Monday, 26 September 2011

Greensomes Challenge - A Partnership Intact

It was the Greensome Challenge at Royal Ascot yesterday. This competition was introduced a few years ago by Geoff Escourt during his tenure as Club Captain to ensure there was a prestigious event to play for as the season drew to an end. It was a very good decision. I'm not a fan of the alternate shot format and will rarely if ever play foursomes. I know many see it as the purest form of team golf there is but I can never get into it mentally and always feel as though I've not really played a game at all. Greensomes is that bit different as both players tee off before deciding which ball to use and then alternating from there. I guess its the fact that you get to play a tee shot on every hole that makes it feel more like a proper round.

I paired up with my faithful pal Mike Stannard. It's been a tough year for him with me as a partner never knowing which golfing Homer was going to turn up. To his credit, his steady play has kept us in a number of events that my ailing game and despicable short game tried to destroy. I'm not sure if it was end of season retribution but the pre-tee revelation that he'd been out on the lash until 1.30am on Saturday didn't do much for confidence.

It started wonderfully well. Well I say "it" and I mean Mike. He holed from eight feet on the first for a par. On the second I duffed the approach into the green and he saved the day by chipping to six inches. Even I don't miss those. He did have a horror off the tee on the 3rd and lost the ball in the hazard meaning I had to get my tee shot into play. Fortunately I was up to the task.

Of course it wouldn't be a typical Homer round unless there was a tale of horror. The 4th hole is simple. It's 320 yards and we were in the fairway and in position A. It was my job to hit an easy nine iron into the green, leave a simple two putt and move on. Sadly I couldn't do the easy stuff and thinned it low and left. With the green sloping dramatically right to left it was only ever going to go further left and the only thing in the way to stop it was the out of bounds. It cost an ugly double bogey.

We actually dove-tailed quite nicely and even managed a par on the 7th hole which neither of us play particularly well individually. I hit a great drive into the ideal position and Mike hit a great approach to the back edge of the green and I rolled a good putt to within a foot. I dropped another faux pas missing a short putt for par at the eighth but managed to balanced the books with a solid approach into the heart of the 9th. We were out in 40 stroke or 5 over gross which in this exacting format wasn't too bad and bang on our handicap limit.

The back nine started well and saw two minor golfing miracles as I managed to resurrect a stellar short game from nowhere to chip close on both ten and eleven. Mike and his trusty putter did the rest and we made two pars when bogey or worse seemed the likely outcome. We frittered that away with an ugly double on the 12th having been over the back of the green in two. Another shot went at the 15th when we committed the cardinal sin in greensomes and both found trouble off the tee. We could have chosen either ball. Neither were ideal and both required nothing more than a hack back onto the fairway. In the end we did well to limit the damage to a bogey.

Coming down the stretch we knew that two pars to finish would see us under par and figured that in this format it wouldn't be too far away. Mike hit a great tee shot to the front of the 17th green but I still had a twenty foot putt, right to left and downhill. Pace was crucial and for once I didn't let the side down and deposited it next to the hole for a simple tap in. The 18th was playing brutally long into the wind. We took my drive and Mike nailed his second but we were still 134 yards from the front of the green. With the pond to the right of the green very much in play and having seen our playing partners already dump their approach in there I was certain we wouldn't be going right in any shape or form. I took a six iron as the pin was right at the back and in the end I executed well and put a great swing on it. Sadly though I'd been conservative in my alignment, aiming at the front left of the putting surface. With a touch of draw on it, the ball missed the green left and finished in the light rough. On the plus side, Mike didn't have to chip over any of the greenside bunkers and he made a good effort to get it to within 10 feet. My putt for par was good but didn't drop.

