Saturday: Having got into bed around 9pm, I gave myself the best possible chance of being relatively fresh by the time I would wake up around 5am. Working in the farming industry, early morning starts are standard for me but this is a weekend and I’m on the road before the sun makes an appearance. It’s the longest running club event in the British Isles I am heading for, driving south to the Mecca of minigolf, Hastings. There is something about pre-dawn travel, mainly the lack of anyone else on the road, so I make it before the staff do. The Planet Hastings Crazy Golf Open is unique on the tour as we have to play all three of the courses with just one ball allowed per round. The tournament itself holds some special memories. I won in 2017, which still remains my sole strokeplay triumph.
A weather front bringing a strengthening wind throughout the two days was going to be a key factor and the more experienced putters knew that a heavier ball would probably be the way to go. I went for a selection but after half an hour, it was clear that my MR6001 was the chosen one. I needed to work fast and smart as we had the AGM nearby around lunchtime and I was heading back to see my dad. Playing with the one ball, mainly lines and pace of shots change. I’m feeling confident as I’ve finished in the top three at every event in 2019 and I broke the course record on Adventure back in January. A few other players are spotted around the complex, a number of whom I am seeing for the first time this year.
Martin, my teammate, arrives in his normal attire of polo shirt and shorts. He used to always surprise me that he would turn up in this, regardless of whether it was a heatwave or the depths of winter. We grab a bite to eat and chat about the WAGM in Sweden, as we have both been selected. Martin did surprise me by saying he had never been on a plane or even set foot in an airport. I guess you just automatically assume everyone has done. From there, we lose track of time and miss the opening gambits of the AGM, being held on the top floor of a nearby pub. I’m making a sacrifice by missing my football team, Brighton, on television against out arch rivals. Taking part in the future of our sport nationally while keeping an eye on my text messages mean I can multitask, ladies. We take the lead. Compared to the other AGM’s I have been to, this is straightforward enough, expertly chaired by Ted. No debates on the merits of pipe holes this year. I am touched by a number of the group and their kind words about my contribution throughout the past twelve months. I don’t do this for the plaudits and adulation. I do this because I’m good at what I do and I enjoy it. I will be the first to admit that away from minigolf, I don’t have much else going on in life.
I head back to the car to find we had conceded a penalty. It’s 1-1. However, as I’m paying for parking, we take the lead again with an absolute worldie. The minutes crawl by into the jubilation of victory, somewhere around Eastbourne. The smile won’t leave my face. It’s great to see dad and although we said we wouldn’t go for a beer, the football has convinced otherwise. I manage to behave myself and after the briefest of catch ups, I turn in before 10pm. Tomorrow was going to be a long day as my view will be predominantly of the top of my steering wheel and laptop, when I was going to be putting.
Sunday: Here we go again. The alarm goes off while I’m on the toilet and despite my dad saying he would get up early to see me off, I win my bet that he wouldn’t. There has been some overnight rain and the wind is stronger now. The best way of comparing it is to the throwback standard of the 2013 World Crazy Golf Championships, when we played in a storm. It’s not that bad but winds of 40 to 50 mph are going to be blasting us from the English Channel. Andy is at the course before me, going through his routine. With the earliest start in BMGA strokeplay history of 8am, it is a testament to the desire of the competitors that 40 make it to the start. The draw, if you can call it that, partners me with Michael. The top two in the country would be up against each other earlier than normal.
We’re out first on the Pirate course, where Michael is the joint record holder. I ace the first and the fifth but Michael roars back four of his own in seven holes, including a sublime effort at the tricky seventh. Rather than try and stick on his coat tails as so many have done before, I go on the offensive and have retaken the lead penultimate hole. I’m delighted with a 31, Michael pours in a 32. Only James Rutherford would get close. My mindset is now belief that I can go on from here to win, especially with the lowest ever round on our next track, Adventure. I take a toilet stop and return to find Michael jogging around the car park. “I had to keep warm somehow,” he quips. My best laid intentions go awry as I fall to two over after the first three. Michael needs a comfort break after the sixth, which appears to put us both out of our stride on the next. Michael takes a five and sensing a chance to really put the pressure on, I’m too aggressive for the pipe and only gain one. “Let’s never talk about that hole again,” I jest.
Although I get the next, I limp through the rest of the round for a 42, which places me three back of Michael, one behind Andy Exall and level with Seve. I spend the rest of the gap in between rounds inputting the scores and congratulating the owner, Chris Richards, on the arrival of a grandchild. The staff have the soothing tones of Radio 3 playing as the wind batters the hut. I’m warm in here and have a great view of everyone who is not, right outside my window. Who wouldn’t get a perverse kind of exhilaration from that! Time and again, I glance around behind me at the selection of prizes which makes the Planet Hastings Crazy Golf Open an undeniable British institution. It’s a special year as Ted is celebrating his twentieth season on the tour. He provides a throwback to the very early days of competition in this country and if you ever want a good anecdote about minigolf for an hour or so, then I recommend some time in Ted’s company.
With the dawn chorus getting us under way, we’ve made good time so far and the final round on the Crazy course starts at 10.30am. I’m in the penultimate group with Martin Greenhead and Andy Wilde. The Crazy course is the one most exposed to the elements and I stick with the same ball as the previous two rounds. Tactically, I’ve got it right as I blast off to three under after six and draw back to two behind. From there, I blow it. I’m far too casual and lose all my gains. I finish the day with an ace to keep me in third but once again, the Planet Hastings event is too close to call. Before the thrill of the tombola and a chance to win a mounted snakeskin, there is a playoff for the top prize of £100 for anyone who has made six holes in one or greater across the day. Putting on the obelisk hole, no one makes it although Scott was one roll too short. It’s £200 for next year. Please note I’m writing this down, just in case it slips Ted’s mind. I’m sure it won’t…
Over the years, the prize giving ceremony has been one of the highlights of the season. Prizes in the past have included and LP of Robert Redford narrating over the howling of wolves, a Cyberman moneybox and a copy of the Syrian Times. I draw out the 1947 edition of How To Be A Playboy and a couple of t-shirts. I was hoping for the barometer. I give my vice-captain, Derek, a lift back to his house before the long slog north. As I said at the AGM the previous day, minigolf attracts many walks of life but it takes a certain type of character to want to keep on doing this. I am happy to be that certain type of character, the numbers that took part show that I am not alone.
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