The Hacker: Ice isn't too hard to swallow as a sparrow migrates for winter

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The Independent Online

It takes more than a nationwide freeze-up to deter winter golfers but the suddenness of this icy spell has taken most of these intrepid souls by surprise.

Usually, you can take your time to de-crust your thermal long johns after they've spent eight months mouldering at the back of the wardrobe. But pale limbs had to be forced into them last week.

Rain, floods and gales had been the problem the previous week and most of us didn't bother to venture out but when the ice man cameth last Wednesday he was accompanied by enough sunshine in our neck of the woods to tempt the faintest of hearts.

In many parts of the country play wouldn't have been possible but we are very lucky at Royal Porthcawl, which rarely sees snow or frost. On a bright, cold day the views are spectacular.

On the opposite side of the wide bay, Swansea looks like Naples if you narrow your eyes a little. Beyond that is the coastline of the Gower Peninsula and across the Bristol Channel the cliffs and hills of north Devon can be clearly seen.

Usually, there is little time to take in the sights because you spend most of the round looking for your ball. But they have been cutting the rough back extensively over the past few weeks.

I am not sure whether this is a kindly act to help hackers get through the winter or a way of fattening up the rough for next summer but it is much appreciated by the wayward.

For John and myself it was our second outing in the Sparrows, a hearty group of enthusiasts who make a weekly assault on the links in all weathers and continue the bonhomie in the bar and over supper afterwards.

It is not for me to comment on the thirsts of my new companions but having spent a second session with them I would have thought Swallows would have been a more appropriate name.

I could give proof of my own lack of reluctance in that department because, unlike on our previous visit, I was not the designated driver of our party of four.

Because the Sparrows don't begin teeing-off until 12.45pm, only 15 holes are played during the winter months to ensure everyone gets back before dark.

As I have explained previously, we play in threes as designated by Bryan, the Chief Sparrow, and we keep our own Stableford scores in our head.

When John and I have our weekly matches we tend to express ourselves coarsely after bad shots and it can be inhibiting when you play with men you haven't played with before.

Thankfully, I was assigned to Tony and Dale who, despite being better players than me, were very patient with a swearing hacker who took seven holes to conquer a violent slice.

John was similarly blessed with Stuart and David but found it a strain, particularly when he had an air shot.

We had a discussion in the bar afterwards about whether it was technically an air shot because he carved a large divot out of the turf two inches inside the ball.

At least John had 18 points, which was two more than I managed to score. But I was hitting the ball straighter towards the end when I was getting more accustomed to all the layers of warm clothing I was wearing.

But the joy of the Sparrows is that when you report your score to the Chief, you whisper it and he puts you down for a 20.

Tony, who had a creditable 25, is departing for Australia next week in time to catch up with the Ashes series. I didn't like to ask him if he had a "money back if not satisfied" deal but he isn't due back until the end of January so at least he will miss the worst of the winter.

Tip of the week

No 77: Stopping those pitch shots

There's nothing more frustrating than when you have played what you feel was a perfect pitch shot into the green, but it just keeps going on by, past the flag.

Next time this happens to you, hold your finish and check your club after you have played the shot.

The club shaft should be pointing at the target and the toe of the club should be pointing to the sky.

If you allow the toe of the club to pass the heel too quickly through impact, you are de-lofting the club and it will be difficult to stop the ball on the green.

If the shaft of the club is pointing left of the target (for right-handed golfers) when you hold your finish, you will again be closing the face of the club and coming over the top of the ball.

This encourages the ball to roll when it lands.

Practise holding that finish position and this will help you achieve better striking and stopping prowess on the greens.

Simon Iliffe is head professional at Bramley Golf Club, Surrey.