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A beginner’s guide to the dread game of golf

The game of golf is very simple.

The objective is to hit a ball with a club from the teeing ground, to the fairway, to the green and into the hole in the fewest number of strokes possible. A round of golf normally consists of 18 holes and the player with the least number of strokes (i.e. with the lowest score) wins. Golf has become one of the most popular sports in the world. What was once a sport for royalty, nobility and people of wealth and leisure has now become one of the most widely sports played by people of all members of society.

So why do we play golf? Well it indicates one’s social status, it has a low impact of exercise, it favours skill over physical strength, and allows one to socialise and meet all types of interesting people. It’s a form of relaxation and fun to play.

It’s that much fun, we play in the freezing cold, wind and rain and in our circumstances in the Middle East in temperatures above 35 degrees C and humidity up to, 90%.

Well, let me tell you, the above is not altogether true. For the average weekend golfer, it’s not that simple to just hit that small ball where you want it to go. And why does that small ball when I do hit it nicely choose to roll on until it finds a small bush, piece of sand some water or divot to come to rest in. In fact at times, it can be the most frustrating fun game ever invented. Other golfers you team up with can be far from interesting, boring and unsociable. If you want to learn how to suffer then try to play golf. Billy Graham the world renowned evangelist once said, “The good Lord answers my prayers everywhere except on the golf course” I can relate. After twenty years of playing golf, I think I have discovered that I can’t really play it at all.

