Saturday: The last 48 hours have been dreadful for me. My laptop and external hard drive both managed to crash on the same day, I'm down just over £300 shelling out for a new laptop and it's rained for most of it. I attempted an early night but found myself still very awake at 2 am chatting to Jon in the US about the last two days. My alarm is due to go off around 5.15 am to head for practice in Nottingham, travelling via Leicester to pick up Ed. Bad things always happen before going to Nottingham. Last year, my car blew up on me on the way. Now, the computer. What will happen next year?
The plan is to have a full on day of sport, something to take my mind off of my problems. I pick Ed up around 7.15 am, we're both surprisingly sprightly, especially when I produce the Top Of The Pops '90-'94 triple CD set. The drive up is spent catching up on the last three months since we last saw each other in Birmingham for the Star City Open. We arrive at the course to be greeted by the cleaners washing the stairs. They ask us to watch our step, which turns into some Dick Van Dyke routine from Mary Poppins. Even though it's just after 8 am, there are already about a dozen people here. I say my greetings to all I meet, it is especially great to see Dave Gomm, now with added walking stick.
Myself and Ed take to the course. I'm lucky that one of the last things I did on the laptop was to print off my course notes. I had only been here four weeks previously, having a sneaky day out, so a lot of it was still fresh in the memory and I didn't have to play each hole working out if the balls I'm using are good to go. We play several rounds and by the end, I'm pleased with how it has gone. Ed's playing well too, just his second time playing with specialist minigolf balls, even if he couldn't remember what they all did what at the start.
That was the starter. Now onto the main course. Being a big Brighton and Hove Albion, I couldn't believe my luck to find they would be in town playing Nottingham Forest. We placed our bets and wandered down, looking for somewhere to get a pint. I had pre-booked a pair of tickets for the two of us, in probably the remotest part of the stadium. At least if we scored, I was less likely to get my head caved in. In perfect keeping with my week, the first half is poor. No goals, even less action. The second half is even worse but with Forest goals (the first was offside, the second was a calamity, the third I didn't see as we'd already left). On the way back, we see a friend randomly in the street, around 200 miles from home. Very surreal. I pick up my meagre winnings from the bookies. Ed has a few spins on the roulette wheel and has back to back wins. It pretty much pays for his entire weekend.
Now for dessert. We drive back to Leicester, picking up a few beers before ordering pizza. Ed, being a big boxing fan. buys the Haye Bellew fight. I've needed today. I've forgotten, if just for a short while about crashing laptops and anything else that can go wrong. The fight is one of the most surreal I've ever seen, we both pick the wrong guy. I fall asleep on the sofa. It's been a very long day. Tomorrow is minigolf. What's not to like.
Sunday - I'm ready for this. Due to a few of the big guns being unavailable for the event, there are only two previous winners of ANY competition in the field, Sean Homer and Jam Trubridge. It's wide open. I tuck into a large yoghurt for breakfast before getting into some hardcore KISStory in another one of the Volkswagen range that Ed has access to. I spend quite a while in practice trying to help out some of the others on lines. Matt Dodd shows me a shot on hole 14, which would later prove to be rather fruitful. We have one new member to the congregation, so a welcome to Toby Austin, who had travelled all the way from Essex for today.
My playing partners for the first couple of rounds are Marion Hartley, my minigolf 'mum', and Simon Farmer. We start on hole two, which means due to the course just being 17 holes long, we play the first hole twice last in the round. I'm glad we do, I've got it nailed. I make a steady opening and try not to get distracted by one of my group taking a inordinate amount of time of putts. I wander around with my own thoughts to pass the time. Getting to the first, I bag two aces to end the round with a clean 29, which places me in second, one behind Sean. The usual chatter in the bar area is broken by the sound of a putter falling the ground from the mezzanine. Owen's stick had fell through the railings on to the 13th. It looked lonely, but I do wonder if that has happened before when people were on the course.
The second round starts as slowly as the first had. Our threeball was getting caught by the four groups behind us. Instead of taking a walk, I start timing putts. They are long, long enough for me to put a complaint in on behalf of a number of people. I don't like complaining. It's infrequently necessary at times, we have to self police the rules. Back to my round. I'm not being spectacular but steady. All is going well, until my penultimate hole, the 11th. I hit the angled rock too far left and I fail to make it down the hill. After making a hash of the second. And the third too. It's my first dropped shots of the competition. Those two shots push me down to third. Sean leads on -13, Ed has jumped incredibly to -12, tying the course record with 27, I sit on -11.
The next hour would prove to be probably the most exciting minigolf I have ever been involved in. It starts with Sean announcing the groups, including our own when we were the only three there to listen. Sean is there to be shot at and I want to get the pressure on quickly, pulling one back by the end of the first. There is a really good spirit amongst us and despite what is at stake by becoming champion of England, we're very social. By halfway, myself and Ed have both overhauled Sean, with Ed leading by one. It would be an incredible shock if this stayed the same, Ed though is there on merit and not letting his inexperience count against him. I make my move on the same hole which cost me in the previous round, moving level with Ed. Sean then joins us by getting the 13th. We realise we are now a part of something remarkable. I pick up the 14th while Ed drops out of contention with a bogey. Sean cold-bloodedly nails the 15th. I return the favour at 16. We have one hole left, the 17th, and I lead by one. Is this really it? Am I finally about to do this?
All I have to do is roll the ball up the hill, clipping the wall around where the rise meets the plateau for it to roll down the other side towards the hole and in. It's that simple. Except this is minigolf. OK, I'm nervous. I can feel my heart pulsing hard but I can do this. The ball leaves the head and it feels great. Unbelievably, it dies off the wall. Oh no. As it rolls towards the hole, I fear the worst which happens. I'm snookered behind the rock. All I can think of is trying to make the two. I overhit the putt up the slope and it comes back to rest just out of sight of the edge of the cup. I'm living a nightmare. A four on the last. I sit down with my head in my hands, I can't watch as all Sean needs to do is make a two for the win. With a few people watching on, madness ensues. Sean tucks his ball behind the same rock and takes a three. It's a playoff. Utterly unreal scenes. This is why minigolf should be televised for moments like this.
After a few minutes of checking scorecards, we're ready to go. Sudden death. Scott Lancley tosses the coin. Sean wins and elects for me to putt first at the first. Having made five out of six here to Sean's two, I'm confident. I roll my putt in off the wall. Sean lines one up and even from my angle, it looks too straight. It rattles in. General shock all around. In the tournament, neither of us had made hole two, although I did lip out in the first round. Sean is successful. I don't feel pressured, all I tell myself is don't leave it short. The line is great. Really great. It's IN!!! We're both sheepishly laughing, even discussing sharing the trophy for six months each. The third is halved in two before the straight forward fourth. Sean plays a tentative shot which enters the pipe at completely the opposite end it needs to. The ball shoots past. I now have a real chance. By now, I'm struggling to hold the putter. My putt is woefully short and does the same as Sean's. My only hope is... no, that's gone. On to the fifth extra hole. My aim is all over the place and I catch the rock on the way to the cup. I settle for the two. Sean lines up the putt and off the back wall, wins the English Open. We embrace, there is a great deal of respect there, it has been quite amazing to have been a part of that. I'm disappointed after losing that but comforted by my overall performance and the kind words of everyone I speak to. I will come again.
Myself and Ed receive our prize money and medals before disappearing to the Three Crowns pub over the road. We talk a lot about what has just happened. We've both had excellent tournaments, especially Ed, but more importantly, a superb weekend. The BMGA season is underway but you will not see a better finish than that for the rest of the year. Back to a life of farming and washing clothes. It's not all fun, fun, fun.