- Alistair Tait
Pass The Vaseline, Please!
No, the headline isn’t referring to some tawdry bedroom activity. Petroleum jelly will be needed exactly one month from today to stop parts of the body chafing that normally don’t rub together in a round of golf.
A wee bit of lubrication is needed for four rounds of golf in one day in the 72 Club, which sees a return to action after a two-year forced hiatus because of Covid-19.
A group of us dedicated to fast play will take on the challenge of lovely Littlestone Golf Club (above) on April 25th. We will play 72 holes in one day, walking and carrying, and counting every shot in medal play. We’ll play four rounds in about 12 hours.
Some, the hares who go out first, will knock nearly two hours off that time.
The 72 Club doesn’t allow carts, trollies or caddies. In other words, walk and carry and count every shot or don’t bother to turn up.
Trevor Barnes dreamt up the 72 Club in 1972. He was playing with friend Graham Wilson and mentioned he used to play 72 holes around Walton Heath when he was a boy. The notion appealed to Wilson and that same year he, Barnes and eight others played four rounds in one day at The Berkshire Golf Club and the 72 Club was born. The club found a permanent home at Open qualifying venue Littlestone in 1981. This lovely links gem with its great quartet of par-3s is just perfect for quick golf. Tees and greens are close together, with the longest walk about 60 yards from the eight green to the ninth tee.
Bryan O’Neill played in the inaugural competition, and will make his 48th appearance this year. He had been hoping for sweet synchronicity: he planned to play in his 50th at age 72, but a pinched nerve in his back and Covid put paid to that. However, he still has his sights set on 50 outings. I call him the "Iron Man" and am in awe: he’ll average two and a half hours per round.
In the 2019 competition, my partner and I teed off at 6:58am and finished at 8pm. We averaged 2:53 per round and walked 21.5 miles. We would have been quicker, but we were the last of the nine two-balls, and were forced to take an hour and 28-minute lunch break.
I’m due to make my 14th appearance this year. I finished second in my inaugural year and haven’t been close since. My goal this year is just to try to shoot four rounds in the 80s.
Current secretary Jim Norrington holds the records going back to 1972. Appearances are the most interesting stat in the book. O’Neill obviously sits atop the tree with 47 playings. Next in line in with 34 appearances is two-time winner Jon Daly (No, not that John Daly.) Martin Watters, also a two-time winner, made his 32nd appearance in 2019 to match six-time winner Kerry Scott, who won in 2019 at age 72.
Then there are those that have only played once and thought: stuff this for a game of soldiers! There are 56 one-time competitors.
I played with American Steven Norrel in 2010. The seven handicapper was full of bravado the night before over a few libations in the Broadacre Hotel in New Romney. After 48 holes the following day, his feet were riddled with blisters and he was lagging about 30 yards behind me up the 12th fairway when he suddenly shouted:
“You guys are nuts!”
To his credit he played the fourth round, but never came back. Maybe he should have copied a few members of the 72 Club who liberally daub Vaseline to body parts before they tee off.
I can’t wait to meet up in the Broadacre Hotel in New Romney the night before, where a few drinks are mandatory to steel ourselves for the following day’s challenge. And to pump our chests, make some side bets and brag about the scores we’re going to return the following day. Scores that seem insignificant late the next day against backs tighter than snare drums and calf muscles and thighs screaming with fatigue.
Who cares? I’m looking forward to meeting up with good friends and taking part in one of golf’s most unique competitions. That 72nd tee shot on Littlestone’s 18th hole is going to feel so sweet.
Pass the Vaseline, please!
#JustSaying: “The third round is the hardest. That’s when you really wonder why you’re out there.” PGA of America chief executive Seth Waugh, a three-time 72 Club member
Photograph by Jason Livy