Monday, 30 May 2016

Kingswood Golf Club

My golfing exploits have been curtailed recently and appearances on the course have been sporadic at best and the games I have played have left a lot to be desired. I had a recent lesson with my usual teaching professional, Andrew Piper at Lavender Park. We changed the set up and in particular getting rid of a cupped left wrist. However, since then, I've struggled and have little confidence in what I'm doing and even less confidence taking it out on the course. It's a work in progress and something that I understand can lead to a variety of swing issues, but I'm struggling to feel comfortable at address, make a committed swing and find a way to deliver the club back to the ball properly.

I have had a long standing game arranged with my oldest and best friend at Kingswood Golf and Country Club, located in Tadworth, Surrey, very close to the world famous Walton Heath Golf Club and next door to Surrey Downs. The journey there was fraught with the M25 struggling to cope but once there, I received a warm welcome from the receptionist and professional. The locker room was spacious, with a large number of visitor lockers available. Having got there early and to get the journey out of my body, I ventured to the practice ground. It's a fairly small range and if I had a gripe, it was that the quality of the balls wasn't great. However, it did the job and I was actually finding the centre of the club on a regular(ish) basis.

I wandered back to the clubhouse, as the practice ground is set a five minute walk away, past the tenth tee and halfway house. I met up with my friend and an old acquaintance from a previous society day, paid my green fee, discounted to £33 and got ready to do battle with the course.

The course was designed by the famous designer James Braid and he oversaw the work while serving as head professional at Walton Heath and it opened in 1928. He was also responsible for the likes of Carnoustie, Gleneagles and Hoylake. Kingswood has undergone a re-design by Howard Swan and the course now boasts ninety nine bunkers strategically placed to capture errant drives and misplaced approach shots. Even off the yellow tees it's a long and testing examination (Kingswood Scorecard).

It's a parkland layout with mature trees lining both side of the fairway and along with the excellent positioning of fairway bunkers, asks a lot of questions on each tee shot. Get it right and the hole is always there in front of you with nothing hidden to trick you. Miss the fairway and while the rough isn't penal in terms of depth, which makes finding errant shots relatively easy, the number of trees ensure that even if you have a full swing, there isn't an easy route back into play. The greens are relatively generous, well guarded, and although they weren't frightening in terms of speed, there were subtle breaks on every one. They were extremely firm and even well struck irons would release on landing and so it made club selection difficult.

The first in a gentle opener over the brow of a hill. I got a good opening drive away splitting the fairway which settled the nerves. Despite it being a Friday afternoon, at the start of the bank holiday, there wasn't too much pressure in terms of the number of players and the pace of play was good. I had my normal array of good, bad and indifferent shots on the front nine. We stopped at a pleasant half way hut by the tenth tee and enjoyed a very nice bacon bap and drink. The break and food did nothing for my game and I struggled early on over the back nine.

The back nine is longer than the front including a stretch of long, testing holes from the fourteenth to the sixteend, that run along the side of a valley and which finishes with a 430 yard par four. Playing into a breeze it would require two lusty blows to get home. As I missed the fairway, the green wasn't on my agenda.

The last hole plays uphill to a green set in front of the clubhouse and so any putting indiscretions are played out in front of a gallery but it's a wonderful setting. I can imagine that if you have a good competition card in hand, especially in a big honours board event or the club championship, with a large crowd watching it could well be a nerve jangling conclusion to the round

Kingswood putting green and club house

Like many courses, Kingswood is one of those that you really need to play more than once, to work out which bunkers you can take on off the tee and which you need to avoid. You also need to know where position the approach shots to let it feed towards the hole and the greens will take several rounds to learn some of their nuances. That said, it's an excellent course, beautifully maintained, and one that gives a visitor value for money and is fair and honest test. The club house and locker room are clean, airy and welcoming and the staff are friendly and attentive without ever being obtrusive.

They have spent £500,0000 on upgrading the course and since then it has been selected to be a qualifying course for the 2011 Seniors Open and hosted the Surrey Amateur Championship and PGA Surrey Open in 2014. Kingswood have plans to build on this and make it not only a must play for the visiting club golfer, but to host more prestigious events.

