The Hacker: If you're in the air force you've got to be able to take the flak

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The Independent Online

John and Dave, both dedicated hackers in their seventies, were playing in our winter league the other Sunday morning, and at a crucial stage of their foursomes match they had reached the green in good shape. All it needed was for Dave to sink a 15-yard putt or at least leave it dead.

"How do you want the flag?" asked John.

"Out, please," replied Dave, and John duly removed the flag from the hole and walked six or seven paces to the side with it. Because of the putt's importance, Dave took his time, and when he finally put putter to ball it had just the right amount of pace on it.

However, as John soon realised to his horror, the ball was heading straight for the flag he was still holding.

"The hole is over there," shouted John. "You asked me to take the flag out."

"Oh, sorry," said Dave, "I forgot."

They lost the hole and the match, and their subsequent gloom added greatly to the endless stream of hilarities our winter league produces.

I am sure it is the same in winter leagues throughout the United Kingdom. There's something about competitive golf in harsh weather conditions that encourages eccentricity and plays havoc with the formbook.

It doesn't always tempt the better players. Our league, which is called the Snakes and Ladders, is played in two sessions – the 10 weeks up to Christmas, then the 10 weeks up to Easter.

It is a foursomes format and has a minimum combined handicap of 20, which means if a two-handicapper wants to play he has to find someone off at least 18 to partner him.

Having to get up early on a winter Sunday morning to play alternate shots with a hacker is not an experience cherished by the purist. Nevertheless there are some praiseworthy hotshots eager to be among the 144 golfers waiting at their designated tees for the hooter to set them off on the 9am shotgun start. If they slip up, they can expect a merciless ribbing from the Chief Snake in his report on the morning's play to a packed bar.

We have a new Chief Snake, Bob, who has a special talent for mockery. Nothing escapes him, as Leon found to his embarrassment last weekend.

Leon is a flight lieutenant in the Royal Air Force, and recently did a tour of duty in Afghanistan. But his macho status was somewhat diminished when Bob announced that he saw Leon's mother drop him off at the club that morning, and give him a sandwich box and a kiss on the cheek.

Leon doesn't deny it, and why should he? But I think he needed proof of his bravery, so he has agreed to partner me in the Boxing Day cross-country competition in which we play across the course instead of up and down it.

It's a demanding event which calls for extra length and accuracy. The format is greensome foursomes: each player tees off and you play alternate shots with the better ball. A hacker can cause so much trouble to a superior.

I hope I haven't coerced Leon into it, but friends of his claim that he is too polite to say that he'd rather go backto Afghanistan.