SLOW PLAY – 2 THOUGHTS

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Slow Play is not a recent phenomenon. In an essay from 1934 on ‘The People in Front’ –you know who you are – Bernard Darwin describes them …….

“They waggle for hours; they stroll rather than walk; they dive into their monstrous bags for the right club, and then it is the wrong number, but they are not sorry that we have been troubled. Their putting is a kind of funereal ping-pong. We could forgive them all this tricks, from which we are conspicuously free, if it were not for the absurd punctilio with which they observe the rules. They will insist on waiting for the people in front when it must be palpable even to their intellects that the best shot they ever hit in their lives would  be fifty yards short.”

The final word on slow play.. a sign that will…encourage people to play quicker…

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Mynydd Brawdafad Golf Club

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David Lloyd George with guests (including original cast members of Pobol Y Cwm and the Likely Lads) at the initial Captain’s drive in ceremony – note club had affiliation with Llanfrechfa fishing club and president on right is carrying the ceremonial rod

Brawdafad is a tough course, in a tough part of the world. The land was bought in early 1921 (year of the acquittal of Harold Greenwood, birth of Dick Francis, 6-5 win for Wales rugby team in Paris) and a few short weeks later was opened. A report from the local newspaper makes fascinating reading;

“At the opening ceremony Captain Mr. P. Dave asked Dr Gwyn T. Bara, Chairman of the club to declare the course open. Dr Bara, their enthusiastic and highly efficient chairman was presented with a wonderful weapon, a golf driver, with which to drive a mighty ball from the first tee (laughter and applause). He thanked the lady and gentlemen of the committee for honouring him by asking him to open the course. He referred to the early beginnings of the club and its uphill struggles and said that were it not for the generosity of a local businessman, Mr. D. S. Snips (snr.) of Aber Annwyd the club would never have reached its present state (enthusiastic applause).

Dr Gwyn T. Bara explained that the situation reminded him of a remark Mr Ramsay Macdonald, the ex-premier made that ‘Golf is to me what his Sabine farm was to the poet Horace – a solace and an inspiration.’ (embarrassed silence). Dr Bara duly took the first hit on the course and hooked it through the clubhouse window.” The first club captain David Lloyd George then took over proceedings and in his own words “It’s time to get the party started”.

Brawdaf and Annwyd Valley Express Monday June 27th 1921

The club was bombed during the Second World War by a rather wayward squadron of German bomber. It was reported after the war that with all the bomb damage the course had never looked better.

It is a mountain course. It is rough and rugged and sheep-lined. It must be pretty much how many early Scottish courses looked. However, not many early Scottish courses were built alongside council estates. There is a scarcity of land at Brawdafad and every inch of the ground is used. It feels like someone has placed a full size snooker table in a small lounge. Each tee seems to be against a fence and at times it seems that you’ve barely enough room to take a full backswing.

The rough is very rough. Pensioner Dave once sliced a drive into the rough off the sixth tee and against all our advice went chasing after it. He disappeared from view for a good few minutes. Feeling slightly anxious we called out to him;

“Pensioner Dave have you found your ball?” we called.
“Not yet,” came the reply, “But I have found a golf bag and a set of clubs.”

Extract from Collection of golf articles – ‘Putting is a Form of Self-Torture’ now available – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Putting-Form-Self-Torture-Collection-Articles/dp/1533538247/

 

Preferred Lies – Tales from Tregethin Golf and Country Club

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Bobby Jones and the Ystrad Mynach Cup

“It was during a practice round for the Ystrad Mynach Cup that I first met Bobby Jones. Bobby Jones – the lege, the man. Probably the greatest golfer in, well, …. in ever. Here is the man that entered 20 majors and won 13 of them. Here’s the winner of 3 Opens Championships, 4 US Open Championships, 5 US Amateur Championships and the British Amateur Championship. He was the winner of the impossible ‘Grand Slam’, winning each of these championships in the same year – as an amateur! Well – amateurish. But, wow. Bobby ‘the man’ Jones. Here in Tregethin.”

Dr Dai Dogs, President of Tregethin Golf and Country Club was holding court. His face had been frequently compared, not unkindly, to a ripped dap. His hair was … disturbed. He looked exactly as he lived. The sad grey eyes had seen 87 hard years of grief and despair as a golfer, greyhound trainer and doctor in Tregethin. Dai Dogs fully understood the twin emotions of grief and despair as he was required to mete them out on a regular basis. There was a reason he was not nicknamed after his doctoring or golfing abilities. He was a good story teller though, and the expectant crowd were sitting at his feet – semi-metaphorically, of course. Most of them were seated at a large, and exponentially growing, mismatch of tables and chairs on the far side of the Dai Rees lounge looking out over the eighteenth hole of Tregethin Golf and Country Club.

