Thursday, 12 August 2010

What's Up With Monty?

So what is exactly is going on with Monty? There's the front cover of The Daily Telegraph to content with and a whirlwind of rumours going around. I first caught a whiff about ten days ago, and it's pretty rich stuff. But as I don't intend to get my arse sued off I am going to have to watch it. So I'm not exactly being a help to anybody. But the source was good, and the information took me to places I'd really rather not go to.

Anyway, better nip off to M&S as I need a sandwich.............

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Launch of Disabled Golf Open at East Sussex National

Just back from a cracking day at East Sussex National for the launch of the 2010 Disabled British Open, which will be played here on the 20th and 21st of September.

This is the events second year, and the event was filled with competitors within a week. There’s also been considerable interest from competitors from abroad. Spain’s reigning disabled golfer with be making the trip over, as will competitors from Germany, Pakistan, South Africa and Ireland.

So it’s an international field, playing on a quality track, with TV coverage provided by Sky Sports. Not a bad start.

The event is also part of a programme run by Accentuate, which gets its funding from the South East Development Agency and the Legacy Trust, which is Lottery Funded and focused on creating a cultural legacy from the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. I didn’t think golf was in the Olympics until 2106, but if they’ve managed to get in under the radar good luck to them.

The hope is to help create a cultural shift in the way disabled people are perceived by celebrating excellence. And there was plenty of that on show today, as I received a fair old thrashing from one of the competitors, Roger, who plays off a very tidy 14. Roger has a prosthetic leg, but that didn’t stop him thumping out some quality drives with plenty of length; and he was the only one in our four-ball who got anywhere near to grips with the very slick greens that are a hallmark of East Sussex National.

Derek Howe, ESN’s General Manager, proudly told me that they’d recently got the greens running 13 on the stimp metre for a PGA event. So what we experienced today was a quietened down version, and one that followed a biblical downpour the day before which saw Mid Sussex getting 88% of its’ average monthly rainfall in an hour. I can’t even begin to imagine how you actually putt there when they’re properly juiced up. It’s the golfing Spinal Tap equivalent of turning all the amps up to eleven.

ESN is about much more than its greens – which I’d also add aren’t just slick, but tricky in every other regard as well. Take the Par 3 fourth. At 181 yards off the whites; it takes a decent long iron to get to what looks like a fairly straight forward green. But that’s only the half of it. You don’t fully appreciate the slopes until you get there and if you’re short and don’t putt it hard enough you’re going to find the ball right back where it started. Don’t ask!

Then there’s the unassuming 121 yard par 3 eighth. I sent up what I thought was a perfect 9 iron, which stayed up there forever before landing smack in the middle of the green, and then disappeared out of view. I found it hiding in the fringe; it hadn’t held and there’s a severe slope in the green which you just don’t pick up from the tee.

There’s a tough finish as well. The fifteenth is Stroke Index 1, while the 16th only rewards if you can put the ball onto a tiny landing area over a lake. The 17th is Stroke Index 3, and with good reason; you can easily run into the lake which makes you hesitate to take out a driver, and you’re second shot is then a long iron onto a well bunkered raised green. The 18th offers another well-bunkered raised green, so there’s just no letting up. I had been hitting the ball pretty well, but found it really hard to actually put in a decent score.

So all I’ll say to the competitors on the 20th and 21st September is make sure you turn up for the practice round, try and get to grips with the pace of the greens, and have a really well thought out plan to get yourself around without too much damage. Good luck out there; you’ll probably need a bit of that as well.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Playing The Old Course at St Andrews with Tony Jackelin


I’ve had a few caddies over the years. When I lived in Jamaica, I had a regular man on my bag – Sonny. He often despaired of me and would normally resort to the weed by the 15th. He also got badly distracted when the mangoes came into season, but at least this meant that he didn’t mind so ,much when I drove into the deep rough, as there were always better opportunities for a bit of mango harvesting than when I kept it on the fairway. He got a fair few mangoes.

