Updated Bio

I’m a bit divided.

On the one hand, I write about the world of leadership and management – theory and practice, motivation, leadership skills, change matrices and decision making, communication, customer care, bottom lines, double-loop learning and stress, resilience and assertiveness,  attribution theory, behavioural interviewing, project management, group think, Egan’s Shadowside and Scholes’ excellent Cultural Web.

Which is fine.

However, I also write about golf. If inuits have 50 words for snow (which they don’t) then I wish us Welsh had 100 words for grass. It would make my life a lot easier.

I have written a number of books and articles on each area. However, thus far no-one has approached me to make a film of  ‘Tenby to Celtic Manor:  A History of Welsh Golf’ starring Tom Hardy …. thus far.

Surprising Netflix has offered me obscene amounts to make a TV series of ‘ 25 Management Techniques in 90 Minutes’, featuring Andrew Scott. I’m assuming they are involved in some bidding war with Amazon Prime.

I have been a columnist and feature writer for a diverse range of publications – Across The Board (U.S.A.), Business Day (South Africa), Career Times (Hong Kong), C.F.O. (Australia), Golf Today (U.S.A.), Management First (U.K.), Management Today (Australia), Marketing Magazine (N.Z.), Public Servant (U.K.), The Age (Australia), The Guardian (U.K.).

I was the author of Tales From the Front (HRD Press, U.S.A – and 25 Management Techniques in 90 minutes (MB2000),  From Tenby to Celtic Manor – a History of Golf in Wales ( Gwasg Carreg Gwalch) ‘.

And I’ll go t’foot of our stairs …… I’m listed on the Writers of Wales database

Introducing Samael Watcher Y.P. -Disciplinary Meeting, ‘The Dai Rees Lounge’, Cwm Golf Club.

dairees

Dai Rees – The Legend who had a lounge named after him

Let me put you in the picture. I am sitting on an ex-crimson old chair crushed against the flock wallpaper of the crappy ‘Dai Rees Committee Room’ at poxy Cwm Rhymney Golf Club. It feels like we’re still in the 1940s. I’m feeling uncomfortable wearing a suit and tie and my head is full of words and words. I’ve endured the Chairman’s verbal report, the Secretary’s verbal report and the verbal report of Dai Dogs (Handicap Sec) standing in for the green keeper who was unable to attend due to his hay fever being particularly troublesome at the moment.

But, beyond all this – Beyond. All. This. Iesu Mawr – I am so bored.
Let me tell you precisely where I am. I’m in the aforementioned crappy ‘Dai Rees Committee Room’ of the aforementioned poxy Cwm poxy Golf poxy Club. – a speck of a village the size of a baby ant’s arse in the north edge of the Ebbw valley in the south east quarter of the south-east quarter of the ancient country ( principality if you’re going to split hairs) of Wales.
Why? Because I’m waiting for my turn.

‘Next item – Flags.’ said Tommy.
There was total silence. The seven attendees dropped their seven heads in one synchronised swoon. The speaker was the President. El Presidente. Tommy the President. Tommy the Pres. Tommy the Cat. Tommy the owner of a chain of, brackets three, count them, one, two, three, bread shops in this region of the northern Ebbw Valley. Tommy the impresario, as he liked to be known, or Tommy the wheeling-dealing, money-grabbing, ‘tight as a duck’s arse’ little shit as he is commonly known when out of earshot and gunshot. Tommy the Cat. So named because a long time ago – a long time ago – he was the more than half decent Cwm goalkeeper. Trials with Brithdir, allegedly. Tommy the Cat. Now, a man universally hated and despised in equal measure. A man of whom his closest friend would say to me a few hours from now –
‘It would be easier really to give you a list of the people who wouldn’t want to kill him. And as his best friend I’d certainly put myself on the ‘I’d rather kill him than not’ list.’

Tommy the Cat was discussing flags. Tommy is a bully. Full stop. A Fatty Aruncle lookalike cliché of a man. Fatty Arbuncle nasty twin brother..

I’m sorry. How rude of me. I haven’t introduced myself. The name is Sam, Samael K. Watcher P.I. Or to be truly bilingual as is the fashion slash law these days – Y.P. Ymchwilydd Preifat.

I’m a fully licensed Ymchwilydd Preifat. and have been for a year or so now. I’m a lone fox, unmarried,young, gifted and poor. I don’t do divorce business. I like whiskey and women and golf and a few other things. I’m a native son, born in Cwm, both parents dead, a pain in the arse sister called Seren. Oh, and there was a decade where I have no memory of anything that happened. It happens – but I’m over that now and like I said I am attending a committee meeting at Cwm Rhymney Golf Club. In a non-professional capacity, I hasten to add. I am here under duress. Well, under compulsion really. I was due to attend the disciplinary element of this surreal cabaret but had wandered in early and been wordlessly directed, by Tommy’s eyes, to sit and observe the whole performance at a discrete distance from the main stage in a shoddy, battered, crappy old chair under the frequently unwashed window at the edge of the ‘Dai Rees lounge’.

