Being destroyed by Sir Steve Redgrave is something I have in common with a countless number of the world’s finest rowers so I don’t regard it as a disgrace. Except that this was golf and I assisted his triumph by playing like a plonker.
Even in paradise things can get a bit hellish and in Bermuda last week I suffered the dishonour of leading my team of journalists into defeat by a team of celebrities led by the great Olympian.
Let me emphasise that this was not a serious match but a friendly contest for the Hackers Cup — a name not chosen with me in mind, I assure you — the prime aim of which is to promote Bermuda as a golfing destination.
Neither was there any underlying animosity — none of the journalists had ever hacked into the celebrities’ mobiles. But, golfers being golfers, you do like to beat whoever you are playing against even when there‘s nothing at stake.
The week had started well for me. We had an AM AM Texas Scramble at Turtle Hill, a magnificent par-three course at the Fairmont Southampton hotel where we stayed, with each of us being joined by three islanders.
As I reported last week, my four won with a tremendous 47 gross largely due to the quality of my companions. But I am modestly prepared to admit that I didn’t play badly.
And this despite a heavy day the previous night. We hadn’t gone short of a drink on the British Airways flight over and when we arrived at the Fairmont we were whisked straight into a welcoming reception hosted by Goslings Black Seal rum which, mixed with ginger beer, comprises Bermuda‘s national drink Dark n‘Stormy.
I am very partial to this but found to my cost that it doesn’t go well with Guinness.
So to play half-decently on Monday was a bit of a triumph which lulled me into a false sense of sobriety and, thus, Tuesday might have been a mistake. We had the day to ourselves and while most of them went off to play a few holes or explore the island, I ventured down to the Fairmont’s private beach where I was seduced by the sun to have more than enough banana daiquiris.
The following day was the first round of the Hackers Cup in which we played four-ball better-ball with a slight difference. We played for a point a hole and if you halved it was a half-point each Each game would go the full distance, the winners would get a two-point bonus and the team with most points would be the winner.
The venue was Tucker’s Point, a lush, rolling course which is a joy to play even when you are not playing well, a category I soon fell into.
My partner was my long-time friend and colleague Simon Kelner, who I worked with on The Observer and the Independent on Sunday. He became the editor-in-chief and, later, managing director of the Independent newspapers, and was instrumental in founding the successful ’I’ newspaper for which he now writes a daily column.
He took up golf about the same time as me and developed a violent approach to the ball which Hugh McIlvanney once likened to ’Strang the Terrible’.
Maturity has brought him a far more cultured swing and a respectable 12 handicap which he employs to good effect at the Kirtlington club in Oxfordshire.
Our opponents were James Bolam and Dom Joly. James has been a leading actor since the 1960s, featuring in such hit series as The Likely Lads, When the Boat Comes In, The Beiderbecke Trilogy and, more recently, New Tricks.
A keen golfer, he plays off 20, is a stalwart of the Stage Golfing Society and a pleasure to play with.
Dom is an award-winning television comedian, journalist and travel writer. He has made TV shows for the BBC, Sky, Comedy Central USA and has introduced on ITV a hidden camera show, Fool Britannia.
If I can sum up his style as zany, that same word can be used to describe his golf but we had no reason to find it amusing.
I played with him a few years ago on a golf trip to Tenerife and he would obviously be a good golfer if he was ever able to devote some time to it. His lifestyle doesn’t allow that, of course, but he is still capable of some amazing shots.
Simon and I were never really in the hunt. Dom was either hitting it 60 yards straight up into the air, clattering the trees either side of the fairway or bashing it 300 yards down the middle
But they dovetailed so well. When Dom was smashing it all over the place, James was hitting it straight and sweet. When James was wobbling a bit, Dom was hitting the green in two as well as knocking in some ridiculously long putts.
We lost four and three but Simon fought back to reduce our arrears to only two points.
Sir Steve was partnered by Georgie Bingham, the radio and television presenter who has appeared on Sky Sports and ESPN in the US. She can be seen on ITV’s Daybreak and Channel 5 news and hits the ball a bloody mile.
She and Sir Steve were up against Philippa Kennedy and Philip Johnston. Philippa and I were on the same Fleet Street beat in the mid-70s. She went on to become the Daily Express’s first woman News Editor and is now Ombudsman on the Sun newspaper and a former captain of the Press Golfing Society.
Philip is assistant editor and chief leader writer of the Daily Telegraph and an author of several books.
He plays off 16 and with Philippa off 17 I fancied they would strike a blow for us but Steve was on top form and, ably assisted by Georgie, added more points for the celebs.
Our one triumph came from Brian Viner and Josh Ball. Brian was a former colleague on the Independent and now writes for several national newspapers and magazines. Josh Ball is the son of another former colleague of mine, Peter Ball, and now works for the Royal Gazette in Bermuda.
They were up against a formidable pair in Sion Tudor Owen and Sarah Stirk. Sion comes from Anglesey and has appeared on stage, screen and TV and is a member of the ‘Fourballs’ golf cabaret. He will be touring the UK in West Side Story later in the year. He plays of six.
Sarah will be familiar to golf fans as a presenter on Sky Sports covering both the European and PGA Tours and she also writes for various publications. She is a seven handicapper.
But they met their match in Brian and Josh after a high quality game.
The final clash was a singles match between Warren Clarke and
Roderick Easdale. Warren’s list of screen appearances dates back to 1966 when he was in Coronation Street. On the big screen he was in A Clockwork Orange and Clint Eastwood’s Firefox and more recently was in Blackadder, has a starring role in Dalziel and Pascoe and has appeared in Midsomer Murders and Call the Midwife.
He is also a member of the Stage Golfing Society, playing off 20.
Roderick is a freelance journalist appearing in magazines like Golf Monthly and Country Life and has written four books including the biography, The Novel Life of PG Wodehouse.
They managed to fight out a half and, for a reason I couldn’t fathom, won a special prize. Warren made his acceptance speech in the voice of Winston Churchill who he played on stage last year.
The second day of the Hacker’s Cup was played at Port Royal, where they stage the PGA Grand Slam event, featuring the four major winners of the year.
I was down to play the singles match against Sir Steve which was a repeat of the inaugural Hackers Cup match 18 months ago. He proved to be so superior to me then I felt I’d have had more chance against him at rowing.
I fear that this year he was even better and I was even worse. I couldn’t hit the proverbial cow’s arse with a shovel.
Being the absolute gent he is, he was kindness itself and very patient. But after he’d won the first eight holes he reminded me that if he won the next he’d be dormy nine.
I managed to stop that disgrace by halving the hole. He then won the next which meant in a normal game I would have lost nine and eight.
As it happened, I managed to win two holes on the back nine including Port Royal’s famous par three 16th but the 15 ½-2 ½ score-line was a mighty blow to my team’s chances. Philippa, Simon and Josh had won their matches but we still finished second.
Sir Steve therefore retained the winning captain’s green jacket which they presented to him last time. It wouldn’t have fitted me anyhow.