8 for 1

It was a tough ball school to join - and tougher to leave
It was a tough ball school to join - and a tougher one to leave

Undoubtedly the worst 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 group and, as is the custom, it was a stableford competition (For non-golfers Dr. Frank Barney Gordon Stableford a Glamorganshire club member invented the system and first tried it out on fellow members of the club on the 30th September 1898. He later went on to join Royal Porthcawl Golf Club. His system meant that golfers get 2 points every time they complete a hole as they should – subject to all the bracketed conditions further on).

Having played for many years the handicaps had sorted themselves out 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 (i.e. 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 and you would be evenly matched on a round of golf if you had a 28 shot start…. Well not exactly as Tiger is 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 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.

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 (For non-golfers all those numbers must sound a bit odd. Basically they mean that this was the 14th hole out of 18 , the target for a scratch golfer was to complete it with 5 shots and it was the 10th most difficult [stroke indexes relate to difficulty – Stroke index 18 being the easiest] hole).

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 Stableford bracket – 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-searching and found the ball under a branch. 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 somehow managed to hack 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 found that one himself. He managed to get it out of the bunker by some means and 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 by 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 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 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 disbelief. The face that had seen 52 years of pain and anguish took on a new 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 do about it. It was a face that questioned God. He was practically in 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. All we could hear were semi-crazed mumblings and the occasional manic laugh, “8 for 1; 8 for 1; 8 for 1.”

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