There was a moment on the ninth hole – as the clouds lifted and a young deer skittered knock-kneed across the fairway – when rain and gloom were briefly replaced with the prospect of sun and a brighter future of endless possibilities.
The Ochil Hills in the distance were visible for the first time, and the green beyond the lake little more than 180 yards up ahead was covered in a watery light, waiting expectantly for the arrival of my ball. In the spirit of this glorious moment, I hit an ugly, scuffing, bounding iron that did well to plunge first bounce into the water.
The lake hadn’t been there three years ago until Jack bloody Nicklaus had a second go at renovating the Gleneagles PGA Centenary course with this week’s Ryder Cup in mind. I escaped with a scrambled, quadruple bogey nine.
I was only on the course because, on this murky day in August, all the proper golf writers were in the States to watch Rory McIlroy march to triumph at the US PGA. So circumstances had conspired to leave the opportunity of testing the waters, in a literal manner, to the crime correspondent. And how apt a choice I turned out to be. I arrived with an empty notebook, I left with it filled with the details of a one-man crime wave.
Driving without due care and attention, dangerous driving (serial offender), fraud (the handicap card said 13, the scorecard didn’t), vandalism and, by the time I missed a four-footer on the 18th green, anti-social behaviour on an epic scale. Had my playing companions not moved so sharply after I fizzed a bunker shot across the green from the wet sand on the 16th at a rapid and low trajectory, I was a foot and a half from adding manslaughter to the litany of serious offences. I could blame the year-long gap in playing, the borrowed clubs, but as innumerable judges have told innumerable wayward defendants over the years, it’s probably time to stop blaming others and take a good, long, hard look at yourself.
The remodelling of Gleneagles for the Ryder Cup has involved more than 50,000 tons of soil being moved. I contributed my own modest amounts but, thankfully for the professionals who are to follow, a team of 25 greenkeepers set out on 1 September to repair and regrass the ugly gashes on the fairways. In my defence, they were not entirely my fault. I spent too much time in the rough to do substantial damage to the shorter stuff.
As was duly noted on the numerous occasions that I missed the fairways, the course rewards accuracy rather than distance. Miss the fairways and the penalty is the cloying, wet, enveloping grass. “The rough’s going to be juicy. There’s no two ways about it,” says Stephen Chappell, the head greenkeeper.
My card was well beyond repair before we reached what are likely to be some of the crucial holes of the competition. Off the back of a driveable par-four on the 14th, the 463-yard par-four 15th is one of the hardest. It also has what my caddie Jamie described as the “thickest rough on the course” and, having by this stage in the round experienced more than my fair share, I was in a position of knowledge to concur.
Then there is the 18th. Finish well and all sins are forgotten. Some of the most major construction work has gone on the last hole. The stands were being built for the 2,500 spectators who will ring the green as I addressed my pitch and ignored Jamie’s advice to stay right of the flag and saw my ball swept down into a newly created swale. I three-putted, failing to break 100 in the process. I raised my club to receive the sympathetic applause from the crowd and the workmen continued hammering at the temporary grandstand.
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