In the end we finished on level par 70. There were already three 68's in and so we were out of the running for the prizes. The results are due out soon and I'm confident of a top ten finish. In the end though it was a good game and we didn't disgrace ourselves. All in all, Mike probably had an easier day in this tougher format than he has in other events and I never really put him in too much trouble. We are still on speaking terms which I guess is a result! Well done to Geoff for introducing the event. I'm still not a convert and will still be given foursomes a wide berth but will definitely dip a toe into greensomes pool again.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Beaten But Still Positive

Yesterday (24th September) saw me playing in a club match away at Caversham Heath near Reading. I had already played in the first leg at Royal Ascot and enjoyed a win and was looking forward to it. I'd played on Friday afternoon at Royal Ascot as a bit of practice which hadn't gone according to plan but a diligent hour on the practice ground after seemed to have found something that clicked and the ball striking was pleasantly sweet.

The 18-hole golf course at Caversham Heath was designed by David Williams and built to exacting USGA standards. It is still relatively new, being a little over ten years old but the golf course has matured well. Off the very back tees it is a long test measuring 7,151 yards. Even though we were off the white tees, it was still a very challenging 6,875 yard examination. I was paired with Pat Quaid, former Royal Ascot captain and a guy I've enjoyed many rounds of golf with. He's a wonderful Irishman big in both stature and heart. We were paired against a 15 and 19 handicapper so it was evenly matched on paper at least.

The first plays across the side of a hill and is a 370 yard par 4. We were given an immediate statement of intent when one of the opposition rolled in a twelve footer for an opening birdie to go one up. I got it back at the next with a par and the lead continued to go one way and then the other until we had the first halved hole on the 6th.

The 7th hole was to prove pivotal and to be honest I still can't understand how I lost it. The hole itself is 453 yards off the whites and a straight away par 4.

I had been driving the ball exceptionally well (for me) on the opening few holes and I really unleashed a great one here. I was left with 174 yards into a slight breeze and because it is stroke index 2 and I was giving shots away to my opponents and my partner had found trouble I was forced to go for it. It was right on the limit of my hybrid but a 5 wood would have been way too much. I hit the hybrid and absolutely pured it. It rose with a hint of right to left draw and was all over the flag. Sadly, it was literally a foot too short and landed in the top lip of the bunker guarding the green. Not only that, but it plugged on landing and presented me with little or no chance to escape. In the end I made a six and on the card it looks like I didn't play the hole well but I'd hit two stunners and come away empty handed. Sometimes it can be a very cruel game.

The rot set in and the Caversham pair took the eighth and ninth to lead two up at the turn. I made a mockery of the 10th after another good drive when I hit my approach way left of the target and failed to find the putting surface with the recovery to hand them a simple win. By the time we stood on the 13th tee we found ourselves five down. At this point I should point out that I have never lost a club match playing better ball format and had a record extending back over eighteen previous ties. This proud streak goes all the way back to the old Royal Ascot course when we were in the middle of the racecourse but I have to be honest and say it wasn't looking good.

Pat was determined to battle on and made a sumptuous birdie two at the par three 13th to reduce the arrears. The 14th is another monster par 4 in excess of four hundred yards and being stroke index 1 meant I was giving shots away here. I hit another pearler of a drive but was still just under two hundred yards away, into the wind with both opponents sitting on the fairway. He who dares. Out came the five wood and to be fair I hit it solidly enough but missed right. By the time both the Caversham guys had made a five nett four, it was all over. My record had gone and we'd been tonked 5&4.

Still I wasn't quite finished. The next is a par 5 playing 489 yards. Another stunning drive and I was 234 yards away. With nothing resting on it I decided to get the three wood out and have a pop for the green. As my game is erratic at the best of times, I rarely go for par five holes in two as experience has taught me that I usually walk off with a seven or eight rather than a three or four. Today though my ball striking was top notch and this arrowed straight into the heart of the green to around fifteen foot. I missed the eagle but had a tap in birdie.

In the end, I covered the six holes in level par. Too little too late though. However I didn't feel too bad when one of the Caversham guys worked out he'd gone round in approximately eight over par (give or take the odd given putt). Now off a 15 handicap on a course of that length that is some good shooting so I wasn't too disappointed. The club lost the fixture 4-2 overall but having held a healthy 5-1 lead from the home leg meant that Royal Ascot had come through overall 7-5.