The day itself was fantastic. Brilliant warm sunshine, great company and a well presented course, that on the back nine at least, proved far too good for my struggling game. I can't wait to get an invite back again, (especially as my friend has now become a member), as long as the M25 behaves (two and a half hour return journey that should have taken fifty minutes). I did get a discounted green fee and they offer a mid-afternoon rate of £45, although I'm not totally convinced it would be worth the full £70 quoted on their website even given the quality of the layout. That of course is just my opinion, and I have a reputation of being financially prudent (tight as some would say) so maybe it's just the thought of me parting with my hard earned cash

Course presentation, layout and condition 8.5/10
Practice facilities 5/10
Halfway hut food and service 7.5/10
Welcome and service 8.5/10
Access and easiness to find 7/10
Food and drink 7.5/10

Overall mark 7.5/10 (well worth a visit)

Monday, 16 May 2016

The Circus Comes To Town

I am pleased to say that for the most part, I've carried the good form from my previous post onwards and that I played last weekend, in both the Saturday roll up and the monthly medal on the Sunday. However it's not all tickety boo in the golfing garden as yet again a mental meltdown cost me dearly. More of that later. Also, I missed out on any playing this weekend just passed although I did get some practice in, not all of it as good as I wanted. However I'm getting ahead of myself.

The Saturday roll up is a relaxed and friendly format, stableford off club handicap, and is usually run as an individual winner takes all, and a team event depending on how many three/four balls we have. If scores are tied, it's one tied all tied, and we usually invest the funds into lottery lucky dip tickets for those partaking that week, in the hope of the "big one" and using any tiny prizes to fund a Christmas drink for all members of the roll up. I say it's friendly but the banter on the course and especially in the 19th after is biting, with no quarter given.

I had been playing well as I alluded to in my last offering. In glorious, nay, barmy weather, I started with a net par and then went on a roll. Par, par, birdie, par, birdie. That meant standing on the seventh I was one under gross. Unheard of, certainly in recent memory. Now I know what you are all going to say, I bet he thinks about it too much. I know the mental side of it and still try to stick to New Golf Thinking (search it on the blog, there's several posts about it) and the old cliche of one shot at a time. No excuses for taking a double then, especially having found the fairway off the tee. Par and then another double, courtesy of a duffed pitch and another par and I was out in 38 gross (+3) or 21 points. There was definitely a lower score, maybe not level par, but definitely lower, in that nine.

Do you know the funniest thing? I wasn't actually striking it that well for the most part. It was scrappy but I was getting it around. I started the back nine with another double but kept the net par scores coming. I did find the green at the par three thirteenth a tricky 186 yard hole I don't get a shot at (SI 17) and while I dropped a few more shots, I managed to sign off with a par at the last. It wasn't pretty. The whole round hadn't been. It was still a respectable seventeen points coming in, for thirty eight in total. I was in the box seat sitting in the bar all the way until the last group when another player matched my efforts. One tied, all tied so the money was invested in the lottery. As I'm typing this you can safely assume we didn't hit the big time.

Naturally, I was in a positive mood going to the medal the next day. The day was even warmer, and for the first time (hopefully not the last) the sun cream was out. Take care out there guys. I was hitting the ball reasonably well, certainly better than the day before, but not as well as I can. However it took me until the fifth to make a par, followed by another at the next. I made a big mess of the shortest hole, the 139 yard par three. Big hook off the tee, trying to go flag hunting, two duffed chips and two putts for a double bogey. The ninth always plays into a breeze even on the warmest of days and it took two of my Sunday best shots to find the fringe left, pin high. I walked off with a par and was level handicap. In a medal I'd take that every time.

Playing the eleventh, the wind picked up. I took an extra club, the hybrid. I cannot lie (well I could) it was a bit of hook but held up in the wind, landed on the front and ran up to three feet. It certainly fooled my playing partners who thought I'd played for it. I knew I'd dodged a bullet. It didn't stop me draining the birdie putt though.

Remember back at the start of this ramble I mentioned a mental meltdown. Those of a nervous disposition should stop reading now. The twelfth is stroke index one, 409 yards in length although it can play shorter if you take on the line of trees to the right of the hole. There is then a ditch some ten yards over the trees that also runs the length of the hole, and so if you're going to take it on, make sure you get hold of all of it. I had already opted to play straight, hope for a small fade if possible, and go from there.

The view from the 12th tee. Only the big boys should take the carry on.
I actually hit a nasty weak slice towards the tree line. I had it already mapped out in my mind. Take your medicine, hit a chip and run with a four or five iron towards the hundred yard marker, pitch on, two putt and no-one need know. When I got to my ball it had actually run further through the trees than I thought. Not a problem, stick with the plan. For no explicable reason, and having found I was capable of making a full swing without catching any limbs, the plan evaporated. I suddenly thought I was Seve reincarnated and could hit a low fade some 170 yards under the limbs in front, move it past the bunker short right and run it up the entrance and to the flag. What could possibly go wrong? Walking off with a nine, yes nine, including the obligatory three putt, it was clear I didn't have an iota of Seve's talent. Why do I never learn. The chip and run forward meant a double was the biggest score I could make. In my (feeble) defence, this particular road crash was a moment of craziness and I am usually so much stronger mentally than that and my normal bad scores come through poor technique. This was a rare moment.

