The Hacker: I may lack flair but at least the lifeboats don't come round any more

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The Independent Online

The one priority attribute hackers need to possess is the ability to laugh at ourselves. Or rather, the ability to join in quickly when everyone else is laughing at us.

If you don't have the skill to play golf well, you must be able to give the impression that no matter how many errant shots you commit, you are enjoying yourself – when inside you are being devoured by embarrassment.

That's why winter golf is such a boon for hackers. Not only does bad weather mask a multitude of sins but it takes much of the seriousness out of the game.

Indeed, if it is run properly, a winter league can be an uproarious competition in which mistakes are laughed away.

Ours has been going strong for well over 50 years and for 20 Sunday mornings during the worst of winter it provides harmless fun for 144 of our hardiest members.

Our league is called the Snakes and Ladders because of the complicated way we ensure that if you win one week you play a winner the following week, and the same with the losers.

The man in charge is called the Chief Snake and it is his job to rule on all disputes and conduct a naming and shaming inquest in the bar afterwards when the worst golfing atrocities of the morning are announced.

It was a post that I had pleasure in filling for six years in the 1980s and I was reminded of that time by an email last week from Andrew Greville-Smith, who these days plays at Royston in Herts.

It has been 25 years since he played in the Snakes but he still regales his golfing mates with stories of our antics. "Remember when the lifeboats got launched?" he asks.

As if I could forget. With so many playing in the event, getting them around and back in time for lunch was so difficult that I decided to have a shotgun start.

Our format is foursomes so two games were assigned to each hole and play began at the stroke of 9am. We didn't have a shotgun so I hit on the idea of firing a flare to signal the start.

It wasn't a wise move considering our close proximity to the Bristol Channel, and waiting for me at the clubhouse one Sunday was a policeman accompanied by the coxswains of Penarth and Barry lifeboats, who had spent the morning looking for a boat in distress.

Happily, they joined us for a drink and I was eventually let off with a bollocking. We've used a hooter ever since that day.

Our current Chief Snake – and there has been a long line of excellent ones – is Peter "Jammy" James, a retired dentist who these days tries to give people as much pleasure as he can.

In addition to the sparkle of his repartee he brings his guitar, and we must be the only winter league with our own song.

It was the presentation supper after the pre-Christmas session last weekend and the first prize was won by Phil Parker and Phil Mardon, whose form has cost them the scant punishment of being dropped only one shot each.

The wooden spoon went to Steve Sidford and Tony Stevens, who lost every match but saved their finest effort for the final game when they went one up. It didn't last but it was the only time they had been ahead in 10 weeks.

Jammy handed out some special awards. One went to someone who had a double hit on a three-inch putt, while two players had air-shots playing the wrong ball.

However, the prize for the best excuse went to Andrew, the professional, who sportingly runs the risk of ridicule by partnering a high handicapper every year.

Andrew had marked his ball with three dots and when he swerved a shot into the trees he said: "Damn, that's my fault for not marking the ball on both sides."