I also like to carry my own bag, and enjoy finding my way around a new course. It’s a set of choices that rarely deliver good scores, but I’m relaxed. It’s not The Open!

However, when I was confronted with the caddie versus go-it- alone strategy at St Andrew’s Old Course, the day after The Open, it was time to think again. It was The Open – well almost. And I’d be playing a four ball with my business partner Tim; Malcolm, the CFO of SAB Miller, and one Mr Tony Jackelin. Gulp. So there was absolutely no pressure whatsoever! I signed up for a caddie straight away, and God in his infinite wisdom, gave me Susan.

Susan took a quick look at me, assessed my game and the situation and decided that a strictly enforced regime of one-on-one briefings and close course and club management was the only way that I would survive the rigours of this test, and emerge with some level of dignity and credibility intact. I had been put under the immediate scrutiny of a very well trained eye, and that eye read everything dead right.

Susan is not a person who will sit quietly by, and offer an occasional quiet word of wisdom. She took me and my game by the scruff of the neck. At first I was under the misguided impression that you sort of had a conversation with your caddie about route and club selection; that there was the potential for a dialogue, to which I could make some small meaningful contribution.

I didn’t understand all of this from the word go; the word go being driving off in illustrious company from the 1st on the Old Course with all the stadia still in place. It’s a shot and club selection that I’d been rehearsing in my head for the past ten days, when I’d learnt disbelievingly that this is what I’d be doing at 12.30pm on Monday 21st July 2010.

My preferred option had been a 5 iron – yes, I know it’s a bit pussy, but the best chance of a result and I’d still have a makeable shot over the Swilkin burn onto the green. But then I’d managed to lose my beloved 5 iron on the eve of departure, when I’d been practising for this exact eventuality. A four iron was simply not an option, and a six iron would be pushing the chicken-shit factor too strongly. I toyed with the 3 wood option, but in the end the moment and a bit of bravado caught me and out came the big dog. Tee it up to the left and let rip. There’s only two fairways to go for so what could possibly go wrong? Well, nothing as it turned out. Smacked one to the left, and left myself with a nine iron into the green.

Or was it? I was young and inexperienced. I thought we could talk about it. But no; in the kindest of ways it was suggested to me that the 8 iron should be my club of choice. I hesitated at first. I had a bit of a democracy moment, but by then a slither of doubt had entered my head. Maybe an 8 iron would be the safest option? Perhaps a nine wasn’t quite enough? And so it proved. Or rather, sense prevailed and I did what I was told. With a firmish 8 iron, I cleared the burn, and made the back of the green. Voila!

It was then that another part of my golf education was about to begin. If St Andrew’s about anything, and it’s about a vast amount of everything, it’s not about greens in regulation.

Under Susan’s careful ‘curatorship’ -or should that be dictatorship - I was to make my way around the front nine in 7 over par, which is a massive result for someone who plays off 20; and on this course, of all courses. And as for my lost shots? All on the greens; every single one of them!

The second was a classic example of this. A decent drive, and a slightly pulled 6 iron left me on the green, but confronted with a Himalayan putt. Two massive mounds before I got anywhere near the ‘real’ green, and then we were playing the final day pin placements which were diabolic. So I took three putts, and then another three and another three, and another three.

But at the turn, I was elated. I’d played below my handicap with one of the greats of British golf, and I’d not disgraced myself. And I’d even heard those magical words of ‘Great shot’ from Mr Jackelin when I’d nailed a drive on the 8th. Very heaven!

In hindsight, I think my exertions and concentration on the front nine caused my downfall at the start of the back nine. It wasn’t complacency more mental exhaustion. But Susan assessed the situation, calmed me down, and got me back on the case. The double bogies on the 10th and 11th were soon put behind me. In fairness, one of them was caused by my inability to follow exact orders from Susan. She’s told me to drive towards a bunch of rough, which was nowhere near the ‘fairway’, such as it was. So I under-compensated, and kept it a bit left – into a lovely coffin bunker.

I then did exactly what I was told, and chipped out backwards. It was a classic take -your-medicine moment. Tony kindly offered to commentate, so no pressure there. But I got it out safely, only to go on and take my normal three putts.

