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Monthly Archives: March 2012

Also published on the Golf Monthly website

I find watching sporting contests often provides an interesting personal insight. Apart from when Scotland or a Scot competes (and let’s face it, they’re not often competitive) I don’t think I have any particular sporting allegiances. I don’t support a football club or rugby team, I don’t have a favourite athlete or swimmer. But I always find I pin my colours to a mast somewhere when sitting in front of the telly.

When I watch the golf, as I do every week, I start out not caring who wins (except if I have a little wager on.) Really though I just enjoy watching some good play over the first couple of days. But by Sunday afternoon there’s always someone I want to come out on top when I properly think about it, and sometimes it surprises me who it is.

Last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational provided a good example. Surely on Sunday evening I was supporting the Brit: a Golf Monthly contributor and all-round good guy Graeme McDowell. I was, I really was. Well, to start with anyway.

The genial Northern Irishman began the day one behind Tiger Woods and I started out feeling disappointment when GMac doubled the first, then excitement when he rolled in a couple of long putts to get back into contention. But these emotions were surface level. Deep down, I knew I wanted Tiger to win. Why? He’s an American up against a Brit, he’s not behaved very well in recent years and he has little time for golfing journalists like me. And, surely he’s won enough over the years.

The thing is: everyone who loves golf loves to see it done as well as it can be. In the history of the game, nobody has ever done it as well as Tiger Woods. To have him back at the peak of his powers is thrilling for golf lovers and for golf on the wider sporting stage.

I want to see Tiger back to that mind-boggling brilliance he displayed at the start of this century. I want to see that type of golf again and, no matter what I think of him as a person – and to be honest I don’t know him as a person so can’t make a fair assessment – I’m excited by the prospect of Tiger firing on all cylinders once more.

It’s particularly exciting at a time when he could go up against other players (British players) who are producing some sublime golf. Luke Donald has never had such self-belief before and he continues to find endless fairways and chip and putt like a magician.

Then there’s Rory McIlroy. He’s clearly able to play the game at a supremely high level – perhaps not yet as masterfully as Woods at his prime, but not far off – see his performance at Congressional last year.

Can you imagine Woods at his best versus Rory at his best? It would be amazing: a golfing version of Federer vs Nadal, Ali vs Frazier. It could happen, it could happen at Augusta, a course that suits both players’ games perfectly.

As Sky Sport News ticked away in the background my brother said to the group of golfers gathered for an early evening pint at my club yesterday, “What do you think of that? Tiger is now favourite for the Masters. That’s crazy, he’s won once for the first time in almost three years and he could still injure himself at any time.”

General consensus though was that Tiger was justifiably favourite. For a start he’s won at Augusta four times, and has another 10 Majors to his name plus 85 further pro victories worldwide. More importantly for me though, at Bay Hill he had that look about him again. That look that says, “I am going to win. I am going to do whatever it takes to win. I don’t care if I do it playing 5-irons for safety or if I have to play a driver off the deck over water to an island green, I am going to win!”

I just hope Tiger produces something like his best at the Masters, and so does Rory, and so does Luke. That would make for some compelling viewing and for some very interesting soul searching in the Bisset household as I consider which player I truly want to win. I think it would be Luke, but maybe not.

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Dear Diary,

Firstly let me start by saying well done to the Banchory ‘Mail on Sunday’ team who were victorious over Aboyne on Saturday. A 5-0 scoreline showed the boys are desperate to do well and get further than the semi-final place they achieved a few years back. I had the pleasure of walking the course with the boys and witnessed some decent golf. The chap from Aboyne who I followed round was one of the best I’ve ever seen at chipping and putting – the main reason he played of 5. Food for thought I think!

As for my golf; I went for a few holes after work on Friday night, actually hit the ball quiet well and really enjoyed being out on the course. I missed my only birdie putt chance from about 5 feet though, I think I might be becoming a bottler! Must remember to pack a brown paper bag in with my sticks next week.