I heard the word ‘flags’ again, louder, and awoke from my revere. Is it revere? Or reverie? Is that even a word?………………

 

Adjer Bill

movemarker

In these dark golfing days of penalising professional golfers for moving their ball 2 cms and ‘trial by video’ and blah blah blah, I remember a time when even cheating used to be simpler..

BERWYN:                     Do you remember that guy from Pontnewydd that used to cheat?

PENSIONER DAVE:     Aye. Adjer.

BERWYN:                     I went to school with him.

ANDY:                           Adjer? Why was he called Adjer.

PENSIONER DAVE:     That was his name. He would always put his marker in front of his ball on the green and behind it when he wanted to putt.

ANDY:                          I don’t understand.

DAVE DEMONSTRATES

ANDY:                          Ah I see he was adjing nearer the hole every time.

JOHN:                            Is he still playing at Pontnewydd?

PENSIONER DAVE:     No. Dai Snips sorted him out.

JOHN:                           Big Snipsy? The barber?

PENSIONER DAVE:     Unisex hairdresser if you don’t mind.

ANDY:                           How?

PENSIONER DAVE:     How what?

ANDY:                          How did he sort him out?

PENSIONER DAVE:     Well Adjer marked his ball against Snipsy a few times in a match. You know adjing and adjing and Snipsy is getting more and more wound up, you know. On the 16th he loses it. Adjer has cleaned and marked his ball a couple of times, getting nearer and nearer to the hole each time. Then Adjer picks the ball up again and starts cleaning it. He puts it down again and Snipsy looks at him hard. “Well,“ he says, “that’s close enough now for a gimme Adjer. So pick it up. Pick it up, put it in your pocket and if I see you in this club again I’ll stick the ball, your marker and your putter”…. Well he did tell him where he was going to put his putting equipment but I don’t want to upset a nice young man as you Andy. Anyway Adjer never played in Pontnewydd again.

BERWYN:                     He was always an idiot. As Thick as ……

JOHN:                           (INTERUPTING) … Charon’s ferry boat is with phantoms?

BERWYN:                     No. Is was going to say as thick as shit.

ANDY:                           Well what about him?

BERWYN:                     I saw him in Cardiff last Friday.

PENSIONER DAVE:     What was he doing?

BERWYN:                     Same job. Oh but he’s Chief Inspector Adjer now.

 

Slow Play – 2 Thoughts

slow-play

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…

signslowplay

 

Introduction to ‘Putting is a Form of Self-Torture’

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In 1954 the legendary Henry Longhurst wrote a short article called ‘The Perversity of Putting’ which described his life as a frustrated putter. In essence, he told the universal golfing story of when he was putting well the rest of his game went to pot and when he putted badly the rest of his game went extremely well. A situation I guess many of us are not only familiar with on a daily basis, but come to accept as part of golf.

But why should this be? Is putting so weird and unearthly that success in it influences another aspect of your game? Have you only a finite amount of luck and if you spend it on one aspect of your game, inevitably the other areas of your game will suffer? Well – yes and yes. There is a long list of trite, but basically true, sayings that comment on some of the psychology and mysticism of “the game within a game” –

“Half of golf is fun; the other half is putting.”

“Hitting a golf ball and putting have nothing in common. They’re two different games.”

“A “gimme” can best be defined as an agreement between two golfers, neither of whom can putt very well.”

“The prime requisite for putting? An abounding confidence in one’s ability.”

“The ball doesn’t care how positive you are thinking when you hit it with a putter moving and aimed in the wrong direction.”

Putting truly is as weird and unearthly as all those sayings would have us believe. It is so, so different from any other aspect of golf. Other golf shots have to be accurate enough. They need be good enough. Getting the drive ‘on the fairway’ corresponds to ‘hit the ball accurately to within about 30 feet’. Getting your approach shot ‘on the green’ translates to ‘hitting a target the size of a medium sized swimming pool’.

Putting is not like that. Well, not real putting. i.e. putting from a distance where you can see if there’s anything in the hole whilst standing over your ball. I regard long and medium putts as ‘golf shots’ just like drives, approach shots or pitches. Like bunker shots long putts aren’t really expected to go in the hole and if they do then it’s great, a bit of a fluke, and should be shown on the highlight reel on tv.

Putts you are expected to make are what would be called real putting. It is the one part of the game that needs to be totally accurate. If a plane leaves Los Angeles bound for Cardiff but is just two degrees off course it lands in Anglesey. If your aim is two degrees out on a real putt – you miss – which is possibly even more serious than being in Anglesey, and far more embarrassing. If your aim is a few degrees out on a drive – so what – you’re still on the fairway, or even further out of bounds – it’s practically irrelevant.

So, rule number one for real putting is ‘hit the ball exactly where you are aiming it’. This is very, very difficult. It involves better eye-hand coordination than an open-heart surgeon, the nerve of a nerveless trained assassin, the temperament of the Dalai Lama and the touch of a brilliantly dexterous, concert pianist.

