Sunday, 31 August 2014

A Step Backwards - All Is Not Lost Yet

Those that have read the blog regularly will know I've not played or practiced much as my dear old wife has been recovering from major surgery. With a bank holiday looming, it was time for the Longhurst Cup at Royal Ascot Golf Club, a honours board event, and one that I have managed to win in the past. It's a stroke play competition and players must submit two rounds over the three days of the long weekend (one card per day).

With a distinct lack of practice and playing over the last few weeks, I wasn't too sure how this would pan out. I managed to hit a few balls on the practice field on the Friday night and although there was some good stuff in there, I was still far from expectant.

Unusually for a bank holiday, the weather was set fair, well until the bank holiday Monday itself and so there could be no excuses. You could imagine my shock then when the drive, a five wood at our very demanding 229 yard par three opening hole found the green. In truth it was a big slinging hook, one Bubba Watson would have been proud of, and not what intended but it's all about getting the ball around and limiting your bad shots. More of that to come later. An opening par and the nerves settled.

In fact I parred the opening four holes. I needed a good chip and putt at the second and a good pitch from rough at the fourth but it was over and above anything I could have hoped for. It was still going well down the fifth, a par five and with 94 yards left and a 52 degree wedge in my hand, it should have been a simple shot to the heart of the green and a two putt par. Should have, could have, would have. I pushed it right into a bunker. When I got there it was plugged. A real fried egg lie. I did well to get it out and get it within fifteen feet with no green to play with and a tier in the green to negotiate. It was a sloppy way to drop a shot though.

I missed a green at the par three sixth into more sand and dropped a shot there. To be honest, given the amount of grief I've had at that hole in the last twelve months I'm happy with a four an move on. Well actually I'm not. That isn't New Golf Thinking and the hole owes me big time but in the scheme of things, today I was happy to take the bogey. I actually hit the tee shot well and it was only three or four yards right of the ideal line but that was all it needed.

And then, Mr Careless Golfer paid a visit. In my last competitive round I'd taken a five over par nine at the seventh hole. It's 398 yards with a ditch traversing the fairway about 235 yards off the tee and so the sensible option is to lay up short, accept a longer approach in and use the shot most members get to make a safe net par. I did part one well and my hybrid off the tee found the fairway. With only 176 yards left and a four iron in hand I was looking to let it come in from the right as the ground sloped right to left. In the end I smothered the shot and it was low and left and I ended up short and left with a deep bunker to go over. I hit a lovely pitch to twelve feet and my par attempt ran just right of the hole and maybe 18 inches past. Mr Careless Golfer walked up to this "simple" tap in and missed! No care. No attention. No excuse.

I dropped a shot at the short par three eighth too. In my defence I had clubbed up to a seven iron for the 138 yard shot as the breeze had picked up and I made a good strike. The ball just seemed to stall on the breeze and dropped short, hit the top of the bunker and apologetically fell in. It ended up on a steep upslope and I only got it onto the front of the green facing a forty five foot putt. I made a good fist of this and ran the ball to within a foot or so. There was no repeat of the previous hole.

My terrific start was in danger of unravelling. My drive at the ninth was a long way left into the semi rough. As you can see from the 3D flyover from the Royal Ascot Golf club website (http://www.royalascotgolfclub.co.uk/course/hole-9) there is large tree to the left of the hole by the ditch crossing the fairway and this had completely obscured my line into the green. The only option I had was another Bubba Watson like shot aiming way right onto the greenside bunkers and trying to move it right to left. It's my preferred shape and a big hook is a shot I am confident of pulling off, although in a competitive round, out of semi rough it was a high tariff decision for a mid-handicapper. I executed like a dream and the ball found the back portion of the green. It was a shame the flag was front right and I now had another forty foot putt, downhill all the way.

I checked my Aimpoint chart and got the read. The amount of break it gave me for the level of slope I was on was hugely bigger than anything I'd have read before I did the course but trusting what I knew I picked my point and made the putt. I was a great speed so I'd got part one of the equation right. It turned and turned off the slope and I knew from about three feet out it was dead centre and dead weight. A glorious birdie and out in an excellent 39 shots (+4 gross) and that included the silly double on seven. Maybe the wife having a hot date with a scalpel is the untold secret to good golf and I just need a layoff to help her convalesce!!!

I found the fairway on the tenth and looked to start the back nine in the same manner as the front. I hit a great nine iron from 128 yards, right in the middle of my optimum range for that club but the wind picked up and it came up short. A weak chip led to a bogey. Annoying as I hit two good shots but no damage done.

I missed the green left at the pretty par three eleventh. It's only 178 yards but it plays towards the world famous Royal Ascot race course and you can see the impressive and imposing grandstand through the trees.

The pretty but tricky par three 11th hole with the grandstand of the Royal Ascot racecourse through the trees
I had a tough pitch with the flag on the edge of a tier in the green and anything too long would trundle away from the hole. My pitching all day had been excellent and this was no exception, floating it to twelve feet. My putter was playing ball too and I made the putt for par.

It was going so well and so Mr Careless Golfer decided it was time for another visit. The twelfth is a severe left to right dog leg and while the big hitters can take the trees on and carry them to leave a short iron in, the pragmatic approach is a straight tee shot and a long iron. I hit a good drive. Too good really and it ran through the fairway into the rough. I had a five iron in from 178 yards and hit it well. Had it been straight it would have been good but I pushed it to finish in a heavy lie, pin high. I was caught between a pitch shot and a long chip and run and in the end went for the harder pitch. I didn't execute. Mr Careless Golfer then decreed to hit a chunked chip and I had a thirty yard putt left. In the end my two footer for a double bogey was a good effort in the scheme of things.

