The Hacker | Peter Corrigan

Watch where you swing that banjo
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The Independent Online

Golf being a game for the erudite, you would think that there would be a better way of describing a man's inability to swing a club properly than to say that he couldn't hit a cow's arse with a shovel.

In some parts, the word "banjo" is used instead of shovel, but the effect is the same – although the cow might find the latter more melodic. Alas, for all the gentility on which the game prides itself, a distressing coarseness does creep to the surface, especially at the lower levels.

It was on this note that the pre-Christmas session of our club's winter league ended at a prizegiving supper that descended into its usual chaos and controversy. It is a mistake to think that in sport all the fascination is centred on what takes place at the top level. The real dramas are enacted far away from public gaze among the most humble players, and this goes for golf more than any other sport.

In theory, golf at the grass roots should be a balm to the frustrations and pressures of modern life. Let the professionals worry about missed putts, sliced drives and duffed chips while the hackers enjoy the game for the blissfully soothing experience it is.

What a daft expectation; for soothing, read seething. There's as much white-knuckling over a two-foot putt for a vital win in winter-league golf as there would be if it was for The Open. More so, in fact – your partner doesn't give you a bollocking in The Open, not publicly anyway.

The 70-odd pairs who contest our Snakes and Ladders competition select each before the 10-week session begins in October, and the relationships are usually near breaking point come Christmas. Foursomes golf does that to people. Taking alternate shots means that your partner has to play from where you put him, and patience in golf is but a thin veneer.

This is probably the reason why the pros don't always take to this form of golf. Tiger Woods and David Duval partnered each other in the World Cup recently, and foursomes was part of the format. When things went well it was all high-fives and winks of encouragement, but they went a bit tight-lipped in the end and lost. I wonder how they would handle 10 weeks of playing together in the winter league.

Presumably in the same tetchy way as the rest of us, which is why the Snakes presentation supper often descends into an evening of denunciation reminiscent of the Moscow show trials before the Second World War. Since they would all be playing with different partners in the second session, everyone could afford to be frank. The most cutting remark came at the wooden-spoon ceremony where, as expected, the dreaded utensil was received by Charles, the yacht-club steward, and Glen, the gentlemen's hairdresser who has just taken up the game.

They had hoped for a reprieve after winning their final match when one of their opponents overslept and failed to turn up (he is so embarrassed he hasn't been seen at the club since), but the Chief Snake ruled otherwise.

When they stepped forward to collect the giant spoon, Charles said he had a special award to mark his partner's contribution. He handed Glen a large shovel. "Go and find a cow's arse to practise on," he said, cruelly.