The Hacker: Defeat is the canniest victory of all

Click to follow
The Independent Online

As with life generally, money is the root of all evil in golf. Not that I mean evil in a wicked, villainous sense – although one or two whom I play with regularly might recognise the description – but in the way it can tamper with the character and priorities of those involved.

As with life generally, money is the root of all evil in golf. Not that I mean evil in a wicked, villainous sense – although one or two whom I play with regularly might recognise the description – but in the way it can tamper with the character and priorities of those involved.

You don't have to be a professional to undergo the transformation into a money-grabbing monster. Even at the lowest level, no matter what amount is at stake, the introduction of a cash incentive can ruin the game's profound sense of moral correctness.

If this sounds to you like a lament from someone who has long become accustomed to shelling out money for losing golf matches, you are not mistaken. I seem constantly at the mercy of men who turn into the golfing equivalent of a Mafia hitman if there is a pound or two to be won. While I find it difficult to work myself into a frenzy about the outcome of a game of golf, others sprout fangs and hair on the back of their hands.

Even the handing over of the money, usually in the bar, is turned into a meaningful ceremony. The reluctance with which the cash is offered is matched by the exaggerated enthusiasm with which it is received. Whoops of joy, notes held up to the light to check for authenticity... one opponent regularly gloats he is going to have to put me in his tax returns.

Sometimes it is not even necessary to lose to fall into their clutches. Every club seems to possess a nest of shifty customers who organise a weekly swindle in the guise of what they like to call a friendly competition. We have one at our club, where the weekly format is simple and straightforward. All the players put a pound in the kitty and go out to play a round under the Stableford points system. As is customary, the winner takes all.

Anyone is welcome, and new members are encouraged to join in the fun, whereupon it is explained to them that the only stipulations are that the winner buys the drinks and the player who scores the lowest number of points buys the crisps.

It is only when the winner pockets the kitty and starts taking the order for drinks that he realises the drawbacks of his victory. He might have won £20, but with orders for soft drinks extremely rare, and with the cheapest pint at £1.60, his outlay at the bar is likely to be well over 30 quid. The loser, meanwhile, buys 20 bags of crisps at 35p a time, which is £7.

As for those who thought of the game, they are continually finishing close runners-up, and it amazing how many score sixes and sevens on the last two holes.

Therein lies the challenge: you must play well enough to enjoy yourself yet not well enough to win. But while you are ensuring defeat you mustn't do it so well that you end up buying the crisps. It calls for a different type of golfing skill. No one is more happy to lose. They've had a nice game plus a pint and a packet of crisps – and all for a pound.

Comments