Even then you’re not even halfway there. This isn’t the hard part. To get the ball into the hole involves ‘hitting the ball exactly where you are aiming it’ plus knowing exactly where you should be aiming in the first place. It assumes you have calculated the direction and the speed of the putt. This is based on many, many, many variables – the length of the grass, the wind (strength and direction), the direction the grass grows in, the slope of the green, the moisture level, the air temperature and pressure, the characteristics of your golf ball, the precise gravitational pull of the tides, the earth and the moon. If you’re one percent short on your flight from Los Angeles to Cardiff and you end up in Cork, Ireland. Which is nice, some would argue – nicer. If you’re one percent short with a putt you miss. Which is a total binary fail. You don’t get half marks in golf.

As demonstrated – real putting is tricky. It’s an awful lot trickier than flying that aeroplane to Wales I would imagine. It’s so difficult I feel it verges on the impossible. Like the bumblebee that pseudoscientifically can’t fly, so pseudologically it is impossible for anyone to hole a putt. But the bumblebee does fly, and people, apparently, do hole putts. So, I hear you ask – “How do you account for that?”

“Luck” is my one-word answer. Luck is the defining characteristic of the successful bumblebee and the brilliant putter. It is a known fact that bumblebees are incredibly lucky animals. A Welsh piece of folklore says that it is very lucky if bumblebees set up home in or near your house. They bless it with prosperity – that is true. It is well known that finding a bumblebee on a ship is good luck. There were no bumblebees recorded on the Titanic – point proven. So, it’s no surprise bumblebees can fly. They are incredibly lucky insects.

In a similar vein I think that the best way to improve you putting is to focus more on being luckier. Gary Player once remarked that the more he practiced the luckier he got. For me, I reckon the luckier you are the less you need to practice. That should be motivation for every golfer out there.

Henry Longhurst said, “They say ‘practice makes perfect’. Of course, it doesn’t. For the vast majority of golfers, it merely consolidates imperfection.”

I believe golfers can influence their luck. You know it too. It’s one of the great secrets all humans know, but we have to pretend it can’t luck doesn’t exist and therefore cannot be influenced. Yet all our behaviours demonstrate the opposite. We wish opponents a grudging ‘good luck’. Why would we even say that if we didn’t believe it existed? Or ‘bad luck’ if they miss a putt. Let’s look at even more scientific evidence with five arguments to prove it;

Argument 1: 3.5 billion people, or more, can’t be wrong, can they?

Half the population of the world believe in the ancient Chinese philosophy of Feng Shui which promotes good luck. A number of large Western Organisations are willing to invest a great deal of money respecting their beliefs;

The Disney Corporation shifted the angle of the front gate of Hong Kong’s Disneyland by twelve degrees to align the park for maximum prosperity.

The entrance to the original MGM Grand casino in Las Vegas was inside the mouth of Leo the lion, MGM’s mascot. However, many

Chinese gamblers avoided the casino or entered the casino through the back entrance to avoid the bad luck they believed they would have entering the mouth of the lion. in 1998 the entrance was changed.

Argument 2: Animals can’t be wrong, can they?

Animals shouldn’t believe in luck, should they? In an experiment carried out by B.F. Skinner he proved that animals, in this case pigeons, like golfers, are superstitious at heart and will carry out a set of rituals, or superstitions in order to give themselves the best chance of success. Skinner set up an experiment which meant the pigeon had to peck the correct button from a number of options, to get some food. The pigeons quickly established this and learnt which button to peck. Skinner then changed the system and rewarded the pigeons randomly whichever button they pressed. The pigeons responded by behaving in an unusual way – They developed their own mannerisms; twisting their necks, flapping their wings, pecking close to the buttons in a consistent manner in a bid to reproduce the luck they had previously had achieved by gaining food.

Argument 3: Psychologists can’t be wrong, can they?

An experiment was carried out with people who described themselves as “lucky” and another set who didn’t describe themselves as lucky. A test was given to these two groups of people. Both groups were given newspapers with hidden messages. They were asked to complete a task and during that task they could come across clues and hidden messages giving them instructions on how to win $100. People from the “lucky” group did far better than the other group. The psychologists conducting this experiment concluded that feeling lucky can help you.

It gives you positive vibes and a more optimistic viewpoint. Feeling lucky makes you more likely to see the good side and influence your behaviour.

Argument 4: Psychologists can’t be wrong, can they (part 2)? People can control their luck. Or, more accurately, people behave as if they can control their luck. Ellen Langer, psychologist, describes this as the ‘illusion of control.’ This illusion of control was illustrated in an experiment she carried out based on a lottery. The lottery is an acknowledged game of pure chance with each ticket having as much chance of winning as any other, obviously. One group of people were given lottery tickets with images of famous sportspeople on them. Another group were able to select which lottery ticket sportsperson they choose. Each ticket cost $1. When scientists attempted to buy tickets from these groups, based on the excuse that there were no more lottery tickets left, they found that the people who had been given random tickets negotiated the sale of their tickets for on average, $1.96. Whilst the people in the group who had selected their own tickets sold them for an average of $8.67. Therefore, the second group, who had chosen their own tickets, behaved as though they had more control of their luck than the first group who’s chances of winning was predetermined.

Argument 5: Sports stars can’t be wrong, can they?

