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A hole in one

May 29, 2018

Has anybody suggested to you that you should take up golf? Lots of people I meet suggest it. They take one look at me, conclude that I am retired and proceed to list the things I should be doing. Along with recommending I play bridge, go fishing or join a book club someone is sure to say, “You should take up golf, it’s a great way to kill a few hours.”

I’m not retired, and I don’t like my time dead, but I did try golf, last weekend.

In my sporting life debuts and testimonials have a habit of coinciding. They generally happen on the same day and during the same game. As a boy I played my first and last football match on the one day. Last Saturday week I played my first and last game of golf, all 18 interminable holes of the confounded game.

The experience, however, was lightened and brightened by good company. While my self-esteem and self-confidence suffered a prolonged and sustained battering my faith in humanity was very much bolstered by the patience and understanding of my three fellow golfers. Two of them played with confidence and proficiency while a third, akin to my good self, posed no immediate threat to Rory McIlroy or his likes.

I was the fourth and final member on a team of four recruited to play in an event organised to raise funds for the upkeep of the graveyard in my former stomping ground in Co Laois. It was a lovely evening to be outdoors and the golf game started in a sprightly enough fashion. However, having enjoyed a short spell of beginner’s luck my performance suffered a rapid reality check after the first few holes. By the time we got to the eighth I was a candidate for a plot in the very graveyard we were hoping to fund by our exertions.

The prolonged endeavour to put small balls into holes at the far end of a cantankerous obstacle course took its toll mentally and physically. After the first seven holes I would gladly have laid down on or under the green sod of the aforementioned eternal resting ground at the foot of the Slieve Blooms. And talking about sods, I frequently sent showers of soil cascading through the air, while ball after ball remained perched and unperturbed on the short grass. I was surely in line for the Anna May McHugh ploughing award.

The clubs I had use of, or misuse of, were borrowed from an old friend who also supplied a number of balls and tees. I needed them all. I tell a lie; I didn’t need all of them. The embarrassment of choice in the golf bag was the ultimate example of surplus to requirement. I felt like someone sitting down at a table decked out in linen and adorned with a full silver service while the only food on offer was a ham sandwich.

No matter what implement I chose out of the arsenal in the bag it failed to prevent my game oscillating between atrocious and hilarious. The striking of the ball was intermittent at best and even when I did manage to connect the result was highly unpredictable. The misguided missiles launched by my random wallops could travel on any possible trajectory.

My colleagues encouraged me to try a variety of clubs, a seven iron here, an eight iron there, a nine iron or any iron that might lift my game. But the end result was the same – some balls dribbled with the urgency of a snail while others whizzed around with all the direction of a punctured balloon.

The occasional ball that did manage to gain sufficient height and speed and travelled in the general direction of the green filled me with hope that maybe things might improve. However, after these balls achieved lift and velocity, they invariably chose landing sites in water, woodland, thicket or bunker.

The damage being sustained by my self-esteem and my nerves was exacerbated by the punishment being taken by the poor body. My left knee felt as if it was about to come out of its socket every time I took a swing at a ball. At each near miss the club hit the ground with the force of a jackhammer as my whole bone structure shuddered from neck to coccyx. Meanwhile an arthritic shoulder began to glow with inflammation.

One must remember that better golfers take less shots to get the ball from tee box to putting green. The opposite was true of me, as I swung and swatted like a manic pendulum for most of the five hours it took to complete the course there wasn’t a muscle that didn’t ache.

Eventually the 18th hole was played. After replacing the flag on the last green, I hauled myself and my borrowed golf bag across the carpark. As I did, a number of things became clear to me: I will never climb Mount Everest in flip-flops, I will never bungee-jump off the Cliffs of Moher, I will never lift the Sam Maguire and I will never play golf again.


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