This piece is dedicated to the memory of Margaret Lovell, who passed away peacefully after a long and brave battle against illness on September 27th. My mum always encouraged me with everything in life and enjoyed hearing about my minigolf life and the friends it has given me around the world.
Friday October 5th: Having had two weeks off on compassionate grounds, what I needed was to do something that was as far removed from the previous fortnight as could be. Luckily in my existence, I have minigolf, which most people I know donít get. I set off around 1pm after a slight change of plan and head to the capital of Wales, Cardiff. For me, itís anywhere from around just over three hours to time it on a calendar to get to. I was grateful to the Welsh public greeting me by sitting in their cars on the A48. The English obviously didnít want Ted to leave as his train out of Paddington was cancelled. Itís worth it when you arrive, I mused.
The Treetops course is situated on the third floor of St Davidís shopping centre and has become the must go to event, just for the hospitality. We were greeted by Sammie, who told us to order a pizza, help ourselves to three free beers at the bar and play some minigolf. I mean, is there any part of that you donít like. After a quick knock around, three members of staff were put against myself, Ted and Martyn in a golf ball only event, won by one of the staff, Tom. It was a very informal fun round with my playing partner from Newcastle, Kevin. Despite the offer of going out afterwards for more drinks, my exploits had got the better of me and I just wanted to sleep.
Saturday October 6th: I didnít sleep well, thoughts galloping through my head, looking at old photos until the early hours. Treetops had kindly given us a closed session from the public, which a number of people had taken advantage of. In my role on the executive committee and co-tournament organiser, I mix practice with making course specific notes for the presentation. Nothing has changed from the previous year, it can be an absolute fearsome track. Pipe holes are inconsistent, the cups are shallow, the fine line between an ace and a mulligan is very evident on a number of holes. The 14th twelve months before had cost me the title so I was determined to just take care of business there. I play one scored round during the morning, a 32. We also had a first for the tour, the first Russian to play. Victor Kozlov happened to be in the country for work purposes so we train together.
Our new friends at the newly formed Welsh Minigolf Club had decided to run an event during the afternoon at the nearby Tee-Rex centre under the picturesque setting of the M4. These guys have been enthusiastic from the outset and the desire they show is infectious. Simon takes a myself, Ed and Andy round, showing us the lines. It is very clear that there wonít be many aces here (according to the staff, a par of 36 had never been broken), playing for a rebound isnít going to happen but playing off of the sloped banks are. It will suit people that have the knowhow to manufacture shots. Shortly before the tee off, myself and Ted put our heads together for our opening gambits in the morning.
We start at 5pm, so for the three rounds, it will finish in the dark. My playing partners are Simon and Rhiannon, who will be playing in her first event the following day. I was right about the lack of holes in one, the occasional ĎYESí piercing the traffic passing overhead. Iím avoiding any kind of trouble and twoing my way around, except for nailing the slope shot on the last. And so, for the first time in history, someone had broken par at Tee Rex and it was me. My closest rival was Andy Wilde on 37, which also broke the old course record. I helped Martyn out with Bangolf and we cracked on with round two.
Repeating what I had just done was not impossible but dropping two shots in five holes had made it improbable. Remarkably, I got back to par for the lap before dropping another for a 37 and a three shot lead from Andy Exall. During round two, we had another first as Stephen received a call from his wife to say her waters had broken and so one of the leading local challengers dashed off. With the gloom descending and the two Andyís in tow, we started the final round. I knew that if I just matched the others, then Iíve got this. Wilde made a poor start, Exall made the ace. I matched Exall. From there on, I knew if I played smart that I had this. The conditions got darker to the point where it was impossible to play with a dark ball as you couldnít see it on the floor by your feet. By the time we got to the last, I knew a four would win it. After not quite getting up the slope first time, I rolled the second putt in for the three shot win. As I received my prize, the emotion of mumís death just hit me. I mumbled a few words and broke down. It may have just been an invitational but only nine days after the saddest day of my life, I found the strength to win. After grabbing a quick bite, myself, Ted and Ed reconvened in The City Arms near the Millennium Stadium for the day closing beers.
Sunday October 7th: The Welsh Open is here, the weather is magnificent and a cloudless sky accompanies us passing the start line for the Welsh Half Marathon by the castle walls. The battle for some is getting into the centre as most of the doors are locked. Iím fortunate that we find the open ones first time. I manage to sort all the technical side by 8.15am, allowing myself a few practice shots. With a couple of exceptionally late entries, including local champion from 2015 and 2016, Russell Crocker, we are ready to go putting. My playing partner is Jasmine, someone who I respect for their courage.
I make a decent start, aceing the seventh and tenth and even getting through the bogie hole from 2017 unscathed. However, at Treetops, if you solve one problem, it manifests itself elsewhere. The closing three holes, I drop five shots and finish the round on the sixth, lipping out for the ace before taking a four. Well, thatís blown it, although in Cardiff, a 41 isnít necessarily out of the running. I took 38 last year. I get on with inputting the scores into Bangolf, allowing myself not to dwell and also avoiding tales of woe elsewhere. Hey, this tournament running lark has its benefits.
Regular readers of this column may remember a round I played at Hastings during the British Championships, where I had six lip outs or extreme near misses. Round two was about to top that. I scored a 36 but when I look back at the NINE shots which either lipped out or sat by the hole (we are talking around a centimetre), it was quite clear that my win on Saturday was enough for the minigolfing gods. There was a macabre element to the round, the ultimate sadistic what might have been torture. With the final round, I was with Matt and Simon, actually convincing myself that despite six shots off the prizes, with what I had just shown, I could still get something. I really needed the start. I didnít get it. I took a five at the sixth. Guess where Iíll be practising hard next year. I finish off strong with the last two holes for another level effort for eighth place.
The real drama was happening in the lead group, with many people realising they had an opportunity to grab a rare victory. With Seve in the clubhouse leading on -2, Andy Exall, lost his chance, dropping back from that score to level after the 16th. Andy Wilde arrived at the 17th on -4. Tension and lip outs took him to -1 by the end. Ruth aced the last to join Seve at -2. In the playoff, Ruth got the third extra hole and won her second consecutive tournament. Her final round had been the most consistent of the whole field. Thatís what work here. After packing up and heading back to the car, I realise my parking light had been on all weekend so I had to call for a jump start. The drive home gave me time to reflect on the state of my life and how the past seven months of looking out for mum will shape me for the future. My mum was an incredible woman, we are poorer for having lost her but richer for having known her.
The views expressed in this blog are solely the views of the writer and do not represent the World Minigolf Sport Federation (WMF), Minigolfnews.com or any other organization that the writer may be associated with unless expressly stated in the blog.