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Thursday 29th October, 2020

Bizarre Thought for the Week, w/c 31st March 2003
Tony Dobson

Hi all,
As I still get the occasional e-mail asking me about my Golf clubs I thought it would only be fair to give you all a bit of background on the topic. Here are my formative experiences of a good walk spoiled.

My first memories of Golf are the typical ones. Watching it on the telly, having a set of plastic clubs as a child, and one occasion going to watch some tournament at St. Merrion with my parents (boring isn't the word - Golf isn't a good spectator sport in my opinion, whereas TV coverage allows you to see important action from all over the course). In 1985 Europe won the Ryder Cup, which isn't particularly relevant, but is a good memory to think about for a second.

(Sunny Sunday at The Belfry, Ray Floyd hits a ball rather pathetically into the water, Sam Torrance holes out and wins the cup, crowd goes mental, Tony Jacklin lifts tasteful gold cup. Nice.)

Due to the rather strange taste of my Mother our household didn't have a good paper to read at night. No, we had the Daily Express. Still, it did have Seve Ballesteros giving Golf tips. When I went to my Dad's (on the day of the 1986 World Cup Final, again not particularly relevant) shortly afterwards we went to an empty field with a tube full of Golf balls and an 8-iron. When given a go I just remembered to keep my head still through the swing. I'm not sure quite how it happened but something went very right - my Dad paced out how far I'd hit the ball. At the age of 11 I'd just hit a perfectly straight 120-yard shot with an 8-iron. I HAD to do this more often.

Over the next few summers I went to a few different Pitch 'n' Putt courses, but for various reasons (mostly distance away from home) none became a favourite. When I was about thirteen I went to one about an hour's bus ride from home - it called itself Southsea Golf Links. It was just a par three course, but was kept beautifully. I didn't have the best of fortunes to begin with there, but that would change.

As I got to the age of 17 a few things in life were beginning to change. My best friend (who's name escapes me, it might be Niall) had passed his driving test and had his Dad's car available to use on occasion. I had a friend in Southsea called Nick, and so the half-hour drive was undertaken several times a month.

What's more, my set of Golf clubs was growing. In addition to my Dad's old 8-iron I also picked up some clubs second hand. I also bought a pitching wedge and a 5-iron. Once I had a bag they would travel to Southsea in the boot of Neil's Dad's car. A few irons, a pitching wedge, a sand wedge and a putter - not a complete set as someone has previously indicated!

We normally enjoyed ourselves out at the Pitch 'n' Putt course. There were some strange times, like the time we went down one evening and ended up finishing a round in the dark ("Did you see where that went?"), as well as the time one of us (can't think who, *cough*) decided it would be a good idea to have a tournament on the 6th of January (the holes were full of ice-cold water - we had to go ten-pin bowling to get some feeling back in our fingers).

Sometimes I did better than others. I always wanted to go round in 36 shots or less. Four shots a hole. One decent tee shot, and get down in three from there. My putting was always terrible, and often became a frustrating back-and-forwards exercise. That caused a smattering of 5s and 6s amid the odd 3 and the very occasional 2.

In September of 1994 we had a doubles tournament under scramble rules. As my spectre of friends had widened twelve of us went. I teamed up with Neil (who's excellent putting would help us be competitive), while Nick teamed up with his brother Pat. Also along for the ride were my three friends, the Povey brothers, all with different partners. The youngest Povey brother, Neil, was suffering quite a bit that day - unbeknown to all of us (including himself!) he was playing with a broken wrist! The middle brother, Martin, teamed up with a visiting Californian friend called Ross. Ross (a.k.a. "Mangum I.P." due to the seeming misspelling of his surname) was the only one who played Golf seriously, and was likely to win the event by himself.

Unfortunately we didn't know just how seriously Ross would take it, telling people off for walking across his line and other phrases none of us had heard before. Ross and Martin's group finished first, while Neil and I stood on the 9th tee totting up our score. We had 30 at that point, our pairing-up was working really well together, largely thanks to Neil's supreme putting.

Once again I recalled a bit of Golf technique I had heard somewhere. With the wind swirling about on the 85-yard 9th I took a three-quarter swing and hit a punched 5-iron which stayed straight, bounced nicely and kept on rolling. It began to slow down just before the green, drawing up and stopping about a foot to the right of the hole, easily the best shot of my life. I did let Neil putt it in though, it would have been just like me to make a mess of the putt after hitting a shot like that. We finished with a 32, just a shot behind Ross and Martin.

(Incidentally I researched this to the nth degree, even digging out the folder which I kept all the results in. I could give you the scores of all six pairs, but I doubt anyone is sad enough to want to know that.)

As our collective time at University led to fewer and fewer meet-ups so the number of rounds we played lessened. I'm not sure how it got to such a point, but prior to leaving for Scotland the list of things I had to before leaving (which included a day's Cricket with Nick, one last Palace game, and a night playing Pool with Neil) didn't include one last round in Southsea. Of course as you're well aware we did go to a Pitch 'n' Putt course on my Stag Weekend, but it really wasn't the same. It should have been in Southsea, it should have started at 10am or 4pm, it should have been Neil driving us there instead of me, and there should have been soft drinks and ice creams instead of mobile phones as a distraction.

And maybe that's why Pitch 'n' Putt doesn't appeal as much to me these days. Maybe it was just a teenage thing, and even if you played the best round of your life on a fantastic course in perfect weather it wouldn't be the same as the seafront, the sun peeking through the white clouds, the light breeze coming in off the Solent. It was a time of simpler pleasures, ones which we've grown up and away from. More fool us for doing so.

Have a good week!

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