Saturday: After nearly two months off from competitive minigolf, building up an appetite, a few drinks and spending time with my dad, I get two competitions for the price of one. This is the first of three double headers throughout the season and a bonus of being just the 170 miles round trip. I had already been over on a scouting mission on the Wednesday to re-learn the courses as during the 2018 edition in the middle of the hottest spell of weather in living memory, we played in the one weekend it rained. The prospects for at least today looked substantially better.
Today is also my birthday and in minigolf terms, I’ve become a senior. I have mixed emotions about today. Last year, I spent it in intensive care sat by my mum’s bedside. It is difficult to clear that from my thoughts. This is where minigolf helps, putting is therapy. I am first at the course, where we have two tracks to learn. The new and old course. “It makes it sound like St. Andrews when you say it like that,” said Andy, the operations manager at Four Ashes Golf Centre on the outskirts of Solihull. It’s only our second time at the new course but is already proving popular with a couple of unfamiliar hole designs. The Midlands Open starts at 4.30pm, during the day, the public attend in fluctuating numbers. Many of the competitors decide to flit between both courses for practice, depending on levels of footfall.
The new course doesn’t give up a whole load of ace opportunities, so my confidence was lifted somewhat by crashing in a 30. No one got lower than 35 last year. I got into a good rhythm. Henri arrived with a present for me, an old bakelite rotary phone, as I had commented on how much I liked the one at his house. I afford myself the luxury of resting an hour before tee off, which gave myself and Ted the chance to draw the groups for the matchplay. My playing partner for the first two rounds is Simon, who is buoyant having been picked for the WAGM team. When we get underway, there are still some members of public on the course. This included a group of three immediately behind us with a child full of sugary goods. I was hoping it came with an off switch.
Unable to shake off the Sunny Delight Kid, we played on as best we could but we were both aware of his voice. At one point, I had dropped to four over. As we played our first hole without the constant chirping, myself and Simon both scored an ace. What a strange coincidence that our return to form came at this time. I picked up anther one two holes later and ended with a 38, not too bad, all things and all that. After a short break and forgetting that we shouldn’t have had a break, we start round two. This is much better as apart from the triple plateau ninth, which was catching a number of people out, I played my best round of the event, a 34, getting myself back to level par. Last year, that would have been the lead. This year, it’s good enough for seventh.
My final round pitted me with two of the rising stars of British Minigolf, Andrew and Henri, who were both looking for their first top ten finish. As usual, the last lap is about winning your group and see where it takes you. I completed a hat-trick of aces at the third, my third such perfect hole of the year. I then got a hat-trick of bogeys at the triple plateau and as much as I tried to advance, I couldn’t make the headway I desired. I took most pleasure of telling people how to make the putt from the ditch on the last. Four people had ended up there. “Right lip, right lip,” I shouted. All four made the putt. Maybe I’m a better coach than player. Joint fifth for today. Another win for tournament host Michael, who now has four times as many wins as anyone else who has ever played. We are in the realms of Phil Taylor, Ed Moses and Jahangir Khan. What wasn’t expected was a long overdue runner up spot for Dave.
As it was getting late, I wanted to check into the hotel and freshen up. My roommate was Simon, so the plan was to get changed and hit a pub or two. “I hope there’s somewhere to eat near the hotel,” said Simon. Turned out there was right next doors with a Buddy Holly tribute show along with a loyal ageing fanbase to boot. After being told how pretty Peggy Sue was, we Raved On over the road to the first of a couple of micropubs, that natural home of a touring minigolfer. The Craft Inn was exceptional and The Shaking Hand was pretty good. I decided that I’d had enough birthday for one day and turned in around 11.30pm. Simon was joined by Andrew, they planned on seeing the sights by night.
Sunday: Simon appeared around 3am roughly, although neither of us are sure for differing reasons. Needing to be at the course for 8am to set up for the matchplay, we make it. Although I had my doubts around half an hour before. With a bag of Quavers and Daim bar for breakfast, we’re off. All the leg work for today was done yesterday so it just meant people had to turn up and pay. The drawmaster had put me in the group of death, along with last years runner up, Ted, as well as Seve and Andy Wilde. None of us could predict the outcome, there was mild jealousy looking at how some of the other groups had panned out. We’re on the old course today, an 11 hole effort with lightning fast felt. It still is in good condition on the whole.
Light drizzle greets us and stays for the day. It’s enough to put a jacket on. I start off playing the other tournament organiser, Ted. As expected, he starts fast and although I haven’t dropped a shot, I’m two down with four to play. Somehow, I fight back and get a half at the final hole. Buoyed by the recovery, this carries on into my second matchup against Andy, quickly taking a lead that I wouldn’t lose, picking up a 2 and 1 and qualifying for the top 16. I start well in my final match against Seve, going two up. Seve, having lost the previous two matches, digs deep and nudges the victory by one. Although I have qualified for the chance of the trophy, it’s into the unseeded section I go, with Ted winning the group.
The draw for the last sixteen is the most anticipated part of the weekend. A number of the unheralded players on the tour were still in, along with competition favourite, Michael. The format and shortness of the rounds made the unpredictability of the event a lottery. The highlight of the draw was Andy Exall drawn against his son, Matt, who knocked him out last year. I got Scott, who had come through a tough group himself, so I knew I was up against it. As it proved and my campaign for the title was over by a 2 and 1 score line. The big shock was the defending champion Michael was out to Terry. With half of the quarter finalists in nosebleed territory, anybody could now win this.
All that was left to do was to play for position. I draw Matt and pick up a 2 and 1 win. I draw Michael and catch him on the rebound, losing 4 and 2. I end up playing Martyn to decide 11th place, to which I save my best performance of the day, winning 4 and 2. In the final, Scott wins his first tour title ever, defeating shock first time entrant, Shelley, 2 and 1. The day itself has been the winner. It’s flowed so well, I’m very grateful that I put all the hard yards in before the day and I hope you don’t think I’m being too modest but that’s about as smoothly run a competition that I’ve ever been involved in. I like being involved because I care. Every day of my life, there is some time dedicated towards minigolf, whether be playing, organising, blogging, interviewing or collating the history of the British Mingolf Association. Probably just as well I’m not married to anything human, just minigolf.
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