Paul Azinger, golfer, always marks the position of his golf ball on the green with a US penny that features Abraham Lincoln. Not only that but he lines the penny up to ensure Lincoln is looking at the hole. Wade Boggs, baseball star, liked to eat chicken before a game at 5.17pm precisely. He then went and hit exactly 150 balls in batting practice. Serena Williams blamed her failure to win the 2007 French Open on herself: “I didn’t tie my laces right and I didn’t bounce the ball five times and I didn’t bring my shower sandals to the court with me.” Ernie Els believes each golf ball only has one birdie in it and will change it after he’s extracted that birdie. Christina Kim refuses to step on the line where the fairway meets the green as she is convinced it will bring her bad luck.

The ‘Illusion of control’ is a great way of summarising the attempt to control your fate. On the one, rational, level it seems absurd. How can changing your golf ball for an identical one possibly affect your chances of winning? However, one of the most important aspects of putting, or any competitive activity really, is feeling comfortable about it and getting yourself in the best frame of mind. If this means wearing red on the last day of a competition like Tiger Woods, or pink like Paula Creamer, so what. You’ve got to do what feels right for you. Therefore, it follows that you can influence your putting ability by dressing in pink.

Q.E.D.

‘Putting is a Form of Self Torture’ is a Universal Truth and a book available on Amazon.

Interview with Author of ‘Putting is a Form of Self-Torture’ (“Laugh? I Thought I Would Never Start”)

putting

Tell me about your new book ‘Putting is a Form of Self-Torture’ available via your website (www.byronkalies.com) or the following Amazon link – ( https://www.amazon.co.uk/Putting-Form-Self-Torture-Collection-Articles/dp/1533538247) ?

I’m glad, and not a little surprised that you asked. The book is a collection of my best golf writing over the past 6 years. It’s a slim volume (that is a joke). It’s a 16 volume set (still joking). It’s a book with around 60 short articles looking at Welsh golf courses, stories from a mythical Welsh golf club, instruction and a great number of ‘diverse’ articles based on my experiences playing golf in Wales.

What has been the local reaction to your new book by members at your club – Bargoed Golf Club?

It has been underwhelming, to be honest. Isn’t there a saying about a prophet not being appreciated in his own land? Well, a golf writer is not appreciated in Bargoed Golf Club, that’s for sure. The Captain reviewed it – free copy – and commented “Not bad. I liked the bit about Bradley Dredge, but it does go about golf a lot doesn’t it?”

I had to admit that the golf book did go on a bit about golf. Last Saturday when I didn’t have any money on me (penniless writer) to pay my £1 for the Ball School – (we all put £1 in and the winner takes all). I offered to give the winner (Pensioner Dave) a signed copy of my book (RRP £8) instead. He passed with a “give me the £1 next week if you like.”

Sorry to hear that. What about in the larger cultural world?

It’s been a pretty similar story really. The top golfing magazine ‘Golf Today International Bunkered World’ and the ‘Caerphilly Herald’ both started serialising the book. After 2 weeks both had received so much abuse and threats from their readers to boycott the magazines that they stopped printing it. I was allowed to see some of the criticism from the readers –

“You’re no Dan Jenkins.” Someone claimed. This was the only comment I took to be positive as I regard Mr Jenkins as a right wing, stuck in the Victorian age, racist nob.

“Laugh? I thought I would never start.”

“About as funny as the ‘R & A Complete Rules of Golf’

“I had to read this book because my uncle told me to. It was the worst thing I ever read. A worthless good for nothing piece of junk! Actually it is good for something. I took this book with me to rifle practice and I shot at this instead of the target. I got busted but hey it was worth it. Mail me if you want a picture of my shooting.“

“Attempting to read this book is worse than watching the grass grow. At least the grass will become something you enjoy. The title of the story intrigued me to read it. Don’t get me wrong, if well-written, this book could be very interesting. But even after just ten pages, the only thought going through my mind was “When will this guy shut up and stop talking about golf???”

“I hate it. So boring. I fell asleep at the first page.”

“Not so hot; phony intellectuals are told this is a great work so they make up all sorts of lies about layering and craftsmanship, when it’s really just a so-so book about golf.”

“Once I put it down, I just couldn’t pick it up again.”

Mynydd Eimon – Private Hell. Opening Chapter

cropped-westmon990.jpgDAY 1

Sky-red – blood red – falling – hit ground hard – not too hard – office – golf club – red carpet – books and books and books – grey safe – easy money – alone – Cai presence outside – falling – vultures – watching – goading – sneering – flying and falling – flying and falling – “destroy the ungodly” – 6 stars – 6 daggers – 1 angel – 3 sticks, vertical like stumps –  mother – Mary – stick – gopher wood – battered old goose-necked putter – Bobby – Mary – Molly – Malone – cockles and muscles alive alive-o – her ghost wheels her barrow through the streets – “Sam” – “Wake up “ – Run Sam run – “Who built the ark, no-one, no-one. Who built the ark, brother? No-one built the ark”– “Wake up” – Bob – Mary – Sam

 1. the lady confesses

It started with a dame. It always started with a dame. Well sometimes it does. This dame was different and unique – like they all were. She was older, a lot older. She was the treasurer, the golf club treasurer. She was respectable, church-going and old. How old? Very old.

