‘The course is empty. Nobody wants to play at this time. It’s too hot!!’ Words I have heard on many occasions, in a number of countries (but never Scotland). Déjà vu all over again!!
Quinta do Lago at 2.30 on a baking hot day. The north course closed – part way through a complete revamp so only the longer, harder South available to play. I was worried it might be too busy and I would be stuck all afternoon behind 4 balls. Needless concern. Just me and a pack of strange looking dogs with foam spuming out of their gaping mouths.
A course I play once a year – a really good test especially as I am using old clubs. My Mizuno Void Sure. The first set of peripherally weighted irons I owned. A seminal moment 15 years ago when the pro at Fulford Heath, my club in England then, told me I wasn’t good enough to use blades anymore! Not quite what he said. He put it more in sales speak. ‘Try these. Lot of pros starting to use them now. Gives a better flight. Makes it easier to move the ball.’
I had already sort of accepted it but he helped me come out of the closet fully!! It’s incredible how much technology has improved since then. The clubs feel and look dated. The grips seem thin and the heads a bit heavy. Just starting to get my excuses in but I checked myself in time. One of the benefits of playing and practising more than I have done for ten years is that I feel much more confident about my game – even better after hitting some balls at the practise area just across the main road from the course. Wedge, 8 iron, rescue. The range now has designated slots for Quinta members with beautifully arranged pyramids of new balls waiting to be smacked. And I did. Well. In fact very well considering my lack of use with of the clubs.
I felt good on the first tee, my trusty buggy beside me, the course empty in front of me and my big headed Cobra driver in my hand. (Not good enough to play from the whites though). That would be silly. The course is hard enough from the yellows at over 6500 yds (over 7000 from the whites). My confidence was well placed. I aced a ball down the left hand side and hit a 6 iron onto the front of the green. Two good putts for a satisfying par and the ideal start to a great round.
I tanked round the first 7 holes in less than an hour. My only dropped shot was at the long par 5 second hole where I took too tight a line from the tee and hit the left rough, ending half way down a steep hill. Took the sensible option and punched a 7 iron out but couldn’t find the green with the 4 iron I had left. Pin high but a bad chip gave me no sensible chance to save par and I clocked up a 6. Rest was really good. All greens in regulation except the 6th where I was only a yard short and chipped and putted for the par.
Then the only cloud in a perfect azure sky. A four ball on the 8th tee as I got to it. The hardest hole on the course. Dog leg right par 4 with trees all the way along the right hand side and a fairway that slopes sharply right to left. They didn’t let me through, even when they all hit poor drives into the boondai. Bas…..! Reminded me of ‘The Wrecking Crew’ in P G Wodehouse’s The Heart of a Goof – one of the funniest books ever written about golf. Perhaps a bit anachronistic now but still a fantastic read about the early days of social golf. Anyway I had a lot of time to think about my drive and its difficulty. Definitely high tariff. I hit it well, right centre but it still ran off into the left rough and behind the huge tree, which dominates and blocks out that side, and is second reason the hole is so tough. The third is that the green is elevated, about 30 ft above the level of the fairway. More time to think. Another good shot. A punched low rescue to the rough on the right side just below the green and a lob wedge to 6 ft. Thought I had holed it but I was mistaken. Another wait on the next tee. These people are …. A pulled frustrated drive into the left hand trees. Punch out, good lob wedge again to 7 ft and a putt which lipped out again.
A potential 37 out ended as a 39. But breaking 80 well in sight the way I am playing and the ……..!! have finished and are trudging towards the members clubhouse. Hope they choke on their Angostura bitters!
Really hot now. Must be over 30 degrees – the water provided in the buggy is almost boiling! But there are compensations. I love playing in heat – such a contrast to my home courses. The buggy is shelter, partially, and produces a little breeze as I gun it down the fairways at 7 mph!
And I am playing well. Which means I don’t really feel any pain!! Memories of continuing to play when I have been in worse condition resurface (unfortunately). Throwing up at the side of the 6th hole at Vilamoura Old (drink the night before to 4am) then hitting a 5 wood to 6 ft. Some things are unforgettable! And finishing a round at Carnwath to break 70 after an attack of diarrhoea on the 15th. Wish I could forget that, as does my son, John, who was playing with me at the time.
