PsychoGeography #45: The bunker mentality

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My grandfather, Sir Albert Henry Self, KG, KCBE, Dlit, DDL, began life as a dishwasher on the Fulham Road, and ended up Chairman of the Electricity Board.

My grandfather, Sir Albert Henry Self, KG, KCBE, Dlit, DDL, began life as a dishwasher on the Fulham Road, and ended up Chairman of the Electricity Board. But nothing signified his meteoric social climb more vividly than the smooth, green fairways of the West Hove Golf Club, of which he was the president for several decades. So total was my grandfather's devotion to golf that my father never tired of telling me that Dids - as he was known in the family - "Refused to talk to me and your uncle at all until we could handle a club." Naturally my father became an excellent golfer, with at times a scratch handicap, but from what I could observe the father-son discourse remained firmly in the bunker.

Dids himself was a mean golfer, with a wicked slash of a stroke. Family lore had it that while still a relatively junior civil servant, he'd defeated a trio of fully equipped Permanent Undersecretaries, armed only with a mashy niblick and a putter. Mashy niblick - that says it all. My grandparents' house - which, curiously, straddled the border of Brighton and Hove - was mired in the interwar period and golf was the palpable evidence of this. The menfolk spoke quite casually of such obsolete golf clubs as the spoon and the exploder, while sipping their bombshells (12 parts gin to one of vermouth) in the drawing room.

Then everyone who had a penis was obliged to adjourn to the links; my grandfather and his sons to play, my brother and I to caddy. Christ! How I came to loathe the game and all that goes with it, most especially the bloody courses. West Hove began quite sedately with three longish holes, then travelled up a broad valley north from the Worthing Road. But then the terrain changed, and the course mounted up on to the South Downs. There followed a series of increasingly wild holes, switchbacking over the bald, rounded hills. It wasn't until about the 15th that the altitude began to decline, until eventually you ended back at the 19th hole (tee-hee!), where the men would down pints, while my brother and I, high on Coca-Cola and crisps, chipped balls around the putting green.

Unhappy days. Not only were the golf bags heavy, but it always seemed to be biting cold as we hauled our loads over the man-made terrain. Even as a child the monstrous ludic hubris of the course struck me with peculiar force. Yes, there were great cities and the countryside was partitioned into an myriad fields, but here five full miles of God's earth had been sculpted and shaved so that men in funny shoes could swipe at an artificial testicle full of gutta-percha, with long, spindly clubs.

My father, who was an academic specialist on town planning, would often draw my attention to the encroachment of the urban on his beloved links. This hole had been sold off to a developer, that one was being re-routed. He looked forward balefully to a day when the course would be altogether surrounded by a great South Coast conurbation. While I'm not much given to the English vice of Schadenfreude - anymore than I salute unfettered expansion of the built environment - I have to say that on the rare occasions when I pass the West Hove Golf Club, it does please me mightily to see that my father's prophecies have come to pass, and that the fairways are now mere green lanes, snaking between creosoted garden fences.

Of course, had I been able to play golf myself my mounting antipathy might have been curbed. My father tried, but while he had the patience of a passive-aggressive saint in most areas of life, when it came to sport he was distinctly curt. "Don't lift your head!" he'd cry out, as I propelled another chunk of Sussex turf high into the sky. But the trouble was that I positively liked divots - such cute little islets - and couldn't see the point of going outside in order to stare at your own feet. There was also my father's competitiveness, which made every bunker a Hitlerian fate. Doubtless it was all those unexpressed feelings, which had curdled in his own larynx while he practised his stroke and waited for the day Dids would deign to talk to him, but show my father a game and he had to win it. Even at the very end of his life he took a strange joy in beating his own pre-school grandchildren at Snakes and Ladders.

So it was that I became a subverter of golf, a stomper on greens, a kicker on tees and a nicker-of-balls, who longed only to ridicule plus-fours while building sandcastles in bunkers. But it was behaviour that cost me dear - as you will discover next week.