It was an ordinary morning, as they all are until something happens. I was walking along grey and grim Malakoff Street and although I didn’t know it I was about to be asked to investigate the possible murder of Cai Tywysog.

What was particularly unusual about this possible murder was that I had dreamt that Cai was dead. I had also dreamt that the sky was on fire. I was looking out of the window when I saw someone fall from the roof. It was Cai and his face cracked as he hit the ground. I wasn’t sure if the fall had killed him or something had happened before. Neither option mattered too much to him at that particular moment.  I also dreamt about an empty safe. Apparently this could signify loss, lack of security or a secret getting out. Or even an empty safe.

Unsurprisingly I felt a little tense this morning.

I knew that Cai wasn’t dead as I had seen him just five minutes ago. I had been in the corner shop talking to Mrs Evans’ when he had walked in. I picked up my packet of Lucky Strikes and a pint of milk from the counter, gave an assertive nod in Cai’s general direction and walked out of the shop. He looked a little pale, but definitely not dead. I walked to the end of Malakoff Street and turned left onto Alma Road.

Alma Road was quiet. Mynydd Eimon was quiet. Not just because it was a Friday morning, but because Mynydd Eimon was quiet. It was boring. It was dull. Mynydd Eimon was a typical Welsh valley village. It looked exactly the same as any other Welsh valley village at any time since the early Victorian Age. It was grey, cold, dull, quiet – calcified in an indeterminate age. It was home. My home.

I walked slowly toward my office. Perhaps office was a little grand in that it was two small rooms on the ground floor of my house. It didn’t look much like an office but it was. It was the office of Sam Watcher, private investigator. That’s me. I was a bone fide ‘ditectif preifat’. I had a business card and everything.

I smiled at the exquisite lettering on the door of the office, “Samael K. Watcher … Investigations”. I didn’t have a middle name but thought the K added a touch of class. I went to unlock the door to the outer office, formerly a coalhouse knocked through, but found it had already been opened. I stepped inside and looked at my little universe. The room contained an old black Davenport, two old, old, grey chairs, a bit of carpet and two doors – one to the outside, real world and the other to my inner sanctum. Everything was neat and tidy just as I needed it. There was the light grey carpet and dark grey walls. I had designed the room myself based on films I had seen.

What the room didn’t contain was my secretary who I had assumed had unlocked the door. I moved carefully toward my private office and opened the door slowly expecting an intruder. I was correct.

My office and refuge being invaded me nervous. I liked things to be where they should be.  My visitor was a dame. She had moved a chair. I looked around to see if anything else had been disturbed. Her coat and bonnet were hanging on the coat stand. I looked around slowly, carefully.  I didn’t notice anything else. I breathed. The room had a similar colour scheme to the outer office with a larger desk, a fireplace, a Reliable wall safe and a little state of the art, Prestcold fridge, a violated coat stand and a moved chair.

I looked hard at the dame in the chair. She was a frail old woman dressed in a long black dress, grey shawl, and tight bun with a lethal looking hair slide.    From the back she seemed very peaceful as she stared into the empty fireplace.  Her coat and bonnet were hanging up on the oak coat stand near the door and she had made herself completely at home. I walked across the room in a business-like manner and placed myself in my chair behind my desk. I turned my chair to face her. I reached in my pocket to get a cigarette, looked at the dame and thought better of it. I picked up a pen from my desk and started twirling it in my fingers.

I breathed. “Aunty Mary.” I said a little too loudly, “What are you doing here?”

“It’s about a murder, cariad, I’m ashamed to say. It’s about the murder of young Cai, my nephew.”

“Cai!” I feigned astonishment for some reason, “but I’ve seen him just now in Mrs Evans’.”

She thought for a minute. ”Well the murder may not be Cai and anyway it’s not today.”

“I see.” I clearly didn’t. I sucked hard on my pen in a way that I thought may convey serious thoughtfulness.

”So what is it you want from me?” I inquired.

“I need some information, some advice if you will.”

“Shoot”

“How am I looking if I were to murder someone?” she asked thoughtfully.

I sat down and continued working on my thoughtful expression, “I imagine you would be put in jail Aunty Mary.”

“Ah,” she paused, “I thought as much. But what about my soul?”

“Well.” I paused. “That would be one for you and the priest to negotiate.”

She looked disappointed.

“And the soul of the victim?”

“Again your priest would be the one to talk to there.”

“Not you?”

“Not me.”

“Are you sure about that?”

“Pretty sure.”

“And I would definitely go to prison.”

I paused to consider the question, “Very, very likely.”

She sighed, “So how long would I get?”

“Probably 10 years or life.”

We both silently assessed who would win that particular race.

“I’d like you to investigate the murder, when it happens. Would you do that for me?”

I nodded professionally.

“Thank you Samael,” she continued as she stood up, “You’ve been very helpful. Now how much do I owe you?”

“Aunty Mary you know I couldn’t take money off you.”

“You’re a sweet boy.” she said as she ruffled my hair and handed me a shilling piece, “Now take it and let’s hear no more about it.”

