Back on a course for which I have always had a soft spot and I think about this as I drive down to the sea-line in the spitting rain and turn off for the clubhouse.
The early attraction was a confusion about its name. My first set of clubs (Initial post – April ‘A new hope’) had a driver, brassie (a two wood) and a spoon (three wood). The brassie has effectively become extinct, outbred by drivers with varying degrees of loft. There was no standardised approach to clubs when I started to play but I guess my brassie would have been about 13 degrees. I couldn’t get on with the driver then and so the brassie became my club of choice from the tee. When I first became aware of Barassie golf course, in my early teens, I made an incorrect assumption that there was some association between the course and club. So I liked it without knowing anything else about it!!
I never had the chance to play it before I left Scotland but I came back up for a golf holiday with my younger son John in the late 80s. 14 courses in two weeks – the key back pages of the courses I grew up with and John had never played. Carluke -Lanark – Carnwath – Strathaven – Bothwell Castle – Riccarton and my all-time favourite, North Berwick. The only new course I added was Barassie. I consummated my desire on a gorgeous summer day with John and my older brother Archie and fell even more in love. I remember a dog leg par 4 on the back nine and when we reached the corner looking down the fairway to the green – framed by Arran and the sea in brilliant sunshine. One of my abiding picture
Played on it a number of times since I came back to live in Ayrshire but not for 5 years. I am therefore really excited even though the weather is miserable but that anticipation is tempered.
I am not playing as well as I was a few months ago. My progress has stalled – maybe even reversed. And if I am having problems on the golf course, Motherwell are having even bigger mares on the pitch. After a fantastic season (possibly our best in the league since we won it in 1931/2) we have started abominably. Out of Europe in the first match despite leading on 4 occasions and after a win in our opening league game, 4 losses and no goals. In fact very few shots!! Tragic start which puts pressure on the club at all levels, manager, players, fans, the Board and most importantly financially. So lucky white heather in my two sporting loves!!!
I am playing in a four ball match. My partner is Brian McCluskey, one of my best friends and someone I have known since we both came back to Scotland in 2001. Brian is the Chief Executive of Office Shoes – one of the biggest success stories in UK retail over the last 10 years. He has taken a business which had 14 doors and was making £1m EBITDA and expanded it into a UK retailer making a short £40m and now moving into Germany. A case book study of how to transform a small niche player into a major one without losing the quirkiness which created that success in the first place.
Brian and I have played golf together since we met. From being part of the team which won the first West Coast Capital Classic (not too difficult as I created the format!) to playing Turnberry earlier in the week with Brian’s younger son Daniel. Brian has been working hard on his game in the last months and there are encouraging signs of good progress. Turnberry was the most solid I have seen him yet but both of us were eclipsed by Daniel. Really nice and polite boy – man now! Excels at every sport he tries (just like his dad?!!) and golf is no exception. Simple swing but huge power. On the par 5 seventeenth I lend him my driver (he has been hitting mainly rescue from the tee). He hits it over the ridge and out of sight down the other side!!! Finds the green – a flick with a 9 iron – to leave a 20 ft eagle putt which under encouragement from his dad and me he thumps 15 ft beyond the hole. Strange game!!
(My own performance is volatile. Very bad at the start then nine 4 s in a row from the 8th. Hit it really well over that stretch. 7 pars and two three putt bogies at the 11th and 15th).
Today we are playing against Derek Stark, the host and Tony Devlin. Derek is an ex Scottish Internationalist at rugby who now runs a successful business providing hospitality at sporting events. Derek is great company on and off the course and a good friend of my boys who he met through playing in the West Coast Capital golf days (John and Jim were part of the victorious West Coast team on many occasions – Starky wasn’t!!) Derek has one further claim to fame. He is the proud possessor of the shortest swing ever seen on a golf course. It really is unbelievably short. Almost need an electron microscope to see it. Makes Doug Sanders look like John Daly.
Our other opponent is Tony Devlin an ex Glasgow boy who went to London 20 years ago and is an Executive Director of CBRE – looking after retail clients. Tony is also an ex rugby player, scrum half for London Scottish, who only took up golf when he stopped playing 6 years ago. He looks fit and has the demeanour of someone who takes the game seriously and will compete all the live long day.
We have a great laugh at lunch. Usual chat over beer, and healthy chip free salads, about existential philosophy, high art and women!! And of course the haggling over handicaps – which is only finally resolved as we step onto the first tee. Promises to be an interesting game.
A cracking march – very competitive but sporting.
Tony is an extremely useful 18. Looks lower and hits it well. Wins the opening two holes with a solid par 5 on the first (Brian and I choose the rough and bunkers as our unsuccessful approach strategy) and a four net three on the second where he gets to the side of the green via a bounce of the bridge over the burn which dissects the latter part of the hole. We pull one back on the third but immediately lose the difficult par 3 fourth (the first hole of the new nine).
Brian is hitting the ball as well as I have ever seen him and we both par the next two holes to get back to one down. But we lose 7 to go 2 down again.
Then the first of two pivotal holes – the long double dog leg par 5 eighth. I am out of it. Lost in the heather jungle on the left leaving Brian on his own. He hits the drive of the round so far, over the left side bunker fading back to the centre. Perfect. As are the two 8 irons to follow. One for position round the second dog leg, the next fired at the pin and sailing over the bunker directly guarding it and sticking only 8 ft short. Think we are going to win it but Tony plays a great pitch dead and Brian’s birdie putt just slips past. Still a fantastic half under intense pressure and I can tell Derek and Tony think that as well. Key psychological point and I manage to use it by wakening up and playing the next two holes well and we get back to all square. We lose the next again to a fantastic up and down by Tony (18 handicappers don’t do this – they thin or fluff chips not run them up to a few feet!!) but I am not worried. Brian is playing out of his skin and I am now something like a player which I capitalise on by winning the long twelfth with a good par.
So all square with 6 to go. The 13th is the key to the match. All sort of shenanigans from the tee but when the smoke clears Derek and Tony are on in two, I am 10 ft away in three and Brian is short right in the rough with a bunker to navigate. Which he does brilliantly to 6 ft and holes for a half. Again I see the disappointment on our opponents faces. A hole they thought was theirs was saved against the head by Brian’s short game.
We half the par three next (all of us get 3s). Brian has been outstanding so far but he has kept the best for last. Lashes a drive up the long 15th and then hits a towering 3 wood into the heart of the green!! With a shot!!! What a partner. One up going into the final three furlongs and we ease away by winning the par 5 next as well. We both get 5 – Brian with a shot again.
Dormie. I manage to close it out with a good 4 on the par 4 17th which is playing long into a slight breeze. I am asked to hole a two footer which is fair at this stage. I hit it very firmly but push it a tad. It does a 360 degree circumnavigation then a further 120 before it finally settles into the hole!! Yes.
We play double or quits down the last – no shots. Brian again plays solidly for par giving me the chance to go for my 18 ft side-hill birdie putt which is only ever going one place. And it does -straight into the centre of the cup.
Great match, great company and most pleasing is how well Brian plays. This is golf he is playing and I am chuffed for him.
As it was match play the figures are not perfect but as best I can report
Greens in regulation 9/18=50% ok
Fairways 6/14=43% poor
Putts 32 much better
1 birdie 10 pars 2 bogies 5 double bogies
Shot 83 against a par of 72 so 11 over