Sunday: Is this all worth it? The alarm launching into a tirade on the ears at 5 am and with the threat of rain throughout the day on the south coast, do I really need this today? I am lacking sleep and still trying to get the problems of the now 'old' laptop sorted. I wash and get dressed in my traditional colours of yellow and black. Two slices of toast and half a cup of tea and I am on the road, the first of 342 miles. I have a diversion to make today, picking up my vice captain Derek from West Sussex. We have an hour driving down to Hastings, talking about the four months since we last met up at the Kent Open and explaining why I have so much eighties music in the car (because Adrian Amey's breaks into a sweat if I don't).
Today's competition is the Planet Hastings Crazy Golf Open played over the three courses on the seafornt. It is Britain's longest running club event, which was first held in 2001. Mark Spry, John McIver, Tim Davies, Trevor Exall, Andy Exall, Marc Chapman, Michael Smith. Just who will win this year, it's incredibly wide open. We arrive at 8.40 am and get straight on the Adventure course, which is an annual trip into the unknown. Aces here are hard to come by so drop as many two's as you can and that is your best hope. Nuno Cunha joins us, feeling equally bemused by the unfamiliarity. Two of the holes have changed for the better at the chip shop end of the course, they were FAR too difficult for us, let alone the public.
Due to time constraints, I manage to get a couple of shots on one of my nemesis holes, the 13th on the Pirate. It should be ridiculously straight forward but I regularly made a mess of it last year. As we get closer to the start, it is quite evident that there is a large field gathering. In true Planet Hastings style, you turn up and pay on the day. As I was in charge of the scoring on the 'new' laptop, I had managed to assemble a list of entrants, although a number of members who should know better just materialised minutes before the start. Sitting in the hut inputting names into a spreadsheet, I hear Toby asking for a course ball for when we play the 19th. I bite my lip.
Incredibly, FORTY putters (a record for any outdoor one day event in Britain) have gathered in Hastings dressed for the impending gloom of the weather. Except, the forecasters have got it wrong. Very wrong. Legs were starting to appear. Just my legs. And Paul Preston's.
Shortly after 10 am, we're put into groups. I get drawn with Paul 'Johnson Paul Johnson' Johnson and Brian Gould, whose hat makes him a dead ringer for Lennard Pearce from Only Fools And Horses. We start on the 7th on Adventure and I immediately drop a shot but I am comforted that everyone else will be. I fluke one through the pipe on the 9th before aceing the 10th. From there, I keep ticking off the two's (apart from a four at the 13th), hoping for something at 45 or lower. I take time to look around, the course is full of vibrancy as friends reacquaint themselves through the medium of minigolf. Time ticks on and our group is first to finish. I have grabbed a very creditable 40 and Paul has come along with me with a 41.
It helps me being the first group onto the Pirate Course with my scoring duties. This means I can grab a double hot dog while everyone else suffers. The Pirate is probably the one you can expect to rescue some shots around. I nail the second but strangely struggle the rest of the round. Perhaps I should have practised this course as well but where was I going to find the time. I reach half way at one under for the round, which soon quickly turns to one over two holes later. I'm finding this frustrating. Here it comes, the tame 13th. GOT IT! I've broken its voodoo curse. And it doesn't stop there. I get the 14th. And the 15th. And the 16th. And the 17th. I have confidence flowing once again but a little too much as I overhit the tee shot at the last and drop a shot for a 33. I don't think it is going to be enough to challenge this time. Still, I've really enjoyed the two rounds with Paul and Brian.
I go for my double dog and sit in the hut, marking off the scores. Over the next hour, cards come in and things aren't as bad as I thought. I'm in joint third, two shots behind co-leaders Paul Preston and Nuno Cunha. My group in the final round will be last weeks combatant at Nottingham, Sean Homer, and taking the 'Ed Pope' role this time is Terry Exall. Between myself and Ted McIver, we get everyone out in reverse leaderboard order, which proves difficult as four people haven't come back from lunch yet. I shall never underestimate the work that Sean and Marion Homer put into running events.
Eventually, myself, Sean and Terry hit the Crazy Course. I pick out a clicker for the practice shot but I am uncomfortable using the ball on a course where a branded golf ball will do. So I swap, which will turn out to be one of my better decisions. I bag three of the first four and everything else is within a foot of the cup. Sean tries to keep with me by getting the difficult 7th and so do I. At this point, I start thinking maybe this could be the day after all. I wander over to see how the lead group are getting on and with Paul Preston and David Hartley both taking fours on the second and Nuno at one under, I've gone into the lead. My accuracy is beyond absurd, I've got such a rhythm going on, it makes me curious to know what would have happened if I had played a round on here before the tournament started.
We reach the tenth and I extend the lead to two with probably my best shot of the round. You have to be brave with it, playing it harder than needs be. Everything is still going so well, I'll surely crack at some point. Won't I? someone will surely mount a challenge. Won't they? The holes start to run out and I maintain the advantage but in five wonderful minutes, I turn the thumbscrews with back to back aces on the 15th and 16th. I'm four clear with two left. I am going to do this. The 17th sits on the lip for a par and I'm at the last, leading. Just like last week. The one thing I needed was a chance to immediately vanquish the memory of losing in a playoff. A 29 will do it. Four shots better than anyone else on the Crazy Course.
After four years on the tour and after eight top three finishes, I can finally call myself a tour winner. Everyone wants to talk to me, shake my hand and offer my congratulations. It's all a bit overwhelming. I only ever did this to make new friends and I can putt too.
The real excitement of the Planet Hastings Crazy Golf Open is that you pick out your prizes from Big Top Ted's Tombola. As I have provided a prize of Pet Hair Remover, I am desperate not to win this. The top 18 finishers all win something of varying quality, including the cap of an Iranian Revolutionary Guards, an LP of Bryan Smith and his Orchestra and a box set of the Inbetweeners. As the winner, I get two picks. My rewards for three rounds of labour are a pyramid Ferrero Rocher and a book about slugs. This is what the British Minigolf Association is all about. A day at the seaside, lots of laughs and something uniquely British.
It takes me forever to get home, I'm silent for most of the way, I'm not sure what's happened. It's quite numbing, this winning lark, but incredibly brilliant in its own way. I started by saying is this all worth it? After 15 hours, 342 miles and 102 shots, I'm beaming. My life is truly amazing at times. I will remember this day forever.