It's rare for me to come away without a hint of disappointment especially given the result but my golf today, especially with a lack of practice with the golfers elbow I'm struggling with (funny how you don't feel it when you are playing well) and the general malaise that has crept into my game, was arguably the best I've hit it all year. Certainly it is the best driving performance which has always been a weakness. It's funny how easy the game becomes when you can get it in play off the tee. At least I feel confident in my ability for the Greensome Challenge at Royal Ascot (Sunday) and that my long suffering partner Mike Stannard may even get some assistance and not be forced to carry me and do all the work. We shall see!

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Best Laid Plans And All That

Following last weeks dismal effort in the Saturday roll up and my subsequent withdrawal from The Masters I was hoping to dive back onto the golfing bandwagon. Alas, the golfing gods have pounced and I've gone down with a debilitating bug. Personally, I think it's swine flu at best, more likely bubonic in nature but the good lady wife thinks it's nothing more than a passing cold. Either way I've felt crap all weekend and so there has been no golf. That meant missing out on the medal today and the roll up yesterday.

To compound matters further, I hit the range last week to try and capitalise on the progress I'd made last weekend where my swing was wider and with a better turn. I was hitting the ball pretty well and all was starting to look up and I was hoping to try the swing out in the "relaxed" atmosphere of the roll up. However hitting ball after ball off the range mat has given me an outbreak of golfers elbow in my left arm.

Golfer's elbow is a condition affecting the elbow muscles, tendons and the bony knobble (epicondyle) on the inside of the elbow where the muscles that flex the forearm attach to the upper arm. The symptoms consist of pain and soreness due to inflammation over the epicondyle, especially when quickly flexing the arm and hand, as in following through after hitting a golf ball. The cure is extremely boring to avid golfers: lay off from swinging a club until the symptoms have settled. This can be anything from one to 12 weeks depending on the severity.

Having been to my GP he has advised me to rest it for two weeks and not play any golf and particularly not to practice at the range. TWO WEEKS! Is he mad? Doesn't he know there is the Golf Monthly National Final at the Forest of Arden on the 13th October and that my game is in the doldrums. Not to mention being selected for a club match on Saturday away to Caversham Heath, the Greensomes Challenge at Royal Ascot with my long suffering partner Mike Stannard, another club match at home to Tylney Park and a lesson with my coach Paul Harrison at Maidenhead Golf Centre on October 2nd. When does he think I'm going to bed my swing changes in and more importantly take it onto the course and try it out.

I had it all planned out ahead of the Golf Monthly Final. Plenty of short game work with a great practice aid called the V-Easy which is beginning to really help my chipping. Designed by a golf pro called Bob McArthur it is a simple but effective tool to help both chipping and putting.

When using it as a putting and chipping aid, the legs of the V-Easy are placed under the arms and held in place by the upper arms while the club shaft rests on the hinge. The club shaft lies on top of the hinge close to the bottom of the grip and rests on the wrists. It can be lowered or raised for comfort. The player then lowers the club to the ground and makes the stroke with the V-Easy holding the wrists in the correct position for putting and chipping.

Simples. The plan was to get the short game back on track, continue to work on my long game and get a final swing MOT from Paul on the 2nd and work on it before heading up the motorway to the Forest of Arden. The best laid plans...... So what am I going to do? Well the cunning plan is to wean myself off the Lemsip, cough medicine, throat lozenges (told you I was bad - proper poorly and definitely not Man Flu) and replace those with ice packs and regular doses of anti-inflammatory tablets. I'll be there at Caversham Heath on Saturday deliciously under cooked and see where I go from there. Mike has his work cut out on Sunday but as it's greensomes we can take his drives and as long as I can then get him close to the green from there his decent short game should keep us in contention. After that we'll have to see.

One thing I do know is that I've been bored out of my mind without any golf. Even though I'm not well enough to swing a club and even putting in the carpet is too much of an effort (yes I've tried) I'm missing my usual fix. Still I'm also hoping that the enforced break may help and I can go to Caversham free of any expectation. It'll either be great or my partner on the day is in for a long, long round. Who knows? Right time for my next dose of medication. Nurse!

