Saturday 29th: With the frantic pace of mid June’s World Crazy Golf Championships and World Adventure Golf Masters now committed to a set of very pleasant memories, the seemingly more sedate going of the English Open in Nottingham is the next stop of the British Minigolf Association tour. Not that my build up to the competition showed, playing catch up from my exploits in Sweden and working on future tournaments, at times, it was starting to feel like a part time job. Luckily, my hunger for minigolf had grown further so I took it on the chin.
Nottingham is one of the easier courses for me to get to by car but probably the hardest to park anywhere near. This had become a real trek now as even my usual free parking spots were served with time restrictions now. I arrived at opening, closely followed by a BBC television crew hunting local talent. I wasn’t local enough but Ed certainly was and spent the next forty five minutes showing a reporter the difference between the rubber balls and how to putt through a pipe. The explosion in media interest has been brilliant, we’re just waiting for the public to catch up.
After a few hours of putting and catching up with a few of the team from Great Britain such as James and Andy, myself and Ed head back to his house to pick up his eldest son to make the trip to Coventry for an afternoon of under 6 football on the hottest day of the year. After an hour or so in the local pub, I park myself at the back of the stands, sat on a concrete block and working my way through a family sized bag of Starburst. I don’t know where the kids found the energy from, I was wilting just watching. I entertained myself by pretending I had met famous sports stars through the medium of members of the public wearing their shirts. LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Eden Hazard, Neymar. I met them all. Sadly, this excited me more than it should have done and for longer than is should have done too. It was good to see kids interested in playing sport rather than sat behind a screen (I realise the irony of that statement as I sit here typing about sport).
During the evening back at Ed’s, I carry out my executive committee duties, performing the live group draw and prepare the score cards for the morning. We order pizza, chilli cheese bites and hot wings, which looks great on paper but, in reality, was far too much, even for our fluctuating waistlines. We spent the rest of the night talking about auctions for minigolf balls and watching the World Cup of Pool. I was asleep on the sofa before 10pm. Another day in my life drifted on by.
Sunday 30th: I was stirring early before my alarm and Ed came downstairs to bottle feed his youngest son. It was around 5.30am. I reflected on how Nottingham had been nothing but bad luck for me previously. From my car exploding on the way to the event in 2016, to my laptop suffering fatal errors the night before the 2017 competition. And who could forget blowing a massive opportunity to win the same weekend. And of course, there was the time last year where my battle with anxiety spilled over into genuine fear. I think I had more than enough of that kind of fun, if you like that kind of thing. After a quick freshen up and a slice of last night’s pizza, we’re off to the course.
On arrival, I set up the laptop and scorecards. Myself and Scott also set up a small memorial for Dave Donnelly and as this was the first home event since his passing, it was clear how missed he will be. At the rules briefing, Scott led the Lord’s Prayer and one minutes silence. What I felt at the time was this is the meaning of family. Just regular people and characters from all walks of life with just one thing in common. Minigolf. It binds us, it is our glue and from this, friendships are born. Dave and myself supported rival football teams and remember when Brighton beat Crystal Palace during last season, he barely said a word to me. However, minigolf didn’t care about football rivalry. It still doesn’t seem real. Five weeks ago, Dave was playing what turned out to be his last event. Life’s short, huh.
My group for the first two rounds were James, or as I’ve got to call him J-Ho, and Alex. Both have the potential to throw in a good performance and one day, they both will. I start off on the ninth and soon pick up an ace and a drop. The rest of the round, I putt well without much going for me. I know I am, I’m not looking at my notes and no putts are further than a foot away. I close the round out with a pair of aces and an opening 33, which I know is at least a few short. James and Alex both ask how Sweden was and I’m happy to regale the stories. It’s a good group to be a part of. We start the second round at the first, which we have to play twice due to the course having only 17 holes. I don’t make the headway over the opening half but manage to close out with four in a row and a 29. From being out of any kind of contention, I haul myself up to sixth and five back of Michael. Same again, please.
During the morning, more local press had arrived, so I concentrate on scoring duties while Scott took on the promotional side of the organisation. Scott would join me in the final round, along with Rocky. I finally get a good start to a round, reaching four under through ten, which included an absolute robbery on the eighth (it sat on the lip while in the gather hole) and a dropped shot at the ninth. Once again, I finish a round strongly, making three of the final four for another sub 30. I’m fourth overall, I left myself too much to do to catch the top three, but I have no complaints about how I putted. One bad shot, one slightly loose shot. Over three rounds, I’m happy with that. Life is good, I’m minigolfing. Nottingham has been good to us and the staff exceptional. They are really keen to develop the relationship and it’s been a fun event to have been a part of. We had a number of players with career best performances, like Matt, Andrew, Henri, Stephen and Pavlina. It had a special feel when presenting the prizes. I’m still quite early in my role of helping to put on minigolf events but the positivity is making this worthwhile.