St Andrew’s is simply the most extraordinary course I’ve ever set foot on, and TV just doesn’t begin to do it justice. Take the 14th, and the opportunity to visit Hell’s Bunker. If it had not been for Susan, I would blasely have knocked one down the middle (ish), and only then discovered I was in very deep s....sand.

Instead, I was taken on a golfing safari which had more to do with the 5th than the 14th – but which was absolutely the right way to go for a, shall we say, ‘average’ golfer.

The skies now opened, and the final holes were spent hiding under umbrellas, kindly provided by The Open Beer sponsors, and our hosts, Pilsner Urquell. God bless ‘em! The 17th was therefore an even harder challenge as I could barely hold onto my club, But I got one away, and cleared the hotel, only to find that there was still a long way to go, and the odd Road Hole Bunker to avoid.

The 18th was also played in a deluge, and I duly managed to fit in a quick visit to the Valley of Sins. If only I’d had my trusty 5 iron, I’d have been fine! I think I’m going to be sticking up a snotty message on my local golf club news board to that effect; ”The thieving bastard who nicked my 5 iron doesn’t know the half of it....”

But I think I’m straying from my main theme, which is Susan my caddie. The service she provided was a totally personal one. She’d work out the right strategy for me on every hole, and then brief me accordingly. She’d give me a great read on the green, and sort my head out when I duly three putted. My playing partner, who’d chosen not to have a caddy, got nothing. Not a driving line, not a word of warning about hazards, not a read on the green. Zippo. And quite right too (sorry Tim). Caddying is after all an Intellectual Property business. And that IP is shared with you, the client, and you alone.

I don’t know her surname, but I do know that if you ever have the chance to play The Old Course, you should ask for Susan. She’ll get you round, make no mistake.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Rye Golf Club Gets What's Coming to Them

I came across this today in the Brighton Evening Argus and thought what the f~~~~. I mean fair play, you can do what you like with your cash. But if there was ever an undeserving cause then it has to be Rye Golf Course. But they breed their members well. I'm not bitter. But posting this probably condemns me to never playing there, which will be a shame. Do they do magnanimity?

A wealthy golf fanatic left almost half a million pounds to one of Sussex's most exclusive clubs in his will.

Retired Treasury lawyer Peter Smith lived alone in Winchelsea, near Hastings, with his pet lapdog until he died aged 90 last summer.

The former Army Major used to visit Rye Golf Club - which counts former Prime Ministers David Lloyd George, AJ Balfour and Winston Churchill among its former members - at least three times a week.

Friends described him as a solitary, private man who never married and had no family.

But many were astonished to discover he had donated almost his entire fortune - £441,536 - to the wealthy club when he died.

Rye Golf Club raises more than £1m a year in membership subscriptions, bar revenue and sales of club ties, books and buttons.Last year it spent £3,590 from another legacy on tankards.

Rye is a traditional, members only club. It has 113 women among its 1,327 members.

Club president Tony Wesson - a long-standing friend of Major Smith's - said the donation was extremely welcome, but admitted they had no immediate use for the money.

I'd also add that when you get to their website the first message you get is that this website is primarily for club members. This lot don't like riff raff. It's as if they've got putting people's noses out of joint down to a fine art. It's everything that golf should not and isn't about. A plague on their house and fungus on their greens.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Mr Angry -Save our pitch and putt

Latest reader's letters - June 17

Published Date: 17 June 2010
THE latest letters from our readers
What are they thinking?
I WOULD like to try to unpick some of the various strands of your article on Beech Hurst, as I have to confess that I have no idea where the council is coming from on any of their thinking.You write that there are plans for a new mini golf course. Well, hang on a minute, I thought that's just what we had. You then refer to a crazy golf course. Beech Hurst isn't exactly Blackpool, or Brighton.

Does someone actually think that constructing a series of concrete holes with the odd windmill is a good idea for this beautiful site?

