The boys’ golf trip

I sat down this morning and began to consider what encapsulates the boys’ golf trip? What is it that makes it the most anticipated and beloved yearly event of golfers across the country?

As I pondered, an email pinged up on my screen. It read, “Stu, what fake handicap are you going to be playing off this year?” This direct question – basically suggesting Stewart is a cheating bandit – came from another of my golfing pals Martin in relation to this year’s annual “Tuesday Championship,” (so named as the group started playing golf together on a Tuesday.)

This insult-infused query pretty much summed it up for me. Sometimes barbed insults can be the finest form of flattery. Only people who truly like one another can throw such disparaging remarks around knowing that, no matter how slanderous it gets, it will be taken in good humour. The boys’ golf trip is, predominantly, meant to be a laugh.

Having said this, even though the question was clearly meant as a joke, the communication also displayed the underlying current of competition central to a golf trip of this nature. Both men involved in the exchange are (I think) immensely looking forward to the holiday, to spending time with friends, to having too much to drink and to getting away from work for a few days. But they also both want to win. They’re keen and competitive golfers and lofting our prestigious Tuesday Championship trophy is a rite of passage for those in my golfing circle. I’m yet to do it, I should add.

None of my band of golfing brothers will ever win the Open Championship, (at least it’s highly unlikely.) For most of us, the Tuesday Championship trophy is our Claret Jug.

The start of our, and any, golf trip begins with the planning – an exercise almost as, some would say more, enjoyable than the event itself. Months in advance, the email goes out from the most proactive group member (Martin) suggesting possible dates and venues. There follows days/weeks of toing and froing.

“It’s my daughter’s first birthday that Thursday…” “Don’t worry, she’ll have plenty more.”

“I don’t want to go to Edinburgh again…” “Oh come on, what are the chances of bumping into her?”

The internet makes it so easy to get involved in the planning – to check out the courses, the hotels, the potential curry houses and nightclubs. Poring over websites to find the perfect itinerary for your excursion can make even the most boring day in the office bearable.

Trips that are venturing beyond our fair shores will need even more intricate preparation: looking at flight times, costing, possible weather in that area at that time, stability of current government etc.

But once everyone has voiced their concerns, re-organised their family calendar and checked their passport status, it can all be booked up and the real anticipation can start in earnest.

This is when the pre-match banter begins to flow. This will generally revolve around angry handicap negotiations as mentioned above, but could also entail: the format of the tournament, the dubious drop taken in round three by last year’s winner, the betting, the questionable drinking ability of various party members, risible current form and more. These discussions will start off intermittently but will build to a crescendo in the days preceding departure.

On the eve of the annual golfing pilgrimage, the feeling of anticipation is supremely intense. As I grow older and more cynical there’s an ever-decreasing number of things in life I become excited about, but golf trips never fail to engender in me a sense of child-like exhilaration. I might even clean my clubs.

Prior to the event there’s that amazing possibility that this could be “the year.” Why does extensive past experience never diminish the optimism?

Most boys’ trips I’ve been on follow the same pattern in terms of golfing performance. The first round is played to a reasonable standard relative to respective handicaps. Then, as tiredness and hangovers increase, gross scores rise proportionately.

My experience is of a glorious “honeymoon period” at the outset of a trip. At some point during the first round when you’ve turned in 19 Stableford points, you take the chance to look round at the fine surroundings and share a few kind words of friendship with your playing partners. At this stage you could not be happier, the golf is respectable, you feel great and you know you’re just at the beginning.

This high is fantastic but it has a downside because it will inevitably continue in the bar after the round is completed. By the time you’ve celebrated your 35 points for 10 hours, prospects for the following day’s golf look less rosy.

The morning after the first night of a boys’ golf trip tends to be a low point for me. In fact, I’ve just had a horrible flashback of shoving the components of a fry-up gingerly around a plate while contemplating 36-holes over an Open qualifying course near Dundee, off the back tees in the rain.

Golf and hangovers just don’t go well together. I can remember on a particularly boozy trip a few years ago, feeling unusually horrendous around one of England’s finest inland courses. I’d racked up an impressive six Stableford points through seven holes and was questioning my very existence. I doubted whether anybody had ever enjoyed a round of golf less. But then, when I was at my lowest ebb, I passed the group behind approaching the 7th green.

“I hope you’re doing better than me,” I ventured untruthfully.

“Unlikely,” said my pal, “I’ve only scored three points.”

If anyone was watching my stride they might have just detected a little spring.

And that’s the thing. Despite all the camaraderie and banter, the main objective of most people going on a boys’ golf trip is to put in a decent showing on course. Even if winning the event is out of reach there’ll always be something to play for. It might be winning that particular round, beating another of the struggling golfers whom you’ve a side wager with or just making a birdie or two.

The trips I go on, and most others I’m aware of from various clubhouse conversations, feature an inordinate amount of complicated and diverse betting. There’s money up for grabs by making birdies and eagles, sand saves, ferrets (holing from off the green,) nearest the pin, longest drive, the list goes on. Basically you’re either going to end the trip with a very heavy or very light wallet.

However, those few who finish the week in credit won’t be smiling for long because, when the mudslinging starts for next year’s tournament, they will be the principal targets.

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