I made a four at the next, the par three but it's a long par three of 186 yards which has to be carried all the way to avoid the dip in the ground short of the green that will kill a ball on the slope. I went right and hit a good chip but failed to make the putt.

I was right off the tee at the fourteenth and between the two trees in this flyover that are opposite the fairway bunker (http://www.royalascotgolfclub.co.uk/course/hole-14). I had a shot between them but there was a tiny tree some thirty yards in front of me. With five iron in hand, the debate was whether I'd get it up in time. I went for it and although it caught the top leaves, it did its best and ran up to the front of the green. On the downside it left a fifty footer the length of the green with a big slope on the putt. I left it nine feet short but then holed out brilliantly for par.

I made par, bogey and was still going great with two holes left. Our penultimate hole is a brute of a par three. It's 218 yards long, with out of bounds very tight to the left the length of the hole and bunkers left and right, and a line of very thick rough not all that far right for anything pushed or sliced too far. I hit a glorious five wood. Too good and it was too long. Cue another visit from Mr Careless Golfer as I duffed a simple chip from twenty five yards. I was left with a fifteen foot chip and I did the same thing. For my fourth I took the putter from the fringe and still left four feet for a double bogey which I made. Just.

The last is a par five, uphill with a pond right of the green. I hit a good drive and an excellent five wood to leave 38 yards. I hit an okay pitch to twenty feet but it was a downhill putt. Mr Careless Golfer wasn't done and I raced the first putt some ten feet past. It just kept going and going and I three putted.

In the end it was an opening round of net 71 (+1) and with three double bogies in there. Much to be pleased about and in a great position going into my second round the following day. Perhaps no playing or practice really is the way forward. And then again.............

The following day was as bright and warm as the Saturday and my great first round had my confidence buoyed and I was in the mood for a good showing. Even with an opening tee shot right and a duffed chip, I'd then chipped and putted for a bogey (net par) and so was off to a solid start. And then the wheels began falling off. I dumped a tee shot short of the fairway into a ditch and had to take a penalty drop. Having played down the fairway I had 148 yards left and a good shot and two putts would make bogey. I hit a great shot but it refused to bite and ran into a back bunker. I hit an average sand shot and it all added up to a double bogey. I made bogey and par at the third and fourth and so needed to start making some pars.

The fifth hole is a par five. Not that tricky and offering a good chance to make a calming par. I hit a terrible tee shot. It was miles right and there was some debate in the group whether it had made the out of bounds. I took a provisional and snapped hooked that left. It was possible that had gone OB left and so I played another provisional. That was further left than the predecessor and definitely gone so suddenly I was facing seven off the tee (the sequel blog title perhaps!). We never found the first ball but happily the second ball was still in play. What followed was a meltdown of grandiose proportions and when all was done and dusted including visits to trees and bunkers, it came out at a quadruple bogey nine.

New Golf Thinking is big on not spiralling down and letting a bad hole upset the equilibrium and so a par at the sixth was a fantastic bounce back. However I followed that up with a trip bogey seven at the seventh. This hole seems to be playing some tricks on me. Granted the tee shot was poor and right and I had to pitch out of the rough and back onto the fairway. My next found sand. Not great but not a disaster. I got in there and could tell there was little sand beneath the ball but I should be able to get it up and out. I hit the bunker shot as I wanted but there was virtually no sand at all and the club skidded off the base of the bunker and it flew some fifty yards over the green. Playing bad shots and being punished I accept, especially as a mid-handicap golfer but when you set up and execute, especially speciality shots, and get punished, the "rub of the green" is hard to swallow.

If you can't do anything about poor execution or poor quality bunkers, without doubt one thing you have absolute control over is picking the right club. I thought I'd pulled the seven iron for the 138 yard shot into the par three eighth. Looking down on it on the ground the face did seem rather upright and indeed a tad long. It didn't occur to me to even check the bottom. I hit it well and was gob smacked to see it fly the putting surface with ease, crash into a tree behind the green and disappear. On closer inspection I'd pulled a four iron and not the seven. DOH!

We found the ball and I made bogey. With a par at the last I was out in a miserable 47 shots (+12). A three putt bogey on the 10th didn't help and even though I parred the twelfth I was making so many simple mistakes and really not swinging well. I had no tempo, felt the swing was so out of sync and everything was a struggle. I made another stupid bogey at the fifteenth missing the green and duffing two chips before a single putt rescued the bogey six at this par five.

I made a bogey at the sixteenth where my tee shot was miles right and I had to work hard to even get my ball back onto the correct fairway negotiating a raft of trees to still leave 140 yards. For the second day running, I made a mockery of the seventeenth. I was left off the tee, hit a chip to twelve feet and then three putted, missing from two feet. The 0.1 handicap increase and subsequent rise to 11.5 and a 12 handicap was already a done deal. I hit my drive of the day down the last and followed it with a good second. A sweet pitch to eight feet left a birdie putt that I made to at least finish on a positive note. However it was a horrid net 78 (+8) and nothing like I had hoped for.

