If there is anything more forlorn than a closed golf course, as most have been during the recent stormy weather, it is the face of a golfer who has been robbed of his game and assigned to other duties.
I bumped into six of our winter league players mournfully pushing trolleys around the local Tesco last Sunday morning. Many others would have been scattered through supermarkets and DIY stores elsewhere. Outside, the rain squalled fiercely across the car park, and up on the course the flags would have been bent across saturated greens; but their grimaces told you where they would have preferred to be.
No offence to their wives, of course. They are entitled to a hand with the shopping every now and then. And, at least, these lads were doing their duty. Some less scrupulous fellow golfers would not have told their wives that the course was closed and would have set off as normal, had a leisurely breakfast at the club, read the paper or played snooker until the bar opened, and arrived home for lunch complaining what a terrible morning it had been.
But whatever the chosen activity, there is something moving about a sportsman's anguish at not being allowed to pit his wits against the opposition in the most extreme climatic conditions.
Hackers feel this more than most, because the more atrocious the weather the better are their chances of overcoming the lower-handicappers, whose delicate skills are apt to be diluted by a moderate monsoon. For instance, I am told that even on a hot and balmy day in June my swing looks as if I am playing in the teeth of a force-nine gale. So when I really am playing in the teeth of force-nine gale, my game comes into its own.
Duffers who have difficulty in chipping smoothly from the rough on a beautiful day find that their crude jab at the ball can thin it out of the mud to great effect. Bad weather suits our style, but we needn't be ashamed of that. When we are standing in sodden socks and the rain is trickling down the inside of our thermals, it is as well to remind ourselves that golf's roots are embedded in the adverse weather conditions of its native Scotland. When the game spread to the rest of the British Isles it was accepted without question as a game for all seasons.
These days, its image tends to be associated with blazing sunshine, lush green fairways and swaying palms; so much so that it is becoming a fair-weather game. Obviously, you can't play if the course is snowbound or the greens are flooded, but a more sympathetic attitude to those daft enough to want to play in foul weather is called for. Members' clubs are understandably protective of their courses but, with our winters getting wetter, all-year golfers are losing too many days.
I'm largely in favour of the more enlightened view taken at proprietary clubs. I once sat next to a golf-club owner at dinner after a prolonged rainy period and was surprised when he said that his course had been open throughout. I asked him how wet his course had to be before he closed it. "When the water level reaches the till," he said.Reuse content