I normally arrive in good time for my weekly game at the golf club and spend a few minutes on the driving range and putting green before making my way to the first teeing box (the starting place for the hole to be played) conscious that my Scottish playing partner Angus is nowhere to be seen. Now Angus has the habit of arriving at the teeing ground at the very last minute as we commence to tee off. Two gentlemen who would make up our group of four were waiting when I arrived and we introduced ourselves. One was a Japanese Gentleman who introduced himself as Tanaka Takeashitta (I think that’s what he said) the other was a grumpy old South African man who said just call me Harry. The three of us talked for a minute, and this is where golfers lie’s and excuses start. Tanaka asked me if I had played the course before which I answered “a couple of times” which was a cover in case I played bad when in fact I have played the course dozens of times. Tanaka said he was playing off a handicap of 22 but had not played for a few weeks because of a bad back which meant most probably his handicap is 16 and he played a few days ago. (A handicap is the record of the average of one’s best score and, rather unusually,in competition play penalises the talented against the duffes under competition rules. Why? Is a mystery.) Harry mumbled something like he’s not a serious golfer and only plays for the fun of it and doesn’t care about handicaps when in fact he took the game more serious than most. Just as we were preparing to tee off there was a loud shout which was Angus who arrived in a golf cart driven by one of the groundsmen. I introduced Angus to the other two and Angus apologised for being late admitting to getting locked in a bar and drinking too many beers the night before. His appearance and the smell of alcohol supported his excuse. Tanaka was the first to tee off, his preparation was text book in standing back taking a couple of swings with the club, checking his grip, stance, posture etc before making the perfect drive down the centre of the fairway (fairway is the area between the teeing ground and the green with short grass) “bastard”, I thought looking at him with his carefully pressed pants, red shirt and cap to match and top of the range set of clubs. “Good shot Tanaka” I said and he nodded his head with a smirk on his face. Harry was the next to go. He didn’t take much time and with little effort the ball went in the direction of the fairway with Harry standing fixed shouting at it “go, go” until it finally came to rest. He stepped of the teeing area mumbling something about trying to put a fade on the ball. Angus was next; he teed the ball up, stepped back and swung the club with all the strength he had with both his feet almost coming off the ground. There was an almighty swish but it did not connect with ball which rolled not more than six feet in front of him. Unashamed and without anyone offering, he said I will play a Mulligan and I am not taking my dick out and went on to hit a wonderful shot straight down the middle. (a Mulligan is a free shot allowed between friends after a bad shot from the tee normally only one is allowed, weekend golfers also have a rule that if you don’t hit a drive past the ladies Teeing area then you must play the next shot with your penis out ) I doubt the Golf Club approves of this, however some of the lady members might. My tee shot was the usual not much power and just made it on to the fairway; I noted the silence and no comments from the others. We marched off in search of our balls in preparation for the second (approach) shot. As furthest away from the green, I shot first (the green is the area that houses the flag stick and hole called the putting green) I hit my shot well and heard Angus willing it on shouting “go on get on” when I knew he didn’t really mean it at all and would be happy to see it go anywhere but on the green, which it did, it was well short. Harry was next, he hit a good shot and ran after it shouting sit, sit which it didn’t and ran over the back of the green and down the hill behind. Angus hit a beautiful shot which disappeared into infinity and nobody had any idea where it ended up. Tanaka took endless practiced swings probably to the rising impatience of the group behind then hit a shot with his ball landing on the green. “Bastard” I thought again shouting “good shot Tanaka”. Angus found his ball and the three of us chipped on to the green. Tanaka putted (putting is the stroke on the green for rolling the ball into the hole) first and his ball ran past the hole and down the slope ending up further away than where he started, he putted again and went past the hole again and after the third attempt picked up his ball and walked angrily off the green. Harry (the guy that plays for fun) studied everything very carefully before making his put where the ball ran around the lip of the hole and came out. Harry with a screwed up face said “Lewinsky” then stood looking and growling in to the hole like it was the holes fault that he missed. Myself and Angus two putted and then our group moved on to the next hole, a short par 3. (Par 3,4,5 etc being the standard score for a hole defined by its length) where we had to wait while two husband and wife couples were on the green putting. Now I have played with some very strange and annoying golfers but cannot think of anything worse than having to play with one’s wife. Golf can be painful but it is an opportunity to get away from everything for a few hours including wives. From a distance we could see them negotiating each putting stroke, and giving each other advice which goes like this. “Darling be careful its slightly downhill and the ball will run from left to right” I don’t think so darling I think it’s a straight putt” “then go on my dear give it a go”. Oh bad luck you didn’t give it enough you were putting against the grain. And so it goes on. Instead of getting their asses immediately off the green they stand over the hole discussing the hows and why they miss the put. The fact that they are shit at putting doesn’t enter their heads. We waited for a few minutes until Angus’s face became red with impatience and he screamed “hey will you F******g hurry up and get off of the F******g green. I am not sure if they understood what he said but it got their attention and they hurried off. We played the par 3 without much drama, Harry shouting at his ball from the tee area “sit down, bite” and the ball landed on the green close to the flag and did exactly that. He walked smugly off the teeing area saying something about using the new Srixon Q-star ball with its new special coating has improved his game as it helps increase the friction and gives more short-game spin than the Callaway X2 Hot, which he had been using previously. Angus looked at him, smiled and said “bullshit”. Tanaka with all his style and top of the range golf equipment still had trouble in actually getting the ball to go in the hole to the secret amusement of myself and Angus. The next hole was a long par 5, and we waited until the married couples slowly waddled off in to the distance like they were on a Sunday afternoon stroll before we played. It is interesting to note that the men typically pull their golf trolleys along whilst the ladies push theirs, which must be an example on how the male and female minds work very different. At one point half way along the fairway, we were waiting for Harry to play his shot, but he insisted on waiting for the group in front to move off of the green. “Just play” I said “there is no way you will reach the green it must be 275 yards away”. “No I will wait” he said “just in case”. After a few minutes I looked back at the group behind staring at us and standing with hands on hips (a golf sign which means what are you doing and what are you waiting for). The group in front finally moved off the green after holding a three minute meeting between themselves to discuss how they had approached their putts and the lay of the green etc and pencilling their score cards. Harry didn’t rush either, he took a couple of swings addressed and stood over the ball and growled something to himself. (My patience was now being tested to the limit) He then took a swing and played the most amazing shot I have ever seen, I don’t think any golfer in the world could play a shot like that. He made a full swing and his club came down heavily on the ball which shot up vertically into the air to a height of about sixty feet. With a satisfied look on his face, he stood looking at the sky ahead of him waiting for his ball to drop, when in fact it came down to rest a few seconds later about six feet behind where he was standing. I managed to maintain my golf etiquette by saying “bad luck Harry” whereby Angus rolled about laughing loudly shouting “brilliant I loved it”, even the Japanese cracked a smile for the first time. We finished the hole without too much drama and moved on to the next. Drenched in sweat, we struggled along the next fairway in the souring heat none of us looking particularly relaxed as if we were really enjoying ourselves. At one point I noticed Angus standing behind a bush and asked him what he was doing. He said he was looking for his ball. I said “Angus it’s obvious to everyone in sight what you are doing, one does not stand like that when looking for a ball, you are having a piss”. He wandered back on to the fairway tucking himself in and zipping his flies. We all got on the green with our third shot except for Angus who’s ball went into a very deep bunker at the back of the green.