I took it and helped Aunty Mary put on her ancient grey fur coat and black bonnet.  I shivered slightly then I walked Aunty Mary out.

You can get this book on Amazon and Kindle here (and it’s free through Kindle Owners Lending Library if you’re in that).

Great Welsh Golf Courses – West Monmouthshire Golf Club

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WEST MONMOUTHSHIRE GOLF CLUB

It was windy. Standing on the 9th tee I could feel the wind through my Primark backswing performance jacket, red, and I’m sure my brother in his Galvin Green Malone limited edition polo shirt (short sleeved) could feel it too. It was windy.

“How come the wind blows into your face on every hole?” John wondered. “Because it does” I replied enigmatically. I had played the course before and had gained this insight.

Pensioner Dave nodded and hit his tee shot. Short and straight. I hit my shot short and straight also. John was long and straight. We waited in anticipation. So far we had never all been on the fairway at the same time (well not the same fairway).

Andy hit his drive. It started straight then went left and left and left bounding over sheep, fairways, rough.

“I’m not looking for that,” came the sympathetic response from Pensioner Dave. John commiserated with Andy, “See you on the green”

I shrugged and went to help him look for it. We battled on.

I had driven from Newport where it was a glorious spring day – 22 miles, 22 years and 11 degrees ahead of Nantyglo. To be fair it was quite pleasant when we arrived at the car park and there was some debate about what to wear. I had played the course before. I opted to wear everything I had in the car.

The first two holes had been deceptive. They were fairly flat along the floor of the valley. The third was a long, long par five up the mountain. It was marked on the card as, ‘Long Pull’. This hole could be described as ‘challenging’. It was an almost vertical tee shot up the steep, steep slope of Mynydd Carn-y-Cefn, the mountain separating the Ebbw Fach valley from the Ebbw valley. Apparently the intense steepness is a result of the action of glacial ice in the Pleistocene era which started around two and a half million years ago.

“When Pensioner Dave was just a boy”, John remarked.

Monmouthshire County Champion 1922, 1923, 1924, 1925 V.H. Smith wrote an understated article describing each hole in the ‘Ebbw Vale Works Magazine’ a few years after the course was founded. He described the 3rd (Long Pull);

“Hole 3. Longest hole on the course. Requires a good tee shot which must clear ravine. Good second shot of 150 yards carry required to carry a hazard forty yards wide; all difficulties now being overcome a good iron shot will reach the green.”

Thirty minutes later we met on the green feeling like we had conquered Everest. We had each taken a variety of routes to the flag and no-one was likely to complete the hole in single figures without holing a twenty foot putt.

It was windy. We moved on.

West Mon is a course where the wind blows hard – always. It is rough, ragged and the fairways are sheep-lined. It’s a traditional valley’s course. It’s harsh, unforgiving and proud of it. There are a few still left in the South East ex-mining valleys. 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.

Once we reached the 3rd green there were a few holes of relative flatness across the mountain top toward Ebbw Vale in the next valley. There a few excellent holes that can feel 600 yards long or 300 yards long depending on the wind direction. The greens are in amazing condition, true and green. For all the natural hazards of the course you can use as an excuse – you can never blame he greens.

The course is littered with sheep. Tough sheep. Sheep that own the course. On the par 5 eleventh hole John hooked a drive straight at the rear end of a grazing sheep. I thought 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 John with a patronising look, “Is that the best you’ve got “, turned back around continued ruminating.

Walking across the mountain top with the greens and fairways subtly fashioned across and around the few features it is easy to imagine it a hundred years ago. It is an incredibly natural golf course. There aren’t too many modern day ‘features’ to ‘spice up’ the course – no ‘risk or reward’ holes, ‘signature holes’.

“I like it” announced 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.

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 pretty decent job of it.

The course has a significant claim to fame in that it is the highest golf course in Great Britain. The tee to the fourteenth is the highest tee in Great Britain with a spectacular view of South Wales.

Before you reach this peak though you have to navigate the highest green in Great Britain – the 13th. This hole is truly amazing. It’s a vertical 484 yard par 4 up and across the mountain against the wind – “It’s always against the wind”, the locals informed me.

We staggering toward the green like 2 pair of Hilary and Tenzings. Low on food, oxygen and humour. We reached the green that had the temerity to have a series of subtle slopes and undulating borrows on it. It’s not enough to hit a perfect drive, two perfect woods and an immaculate wedge. You then have to relax, catch your breath and think.

Watching Pensioner Dave attempt to calm down after tacking his way up the mountain put me in mind of the biathlon where the competitors ski furiously for miles then have to stop and relax enough to fire five shots at a target.

We managed it somehow and remarkably everyone scored a point.

Then we had a walk up to the highest tee in Britain. The tee is 1500 feet above sea level. It feels higher. There are spectacular views of the Brecon Beacons to the north with the Sugarloaf mountain to the east. On the card it is called, ‘High Tee’. Really?

