Throughout the tour, British pro Steve Lovell gives an inside look on the wonderfully colourful events that make up the British Minigolf Association.
Friday: After arriving home from work and performing my usual routine stripping of my clothes on the way up to the bathroom, I feel I've earned a night out before another enthralling weekend of minigolf in Sidcup, at the newly named Mr Mulligan's Dino Golf. After all, they famously dug up skeletal remains of the Stegosaurus clutching a putter and a Nifo 2... I jest. The plan is to cook but I pick up a curry and a pint instead. This makes me sleepy but I find the stamina to watch England defeat the Scottish at football, which means tour journeyman Freddie Blackburn-Shaw will go into hiding. I become very tired by 10 pm and so, it being a Friday night where I should be out having ale and getting turned down by women, a shot of sensibility strikes and I go to bed.
Saturday: Up early and I fling the curtains open. It is pouring from the sky like the mighty Niagara river over the falls. Do I really want to go and stand in that after driving 95 miles to get there? Yes. Yes I do. I just hope the weather forecast is the usual bout of guesswork. The journey is not the best, the roads are laden with standing water so there is no need to rush, although I get there for 9.45 am and sit in the cafe for half an hour. I don't really need to be at the course until the Kent Invitational Tournament, which tees of around 1.30 pm. A nice warm up event for all concerned. There are some fun rules which are the same for everyone. 36 holes split up into four lots of nine holes played with different balls, a meander through the history of Kent Minigolf Club. The weather has cleared up significantly by the start and the course is very playable. Sidcup is notoriously tough to make aces on and it shows its teeth to me, with only my 36th and final hole yielding a one. Still, a nice way to start the weekend.
Plans have been afoot for most of the day as to the evening's entertainment. I am staying at Terry's house, who was my roommate in Cardiff for the Welsh Open. Firstly, we're off to the Hackney Carriage micropub as the guest of local player, Martin Greenhead. Fantastic place, I'll probably book a hotel room next year just so I can experience this more. After an hour, we head back to Chez Tel with Big Top Ted to be told we are gatecrashing a birthday party at a golf club. We meet up with a good friend of mine and Terry's brother, Andy. Beer was cheap and the food, well, free. The evening ends early as Ted needs to be dropped back to the station. Terry offers me the chance to go out drinking in Crowborough but once again, feeling my age, we decline and go home to sleep it off, ready for the 11th running of the Kent Open.
Sunday: 2.11 am. Yes, I woke up at that time. I famously get up before the alarm on minigolf days but this is idiocy. After opening up my big file of minigolf stats on the laptop, that does the job. Bacon sarnies and a coffee before heading off to the station to pick up Ted and Tiger. The weather is so much better today, bright sunshine, cloudless skies. Typical weather for this tournament, it has been the same for my three previous visits. The Kent Open is one of only two tournaments where you can only use one ball, the Kent 'Tomato'. For the completists, bounce 30, shore 50 and weight 70. Practice has gone well and maybe, with the lack of British number one Michael Smith, this could finally be the day. I'm grouped with Paul Johnson and John Sharpe, two people I get on well with. After four or five holes, I can't explain it but I feel so relaxed and it is reflected in my stroke. The furthest putt I have is around two feet from the hole and it is one of the best rounds I have ever played for a 34, enough for a share of the clubhouse lead.
Round two starts pretty much in the same vane and I take the outright lead on the seventh at four under, although I drop that back to three under at the eighth. Then, the wheels come off. Two more drops follow but as I approach the pivotal Volcano hole, I have managed to stabilise the scoring. What followed will haunt me for a while. I laid up to the foot of the hill and prepared to get the par. Meanwhile, on the adjacent course, a family show little regard for health and safety and are climbing over the rock formation with the child screaming with delight. I wait, hoping they will move on but no, they're going mountaineering. I try to block it out which I nearly manage to do... until the moment at the top of my down swing, the child falls off the rocks and smacks into the ground ensuring a piercing 'WAHHHHHHHHHH'. The putt misses by some distance and I mutter under my breath 'what where the chances'. Concentration gone, I register a 6 in a round of 41, pushing me back six off the lead in 15th.
That's mingolf for you.
I clear my head for the final round eventually. I'm with Terry and Scott so I know we're in for a laugh at the very least. I don't make a fast start so I know any slender chance I did have evaporated at the sound of a crying child. The second half of my day is summed up at the last where in front of about a third of the field, my ball gets stuck behind a post. Laughter rings out and to be fair, I laugh too. What's done is done. I finish 14th on five over, eleven shots behind Will Donnelly, who deservedly picked up his second Kent Open title.
Prize giving was a fun affair and it had been a fun day. Kent had invested heavily in gifts for their guest and as the worst performing member of my club, I pick up... wait for it... a DIY bee hive. I didn't even know these were a thing you could buy. The moment of the weekend was the announcement of the Kent Member Of The Year being Owen, who was overwhelmed to be bestowed this honour. Thoroughly deserved.
I say my goodbyes after another great day in the BMGA and consider my future in the world of honey production.