How many of us grew up with similar experiences at golf clubs?
Getting the bug...
Like most 14 year olds growing up in South London football was my life.
We played day and night, at school, in our back gardens, on those little pieces of grass on roundabouts.
Imagine the horror when a slight knee ligament injury kept me from playing contact sport for the entirety of the summer of 2004.
To stop me becoming a complete hermit and get me out of the house (there’s only so much ferocious masturbation and Grand Theft Auto an injured teenager should be doing during the summer months) my old man took me down to the local driving range.
After smashing a few balls around I immediately got the ‘golfing bug’. A couple of weeks later our neighbour had a chat with my Dad and invited me to play in a junior tournament that weekend. He was a long-standing member at a very traditional club about 20 minutes away from where we lived.
The club was in the Wimbledon area and the first 30 seconds I knew we were out of our depth, parking our smashed up Citroen in-between two pristine beamers, it's always fucking beamers.
The golf club and my old man!
I’d never been on a golf course before so my neighbour said he would walk round with me and three other lads to mark the scores and make sure I didn’t fuck up the tee boxes too badly!
In the clubhouse before we went out all these old blokes were saying strange things to me...
“Okay kid we are going to put you off 36 seeing as this is your first ever round”.
“Erm yeah Hi I’m 14 how old are you?” Noob.
“We are going to be playing Stableford okay so don’t worry if you lose a few balls”.
I didn’t have a scooby so I had to rely on the wisdom of my father.
“Look don’t worry about all that bollocks just hit the ball straight, the course has loads of trees you go in the woods you're fucked. And when you’re near the green, knock it to bin lid range, and then don’t bottle any three-footers.”
Simple. Earl and Eldrick Woods eat your heart out, there’s a new team on the block.
I was just excited to get out there and see what a golf course looked like. It was the purest form of the sport you could get.
I went out there with my brand new Donnay junior set fresh from Sports World and looked forward to every shot I hit because it was the first time. The first time hitting a chip shot, the first time hitting a 7 iron onto a green, it was great fun.
Anyway we plodded our way round and got back to the spike bar and were told I shot 50 points and had won the tournament by 8 clear. Piece of piss!
Then all the kid’s dads started asking me what my real handicap was in that sort of jokey/aggressive manner.
“You’re a right bandit lad”.
I can’t recall a single father of a kid in that tournament congratulating me. Luckily my dad wasn’t there otherwise it would have been the shortest golfing career in history, he would have rocked up and started a Royal Rumble in the 19th... I doubt I would have been invited back!
My neighbor stuck up for me...
“He tried dragging his trolley right next to himself on the first green when he was putting, he’s obviously never played before.”
I couldn’t give a shit I just wanted to get back out there and hit the ball straight and crack three foot putts into the back of the cup, it had begun.
The Old Guard...
With my Dad not being a member (I think the annual fee was more than his annual wage) I had to learn all the weird little pieces of etiquette from everyone else.
This process in itself was an eye opener. Firstly, let me explain what sort of golf club this was. It had more vets than a nursing home. Honestly it was ridiculous, I’m surprised it even had a bar instead of just a single room full of comfortable chairs and 'Murder She Wrote' on loop on the tele.
There were a very small number of juniors. Around 10 of us mostly made up of lads whose fathers/grandfathers/great grandfathers/great great grandfathers were members.
We were looked upon like a rabble of hoodies smashing up a bus stop. Granted some of the shit we got up to warranted this reputation. Playing ‘Mega Holes’ is a good example... seeing how many shots it took to get from the first tee to the fourth green (a lot by the way).
Who would have thought smashing 3-irons blind over a wooded area would be slightly dangerous? Nobody died chill out.
I quickly learned that these old boys viewed the club captaincy as the Holy Grail; the captain got his name up on the wall in the clubhouse for eternity, immortalized, like they would live forever (trust me they didn’t).