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Tasty Offering From Taylormade

Part of my huge disappointment about the way I swung the club yesterday was that I was due to test the new R11 irons from Taylormade in the afternoon. Given that I couldn't hit the proverbial barn door there seemed little point trying out the follow up to the hugely successful R11 woods, and in particular their adjustable driver. However with the afternoon spent at the range and the swing at least held together with band-aid I rescheduled for this morning.

The new TaylorMade R11 irons combine the distance and forgiveness found in the Burner 2.0 irons along with the feel and precision of the Tour Preferred line. Specifically, the R11 irons are engineered for the player who favours a traditional blade but appreciates the ease required to launch the ball high, straight and long. To me, this club would be perfect for any golfer from around the 9-10 handicap all the way through to someone in the high teens (17-18). 

Here is how Taylormade announced the new irons

The stock shaft is the KBS 90 which I tried in a regular flex initially. I have to say this club is simply awesome for a mid-handicapper like me, even with my current swing issues. From the very first shot it flew long and on a very pleasing trajectory. Even those not quite out of the middle were still very acceptable and it has the forgiveness of a Buddhist monk. Visually it's as striking as the R11 driver with the white decal and red weighting point. Behind the ball it sits very well with a minimal offset but it doesn't have a chunky top line

I have to say it was a joy to hit, but I wanted something to compare it with and so went for the Taylormade TP Muscle Cavity (MC). This is aimed at better players, probably from the 8-14 handicap mark. The first thing you notice is that the head on this is very much more of a blade design and much smaller than the R11. I hit it well, and the good ones were arguably longer than the R11 but there was far less forgiveness. I tried this with the same KBS 90 shaft although it is supplied with the True Temper Dynamic Gold as standard. It's quite possible the shaft choice made a difference to the overall performance but I still think deep down for my capability the bad ones would be heavily punished and there wouldn't be enough truly good ones to outweigh these and justify their use.

So it was back to the R11 and a change of shaft to see if that improved the ball flight and dispersion. I should point out the testing was done without any launch monitor and with range balls, playing with the wind helping and from right to left. The next shaft was a Dynamic Gold, regular flex. This high-flex, tour weight shaft is designed for skilled players seeking a low, penetrating ball flight for optimum control and accuracy. The first thing I noticed was that it was considerably heavier than the KBS. I struggled with it and it always felt as though I was struggling to get the hands back square at impact. I hit a lot more shots heavy, and the overall distance wasn't as good.

I was then offered a Dynamic Gold XP. The new Dynamic Gold XP delivers “Xtra Performance” through a lightweight, mid-trajectory design. This promotes higher initial launch with a controlled ball flight. Having struggled with the standard Dynamic Gold offering I was sceptical especially as it didn't feel any lighter. However this gave the KBS a real run for its money and produced a much higher ball flight, without it seeming to balloon and was pretty tight on dispersal, certainly on a par with the KBS.

Anyone in the market for a new set of irons, especially a Taylormade gear whore like me must check the R11 irons out soon. They are very, very good. However, at a hefty £599 RRP for the set (4-SW) they are a lot of money and the KBS shaft may not be to everyone's taste. I do think though that these irons produce an exceptionally strong ball flight, offer a great amount of freedom in terms of playability and will give good distances with each club. If I was going to invest, I would however look at a custom fit. The Dynamic Gold shafts I tried were provided to test facility as alternatives to the KBS but I'd have preferred to see if other steel options or even a graphite shaft would have made any difference. They are easily the most playable club I've hit in a long time and definitely tick all the right boxes for me.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Sunshine After Rain

I did something today I am not very proud of. I walked in after fourteen holes in the Saturday morning roll up. My game had reached horrific new depths and I didn't have a clue where the ball was going on any full shot and whether it would be straight, hooked, sliced, fatted or topped. All were thrown into the mix with seemingly gay abandon. I haven't walked of a golf course in memory but it had got to the point by the fourteenth green where I simply wasn't enjoying being out there. As I'll never make a living out of it isn't enjoyment the reason we play this frustrating game. On the plus side, my short game, for so long a facet driving me closer and close to therapy, was on sparkling form and I chipped really well. Poxy game

The stuff of golfing nightmares
I came home in shall we say a somewhat foul mood. I had hoped to be testing the new Taylormade R11's this afternoon and comparing them to their recent TP Muscle Cut  (MC) and Cavity Back (CB) models. Not much point when you are swinging like an absolute chopper. It was worse than I can ever remember it. In the end my long suffering wife suggested (in a way only a woman can) that maybe it would be better for domestic peace and tranquility if I took myself to the range and look for solutions.