Saturday 6th: Another week, another tournament and for me, a return to where it all began in Worthing. Back then, it was the British Masters but since 2014, it has been hosting its own Saturday night fever. I had been down since Thursday evening and spent a significant chunk of Friday morning visiting my mum’s resting place, as we now had the headstone. I’ve been here before a number of times, but it was real now with mum’s name on granite and very upsetting. I rested my phone next to her stone and played a song that I had recorded for mum when she first went into hospital. From there, I spent the day at the beach, wandering the shops and the bar. On the Saturday itself, I’m the first to arrive at Splash Point and I’m greeted by course owner, Anthony. We’ve become friends over the years, so we have a catch up.
With the tee off time at 5pm, there is a steady stream of entrants spread over the day but despite the searing hit, not many members of the public. Worthing does have a number of other attractions nearby and on a day like today, there is the nearby beach, draped in seaweed. Just before lunch, I show around two of the newcomers, Paul and Tim, who have got the bug. After an hour or so, we’re over the pub. Part of what I feel my role is as a more senior member of the tour is to talk about why I do this. “It’s like anything you consider a hobby, you do it as much or as little as you want”, I state. As I’ve said before, what I see when the novices begin is how I felt at the beginning, just where will this take me. It’s an adventure.
During the afternoon, I flit between a few holes of minigolf and keeping out of the sun. “I see your arm has gone BMGA red,” says Ant, pointing out that I had missed a bit of sun cream. Blast, I had too. Despite some issues with trains, a record field of 27 are ready to go. My playing partner for the first two rounds was Andrew Gomm, who it would be fair to say hadn’t had the best of tournaments here previous. As well as playing my game, I’m here to help out and analyse where players can make improvements. We get away on hole two and straight off, I pick up a couple of shots. I’m unlucky on the ninth as I feel as if someone take control of my tee shot remotely. It can’t miss, it’s on line. However, it just trickles around the hole and leaves itself in the worst spot on the course. A few holes later, I pick up back to back aces. Andrew is having the round of his life and he’s doing well to keep his feet on the ground. The first hole is our last, which Andrew had mistakenly marked as an ace. “Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ll make it anyway.” I did. 32 for me in a tie for the lead, a stunning 36 for Andrew. He beats his personal best by eight shots.
Round two and buoyed by Andrew’s success, I’m keen that it isn’t a flash in the pan. What the situation is doing is motivating me too. I get to six under for my round with two to play, Andrew hits an incredible save on the platform hole, which definitely goes in my top five shots of the year. A drop at the tenth provides me with a 31. Andrew gets 38. Elsewhere, records are being bettered. James ties the old course record with a 29. Nuno then takes with a 27, having made eight aces in nine holes. That’s stunning minigolf, you just have to applaud it. As I leave the course, I spot my dad and the dog on their evening walk. Mum and dad always popped by when I played Worthing. After the second round, four of us are pulling away. Nuno at -12, me at -9, James at -8 and Michael, who despite being unwell, was always a threat on -6. For the second week running, there were some unexpected names in the mix. Marion was fifth, which pleased everyone. My coaching earlier with Paul was bearing fruit too, he was +4.
With myself being in the lead group, James and I had talked about attacking the final round early to see if Nuno would feel the burn. What actually happened was I started double bogey, bogey. James started bogey, par. Nuno started par, ace. Pretty much within two holes, I dropped out of the paying spots and Nuno was the heavy favourite. My plan was to see if I could get back to level by the turn. I get there in one over. James is now the threat to Nuno, reducing his lead to three by the eighth. Nuno snuffs the challenge with a pair on the mid-section and backs it up with another later on. He wins by five. My battle for third with Michael goes down to the seventeenth and for once, I come out on top. The Worthing Open has been a massive success.
In the rowing club, where we have set up base, I get the scores inputted and when the final leader board is revealed, there is joyous scenes as three players have recorded their first top ten finish, including Andrew. That feels like mission accomplished. Nuno is a deserving champion and dedicates his win to Will and the Donnelly family, with Dave still in our thoughts. It’s an incredibly touching gesture and shows what the sport is about. Yes, we compete and we want to do well but the sport of minigolf is family too and just like family, minigolf is there for you when you need it to be. It was for me last year when mum died. It will be for Will too.
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.
Pictured left to right: James Rutherford, Will Donnelly, Nuno Cunha and Steve Lovell. (Credit: Scott Lancley - BMGA)