I am well aware that many people have a problem with golf and all it entails. It does have an image of old duffers in dodgy clothes but it hasn’t remained as exclusive. The golf business has had to change.
My own start in golf was age eight with a primary school friend whose parents played. We had an avuncular neighbour who was able to provide some very old clubs which I still own. We didn’t live over-looking the golf course at Boyce Hill Golf Club, South Benfleet, Essex, getting there required scaling a gated-entrance to a covered reservoir and cheekily dashing across the first fairway to the Pro Shop. My friend Rob Raymond and I would get under the feet of the pros in their workshop with Radio Caroline playing. We would hand pick-up their practice balls and sometimes attempt to catch them at some 250 yard distance. We would also caddy for the members on a Sunday morning carrying huge bags, standing in the right place and keeping quiet. My mother says I learned a great deal about life from those golfing men. An example of this was, age eleven, declaring that I didn’t want a girlfriend as she would interfere with the opportunities to play golf.
It wasn’t the transfer to secondary that scuppered my golf but moving to Crewe where I didn’t have access to the golf course the other side of town. I didn’t play in Deal when we were so close to an iconic links course. It was 25 years before I was given the chance to play again. Brother-in-law David invited me to play with a friend who worked for the TI Apollo steel company and therefore had a spare set of golf clubs. It was the first time I had seen metal woods. They were a joy to hit and, in short, I loved it and sought to play the game again. I knew people working on the Channel tunnel who played at Sene Valley, Folkestone, and they seconded my membership application. On account of avoiding too many short-term members and assuming I would move away on completion of the tunnel my application was declined. At the time many golf clubs had waiting lists until the golf course building boom of the early-nineties. I have played at Sene Valley in recent years and they were amazed to hear of being ‘black-balled.’ These days golf clubs are keen to gain members.
I looked at a few of the new courses and joined The Ridge, near Sutton Valence, as a founder member. I saw the last period of construction and the immediate financial difficulties typical of the golf developments of the time. The members, many as newbies and some transferred from Tudor Park, were very enthusiastic golfers and it was a really enjoyable period. My name even appears on some honours boards. The photo shows the winners of the Tillman Trophy (Summer 2003). David Naish, previous captain, was standing in for Graham Soanes at the presentation evening. I had won the same competition the year before with Mark Muller.
Unfortunately after some years and a series of changed ownership the course was not maintained as well as required and the general standards dropped. We had good times at The Ridge including a trip to the K Club in Ireland just before the Ryder Cup was held.
Although I haven’t played Royal St George’s I spent eight-days captivated there in 2003 for the Open Championship. With a radio ear-piece it is great entertainment. In 2006 I went to Royal Liverpool in Hoylake where Tiger Woods won on a baked-hard course.
I had played at the Nick Faldo designed Chart Hills Golf Course near Biddenden and when it introduced a voucher scheme it was a good opportunity to play on a championship layout on a regular basis. I joined with a number of people from The Ridge. I played in the Sunday swindle and, coinciding with changing my work, broke my leg in a fall at the half-way house in 2005. Once my leg was fixed I have enjoyed playing at Chart Hills. It is obvious that the golf business has continued to suffer in the last ten years (reduced by 20% by some accounts) but the original landscape setting and course layout is outstanding.
It would be good if Margaret played golf but that remains unlikely. Once we stayed at at the hotel at Carleon Bay, Cornwall and I took my clubs to play. Margaret walked with me for three holes before asking “Does anything else happen?”
I do love the social aspect. There is always time for chat and a laugh. And I love being outdoors in the changing seasons. We have mature oaks, bluebell woods, lakes with water fowl, two winding brooks, and a variety of seasonal birds. It is also individual: the golfing challenge is one person against all the elements. It is fun visiting different courses around Kent for competitions and friendly matches.I am not very good, with a handicap currently of 15. I have been at 12 but age and lack of consistent skill makes dramatic improvement unlikely. I do have my name on two honours boards.
To me, my enjoyment of golf represents part of life’s contradictions.
Other Kent courses I like:
Littlestone – for links.
Cinque Ports, Deal – for atmosphere and links.
North Foreland – for coastal chalk downland.
Faversham – hundred-plus year old woods and downland.
The heroes I used to play with include Colin Mossman and Gary Leader.
The current heroes include John Carter, Roger Daniels and Mike Frankish.