In truth I sort of knew the issue. I was swinging way too far inside the line on the way back and too flat to give myself a chance to get back to the ball without either smothering it (low and left) or coming out of the shot (high and right). It's a very old problem but keeps coming back.

On the plus side the range session proved cathartic and useful. I focused on trying to adopt a much better address position and taking the club away lower and wider. A few early shanks did nothing for the simmering anger inside or my confidence in the  validity of the exercise but in the end it was working much better. I've attached a video to demonstrate.

Now technically there is so much wrong especially from the top down into impact. However, take away the slight overswing which causes the head to bob up and freeze it at the top and it is pretty good. The takeaway is so much better and halfway back the club is nicely on plane. It's the downsing into impact that is a Rocky Horror Show.

A real Frank-N-Furter of a swing caught in a time warp

I lose all my spine angle and the head moves up and out although the position into impact isn't too bad and I hit it great. The excessive movement causes an unnaturally high finish and there isn't enough turn through impact. These are very old issues and go back to my swing as a player in the 80's where it was common for players to have a lot of lateral movement. Think Johnny Miller or for the Brits, Howard Clark although both of them maintained their postures far better than I did or do.

Fortunately I've a lesson booked for the start of October and so I'll work with my teaching pro on hitting against a firmer left side and more turn on top of the ball. We did a lot of work pre-season on this with fantastic results in terms of compressing the ball, straighter shots and more distance. Old habits die hard though. However on a positive note, the wider takeaway has definitely helped and I came home a positive rainbow of sunshine and happiness. I'll hit the range again tomorrow and hopefully, weather permitting try it on the course one evening for a few holes.

It's a funny old game as a TV pundit once said. You can go from the depths of despair in the morning to wanting to still be out there now honing the new move and enjoying that feeling all golfers know when you have absolutely nailed one from the epicentre of the sweetspot. Do you know what? I don't regret my decision this morning. If it had been a match or a competition I'd have been there for every single tortuous shot but why flog the proverbial dead horse and wish you were somewhere else. I hope it is very long time before I sink to those depths again but the dark clouds have parted a tad and there is a shaft of sunlight shining down on my game.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Still Not Broken The Spell

I played in a club match away to Maidenhead Golf Club yesterday. I love these club matches. Although everyone is trying their hardest to win, there is a much more relaxed and friendly atmosphere than some of the bigger club events (Hillman Trophy etc) where it's all about the result. I have to say I have mixed feelings about Maidenhead, no doubt clouded by the fact that I never seem to play well there. Indeed the last time I went there for a Volvo Matchplay event with my good friend Hywel Lloyd my game went into complete meltdown, starting with a shanked second shot at the 1st and going downhill from there. I had a howler and basically topped, sliced and shanked my way around. If we'd just paid a green fee I'd have walked off after seven or eight holes it was that painful but as it was a match I was stuck there for the duration. Given that Hywel played with distinction meant we were only dormie one down playing the last and so I had to endure each and every hole. In the end we lost one down but that game holds nothing but nightmares.

Still, that was then and this was now. I was partnered with Tony Wheatley, a very accomplished 13 handicapper and I had been hitting the ball okay. Our opponents were off 13 and 21 and so we were only giving six shots away to one of them. Not as bad as it could have been.

