Tuesday 22nd November - Due to a rare spot of inclement weather with one of these named storm things, I'm given the day off along with the rest of my colleagues. Rather than have a duvet day, I decide to get a few hours under my belt at Star City in Birmingham. There have been several rumours doing the rounds that the course is radically different from last December. I'm keen to get a head start on my opponents so I don't tell anyone I'm going, why waste a good getting to know you session by talking to people!
Conditions are ideal, the course is empty and will be for several hours. A quick glimpse around shows almost all of the 'sheep hides' (the rough) have gone and around half of the orbs on hole eight, which had previously looked like an accident on a Newton's Cradle. Yes, there are differences, mainly in the felt on about half a dozen holes being relaid and playing slow but overall, the lines are similar. After five hours, I call it a day, posting a few reasonable scores. I'm satisfied with what I've learned from the day.
Heading home is a disaster as I twice miss my exit on the Spaghetti Junction of the M6 and end up in Walsall, twelve miles in the wrong direction. My aim of beating the rush hour traffic has gone awry.
Friday 2nd December - Works Christmas dinner. Despite not drinking, I volunteer to drive and don't get home until 12.30 am. Normally fine for a Friday... BUT... my alarm is set for 5.20 am to get down for the closed morning session in Birmingham. This isn't going to end well.
Saturday 3rd December - Alarm goes. Oh my, I'm severely out of practice for this getting by on four hours sleep lark. I used to do it all the time, in the nineties. I throw some cold water in my face and wolf down some beans on toast, topped off with grated cheese. My first destination is Leicester to pick up a good friend, Ed, an occasional pro and the World Crazy Golf Novice Champion. We mainly talk about the ground rules to Kisstory bingo, which we will start playing in the evening. In short, it's picking twelve songs that we hope to hear on Kisstory and lay them out in a grid. You had to be there really.
We arrive around 8 am and the course is open. A number of the guys have already arrived, yawning their merry way around the complex figuring out what has altered. It's almost like one of the memory test games where you have to pick out which item is missing from the second photo. Ed is playing with minigolf balls for the first time and rapidly takes to them. I had spent about an hour picking ten out for him that will probably get him by. The first surprise of the day was the appearance of three time World Crazy Golf Champion Chris Harding, who has been in retirement for a year from the game. He's down to lend his wealth of knowledge to anyone who wants it. Great to see Chris, sadly missed by all who regularly play.
At 12.30 pm, the hordes are allowed on the course so me and Ed end the session and head for the Harvester around the corner. It is the site of Sussex Wasps history as it was where the club was formed before the 2014 event. The rest of the day will consist of football, watching the results roll in, betting, Championship Manager and the El Classico. Round one of the Kisstory bingo gets off to a frantic start as I take a 2-1 lead in the first twenty minutes. We're more excited about this than is necessary. This is interspersed with a trip to the supermarket where we find £24 of snacks is WAY more than two grown men can handle. Feeling sleepy, I pass out on the sofa under a Spiderman duvet.
Sunday 4th December - Slept really well. Maybe the best sleep I've had all week. Our tactic of over eating the previous night has worked out well as we have some left over breakfast bars for... erm... breakfast. I'm feeling fairly good, I don't make the mistake of Cardiff, where I played a practice round on the day of the tournament and broke the course record. Practice over and Paul Preston runs through the rules. Quite quickly as we're on our designated holes six minutes early. My partner is a familiar face, young Owen 'Jackpot' Johnson, who is feeling better after missing the practice day through a slight illness.
Eventually we start. And my problems begin.
I have no idea why but I feel tense. My first tee shot, the sixth hole, doesn't get down the slope and I take a four. The make a right hash of the next and drop another shot. I want the ground to swallow me up. It's hard to tell if anyone is doing well as it is deathly silent. There's no celebrating of aces, I've never known it this quiet before. Almost as if everyone is waiting for someone to make the first move. I have nothing to celebrate, my aim is everywhere but straight. In the end, I'm relieved to have got a 38 and find that I am only six shots off the lead. I chat with the two debutants, Alex and Henri, who have travelled down for Yorkshire. I always love to see how keen new players to the tour are, there's an innocent fascination from them about what we do and why we do this. We are always in need of fresh meat on the tour and they will be a credit to the tour, should they decide to carry on.
The second round is steadier but has its moments. The top of the stairs on the upper level are where three holes come together and although we are indoors, the lighting causes some shadows. As I'm about to tee off on the 18th, two people distract me so I walk away from the shot. It's a minor thing but still enough to throw me. Every little thing seems to be putting me off and I am having a hard time shutting off from anything. Nothing drops until the final two holes where I get back to back aces for a 37. I'm frustrated, maybe fatigued from a long season.
Knowing that I'm out of the running for any kind of prize, thoughts turn to others plans for Christmas. The next ranking event is a couple of months away and I'm grateful for the chance to sit down and have a chat with Ed, Andy and Adrian. A few people, John and Will notably, remark on my piece in the Independent, a nice little out of the blue number which has gone down well. I'm in the fifth group out in the last round alongside Dave Gomm and Simon Farmer. Even David Hartley comments that 'we don't see you playing in amongst us this far down'. I'm finally putting together a decent round and reach three under after eleven. Maybe talk of my demise is premature. Two dropped shots in two holes suggests that I am probably glad this season is coming to an end. 20th place. I'll have to settle for it.
I make sure I say goodbye to everyone before having the consolation KFC and getting trounced in the Kisstory bingo by Ed. I take the long way home, taking in the beauty of the Rutland countryside. I get home and crash out on the sofa. The text message comes through that I'm needed in for work at 5.30 am.
All of a sudden, I am back in the real world. 2016 has been an amazing year for me, got to visit some fantastic places and meet some wonderful people. Minigolf is something that most people will never understand why we do it. I know that in 2017, I'll be back with hunger renewed, waiting to see what it brings on a course near you.