Saturday, 31 December 2011

That Was The Year That Was

The dawning of a new year is fast approaching. I've played my last round of golf for 2011 and played rather well in patches and so can sign off in a positive mood. If I can turn back time and remember how to chip as I did in my youth then I'll be laughing next season.

So what did the year bring for me in golfing terms? Undoubtedly the highlight was playing in the Golf Monthly Centenary Competition. They hosted six national qualifiers up and down the UK and one in Ireland and the handicap division winners would head off to the Forest of Arden for the Grand Final. I entered at St Pierre, just over the Severn Bridge into Wales. This course has a history of hosting professional events in the 1980's including a Solheim Cup match and was in great shape in the early August sunshine.

Hitting my tee shot on the par 3 18th towards the impressive clubhouse

I went there in hope more than expectation and it was a good excuse for the wife and I to have a short break away. My form at the time was patchy and I went there with the sole thought of not making a fool of myself and trying to play at least a few good shots. I played steadily and somehow I managed to win the 10-13 handicap division with 34 points and book a berth in the finals. It was a real mid-season tonic as my golf to that date had been sporadic and I was losing a bit of faith

Collecting my spoils for winning the handicap division at St Pierre
If my form had been patchy in the qualifier, it had all but disappeared when I got to the Forest of Arden near Birmingham for the final in October. In fact it had been so bad I'd had a lesson the week before and had only had one round and a few range sessions to try and bed the changes in. Deliciously under prepared was the best way of describing the build up.

The Arden course was very long, playing 6,707 yards of the white tees and with six of the par fours measuring over 400 yards. I went with a game plan which was to play every one of those long par 4's as a par 5 and use my shots and hope that I could make a few pars elsewhere. It worked a treat and placing no expectations on my shoulders left me free to enjoy the game. In fact, I came second overall, losing on countback to one of my playing partners, an affable gentleman from Ireland called Bill Martin. It was so tight the countback actually went as far as the last six holes before he pipped me by 15 points to 12.

Bill Martin (left) and I enjoy the prizes at the Golf Monthly Centenary Final at the Forest of Arden
So what else did the year bring. Sadly Homer's Odyssey ran aground mid-season and the quest for single figures never got started once the fog of my short game horrors descended and became a volatile mix of mental confusion and dubious technique. It remains the one real issue but fear not as there are already plans afoot for the start of 2012 to resolve the problems.

Elsewhere I maintained my record of winning at least one monthly medal or stableford per year at Royal Ascot. I played in a number of club matches as well although I eventually lost my unbeaten record in a 5&3 defeat at Caversham Heath after a 17 game streak. It was a year of consolidation in terms of technique with a number of lessons with Paul Harrison from N1 Golf at Maidenhead Golf Centre giving me a solid platform. However I've now switched to a new teacher, Rhys ap Iolo at the Downshire Golf Centre near Wokingham as I feel he is the man to take my game on and he's simplified what I need to focus on. The results so far are very promising and once we tackle the short game we can build a better, compact and repetitive motion to take the game onto the next level.

I played in the Volvo Amateur matchplay event with Mike Stannard, my regular and long suffering partner. We were drawn at home in the first round to a pair from neighbouring Mill Ride. In an epic contest it went to the 19th where one of the opposition drained an outrageous putt from off the edge of the green. It must have been forty feet in length and would have been at least ten feet past if it hadn't smacked the flag and dropped. The frustrating thing was it was the first and only time they had been in front all day. Gutted but we'll be back for another crack next year.

I've enjoyed a number of games at new courses including Camberley Heath and a Golf Monthly Forum day at Blackmoor in Hampshire. Both courses were a picture as you'd expect in the middle of a fine summer and both tested (and beat) my game. I also took part in a Powerplay event at The Grove near Watford. This prestigious venue hosted the American Express World Golf Championship in 2006 and there is a real aura about the place.

Powerplay golf itself is a new concept being driven by ex-Walker Cup Captain Peter McEvoy and is a revised stableford format. On each green is a black and white flag and players must nominate which flag they are going for. The black Powerplay target is normally in a harder position and if you score a net birdie or better then you effectively get double value stableford points. Each player must take 3 Powerplays (shoot for the black flags) in the first eight holes. On the last you can opt to take an additional Powerplay but if you make net bogey or worse you lose three points from the score.

The course was a real challenge anyway and having never played it before, it was hard to know where the right holes to take the Powerplays were. In the end I was too inconsistent anyway but the concept is really exciting and it would make a great social event at any club. I'm going to be sounding out Royal Ascot about holding one next Summer.

I've tried a lot of new kit out as well this year. My personal favourites were the R11 irons which have now found their way into my bag although the G20 irons from Ping were very good and would suit a broad spectrum of abilities. Perhaps the biggest surprise were the Cleveland CG16 irons I tried at the Forest of Arden. I've never really looked at their range before but these were long and with a superb penetrating flight along with a great degree of forgiveness

The R11 - simply the best irons I hit in 2011 and now firmly ensconced in my golf bag
And that was the year that was. It was another real up and down year, mirrored in many ways by my handicap which started within touching distance of single figures at 11. It has climbed the wrong way all season, hitting a dismal high of 14 before dropping back to 12 and finally finishing the year on 13. It sounds like a scratched record but a lot of that can be put firmly at the door of the ailing short game.

There are far too many people to thank individually, especially everyone I've shared a round with and met at various matches and events. Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to read the ramblings of this deranged fool over the course of the year. I hope the humble blog brought you at least some enjoyment, amusement and if nothing else helped remind you that compared to the state of my game, perhaps you aren't doing so badly.

I hope 2012 brings you and your loved ones everything you want and that your golf brings you joy and happiness and maybe the odd handicap cut and trophy along the way. Play well and see you next year!

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