We then have the issue of its closure, without any announcement or attempt at consultation – normally a fatuous process anyway, but I have to say that a little bit of warning would have been appreciated. And what fantastic timing! Let's tell nobody until it's the beginning of the summer when we might actually want to go out and play.

Closing down the kiosk, which has acted as a booking hub for the tennis, golf and bowls, is also an award-winningly stupid idea. Yes, you can get more people to book online, and that's fine. But if you want to cut the place off at its knees, the best way to do that it is to make everyone have to book everything in advance.

It takes all spontaneity out of using the place, and instead wraps it up in bureaucracy and process. You'll get people who wanted to have a game of tennis of an afternoon because the weather was fine; or a quick game of petanque, unable to simply turn up, take their chances, pay and play.

None of the families who visit over the weekends when the sun comes out will have gone online the day before and made a booking. So in an instant you lose the opportunity to convert all these potential customers into paying users.

Nor can I grasp any of the underlying economics. According to Pru Moore: "The pitch and putt course and kiosk have been under-used for some time now." How exactly is the Kiosk 'under-used'?

It's there to help deliver services, and if you close the pitch and putt course then it certainly will be under-used. It only really needs to be staffed over the summer months, and it's the perfect job for a student. Four golfers an hour will probably be enough to off-set their costs, and then any impulse tennis or bowls bookings are incremental revenue.

And in time, fewer and fewer people will use these facilities, and the next press release from the council will be an announcement that they are closing them because of lack of demand.

We then get another couple of award-winningly stupid ideas. A wild flower meadow! Beech Hurst is a prime piece of cultivated recreational space for people to enjoy. We're surrounded by wonderful, natural, countryside if they hadn't noticed. So let's recreate some faux meadow land; at least it will keep the grass cutting bill down.

This will also finish off the chance of using this area as a golf course, as you'll have no chance of finding a golf ball if you're surrounded by deep meadow grass. So how you "explore the possibility of creating a mini golf course" whilst at the same time "encouraging the development of a wild flower meadow" beats me.

We then get another piece of fatuous council speak: "The council takes the issue of data protection seriously and when customers book online, information is encrypted to ensure that it is secure." Well, whoopee do! But what's that got to do with anything? Of course you've got a secure payment system. Everybody has. But I just want to be able to pay a couple of quid when it suits me to use your facilities, and I don't want to have to book in advance.

All in all, I'm left none the wiser by the council. I simply suspect that they are looking to run down what should be a wonderful place for the town.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

New Kernow St Mellion Course Opens

Word is out that St Mellion have just opened their new Kernow Course after two years and a couple of million quid to boot.

And it sounds much more than a quick face lift. There's nine brand new holes which have been added to the best nine holes of the original course.

The Par 70, 18-hole Kernow Course now complements the mighty Nicklaus Signature Course, which also winds around St Mellion’s spectacular wooded valleys. And is a right pigging b***** of a challenge, make no mistake.

Standout holes include the new 1st, a tricky par 5, which demands an accurate first tee shot of the day, and the new 6th, the hardest on the course, which features an unusual approach to the green over a traditional ‘Cornish hedge’. There is a brand-new sequence of holes to start the back nine, where the 10th, 11th and 12th, while relatively short, all ask golfers to make a series of exciting risk-and-reward decisions. But not all is brand new – the picturesque all-or-nothing par 3 14th hole, an old favourite featuring a drop shot across a lake, still adds its charm to the latter part of the round.

I've played the Nicklaus Signature course, and it's a grand course. So the idea of being able to play two quality courses in one great spot really appeals. Better see if I can blag a round before too long.


Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Borth Golf Club

I’m driving down to Borth on the Cardigan Bay coast, and listening to Toby Stephens play James Bond in a radio dramatization of Goldfinger. It’s the classic scene where Bond takes Goldfinger down the 18th, misses his putt to save the hole, the match and $10,000 only to ‘find’ that Goldfinger has been playing with the wrong ball and therefore looses the match by default. They are, of course, playing to the ‘strict rules of golf.’

