Golf Is Not A Natural Game for a Welsh Person – Well it certainly wasn’t when I was introduced to the game. As a youngster the only people I knew who played golf, or at least the only people who admitted it, were Graham the Milk (owner of local dairy), Mr Rees (bank manager) and ‘Whack Whack’ Williams (grammar school headmaster). It was definitely not a game for the likes of me.
I pursued the usual Welsh sporting path of playing rugby for the school (Pontllanfraith Grammar) on Saturday morning and football for local teams (Pengam and Cefn Fforest) on Saturday afternoon and Sunday. After college I chose rugby and spent the next few years yo-yoing between Barry Plastics 1st and 2nd teams. One Sunday morning I awoke barely able to get out of bed with all parts of my body aching and I decided that my body, God or the selection committee were trying to tell me something. So I decided enough was enough. My fellow rugby and soccer colleagues had steadily disappeared to the golf course and I decided to stop fighting and accept the inevitable. At the time golf for me was one step up from bowls, which was itself one step up from sitting in a corner of the pub announcing “I’m 84 I am……. Guess how old I am?” So I decided to take up golf.
Golf in Wales, is not the same as golf in England. Golf in Wales, especially on the ‘pay as you play’ municipal courses, is not that most genteel, respectable, most English of (Scottish) games. I wonder if this could be an attitude to life synonymous with the Welsh valleys. Perhaps it is a part of the culture; the culture of pits and mining and closedowns and austerity. I’m not talking of today, so much, but the centuries of hardship and toughness that permeates Welsh people. It may be a particularly unique Welsh or Celtic attribute – but I doubt it. I guess golfers are golfers the world over. Golfers will always get a bad lie, a tough break and more “why me? s” than any other group (including fishermen, farmers and bankers).
If it is a Welsh characteristic and there has to be a reason then I’d blame climatology and topography. Years of cold, stinging, horizontal rain must have an effect on your swing and your temperament. Centuries of narrow, squeezed river valleys will surely have an adverse effect on chipping and putting. The parallel Rhymney, Sirhowy and Ebbw rivers with their enclosed cultures, vicious sheep and harsh environments will influence the mentality of the higher handicapped people trapped within.
There are villages north of Tredegar as remote, as inhospitable, and as dangerous to missionaries as any outlying Amazonian villages. This will surely have an impact on the people, their traditions, their dress sense and their approach shots.
I learned to play golf – well I learnt to swing a club and hit a ball fairly accurately after months of hitting Penfold balls in the field behind my house and at a variety of bizarre driving ranges. However, my introduction to the savageries of the noble game took place on a cold, foggy, Saturday morning. My brother and I had somehow managed to get an early tee time at the 9-hole, speakeasy course on the outskirts of Caerphilly, romantically named Castell Heights, Heol Penybryn. The unwritten rule (if there were any rules in operation at all) seemed to be – “out of sight – out of mind”. This was frequently a potential problem on a number of semi-legal hills and valleys courses. I remember zig-zagging down the fairway / rough and reaching the first green in four. As I walked around my ball checking my putt from many angles I heard, rather than saw, a Top Flite XL whistling past my ear.
“Oy!” I screamed in some panic. “You nearly hit me.”
Hoping I wasn’t being too forceful in my criticism I watched as a small figure emerged from the mist. Fully expecting a contrite apology I saw a 5 feet 3 inch, 24 stone miner lumbering toward me.
“Nearly hit you? F******* good. Now f****** hurry up I’m working nights.” He further informed me that he and his colleagues were ‘playing through’ and so they did. Five other groups played through that Saturday morning and I’m still known as an “instinctive putter”.
This attitude is still around – although invariably couched in jokey, or semi-jokey remarks; “Don’t be shy about calling us through if you lose another two holes”; “Looked good in the air”, I was told of a long putt I attempted from off the green that somehow found a large stone in its path; “I’m putting you in the book”, I was informed toward the end of one particularly bad, one hundred plus, round. “What for?” I asked. “Practising on the course “, came the hurtful response.
‘Putting someone in the book’ is the ultimate threat on many a Welsh golf course. You can be put in the book for anything from ‘not taking your hat off while shaking hands on the eighteenth’ to ‘armed robbery with assault on the short uphill eleventh’. Members have been put in the book for ‘slow play’ and ‘playing too quickly’; ‘being seen surreptitiously using a mobile phone on the course’; ‘walking around the course inappropriately dressed (shirt not tucked in) and ‘nearly swearing in front of the ladies’ captain’. The fear of going in the book is the dread of having to go before The Committee…. The Committee are a fine bunch of people who do a thankless job and I hold them in the highest esteem.