Monday, 28 May 2007

Heavy weather at Wentworth

The mystery of why the Americans don’t turn out for the PGA at Wentworth is finally solved. Forget the prize money or the effort of getting here. With the rain pouring down on Sunday and few players with a good word to say about the state of the greens, I think we can safely say the weather might have something to do with it.
The conditions made the outcome a bit of a lottery but it was still sad to see Justin Rose lose in the play off, and I agree with the Daily Telegraph that his shot to the green on the eighteenth (72nd) was the shot of the championship, though ironically, getting just inside Hansen on the green of the play-off hole was the worst place he could have been. With Hansen holing out, his job was almost impossible. (Picture of Justin at Augusta by member of flickr under Creative Commons License)
Still, with the yanks absent and Fisher, Broadhead and Rose all having a share of the lead, you’d think one of them might have done it. Peter Aliss obviously felt the same. ‘There comes a time,’ he intoned to his cronies, ‘when one of our young players will just have to go out and win something.’ I reckon this was a challenge to Luke Donald in particular, the golden boy whose swing and short game are much admired, but whose results seldom live up to expectations. David Howell has earned his stripes and Justin looks to be snapping at the heels of the big boys. Come on Luke, don't get left behind.
It’s unlike me to get worked up about English hopes as I’m a Scot by birth and if I’m allowed a brief digression I was more upset on Saturday by my old home team Dunfermline Athletic losing out to Celtic than I was about events at Wentworth. I’m old enough to remember when the Pars actually did win the cup. Don’t ask how long ago. The record books will tell you.

Junior Showtime

I have searched the BBC and Youtube without success for a clip of the youngster who was swinging a left-handed iron at Wentworth on Saturday. Effortless is the word that came to mind as he/she lofted a ball into the air while barely looking in the right direction. The commentary team used their ‘swingmaster’ to demonstrated that the club position at impact was not a million miles from that of a tour pro. In case you didn’t see it, this was no teenager. The kid was no more than three years old. (Some kind of lesson ,there, if only I could work out what it is!)

Talking of juniors, I came across a decent site that should be useful for any newcomer to the game. Rookie Golf
has lots of advice including a quiz on the rules and etiquette of golf. The quiz is fun to do and not too hard. My only argument is that it doesn’t differentiate between etiquette (accepted practice on the course) and hard and fast rules. Etiquette it very important and will affect everyone’s game, but it’s not quite the same as something that could cost you or your partner penalty shots. For a more testing set of quizzes on The Rules, try the R & A's own site In fact I’ll add that link to my sidebar.

Friday, 25 May 2007

An ill wind

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the advantages of living in the temperate zone and suppose I would eventually tire of playing golf in warm sunshine of Spain or Florida, but how can you plan your weekend when the weather forecasts are so … er … My particular bug-bear is that the BBC 24 hour forecast (that’s the one on your T.V. red button) does not include wind speed. They have it on the web, so why not here?
The other question is, how strong is a 12 or 20 mph wind in golfing terms? For this I have resorted to the Beaufort Scale. For those who don’t know it, Beaufort equates wind speeds to the evidence around you, but Mr. Beaufort was no golfer, so here are my suggested additions for the golf course (in bold).
Tree in Wind photo from General Wesc on Fickr
Force 3 (8 – 12 mph) ‘Gentle breeze’ - Leaves and smaller twigs in constant motion
- KitKat wrapper blows away (fag packet probably stays put)
Force 4 (13 -18 mph) - ‘Moderate breeze’ - Small branches begin to move.
- Eyes water, noses run
Force 5 (19-24 mph) - ‘Fresh breeze’ - Smaller trees sway
- Smaller ladies sway
Force 6 ( 25-31 mph) - ‘Strong breeze’ - Large branches in motion
- Hold on to the brolley, say goodbye to the hat

Force 7 (32-38 mph) - ‘Near Gale’ - Effort to walk across the wind
- This is just stupid. Let's go home

I’m still not sure exactly where on the scale to put those favoured golfing terms of a one, two or three club wind. Suggestions are welcome, or maybe I could enlist local weatherman Richard Angwin for some empirical research. Stand by for developments (or just more hot air?)

Are you at home on the range?

