There must be an age in the life of every male in which you suddenly find it desirable to slash a thin stick of metal at a small ball in every which direction over the rambling grounds of manicured parkland. It can happen as a nipper, inspired by fantastical feats of sporting idols. It often hits in the thirties, a way to keep active in an agreeably sedate way and escape from life’s chores, e.g. wife, children, shopping, shopping with the wife and children. And then of course, it goes hand in hand with retirement, like a golden handshake of expensive Big Berthas and disastrous Pringle pullovers.
I quite like the appeal of golf right now, being in my mid thirties with a penchant for early retirement. It’s something that has been around since my teens when, like many teens, I was more active with a naive hopefulness that I may one day be the next champion striding the fairways with a fluorescent green cap and stripy pants. This activity tailed off at university and never really resurrected itself, with only sporadic bursts of wanton destruction around eighteen holes since. But I still have clubs, lots of balls and one of those Michael Jackson type gloves with grubby marks buried away at the bottom of a comedy sized golf bag.
I think I was introduced to the world of golf by my brother, as often happens when one has an older brother. Initially this was via Golfer’s Delight or some other weekly supplement that you collect the parts for and put into one big binder over 684 weeks. You know, the things usually advertised after Christmas like Diesel Tanks and Artillery Transport of Europe and Super Crotchet Life. Anyway, as well as profiles of top golfers and top courses it had tips on how to be a great swinger and expertly control your balls .
Other media increased exposure to golf. On the TV there was of course the joy of hearing Peter Alliss rambling on and on about old Bertie Wallopsworth of Surrey Heath Golf Club having his 120th birthday Texas Scramble , while somewhere in the background a golf tournament was taking place. Then there was the thrill of getting Sky Sports hooked up in some dodgy arrangement and watching the US tour on a Sunday evening, full of whoops and hollers, fluoro greens and sour old hacks commenting on the state of young people today. It often also included as accompaniment a whole bag of cheap peanuts from the corner shop and / or a genuinely king-sized Mars Bar. Then, when print and TV couldn’t fulfil this exposure there were even computer games – memories of Links 386 where a computerised ‘you’re the man’ or ‘too much club’ was a marker of progress; and some Jack Nicklaus golf course design game with the world’s most disturbing theme music.
In the real world my first set (or mini set) of golf clubs came from Argos . This allowed me, post birthday, to escape to Central Park in the long summer evenings to probably annoy my brother and his new found golfing friends, one of whom I’m sure was shaping up to be a first rate psychopath in the quality of his hissy fits and club throwing. Avoiding the ageing course attendant with his black teeth and ever-present eau de cigar, we would sneak on the course, make up our own holes by combining bits of one with the other and generally play until you couldn’t see the drug pushers hanging around the toilets anymore. It was not the fantasy plastic world of golf thrust upon me from the television .
Upgrades came when I got to play on a proper grown up course, with proper clubs and something called etiquette, which as far as I could tell generally meant wearing your school trousers and tucking a collared shirt into them. Perched on the southern edge of Dartmoor and more often than not sitting in the clouds, Wrangaton was a sleeping beast of a course, with sheep and rock for fairways and gorse for rough. The wind often howled, meaning while one hole could be reached with a gentle tap of the ball, another took seven days and a team of Sherpa’s to conquer. It had, in between the bogs and bracken, some stupendous views over Devon, lain out below the ninth tee in a typically creamy pattern of green hills and vales.
At the other end of the country, Scotland is reputedly the home of golf, I assume because only such a sport could be devised over several long hard nights of Glenfiddich. My own golfing development continued with a few summer holidays north across the border with my brother and Dad. This included one or two trips to watch The Open Championship, followed by some very unsuccessful attempts to emulate the professionals via ScotGolf , a competition of my brother’s devising which was devised in such a way to make my brother end up the winner every time! To be fair, he was the most accomplished golfer, clearly from his time collecting and scrutinising Golfer’s Delight or whatever it was. And it wasn’t all playing with balls and holes. There were uncharacteristically scorching days to bake on the fine sandy beaches of Ayrshire and swelter on the peaks of Arran. There were tourist days to potter about loveable Edinburgh and eat cakes of great upstanding from Fisher and Donaldson in St Andrews. And there were winding scenic drives to make my brother feel travelsick and Dad and I to feel payback for the drubbing we got in ScotGolf.
