I used to be quite the golfer. My grandad, being the life member of a noted course in Northern Ireland, coaxed me into taking up the game, and I took it up with a gusto. I’m still not that bad with my mashie niblick today out on the Weymouth pitch and putt, but back in my teens, it was a bit of a steep learning curve.
Large metal clubs? Small round projectile weapons? Entrusted to me by unsuspecting parents? Were they mad? I mean, what possible damage could I do?
I’ll draw a discrete veil over my dad’s greenhouse. It was a one hundred per cent fluky accident. All I was doing was practicing my short game up and down the garden, aiming for the washing line pole. One tremendously skillful shot actually hit the target, but with a little more power than intented. The ricochet resulted in a subsequent loss of pocket money, and a ban on playing round the house. My Uncle Mick (one of those people who cannot drive past a golf course without slowing down to a crawl while saying “Oooh! Golf!”) actually practiced by chipping balls over his house. Woe betide anyone coming up the driveway...
It was decided, therefore, that I should go on a golfing holiday. Not only that, my parents could kill several birds with one stone by sending me over to Ireland to stay with my golf-mad grandparents and have me out of the house for a couple of weeks. They even gave me spending money. Lots of it, and my green fees would be covered for the whole holiday. They even lay on a golfing partner - a local kid about my age named William by his none-more-Orange parents - to play with. I promised to be on my best behaviour. As if I would let them down.
It was ace. I would meet William at nine in the morning, and we would go round the course again and again until it was time to go home in the evening. Sometimes we’d even manage to complete a hole without hacking it to pieces. William even managed a hole-in-one on the short fourth - a fluke of a shot that went in off a tree, but as there was no adult member around to witness it, the feat existed only in our twisted memories. To celebrate, we fished a load of old balls out of the pond and took turns at whacking them off the sixth tee into the sea of Belfast Lough, no more than thirty yards away.
I had recently become a New Romantic, discovering the delights of the mighty Ultravox and Depeche Mode. I hefted my clubs round the course in the full outfit.
“That long black coat of yours,” said Grandad, “Is costing you two shots a hole.”
Yes, but dammit, I was the coollest kid on the course. Not for me the tartan trousers and the pringle jersey! It was black, black, black, but I did spare the old man’s blushes by going light on the make-up.
On July 29th 1981, William and I had the entire course to ourselves as one Charles Windsor tied the knot with a certain Diana Spencer. We went round four times and then hogged the snooker room until we were kicked out at closing time. Ah, the life of the teenage hustler.
But fifteen-year-old William had more than one love. He loved his golf and his snooker, but more than both he loved Mary. Mary was the seventeen-year-old daughter of the club captain, a glorious young lady of those certain proportions that they only make in Ireland, who made William walk like he had two overripe plums dangling between his legs. Which he did. She was a golfing goddess, whose very presence on the course would have William a quivering mess, desperate to impress his true love with his prowess. It would have been easier, in retrospect, jut to ask her out.
With Mary and her old man waiting behind us, William teed up to drive off the first. A bag of nerves, he focused on the ball, Mary’s chest, the ball, Mary’s legs, the ball, his balls and then back on the ball again. With a silent prayer, he let fly with a mighty not-quite-in-the-manual swing and thrashed the ball straight down the middle of the fairway. In his dreams. In fact, the ball flew fifty yards straight up in the air, perched at the top of its arc, and landed three feet away from his feet, taunting him with its “Stolen from Downpatrick Driving Range” label. Clenching and unclenching his fists, a man defeted, he let his true love play through. Whether this was to hide his embarrassment, or just to watch her arse was never made clear, but a bit of both, I should imagine.
We watched them disappear down the first fairway. Her dad hit a sparkling drive, and she followed suit, both finishing off with respectable par fours. I could watch her bending over to pick her ball out of the hole all day, and I did. Then it was our turn. I got there in seven. William, still shitting bricks, finally holed out for twelve after playing bagatelle with a few trees, a rabbit hole and a water hazard that no-one had noticed before. Onwards to the second.
My drive bumped and rattled up the hill, a whole fifty yards, with a huge divot of grass and mud actually managing to go further. With the object of his affection just reaching the green, William managed to keep the ball on the island and hit one right up the middle. We strutted after our balls. Another three scuffed shots and we were within a hundred yards or so from the green. A couple of halfway decent, if rather weedy, hits would see us within chipping distance, so we went for it. William did exactly that, and scooped one into a bunker some twenty yards short.
Then it was my turn. I addressed the ball, swung, and fully expected to top the thing and see it scuttling along the gound, yard by yard, on its merry way to the target. Except I didn’t. I caught it full on the meat of the club, and gave it a full-on thwack that would have had Nick Faldo in orgasms, even before he started messing about with his Fanny.
One thing rapidly became clear - there was no way on God’s Earth that my little white ball of fury was going to stop before it hit the green. This one was going like the clappers - a greenhouse killer, if you like. And right in its path stood Mary and her scary dad, the club captain who drove a huge Volvo and probably ate fifteen-year-old hackers for breakfast, using their smashed golf clubs as a toothpick.
“FORE!” I shouted.
Except it came out “........fore.......”
“FORE” shouted William.
Except it came out “Get out the fuckin’ way!”
They didn’t get out the fuckin’ way, and the ball bounced once and caught Mary’s Dad right in the middle of his back just as he lined up a crucial putt.
The world stood still. Nothing happened. The ball seemed to stick in the middle of his back, like it was glued there. It dropped onto the green with a barely audible thud. Then, like a grand old tree succumbing to the woodman’s axe, Mary’s Dad keeled over forwards onto his face, his putter pinging away, bent double by the impact of body and ground.
“FORE!” I shouted, rather too late.
For such a calamatous faux pas, things turned out rather better than expected. Despite our initial plan of running away and joining the Navy, we decided to peel the poor bloke off the second green before he damaged the grass in any way, as fatal injuries notwithstanding, it was very poor form to annoy the greenkeeper. Mary’s Dad was rather forgiving about the whole affair, and left us join him and Mary as a foursome. This was a suggestion that turned poor William’s game from just about passable to the equivalent of a hundred monkeys with a hundred toy golf clubs. Eventually, they’ll come up with a round of golf, but you’ll get a whole lot of shit before you do. All he wanted from life was a twosome behind the gazebo on the fifth.
The only words he ever spoke to her were “Can I polish your ball?” while standing by the washer on the eighth tee. She politely declined, and inside he died. Her ball remained unpolished, and he eventually became a nun, such was the depth of his shame.
On the other hand, she said to me “You’re quite the golfer”, and she was allowed to come round to my grandparents’ house -as the captain’s daughter - for Sunday tea; and I accidentally got to see her arse when the door of the downstairs toilet swung open at an inopportune moment. I gave her my phone number. She never rung.
William hated me.
I told him about her arse.
William hated me and tried to force a pitching wedge down my throat.