I’ve never really played golf properly. My earliest memory of my unsatisfactory relationship with the game is the first occasion when my grandfather took me up to the local common for the first time with his bag of six sticks, box of six golf balls and his pet mongrel Bonzo and tried giving me some kind of instructions into what the game was all about. It was a bit like an early sex education lesson that parents deem necessary to give their offspring when they feel that they won’t get too embarrassed about the mention of wobbly bits and bodily fluids but without the diagrams.
That you had to hit the ball with one of the sticks was clear enough. The target – a little flag which fluttered somewhere in the distance on a grassy knoll – was also relatively obvious. But the purpose of the game? That eluded me from the first few minutes after I stepped up to the tee, looked at it, the stick, the ball and my grandfather all in equal disbelief. I had to hit that? Off that? To that over there? With this? And the reason is…?
The sheer impossibility of the whole proposition instilled a deep sense of ennui in me and a feeling that whatever I would be in the future, a professional golfer would not be one of those things. I realised that if I were to keep attempting this most unbelievable of sports, that I would end up getting tired and frustrated, along side everyone who presumably would accompany me on those long winding walks around the municipal golf courses. There would be tears before bed time and most of them would be mine. I vowed to make sure that there would be minimal tear spilling from me on account of a game of golf and that if anyone was going to get tearful and frustrated with my playing ability, it wasn’t going to be me.
The silence of that first game – or match, or set, or stroll, or round, or whatever it was they called it – was ominous and symbolic of the ongoing silence that would descend every time my grandfather tried to initiate a conversation with me about this most perplexing of activities. He tried encouraging my interest in the different types of golf bat, his heroes who were dominating the game at that time: he even tried interesting me in the gossip and intrigue of the international golf set but I was having none of it. All I could see was interminable slow wanderings around the local common in the pretence that we were engaged in some kind of inane activity that others might refer to as Sport.
So golf has always had an air of elusive mystery about it. After that first foray onto the pitch, he managed to persuade me to go out again on several occasions. He must have convinced himself that the more practice I had, the more likely I was to appreciate its finer points and be able to master the handling of the golf club (one of the human being’s most puzzling inventions, to be sure: but more of that later).
Those early games were mostly played in silence although the notion that we ‘played’ was really a piece of wishful thinking. I soon came to the conclusion that it was most bearable, and bordered on the fun when you played by yourself and had no obvious competitors to deal with. You could take yourself off with nothing more than yourself and your little green book in which you wrote down your score, and just when you thought you weren’t looking, you could always rub it out and write in a different number to fool yourself that you were a better golfer than either you or yourself would give yourself credit for.
To top it all there was the spectre of the golf club down the road in which everyone drove large silver jags and drank gin and tonic for breakfast. The promise was that if you did well enough at belting the little white pill up the fairway and into the invisible hole in the green with the minimum of fuss, then you would get The Visit from a golf club representative to enquire politely about your interest in joining their august institution on a more permanent basis.
Whilst this would have been seen as a badge of honour for many of my peers, the idea filled me with horror. Not only would I have had to endure hours wandering around coppices fruitlessly looking for lost balls, I would then have had to retire to the Club House at the end of the afternoon to be regaled with countless interminable tales of conquest: the hole in one out on the first; the superb drive up the old dirt road that constituted the nineth and the rousing shouts, whoops and groans of pleasure from the clubhouse on the eighteenth as Mr and Mrs Fortescue battled it out for dominance in their mixed rubbers with the Partridges.
My grandfather to his credit always spotted these attempts to ingratiate the lowly committee members with us and would invariably see them off by suggesting to Bonzo that these visitors were about to steal the family jewels. Bonzo would consequently bounce up and down on the forecourt next to the house gate, bark as if his life depended on it and scare away the committee intruder in the matter of minutes and they would not be seen again, ever.
So, my early experiences of that human activity referred to as golf were not the most exciting of encounters and before long I was inventing excuse after excuse about why I couldn’t join my grandfather on his weekly stroll through the bushes that constituted Chorleywood Golf Course. He was of course disappointed in the way that parents are when they think their invaluable tuition has gone to waste on their gormless offspring but I was soon able to provide the perfect alibi for why I could no longer accompany him on those wet autumnal afternoons: the girl next door. He understood perfectly and my golf education stopped as abruptly as it had started.