I think they call it bounce back ability and to my credit I realised immediately it was a moment of golfing insanity and not a loss of form. For the second day running I made par at the thirteenth and although my game was getting ragged in the heat, both in the midday sun and the midst of the battle, I was hanging tough, despite a silly bogey at fifteen and a double to follow. I closed with two net pars and so despite the twelfth hole signed for a net 72 (+2) and safely in the buffer zone. I came sixth in division one. The winner, with a marvellous net 66 (-4) was never going to be caught but second was level par. I could have been right in that mix and in line for a top three finish. As you can imagine, the post round beer didn't taste as good as it could have.

As I mentioned I never really felt I was in control of my swing completely, Not during that birdie blitz in the roll up or the true test of golf in the medal. However as you can see from the statistics below, I was hitting all my targets, bar the driver. If I can do that and not feel I'm firing on all cylinders then it has to bode well for the rest of 2016

7th - 8th May statistics

I didn't play this weekend. Life got in the way. That was annoying as it was the monthly stableford and I wanted to get back on the horse and see what I could do. I managed some practice. The short game, and in particular bunkers and pitching with the linear method was better, but my swing was off, and too many moving parts again. It felt I was swaying off the ball in the takeaway which was a fault from a recent lesson. I started hitting it better yesterday but had to really grind it out and so have booked a lesson with Andy Piper, my regular teacher to see the problem and the fix ready for the weekend.

The biggest regret though of not getting a game was the chance to play the course as it was. We have the Jamega Tour (Jamega tour website) in town for a professional event at Royal Ascot. The tour is an initial feeder tour for up and coming professionals to try and make a name and move upwards towards the Europro tour, the European Challenge Tour and then a chance at the big time. Yesterday was official practice day for the Jamega competitors and the course had been set up perfectly. It definitely looked a picture and by all accounts played even better. Greens had been mown and rolled and fairways cut and defined. I tried to listen without showing too many green tinges of jealousy.

I've seen some of the scores from round one and apart from a blistering seven under, there were only twelve under at par or better, proving once again, and something we the members feel every time we play, that the course is no push over. If the professionals can struggle (and there were some big numbers in round one as you'll see on the website) then it gives renewed hope to my own efforts.

I'm looking forward to my lesson this week. It's been a while and Andy Piper has a knack of watching, usually without even filming the swing, making a couple of changes, usually to posture (my biggest issue), tempo or takeaway, and suddenly the ball is flying laser straight. You stand there and wonder what's just happened. It doesn't feel as though anything has altered, certainly after a dozen or so dead straight shots. and you feel six inches taller. I usually hit a small bucket after, just to reinforce the change, and to get it bleeding into my swing. This means I can usually hit the course, or practice ground, confident in the new swing.

As a bit of light relief, I came across this recently. Watch it as I'm sure there is part of you in here. I certainly recognise a few traits myself. As someone who enjoys working hard on his game it was actually a bit of a kick up the backside and a reminder that to get better it isn't about working harder necessarily, but definitely about working smarter. Enjoy. Five Reasons You Don't Get Better At Golf

As I'm in a jovial mood, chipper from recent exploits I'd also like to share a link to a blog Using The Bounce from a regular Golf Monthly Forum member by the name of Chris Swanson. He's as mad about golf as I am and loving the ups and downs of being a handicap golfer. He's set his own targets for the season and has his own thoughts on this great game but his latest offering was so funny but resonated so accurately it needed a bigger audience. I hope you enjoy this ditty about how time consuming golf is Time Consuming Game

So the Jamega circus has come to town. I've played the clown, yet again, albeit a week early, with that madness. For the club it puts us on a bigger golfing map and will increase the profile even further. It's reinforcing how much the course has come on in the last few years and the reputation for being no pushover and it's a prestigious event for a club only into it's twelfth year in its new home. For my part, my golf has got to be seen as moving forward again. I could have done with playing this weekend but that's gone and I need to take the changes from my lesson, work hard and get out next weekend and make some good scores.