The skipper also got to tee off first on a Sunday morning, which royally fucked off everyone else. Having Captain Ronald and his three walking corpse mates holding up the entire day's play - hurry up you old ballbags, I've got to get back home for Super Sunday!
The election of this captaincy was fascinating. There was so much hierarchy and back stabbing involved it was like watching an episode of The Sopranos. Scratch that, as the years went on it was full blown Game of Thrones!
I can sum up the vets at this club and most other golf clubs in a few bullet points:
- They already hate you as a junior golfer; they’ve been playing 3000 years and still can’t make those downhill five-footers you knock in without any fear.
- We were all jealous of those remote controlled bag buggies they have. Imagine anyone under 70 having one! I’d either be skiing off the back of it or constantly sneaking it up behind people when they’re trying to tee off. They are about 500 quid though so there are cheaper ways to piss off your playing partner!
- They will cheat till they’re blue in the face but they fought a war so whatevs.
The Rich Kids...
Anyway enough of the vets, lets get onto the other juniors at the club.
When I started playing and practicing more, lowering your handicap as quickly as possible was not only worn like a badge of honour, it became an obsession.
There was a cracking level of competiveness but above all we just couldn’t get enough of chasing perfection. We could easily play 54 holes on a long summer's day (amazing how much you can accomplish when girls and alcohol are not on the radar).
I made friends with a northern lad called Harry who had moved down south with his Dad from Newcastle.
We were the so-called normal ones a.k.a the poor kids.
He was the only one who liked football so we instantly bonded over fantasy footy teams and Panini sticker books.
However we were encyclopedic when it came to golf, we knew all the latest tech and fads. I remember when gap wedges became the ‘in thing’ in our little group.
I begged my dad for a Titleist Vokey 52 degree gap wedge, a chrome one as well (don’t judge). That didn’t go down too well as I recall his responsl...
“You’ve got a sand wedge aint ya, just close the face a bit you ponce”.
Which brings me onto the next type of junior golfer, the rich kids. Harry and I weren’t stupid; it was always handy to keep the posh chaps within arms length. The classic trick when practicing with the rich boys was to smash your Top Flite XL into the water and ask them for a spare ball, they only ever used Pro V’s!
Trying to convince my dad to buy me a sleeve of Pro V’s went as follows...
“It’ll make such a difference to my short game, I’m losing spin around the greens”
“It’s a fucking ball and they're like four quid each. I bought you a whole bucket of those Top Flites for the same price last month and you keep smashing them into the water”.
Shit it, backfired.
We would constantly borrow their brand new TaylorMade drivers and see how far we could ‘Happy Gilmore’ it on the Par 5’s.
They weren’t all bad, the ‘all gear no idea’ brigade used to respect the fact I was getting my handicap down to single figures using a dog shit set of clubs.
Their fathers however, who were dropping thousands on equipment and lessons were not so gracious. As is life in most junior levels of sport.
Which finally leads me onto some of the other colorful characters I encountered at this very traditional golf club.
As we know playing in club competitions means you can get thrown together with anyone and everyone.
One recurring theme in my experience was the mid 30’s wealthy blokes who blatantly just hated their trophy wives and would rather put himself through four hours of shanking utility clubs than spending a Saturday afternoon picking out scatter cushions.
Can’t blame the guy but then he’d come out with...
“I just cant find the right stiffness for quick swing speed”
Bitch you’ve skulled your last three chip shots, your shafts are the least of your worries, now make yourself useful and show me some nudes of your wife.
There were some tidy players at the club, a small group who would regularly shoot under par.
We as the juniors saw these guys as the rock stars. We would pick their brains on grip variations; distance management and any other subjects we knew precisely fuck all about.
The pro at the club was a great guy; he took a shining to me for our mutual hatred of most of the members at the club and golfers in general.
Golf gets a bad rep but there is a reason for that...
A lot of wankers play it.
I'm the Managing Editor at The Club. I like putting and Rioja. I dislike my low slice.