Bitten by the bug and beaten about the bush; The adventures of Pontifex and Culpeper

In the second of three extracts from the late Peter Dobereiner's book "Well, I'll Be Deemed!", golf's master of the rules, Jas. Pontifex, travels to South Africa where his unfortunate playing partner Culpeper discovers a spot of bother in the rough ...
Click to follow
The Independent Online
D ear Chairman,nnnnn lNow that South Africa is lno longer the pariah of the international community and, under the presidency of Mr Nelson Mandela, has been restored into the family of nations as well as being welcomed by Her Majesty the Queen back into the Commonwealth, Mr Culpeper and I recently decided to enjoy a holiday in the land of the springbok. Naturally we took our sticks and had several enjoyable rounds and were delighted to observe the harmony between the races, with the white golfers and their black caddies clearly on the best of terms.

But then golf has always been at the forefront of progress in matters of racial and sexual emancipation and equality. I might cite as a shining example of this enlightenment the recent decision by the Council of our own club to build a covered walkway so that our lady members shall not be incommoded in inclement weather on their way from their locker-room to the toilet shed. In enclosing our African safari cards for purposes of handicap adjustments I am obliged to draw your attention to the card from High Veld Club.

As its name implies, this is an up-country club where, as we were surprised to observe, the members wear rudimentary gaiters made of lengths of car tyre. A few eyebrows were raised when Culpeper and I appeared in our tweed plus-twos, but they are a most hospitable people and they insisted on furnishing us with their regular dress of khaki shorts and those gaiters. When I voiced my assumption that they were for protection against snake bites the secretary corrected me: "No, for flora rather than fauna. They are to protect your legs against thorns and saw-grass. You have to fend off the wildlife as best you can. A good smack with your wedge will discourage most snakes and the smaller mammals."

Culpeper received this remark with a look of apprehension, but I divined that the secretary was pulling our legs he had so thoughtfully protected with radial-treaded armour.

We had black chaps to carry the bags and, apart from refusing to search for balls in the rough, they were very good. I quickly cottoned on to the reason they would not venture into the high grass, and Culpeper and I decided to treat rough as lateral water hazards, dropping a ball on the fairway under penalty of one stroke and pressing on. In view of the special circumstances I am sure you will endorse this self-inflicted temporary local rule as a prudent expedient rather than an agreement to ignore a Rule of Golf.

On the seventh hole Culpeper's drive was sliced and the ball bounced just off the fairway into the tall grass among a cluster of ant hills. These are not like our domestic ant hills, which appear puny compared with the extraordinary African structures which rise as high as 20 feet, quite amazing examples of communal co-operation and innate engineering skill. Culpeper shouted across: "Do the Rules of Golf define the ant as a burrowing animal?" My shake of the head gave him the literal answer to his query but my verbal addendum, namely that the local rules dictated that ant hills be treated the same as immovable obstructions, apparently failed to carry to him against the breeze. He took his wedge and as he set himself for a mighty crunch his caddie skipped smartly into the centre of the fairway with a wide-eyed look of internal agitation.

To conform with the customs of the country - from my hazy boyhood memories of Jock of the Bushveld - I had affectionately appellated our caddies "Boy 1" and "Boy 2". I asked mine: "Why is Boy 2 getting his knickers in such a twist?" He replied: "The king cobra customarily makes its nest in an ant hill in symbiotic relationship with the Formicidae," adding in a tone that to my ear, untuned to local speech patter, sounded suspiciously sarcastic: "Baas!" No wonder he was so alarmed when Culpeper dislodged a large section of ant hill in blasting his ball back on to the fairway.