(a bunker is a hazard of a prepared area of ground normally hollowed out and filled with sand). This was a very deep bunker and we were amused to see Angus disappear into it with sand wedge in hand. The three of us stood waiting for Angus to make his bunker shot and watched first as he his head appeared and disappeared three or four times over the lip of the bunker for lining up his shot. Next the blade of his sand wedge appeared a few times while he took practice swings. Then for a few seconds there was nothing until the sound of his club making contact and a pile of sand coming over the lip, but no ball. A few seconds more and the same thing happened, a pile of sand but no ball. Angus’s head appeared again a couple of times just to check that the flag hadn’t moved, then another pile of sand but no ball. We couldn’t see Angus, but knew he was still there by the unrepeatable language that was coming out of the bunker, luckily because of his strong Scottish accent others in hearing distance did not understand or could not believe what they were hearing. On the fourth attempt the ball came out clean, and landed close to the hole, but no sound of contact or sight of sand! The three of us looked at each other, I was smiling and they were not. We managed to slog our way to the ninth hole, half way stage (a golf course has 18 holes all of different lengths and characteristics) after which we stopped at the refreshments hut for drinks and snacks. Angus who took two bottles of beer and a tuner sandwich had left his money in the car and the other two without even countering my offer to buy them a drink accepted mine. The next hole was a par 4 with a tee shot that needed a drive of around 180 yards to get across a lake. Tanaka went first with a beautiful drive only to see his ball bounce off of a rock at the other side and back in to the middle of the lake, now I don’t understand Japanese but I think I understood what he said. Harry looked at Tanaka sympathetically and told him that maybe he needed to close his stance somewhat, loosen his grip and lower his right thumb on the shaft. He then went on to drive his own ball in to the middle making that beautiful splash that one’s opponents enjoy so much. He stood on the tee with an angry face looking at the spot until all the ripples had subsided. I managed to make it to the other side and stood waiting for Angus to take his shot when suddenly he let out a loud scream and threw his club in the direction of a large black crow that was making off with his tuner sandwich in its beak, he stood looking at the sky cursing and shouting at it as it flew away (as if the crow understood Scottish). He was still cursing when he hit a wonderful shot across the water all of 220 yards. Tanaka took a second shot that made it but Harry again, with him standing back shouting “go, go, carry” saw another splash as he came up short, “the wind” he growled. Harry didn’t appreciate it when Angus asked him if those Srixon Q-Star Balls with the new coating are expensive. And so we struggled on over the next few holes being held up time and again by the married couples in front waddling along in deep conversation, “darling what do you think if I make a salad for dinner when we get home”? “no my dear lets be naughty and go out for a curry” “that’s a good idea”, how many yards do you think is to the hole shall I try my wedge”? On the fifteenth hole I lost two balls when my first approach shot which I hit really well, fell out of the sky and got stuck in the top of a lonely palm tree situated next to the green. My second disappeared into a large dry thorny bush over the back of the green.(the only bush to be seen in that area) From then on the harder I tried to correct my game the worse I got but it was everybody’s fault, the group in front holding us up, the group behind always standing impatiently over their balls with hands on hips when I looked back, the grounds man driving past in his electrical lawn mower just as I am trying to putt, Tanaka spending ten minutes in the rough to find his lost ball, (rough being areas outside of the fairways generally with thicker grass or un-kept vegetation) in spite of us telling him just drop and play a new ball he continued to ferret around when he had no idea where it was. Angus after his two beers started to play well. Harry continued to shout at and run after his ball which never seemed to listen to him anyway. He kept on about attempting fades and draws but it went either straight or was a slice. (Fades or draws are shots that curve to the left or right that very good golfers can execute to suit their swing or the direction of the course). The fact was that Harry was not a good golfer. Harry also had two or three more Lewinsky’s before the end of the round. After four and a half hours, four very hot, tired, less enthusiastic golfers arrived on the 18th green (a game of golf would normally take four hours). Tanaka was unhappy to realize that he forgot his putter and had left it on the 17th green. We finished off the hole shook each others hands and said what a pleasure it was and how much we enjoyed it. We went to the club house for a drink and Angus’s wallet was still in his car so I got stung again. I threw my score card away without even adding up the strokes whilst Angus on checking his came up with an amazing low score (golfers tell lies when they have finished the game as well). I reminded him of the shots he took out of the bunker and we know the last one he threw on to the green with his hand. He didn’t appear to hear what I said. I drove home wondering if it had all been worth it, considering that most of my one day weekend day off had gone and calculating the amount of hard earnings spent, on a frustrating game in such heat and humidity that was until I arrived home. I had a shower and sat down to relax in my favourite arm chair only to be reminded by my wife that she needed money to pay the Taylor and had to go to the Supermarket, also needed some change for a hair do. My daughter said she had to go to a party and needed money to buy a present and could I drop her off. I checked my phone only to find a missed call and message from my boss, “please call back”, messages from clients “when can we meet urgently”, and a message from the phone company that said something like “Your 25GB data bundle has been deactivated so contact Mobile Broadband but congratulations you can now use the latest LTE technology with a minimum 1GB. All in perfect English which would have meant the same to me in Chinese.

Which got me thinking about why I would go back to play golf again next week for more punishment. Well for most of the day I was in another world, free from, and did not even think about the trivial problems of domestic life and the office, work stressful related problems and opportunities. I did not have to spend time on the phone with boring irate clients or anything to do with routine life. I was playing golf in a beautiful natural environment, getting some exercise and meeting some different people whose golfing strategies and habits made it more fun. And then there was the good shots I played, and those few moments when I made a par on the 6th and birdied the 7th hole (Birdie is a hole played 1 shot below its par) and felt for a few moments like Rory McIlroy the worlds number 1 golfer strolling over to remove my ball from the hole, and for sure I will punish myself with a game of golf next week.

Oh and a Lewinsky! I didn’t know what it meant either, so I checked it later on the net. It’s when the ball goes around the lip of the hole but doesn’t go in (based on the affair between Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky) all lip and no hole. Well you can interoperate that any way you wish.
More by Martin Oliver in his book ‘The Never Lonely Planet‘. All proceeds of the book will be donated to ECPAT, an organization to combat and End Child Prostitution and Trafficking worldwide.

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