Friday: Here we are, the first major of the British calendar, the first rush to make it to a course through the roadways of the south east. It's a little before 6 am and I'm packed for the jolly boys outing to Margate, home to the Turner Contemporary Arts Centre, Kiss Me Quick hats and one of Chas and Dave's more famous hits. It is also the birthplace of the micropub and the biggest challenge on the BMGA tour, Strokes Adventure Golf. My plan to avoid rush hour seems to have been everyone else's idea too as I hit the M25 north east of London, facing a wall of brake lights. I have my laptop for company as my new car stereo is being fitted on Monday. As well as the training day, it is also pay day too so I decide to treat myself to another pair of trainers which are uneasy on the eye.
I'm the first to arrive at the course, greeted by Matt Wood, owner of Strokes and designer of some of the beasts that await. It is beautiful here, despite the overcast atmosphere. Immediately, I set about the task ahead knowing that most of notes will be out of date since the 2016 club championships, as I have a vast array of different balls now. By the end of practice, I would have changed all but two from my sheet. Late morning and I get my first taste of heaven, otherwise known as a sausage and onion baguette. All non vegans should eat this. Around 1.45 pm, my vice captain and roommate for the weekend, Derek Bentall arrives. Derek has been a little concerned that he may have a lack of practice time so we get to work, not moving to the next hole until he is reasonably happy. From then on, the rest of the ensemble cram in some much needed hours. Personally, I could be here for a week and still it will defeat me. Margate offers so many ace opportunities and elements of danger on the same lane. It can mess with you when it goes wrong. Late afternoon, the first of the second round ties in the matchplay takes place between Will and Sean, one of the ties of this chapter. It doesn't disappoint, Will winning by a single hole but not after Sean has a prayer answered at the 17th with the shot of the year.
Around 5.30 pm, myself and Derek head off to the Our Nest guesthouse about two miles away. We're welcomed warmly by Martina and the room is a delight. We have different plans tonight. Derek grew up around the area and is visiting old friends. I am off to join the curry club, hosted by Scott Lancley at the Ali Raj. The set menu is a five course affair and great value at £11.95, even greater when you see the size of the dishes that are laid out before us. To those of us that known him, it comes as no surprise that David Hartley goes for the most potent item on the menu, the Phaal. I wouldn't want to be sharing that room later. After food, some of us make our way just up the road to the Ales Of The Unexpected alehouse, where at £3 a pint, we'll stay here until closing. Scott breaks out the music quiz, which gets funnier as he goes off piste into freestyle impressions. 'Lose Yourself' by Eminem never sounded as incomprehensible as that so well done to Paul Preston for getting that right. With the scent of rhubarb cider in the air and the sight of Martin stroking Mark Wood's face while Ted dances to 'Push It' by Salt and Pepa burned on our retinas, the night is over and the tournament is here
Saturday: We're both up way before the alarm and the first look out of the window is not promising, with winds buffeting the trees around 25-30 mph. It's supposed to be May but I'm dressing for January. I load myself on the complimentary breakfast before heading out into the bracing cold. My priority this morning is to show Ed Pope around Strokes, who reaches the course just after 8 am. Ed is a fast learner and it helps me that I don't have to explain much. The less I talk, the better chance I have of not confusing myself. My group for the day is one of my good friends on the tour, Matt Dodd, who had a traumatic last 48 hours, and Anthony Clarkson, a teenage novice from the Gravesend area.
Margate is all about making the start, getting through the tricky middle section while not taking anything for granted elsewhere. I make the start I want, aceing three of the first four holes. I'm having to concentrate hard, with the wind pummeling the field and affecting ball choices. I've gone with a heavier selection and it feels like it is working as I close out with a 35. Unfortunately for me, this is as good as today will get as one or two moments of absurdity and lapses cost me every round. Second round, 38. Third round, 41. Fourth round, urgh! We all have that one lap of a track we wish we had never started. Everything that could go wrong did so. I'm totally fed up, I had been since around half way round the 47, as will forever be known as. I know for the rest of the year that things won't go that badly again. Time to suck it up and get warm. Since when did Margate become Spitzbergen. I have a chance to redeem myself a little with my second round matchplay tie against Matt, who had surprised many to beat Tony Kelly in round one. Matt struggles to recreate that form and I'm playing well again, securing a 6 and 4 win.
The evening will consist of dinner at the Premier Inn by the train station. I book a cab. It's a brilliant service which can track online. Sure enough, it arrives when the picture of the car travelling through the streets of Margate on your phone does so too. It's remarkable cheap too so not for the first time, here's another recommendation for Thanet Taxis. At a little after 7 pm, we arrive and order food. Tiger Pragnell is already tucking into the buffet. Joined by the Donnelly's and Ed Pope, we talk about the day and the experience that was the 2015 Scottish Open. You had to be there. By the time we leave to head to the AOTU again around 8.30 pm, Tiger is already on his fourth helping and still eating. Rumour has it he ate everything on the menu at the course. At the micropub, we're reminiscing on Owen's appearance on the TV show Countdown back in April. This leads to a number of stories of other members of the BMGA on television and in particular, the Exall family on Family Fortunes back in 1987. I haven't seen it. Yet. I expect some abuse for my 47 and it happens. It's funny for a while. And then it wasn't. Time to sleep this one off and start again tomorrow determined.
Sunday: I may have a slight hangover, which wears off gradually over the course of the first hour of the day. The curtains are flung open and although it is cloudy, the wind has dropped right off. We pack our bags and head back down to the beach. I need to work on a few holes, the notorious 11th in particular, which would crucify me all weekend long, dropping seventeen shots. I arrange to meet one of the novices, Martin Relf, before day two as he wants to pick up some balls I have to sell. He's keen to learn and get involved so I put together a set of ten. I later sell some balls to Chloe and Ed so overall, my room was paid for via my eBay purchase last year. My day two opponents are Ruth Burke, probably the best female to play the game in Britain ever, and one of my tormentors from last night, Paul Johnson. I've got my determined head on and go on the assault to get back into the top ten. My work on 'Heartbreak Ridge' pays off as I make an ace there at last and come home in 34. It is a laboured round, with a lot of waiting between holes so pretty much as soon as we finish round five, we're out for round six. Attention turns to one of the more unheralded stars of the scene, Marion Homer, who is tearing up the course, making the last of round five and the first four of round six. A number of people gather at the fifth as her tee shot falls agonisingly short. It was great to watch the run and one of the highlights of the competition. My game is steadier this morning and despite a four at the 17th, a 38 is a decent return.
While waiting for the final groups to be reordered, I give the bacon baguette a go, which is great. Not sausage great but still. Bacon. The day is starting to warm up and for the first time, I remove my jacket to show off the varieties of yellow that adorn me. As well as Paul, I'm joined by Ed, who has done well. My final round pretty much sums up my experience. Solid rounds with the occasional blemish and as I sink the final putt, I'm thankful that it is over. As the competition finishes, won by Adam Kelly for a third time, the sun gloriously breaks through, giving a lie to the world about what weather the event was played in. On the way home, I get drowsy but the traffic behaves and shortly before 7 pm, I'm home. By 8 pm, I would be asleep on the sofa clutching a half eaten pizza, dreaming of another weekend away minigolfing. I will remember Margate more for what happened off the course rather than what happened on it.