As I've mentioned the handicap has gone up to 11.5 (officially 12) but that is actually only 0.1 higher than where I started the season and so it has been a strangely consistent if frustrating year to date. Without doubt, a lack of short game practice cost me many, many shots and I was poor in this area. The biggest issue remains these meltdowns that are blighting the majority of cards in 2014 and ruining what for fifteen or sixteen holes has usually been a reasonable round. Of course there have been bad rounds in there where everything on the day has been out of kilter but for the most part, all the work I did over the winter and at the start of the season with Rhys ap Iolo at the Downshire Golf Centre has given me a swing I understand. Even when it isn't "on" I can usually get it around the course in a decent enough manner not to damage the card too much. It isn't about hitting it prettily all the time but how you get it in the hole and ugly golf can be equally as efficient as good ball striking even if it doesn't feel so good in the sanctuary of the 19th. There are no pictures on the scorecard.

All in all then, it was a real mixed bag. Not for the first time. I've had another week of restricted practice but hopefully will be able to work on the short game and putting and enjoy a game with the usual suspects next Saturday morning and then enjoy Captain's Day on Sunday. What makes this one different is that our Club Captain in 2014 is a lady, Anthea Winn, the first in a "Royal golf club to do this. This was how Golf Club Management reported the news.

"A woman has been appointed captain of a royal golf club for the first time in British history.
winn


Anthea Winn, who will be captain of Royal Ascot Golf Club in Berkshire in 2014, believes her appointment will have a positive effect on the industry following a year of negative headlines.There are 34 royal golf clubs in the United Kingdom – clubs that have received royal patronage from a member of the royal family. Royal Ascot has twice been granted the patronage, first in 1887 by Queen Victoria, and then again in 1977 by Queen Elizabeth II.

Winn, the former captain of Sunningdale Ladies’ Golf Club, said that she thinks she will be the first of many.
“Someone has to be the first but I am sure I will not be last by any means,” she said. “I think it will have a positive effect on other golf clubs within the county.”

I really hope the weather stays good for what promises to be a wonderful day and that a lot of money is raised for the charity we're supporting this year, Prostate Cancer UK. As always I'll be in there working hard to play my heart out and start getting these pesky handicap cuts towards single figures. It's proving a tricky old Odyssey but the harder it gets the more I'll keep going, and the more my steadfast belief in my abilities to get there remain undiminished. For now though I'll take the positives from the opening 71 and ignore the silliness of round two. Sort the short game, trust the swing, enjoy the game and keep plugging on. Homer out

Monday, 25 August 2014

Sustainable Golf

Someone recently asked me on the golf monthly forum why I do a golfing blog. An interesting question and in the early days, as well as a chance to chart Homer's Odyssey towards single figures, it was also a vehicle to discuss different things, review courses and products and look at things that have shaped my golf over the years. I've lost my way a little in recent times and I seem to have got too focused on the single figure pursuit. As I promised recently this is changing and I want to start by looking at how golf clubs might remain sustainable.

These have been tough times for golf clubs across the UK and sadly many have gone to the wall for many reasons. It does beg the question, how do clubs remain sustainable? It's difficult being an outsider, not serving on any committee or having any real input other that at the AGM at my own club Royal Ascot, and so these are generic rather than specific thoughts but I hope it will at least provide some food for thought amongst those working at clubs and provoke a degree of debate. Here goes!

The biggest single stigma that has been associated with golf clubs for as long as I've been playing, and I started in 1976, is that being a member of a golf club has always been seen as elitist. Even in the modern day, if you tell someone in conversation you're a member of so and so golf club, they will normally give you a wry look and thing you're trying to be snobbish. It really isn't the case. Most golf clubs have worked hard to attract members for many years and these days, people from all walks of life share membership of clubs. There are some who still insist on the full proposer and seconder, interview, sometimes by panel, and impose huge joining fees but still have waiting lists. These are the more recognisable names in the world of golf and have no trouble attracting the type of member they want but for most clubs, this isn't an option.

Many golf clubs, including my own, are trying many new ways of introducing prospective members. Royal Ascot Golf Club has held open days regularly over the last few years which gives those interested in joining a chance to come along, play nine holes in the company of of one of the directors to get a feel for the course, a tour of the facilities and a chance to discuss things like flexible payments and other issues. It has been a positive initiative and one that has seen a regular influx of members.

It has also introduced Golf Academy Membership. In simple terms it offers new golfers a chance to develop their skills through a personalised tuition package. One of the biggest factors many people cite for not wanting to play is that golf is seen as too difficult. This scheme has been designed to teach golfers the basics through a series of lessons with the club professional, and at the same time giving them social membership of the club allowing them to enjoy the facilities such as the restaurant and bar areas and upon completion of the course they are guaranteed playing membership of the club.

Speak to many non-golfers and indeed many nomadic players who aren't members anywhere and another huge issue surrounds that thorny subject of dress codes. We probably all have our own horror stories of playing at pay and play courses, or even some private ones, and being behind a four ball that have no idea of the etiquette for the game, are far from suitably dressed and generally have no idea. Their behaviour ruins the experience for everyone else.

I think most have seen this type of poster. Nothing on here that should really preclude anyone from playing and dressing in a manner acceptable at most clubs without a throwback to golf's stuffy dress code era, or the need for funky "Rupert Bear" checks or other crimes against fashion golf has seen over the years

 I am a believer in having suitable dress codes both on and off the course, but let me make it very clear, if golf clubs are to be sustainable, there has to be a movement with the times. When I first started, most clubs would insist on jacket and ties for the men to use the bar after 7.00pm. Thankfully we've moved on from that a long time ago. However, many golf clubs could do more.

The famous critic AA Gill said in his Sunday Times column not so long ago, that most top end, Michelin star restaurants are no longer insisting on rigid dress codes for its patrons and argued that perhaps those still doing so are perhaps not worth eating in with so much quality and choice available. The basic gist of the argument, and it's one that applies equally well to golf clubs is that nowadays, what you wear is no real indication of social status or affluence. He said that imposed dress codes were usually enforced by old men to conform to the uniformity of blandness.