Looking at those irons made me think about how little time I spend on the range these days. As a beginner I remember spending two or three hours a week bashing balls and always choosing the ‘economy’ bucket i.e. 80 or 100 at a time. Yes, that’s the equivalent of a whole round of golf completed (or messed up) in around half an hour! Several years down the road, I have come to the following conclusions:

  • If I start off hitting badly on the range I rarely get much better.
  • If I start off hitting well, I invariably get worse.
  • Hitting well on the range before a round invariably proves the kiss of death.

I still do go down to the range from time to time, but I never hit more than 50 at one go, and sometimes share those with My Other Half.
If you really feel you need the practice (or it’s been pissing down with rain for a fortnight) take a tip I heard a while ago. Instead of hitting 10 or 20 balls with the same club, pretend you are playing ‘for real’, i.e. hit a drive then imagine where you might have ended up on the fairway, and play the next shot as you would on the course. For me this ends up with something like driver, long iron, pitch to the green. Don’t forget to line up your shot and take a practice swing, and If you play a bad hook, assume you’re in the rough!
Of course there’s one very good reason for going to the range. You have given in to common sense and booked a lesson. More on this anon.

Bring 'em on

With my search officially launched (impending birthday) for a new set of irons, I took myself down to the local range last week where the sales staff gave me six to try out which I quickly whittled down to two. I was surprised to find that these included the Ping G5 L which initially felt odd and I thought looked clumsy. But there was no getting away from the fact that the balls I was hitting with these were going at least 5 yards further. (Distance may not be everything, but in my book it counts for a lot). Otherwise my favourites would have been the Callaway X20s. Balance? Feel? I don’t know, but as soon as I picked up the 7 iron it somehow just felt right.
Needless to say neither of these are budget clubs, in fact top of the range would be closer to the mark. I’m not sure I’m worth that much even on my birthday and am envying my golfing buddy who recently bought some MacGregors with a very similar feel to the X20s but as far as I can see are no longer on the market.
As for those long-hitting G5s? As I was driving home and reflecting on my experience (as all we educators like to do) it struck me that not all of the clubs I’d tried out had been 7s. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Ping was a 6. Maybe I should go back and check!

Friday, 18 May 2007

Nice course, shame about ...

With the sun shining even intermittently, it’s time to plan our next golf break. Last time we were on Anglesey where we have a billet close to the Princes' Course at Henllys Hall. I think it’s a great place to play, well-kept and not particularly busy with great views over the Menai Straits towards Llandudno and the Great Orme. Recently they have opened a new clubhouse and I’m impressed with the food – good choice and reasonable prices. Just one black mark from the Green Goddess. There’s a steep climb at the start, and the eighteenth is also up hill, i.e. by the end, despite (or because of) the quality of the course, I am usually pretty knackered and in dire need of refreshment/consolation. Arriving back in this state mid-morning, I headed for the bar to discover I had to make my own coffee from one of those machines with sachets and a number of buttons to press. Sorry, not good enough. After eighteen holes I deserve to be waited on hand and foot!
BTW if you are going to Anglesey there's now an Anglesey Golf Pass. Five rounds for £79. Sounds good to me.

More Bad Shots

As a beginner, you may be confused by some of the technical terms associated with bad shots. I mean, is a pull the same as a hook, and when does a fade become a slice?
Rather than sort these out I think I can do no better than to point you to some more memorable alternatives. The first of these I heard was last year when I made a very tired drive off the eighteenth after a long round on a hilly local course. I failed to get the ball off the ground but was happy to see it scuttle up the slope from where I had a reasonable line to the green. The guy coming off the seventeenth green behind us admired my shot and said ‘Nice Sally Gunnel there.’ I was too tired to work it out. ‘Sally Gunnel,’ he said, ‘Ugly but a good runner.’ It made me laugh, and you can find more in this vein on the Principal's Nose, some in dubious taste, but all the better for that.