From this point it’s, literally, all downhill. The 16th hole is called ‘Round House’. This is a theme for the club. Nantyglo is famous, in Nantyglo at least, for its round towers. On the badge of the golf club there’s a yellow tower. The story of the towers illustrates the attitude of the people in the area better than anything else;

At the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the Ironmasters brothers Crawshaw and Joseph Bailey constructed two round towers to protect themselves against the locals due to the unrest concerning high wheat prices. There was serious rioting in the village and the industrialists defended their property by building the last castle fortifications to be built in Britain.

“Ah, the struggles between rich and poor, haves and have nots”, I started to philosophise.

“We get it. Your shot.”

Reaching the end of the round it’s back to reality. Relatively flat final holes. Relatively less oxygen needed as we approach the short, squat, functional clubhouse. It’s been tough. It’s been fun.

The club is full of has function rooms, people and some history. There are framed minutes of the first meeting where a group of doctors and teachers established a golf course with a membership of 183 members. The entrance fees were half a guinea per member with subscriptions of one guinea for gentleman and half a guinea for ladies. There were 120 men, 54 women and 9 juniors intially.

“The prices haven’t gone up that much”, Pensioner Dave remarked to the secretary. The secretary pointed out that the current fees are probably the cheapest anywhere in Wales.

“Less than the cost of an 18 hole two ball at Royal Porthcawl”, he proudly announced.

We concurred.

“I asked once how much green fees were at Royal Porthcawl” he continued.

We waited eagerly.

“I was told that if you had to ask then you couldn’t afford it.”

In the past few decades the financial crisis has hit clubs like West Mon hard. The closure of the steel works and high unemployment in the area have put a strain on the economy of the locals and a subsequent drop in membership, Fortunately the members at West Mon are a hardy resourceful bunch and the club survives on initiative, hard work and a good social scene. There have been cutbacks and the club manages. There are few visitors and the number of golf societies visiting has declined across the whole of Wales.

“We don’t get much passing trade” one of the members wryly informed me.

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 – When we’ve thawed out.

 

West Mon Golf Club

established 1906,

Golf Road,

Nantyglo,

Ebbw Vale,

Monmouthshire,

NP23 4QT

www. westmongolfclub.co.uk

From the comments book:

“It’s bleak.” – S. Morrissey

 “I creamed a driver, mullered 2 three woods and still ended up 20 yards short of the green.” – John Daly describing the 3rd hole.

 “It’s cold.” – Captain R. F. Scott

– first published Cymru Culture ( 1 / 9 / 15)

A Cogitation on the Question – ‘Which Golf Ball Do You Use?’


golfballsheep

Which golf ball do you use?

An extract from an article I recently read described a particular golf ball as  ‘a three-piece, multi-component technology with a very soft compression ZG process core, ionomeric casing layer, softer thermoset urethane elastomer cover, and spherically-tiled 352 tetrahedral dimple design’

Describing it, with obvious passion and relish one of the team of 75 engineers and scientists said, “It’s important to remember that no single element of design can determine the performance of the golf ball. There needs to be a symbiotic relationship between all of the elements.”

I feel bad now about how badly and how frequently I kept hitting this particular brand.

However, my question – ‘Which golf ball do you use?’ does not mean, ‘Which golf ball is right for you?’  . This is another country altogether. This answer consists of you answering a series of questions on your attributes such as – handicap, swing, gender age, height, star sign and so on and so on and so on. A computer then analyses all these variables and produces your perfect match. Sounds like a personal ads column entry – ‘easygoing M seeks GB with similar interests. Likes sports, looking for a yang to my yin, a Hardy to my Laurel, an Ernie to my Bert, a Wise to my Morecambe, a Ball to my Cannon. I don’t expect the relationship to me a long one – they rarely are with me. Just some fun and a few laughs.  No strings attached.

I don’t mean this type of ‘Which golf ball do you use?’ question. I mean – ‘Which golf ball do you use on a day to day, ‘fancy a knock’ type basis?’. Or, ‘It’s the Ystrad Mynach Cup on Sunday (one of the key days in the Barged Golf Club calendar) which ball will you be losing in the trees on the third?’

Let’s go through the process – I suspect your golf bag is a little like mine. There are a number of pockets for golf balls. They all have a certain place and purpose. You cannot mix the balls up, although through wear and tear one ball may be relegated to another pocket.

The ultimate. The top level – it’s not even a pocket. It’s the brand new golf ball level. The pinnacle, but not the ‘Pinnacle’ levels are pristine balls in a box. These were perhaps prizes, or more likely, presents for Christmas or fathers’ day.  These are the balls I never use. The balls I’m keeping for some special occasion or ‘keeping them for best’ as my mother used to say. I’m not sure what ‘best’ would be. If I do ever have the luck, and develop the talent, to play at the Open at St Andrews, I suspect I may well be given a few free packs of Callaways.

Starting at the nadir. Somewhere in a forgotten part of my bag there is a pocket containing golf balls that I would be reluctant to open the zip of and put my hand into. Inside this golfing room 101 are balls that have been found, given to me by well-meaning people or somehow just apparated into my bag. These balls are weird and maybe not so wonderful. There are a few Donnay Pro Ones, some Penfold Commandoes (I could probably take them to the Antiques Roadshow next year), Dunlop Locos, a Pinnacle Gold distance and a Precept Laddie. Also in this tardis-like pocket I encounter the occasional ‘decent’ (Nike, Callaway, Mazuno) ball, but they all have a cut in them and I vaguely remember I’m keeping them for an occasion where I will use them. Maybe to give away to adoring fans when I win my first Major, or  perhaps if I’ve already put two balls in the lake and don’t want to lose another decent ball I’ll choose one of these?

