We are still in the grip of an immobile low-pressure system which has given the weather a tropical feel. Hot and muggy when the sun is out, but quickly turning to thunderstorms as the day rolls on. The thunderstorms die out during the night and the cycle continues again next day. And so, in these conditions, I set off with some trepidation to a small golf tournament yesterday.
Golf in England is a fairly relaxed affair. With the exception of a few posh clubs, most English clubs are struggling to attract members and are happy for anyone to turn up and play. For example, I enjoyed a very pleasant round on the Isle of Wight a couple of years ago. The club house seemed to be somebody’s living room, myself and a friend were the only two on the course and a public footpath ran through the middle of it so we had to take care not to hit any pedestrians. The sheep took care of the fairways. I don’t think anyone would have cared if we had turned up in swimming trunks and vests – as long as we were polite and didn’t pole-axe any hikers with our wild tee-shots.
Golf in Germany is an altogether more serious affair. Probably due to the lack of tradition and the very strict nature conservation laws, there aren’t many golf courses here. (About 700 compared with 2500 in the UK). The golf courses they have are therefore usually in quite high demand and, this being Germany, they are immaculately tended and presented. They are nice to play but it all feels a little less natural and bit more like a teletubbie landscape than a “proper” golf course. The golf association is also very strict on the handicap rules. In order to stop your handicap deteriorating, you have to play in a tournament every year. So that’s what I was doing yesterday. I am normally an anti-social golfer going out on my own or with one friend but I had to bite the bullet and enter a tournament and be paired up with strangers.
As it turned out, the three people I played with were a good bunch. Two of them were really good golfers in their early twenties and the third was an old Austrian guy with very bad eyesight. We always had to direct him to his ball and tell him where the green was. We managed to dodge all thunderstorms, playing most of the afternoon very humid, boiling conditions. Due to a lot of time wasted helping the Austrian guy look for wayward balls, we ended up spending six hours out on the course. Our patience was sorely tested. By the last few holes we all just wanted to get back to a cold drink in the clubhouse. I ended up playing very badly but I did get one thing right – wearing shorts instead of long trousers which everyone else had done because of the expected rain. My playing partners immediately noticed this and were pleased that I was fitting the proper English stereotype by having no qualms about breaking out shiny white legs at the first sign of summer. So I was quite pleased with myself. At least until Ariane pointed out that my calves were bright red with sunburn. Still, I suppose that just reinforces the stereotype.
I bonded with the two youngsters (at least I kid myself that I did) because we all agreed that we didn’t like my local club. Too snobby, too arrogant. And it’s true, if you wanted to create a scene depicting what people don’t like about golf, you only need to check out my local club’s car park on a Sunday morning. It’s full of blokes in pink jumpers struggling to get out of their Porsche 911s and shouting loudly at each other. That’s why I’m usually leaving by the time they all turn up.
The tournament didn’t do much to alleviate my love/hate relationship with golf. I ended up with a terrible score, partial heastroke and some nasty sunburn. On the other hand it was good to be out in the fresh air and we did have a bit of a laugh at a poor-sighted Austrian’s expense. And, as usual, I did hit the odd really good shot – just enough to keep me interested and frustrated to the same degree. I love the actual playing, but I don’t like the culture. I get the feeling that the clubs here are sometimes trying to out-Brit the Brits when it comes to golf. Stuffy, exclusive, pedantic about etiquette and rules. I’d like to see them all just lighten up a bit, but it’s not going to happen. So I’ll just stick to my crack-of-dawn solo rounds and make my own arrangements.