Maidenhead Golf Club opened in 1896 and was designed by Alex Simpson and in 1908 the legendary designer J H Taylor was commissioned to advise on further improvements which saw 700 yards added to the length and 17 new bunkers constructed. It is set in 150 acres of wooded parkland, very close to Maidenhead town centre. It is a course that requires careful course management. The greens aren't very big and a lot have very narrow entrances. The putting surfaces are always very, very good and the club has a fine reputation for the standard of their greens.

I have to say I started well scoring wise but the quality of the ball striking was leaving a lot to be desired. I seemed to have developed a mysterious case of the hooks and everything was going sharp left. Surely the Maidenhead voodoo wouldn't strike again? I managed to save par at the first with a lovely chip to within a foot from well left of the green. I hooked my tee shot on the 2nd but found the green with my approach and did the same at the third. Despite being three shots under my handicap we were still only one up. That didn't last long as we promptly lost the next but Tony made par at the 5th to restore the advantage. Again we couldn't hold on to the lead and both Tony and I made a real hash of the relatively simple 195 yard par three 6th. Tony went left into the trees and I missed the green left, AGAIN!, and then proceeded to have chipping issues to give our opponents a soft victory.

However we regrouped and Tony managed to salvage a valuable half at the sweeping dog-leg 7th whilst I had issues with my tee shot going left and leaving myself a blind shot around the corner, blocked out by a tree some twenty yards in front of my ball. There was to be no Seve like recovery. However I did finally find a fairway at the 8th followed by the green to set up a par four at the long 429 yarder. Tony and I both made par at the par five 9th and suddenly we were two up and had some daylight in the match.

This was extended further at the par 3 10th. It's 151 yards and was playing into a brisk breeze. Both Tony and I cleared the cavernous bunker guarding the front of the green and were on the putting surface whilst our opponents had both missed the green. Although Bill, the twenty one handicapper managed to get it close out of the bunker and apply some pressure it was to no avail as Tony calmly knocked in a fifteen footer for a birdie.

Typically we then lost the next but I managed to chip and putt to save par at the shortish 12th hole which was good enough for the win and to take us back to three up. Although both Derek and Bill on the Maidenhead side managed play some consistent and good golf after that we always managed to find a way to sneak a half and by the time Tony made a par at the 16th they had simply run out of holes and were emerged as 3&2 victors.

On a personal note, that extends my unbeaten run in these "friendly" club matches to fourteen with 9 wins and 5 halved games. However in the overall scheme of things Royal Ascot didn't fare as well going down 4-2. However as the food was served and the wine flowed the results didn't matter as much and we had a very convivial evening. I have to say both our opponents were a joy to play with and were warm hosts on and off the course and hopefully we can re-join the battle the next time the fixture comes to Royal Ascot. Many thanks to to Tony for carrying me, as all my partners seemingly have to these days, especially during my mid-round wobble from the fourth to the eighth.

However, I was fortunate that it was a matchplay format where it's just about winning the hole and not an individual event as my golf was pretty up and down all day. Off the tee in particular I hit everything right to left in a vicious hook. I've no idea where that came from and can't put it all down to my Maidenhead jinx. It certainly wasn't there at the Grove on Wednesday when I drove the ball as well as I had in ages. It seemed to affect every club in the bag right down to the wedges. However as it is currently tipping it down with rain today (Sunday) as I write this there is no way I'm getting out onto the practice ground at Ascot to seek the solution. That can wait for a range session later in the week after work.

I can't put my hand on my heart and feel that the Maidenhead jinx has been broken although I do feel I can play there now with more confidence and certainly that Volvo fiasco can be consigned to my very own golfing room 101 and that the mental scars have healed. It's actually a very nice course and so maybe I'll have to take another trip over there soon for a social game and see if we can't break its spell once and for all.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Golf Monthly Powerplay Golf Event - Treated Like Pros

Yesterday (August 31st) was the Golf Monthly Powerplay Golf event at the Grove near Watford. Thirty or so members of the Golf Monthly forum had been invited to this event which was an opportunity for Powerplay to publicise this exciting new concept ahead of a launch of their next professional event.