I am still working hard on all things linear for my short game. Pitching is coming on and the last week seems to have seen it getting better. I can still get it wrong but it's an ongoing piece of work. Bunker play is good and I can escape every time. I've been trying to learn a specialist drop and stop bunker shot for when I find myself short sided. It's in there, just very hit and miss at the moment and it's not something I'd consider in competitive play unless absolutely necessary for a bit. For a general escape from sand, I am far more consistent but just need to add finesse and distance control. The chipping remains the weakest element and is perhaps something to which I've not allocated as much time as I should have. That is the next thing to be addressed in the coming week or so, weather permitting as even I'm not going to go out after a hard day at work and stand in the rain working on my chipping. So why mention this? Well the loyal amongst you (and I'm truly grateful as you must be long suffering by now) will remember my lovely wife got me a lesson with Gary Smith, the inventor (for want of a better word) of the linear method. I'm now in the process of contacting Gary to arrange to use this, hopefully the week beginning June 13th, when the Royal Ascot race meeting is on and using the golf course becomes mission impossible with the crowds and congestion.

All in all though you find your narrator still in positive mood. I'm looking forward to the next few weeks and getting fully into my golf now the main part of the season is imminent. I've no idea what happens once the circus leaves town this week other than leaving the course in tip top condition and there for me to get out and take on with renewed vigour. I hope you enjoy the other links I've served up for you and I'll see you next time for the next update on this pursuit towards single figures, or at least a single round without a pesky car crash hole or two.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Another Forward Step

Whilst golfing activities remain somewhat curtailed compared to what I'd like, and certainly I feel my season has yet to start in full glory, what little golf I have been playing has had a lot of good stuff attached to it. If only I was able to do more. That will come

The great British weather has continued to be wet, unusually cold and very windy and while the intent to work on the game remains strong, the actual amount of practice was limited. Indeed with the Jubilee Cup looming yesterday on the bank holiday, and with a weekend away with the wife already booked, I was acutely aware that my playing partner would be severely let down by my lack of playing or practice. As a result I adjourned to the range last Friday. The results weren't pretty but I was getting club on ball. I even managed to cash some brownie points in with the wife and dashed straight from the weekend away to the club to work on my swing, my short game and my putting. She's a wonderful lady!

The Jubilee Cup is a better ball, stableford event. I am actually a previous winner, way back in 2010 but these days I'm a gun for hire without a regular playing partner these days. I managed to get a game with Geoff Jones, a stalwart of the Saturday roll up and off his handicap a very handy man to have on his day. CONGU have changed the way the handicap is worked out and under the old format of three quarter handicap I was due to play off 10 but the new format is 90% and so I got 11 shots. Happy days.

I have still been playing around with short game techniques, particularly in the pitching department. I want to nail my colours firmly to the linear method (I've spoken about it before and plenty on here to digest if you search for "linear" on here, but this is a taste of where I am - I have to be honest for bunker play it is by far the best method I've used. Getting it to work on the chipping and pitching has been a bigger and ongoing issue but I had a positive session on Sunday with linear pitching and chipping, and took it out into my warm up before the Jubilee Cup. It was now about trying to trust it on the course. That however is something I could say about all aspects of my game

My warm up was all about tempo. It had been the key to my last good round in the weekend roll up. I started with pitching, and the linear method was working nicely. I moved onto the full swing, and clicked into a good posture and even better tempo. All was rosy and I was keen to get out and get it on. I ventured to the practice bunker. The linear method of escaping the sand was on point. I had a few balls left. I should have left them where they were but had to go and try and hit a few more seven irons. Suddenly the swing was quicker, I was swaying on the takeaway and all the good work in the previous half an hour unravelled.

I was still determined to do my best to support my partner and so the snap hook off the first wasn't what I envisaged. It actually found a good lie, fortunate not to find the pond and definitely lying better than it deserved. I hit a good recovery but came up short, and into sand. I made a nasty double bogey but Geoff came to the rescue. I hit a sweet approach to three feet to set up a birdie opportunity at the next which I duly converted. We were off and running. Well, until the next hole at least. I went into a hazard off the tee, courtesy of a swing way too fast in tempo and which had too many moving parts. I made a decent double bogey and this time Geoff could do no more than match my score.

We were combining well as a pair. So well in fact that we managed to amass a very credible 21 points going out. Ahead of the card and chugging along nicely. The partnership faced its first crisis at the tenth. I went way left again, and was fortunate a second time, to a) find it at all and b) find it in such a playable lie. I scrambled a net par as my partner had issues of his own. I then produced arguably my shot of the round, drawing a hybrid into the 178 yard par three, playing into the teeth of a strengthening breeze to set up the easiest of pars (net birdie). I then took a back seat for a few holes as my partner came to the fore but was on hand again at the fifteenth to sink a crucial four foot putt for par.