Dr Dai Dogs sipped his beer, “I think I first met him in ’36 I believe. Yes, it must have been because I had combined the surgery and the kennels in ’35. I remember thinking – Wow, Bobby Jones. Although he had won all these events there was one tournament that had eluded him. This was the crème de la crème, the icing on the cake, the Ystrad Mynach Cup – the Y. M.C. A superb competition with a history, surpassed by many, but as unique as many unique big tournaments. The history of it was quite interesting, But, it wasn’t the fascinating, untellable history that was the attraction. It was the tournament ‘they all loved to win’. The tournament that separated the men and the women, from the boys and the girls. It was the thing to have on your CV. The Nobel prize, the Pulitzer prize.  of golf, the Ballon d’Or, the Jnanpith Award, the Christmas number one. Yes – the Y M C. A number of great golfers have won this prize, and a number of great golfers have not won this prize. This may seem a surprise to people – but there is a good reason. The winners including some sparkling players in the roaring 20s – Joyce Wethered, Tom Morris senior, Walter Hagen, Glenna Collett-Vare. The clubhouse wall in Tregethin Golf and Country Club, reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ golfing list of people who have won the YMC. A list of the great and the best. It  reads like a list of great players that have won the greatest golf tournament in the world. And you would be right. However, if you look at that list from 1940 to the present day – we’re in 1947 at present” he reminded people, “you don’t see your Sam Sneads, your Ben Hogans, your Patty Bergs, your Gene Sarazens and your Francis Ouimets. No. You see one name. A strange name for a strange person – a name that describes him as well as naming him – ‘Pensioner Steve’.”

He paused to take a new pint from Dai Snips. Snipsy had rushed to the bar and back to ensure Dogs was sufficiently lubricated. Dogs drank thirstily and continued.

“Granted, 1939 is a blank space on the wall – due to the war”, he again reminded people. “However, the past 6 years have seen the name ‘Pensioner Steve’. ‘Pensioner Steve’. ‘Pensioner Steve’. ‘Pensioner Steve’. ‘Pensioner Steve’. ‘Pensioner Steve’.  Why? you ask. Well, following the 1939 cancellation a delegation was sent to Berlin to ask for, and get, special dispensation for the introduction of a non-bombing zone around the whole of Tregethin, not just the club and practice areas. With the ‘Dai Rees – Tregethin airport’ staying open this allowed golfers from all sides and all countries to get to the club to practice during the week and compete on the third Sunday in July. This proved satisfactory, as all the armies, obviously, released their best players for the occasion. So, we had the scenario of your Sam Sneads, your Ben Hogans, your Patty Bergs, your Walter Hagens, Martin Kaymers seniors and your Bernard Langers all competing together.”

He paused to think, looking out of the slightly grubby window and remembering, with a hint of a tear in his eye. Word had got around and there were people standing, quietly, filling every available space in the Dai Rees lounge and spilling over into the corridor and changing rooms.  Dai Dogs looked around, finished his beer, took another full pint from an unknown, unidentifiable arm and moved on.

“How Pensioner Steve came to be the undefeatable champion is a funny story, and one I am finally allowed to tell. But first a little background on Pensioner Steve. Pensioner Steve is his real name – unlike some of the others and their pretend names – Bobby Jones was originally Robert Tyre Jones. Ben Hogan was Benjamin Haganeski, Sam Snead was Salaman Rushdie, Byron Nelson was Barbara Streisand and so on and so forth. No, Pensioner Steve was always Pensioner Steve from that fateful, indeterminate day he was born. Pensioner Steve grew up as a decent enough golfer. However, there are two sides to every coin and it is the side of the coin that has one side that tells the story of Pensioner Steve. On the head side, he was a good player, on the tail side he was a better player. The difference? The coin itself. In a way. He was a different person with a scorecard, a head, in his hand – than with a 10-shilling note, a tail.” The doctor waited for the crowd to work this out. Then he helped. “He was virtually unbeatable when playing for money but useless when the handicap secretary was around or playing on the intensely Christian, financially useless, Welsh Baptist Sabbath or playing a handicap-counting competition. So, it was unsurprising that Pensioner Steve never entered and competition. He had 2 reasons for playing golf – coins and notes. Both were unavailable in this god forsaken bible-bashing Bethesda belt of Tregethin.”

Dr Dogs didn’t pause.

“On the morning of the third Sabbath of the seventh month in the year of our lord 1940 Pensioner Steve was drinking in the members’ lounge (officially a German Presbyterian zone, as agreed during the negotiations of ’39 I mentioned earlier). He was sitting and drinking with Sir Tom Jones – former Chairman and Organiser of the Rules Committee. Sir Tom buys Pensioner Steve a drink. Under the 1939 terms of agreement drink was allowed, as was smoking. Gambling or mention of the Church was expressly forbidden – obviously.  Sir Jones asked Pensioner Steve why he wasn’t playing in the competition. Pensioner Steve replied wearily that there’s no real point playing as the prize money is extremely poor, and still is – 100 pfennigs went nowhere in the 1940s – and there was no way to supplement the winnings it being Sunday and betting very banned.

Sir Tom smiled and pondered. He had heard rumours of Pensioner Steve’s prowess but had never seen him due to his (Sir Tom’s) career suddenly taking off and him (Sir Tom again) becoming, in effect, the titular Chairman only. On his travels, young Sir Tom had played a great deal of golf in America and he was keen to see Pensioner Steve slugging it out with Sir Tom’s friend – the young up and coming Gene Sarazen.

