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  • Alistair Tait

It’s Still Called Golf If There’s A Flag

I had to query a couple of youngish golfers last week as I made my way to the first tee on the Duke’s Course at Woburn Golf Club, my home club. They were heading back in, as I was heading out

“Pretty sure you’re supposed to be heading the other way boys,” I quipped.

The conversation didn’t last long.

“Greens are frozen,” one replied as they walked past me towards the clubhouse. “No point playing on frozen greens.”

As I’ve said previously, I’m a golfaholic: put a flag in a farmer’s field, give me a few clubs and there’s a good chance I’ll be happy.

Not everyone feels the same way. The two younger men, both excellent golfers with single figure handicaps obviously didn’t. Me, I was happy to be out on the golf course on a Wednesday afternoon, even if it meant rain pants over my trousers, three layers on top including a merino wool base layer, bobble hat, neck warmer and mitts to keep my hands warm between shots.

And the frozen greens? No problem. I could see a flag down the fairway, and it’s still called golf if there’s a flag. (The photo above is of Dukes 7th green. Note the frost.)

Temperatures hovering around zero recently have meant playing on or to frozen greens. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Fair enough. To each their own. I get it that not everyone is as nuts as myself and many others who’ll play in just about any conditions. However, I’m constantly amazed when good players, especially aspiring tour pros, decline to play when the conditions are not quite to their favour.

Two days later, 15 of us played the Dukes in similar conditions. Included in the group were a Legends Tour member, and a plus 4 handicapper and former England International. The greens were like concrete, so much so that I misjudged my shot to the 120-yard, par-3, third hole and watched as it landed on the front of the green and bounced into the rhododendron bushes behind the green en route to a blob. I was trying to land it short and let it run on, but overshot my landing area by about a yard and a half.

It was like that all the way round. Great fun too, and I still managed to accumulate 35 stableford points.

I’ve had situations in the past when good players have refused to play because the conditions weren’t quite right. I once played with an aspiring tour pro who quit after three holes on the Duchess Course because he felt the greens weren’t quite up to scratch. It was early March and he complained they were too slow: as if the greenkeeper was going to have them running at 13 on the stimp at that time of year. I had a we go at him, telling him he wasn’t going to get perfect greens every single week if made it to the European Tour.

He walked off anyway. Funnily enough, said player never did make the grade as a tour pro. I think he may have done if he’d accepted the challenge presented that day, and other days. The name of the game is to get the ball in the hole in as few stokes as possible. That often demands imagination when course conditions aren’t quite Augusta like.

Surely that’s part of the thrill of the game?

Stories of Seve Ballesteros honing his game on Pedrena Beach are legendary. The young Seve didn’t care that he had to play over pebbles, grit and seaweed. He simply cut a hole in the sand, inserted a stick as a makeshift flag, and played to his heart’s content, trying to find imaginative ways to get the ball into that hole in as few strokes as possible. Ditto for Lee Trevino growing up on the hardpan fairways and strong winds of Texas.

Others have learned on rudimentary courses and gone on to become great players too. No posh country clubs with immaculate greens for the likes Moe Norman and Sam Snead.

As Gary Nicholl and Karl Morris write in The Lost Art of the Short Game:

“Wouldn’t you rather embark on a journey of discovery and mastery? Isn’t it more satisfying to actually learn how to see, feel and play shots that will enhance your enjoyment, experience and your scoring skills?”

Yes and yes, even if that means having to bounce the ball 20, 30, 40 yards short of a frozen green to get it roll up to the flag. Where’s the fun in playing target golf on a continual basis?

#JustSaying: “The real fun of contours on greens isn’t just the putting. It’s the possibility of playing a properly flighted shot and using the slopes, the tilts, the contours to move the ball from one part of the green to another. We see far too much ‘hit and splat’ golf on the professional tour.” Mike Clayton

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