Award of the Golden Dustbin

Having celebrated Van de Velde’s moment of near lunacy, Ive decided to offer another memorable golfing moment, this time one that might give some comfort to those beginners or near beginners as they step up to the tee on Saturday or Sunday morning. Not easy, is it? Right behind you there are two or three groups of regulars willing you to get off quickly and not hold them up while you retrieve your ball from that hedge on the left. My own club does not have pre-booked tee times and so you on busy days you can have as many as twenty people looking on as you waggle your club at address and try desperately to remember what the pro was telling you at the last lesson.
Picture such a scene a couple of winters ago. It’s a big crowd. Thermos flasks are out (pretty chilly at 8 on a Sunday) and the bin next to the tee has already received a number of empty fag packets and chocolate wrappers. Having waited for two groups of four to hack their way up the first fairway we’re all getting restless, and the group in front of us are more restless than most. When it’s their turn to step up, the boot’s on the other foot. They know they’re in the spotlight and they egg each other on with jokes that suddenly sound a bit nervous. The first two drive off and keep it on the fairway. The next addresses the ball, takes a huge back swing and tops the ball off the tee and down the bank where it takes a big bounce off the path and lands straight in the black plastic dust-bin to hoots from the crowd of ‘In da hole!’. The guy’s face watching the ball is a picture as he goes from anger to embarrassment and then disbelief at his sudden celebrity status.
It has to be said that this shot sticks in my memory at least as much as Tiger’s chip at Augusta and has probably been talked about in my own circle just as much. And so, in honour of the player in question, I’ve decided to make him the first holder of the Golden Dustbin award for a truly great bad shot.
The moral of the story is, even the bad shots can be good, and if it’s going to be bad, it might as well be really bad. Let me know if you have any other contenders for the Golden Dustbin Award.

Friday, 11 May 2007

Goddess of Small Things

Here are two items that cost next to nothing* but make a big difference to enjoying a round of golf. The first is a ball marker. Yes, it can be a disk bought for the purpose, a coin, or one of those flat studs attached to a glove. Anything will do, but make sure you have something and have it to hand. You know you have 20p somewhere? Maybe, but how irritating is it for the rest of us to hang around while you turn out your pockets? And if it happens once in a round, you can bet your bottom dollar it will happen again … and again. Don’t hold things up! Get one and get it out fast!
The second is that funny prong thing you see lying by the till in the pro shop - a pitch mark repairer. You may rarely execute the kind of pitch that leaves a nice indentation in the green except when that green is horribly soggy, but we’ve had soggy greens aplenty of late, and even if you don’t have a mark of your own to repair, it makes you feel tremendously virtuous to repair one that someone else has left. If you’re not sure exactly how to do it, get someone to show you. There’s no point in leaving the green in a worse state than when you found it!
*Of course, if any girl has serious money to squander, she can always spend 100 euros on these stylish ball markers from (As ever, I take no responsibility for the contents of external sites ...)

Beginners' Bunker (Feet first)

As promised, I said I would talk about how much to spend on what if you’re just taking up golf. If you really are starting from scratch, you’ll probably buy a basic beginner set of clubs and the Great Value Golf site has a useful Beginner’s Guide to what’s what in golf equipment. But let’s think about clothes. Do you need to kit yourself out in those classy-looking golf brands in the pro shop, or is the stuff from the local chain store just as good?
I would say that in some cases you need a speciality product: at other times anything serviceable and comfortable will do, but top of the speciality choices must be shoes.
Unless you’re playing the local pitch and putt, pretty well all courses insist on spiked shoes, so you’ll have to get something, and in this case any money that gets you a good fit and keeps out the weather is well spent. My golf shoes so far have all cost from £50 to £80 which is a severe shock to the system when they need replacing, but if your feet are killing you, eighteen holes can seem like eighteen miles (and that’s regardless of the number of shots you play along the way!) I’ve usually gone for Ecco shoes as they seem to suit my feet, but you can get some good deals at the moment on most of the major brands. This summer I’ve splashed out (I hope not literally) on a pair of summer shoes from the Nike lite range. They won’t keep out the rain, but they are blissfully soft, so whatever I’m moaning about this summer, it shouldn’t be my feet.

If you’re buying weatherproof shoes, I recommend you go for leather, otherwise your feet will be as wet on a hot day as if you’d been wearing leaky shoes in the rain (a sad and smelly fact, but true).

Venus and Mars

Lady Golfer magazine is not something I especially rate for a good read, but this issue provided unusual (though somewhat indigestible) food for thought. Their columnist Madeleine Winnett reveals she has a problem with sex (?) What this boils down to is that she objects to men regarding women golfers as sex objects when the opposite doesn’t really apply, i.e. women don’t watch golf for the inherent physical attraction of the blokes playing it. I’m afraid my first reaction is to think that maybe it’s to do with the attributes (sorry chaps) of current tour players. I’d be hard pushed to think of one that does it for me. However, next day I spotted something in the Daily Telegraph that offers a scientific explanation for this state of affairs. Research has apparently proved that men in general get more pleasure from ‘studying the female form’ than women get from eying up men, though I’m still not sure this lets them off the hook.
If you’re wondering where the ‘indigestible’ comes in, that’s when M.W. proves her point by suggesting we ladies might admire Colin Montgomerie’s swing without ever wishing to ‘see him in a thong.’ Oh Madeleine, you are so right, but did you really have to pick that particular example?

