The Hacker: You need to have a screw loose to play St Mellion – I really did
Sunday 14 June 2009
It was like meeting an old friend who had fallen on hard times but is now spruced up and smarter than ever. The only trouble is that he's just as nasty as he used to be.
Twenty years ago, St Mellion in Cornwall played a leading part on the English golf scene, staging top tournaments that counted the likes of Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer and Jose Maria Olazabal among the winners.
Despite being voted the hardest course in England, it was a popular venue for holidaying golfers. Over the last dozen or so years, however, St Mellion has slipped off the radar despite hosting events such as the English Seniors in 2007. But last week it announced itself as back in the big time after a £20 million transformation including a sparkling new 80-room hotel and spa.
The course designed by Jack Nicklaus 21 years ago has undergone £2.5m worth of upgrading and I can vouch that not a penny has been spent on making it easier.
It is good to have St Mellion back because it is a heart-warming story that began in 1974 when brothers Martin and Hermon Bond decided to diversify from farming to build a golf course on their land.
It staged the 1979 B&H event but drew criticism from Ballesteros, who finished 57th. Stung by Seve's comments, the Bonds went to the United States to approach no less a figure than Nicklaus to design them a better course.
To convince him he wasn't dealing with yokels they took a cheque for £50,000 by way of introduction.
Nicklaus hadn't built a course in the UK before and shifted 1.5 million cubic yards of Cornish landscape to create a spectacular lay-out which he is still proud of.
The decision to restore it to its former glory was taken by Australian Jeff Chapman, a former Aussie Rules player, who has personally funded this resurrection of the Bond brothers' dream.
It is a brave call. St Mellion, part of the Crown Golf group, hopes that staging the English Open in 2011 and for the next four years will help to establish it as a major golf resort.
Over 30 million people live within four hours' drive of St Mellion, and Air Southwest are offering frequent flights from 11 British and Irish airports to nearby Plymouth.
It is well worth a visit. They let the media loose on it last week and it didn't take long to be reminded of its lethal loveliness.
It is a hard course to score on. My playing companions, who were miles better than me, came in with far fewer points than their play had deserved. I managed to get all of 15 points but someone else only had three. At least I had an excuse.
I have a putter which resembles a branding iron and it has been making an odd, metallic noise lately. During the game I discovered that a screw had fallen out.
It was a distraction, I'm afraid. Not only was it threatening to fall apart, there was a loud clanking every time I hit the ball. It certainly didn't help my putting but I did manage to hole a 15-footer on the 16th. "That was a rattling good putt," I said. They neglected to laugh.
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