Bond plays off 9, which is Ian Fleming taking the opposite of the Kim Yong IL approach. It’s the ’I could have been a contender’ handicap – ‘but what with the day job and my work abroad, it’s just hard to get in the practice.’ It’s nicely judged.

I arrive at Borth Golf Club to find myself taken from the 1960s world of Bond to the 1880’s, as everyone is playing in turn-of-the-century dress – long dresses for the ladies and proper tweed coats and plus fours for the men. What’s going on? I’ve already been given a golf sensory overload and I haven’t even hit a ball. What’s going on is part of Borth’s 125 anniversary celebration. Fair play, as the club claims to be the oldest in Wales, ahead of Tenby by three years, and they are rightly proud of this claim, against which no doubt Tenby will fiercely counter claim.

But let’s get back to 2010: I’m here to play some links golf, and find out if the rumours that this is an under-rated golf gem are true. I’ve chosen a late afternoon tee-time on a fresh but clear Easter weekend to find out. There are still patches of snow on the distant hills, and a rainbow stretches across the Dovey Estuary behind me; but it’s not raining, and I’m just so grateful to be out in this beautiful landscape. And at £20 for an evening round, that represents great value as far as I’m concerned to play any decent links course.

The wind’s coming in from the north, so as I tee off at the first I’m thinking the front nine’s going to a long walk. The first three holes hug the coastline, so the sea is a constant hazard companion. There’s trouble on the right as well, as a hook will put your ball onto the road that dissects the course on the first, and a hook will do the same on the second and third.

Insurance is actually compulsive on this course, and is included in your green fee. So the hazards are very real, and you can imagine that there has been more than the odd cracked windscreen over the years, as a steady flow of cars makes their way to and from the seaside town of Borth.

You’ve also got to get your golfing gears moving pretty sharpish here as the 2nd is a par 4 13 yard stroke index 1, which plays 454 yards off the whites. I find the opening holes a little unremarkable, but still manage to drop quite a few shots.

It’s at the 6th that the course really comes into its own, and the run from here through to the 12th is just so much fun; quirky, entertaining, varied, and dramatic.

The 6th is par 4 341 off the yellows, with a drive that requires you to avoid gnarly trouble on the left. But the hole’s all about your second shot, which is a mid iron onto a green which sits at least 30 feet above the fairway. You can afford to go long, as chances are you’ll get roll back onto the green; but leave it short and your ball will be rolling straight back to you.

By the seventh you are entering into the course’s heartland of high dunes and deep rough. The 7th is played from the side of a steep dune-like hill for the ladies, and the white tees. But for some strange reason the yellow tees are on rather flatter, less dramatic, land 45 degrees to the left of the other tees.

The 8th is 471 yards off the yellows par 5, which takes you out to the furthest point of the course. On the turn is a lovely downhill 170 yard par 3, with high dunes to the right hand side which obscure your view of the sea. Stoke index 2 follows with the 10th, which as classic a links hole as you’ll find anywhere. Your second shot needs to drift in from left to right to find a green which is well protected by high dune banks.

This fantastic sequence isn’t over yet. You’ve then got a gorgeous little 132 yard par 3, where you shoot from the sea wall down onto a tight little green, with dunes to the sides and back. Not hard but very easy on the eye.

The 12th is wonderfully idiosyncratic – it’s not long at 281 yards, but I couldn’t for the life of me see where the pin was as I stared out over a sea of contorted humps and mounds. There’s quite a carry, and trouble everywhere. But if you can land it safely, you’ll then you a short iron onto the green, which occupies a little hollow at the far left of the hole.

By the 13th your back out onto the main, more open, links and a return to golfing normality. The 14th is a fine 188 yard par 3, with the sea in play, whilst the fifteenth is a slightly mundane par 4.

You then re-cross the main road to play the final three holes, which are a gentle come down after the delights of the mid course run. The course has its critics for its relatively weak opening and soft landing of a finish; but it just proves that you can’t please everyone all the time. I loved every bit of it, and I’ll be back in the shake of a lamb’s tail.