The annual championships are the essence of club golf.
Like a lot of golf clubs, mine recently completed its club championships. Late spring is an ever-popular time to sort the wheat from the chaff with the biggest event of the year, and my club was no different.
Wherever I’ve been a member, “clubbies” or “the champos” are always a terrific time to be around the club. There’s a different energy to the place and never more so than on the day of the first round. The usual warm and ebullient greetings tend to make way for a subtle nod and fewer words between golfers – almost in tacit acknowledgement of the seriousness of the occasion. Tour pros experience championship play on a weekly basis; club golfers a mere once a year. We have far fewer chances to shine.
This was my first time participating in any club championships for five or six years. My previous club sticks with four consecutive strokeplay rounds – all on Saturdays – so the championships linger longer than an unwanted house guest, as well as being difficult to commit to for all 72 holes so far in advance. My current club, however, plays 36 holes of strokeplay in one weekend before moving on to scratch and net matchplay the next weekend for the top eight qualifiers per grade.
Despite not having touched a club for a month until three days before they began, I decided it was worth entering – if for no other reason than to feel the buzz of the annual strokeplay slog once again. I promised myself the day before the first round that I would shelve any expectations I might harbour and instead treat it like any other competition round, a meek attempt to trick myself into a different state of mind.
But just like one member commented to me that weekend, something different happens at club championships time. Our course staff even took the step of painting the rims of the cups white. It’s a common practice in tournament golf, but is usually done so the hole is more visible for galleries and on television. All it really did for us was leave paint remnants on members’ hands for 36 holes.
I received an instant reminder as to just how championship golf differs from regular club competitions. Our first hole is the easiest on the course: a short, slightly uphill par 4 of about 240 metres. The sloping green can sort out a few golfers, but otherwise it is a very gentle opener. I don’t think I’ve ever made worse than a 5 there, yet somehow I racked up a 7 without a penalty shot or a three-putt. In all honesty, I didn’t do that much wrong other than one misjudged chip shot and a return chip that was mis-struck. But a triple-bogey was the result.
I laughed and did my best to shrug it off, along with the embarrassment of running up a 7 in front of two playing partners I’d never met before. Things got better, but the rest of the round was mostly a series of half-mistakes leading to a string of bogeys before I realised I needed to par the last four holes just to break 90. Pars at 15, 16 and 17 gave me one more hurdle to clear, but alas, a closing bogey left me with that ugly number. I managed to improve by five shots the next day, but it was 36 holes I would prefer to forget.
My horror start wasn’t the only time I’ve heard of championships beginning with a nightmare hole. A friend of mine, who I won’t embarrass by naming here, once began a junior tournament with a 10 and asked if he could start again. He was only half joking.
On the flip side, one of the most impressive rounds I’ve ever seen put in by a club golfer came 20 or so years ago when I played the first round alongside an 8-handicapper who I always felt was worthy of a lower mark. Bill started the club championships with three straight double-bogeys and must have been looking for a place to hide as we walked to the fourth tee. Yet thereafter, he was like a different golfer. He played the remaining 15 holes in two-under par and without a bogey to beat his handicap by four shots. To this day, it is the only round compiled by a fellow club golfer where I can remember their score, hole by hole.
That same year, I played in the first group off on the final day and stuck around to caddie for a player who was seeded in the last group. It was a fantastic way to feel a further connection to the biggest event of the year. So while your club championships might have been and gone for 2020, make it a resolution to play some part in them next year. There are more ways than one to do so.