Had the pleasure of playing Culter on Sunday. It’s an enjoyable course, made even more enjoyable by the condition it’s in, especially the greens which are fantastic and really put Banchory to shame. In fact, every aspect of the nick of the course puts Banchory to shame. I was playing with a couple of guys who I don’t usually play with who were both playing for their handicaps, which meant I was not playing for anything and not even keeping score Thankfully this meant that my tee shot on the first that flew (sliced) OB onto the practice ground didn’t count for anything and so didn’t require a head off! The rest of the round was a mixed bag, a real lack of consistency on the tees and greens meant for a bit of a frustrating afternoon. Was happy with my iron play and the weather and company were excellent so there was no need to vent my frustration at any misplaced tee shots or stupid 3 putts.

I still think I prefer playing with a card in my hand or for fivers with the boys, need something to compete for in order to concentrate fully. However, this also leads to tension, brown paper bag moments and the inevitable head off. Still, being your own worst critic is sometimes a good thing.

A special mention has to go to Craig Lindsay who completed the Banchory Golf Club beer matt challenge on Saturday night. Knowing Craig we will be hearing about this achievement for some time to come. I fully expect him to receive some sort of trophy at price giving.

Captain vs Vice Captain next weekend, should be entertaining. Still another two weeks until I can start working towards my target handicap, until then I remain unchanged………….

Official Handicap: 14.7

Season Target: 10.4

Bridgieness Level: 2/10

J Symons

15 Handicapper.

At 1309 metres, Ben Macdui is the second highest mountain in the UK. It’s also only a 40-minute drive from my house. It seems incredible then that, until last week, I’d never climbed it.

My pal David and I had often talked about going up and I’ve walked past while doing the Lairig Ghru. But, in 25 years of living on Deeside, I’ve never bothered to stroll up to the peak.

It’s amazing how the proximity of things often causes them to be overlooked. I’m way too blasé about the attractions and activities in this area. There are hills, castles, lochs and forests here that people will travel miles to see. Yet I (and many other locals) don’t bother. I’m going to try and bother more from now on because we’re pretty spoiled.

They may be stunningly beautiful, but the potential dangers of the Scottish hills are real. These dangers are often talked about but they’re also often scoffed at. I must confess I’ve been a little dismissive in the past. I’ve been up in the high Alps for goodness sake, what’s a little hillock in Scotland?

But it’s not so much the severity of the terrain that’s the problem; it’s the weather. If the mist closes in when you’re high on the mountainside it can be extremely disorientating and it’s all too easy to lose your way. And, with a whole lot of nothing covering 95% of the Scottish Highlands, heading in the wrong direction could mean a walk into the abyss.

Seemingly, it was a lovely day when David and I set off on our bikes from the Linn of Dee car park – warm with broken high cloud and little wind. It was so warm, in fact, that I was able to wear my most ridiculous outdoor outfit – the one I put together for a duathlon I recently competed in over on the west coast. The lower half of this outfit consists of: compression running tights with shorts over the top, white socks and trainers. It looks bloody awful and, if David weren’t such an old friend, he would have been entirely justified in kicking my arse for looking like such a dufus.

Anyway my arse remained un-kicked and we enjoyed a pleasant cycle up to the Bridge of Lui where we dumped the bikes in the heather. At this point I changed my trainers for a pair of hiking boots, yes, still with tights. This made me look like even more of a numptie and when David showed me a picture he’d taken of me posing beside the burn, I was tempted to kick my own arse.

But there was no time for sartorial discussions as we were keen to complete our ascent as quickly as possible. We forged speedily up the first pitch and enjoyed a Mint Aero after 45 minutes or so of climbing.

Progress was good as we headed up the ridge but some cloud looming to the south looked a little ominous. The main path up to the summit from the south side runs out when it hits a large boulder field that basically surrounds the peak. From this point it’s a question of picking your own route and scrambling up. Not a problem, except the cloud rolled in at almost the exact time we reached the boulder/scree field.

We were careful to take compass bearings against the map and were confident we were heading in the right direction. It turned out we were and, without too much fuss, we reached the summit. Unbelievably there was no snow up there. Pretty incredible for mid-March at the top of Scotland’s second highest mountain. It just goes to show what stunning weather we’ve had recently.

Anyway, we enjoyed a relatively chilly lunch, sheltering from the wind behind the summit cairn, before beginning our descent. The mist was pretty thick at this point, visibility down to about 100 metres or so – not uncommon up there, the myth of the Old Grey Man has something to do with seeing your own shadow against the cloud doesn’t it?

