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.