At first glance, there is little in common between the game of golf and Operation Market Garden, the failed attempt by the Allies in 1944 to gain control of three key river bridges near Arnhem. Apart, of course, from the rather trite analogy of – in the case of my performances on the course, anyway – incompetence and ill-preparedness.
There are, though, some tenuous connections. The planning headquarters for the campaign, in which airborne troops were sent in ahead of those on the ground, was at Moor Park Golf Club near Rickmansworth. And Lt Col (later Major-General, DSO and Bar) John Dutton Frost, commander of the Second Parachute Battalion, ordered his golf clubs to be packed so that he could enjoy himself after beating the Germans.
Now, thanks to the game we all enjoy so much, I have a personal link with the events which began 65 years ago on Thursday. Earlier this summer, a request for a game came to my club, Bury St Edmunds, from a Dutchwoman called Dicky who was staying in the area and enterprisingly approached several courses. My chum Viv and I happened to catch the call, took her out and had a thoroughly convivial and, as it transpired, extremely interesting time.
Dicky lives at Ede, near Arnhem, and the conversation turned to the battle for which the town is famous, depicted so stirringly in the tremendous 1977 film 'A Bridge Too Far' (in which Frost was played by Anthony Hopkins). Though Dicky is too young to remember the war, her father Bill Wildeboer was intimately involved, as head of the Ede resistance movement.
In the movie, one of the officers in Frost's impossibly brave battalion, Major Allison Digby Tatham-Warter (characterised by Christopher Good as Major Carlyle) is depicted – entirely accurately – leading an assault on the eponymous structure brandishing a furled umbrella. After the collapse of Operation Market Garden, Tatham-Warter took up undercover residence on the Wildeboer farm in a dug-out room hidden by a log pile, and in October 1944 he led 138 soldiers and airmen to safety across the Rhine in Operation Pegasus.
A few days after Dicky and I played golf, I had a call from her; she discovered during a game at Thetford that her pitching wedge was missing. It turned out that it had migrated into my bag. Clearly we had been paying less attention to our game than chatting.
We set a strategy in motion for its return but a seemingly logical, meticulously planned series of exchanges via members of various clubs inevitably proved fallible. After it had travelled round two counties for a couple of weeks, I eventually retrieved it from a Cromer player at Thetford.
Next week, it will be back home, though this operation – via the ferry from Harwich to The Hook – should be fairly unadventurous. But because of a chance meeting on a golf course, I'll see the Airborne Museum at Oosterbeek, newly refurbished in time for the OMG 65th anniversary commemorations – the John Frost Bridge, the memorial to the Dutch Resistance inscribed with Bill Wildeboer's name.
I'll play golf in Holland for the first time and renew acquaintance with a charming new friend. That forgotten club has proved by no means a wedge too far.
Tip of the week
No 17: double check your alignment
The most infuriating shots are the great strikes that go the wrong way. How do you know you are aiming correctly in the first place? Always remember your feet should aim left of your target (for right-hand golfers).
If you imagine a railway track, the outside line is your golf-ball-to-target line, and the inside line is your stance line. Your feet are parallel to the ball-to-target line, but always aiming left. If you aim your feet at the target, your ball could fly as far as 20 yards off-line to the right. Especially on holes with side-hill lies, or doglegs, where it is very difficult to visualise a straight line when setting up.
Next time you have a practice session, lay a club shaft down pointing from the ball to the target then place your feet parallel to this line. Now you know you're alignment is correct.
Simon Iliffe, Head Professional, Purley Downs GC, Surrey www.theshortgame.co.uk