Saturday: Competition time has arrived. We’re gradually getting up earlier as the week goes on. Once again, despite a large number of people being on the same floor, we have absolutely no problem in bagging the three shower cubicles. We manage to grab some breakfast and wolf it down as we want to get there as early as possible and we have at least thirty minutes of travelling time before reaching Dundrum. It’s surprisingly mild for the middle of February, I almost feel a bit overdressed for the occasion. The talk of the build up to the event was about one person. Dr Edible Rice. Someone has entered the competition under this name and we’re assured that they are taking part. Dr Rice was due to be in Adrian Amey’s group and the jokes had been relentless since we arrived. As 10 am approached, Dr Edible Rice failed to materialise and we were as a collective, disappointed. We so wanted to believe.
I practice very well, scoring a 24 and striking the ball beautifully, before sitting out the final half hour. The surface in Dublin is about as fine as I’ve ever played on, it’s immaculate and consistent. Conditions couldn’t be any better, slightly humid, shorts weather and for an indoor course, well lit. With a slight change to the playing order, I have two of the Irish contingent as my day one partners. Jack Tune and Jack O’Beirne. At least I am not going to get their names wrong. The Irish guys are full of nervous smiles, part excitement, part wondering what the heck they’ve signed up for. I get chatting to Kristian, who is anxious to get out to play. He reminds me of when I played my first event four years ago. As the tee off time approaches, I meet the two Jacks and reassure them that anything I can help them with, I am more than happy to do so. I always find that giving them the rule about eight inches from the border and getting them to relax is the best advice. We’re under way.
I make a steady start, picking up my first ace on the fifth, one of the few holes I had been having trouble with. I also get the eighth, which I paid Christian Adler seven euros for the right ball for it (I would go on to make that hole six times). Dublin is a course where you can go very quickly from a good round to a great one. Sitting at four under on the 15th, I decide to kick into overdrive and get the last four in a row for a 28, equalling my personal best in a competition. Of the Jacks, O’Beirne is putting the better but without reward while Tune is getting a shed load of ones but dropping some along the way too. The turnaround between laps is quick and within fifteen minutes, it’s round two. Once again, I make steady but unspectacular progress, although I do get the tricky 14th. About this time, there is a roar coming from the threeball behind of Evans, Caulfield and Kuikka. I’ve noticed this for a few holes, when I hear the first one, I turn to Jack O and say ‘the atmosphere – it’s arrived’. Every three or four minutes, there is another roar, only louder. Pauli Kuikka is on the round of his life and I reckon he must have around ten aces. He doesn’t.
He has thirteen.
Yes, THIRTEEN! With a scintillating score of 23, Pauli has just set a world record on the MOS style course. He’s getting congratulated by everyone in the restaurant area and the staff are just as thrilled. It couldn’t have happened to a better person. We knew the course record was going to go many times over and that the world record was indeed possible. Just not by midday.
From there on, I just don’t quite have the accuracy. A number of putts are marginally short or lip out. Eventually, I drop my first shot of the day on the ninth during round three and follow it up with my worst shot of the weekend on the third during round four. Jack O’Beirne is putting superbly and goes 42 holes without dropping a shot, most impressive for someone using a regular golf ball. Maybe I am trying to encourage my playing partners too much that I forget a little bit about my game. I start slipping back down the ladder. Lunch comes and I mull it over with a Subway meal deal. Whatever I mulled over, it wasn’t minigolf. Nothing drops and I am fully aware that others are posting some good numbers. I had hoped to be pushing for contention, however Sean Homer has pulled an absolute worldy on day one. Forty seven under for five rounds. Allow yourself a few moments to take that in. We’re getting messages from back home, a mixture of awe and questioning the ease of the course. I hate to disappoint the haters but the course is as easy as the extensive training sessions have allowed it to be. If you putt the ball well, you get rewarded. There are limited inverse craters here so you genuinely have to knock the ball in, and not near it.
As the day draws to a close, both the Jacks are starting to wilt. Jack T is looking to just finish the day and sit down somewhere darkened, I put an arm round his shoulder to try and encourage him. Jack O takes a six on the eighth and I think that breaks his spirit. Neither of them will be back for day two, which is a great shame. Jack O could and should have been challenging for top Irishman. I really rate his game. At the end, I sit in ninth, twenty shots off the pace that Sean has set. Realistically, the top three has gone for me but seeing as they are paying down to sixth, I have hope.
People start drifting away and myself, Tony and Adam decide to track down the pub we were looking for on Friday. It’s completely worth the wait. Against The Grain is one of the best pubs I have ever set foot in. Twenty-seven different pumps and a ridiculous amount of bottle on a wall of spirits. We stop for a second, chatting about the day that had gone before. Overall, I feel disappointed that I just didn’t kick on. We walk back towards the hostel and find a backstreet restaurant that looks reasonably priced. We weren’t to know how reasonable until we found out they forgot to charge us for one of the meals. We pay, we leave, we never will return. A quick jaunt to another pub by the LIffey and we wind the evening down back at the accommodation in the rather humid surroundings of the pool room, which is next to the sauna. The pool table is free, great we thought. And then we found out why. The room is far too small. Certain shots just can’t be played. Despite some of my best and outrageous efforts, including the most audacious plant I have ever played, Adam wins the round robin group. And then, it’s back to the room for lights out.
