –Tony Stenson, of the Star, Jim Mossop, ex-Sunday Express, golf magazine writer, Dave Hamilton, Mitchell Platts, the European Tour’s director of corporate affairs and public relations, and Colm Smith, ex-Irish Independent — produced humdrum scores that didn’t feature at the top or the bottom.
But we all had a great time — and I console myself with the thought that’s precisely what we went for.

One thought on “A Tough Battle
With The Belfry

  1. I would like to point out that after my miserable eleven points on the first day I proved my bouncebackability with 24 on Day Two ably aided by The Hacker himself, whose ball-finding skill far outweighed his playing ability. But , as you say,Pete, a great tiime was had by all – and thoroughly enjoyed your account of it. Toodle-pip!

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