Undoubtedly the most tortured, most anguished look I’ve ever seen on a golfer’s face came a month or so ago at Bargoed Golf Club. It was a normal friendly, tense, bickering, frustrating, but very entertaining Saturday morning Ball School. There were 4 in our particular multifarious group and, as is the custom, it was a stableford competition.
For non-golfers Dr. Frank Barney Gordon Stableford various described as a Glamorganshire, Penarth club member, a Royal Porthcawl club member, or a Wallesey club member invented the system and first tried it out on members of the Glamorganshire / Porthcawl / Wallesey club on the 30th September 1898.
Prior to the invention of Dr Frank’s system if you had a bad hole – and for me a bad hole is double figures – you could just as well walk to the clubhouse, get the beers in and watch Sky Sports until your friends joined you one by moaning one. Previously the only means of scoring was medal – which was OK for professionals, veterans and banditos but a bit frustrating for the rest of us.
His new system meant that golfers got 2 points every time they completed a hole as they should according to their handicap – subject to all the bracketed conditions further on. This is universally considered to be a great thing. However read the following tale and I’ll let you be the judge….
Back to the first tee at Bargoed……Having played for many years the handicaps in the ball school had sorted themselves out really well and we all tended to finish pretty close, most weeks. On this particular day, however, we had a newcomer, a brother of a friend of someone who worked with someone who was married to someone who knew my cousin. He was young, keen and excited. He looked out of place.
However, he was a very nice lad ( anyone under 40 at our club is a lad ) who had just taken up golf and was playing off 28. (For non-golfers you get awarded a handicap based on your current level of skill, honesty and ability to put up with the taunt ‘bandit’. If you have a handicap of 28 it means that Tiger Woods, Bradley Dredge and you should be evenly matched on a round of golf if you had a 28 shot start…. Well not exactly as Tiger and Bradley are (or were) probably off +10 or something, but theoretically a scratch golfer would give you 28 shots and you would tie).
None of our Ball School were Tiger Woods, Bradley Dredge or scratch golfers although one of them, the ‘one with the face’ (which I referred to earlier, and will come on to later) was playing off a handicap of 9 and co-incidentally, his wife knew Bradley Dredge’s mother to talk to.
The morning was progressing steadily and the scores were pretty close between our 9 handicapper and the newcomer. The rest of us suffered with the usual mixture of hangovers, bad lies, bad luck and over-optimism. After the 13th our 9 handicapper was on a steady 26 points, a few points behind the newcomer who lead the way with a worthy 28. The 14th hole is a fairly unremarkable but quite narrow par 5, stroke index 10.
The man with the face played the hole exceptionally well; nice drive, long iron, pitch and 12 foot putt to get his 3 points (for non-golfers, see para 3 above – keep up) and announce it calmly; “4 for 3” (i.e. four shots and 3 points). He now felt he had a distinct advantage, especially as he had seen the newcomer hook into the trees from the tee. We had all gone a-rummaging and found the ball under the root of a tree. Somehow he managed to chip it back out onto the fairway. He then topped a three wood that still trundled 150 yards before it dived into the rough. We found this for him as well. He hacked it back out onto the fairway. The next shot bent like a banana, looked like it was going out of bounds, hit a branch and plopped in the bunker at the right of the green. He managed to find that one himself – extracted the ball from the bunker by some means and watched as it rolled and rolled to within a few feet of the flag. He strode up and confidently missed the putt by inches then backhanded it into the hole with a groan.
As we walked away from the green our newcomer was counting his shots. He counted them in the traditional golfing way of looking back up the fairway and mentally replaying the scenic route he had taken. We moved on to the next tee with the newcomer still counting. Our inane chatter politely stopped as the 9 handicapper strode to the tee, placed his ball and made a few practice swings. The newcomer looked up from his scorecard and quite calmly, quite loudly and to my mind, quite shamelessly announced that he had still scored a point even though he had played the hole as badly as anyone ever had in the history of the game. His actual words were “8 for 1.”
The 9 handicapper stopped and turned around. Then came the look. The look was one of utter, utter, total disbelief. The face that had seen 52 years of pain and anguish took on a new, tormented expression. The face that had seen highs and lows, weddings and funerals, death and destruction was now resigned to life just not being fair and there was nothing he could ever,ever do about it. It was the face that had finally learnt to accept the futility of human life. It was a face that had looked into the face of God and found disappointment. He was practically in tears. he was beyond tears.
The remainder of the round he never scored a point. He spent the rest of the time wandering off into far flung corners of the golf course looking for his ball muttering under his breath.
He now sits in a dark corner of the clubhouse cradling a pint of cider, smoking roll-ups muttering “8 for 1; 8 for 1; 8 for 1.”
Thank you very much Dr. Frank Barney Gordon Stableford.