It is an issue though. Many golf clubs do not attract enough people through the door regularly enough or have members stopping and eating. I fully accept that playing golf and then spending several hours after is not possible for many members with busy work and family life schedules. However, were clubs to be more flexible in their dress code policy, would it not attract more people to come up socially, either for a bite eat in the evening or for a few social drinks? One word, one item of clothing seems to spark as much debate as anything on this subject. Jeans. How can a pair of denim trousers cause such apoplectic reactions? I know clubs where they have relaxed the dress code policy to let members and their families come into the clubhouse in jeans (they call them "smart" but I guess the argument here is where do you draw that particular line?) and have seen an increase in bar and restaurant takings as more members and their family the club.

On a slight tangent, with social dining on the increase, many golf clubs do not seem to be doing enough. Some clubs offer a carvery on a Sunday. Why not advertise locally and extend this to the public. I accept that kitchen costs are one of the highest outgoings in a clubhouse budget, but if you can get a reputation for fine dining, good prices and a nice sociable atmosphere, then customers will return and maybe, just maybe, a few of those will be encouraged to join as members.

Royal Ascot introduced a supper club a few years ago. This is a nine hole social game on a Wednesday evening with a number of meal options available afterwards. It has grown from strength to strength and has proved immensely popular and is now a great way for new members to turn up, get a regular game and meet a lot of other members. It isn't a new concept by any stretch and others have been doing the same thing. It's a simple thing, costs little to organise and is a great way to get a full clubhouse one evening a week in the height of summer. It only cost £3.50 to enter, the food is offered at a discount with our membership cards and with the drinks bought after is a great earner for the club.

Personally I don't think it's as simple as relaxing the dress code and suddenly the place will be full with people eating and dining. It has to be come down to customer service and this is perhaps one area above others where golf clubs have let themselves down. First impressions count. We're taught this from a very young age. Despite this I still turn up at many golf courses and the first thing I see as a visitor, either in the locker room, reception area or pro shop is a big long list of do's and dont's. I'm someone coming along to spend some money at your facility. I don't want to feel as though I'm on trial.

The warm and inviting welcome many golf clubs give to visitors. I've played golf for years and I know how to dress and behave thank you. 

Of course many, many clubs are very good. Lots, particularly chains like Crown Golf or hotel brands like the Marriott have reception areas where you are made to feel very welcome and usually given all the information about where locker rooms etc are. Even at private clubs, many have a steward or stewardess in the bar who will happily help a visitor and many professional shops I've graced over the years will make a visitor feel at ease. There are still those however that treat visitors as an inconvenience. Green fees are a significant revenue stream. Members won't like it, but golf clubs rely on visitors, especially society golfers to bring in much needed money to be invested on the upkeep of the course. Without them, keeping the course in good nick will inevitably come at a price and that's increased fees. You can't have your cake and eat it. Green keeper salaries and equipment doesn't come cheap.

It goes deeper than that though. We are in the era of social media and so clubs need to do more. Websites are now a first port of call for many people looking to play somewhere different. If you log on and the site in question is poorly designed, out of date and doesn't entice you, chances are you'll need some pretty good reason to go there. Whether clubs like it or not, we are a Twitter and Facebook generation and these need to be utilised. Why not run a simple competition offering two free green fees. It sparks interest. It really doesn't take much but I think a lot of clubs are still scared of embracing this new fangled technology. There are clubs which have jumped right in and are reaping the benefits. There are others, my own included, that have taken the first steps, but don't really seem certain about what to do with it.

Demographically, golf is changing too. Whilst the average age of golf club membership remains at 58 and most running golf clubs falling into that sort of age bracket they need to be acutely aware that they aren't running it just for the current membership. They need to accept that because things have been done certain ways in the past they should continue to do so. They need to be brave and try new things. Some may work and others will fail but unless they experiment and have brave leaders prepared to move the club forward in the modern era, golf clubs will stagnate and ultimately remain unsustainable longer term.

I would argue that one area that golf clubs need to focus much closer attention to is the 30-40 year old bracket. Historically, this is the time when those that have played other sports such as football and rugby, find that time catches up with them and they tend to stop playing and look for other pursuits. Of course, though this is the time people are also thinking about starting a family and so money can be an issue. This is where the progressive clubs can really score an advantage and become sustainable for the future by encouraging junior golfers and offering some forms of flexible memberships schemes. Again, Royal Ascot has been very good on this front and is now running a junior academy to get youngsters into golf http://www.royalascotgolfclub.co.uk/membership/junior-membership.html which has proved hugely successful and has children from as young as three right up to teens coming along regularly for safe and controlled tuition and hopefully this will translate into junior members.

My club, along with a host of others, does also offer membership costs based on age brackets, but it like many others could perhaps do more. There are clubs, both under ownership umbrellas and on their own that offer a points based membership scheme whereby members on a limited budget, as per the 30-40 bracket I alluded to can become a member, obtain a valid handicap and pay a set amount, for arguments sake £750. For that he can play a set number of competitions per year, perhaps not the main honour board events, but monthly medals and stablefords. For this the member could get a set number of rounds, again for argument sake 30 per annum, of which say 20 are peak time (weekends) and the rest are off peak (weekdays). Once the member has used these rounds, he can purchase more at say member's guest rates. Tie in the junior academy route for the burgeoning family, along with an inviting and accommodating clubhouse and golf membership can and should be a family affair.