We needed a steady finish. No heroics and no silly mistakes and we were on course to post a decent score. Probably not a winning score but one that may have picked up the minor placings. We both had problems on the sixteenth and for the first time, had conspired to have a bad hole simultaneously. Geoff could only make a double bogey six and I had a three foot putt to improve on that with a bogey (net par). I had worked hard the day before on my short putts and holing out in that crucial area from two to four feet. I had been holing out well all round. I took my Aimpoint read, picked my spot, made sure I was still over the putt and let the putter head flow back and through. The ball travelled towards the hole, actually started to descend and then somehow decided to do a full lap of honour and pop back up and finished, almost mocking me, behind the hole. We had dropped a point at a vital time.

As my handicap has just rolled over to thirteen, I'd normally get a shot at the 218 yard par three penultimate hole. Not today off the 90% mark. My tee shot was right and came up short. It left me a knee knocking pitch off a downhill lie, over a bunker to a tight pin with the green running away. I could see the shot I wanted to play, pitching it on the up slope on the back of the bunker, and letting it take a hop forward and down towards the flag. Irrespective of which short game technique I was embracing, this wasn't an easy shot. Trust the work you'd put in. Trust your feel. Trust your club selection. Trust and execute. If there was ever a moment to see how my linear method was working this was it. It was a pivotal moment coming off the back of the last hole farce. I swung the club. It popped up, cleared the bunker, pitched in my landing zone and meandered towards the hole. In the end it ended up four feet past but it was as good as I could have done. The job wasn't done and I needed the putt. This was a harder putt than the one on the last hole but this time there was no mistake. I made it and saved a crucial par.

The last was playing right back into the wind and as it's a par five uphill with water guarding the green, eating into the front and the right, it proved impossible for my partner and I to manipulate our second shots into a position that made attacking the green a viable option. It would come down to a pitch and putt to make a par (net birdie). In the end, while we both played good shots, we couldn't coax the ball in. We had to make do with a level par eighteen points coming in. Nothing too shabby in that and with twenty one going out, it was thirty nine points in total. In the end, we came sixth. There were three sides on forty points and four on thirty nine. If that putt at the sixteenth had dropped we would have been in the mix. You can say that about any round though can't you. It's all ifs and maybes and had you done this, that or the the other, it could have been so different.

2016 Jubilee Cup statistics

Now the dust has settled, I'm pleased with how Geoff and I combined. It was a partnership that showed some potential, and it's regretful that he already has a regular partner. I will continue to hire myself out (normally to the lowest, nay, only bidder) and hope sooner or later I can find someone willing to join forces with me on an ongoing basis. With my health beginning to improve to a degree, my season is finally ready to blossom and I can get fully into my golf.

A Forward Step - Progress Definitely Being Made
I am still looking at all things short game. That's really where I see my potential to save shots and anything approaching a functional chipping, pitching and bunker game, combined with a solid putting stroke can make a real difference to my scores. In fact, it's my putting that has been a weak link and I'm averaging 34.30 putts per round this season compared to an impressive 31.71 last year. It's things like par scrambles I need to work on, down at just 14% in 2016. That's why most of my practice is focused on the short game. I'm sticking to the linear method. No I mean it this time. I really mean it. This is what I feel more comfortable using, this is what I have used before and what I know can produce results. I've still got my lesson with Gary Smith, the founder of this technique, a Christmas present from my wife, to utilise. I'm hoping this will refine what I am doing and iron out the inevitable flaws I have at the moment.

All in all, there is a rather satisfying air of optimism and last weekend has definitely been another forward step. Now my recent health issues appear to have been sorted (touch wood) and having found a swing and tempo that for the moment is working, I can really get my teeth into my game. I really enjoy working on my game. I've said many times that golf has never come easily and any successes I've achieved have come about by determination, hard work, some sheer bloody mindedness and every now and again a bit of decent playing. I have mentioned that while I remain unbowed in my belief that I can and will get to single figures, 2016 is a season of taking stock, making sure I am back to 100% health and not worry where the handicap goes.

There is still a lot of room to improve in all areas. Getting it right on and around the green is my focus. I want to be the best short game player in the club. Arguably an unrealistic goal, certainly a lofty one, but if you don't set the bar high what have you got to aim for. I play with a large number of members in the monthly competitions, of varying handicaps. What I see on a frequent basis is that many, while not long off the tee and so unable to attack many holes, including some of the longer par threes, many have honed a solid short game. The only area I would say many struggle in, is bunker play. This is something I feel the linear method gives me an advantage in as it really utilises the bounce of the club.

Onwards and upwards dear reader. Short game practice and then a full weekend of playing, including the monthly medal on Sunday. I am back in a good place with a renewed mojo from such a good golfing performance. It is definitely starting to come. I am happy, positive and engaged. I've not been able to write that for a while. Forward steps dear reader. Very big and positive forward steps.