We were pretty confident we had set off on the same bearing we had come up on. But, after some minutes of scrabbling over the rock field we had still to recognise any of the landmarks we’d spotted on the way up. A little frantic compass comparing and map studying ensued and we concluded we were on the right track; we must have just narrowly missed the points we’d passed on the way up.

Another five minutes of descending though and we were pretty sure we weren’t on the same bit of hill. We stopped to take stock. It was suddenly rather cold and the wind had picked up. There was a bit of me (probably the bit only covered by a pair of tights and some tennis shorts) that suddenly felt rather exposed.

Then we got lucky, the mist cleared slightly below us and we caught sight of a river and I recognised it. We had come down in slightly too southerly a direction to start with and we were descending a different face to the one we had ascended – we were going down towards the Lairig Ghru. This was fine as I knew there was a path that led along the side of a stream to the valley floor – pretty jammy.

But, it was a salutary lesson about how easy it is to go wrong. What we had forgotten was, at the very final stage of the ascent we had turned more to the west to climb the last couple of hundred metres. We knew we had to descend in a south/south easterly direction but we forgot we had to walk almost directly east for a little way before we did it. Without anything to look at, it was so easy to make the mistake.

Anyway we got down fine and it turned out to be an excellent route because we ended up walking in a nice loop back to where we’d left the bikes. David and I agreed we would have probably done that on purpose had we been able to see, and that nobody needed to know we hadn’t done it on purpose. Well, now I’ve told them so you can add that to the list (just above the tights) of reasons to kick my arse.

Dear Diary,

I have decided this year to keep a journal of my trials and tribulations on and off the golf course in order to better understand the mental anguish and self doubt that swinging a club and hitting a little ball into a hole causes me.

I am 29 years old and about to enter into my fourth season as a competitive golfer. As it stands my handicap is a rather unflattering 14.7 (15), but looking back to a year ago I can only be pleased with what I achieved last season, having come down from 19.3.

I am a member at Banchory Golf Club – a lovely little course in Aberdeenshire with a modest yardage and seemingly easy par of 69. Having only been a member for four years I have not grown up with the course but, as far as I can see, it offers as many obstacles and challenges that any average club member should need.

Let me start by explaining that, although my handicap is 15, I play almost exclusively with friends who are far more experienced golfers than I am. Their handicaps range from +1 to a maximum of 9. Playing with these guys has improved my game hugely in recent years but it has also added to the frustration – they are all better than me and laugh out loud when I get stuck in a bunker for eight strokes, hit my tee shot off the first into some poor chap’s garden or snap my driver in three after hitting my ball into a nearby river. This is why on a Saturday afternoon I will either be laughing and joking with the guys enjoying a cool refreshing lager having shot nett 64, or be sitting at a table on my own crying into an orange squash having shot nett 75. I think I feel the pressure to get my handicap down so I can be competitive with my peers and not require shots (or some very generous gimmies) in order to be able to keep up with them, even in a bounce game on a Sunday afternoon.

This week was the second Saturday in a row we have had a bounce game. Having hit the ball with decent consistency and putted more like J Christ than S Garcia the week before, I was confident of scoring well and taking the boys £5ers off them. This inner belief and self-confidence soon disappeared when my first tee shot almost ended up on the road to Aboyne! Not so much a power fade as a raging slice.

My head was down immediately, I hate the first hole! With my putter also not working and my chipping once again being that of a complete novice, my rather lacklustre 27 stableford points cost me £5 and a strong word with myself in the toilets afterwards. Maybe I am rather hard on myself and show far too much emotion out on the course, having a hissy fit or ‘head off’ as I like to call them on the course has never helped my score or my wallet (driver in 3 pieces as mentioned) before so I am trying to remove them from my game. But this just means I have to go to the locker room and cry immediately after coming off the course.

The most significant difference between me and my pals is this: They can follow up a terrible tee shot with a short iron to six feet from behind a tree, off a path or in a Pringles tin. I don’t have those powers of recovery nor the necessary self-belief following a shot into the trees, someone’s garden or a bunker.

I went for a putt on my own on Sunday morning and holed the world! Not fair, I think I have some mental problems.

