There's a moment in every golfer's life that we remember for ever. It belongs to that period after a perfect swing, when the sweet spot of the driver has met the ball with a thick, solid click. The ball screams off the tee on a low, rising climb, and just in the last quarter of its flight when you think it might start falling, the spin you've put on it bites into the air and the ball lifts, climbing more steeply and slowly in a last flare of energy.
And then you get the moment, when the flight of the ball connects with the feeling of the strike and the two have travelled up the club, through your arms and shoulders and into your heart.
I haven't played golf for 15 years. It's been a principled protest. I was driven away, essentially, by a combination of clubs that didn't work and disobedient balls.
Five years ago I made an effort to atone, to reconcile. I went down to the driving range with my mid-1980s, state-of-the-art clubs with the graphite shafts for extra length and hit a few shots. It was so depressing I lent the clubs to a friend and he emigrated with them.
But my dear old dad taught me to play when I was 10 years old, and here I am at the age that he was when I first took notice of him. The game didn't exactly call me back, but I was feeling unusually fat when passing the driving range and I remembered him striding out across the fairways with a spring in his step. We all need an example to follow.
The pro handed me a driver. I'd never seen anything like it. Its head was as big as my head. And yet it was as light as a child's club. It swung like a fairy's wand and with magical effect. I addressed the ball; my old enemy hadn't changed. I glared at it while my backswing turned into a savage follow through.
With a "dink" or a "clink" the vast head connected with the ball and it rose from the stall. It sailed up through the brisk spring morning. It went left a little, then right a little, then spinning against the wind it steadied itself and cleft the range in twain, right to the outer limits, beyond the marker posts.
Losing isn't addictive; failure doesn't grip the imagination. It's success that's dangerous; winning is the thing that seizes you and binds you. That must have been 260 yards. It is a magic club. I've never hit a ball that far. It was one of those shots you remember all your life, and are comforted by it.
The technology advance has been amazing. These big-headed fatboys are just unnatural. One reason I'd never hit a ball that far was I could never use a driver. Those old steel shafted things with a lump of igneous rock on the end, they needed more skill and strength than I ever mustered. You needed to have come from a different tradition to work them.
My dad began playing in the days of the niblick and brassie. Ah yes, when woods were made of wood. There was that Wodehouse character who was so enamoured of the game he christened his son Rib-Faced Mashie.
In 1920s Belfast there was no money to buy equipment, so my father and his brothers cut club-like sticks out of the hedge and played cross-country golf with balls they found on the course. Many years later he'd look at little West Indian boys playing cricket with palm fronds and balls made of bound twine, and he told me that was why the Caribbean was so good at that game. Culture was more important than facilities.
Nonetheless, clubs with hickory shafts and metal heads made a big difference to his game. He made scratch in his teens and peaked at +2 just before the war. Why hadn't he turned professional? It wasn't golf then, not as we know it now. The professional in the shop was the man who bound your club heads. They were apprenticed for three years. There wasn't money, as such, in competitions. And above all, "professional" wasn't a term of praise in sport in those days. In cricket, "players" had a separate exit from the dressing room on to the pitch at Lord's. The amateur spirit prevailed.
Actually, that's still there, amid all the money and television rights. Cricket has groin-thrusting and air-punching; rugby players spit; tennis players grunt and swear but golf is still the mysterious repository of good humour, good grace and good manners.
The crowds don't whistle when a player squares up for a putt; the players are polite; they behave like decent human beings; everyone applauds a good shot. It's quite unlike professional sport. You can look back and still see echoes of the Bobby Jones moment in 1925. This was when the Tiger Woods of his day insisted on adding a penalty stroke to his card because his ball had moved in the long grass when he'd addressed it. Nobody had seen; the judges tried to talk him out of it but he had his way (and lost the match as a result). "You might as praise me for not breaking into banks," he said to those who admired his honesty.
We all need an example to follow, as I say.
By such standards, these new clubs, these magic wands, they're cheating. There's something soulless about them. Maybe they come from the region of the undead. I'm not complaining, and goodness knows I wouldn't be playing again without them, but they lack life. You can top the ball or it behind it, but as long as you connect, the ball will move, and probably for hundreds of yards.
You can tell they are weird – or more accurately, wyrd – because they don't make the right noise. That fat click in a brassie's sweet spot was a sign of life. A metallic clink is ...I don't know, a sign of the demon, Legion, the Beast. It's one of the dangers we golfers are willing to risk for the sake of our handicap.
And there's another zombie-like characteristic that tells you the club isn't a living thing. No matter how well you hit it, the ball goes up and down in a bell-shaped curve; it doesn't do that long, low, attack jet climb before lifting up into a final surge of life.
Nonetheless. I am firmly on the dark side now and these objections are the last you'll hear from me on the subject. Apart from anything else, the clubs aren't so powerful that they have given me a handicap I could discuss in mixed company. That is, with men present. And I've got a horrible feeling that if they develop a directional ball that you can guide in flight ... I'd buy it.Reuse content