Sunday 8th January: *BEEP BEEP BEEP* These are the first noises I should have heard at 5.45 am as the alarm went off for the start of the 2017 minigolf season, my fifth as a tour pro. However, my head had other ideas and I was wide awake at 3.10 am, probably from the anticipation of a 285 mile round trip to Hastings for the Cup Cake Classic. I feel ready. I have picked up the putter just once in the last five weeks and I feel energised, despite the lack of sleep.
I make a minor detour on the way down to pick up serial minigolf tourist and fan of everything from the 1980's, Adrian Amey. Chatter extends about as far as Mike Reid's Pop Quiz and hasn't Steve Norman from Spandau Ballet weathered well. At that time in the morning, the traffic is behaving itself and we hit minigolf mecca shortly after 9 am. As we walk along the seafront, I see a familiar face in Martin Relf, my playing partner from day one of the 2016 World Crazy Golf Championships. He greets us with a smile and offers to buy coffee. That boy will go far, I tell thee.
Over the next hour or so, people start drifting to the course in a befuddled state. Tournament organiser and avuncular (his word) chairman, Sean Homer, has said nothing about the choice of balls that will be allowed for the day. I practice with a golf ball and the two Kent balls I own. We used the 'tomato' last year so I took a punt that it might be again. I take Martin round, trying to give him some tips for the Pirate course, in particular. As the pre-competition speeches get underway, I needn't have bothered with those Kent balls. Round one and round three is played on the Crazy course with one ball of your choosing. I pick the 'tomato' for round one. Round two is on the Pirate course with any ball. He sure does keep us on our toes.
My partners for rounds one and two are Adrian and Martin and we get to choose our start hole. I have one new year's resolution to go as far as I can in 2017 without dropping a shot. And this lasts all of three holes. I was never any good at keeping them anyway. I save a couple of good pars, like on the sixth where I put the ball through the back, and make a 35. Adrian has started well and is tied for the lead on 32. As we leave the scores and hand our cards in, Marion Homer greets us with a smile and a box of sausage rolls, which has become tradition for this event. They're good. Really good. I had brought with me a slightly sweeter option. A tray of cup cakes from Aldi. Four pounds for twelve of them. Going to Aldi had been my best day of the year so far. Make of that what you will...
With round two on the Pirate course and with no practice with the balls I normally use, I am unsurprisingly labouring. I was once known to have played on it thirteen hours in one day and still wanted more. Adrian is continuing to putt well, Martin is taking is all in and I leave a number of putts just short and off line. A level par 36 with one ace just isn't good enough as I stomp off the course to get the fabled double dog from the food outlet around the back of the hut. It's at this point I feel it maybe time to play around with changing my grip. I won't do it for the last round, it's not that drastic.
From the end of the 2016 season, I have done a bit of research into the results of the BMGA tour and armed with this knowledge, I have created my own pack of Top Trumps. Of course (and naturally too), everyone wants to see themselves immortalised on laminate. I expect these will make an outing during the season in one of the many pubs we can normally be found in.
From joint third, I've slipped to seventh and will partner Marion and Praggers in the final round. This allows the whole field to experience the unique 'crazy, crazy round' (cue Kiss) from the World Crazy Golf Championships where all balls are in play and the one furthest from the hole takes first while the strike is rotated on each tee. Are you following me? Good, I'll continue. I make a reasonable start, picking up the third before the fun and games begin on the seventh. My ball comes to rest with Praggers ball in the way of the hole. "Don't you deliberately knock my ball out of the way", he says to which I reply, "then what do you suggest I do!" I take my medicine and knock his out the way but fair play, Praggers makes the putt.
Once again, the scenario replays itself on the fifteenth with pretty much the same conversation. Praggers is playing very well and is making a large number of aces. It doesn't matter where I hit his ball, he's making everything. At the last, it's now Marion's turn to try and knock my ball out of the way. What happens next benefits me greatly as I'm sure Marion just brushing my ball nearer the hole and putting hers under the obstacle wasn't part of the plan. Unless it was, then apologies. I card a final 37 for a level par total of 108. The winner of the Cup Cake is my old friend Andy 'Bacon' Exall on twelve under. That boy loves bacon. Lots of bacon.
And just like that, the year is under way. It's been fun to see everyone again. I needed the break but I also needed to get back into it. So here's to season five of this bizarre world we lovingly know as minigolf. Long may the general public be curious onlookers and maybe some of them will become one of us.
See you on the course.