Now if I was a golfer of some note I would be able to regale and bore you with tales of my best rounds of golf, finest shots and superb holes. In truth I cannot remember so much of distinction, especially in those younger years. I do recall holing a putt approximately the length of the Great Wall of China on another uncharacteristically scorching day in Edinburgh. On the same trip I remember spraying my ball right, over some bushes and, unbeknown to me, onto the next tee where a couple of old wee lassies were hitting off. I very nearly ended up sending one of those old dears to the fairways in the sky, saved only by the rim of her vivid pink visor deflecting the ball. Back in Devon I also remember hitting a sheep on the arse at Wrangaton and pretty much doing the same on some heifer dawdling at Central Park pitch and putt. As I say, I was not a golfer of some note.
As I have matured and my game has got even more sporadic I like to think I am less bothered about how well I play, content to be outdoors and enjoying the surroundings in the company of others . I have come to realise that, on the whole, golf courses are rather beautiful things. Indeed, it is rare that you get so many acres lovingly dedicated to different types of grass and trees, shrubs and undergrowth, ponds and brooks. And they can be wild and rugged spots, your individual journey plotted purely by how wayward you hit the ball, typically finding untamed jungle with every slice and secret fairy dells with every hook. Plus, when you finally get there, the greens have those stripy patterns that every lawn yearns for, and there are even bits of beach to build sandcastles in, though I’m not sure this is in the Old Thomas Botheringirls-Willynilly handbook of golfing etiquette and manners.
In Australia I have been lucky enough to hit a little ball around a few such charming spots. In the lee of Red Hill, Federal Golf Club is truly archetypal with its graceful white gum trees and kangaroos lining the fairways. Such is the proliferation of native flora and fauna that it is not uncommon to be stared down by a mob of twenty to thirty eastern greys that have set up camp between your ball and the green. It really makes you focus on hitting the next shot in the air. On the positive side, I do have the local wildlife to thank for assistance on one occasion – petulant cockatoos ripping up the greens and nudging my ball just a little closer to the hole for a pleasing par putt.
Elsewhere, down on the NSW coast at Narooma I have had the thrill of playing over the sea and along the very rim of towering cliffs as a whale and its calf splash around a little out to sea. It’s that kind of memory, and a few half-decent shots mixed in with it, that draw me back to wistfully ponder that I should be doing this more often. When you are wistful and ponderous you tend to forget the rubbish, such as horizontal rain and five putt greens, uncomfortable trousers and cap hair, as well as the price you pay for the privilege. Instead you think about the regular exercise, time in the outdoors with nature, a good walk bettered with the focus of getting a little ball into an equally little hole on a not very little stretch of land; and you begin to think that you may just be following your brother to the greens not for the first time in your life.
 I’m sorry. Golf is like that isn’t it? You cannot write about swinging and balls and holes and wood and birdies without falling into smutty innuendo.
 And that doesn’t involve one old man and six curvy Texan cowgirls.
 Good old Argos, I really do miss its omnipresent usefulness.
 An early valuable lesson to never trust television. Yes, even Eastenders is make-believe.
 That is not to say I will play a round of golf without swearing less than 50 times.
Golfing Links (haha)
What a king sized Mars Bar used to look like: http://imghumour.com/categories/trucks/view/definitely-a-king-size-mars-bar
Pitch and putt and throw clubs in a huff: http://www.visitplymouth.co.uk/things-to-do/pitch-and-putt-central-park-p1417363
Wrangaton Golf Club: http://www.wrangatongolfclub.co.uk/pages.php/index.html
Och aye yum: http://www.fisheranddonaldson.com/Site/Welcome.html
Federal Golf Club: http://www.fgc.com.au/welcome/index.mhtml
Narooma Golf Club: http://www.naroomagolf.com.au/