In another pocket – the ‘halfway house, ‘Morrisons’ pocket (not Aldi or Lidl, not Waitrose or Ocado), are some proper balls with minor defect – some TaylorMades or Bridgestones I’ve used once, or found. Or some high-end Nikes with marker pen or horrid logos, or some mid-range Titleist with tiny nicks. These are probably the ones I’d use after work on a Friday to play nine holes before a quick drink.

Now I come to the toppish end. This is not quite the Dom Perignon equivalent, but it’s definitely not the ‘Tesco Finest Vintage Cru’. It’s more a fine Moet…… Stop it. Who am I kidding? It’s a Strongbow cider rather than a Diamond White.  These are my good balls – not quite new – not quite top of the range – they are Nike, Bridgestone, Srixon. They are called ‘Tour’ or ‘Preferred’ rather than ‘Distance’ or ‘Ultimate Distance’. These are good, decent, hard-working, working class golf balls. They are balls you wouldn’t be ashamed to be seen playing with. Maybe they’ve been used once or perhaps they are Pond balls that look new. There are a few Titleist here as well. These are not the Titleist balls you see on websites you have to click to see the price (What is that all about!). But they are Titleists with random names instead of letters – ‘Titeleist Solos’ or ‘Titelist Velocities’. These are the serious Sunday medal competition type balls……… usually.

Assuming my description matches your collection to some degree, the next step in choosing which ball to use would be to consider the occasion. Is it a Saturday morning ball school? Is it a Sunday afternoon monthly medal? A social game? Another vital, perhaps the most vital, consideration to take into account is – ‘Who is playing with you?’  If it’s someone you’ve played with since Noah was a boy then they are unlikely to be impressed, or bothered much whichever ball you choose. On the other hand, if it’s a client, a prospective father in law or a person you really don’t like but still need to be better than, this may elicit a quick trip to the pro shop to have the following embarrassing conversation,

“Good afternoon young golf professional. How old are you? Twelve. Sorry. I digress. Which golf ball would you consider to be a match for me?”

“I would heartily recommend Titelist Pro V1 X High Number, sir.”

“Certainly, young man. And how much would these cost?”

DELETED X RATED REPLY.

How much? Really. You’re having a ****** laugh. I wanted 3 balls not 3 ****** dozen!

“That’s the price… sir.”

“If I don’t get at least one hole in one I’m coming back here and I’m going to *******”

I once took part in a competition at Mountain Ash. Mountain Ash is a nice enough course tucked neatly into the Welsh valleys.  We had all qualified from our local club competitions and the top six of so from this competition would go forward to Royal Porthcawl. There were players from Tredegar and Rhymney, Blackwood, Aberdare, Maesteg, Pontypool – a range of exotic venues. These top six would be joined at Royal Porthcawl by players from the length and breadth of Wales – Pwhelli,  Cwmrhydneuadd, Rhosgoch and other unpronounceable locations. Then on to the Belfry. Then … ultimately Spain – (before you write in – I got no further than Mountain Ash). However, Mountain Ash was a big deal for me and the hundred odd other competitors from local courses.  The point of this story? Ah yes, on the first I hooked my tee shot over a row of trees. So did two others in my group. The group coming toward us on an adjoining fairway were playing a parallel hole and their drives ended up in similar spots. From the group playing the 18th another ball appeared. When I walked through the trees to find my ball I saw about seven or eight golf balls within twenty yards of each other. I also saw a perturbed chap picking each one up carefully, studying it, putting it back down again and saying,  ‘They’re all Titleist pro V1s’. It was a nightmare assigning the seven balls to us seven owners.

For non- golfers this all seems a bit ridiculous. To these strange people, a golf ball is a golf ball – white and hard, with dimples. For us double digit handicap golfers it’s probably not going to make a yard of difference if we lose a £5 brand new Titleist or a 50p used Srixon. In our heads we know this as surely as we know that range finders are useless. (I’ve rarely hit 2 shots the same distance with the same club in all the years I’ve been playing golf. Yet I hear 28 handicappers staring through a range finder, announcing that it’s 183.5 yards to the front of the green and then consulting a chart to see which club they are going to use to dribble it 20 yards down the fairway). But in our hearts we still believe it can be the final piece of the jigsaw. Using an expensive ball is all we need to turn a dodgy swing into a swing Rory McIlroy would watch and try to emulate.

In truth there is  surely no greater feeling than playing your first shot on the first tee with a brand new father’s day Titleist Pro V1x . The feeling only lasts a whole 2.8 seconds though. It is closely followed by a totally different feeling as you see your unsullied, unmuddied, uncaring ball take a left turn in mid-air and slowly fade over the trees toward the pond, never to be seen again. That hurts.