Sunday: Urgh! It’s 5 AM and I am wishing for a lot of things. A few more hours in bed. A shorter journey time. Breakfast in bed. I know none of this is going to happen as I run down the stairs to put the kettle on. “Do you want a cuppa, mate”, I say in a raised voice to my house guest and team mate, Ed Pope, who has spent the night in the spare room. Luckily, he’s awake and everything is on track for my third assault on the British Club Championships at the beautiful setting of Wroxham Barns, in Nelson’s county. My club is the Sussex Wasps, which I formed at a restaurant in Birmingham back in 2014.
The SatNav says it will be just over two hours to Wroxham but I know the winding roads of the Broads and we arrive just 7 AM, having knocked around half an hour off that time. As we pull into the car park, we see one solitary vehicle containing an equally keen Wasp, Charlie Dart. Over the past year, we have lost a few members to other clubs and as a result, can only muster three players for a squad of four. We can still compete, as the rules say that the best three scores on each hole will go towards the total score for your team. What it means is that we have no margin for error as we can’t drop our worst effort. It is going to be tough. The three Wasps manage to get over ninety minutes, with a crash course on the lines and the pace of the felt, which is wet your under crackers frightening on a few holes.
The format for the day means we will play the six other teams in a round robin format over a maximum of twelve holes with one round sat out, which I would use as an excuse to see how much money I could spend in the restaurant, confectioners and gift shop. Before the food, there is the small matter of competitive minigolf. First up is the Cambridgeshire and Essex Blues, who we have had some tight matches with in previous years, such as the 2015 semi-final, where we were finally victorious at the seventh extra hole. My own opinion is I think we have a good chance of a half and for a while, we’re more than matching them. Luckily, I’ve started well, hoping to give Charlie and Ed confidence that they can do the same to. With four to play, we’re level having led twice. From then on, our handicap of not having a full squad costs us and we lose three straight. It’s a hard one to take but a number of other players reassure us that we have done well. Personally, it is the one that got away.
Due to the length of the day, we’re straight into the next match up, the other three person team on the day, the Kent Hellcats, led by Marion Homer and supported by Paul and Owen Johnson. They weren’t to be taken at all lightly as rumours of two aces on the elaborate pipe hole twelfth were true. We quickly took the lead and were hauled back straight away. My team mates were slowly finding their rhythm, while I just felt I had the touch. The confidence I had lost at the end of 2016 was back and I was walking after my putts knowing they would drop. Paul Johnson was playing well, shouting “who are ya” in a deep Midlands accent at every hole in one. I replied “what part of Kent is that from”, with a smirk on my face. We race into a four hole lead and although the Hellcats take two back, we seal our first win.
At the start of the day, I target three wins out of the six, even though we would be shorthanded in all but one match. We get our second dose of Cambridgeshire and Essex, this time the Greys, featuring a couple of British internationals including an ex Wasp, Andy Wilde. I never said anything at the time but I wanted to win this one. It is the first year I have had ex-team mates. The atmosphere is light hearted as we’re both Brighton fans and talked openly about who we would be playing next year in the Premier League. The other two members were newbies and friends of James Rutherford, La and Colin. They listened well and picked up some impressive scores. The key hole was the rabbit warren of pipes on the twelfth, were the Greys put up seven. After my three and with the situation in the balance, Charlie and Ed both hit aces. Incredible. From there, we take control and seal it.
After three rounds and with a two and one record, we’re in the mix but I’m not fooling myself. The big hitters of Midlands and Kent Spitfires lay in wait. The Midlands had brought three-time World Crazy Golf Champion Chris Harding out of retirement, the tour is always richer with his inclusion. By now, the Wasps really are in the zone. Charlie is an extremely quick learner and Ed seemingly has no nerves. We lose the first three holes but through no fault of our own as Rocky Bullin is on an absolute tare. Although we nick a few back, the holes where you can reasonably expect to get, the Midlands did and we didn’t. Like the first hole, which none of us had previously reached. It was no disgrace to lose to a team batting perfect for the day so now, I’m a little more philosophical, concentrating on geeing up Charlie and Ed. Whatever happens now, the Wasps novice were truly impressing many.
The Kent Spitfires was always going to be the one that we really needed the fourth player. Playing against multiple tournament winners Sean Homer, Adam Kelly and Andy Exall, along with probably the best current player never to have won a title, Tony Kelly. It is intimidating. Quickly, we dropped the first but won the second and we’re back in it. We did our best to put the pressure on but winners find answers. Once again, it was only a few holes in it and when we sat down in the restaurant, we worked out the Spitfires were perfect on four holes. They won four and two. Enough said. This was the best we had played so far. Still, it was something to chew on while I tucked into my roast beef dinner. Before going back, I meandered via the sweet shop for some fudge and the gift shop for my homemade chutneys. Worth the trip out alone. As lunch was settling down below, a battle royal was developing between the rival Kent Spitfires and Midlands team. It’s tense, you can feel it. Both genuinely want to win it. As they approached the last, everyone is watching with dropped jaws. The Spitfires are one down but make three aces. Blues captain James Rutherford can hardly watch as a half here will almost put them in the driving seat for the title. Chris Harding aces, Ruth Burke drifts past on the left, Rocky Bullin bags his leaving Chris Smith with probably the biggest putt of his career. Seconds seems to last hours as the ball rolls towards the hole. Harding thinks it is missing but it catches the left edge and Smith roars out his delight. What an ending. If they put that on television, the world would watch.
Our final match is against Hastings 258, skippered by Dave Gomm, with David and Marion Hartley along with ‘youngster’ Terry Exall. He’s recovering after an incident with ginger in his over 60’s meal deal. A win will guarantee us fourth spot but Hastings were determined to finish strongly. They had suffered tough losses but were the only team to take anything off the Midlands, who were cruising against the Hellcats. Quickly, we were up against it, dropping to two down. Within two holes, it was back to all square, with inspired play by Charlie Dart, who finally gets over his bogey hole on the thirteenth. The quality of the match is sublime, with Tony Kelly remarking it is the best he has seen all day. We hit a patch around the first hole were we make seven aces in a row, an unbelievable streak but even after all that, we’re only one up. Scoring a total of four on our penultimate, amazingly Hastings match it which will ensure we go to the last. Hastings make a five and we need a hole in one. My putt circumnavigates itself around the lip, coming to rest an inch or so away. Charlie is a bit short of pace but makes a fine shot. Ed needs to ace to get the win. With balls of steel, he casually rolls it in and gives the Sussex Wasps its third win. Great match, probably the second finest I have been involved. We made sixteen aces in twelve holes, with Charlie knocking in six, myself and Ed five each, around a 45% success rate and still only won by one. All agree it was fun and in the right spirit.
In the end, the Blues were upset by the Greys as they picked up a half giving the trophy to the Midlands, although that result didn’t matter. They have been the most consistent on the day. Many people approach me after, telling me just how good they think Charlie and Ed can be. Between them, they have only played ten events. It didn’t show. From here, it’s the fight to get home before sundown in one of the furthest flung outposts on the British tour. It has been a classic day, maybe next year, I can have a full squad and we can do this. Maybe. I get home and order the biggest pizza on the menu and settle down for the El Clasico. To quote the great prophet Dean Martin, “memories are made of this”.