Until next weekend’s final bounce game before the season starts in earnest, I remain as before:

Official Handicap: 14.7

Season Target: 10.4

Bridgieness (suicide watch) level: 4/10

J Symons

15 Handicapper.

#3 Nicolas Jaar – Too Many Kids Finding Rain in the Dust

Sounding like a follow on to Nick Cave’s Red Right HandToo Many Kids Finding Rain in the Dust is the 4th track on Jaar’s 2011 album Space is Only Noise. It was an aptly titled release, as the Chilean-American clearly has a profound understanding of sound design, and the importance of space in a mix. Best listened to on a dark winter’s night.

Why did I say I'd do this?

I’ve always had way too much confidence in my physical ability. It stems from the fact I was super-fit as a youngster when I was heavily into athletics, swimming and tennis. Ever since I’ve blindly and ignorantly assumed there’s no physical challenge I can’t take on and pull off with more than a little style.

Some years ago we were staying at Jessie (wife’s) parents’ house in Glenfinnan, Lochaber at the time of the annual Glenfinnan Gathering. A friend of ours and a few of his pals were due to meet us on the games field at some point in the mid-afternoon. When making the arrangement he suggested we should compete in the hill race. I laughingly said “yes,” assuming he wasn’t being serious – I’d envisaged an afternoon of watching the strong man events while supping cans of Tennents Lager.

I should have twigged though. He was, after all, a former Scottish under-21 fell-running champion.

On the day of the games I was in relaxed mood through the morning and had totally forgotten my commitment to the hill race. Well, I didn’t think I’d made a commitment actually. I enjoyed a fine lunch: a large venison and cheese burger washed down with a couple of jumbo sized cans of the aforementioned Tennents Lager. The day was panning out nicely. But, just as I drained the contents of can two, our mate bounced into the beer tent wearing only the skimpiest pair of shorts and a running vest. My heart sank.

“Alright guys,” he said. “Fergus, take it you’re ready for this race? Start is in 20 minutes.”

The words that formed in my head were, “Nah, sorry to let you down but I don’t really feel like it today and, besides, I’ve just drunk a litre of beer and consumed half a deer.” The words that actually and inexplicably came out were, “For sure, I’ve just got to go and get my trainers.”

I didn’t have long so I had to jog back to the house to find a pair of trainers and some shorts. By the time I got back I could already feel my lunch swilling dangerously inside me. I barely had two minutes to pull on my shorts and pin a number to my chest before the participants were called to the start line.

Luckily for me the Glenfinnan hill race is a real sprint so I didn’t have to endure the pain for too long. But considerable pain is what I went through to somehow get back to the games field in fourth place (our pal had won by miles, much to the chagrin of the crowd he had beaten the local hero and defending champ.) Initially I received a number of pats on the back for a solid effort in the face of adversity. I felt pretty cool. But then the adrenaline wore off, my stomach went into spasm and I had to go and spend two hours lying down in the Red Cross tent – not so cool.

It turns out I didn’t learn from the experience. A few weeks ago I received an email from my friend Tom – a veteran of numerous endurance events (including an Iron Man) – suggesting we take part in a “winter duathlon” being held near Arisaig.

On paper it looked ok – 8km run followed by 25km bike followed by 5km run. I’ve been running and cycling a bit recently so, without really thinking it over, my fingers began typing…. “Yes, sounds like a good idea, let’s do it….” SEND….. Wait a minute, I’m not going to be very fit compared to Tom…. Wait another minute, Arisaig in mid February?…. Wait a further couple of minutes, 25km on roads and I only have a scabby old mountain bike…. RECALL, RECALL, please RECALL… Too late.

So I was in and, with only a couple of weeks further preparation time, I set to work. Well, I went on a few jogs and out up into the hills on my bike once. Tom also, very kindly, said he would find me a racer for the day.

We travelled over to the West Coast the evening before the race where Tom, and his friend Chris, joined us at Glenfinnan for a last supper. I had promised myself I wouldn’t drink the night before the event and I did fairly well, limiting it to one weak gin and tonic and four glasses of red.

Through the night the wind was howling and hail thrashed against the bedroom window. I lay there for hours contemplating my position and wondering how I could politely withdraw without losing face. I knew deep down though that pulling out was never going to be an option.