So what about current membership? It takes input and desire from the members themselves. Golf clubs tend to think in binary terms in that men want "x" and the women want "y" and I would argue that it needs younger blood involved. As I said right at the beginning golf is still seen by many as a stuffy pursuit but the rise and rise of McIlroy along with trendsetters like Ricky Fowler and Ian Poulter give a chance to change this. I'm not advocating the seniors all dress in bright orange or strange tartan, but, fresher thinking, especially the use of social media and marketing has to be utilised and for many clubs, sooner rather than later.

Reading this, it may sound a tirade of doom and gloom and a litany of what clubs do wrong. It isn't. Many, many clubs are doing well and have increased membership in recent years. With so much competition for people to spend their money on social activities, some clubs will always disappear. Add in those that get sold, mainly for housing and the number reduces further. That's always been the case. There was a great article on the Golf Monthly Forum http://forums.golf-monthly.co.uk/showthread.php?63502-Golf-Clubs-and-Courses-that-have-disappeard&highlight=golf+clubs+disappeared and a fabulous site tracking the demise of clubs that have disappeared. It isn't a current trend. http://www.golfsmissinglinks.co.uk/

A lot of golf clubs give a lot of pleasure to a lot of people and will continue to do so. I hope they go from strength to strength. There's still a lot of work to do across the board. Many people view Royal Ascot as "posh" in golfing terms but don't let the Royal moniker fool you. It's as friendly and welcoming a course as you can find (we're always looking for members, so if you're in the area..........). It does a lot of things right, some things I don't agree with and has room to improve. I'm sure each of you will have similar feelings about your own club. Perhaps you're not a member and play and play as a nomadic golfer and perhaps if clubs were doing more you'd join. Perhaps maybe you're a member and not happy with life at your club. Without input and a will to change nothing moves forward.

As with a lot of things in golf, and golf administration in particular, there are no easy answers. As I said, without any direct input personally at my club or any other, I can only put down my thoughts, my views and my opinions as to sustainable golf clubs, the problems, perhaps some answers, or at least suggestions. I hope some of these at least prompt you to think about your own, maybe suggest some changes and maybe prompt some discussion. Feel free to leave your own comments. Am I way off the mark? Am I unrealistic? Is the problem not as bad these days? Is it worse? Whichever way you cut it I hope it's something to make you think. Homer out

As a footnote, it seems that numbers are dropping and so it makes the need for golf clubs to offer a sustainable model all the more important http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/golf/rough-times-for-golf-as-britains-amateurs-turn-their-backs-on-the-sport-9687900.html and http://www.golfshake.com/news/view/7666/Golf_Its_current_state_A_professional_opinion.html

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Wonky Golf

More glorious weather the weekend after the club championship and I was feeling in confident mood as I'd played some nice golf for the majority of the championship bar two silly holes per round that took the gloss off a good performance. I was swinging the club nicely.

However, I'd hit some balls in the week and it hadn't gone at all to plan and I'd lost whatever feeling and timing I'd had. I knew I should have bottled it up to keep. Saturday was the normal roll up and even in the warm up, the swing didn't feel right and the strikes weren't perfect. Distance and direction were off.

In the end, the Saturday game was a struggle from start to finish. I'd put a different putter in the bag, an Odyssey Tank #1 which is a counter balanced bladed model. There was no particular reason for the change. The Odyssey Protype Tour #9, a half mallet model had been performing very well. I just fancied a change. It was a good idea on paper but on the course itself it wasn't my best idea ever. It didn't stay in the bag for the medal round the following day.

In the end it was a frustrating round. The ball striking was erratic and I was working very hard to perform with any degree of consistency. Good holes were punctuated with bad shots and whenever I felt I had a modicum of control I'd miss a fairway or green with consummate ease. In the end it was a tale of two halves and a modest 14 points going out was improved with a better, under handicap, 20 points on the back nine.

It was never enough to win any money in a tough old roll up school. I was happier with the back nine and hoping to take the form of the last nine into my medal round. I know it's in there. I've been working hard in practice and from time to time shown I'm capable of a low score. I just needed to convert.

I was second group out in the medal on Sunday. Again warm up hadn't gone to plan and I was still hitting it poorly compared to recent weeks. The opening tee shot was high off the club and was never going to make the distance to the green on the 229 yard opener. I chipped and two putted. Net par and no disaster.

I made par at the par five and actually found both fairway and green in regulation. However any thoughts that perhaps things were going to go well drifted away with the tee shot at the third. To say I blocked it right was an understatement. It missed the fairway, the thick collar of rough down the right of the hole and ended up in the fairway bunker on the adjacent fourth fairway. I got it out short of the green, but only into the thick rough. My pitch came up short and I dumped it in sand. However a good splash shot to seven feet let me get a bogey out of the situation. Playing the fourth the correct way, I hit a five wood right. Not as far right as the previous drive but enough to find the rough. I tried to find the green from 125 yards with a nine iron but again was right of target. I chipped between the green side bunkers but the slope took the ball eight feet past. However the Odyssey #9 reminded me why it should always be in the bag as I rolled in a great par putt.

I was right off the tee on the fifth into the rough but managed to coax a five iron from 169 yards to the back of the green. Shame the flag was situated at the very front. I did well to get it to within four feet from all over forty five feet away and made the par putt. For a change, I decided to go left off the tee on the par three sixth. It definitely flirted with the out of bounds but was saved by tangling with a tree and it was short but safely in play. A delightful chip to two feet saved another par. I was just two over par gross after six holes and hadn't hit a decent shot yet.

