The Hacker: Course lessons can bring even the golfing gods down to earth


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The Independent Online

As wee Rory discovered in July, the weather can wholly cloud your view of the game in general or of a course in particular. Play somewhere when you can't grip the club properly because your glove is so wet, or you're swaddled by layers into near-immobility, or you risk being blown over if you attempt any sort of weight transfer through your swing, or possibly all three simultaneously, and you're not going to be rushing back. Chorlton-cum-Hardy is a case in point; I'm sure the course in a south Manchester suburb is sometimes truly lovely, but all I can remember is a faceful of mud with every strike, not necessarily excluding on the greens.

There are other places that remain in the mind because the sun always seems to shine, as during endless childhood summers of the 1950s. Take King's Lynn, which twice this year has given a reminder of one of the reasons to play the game to start with: being out-of-doors, season by season, in a stunning environment.

The course, on the fringe of the Royal estates of Sandringham, was established just 36 years ago and even someone of limited experience and ability can see that designers Dave Thomas and Peter Allis got it right. Yes, there is all that technical sporting stuff, the challenge of course management, the greens with their invisible borrows. But once the white flag is inevitably hoisted on those fronts, the beauty and elegance of the silver birch and pine between which the fairways have been carved is the finest of consolations.

Back in early spring, early light dappled through nascent pale-green papery foliage on to sere dun pine straw and muted tones and patterns from a Wallander palette. Last week the late summer sun lit a contrast canvas of white bark against bright purple heather.

To revert to Royal St George's for a moment, one of the mystifying aspects of what proved to be a gripping four days was the TV commentators' insistence that the viewers would not be enjoying watching the gods of the fairways struggling so badly in testing conditions. Perhaps non-golfers who switched on only to watch the Northern Irish wunderkind win easily with miracle shots might have been disappointed, but surely anyone who has ever picked up a club will have felt, as never before, that they were involved in the same game as the great ones.

Look! He's hit out of bounds! Twice in a row!! I can do that. Hey! He's hooked it into the rough! I can play that shot! Did you see? He's three-putted from five feet! Just like me!

This is not ghoulish glee. It's just that your average hacker can't usually relate to what happens in championship tournaments. Sure, we can admire the result when Lee puts his second shot on a par five pin-high. But we can't empathise; that sort of skill is way out of reach.

Club golf is generally a disaster waiting to happen and to see the full horror transferred to the international scene was somehow gratifying. Once in a while, it's nice to be shown they're human.

We know that golf courses exist only to keep us humble and build our characters into better, more rounded human beings. And King's Lynn, for all its innocent loveliness, is no exception with its doglegs, swales, elevated greens, and slick putting surfaces. Charity day it may have been, but any generosity was one way only.