Sunday: The alarms keep getting earlier, so early today that we are before the breakfast is available. I grab a sandwich on the way to the course, just for something to consume. I catch up with Tony and Adam, making it for the first tram to Balally, just around 7 am. We are the first to arrive and I opt for two brisk rounds, stopping on a couple of holes to try a few shots out I had thought about in my sleep. Afterwards, I spend the next hour huddled around a pot of tea. I’m so English.
My day two partners for rounds six and seven are the new world record holder, Pauli Kuikka, and Milan Provaznik from the Czech Republic. Somehow, the tension is palpable now. You can taste it. Seemingly every ace is greeted with a gamut of emotions. I’m playing with determination today and make a superb start, reaching four under through eight. Milan is dragging me with him, putting quite exquisitely. It’s hard not to follow when your opponent is playing that well. I embark on my best spell of the tournament, hitting six of seven on the inwards nine for a career low score of 26. A few deep breaths and a quick look at the scoreboard. The gap between rounds is short but today, I don’t mind. I want this today.
Round seven begins in much the same way, once again four under through eight. Try as I might, the putts don’t drop this round. When you aware of how people around you are performing, it takes the pressure up several notches. I knew everyone around my score had at worst equalled me. I find myself three shots outside the prizes and with the quality of the putters above me, I’m going to need one of two things. 1) The round of my life. 2) A collapse of at least one of the people above me, probably one of the Czech trio of Stach, Vlcek and Provaznik. At this point, I target Michal Stach as the person to catch to have any chance. I wander off to the bakery for a bag of calories. All I can think about is making a fast start. I am so oblivious to my surroundings. I couldn’t even tell you what the weather was like.
The final round commences with myself, Pauli and Tony all on the same score. I am completely enveloped in the tournament now, probably more than last year’s British Masters, where I came runner up. Before I know it, I have made the first four holes, everyone greeted with a ‘YES’. After a hole seven, there is a small logjam which gives me a chance to wander over to the group of Czechs. I’m only looking at Michal’s score. He’s started well too. I pick up a shot on him at the eighth after he takes a three. It’s really game on. I hit another spell, getting four in a row from the tenth. In my mind, my playing partners are just seeing their rounds out. All I can think of is just catching anyone above me and I’ve given myself every chance.
The closing holes in Dublin gives you a great chance to view a few lanes either side. Although I am aceing with laser precision, so is Michal. Getting to the last, I see Michal get the 16th and assume we’re about level. I get my eleventh hole in one of the round for a stupendous 25, another career best. Stach has a 26, I go to congratulate him believing I have missed out on the prizes. What I didn’t account for was Daniel and Milan having a couple of ordinary rounds, both scoring 32’s. And with that, by some miracle, I end up on -54 and in fifth place. Overall on day two, I averaged just 27 shots a round, the second best day two average behind winner Adam Kelly, who has overhauled Sean Homer by four shots. Easy course, huh? After that, I think a few of us had realised we had been part of something special, something so tense that lifted everyone’s game to an unbelievable level. I can’t remember ever playing this well, apart from my debut for Great Britain.
The prizegiving ceremony is a fine affair, accompanied by trays of champagne. Ross, Darrin and the staff at the Rainforest course have really gone to town on making us feeling like sportsmen. They really could not have done more. We have the obligatory photos and say goodbye to friends from afar. The Austrians then add a touch of class to proceedings and present Ross with around forty minigolf balls for the Irish Minigolf Association for use by anyone who wants to learn. It’s an amazing gesture and fits right in with the theme and feel of the competition. It has been a roaring success. I want to do this all again.
Myself and the Kelly’s decide on a bit of sightseeing, agreeing that the best thing we could have done was to have this half day extra to wind down rather than dash for the airport. It doesn’t take long before we’re back on the beer, finding ourselves in The Oak and Peader Kearney’s watching football. The whole weekend is starting to catch up with me and I take the long way back before getting my head down for a short while. When I stir, I find Adam and Tony attempting to play pool in the steam room. From there, we’re off into Dublin one last time. Personally, I never want this adventure to end. It’s my second time to Dublin, much better than when I had a flu bug in 1999, although Eddie Irvine didn’t win a Grand Prix this time. We finish the night back in the very same pub we started at on the Thursday. It just seemed the right thing to do.
Monday: The alarms get even earlier, around 5.15 am this time. Bags are packed, we have a bus to catch for the airport. The hostel is what it is, somewhere to put your head down but it gets a big thumbs up from me. Thankfully, as we’re waiting for the bus, we are told we’re standing in the wrong place and just in the nick of time as it rolls in around the corner. We are now bound for home. I just want to sleep. On the plane, I get out my BMGA Top Trumps cards. I’m out within minutes but the battle is not done. Adam eventually beating Tony on our decent to Stansted. Things had gone so well over the past four days so even when my luggage turns up with a huge split down the seams, I’m not too flustered. We’ve had the most incredible journey and the most wonderful memories coming back with us.
Thank you, Dublin. We fell in love with you. Let’s do it again.