‘I tell you what’, grinned the slightly inebriated Sir Tom, ‘I’ll allow betting this once. Just this one-time mind you, as long as you enter.’ Pensioner Steve looked at him questionably. ‘I know what you’re thinking, Pensioner Steve, said Sir Tom Jones, but I assure you that legally this is something I can do. Something I must do. As you know I was heavily involved in the 1939 negotiations and as a reward, which I never thought I would use, it was writing into the agreement that I could overrule all current and future legislation on one occasion such as this. I refused to accept this honour several times but you know what,’ said Sir Tom, ‘I’m glad I accepted it now’.

Pensioner Steve thought. Pensioner Steve spoke, ‘Is it a medal competition?’. Sir Tom nodded and the game was nearly afoot.

‘Let’s have it in writing.’ said the ever-mistrusting Pensioner Steve and with a flourish Sir Tom produced a legal pad from his coat pocket and signed a local law then and pretty much there permitting betting from 6:58 a.m. (the time it currently was). The law was quickly ratified by the Clerk of the court, Chief Justice Llewellyn Ap Davies, who was in the members lounge and a local civil servant – Brenda Gwyneth Rees-Griffiths. Pensioner Steve shook Sir Thomas’ hand in that slightly sly little way he has and the game was really afoot.

‘I’ll rescind this law a soon as I get back in,’ announced Sir Tom O’Ponty as he moved swiftly toward through the lounge door toward the first tee to officially hit the first drive and start the competition.

And so, it came to pass that Pensioner Steve playing with the up and coming friend of Sir Thomas Jones, Gene Sarazen, won the competition by 3 shots. He had a remarkable round and in the process landed a fair number of wagers with various American and other International spectators.

Sir Tom enjoyed the day and the excitement greatly. Too greatly in fact and collapsed on the 18th green as Pensioner Steve holed his bunker shot for a course record 65.

The law was never rescinded and Pensioner Steve bets to his evil heart’s delight on this one special Sunday of the year. You would feel there would be no market in it. Such is life – there are always people to bet against – The hopeful, the foolish, the young, the old, the dreamers, especially at the odds offered by Pensioner Steve. As one of the competitors in last year’s Saturday pro-am famously said, ‘Never give a sucker an even break.’ This was of course WC Fields – a frequent visitor to the club and winner of the 1925 Saturday pro-am alongside a very, very young Walter Hagen.”

Dai Doggs stopped. He finished his drink, “And this, on my soul, is how this day came into being.”

He stood up and said, “I’ve got to go back to my surgery now to attend to the curs but if you’re here tomorrow I’ll tell you about Bobby Jones’ build up to this year’s tournament and reveal a few more secrets.”

He flounced out back to his surgery.

End of Part 1

 

Winter at West Mon

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West Mon is a course where the wind blows hard – always. It is rough, ragged and the fairways are sheep-lined. Contrary to folklore it doesn’t rain every weekend – it occasionally snows.  It’s a traditional valley’s course. It’s harsh, unforgiving and proud of it. There are a few of these courses still left in the South East ex-mining valleys – clubs where a fifty something can have the nickname ‘young un’. Clubs where the official booking time is a week in advance, yet at 1 minute past 7 (official booking time) all times from 7 to 10 have been allocated to ‘the vets’. Not ‘the veterinarians’, but ‘the vets’, ‘the veterans’ – a group so powerful and frightening the Cardiff Mafia ‘the Tafia’ have never even dreamed of trying to open negotiations.

To the untrained eye the course looks like someone just went out one day with 18 brightly coloured flags and placed them around the mountain at random intervals. This isn’t entirely true.

The course was designed over a century ago by a remarkable Scottish professional golfer, Ben Sayers. Born in Leith, Scotland Ben had been an acrobat in his earlier life and took up golf aged 16. He was only 5 feet 3 inches and his life was taken up with his sport. He had every job you could imagine concerned with the sport. He was a golf ball maker, golf club maker, caddy, course architect, professional, and coach to royalty. He was second in the Open twice and unlucky not to win.

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.

The course is littered with sheep. Tough sheep. Sheep that own the course.  Word in the clubhouse is that one November afternoon on the par 5 eleventh hole a hooked drive found the rear end of a grazing sheep. The force of the stroke would have stunned a fairly bulky human being and killed many small cows. The sheep stopped grazing. He turned around and stared at the perpetrator with a patronising look, “Is that the best you’ve got “, turned back around continued ruminating.

It’s known for being ‘natural’. There aren’t too many modern day ‘features’ to ‘spice up’ the course – no ‘risk or reward’ holes, ‘signature holes’.

The course is tough. The weather is tough. The ground is tough. The people were tough. What Ben Sayers achieved in 1905 was to carve eighteen unique golf holes out of a hostile environment. They have hardly changed since the course opened. He did a decent job of it, although I suspect it didn’t cost the 500 million dollars it will take to develop the Royal India Ocean Club in the Maldives.

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West Mon