The Glamorganshire golf club is proud of an event that provides so many of its members with healthy competition through the winter months — and which ensures that for 20 winter Sunday lunchtimes the bars will be packed.
The Snakes is not only unique in its playing format, which has taken over 50 years to evolve, it must be the only winter league that has its own song.
After the morning’s play the vast majority of the 130 gather in the bar where, after a few drinks, they are addressed by the chief snake — currently former dentist Peter ‘Jammy’ James — who gives a merciless account of the morning’s mishaps.
The names of the perpetrators of every air-shot are read out, together with the time and place of the offence, to great cheers.
I am not proud to say that mine was the first name read out last Sunday — Peter Corrigan, 10.22, on the ninth, to be exact. Six or seven other poor wretches followed me. Other golfing miscreants were named and shamed, interspersed with high-class jokes, before he picked up his guitar to lead us in the snakes song, several verses of which were not totally unconnected with someone called Saville.
It is the best show in town and just the tonic after a hard and demanding round of golf. We play foursomes and each pair has to have a combined handicap of 20 which ensures that the best players have to seek out a partner from the higher handicappers.
A maximum number of 144 golfers, that’s 72 pairs, can enter. We have a shot-gun start so two games are allocated to each tee. Players have to be in position by 9 am prompt when the hooter sounds (we don’t have a shot-gun) so many face a long walk to get into position early enough to catch their breath.
Those with the highest of handicaps are not always first to be invited to play because every entrant is frightened of the wooden spoon which is awarded to the bottom pair, along with several other indignities, at the riotous end-of-session supper.
But we 28 handicappers do possess a lot of shots which come in handy. That’s what probably prompted Dave Ellis to approach me in Tesco one day and ask if I would partner him but, after reminding him I was still recovering from my operation, I readily agreed.
Each pair is allowed up to three substitutes per session and some strugglers fake a reason to bring in a more adept sub in to avoid the spoon.
As it happened, I was in Turkey on the first Sunday of the league and Dave arranged for a 12- handicapper to take my place. Great, I said, that’ll be one win in the bag for us.
On my return from Turkey, I was shocked to find that they’d lost. What the hell happened, I asked Dave.
‘He played as bad as you, but without the shots,’ he said.
I thought that was a bit insulting and I was intent on proving my worth when I turned up last Sunday.
But Dave was absent having been violently sick on the 17th the previous day and confined to bed. The last minute sub he had arranged was a very good friend of mine, Andy Ferrier. Unfortunately, Andy shares with me a leading contention for being the worst player in the club.
We consoled ourselves with the fact that our combined handicaps amounted to 56 so we would get the assistance of loads of shots. However, when we met our opponents Malcolm House and John Miles on the fifth tee we discovered that they were off 17 and 28 which is a total of 45 which meant we only had 6 shots.
Normally, I don’t get out of bed in the morning for fewer than ten shots but we soldiered on comforted by the news that John had only joined the club this year and had his first lesson the previous Friday.
After ten holes, he was hitting the ball so well I suggested he needn’t go back for any more lessons.
We lost the first, won the second and halved the third and from then on it was downhill all the way.
The worse came on the par five ninth when Malcolm cheered us up immensely by topping his drive less than a yard.
Andy then put me in the woods, I sent the ball back 50 yards via a tree trunk, he put me behind a tree on the other side of the fairway, I hit it back across the fairway into the rough and he scuffed it 15 yards behind a copse of trees.
‘Everything was moving when you hit that,’ I admonished.
To my horror, in trying to manufacture a high shot over the trees, I missed the ball altogether.
‘Everything was moving on that shot, too,’ he quipped. ’Except the ball.’
We went on to score 14, nett 13, on that hole. And nothing would go right thereafter.
After one squirted shot, Andy exclaimed:’ If I hit another shot like that, I’ll commit suicide.’
‘You won’t be short of help,’ I said encouragingly.
We eventually succumbed to a seven and five defeat and were among the first in the bar where our opponents said they’d thoroughly enjoyed the morning. We said we were delighted that someone was happy.
I telephoned Dave later that day to see how he was. I said if he wasn’t better by Wednesday, I’d pay for a doctor to come to see him.