And then the dream ended. I hooked a hybrid off the tee on the seventh. Heading towards thick rough I hit a provisional. The original was never seen again. I needed a good shot with my second ball, Playing my fourth I hooked it way left. Again I played a provisional. Again the original was lost. Playing the third different ball of the hole and my seventh shot I chipped on weakly, two putted and carded a nine. Not in a medal thank you.

I recovered well enough to hit the green on the short par three to record a par and on the ninth hit a better drive and hit a lovely hybrid from 178 yards into a freshening wind to find the green and secure a decent par. Out in 42, or seven over gross which considering the horror of the ninth was refreshing given the way I was playing. I was grinding a reasonable score.

I started the back nine with a par. Finally a long drawing drive and a decent iron onto the green to set up a nice two putt par. I thought I'd found the green at the par three eleventh but it had rolled off the putting surface. My chip was poor and never really gave me a chance to save par.

I'd run into trouble on the twelfth in the second round of the club championship. This time I opted for a three wood off the tee as it was downwind and found the fairway. I had 168 yards and hit a lovely five iron in. Unfortunately it was right of target and finished pin high right. I chipped on but my first putt was way too strong and left a nasty three footer which I missed. Another double. 

I hit a dreadful tee shot at the thirteenth, another that had troubled me the week before. My approach also missed the green but luckily I chipped to two feet to scramble the ugliest of bogey four's. I went left off the tee with the driver on the fourteenth to add some variety into the mixture of poor shots. It found a good lie in the semi rough and I hit my shot of the day from 234 yards into the green to make a great par. I made bogey at the fifteenth too despite coming up short with my approach, having gone way left off the tee and being forced to chip out. I couldn't reach the green with my third and my approach was short. A good pitch to seven feet and single putt but it was a sloppy bogey.  

I was way right off the tee again on the sixteenth despite hitting three wood and could only pitch back onto the fairway. I then missed the green right from 105 yards with a wedge which is unforgivable. A pitch and two putts and another double bogey. My tee shot at the penultimate hole was good but was long at the 225 yard par three. I pitched back to five feet but didn't make par. 

I found the fairway on the last and hit a reasonable five wood up the fairway on the long uphill par five. By now the heavens had opened and in the rain I pulled a seven iron left of the green. A pitch and two putts for a closing bogey. Back in a poor 44 shots for a total of 86, net 75 (+5) and 17th place in division one. 

It was as good as I could have done and to be honest there were so many poor shots and silly mistakes that took away any momentum. I hadn't played well all weekend. I can't put my finger on what's going wrong and it doesn't feel a million miles away but there were too many shots going left and right. Very wonky golf and it makes scoring very hard to do. 

I've now taking an enforced two week sabbatical from golfing activities. Aside from the fact that Royal Ascot Golf Club being totally closed next weekend for the famous Red Bull air race series, my good lady wife has just had an operation and was discharged from hospital yesterday so I am in full dutiful husband mode to look after her. No practice, no golf. 

To be honest it might be a good thing. I've been working hard all season and while I feel I am progressing forward, the handicap has returned to the starting point at 11.4. The short game and the putting in particular are coming on leaps and bounds and I'm starting to get out what I've put in. 

My season has been a story of improved ball striking and better quality shots. The work I've done with Rhys ap Iolo has really started to pay off. The good work though has been undone through a number of meltdowns per round. These have come from nowhere and are real show stoppers. I've got better at not letting these affect the round and New Golf Thinking has certainly helped keep my mind clear of swing thoughts and negativity.

So how would I sum up the season to date. I'd give myself a B-. Here are my statistics to date and a handicap comparison courtesy of Scoresaver 2 software.


Fairways Hit: 46%  (Hcap Std: 13)
Greens In Reg: 25%  (Hcap Std: 12)
Putts Per Round: 33.25  (Hcap Std: 15)
Sand Saves: 17%  (Hcap Std: 10)
Birdie Conversion: 9%  (Hcap Std: 24)
Par Scrambles: 16%  (Hcap Std: 19)
Driving Distance: n/a  (Hcap Std: n/a)
Penalties Per Round: 1.33  (Hcap Std: 14)

The enforced lay off is going to have one of two consequences. The break will either invigorate and I'll come back fresh and playing well or I'll struggle and have to work twice as hard to get back to form. There is a big event over the bank holiday, the Longhurst Cup. I've won this honour board event in the past (one of my two major wins) but I'll be going straight into this without a single ball struck. Not what I'd call perfect preparation.

Wonky golf isn't fun. It's hard work and to be honest not very enjoyable. I am pleased with how I scrambled as good a score as I can but not how I played. So what of the future? Well I am moving away from the target but I am playing better. A paradox but sometimes you can't always measure progress in terms of handicap progression alone and it's these foolish holes out of nowhere that's the biggest cause of concern in my 2014 season. That is where my problem lies. I'll talk to Rhys when he gets back of his holiday (how inconvenient) and see what he thinks. There has to be a pattern and reason and once I understand that maybe, just maybe I can stop these, get the cuts my improved all round play has deserved.

Clearly my blog reading friends, there won't be an update on Homer's Odyssey for a while but I don't want you wandering off to another blog. There will be a few bits and pieces to keep you more than occupied and interested. For now I'm off to be attend to the sick wife and try not to miss playing and practicing too much.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Club Chumpionship

Last weekend was the Club Championship's at Royal Ascot Golf Club. Without doubt it's the pinnacle of the golfing season and there was the annual prize for the best gross score and the club championship crown but also a prize for the best net scores, the Derek Lane Trophy, to give the vast majority of the field something to play for.