The morning dawned with the wind still raging and with squally, wintry showers blowing aggressively up Loch Shiel towards the house. Tom wondered if the biking section would be off – too dangerous in such high cross-winds. I must confess I wasn’t distraught at this prospect as I looked out towards the bike rack on Tom’s car. It suddenly dawned on me that I’d never properly ridden a racing bike before and it did have very thin wheels.

There was no time for doubts though and we struck out for Arisaig into a swift mini-blizzard. Tom kept spirits high by reciting his motto – “Remember guys, it doesn’t have to be fun to be fun.” Oh yeah, I’d forgotten that.

When we got to the registration area and start point, at the Sunnyside Croft just before Traigh Golf Course, (oh how I wished I was going for a quick nine holes,) I actually felt strangely calm. I think it was because I had no idea what I was getting myself in for. I just followed what the other competitors were doing: putting their bikes in racks, pulling up their running tights, going for a little jog etc.

Then we were off. The pace was decidedly steady. I actually found I could keep up with the lead group. No, I should be honest, there were in fact two whippets who darted off ahead, but they were clearly in a different league from the rest of the field so I’ve discounted them mentally.

But I paced along happily and found myself ahead of Tom and Chris after a few km. Something told me they knew something I didn’t. As I began to get closer to the transition area I began thinking – “Hmm. I’m ok, but that’s not the finish I’m approaching, that’s the start of a 25km bike… then I’ll have to run over half this circuit again.” I suddenly realised I was breathing more heavily.

It was on the bike leg I properly struggled. Not just because I had some technical issues – I couldn’t really figure out how the gears worked on a racing bike and I couldn’t comfortably get my feet in the toe clips – but also because of the wind. A long section of the 12.5km loop (that we did twice) was straight into the hurricane blowing down the main Mallaig road. On the uphill section, with 50mph gusts buffeting me head on, I found it hard to even make forward progress. More experienced cyclists (Tom included) whistled past me on a regular basis which I must confess, did little for my morale.

By the time I got back to transition again I’d dropped from fourth to 14th. Jessie was there to give encouragement – “What took you so long?” she asked. “Tom was here ages ago.” Thanks darling, morale levels further diminished.

Setting out to run again was an incredible experience – I’d never tried to run after a hard cycle before and my legs just did not want to do it. They felt like they belonged to someone else and I had to summon all my strength just to put one foot in front of the other.

I think you could describe my final 5km as a “plod.” I had thought I’d try and regain a bit of ground, but with two frozen lumps of meat for legs, it became more about finishing than improving my position.

I made it eventually, and even overtook one chap who seemed to have even heavier and deader legs than me – I hope he’s not still out there. When I crossed the line I had hoped to feel a sense of elation. All I actually felt was, “Where is our car? … “Must sit down,” “Must get warm.” The picture above gives an indication of this.

Through the two hours it took to complete the event, and in the immediate aftermath, I must confess I didn’t glean a huge amount of enjoyment. But, half an hour later, sitting with a pint in the Cnoc na Faire pub, I did experience that much anticipated feeling of elation. The sense of achievement, even in a relatively easy endurance event like this one, is tough to beat.

And there was great camaraderie too. Almost all those who took part headed to the boozer for soup and sarnies and a few pints to compare tales of their battle with the elements.

Yes, I got a lot out of it. But I’m not sure I’ll be rushing to enter another endurance event. Well not until someone asks me to and my strange inner override system accepts, without consulting the rest of my brain and body.

Note: The Winter Feast Duathlon was organised by No Fuss Events – www.nofussevents.co.uk They do a number of nutty events throughout the year: running, mountain biking, river rapid riding.. all sorts. Check them out.

#2 Sepalcure – Breezin’

Sepalcure are Travis Stewart and Praveen Sharma, both of whom have solo careers of note (Stewart as Machinedrum, Sharma as Braille). Their self-titled album was one of the standout releases of 2011. It’s signature sound was a deft combination of deep bass, house sensibilities, clipped 2-step beats and unintelligible pitched vocal samples. Despite hailing from New York, Sepalcure’s sound bears more resemblance to UK bass music than releases on their native side of the Atlantic.