Ninety nine percent of the time golf is a Victorian game of etiquette, politeness, civility and manners;
“No after you. Please. You go if you’re ready.”
“Well only if you’re sure.”
“Oh I insist.”
“Charmed I’m sure.”
Golfers generally are the most polite people in the world. Generally we are incredibly patient and especially helpful to newcomers. We’ll spend an entire round standing behind a new 28 (with a star) handicapper watching closely to determine which side of the fairway to begin the search. We’ll do this without a thought of resentment. We’ve all been there. We’ve all had that embarrassing virgin medal round where we’ve reached the final tee and the only balls we’ve got left are:
1. a Day-Glo yellow Top-Flite XL ‘straight’ (surely dodgy under the Trade Descriptions Act(1968)) golf ball that has been described as having “high visibility” – high visibility indeed! You can see it from the other side of the valley in Tirphil. You take it out of your bag and there’s a glow as if the Arctic sun were rising after six months of darkness;
2. a brand new untouched £5 Titleist Pro V1x that your daughter bought you as a father’s day gift and you’re saving for some mythical, fantasy tournament you’re going to get invited to;
3. a thing that you believe is a golf ball. This thing has been in your bag ever sense you bought it second hand at a car boot sale. You assume it’s a ball but you can’t be 100% sure. The thing is brown… or yellow. It’s covered in dirt that may have been around since the Silurian period and you’re afraid to clean it as you’re concerned it will either disintegrate or break the ball-cleaner.
Oh yes we’ve all been there.
Golf is an unusual game where winning isn’t everything. It’s a game where someone, allegedly, gave up the prize of a new car in order to retain their amateur status. It’s a game where players call fouls on themselves. It’s the only game where you form a queue, wait your turn and smile – in general…….
It’s the Tredegar and Rhymney Open and you’re waiting politely, smiling sincerely at a quartet of golfers with a combined age of exactly the distance of the par 4 hole you’re playing (in yards). You are keen to play this hole again as last year you hit a driver and three wood to within a foot of the pin. You remember it as if it were yesterday… After you’d hit your three wood you wanted to run to the green and tap it in. However you had to go through the ritual; mark your ball, wipe it on the cloth in your pocket (although I suspect this would only make it dirtier) and make the birdie trying to look as dispassionate as possible. You scribble a nonchalant ‘3’ on your card (as if you’d forget), pretending you did this everyother day of your life.
However. You have to wait and watch as think nothing of pausing patiently as this foursome of members one by painful one, spend an eternity half swinging their £1600 matrix graphite Vega RAF-CM blades in the general direction of their third-hand, six for £2, ‘found on course’, reconditioned golf balls. Their shots are all so remarkably similar to each other you wonder why they just don’t all have the one ball between them. You look on agonizingly, but respectfully as a quartet of worm burners stagger limply across the ladies tee, pick up speed as they bounce on the barely-reached fairway and roll on and on and on and on and on, into the distance, like all good committee members’ drives seem destined to do.
As they rumble off into the distance complaining about a bad lie, another doddery tetrad grumble onto the tee your mind goes back to the following week and your experience. You were on the 18th tee at Bargoed knowing that a seven will virtually guarantee you ‘a name on the board’ for the ‘Ystrad Mynach Medal’. You step onto the tee and take a few practice swings that bear totally no relation to your real swing when you notice twoancient, gesturing, shambling members wandering back down the fairway toward you. You are stressed and confused. You’re in such a state that you imagine they’re coming back to tell you there’s a problem with your new ping irons – perhaps they’ve suddenly become illegal, perhaps your jumper’s too bright…You can’t think straight and your mind races back to the last time you were in this position….
…you needed a seven on the last that day as well. It was a horrid, stormy, tempestuous day and your newly acquired playing partner (who you’d met standing around the first tee like a teenage virgin at a school dance) had a heart attack on this exact same 18th tee. By the time the ambulance had turned up, with all the fuss and noise and confusion, you didn’t see how you could pluck your card from his back pocket without it looking like theft. It was a sad occasion – in so many ways. That would surely have been your first time ‘On the Board’. Now this. You breathe deeply and await the pair of Glenmuir-clad Cassandras scurrying toward you.
The two ancients stride onto the tee and one by one screw their tee pegs into the ground, pause for breath, put the oldest golf balls you’ve seen outside a museum on the tees and drive off – in complete silence. .As they moved off one turns to you and explains, “We have having such a nice chat we forget to tee off.”
You smile and mean it – and bear them no ill. The relief you feel.
A few minutes later your elegant drive sails across the river, short of the trees and settles down just in the edge of the rough. You have totally forgotten the prehistoric pair as you march confidently, and a little cockily, toward your ball. You still giggle slightly as you spot the funny old duo in front approach the green still gesturing wildly to each other.
The next time you think about the twin harbingers of doom is when you’re walking back to the tee five minutes and one second later, your ball having crossed into some parallel universe.
“If it wasn’t for that pair on the eighteenth,” you’re heard to mutter to yourself for days afterward.