The weather was superb and credit must go to the green keeping staff at the club for the excellent way the course was presented. The greens in particular were exceptional, quick but true and the flag positions although challenging, were not in silly positions. All in all, it was set up to find the best golfer and no one could have any complaints about the layout if they didn't post a good score.

I was out at the end of the field on day one, three groups from the back. We ended up a two ball and I was paired with Dom Trotman, a 14 handicapper. He's a good golfer who should be a lot lower than his handicap but has his own agenda and way of approaching things. He's also very intense on the course and tends to keep himself to himself. I've no problem with that and for the most part left him to his own devices.

My championship didn't start well. I hit a decent enough drive but it found a green side bunker and my escape only just crept out. I elected to putt from the fringe and left it five feet short and failed to make the next. Not ideal. Still New Golf Thinking talks about moving on and not dwelling and I was in perfect position in two on the par five second. A pulled nine iron into another bunker led to another bogey. I bounced back with a par at the third to steady the ship but then missed a fairway and hit it into heavy rough to make bogey.

There was already a pattern emerging. The ball striking was excellent and the swing felt good with a wonderful tempo but I was making too many unforced errors and silly mistakes. This of all weeks wasn't the time for such madness.

The sixth is a par five of 503 yards. I was in good position again, just in the semi rough with a pitching wedge in my hand. However we were standing waiting for nearly ten minutes to play our approaches and with my opponent bereft of conversation, there was a long time to stand and mull. In the end, I hit a nasty big pull miles left. I had a tricky pitch from heavy rough over a bunker to a tight pin. I simply dumped it in the sand. I got it out but was twenty five feet away and staring another double bogey in the face. Fortunately the putter rescued me and I made a putt.

Another missed green at the par three sixth and another bogey. At the seventh, I hit the fairway and then the green but contrived to three putt. Still too many errors. I finished the back nine with two solid pars. Out in 42, one over my handicap and had left at least three shots out there.

By the time we started the back nine, the days was at its hottest and was going to be a test of concentration as well as golfing competence. I started par, par and was feeling much better about life. I hit the fairway at the twelfth, a dog leg right to leave 165 yards. I hit a lovely five iron but it was a fraction left, and just fell into a bunker. I splashed out to fifteen feet and the putt just missed. Still on stroke index one a bogey was no shame. I hit a poor tee shot on the next a 186 yard par three. It was my first really bad swing of the day. I hit a pitch in close but couldn't save par. Still I was going along nicely. You can't win on day one but you can certainly play yourself out of it.

My tee shot at the next was right but I had a chance to play a four iron between the two large trees on the right of the fairway, if not onto the green then close enough to leave a simple chip. I hit it too well and it rose higher than  wanted hit a branch and dropped straight down. My next missed the green and a putt from the fringe was woefully short. Two putts later and there was a double bogey out of nowhere. Dang!

The fifteenth is a par five. Not long and a slight dog leg left. I missed the fairway into semi rough but had a good lie. In front of me was a large swathe of ferns and young trees but with a six iron in hand to play for position they shouldn't have been any issue. I've played this shot from this position so many times without a problem. Today I managed to top it. It ran into deep, deep rough and although I found it it wasn't lying well. I had nowhere viable to take a penalty drop. I tried to play it but moved it a matter of yards back into semi rough. I hit a raking four iron but it missed the green pin high. For the third time I elected to putt from the fringe and for the third time it was a decision I regretted. Why is it that whenever you have a poor hole, there's an unwritten rule that says you must finish off with an obligatory three putt. A triple bogey eight to follow a double bogey. Not good.

I made a bogey at the next although as it's a 425 yard par four, with out of bounds tight left, that wasn't too bad. The penultimate hole is a monster 218 yard par three again with out of bounds left. I made another bogey but finished with a solid par at the last. All in all it came to 86 shots, nett 75 (+5). It wasn't a disaster but it could have been oh so much better. On the plus side I'd made the halfway cut and was safely in round two.

hole
yards
par
1
229
3
2
535
5
3
366
4
4
320
4
5
503
5
6
178
3
7
398
4
8
139
3
9
400
4
3068
35
42
10
371
4
11
178
3
12
409
4
13
186
3
14
430
4
15
478
5
16
425
4
17
218
3
18
531
5
3226
35
44
6294
70
86

The Sunday was equally as warm but as the field was going out in reverse order, highest scores first, I wasn't out in the flaming heat. I was with two left handers, Steve Downey, a regular in our Saturday roll up and Dave Clark, a nice guy I hadn't had the pleasure of playing with before.

For the second day running my round was to open with a horrid double bogey. This time I went right towards the trees, hit an average chip short and then chipped on to fifteen feet and failed to get the putt. I managed to make par at the next. At the third I was in the left hand semi rough off the tee put then pulled an eight iron so far left it almost made the sanctuary of the seventh fairway but ended up in heavy rough. A good pitch but another bogey. At the fourth I was in perfect position off the tee with just a wedge in hand. Another pull left. This one caught the bank of the green and it hurtled towards the out of bounds. I played a provisional and when I got there there was good news and bad news. The good news was it was still in bounds. The bad news was it was amongst some ferns tight to the barbed wire fence. I could barely see the ball at address and had a limited swing. I actually made a good attempt, bunted it forward and chipped on and then rolled in a seven foot putt to salvage a bogey.

