Act 2: “Look Ma – top of the world!” (“Edrych ma – ben y byd!”)
Before we began the round I went to the clubhouse to talk to a few people. I was shown the visitors book. I was amazed to see the range of people who had taken the time to write in it after playing the course;
I was not surprised that local hero, Bradley Dredge (my mother knows his mother, you know) had written in it, or John Daly. I was quite surprised that Hollywood legends like James Cagney, Judy Garland and rock stars like Morrissey had also contributed. I decided to write these quotes on a piece of paper and use them to motivate my colleagues as we played the back nine.
We were on the 10th tee when I read my first quote from the visitor’s book;
“There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth…not going all the way, and not starting.” – Bradley Dredge
They were impressed. Almost moved to tears but they managed to hide it well behind sarcasm and scorn.
We moved onwards and upward. Upwards, ever upwards.
The 10th was a long par 3. In the match between Andy and Pensioner Dave versus myself and Brother John, we were 3 up. Pensioner Dave was sulking. John had won practically all the holes for us. I was mainly being used to read the yardage on the signs, point John towards the green and keep score.
“I don’t mind losing,” lied Pensioner Dave, “but I hate when we lose to just one person.” A remark aimed at me.
“It takes a big man, with no ego to play as badly as I do.” I explained, “I’m motivating my partner.”
This seemed to be amusing to the others.
West Mon is a rough, ragged course. The fairways are sheep-lined like a scene from the mountain stages of the Tour de France and just as sparse. It’s a traditional South Wales valley course, with a typical South Wales valley mentality. It’s harsh, unforgiving and proud of it.
I tried to keep the spirits up with another entry from the visitors’ book;
“Great God! This is an awful place” – Captain R. F. Scott, explorer, scratch golfer refering to the climb from 13th to 14th tee.
We halved the 11th and 12th moving higher and higher. Colder and colder. The air thinner and thiner. It played tricks with our minds. I imagined I made a putt. I did. We were now 3 up. No one cared any more.
At the base camp just below the 12th we rested. Preparing for the final push. We sit in silence consuming our meagre rations. I ask what the scores are. There is silence. I understand. It’s all about survival now.
The wind wasn’t blowing so much either . Presumably because we had worked our way through the tropopause and were now entering the stratosphere. We didn’t mind. It wasn’t quite so cold. In fact the higher we rose the warmer it became, which was unusual – “getting closer to the sun” Andy reasoned. We nodded. We just wanted it to be over. One way or another.
We moved to the tee of the 13th. The infamous ‘Morning Star ‘. A vertical 484 yard par 4 up and across the mountain against the wind – “It’s always against the wind”, the locals informed me.
John Daly described how he played it in the visitor book ;
“I creamed a driver, mullered 2 three woods and still ended up 20 yards short of the green. ”
We paused on the tee for reflection and to remember those who had gone before. We looked around. To the untrained eye the course looks like a Welshman just went out one day with 18 brightly coloured flags and placed them around the mountain at random intervals. This isn’t entirely true – He was Scottish.
He was a juggler, professional acrobat, golf ball maker, 5 feet 3 inches tall, golf professional, twice Open championship runner up, caddy, golf instructor to the Prince of Wales and Princess Victoria, exporter, factory owner and golf course architect. All of this is true. His name was Ben Sayers. Born in Leith, Scotland. In 1906 he designed the West Mon course. The terrain must have been familiar to him brought up on the links courses of Scotland. West Mon has the feel of a traditional Scottish links course, without references to the sea. It’s windswept, sparse on vegetation and generally left to nature to manage. The only thing missing from a links course is the sea. The sea is a long way from the top of Mynydd Carn-y-Cefn.
Back to West Mon. 17,000 feet above clubhouse level and getting higher as we struggle up the 13th past oxygen tanks, skulls, tattered flags, eventually reaching the green. We were low on food, oxygen, golf balls and humour. Remarkably the green is difficult and sloping. Come on. If you are going to hit 6 three woods to the green you want a flat putt. We putt out eventually with a combined score approaching Pensioner Dave’s age.
We see it; “The highest tee in Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”
The tee is 1500 feet above sea level. It feels as if they missed a few zeroes from that figure. There are spectacular views of the Brecon Beacons to the north with the Sugarloaf mountain to the east.
“You can see Ebbw Vale if you look west” I read.
“Why would I?” replied John.
I had no answer. We look down the mountain.
“Look ma! Top of the world.” I read without much enthusiasm. Then I quote from the visitor’s book entry from Judy Garland, American golfer, actress and singer, handicap 17 ; “It’s lonely and cold at the top…. Lonely and cold”
We silently nod. We hit our tee shots. It’s the first time ever Pensioner Dave has hit a drive approaching 200 yards.
On the way down the mood lifts. We become buoyant, energised. We laugh and move down. Down. Down. Conducting our post mortem on the course;
“I like it” announces Pensioner Dave, ever the traditionalist, “hit it – find it – hit it again”. He’s a man of simple pleasures. It’s easy to imagine him and Ben Sayers having a ten second conversation on the design of the course.
On the 17th we see a man on the women’s tee. He is crouched over his ball going through his elaborate pre shot preparation. As we pass Pensioner Dave has to interfere;
“Stop” he shouts, “You’re playing off the women’s tee.”
The man backs off, looks at Pensioner Dave and goes back to his elaborate pre shot preparation.
Pensioner Dave starts walking quickly toward him, “Wait. You’re playing off the women’s tee. The men’s is 10 yards behind you.”
The man stopped again. He walked toward Pensioner Dave and said something to him.
Pensioner Dave turned around and walked back to us in total silence. The man hit his shot and walked unenthusiastically after it.
We asked Pensioner Dave what the man had said to him;
“He told me to shut up and to let him play his second shot in peace.”
Approaching the end of the round it’s back to reality. There ares a number of relatively flat holes as we approach civilization and the short, squat, functional clubhouse. It’s been tough. It’s been fun.
We chat in the bar to a few members. The main topic of conversation is finance and how to keep clubs going these days. The club is a survivor. There is a community there. The social events held in the clubhouse and function room help a great deal these days. It’s still about the golf though. The members are a tough breed out in most weathers braving the elements.
“We don’t get too many visitors,” one of them tells us. He continues, “We don’t get a lot of passing trade.”
The club carries on. There is a community there. The social events held in the clubhouse and function room help a great deal these days. It’s still about the golf though. The members are a tough breed out in most weathers braving the elements.
I’m sure we’ll be back there some summer – once we’ve thawed out.