For those of you that haven't come across this format yet, it is a bit like 20/20 cricket for golf. It involves two flags per green, white and black. If you go for the white one which is normally situated in an easier position you score as per normal stableford. However if you elect to go for the tougher black pin position and make a nett birdie or better then the points are doubled. You must take three of these powerplays in the first 8 holes. When you reach the 9th (it's only a nine hole event) you can opt to take a final powerplay but should you make a net bogey or worse the you lose three points. For full details on all the rules check out the official website

The Grove is quite frankly the most prestigious course I've ever played and I've been lucky enough to have played a few famous ones. I knew it was a different class when we pulled into the car par and the England football team coach was parked there with the team in residence. The golf facility itself is extraordinary and the guys from Powerplay along with Golf Monthly had pulled out all the stops to make this a day to remember. After we arrived and registered it was down to the range for a limber up. On arrival each player had a pyramid of balls waiting for them just as you see for the pros. It wasn't just that, it was the little touches too like complimentary bottles of water and free tees. The range staff even cleaned the clubs for the players. It was simply as close to being a professional as we are likely to get.

At 3.00pm the inventor of the Powerplay format, Peter McEvoy arrived to give us a pep talk. One of the top amateur golfers this country has produced he has played and captained Walker Cup sides with success. He went through the concept, where Powerplay is going both for the amateur golfer and on the professional stage and the rules and strategies involved. It was another great touch to get such a high profile ambassador along

Peter McEvoy - the inspiration behind Powerplay Golf
It didn't stop there as there were commemorative bag tags individually inscribed with players names, free course planners and yet more tees and pitch repairers waiting on the 1st tee. Golf Monthly had arranged a putting competition before the start of the main event with their resident rules guru Jezz Ellwood selecting the layout. With the green running at near professional tournament speed of 10.5 on the stimpmeter and with some devious contours, it was to provide a stark taster of what was to come.

Stepping onto the 1st tee, the course didn't disappoint. The tee box was exquisite and better than most fairways at other clubs. Mown tighter than a skinheads hair the club just sat behind the ball and invited you to spank it into the blue yonder. The opener is a gentle 340 yard right to left dog-leg. I hit an impeccable three wood in front of the assembled masses and found the green with my 8 iron approach for an opening par.

It played as good as it looked

I took my first powerplay at the 3rd hole which was 428 yards, downhill, with water guarding the front of the green. In hindsight, needing a par (net birdie) for the big points it was probably too long for me to have a serious chance. I hit a great drive and still had 193 yards left and my five wood missed right. I duffed the chip off the tightly mown fairway and walked off with a six and a solitary point. My second powerplay was at the next, a very short par 3 measuring just 117 yards over a stream. I had a shot as well. I hit the green and putted without too much effort for a net birdie and six valuable points.

My last powerplay of the mandatory three was at the par 5, 538 yard 6th hole. Again it was a shot hole and so a par would have seen more big points in the kitty. I did the hard part well and was only 121 yards from the green for my third. The black flag I was shooting for was tucked away on the back left of the green very close to the edge of the putting surface. I played for a draw and moved it from right to left as planned but slightly overcooked it and it landed on the green and fell off the shelf into a hollow. I could only chip and two putt.

On the 9th you get the option of taking another powerplay but you run the risk of losing points if you make bogey or worse. This par 5 measured 549 yards from the tees we were using. It is even longer for the pros but Tiger Woods didn't find it a problem. When the American Express event was held at the Grove, he managed to find the fairway each day, hit it on the green, and for the first three days converted for eagle. Each of the drives were a matter of yards from each other and there are plaques on the fairway to commemorate his achievement. He only managed a birdie on the final day!

I took the option of the powerplay even though I was never going to be in contention. Again, it was a long hole for me and a good drive and second still left me with 165 yards into a stiffening evening breeze and my third came up short. I hit a good chip but couldn't make the putt. In the end my paltry 18 points was mid table. However my run of playing with competition winners continued (I seem to be a lucky omen in most medals and stablefords at Royal Ascot in recent months) and I marked the card of the winner who scored an impressive 33 points. Naturally he parred every powerplay hole he nominated for net birdie and six points a pop and was very steady on the others playing the whole of the front nine in just three over par gross (off a handicap of 12). I won't say too much more and reveal the winner's name as there will be a full write up in the next edition of Golf Monthly and I'm sure they will do the day a lot more justice than I can.