Just to reassure us all I've found this photo of Monty fully clothed, (It's from Flickr and provided under a Creative Commons License. Thanks john1710!)

Friday, 4 May 2007

A Case of Mistaken Identity

I was recently reminded of another Open balls-up when we visited Carlyon Bay in Cornwall, a gorgeous hotel with a very pleasant golf-course (not helped by two days of horizontal rain, but then it was February).
Anyway, glancing at the name of the pro above the shop door, I nudged my companion and said ‘Mark Rowe, isn’t that the guy who was disqualified in the Open for signing the wrong scorecard?’ Luckily I never did summon up the courage to ask the man behind the counter how he felt about it, as it turns out the disqualified Mark was Roe and the Cornwall resident is Rowe. The sad story of 2003 is recounted on the Sporting Life site, and probably in many other places. Apologies to M. Rowe for the mistaken identity, and to M. Roe for causing him to relive the pain. (Or did he change his name? Wouldn’t you?)

And finally …
Much hoo-ha over the pro-am pairing of Tiger with Michael Jordan (another yawn for me, I’m afraid) has prompted a typically irreverent post on the Principal's Nose with suggested ‘perfect’ pairings. Read it if you dare!

Coming soon: a Beginners’ Special feature: How much to pay for what?

Big Time, Big Money

Since we seem to be having a question of the week, this one can be about Majors, and how much you would spend to see the big names play.
Two years ago we went to the
Wales Open at Celtic Manor. Not a major by any means, but we had a very good day following Monty, Paul Lawrie and Ian Poulter. As it happens, Celtic Manor is only half an hour’s drive for us, and the entrance for the Friday was £5 each, so if you add the bridge toll (ouch! £4.50) and don’t add in the cost of our picnic (cheapskates!) we had a pretty good day out for under £20.
Then last summer I suggested that en route to a holiday in Scotland we could take in the Open at Hoylake. When I checked out the price it was £60 upwards - each. Hmmm. My parents used to get a real buzz from going to the Open when it was in Scotland, but I suspect the courses were a lot less crowded then. These days you get a better view from the comfort of your own front room. What’s it worth to you to be able to say ‘I was there?’ And how does the Open compare with other big events? (I admit I’ve paid £50 for a ticket to Wimbledon, and at least golf, unlike tennis, is rarely rained off!)

Great Golfing Moments

Looking for stuff about Carnoustie did remind me of its most famous failure, Jean Van De Velde, the handsome but hapless Frenchman who was leading on the final day and went AWOL on the eighteenth, ending up by taking off his socks and shoes and paddling in the burn, demonstrating that special grand folie of golf that leads us to follow a sudden loss of form with an even more spectacular loss of judgement, aka the ‘I’m-damned-if-I’m-taking-a-drop’ mindset. (Trust me on this, you’re damned if you don’t.)
To give him credit, our Jean did see the light and take the drop, but still lost his grip on the Claret Jug. This picture of the culprit burn (and the one in the last post) is from the press page of the
Carnoustie Golf links site, and the sock moment is immortalised passim. There’s also a clip on Youtube of someone trying the exact shot that Jean passed up.
Note for ladies: - One Ian Baker-Finch in a similar situation once
took off his pants - ? Whew, that’s actually American English for trousers. He still had his boxers on. Better luck next time, girls.
Note for book (rather than blog) readers: – a truly riotous round of golf including a shot from the water is recounted in
Tim Lott’s White City Blue. (It’s near the end, p224 in the Penguin edition.) Okay it’s fiction, but it’s funny, and that goes for the whole book.

News from Carnoustie

According to Setanta, the course at Carnoustie is to be lengthened for this year’s Open in July. I confess to being distinctly underwhelmed by this revelation. We all know the pros can hit the ball a mile, but that’s not the only test of golf. I’ve also read somewhere that although St. Andrews was lengthened for 2005 to the extent of invading neighbouring courses, the length of the drives proved less critical than the need to get the right position in terms of the greens and greenside bunkers. And how much longer can courses get? As a one-time resident of St. Andrews, I’m beginning to wonder how long it will be before East Fife is one big golf-course. Even as a golfer that’s not something I would like to see.

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