It was a mirror image of round one. Ball striking was fantastic but there were too many errors. I did repair some of the early damage with a great birdie at the par five. After the mess I made of it the previous day it was a great feeling. I did drop a shot at the sixth, finding sand of the tee but that par three had caused me untold grief in recent months as regular followers will know. I made a bogey at the seventh when I took too little club and faced a nasty pitch over a bunker off a bare lie. I executed well but should never have been there. The front nine concluded with two pars and I was out in 40 (+5 gross) and one under handicap. Much better but still two or three wasted shots lingering out there.

My tee shot at the tenth was short and left and I hit a nice recovery but found the left hand bunker. The ball was on a down slope close to the back lip and so I was happy to find the green but it was never going to be close. I parred the 178 yard par three eleventh with an ugly four iron that was low, almost topped and apologetically ran all the way.

I was in a fantastic position for the round. Having found the fairway on the twelfth the day before I was confident of repeating the trick. Instead I hit it way right and was blocked out by the trees and had no option but to hit a four iron low and onto the fairway again. From 153 yards it should have been a simple six iron but I pushed it right. A chip and two putts and a double bogey from nowhere. Just like round one, I managed to make a hash of a hole in the middle of an otherwise steady performance. It's been a season long problem and has killed potential handicap cutting cards.

It got worse. I hit my tee shot at the 186 yard thirteenth forty yards right towards the exit to the next tee. I was lucky to get a stance and a shot. I was pitching over some bushes with a tree to negotiate. I had a gap I could potentially hit a running seven iron through, towards a bank at the back of the green, close to the flag and let the contour and gravity do the rest. It was high tariff and I spent a few moments looking at where the edge of the green was and weighing up my options. Coming off a double I didn't want to compound the errors and eventually elected to pitch to the front of the green and gamble that I could two putt the length of the green. In the end I left it four feet short and pulled the next putt so far left it didn't even scare the hole. Another double. How can I throw to round killers per round in? More importantly, why?

For the second day I hit the tee shot right on the fourteenth. For the second day I had an option to hit it low and try and get it onto or close to the putting surface. I hit a wonderful golf shot, fading it left to right and finding the green to set up a par. That was better. Coming to the fifteenth I found the left hand rough again. I wanted to hit a six iron again but was mindful of the first round. This time there was no mistake and I was just off the fairway with 125 yards left. I hit a poor shot right and found the fringe. I duffed the chip to leave a long putt and the bogey was the inevitable outcome.

I made a bogey at the sixteenth. I hit a decent three wood off the tee and a good hybrid just left of the green. A decent chip to eight feet but the putt refused to drop. I hit a great tee shot off the seventeenth but it just trickled into a bunker. I got it out but two putted. The last hole is another par five, called "Hungry Hill" measuring 531 yards with a pond guarding the right of the green. I hit a good tee shot and had five wood in my hand to try and leave a short shot in. I hit a big hook into heavy rough. It took all my strength to make contact and move it back onto the fairway. In front of the gathered masses on the patio I hit a soaring seven iron from 142 yards to seven feet but couldn't make the par putt.

It was a better round and despite another mid round farce I shot a nett 73 (+3) so was two shots better off than round one. In the end, it all added up to a 28th place finish (out of 84) and so it was a reasonable return but could have been much better.

hole
yards
par
1
229
3
2
535
5
3
366
4
4
320
4
5
503
5
6
178
3
7
398
4
8
139
3
9
400
4
3068
35
40
10
371
4
11
178
3
12
409
4
13
186
3
14
430
4
15
478
5
16
425
4
17
218
3
18
531
5
3226
35
44
6294
70
84
A downside to the weekend's work was two 0.1 handicap increases. I definitely didn't think I played badly enough to deserve that but if you make so many unforced errors and throw in two bad holes per round that's going to happen. I felt I swung the club as well as I had in ages and so was pleased. My short game wasn't as sharp as I wanted. Deep down though I was disappointed.

Someone had asked me why I wasn't getting better despite all the practice I put in. It was a valid point but the answer was simple. I've been working hard with Rhys ap Iolo at the Downshire Golf Complex in Wokingham for several years to get the swing into something far more reliable. Even when I don't feel I'm swinging well, I am getting the ball around far better than I would have prior to the changes. It's a source of disappointment that the handicap cuts haven't come this season and I've not really threatened to win anything but I'm playing better, enjoying my golf and having fun working on the game. Sadly golf doesn't come easily to me and so I have to work hard to gain anything from it. In short, the answer to the question posed is yes, I am improving and sometimes you can't always measure progress in handicap terms. I am in a good place and will continue to move forward.

In the end our club championship was won in a play off. Last year's winner Billy Koen managed to retain the title with a score of 145 (+5). The Derek Lane cup for the handicap prize went to the loser in play off Keith Rixon so it was some compensation for his disappointment.

That isn't the end of the season and there are still some big events to play for. I'm working hard and Homer's Odyssey continues. I need to figure out why I throw these bad holes in from nowhere. Is it a lack of concentration? Is it poor course management? Is it just one of those things as there seems to be no pattern to where these bad holes pop up from. Once I figure it out, the sixteen good holes I have akin to two more sensible scores should get the handicap dropping and maybe, just maybe into contention now and again.

All that remains is to congratulate the winners, the green keepers and also those involved in sorting out all the handicap cards and getting scores and round two tee times published so efficiently. It was a wonderful weekend, superbly run in perfect conditions. No excuses from me. I did my best but those four bad holes over the two days, along with those silly unforced errors made it more club chumpionship rather than championship. I'll be back but for now onwards, ever onwards