Even after we had all finished, the good times didn't stop rolling and we were treated to a burger and chips and a bottle of beer free of charge too which was an ideal way of rounding the day off. Mike Harris, Golf Monthly's editor and Peter McEvoy were on hand to present the winners with their prizes before everyone set off home.

I have to say it was without question one of the greatest days of golf ever. I really enjoyed the format, although my only point would be it helps to have played the course before so you know which holes really offer the best opportunities and which black flags should be avoided. In hindsight I'd have taken one of my powerplays on the 8th had I known how easily it played and where the flag was located. However this is just a minor quibble. It really is an ideal event for golf clubs to host. Royal Ascot hold a nine hole social event most months during the Summer and this would be perfect and I've already sent an e-mail to the club suggesting this with a link to the Powerplay website so they can get more information.

I'd like to thank Mike Harris, the Golf Monthly staff, Powerplay, and the Grove for the immense generosity and time in making this such a memorable event that I think will live long in the memory of all of those who were lucky enough to enjoy the day. A glorious concept played on a glorious course with glorious weather. It really doesn't get any better.

Longhurst Cup Second Round - More Good Than Bad

The Longhurst Cup was presented to Joseph Longhurst in 1912 as a leaving gift from the club. He was originally a greenkeeper and then club professional for twenty five years, teaching some of the young members of the Royal family to play the game and was then head-hunted by the Duke of Hess to supervise the building of a new course in Frankfurt. It is one of the Ascot "majors" and I was lucky enough to win it in 2000. With an opening round of 70, I was handily placed for a good second round and another chance of glory.

It started off reasonably well apart from a sloppy three putt on the 3rd although that was rectified with a birdie at the next. I was moving along very steadily until I stood on the 7th tee. I don't understand why this hole is presenting so many problems in recent times but yet again it made a big dent in my card. I hit a huge hook off the tee onto the adjoining 3rd fairway and so had no chance of reaching the green. However it should have been easy to hit a recovery to leave a simple pitch in but somehow I manged to pull it left. It left a third shot from heavy rough with the ball above my feet and I pulled the shot left of the green into the bunker and eventually walked off with a double bogey. By the time I finished the 9th I was out in 41 (+6) which although on track with my handicap could have been so much better.

The back nine started so well with a par at the 11th and the 12th which is a rarity. It's stroke index 1 and a sharp left to right dog-leg and measures 409 yards. I found the fairway and hit a lovely 4 iron approach which held up on the stiffish breeze to finish just off the green. However a good chip and a putt salvaged my par. Things were going great and standing on the 15th tee I was a couple under my handicap and ready for a final push towards a sub-par round and possible glory.

That is where my quest ended. My tee shot on the 15th was a horror. It's one of the widest fairway on the course and there is even room to bale out left but the one place not to be is right. I hit a huge slice at least thirty yards off line into thick rough. I found it and it was lying pretty well considering but my swing was impaired by a staked tree. I took relief under the local rule but the drop found a shocker of a lie and I could barely move it forward. I eventually got onto the fairway for three and proceeded to hit my next against a tree and saw it rebound back towards me. Even once I got to the green my misery wasn't over as I three putted for a show stopping 9. Game over.

To be honest the double bogey down the 17th was academic and even though I parred the last I knew I was out of contention. In the end my nett 73 (+3) was quite pleasing. It hit the buffer zone so there was no handicap increase and it told a tale of much more consistency than of late. I think the fact that the short game was much sharper helped and my game was steady if not spectacular.

In the end, one of the real good guys in the club Dave Andrews won with a total of 136 (-4 nett). Being an Arsenal fan it may have been some consolation for their 8-2 drubbing by Manchester United. In the end my score of 143 (+3) was good enough for 12th place. I was more than happy with that (out of 72) and over the course of the two rounds there was definitely much to be pleased about and to build upon.