This is a piece of …. compared to those occasions and I hit a great ball down the long difficult 10. Then the first really poor shot. I try to cut a 5 wood up to the raised green about 190 yds away over a valley. I find the valley! Easily! Can’t get up and down but I par the next 3 holes and get to the beautiful 14, the highest point on the course, with fantastic views over the rest of the holes and over to the lake and sea, feeling confident about breaking 80. My favourite view on the course. The hole plays downhill to a gently sloping fairway and a long narrow green in the distance. Up to now I have been driving well, but the tracking device on the buggy has been showing my average drive at about 225/230 yds. I have two concerns:-
A My manhood. I hit it further than that don’t I?
B I will press on this tee and duff what should be the most enjoyable drive of the round.
I step back (I should take a photo but am too wrapped up in visualising my drive) and capture a picture in my head. Then hit it. Long, high, down the left hand side and bounces back towards the centre along the gentle left to right curves. I hare down on my chariot, almost on fire to see how far it has gone. Yes!! 265. Don’t care it was downhill. I am a man! 8 iron over the stick and a safe par. Still only 4 over.
The par 3 15 is the signature hole. Long with a carry all the way over the end of the lake. Wind against. 185 from the yellow. 5 wood? No. Mishit the last one. Rescue? Might be too much. So 3 iron. A club I don’t have in my bag at home. One I haven’t hit for years but it comes back. Perfect. Right on it. I drive over the wooden pontoon expecting to see it dead but it pitched and stopped 2 ft short of the putting surface and I hit my approach putt 4 ft too far. No!! No!! Have to hole it after the tee shot – and I do. My putting lesson and practice are paying dividends.
Follow up with another good drive down 16 but then get completely misaligned on my approach and hit 7 iron 15 ft right onto a mini hill of rough. Good pitch but misread the putt and drop one. 5 over with two to play.
The 17th is a long par 5 and the most satisfying hole so far. Knowing I have a good score in prospect I try to relax. Great drive, pure rescue and 9 iron right over the flag. Too far but I putt it dead. Great solid 5.
Last hole. Difficult dog leg left par four with trees and bunkers guarding the dog leg. Make a mistake. Don’t focus on the tee. Haven’t got a plan. Am I trying to drive the trees and bunkers or taking a bit off it and drawing it round. With no fixed vision – why after concentrating so well? – I hit a bastard hybrid. Low and left which must catch the trees and it does. So stupid but find it ok. Next decision. Try and thread it through the remaining trees and hook it back to the green with my rescue or hit wedge over them and leave a simple approach. I am not Seve but I am sorely tempted. I put Salome behind me and pitch over, leaving an 8 iron which I throw in to 15 ft. Will virtue be rewarded with a par. My putt is good and tracks to the left lip. But then it stops. I urge it on with all the expletives I know but it has shut down for the afternoon and orders a cup of tea and a scone to enjoy the view!!!
Still. A good, very good?, overall round. 78. Par is 72.
Greens in regulation 9/18 =50% ok to good
Fairways 9/14=64% good
Putts 33 getting better
Birdies 0 pars 12. Bogies 6 D Bogies or worse 0 much steadier. Feeling the benefits of playing and practising.
I reckon the temperature was the third warmest I have ever played in. The two furnace conditions were:-
2nd hottest. Santa Ponza -just after the course was opened, on the holiday when my sons, Jim and John, switched from ‘boys’ to young men. They learned a lot on that trip:-
A maids will eventually refuse to clean a room if it becomes so fetid that orchids die in it.
B San Miguel might be a ‘light’ lager compared to Tennents Special but enough of them will still have some effect.
C girls are great fun – perhaps not as much as golf!! – but still fun
D believing your dad when he says that playing Santa Ponza midday and carrying the clubs round is a sensible idea is very loyal but potentially Iife-threatening
Hottest and the winner by a distance – Sabah golf course – In the jungles of North Borneo. A separate chapter is needed on the complete stupidity of that (a time when my golf obsession was at its peak) but the most astounding aspect was that I was forced to have a caddy (local rule to help the economy and a good one). A girl who looked about 12 but who humped my bag round with complete ease in temperatures which were approaching 100 in the shade – what shade? – and total humidity. Made me feel humble and out of condition in equal measure.