The Hacker: A brief history of time-keeping

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As a gas fitter, Keith is used to people being out when he calls, but this was different. This was our golf club at 8am on Sunday, an hour before the fourth week of the snakes-and-ladders winter league was due to start, and no one was in sight.

The front door remained closed despite his persistent knocking. But, when he wandered around the back, he was relieved to see the lights on in the kitchen where Ted, the cook, had already been at work for an hour preparing the bacon, eggs, sausages, black pudding and baked beans which the snakes devour before they venture out.

"Where is everybody?" asked Keith.

"I'm wondering that," replied Ted, eyeing the bacon that was getting crispier by the minute.

Similar little cameos would have been repeated in clubhouses throughout the land last weekend because, when it comes to remembering the end of BST, golfers are not renowned for being hands on, or even hands back.

I'm talking about hackers, not professionals who have armies of reminders to help them get to the tee on time. Nor is it strictly fair to saddle hackers with the reputation of being unreliable timekeepers. Many people forget, but since it's a Sunday it doesn't usually cause problems.

However, to thousands of golfers involved in the winter leagues every Sunday morning, time is vital. Unless you are on the tee sharp for your appointed starting time, chaos can result.

Since the change from BST at the end of October puts the hour back, those who forget to do so, such as Keith and Ted, are merely punishing themselves – although we have had instances of players arriving an hour early, finding the place deserted, presuming that play has been called off and going home.

The bigger problem comes in March, when the clocks go forward. Instead of arriving an hour earlier the culprits amble in an hour later which can cause havoc. This is particularly true at our club, where we operate a shotgun start.

This means that each game is allocated a tee and, since we have around 140 playing in pairs, most tees are the starting point for two games. They begin promptly at the firing of a white flare. (A red flare would cause confusion to shipping in the Bristol Channel.)

If a team doesn't turn up or is one short – tough luck. The game starts without them. If both of the team are missing, the opposition starts without them and play on, winning holes as they go. When they are 10 up with eight to play, they go back to the clubhouse and celebrate a famous victory.

When only one is present, he has to play the other two on his own and has to give so many shots his chances are very slim.

If and when the latecomers arrive, the match proceeds as normal. Of course, players don't have to wait for a flimsy excuse like the hour going forward to be late. It happens every Sunday and causes an undignified and dangerous scramble to catch up.

It is about a mile from the clubhouse to the furthest tee which is a tough trudge at the best of times. When 140 golfers are slashing merrily away, it is like crossing no-man's-land at the Somme. Let no one tell you that this is an easy game.