A week today marks a significant anniversary as far as I'm concerned, though whether its one to be celebrated is sometimes a matter of debate.
On the first Sunday in December ten years ago I had my first golf lesson, the step over the threshold to a world of fun, fascination and frustration. It would be good to say in equal measure, but sadly it is heavily weighted towards the last of those f-words, often accompanied by serial usage of another.
That lesson and those that followed were my Christmas present to myself and, despite the roller-coaster journey since, it was the best one I’ve ever had. This is the time of year, though, that can strike fear into the heart of not just hackers, but golfers of every standard. Kind friends and relatives who know no better (and even some who do) assume that because you have taken up golf, you will by default want and like anything golf-related and bingo, the annual present-buying conundrum is solved at a stroke and forever.
Which is absolutely fine if the chosen item is a Scotty Cameron putter, a Garmin G5 GPS rangefinder, a coaching course with Dave Alred or a two-week playing holiday in Mauritius based at, say, Le Prince Maurice. Or even (back on planet Earth) a box of serviceable balls, a lesson with Matt the assistant pro or a day out at Hintlesham Hall.
What we absolutely don’t want is anything that comes under the dread heading ‘novelty’, particularly if it can also be described as ‘amusing’ or even ‘hilarious’. That rules out bottle stoppers topped by inverted tartan plus-foured legs, tee-pegs in the form of nude women, fridge magnets that say Born To Golf, Forced To Work and - especially - mugs emblazoned with the phrase Old Golfers Never Die, They Just Lose Their Drive.
But worst of all are ornaments and the worst of those must be the gift proudly presented to one of my chums by an otherwise entirely sane and normal friend. It is a garish ceramic money-box in the form of a cartoon couple on a cartoon golf buggy, he for some reason with his trousers dropped and fat backside showing; she with long flowing hair fashioned from ginger bri-nylon strands. It is an thing of such hideousness that it is difficult to imagine anyone espying it on a shop display rack and exclaiming “That’s it! The very one! I must have it!”
Everything has a use, though, and this one’s is to provide torment, incentive and pleasure. Under its sobriquet the Tasteful Trophy it is the wooden spoon prize for one of our regular playing groups. The loser on the day is under honour to take it home and display it prominently for 48 hours and if that is not a spur to hole every putt, I don’t know what is. But the plus side is that we have to pay for the privilege of playing for it and the heavier it gets, the more drinks there will be come the season of goodwill.
I have, needless to say, had it on my mantlepiece more than once. And perhaps, after ten years, I should finally acknowledge that the fantasies I had at the start (“Latecomer is tour sensation”) are not going to be fulfilled; that I am, and will remain, a hacker. The latest inadequacy is that my short game is currently well-named; I give no pitch, chip or putt the slightest chance of dropping.
I tell myself over and over again, to no effect whatsoever, that my thought should be to get it past the hole. Or perhaps what I say should be more accurately summed up as a GIFPTFH at Christmas.