Along with 120 or so fellow sufferers at my club, and countless thousands at clubs throughout the British Isles, I was out of my bed early this morning for the start of the winter league – an event that will drag us through the darkest months until it ends at Easter.
We know not what horrors await, what weather and what adventures, but we do know that they will have little to do with golf's image as a pleasant dawdle in the sun for the well-to-do.
There are various forms of winter leagues. Ours is a foursomes competition with a minimum combined handicap of 20, which forces the good players to play with the not so good. We also have a shotgun start; instead of all queuing up at the first tee, we disperse to the whichever tee has been allocated to us. As the shotgun is fired, we all start playing.
Except we haven't got a shotgun, and therein lies a long tale. Our winter league is called Snakes and Ladders because every week the winners move up the board and the losers move down. The man in charge of the event is called the Chief Snake, a title that I held for six years during the 1980s.
When I took over, we used to queue at the first and the ninth tees, which meant that the first off finished an hour or so before the last. This didn't help the raffle or the Chief Snake's resumé of the morning's play, which he conducts amid much ribaldry in the bar.
I decided to introduce a shotgun start so we would all start and finish at about the same time. But, in the absence of a shotgun, we needed a signal to make the prompt start that was essential. We have the benefit of a course perched high above the Bristol Channel, so I borrowed the starting cannon from the local yacht club. Unfortunately, this gave off a thundering bang that woke up half the town, but wasn't heard on holes 11 to 16 on the other side of the hill that bisects the course.
We tried klaxon horns, but the wind was always in the wrong direction. Then we hit on the idea of a flare. We bought a flare-gun, a supply of red flares and at 9am sharp on Sunday morning I fired one into the grey skies. It was seen at every tee, and play started precisely on time.
When my game was over and our foursome returned to the clubhouse, I saw a policeman flanked by two men waiting for me. "Mr Corrigan?" he asked. I admitted it and he went on: "May I introduce the coxswain of Penarth lifeboat and the coxswain of Barry lifeboat. They've spent all morning searching the Bristol Channel after a lady reported seeing a red distress flare at nine o'clock. I understand that you fired it."
Thankfully they were under-standing men, and joined us at the bar to discuss the matter. A long while later I had been forgiven, and we agreed that in future we would use white flares.
We still do, and at nine o'clock this morning we were due to jerk into action as a white flare shot skywards to signal the beginning of another 20 weeks of torture.Reuse content