Sunday, September 07, 2008

A Very English August: Golf Part 1

One of the pleasures of any return to England is the opportunity to play some golf, on an eclectic choice of courses, with a mate and crucially, whilst not spending a small fortune for the privilege. The contrast between how golf is played in Japan to England is at its widest when emptying the wallet in the clubhouse before the round. In Japan, it can be an ideal way to lighten to the load in your pocket, in England; you usually leave the course with a few notes still wedged in the leather.

The other big difference between the two experiences is how your legs feel at the end of 18 holes. In Japan it is almost universally the case that you are pampered with luxury, a buggy chauffeurs you to every shot, a mid-round break allows for the chance to eat some lunch, loll around and restore energy for the back 9. And finally, the glorious, emersion into a hot bath allows you to re-live/re-invent selected highlights of the day whilst soaking those weary limbs. In England, you don’t really get any of this, certainly not on the golf courses I often play. The up-side is you can squeeze 36 holes into one day, which is impossible in Japan. And that is usually where the problems start.

Due to such small trivialities such as my wedding, I have not had the chance to play much golf this year in Japan. It has hard to justify spending a week’s household on 18 holes when other more matrimonial costs are floating around. So once I had arranged the days with my English golfing mate, Tim, I was eager to plunge straight into a day of 36 holes as compensation for my year’s near total abstinence. This plan only had two small, almost insignificant problems: 1) The English summer weather would have made Noah feel at home and 2) My body is just not used to this kind of punishment. Golf on the Wii hardly prepares you for squelching through and in, an English golf course. By the end of the first day’s play I felt, and looked, as though I had just gone around Cape Horn in a holed dingy.

We had decided that our first day’s golf would be on an old favourite, Burgham Park GC near Morpeth in Northumberland. With a 2 fore 1 golf voucher to reduce the day’s play to 18 pounds each, it seemed a convenient way to begin the golfing part of my holiday. Unfortunately I was wrong. We got soaked; my joints stopped operating around the 22nd hole, my rainproof shoes leaked and eventually sank into the sodden course, and my score that after 6 holes was pretty damn hot, dissolved into the nether regions, only fleetingly being spotted in near earth orbit. Burgham is a beautiful parkland course which played like a Venice links course on wet day.

The next day, we thought we would head off to the coast in search of drier land. The conundrum of golf in England is that you have to choose between the following (Hobson’s) choice:

a)Play a links course, more likely to be drier because of the wind, and so even more likely you will be hitting into/out of/around a swirling coastal gale. End result - a difficult round.

b)Play a parkland course, more likely to have reduced wind, and so even more likely your underfoot will be marshland and your ball/feet/hope will sink two feet into each fairway. End result – a difficult round.

After just about avoiding trench-foot on Wednesday, a links course was agreed to be the more drier option. I had been itching to visit Seahouses GC on the Northumbrian coast for some time now. Seahouses, is a traditional Northumbrian seaside holiday town that is dominated by caravan parks, amusement arcades, biting winds, grey beaches, arctic seas and a lighthouse. It does, however have two saving graces, a magnificent array of high quality chippies (no this is not an oxymoron) and an old, short (in yards) par 67 links course. Just the job after the previous day’s treacle slopping…

The wind was as benign as it would ever be on a north-eastern summer’s day; the footing was reasonably dry and the course enjoyable to play. There were three highlights of the round:

1)Despite being given very clear instructions as to where to tee off for the 1st hole, neither Tim nor I could recall the conversation that had taken place only 2 minutes previously and, so we just teed off and hoped for the best. (I got par).

2)The 5th and 8th holes start parallel to each to each other, but to reach the correct green, you have to crisscross the other holes’ fairway. I stood on the 5th tee aimed left(ish) and was quite happy to be roughly in the same direction as the green. Tim aimed right. I reached the green in 3 and so did Tim, the only problem being he landed on the 8th green. He hadn’t realized that the holes were in fact not just two long straight holes…

3)The 10th is a shortish par 3 which involves hitting an exposed long iron over a pond and on a slightly sunken green. Tim went first and stopped his ball 6 feet from the hole. I followed and ended up 7 feet adrift. We only then noticed an old man had stopped to watch both are shots. For that brief moment, whoever he was, must have thought we knew what we doing on a course. We both missed birdie however…

Seahouses turned out be a great antidote from the previous day’s exasperation and so we headed off home confident that Wednesday’s woes was but a minor hiccup in the golfing week. Sadly I was wrong. Not just a tiny bit, but Betamax kind of wrong…

Entrance to Burgham Park GC

Tim teeing off on the 13th at Burgham Park.

The 18th at Burgham GC. Amazingly Tim and I played this hole well on both rounds!

The view from the 10th, just a long iron over the hidden pond. Seahouses GC

Two fine tee-shots! The 10th, Seahouses GC

The bunker-dominated 8th. Seahouses GC.

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