As it happened, on the next hole my ball came to rest against an ant hill. Naturally I determined the nearest point which afforded complete relief from the obstruction, on the area of closely mown grass as luck would have it, and dropped my ball. Cul- peper raised a frightful stink, ranting away about locker-room lawyers getting away with blue bloody murder. With my usual patience and forbearance I quietly explained that the Rules of Golf do not require a player to put himself in a position of physical danger, viz the Decision allowing a player the option, when faced with a ball adjacent to a coiled rattlesnake in a bunker, to drop another ball in another bunker affording the same lie, distance and degree of difficulty. Furthermore, I continued, I had drawn his attention to the local rules providing relief from ant hills. He yelled back: "You specifically indicated that the ant was not designated as a burrowing animal by the Rules of Golf!" "Nor is it so deemed," I replied, handing him my Rules Book to verify the veracity of my response. He said he was far from satisfied and wished the matter to be raised with the committee, hence my objective recital of the events, Mr Chairman.

I was getting used to the nappy greens by the time we reached the 13th green, an appropriate number in view of the unlucky occurrence which was about to transpire. I was away and trying to read my putt, which looked to me as if it would break three ways and then swerve on the nap up the steepish slope to the hole. "How do you see it?" I enquired and, getting no reply, looked around. The scene which greeted my enquiring gaze was positively alarming. The two caddies were running full pelt back up the fairway and Culpeper was leaping about as if under the influence of some powerful stimulant, which indeed he was, as it transpired in due course. He was also crimson in the face from the exertion of not disturbing my concentration and suppressing the growing compulsion to shriek in pain. Good for him. Full marks for observing the game's etiquette despite massive provocation.

Freed from such considerations, he now screamed in agony and began tearing off his clothing. All of it. He was flapping at his body with his discarded shirt and rending the air with fearsome oaths, and my initial reaction was to conclude that my old friend was having some form of seizure, which in a way he was. I then saw the source of the problem: his body was swarming with large, black ants. Apparently, as we learned later, they were called soldier ants from their habit of marching in single file, thousands of them in an immense column of short- tempered and hungry creatures armed with mandibles which can rip into human flesh as easily as a fork plunging into a pat of butter. Culpeper had inadvertently stationed himself right on top of this marching column alongside the green and the ants had promptly marched up his leg and inside his shorts. The South Africans call these creatures "balbijters" and when I asked the reason for this sobriquet I was told that surely it was obvious. I wasn't at all sure, since the ants showed not the slightest interest in biting Culpeper's golf ball but were clearly hell bent on consuming Culpeper.

Salvation arrived in the form of the automatic sprinklers which came on, thanks to our caddies raising the alarm on arrival back at the clubhouse. The subsequent dousing put the ants to flight and in short order the secretary arrived on a golf cart and took Cul- peper back to the clubhouse for an injection, some soothing ointment and a change of clothing.

While awaiting his return I tried to assess how many penalty strokes Culpeper had amassed during his frenzy. Naturally enough the compelling requirement to render assistance to Culpeper had distracted me in some degree from my duties to monitor play and ensure full observance of all Rules of Golf. Culpeper had not marked and lifted his ball since it was nowhere near my line of play and I am positive that he kicked it at least four times. My ball, being furthest from the hole and therefore on the periphery of the unfolding drama was moved only three times. Rule 18 is clear in stating that a stationary ball moved by an opponent or by a player must be replaced before playing another stroke. It does not state, and this is a serious omission in my view, the procedure to be adopted in replacing the ball after multiple displacements. Do you take it straight to its original location? Or do you - and this is the method I should prefer - return it from its final resting place, which we may designate Position D, to Position C, intoning the while "That's one penalty stroke"; and then repeat the process through Positions B and A?

I was pondering this legal dilemma when Culpeper returned. He was in a bad way and looked awful, covered in lurid blotches of ointment and walking in a most stilted manner. I simply did not have the heart to mention the penalties at the time because the poor chap had suffered enough for one day, or so I deemed. His attached card therefore has not been adjusted to accommodate the due penalties and I hope, Mr Chairman, that you will find it in the goodness of your heart to limit his sanction to the bare seven penalty strokes. In the light of the agony and the trauma of that occasion it would be heaping Pelion upon Ossa to inflict him with a disqualification for arbitrarily suspending play without a reason satisfactory to the Committee.

Yours faithfully,

Jas. Pontifex

"Well, I'll Be Deemed!" by Peter Dobereiner, with illustrations by Ionicus, published by Aurum Press at pounds 9.99.

Next week: A green protest