Friday 16th October: Having put the hours in at work so I can afford to do my passion once again, I had the day off work to head to one of the finest sights, not just in British Minigolf but in Britain itself. Strokes in Margate, looking across Westbrook Bay. Firstly, to get there, it involved 140 miles of mainly motorways and probably some rush hour traffic too. By 6am, my car was already packed and with a few albums worth of dance anthems, I was on my way. The milometer reached 77,777 miles on the way down, complemented by setting my trip so it showed 111.1 miles. My obsessive-compulsive disorder senses were totally delighted by this development. Next time I visit Kent, freight lorries will need the correct documentation, just to enter the county. We are living in messed up times.
I arrived shortly after 8.30am, well before Strokes opened, so it gave me a chance to stride it out. This is the first time I will have taken part in a competition in the senior’s category. I don’t know if the sheer mention of the senior has triggered something, but I ache a lot more these days, alongside other senior tendencies. I saw movement inside the railings and make my way down to stand patiently for my chance to tackle the beast. Martin soon joined me, and course owner Matt let us in. With the onset of Covid, the field has been reduced to a maximum of thirty-six competitors, with a number unable to travel due to local restrictions. It almost feels unfair that I am able to take part, not quite to the point of being uncomfortable with it but not far off.
I start practicing. I’ve always found it strange at Strokes that the set of balls I used for the previous year aren’t necessarily the best for this time around. Every single year. By the time I was satisfied that I had the right shots and choices, I had changed at eight holes, which is about average. As well as the minigolf, the course do a fine line in sausage sandwiches. Life is good. Slowly during the day, the field emerges with a mix of unbridled joy and the fear of Heartbreak Ridge. The reaction to Strokes is wildly differently to the British Open just four weeks earlier, where almost no one turned up to practice. We are helped in part by a great weather forecast for mid-October by the seaside.
During the afternoon, the Players Championships is competed for, which is normally three hours of toil before handing the trophy over to Michael. The format is a round of strokeplay, the top eight qualify for a matchplay knockout before the four winners move onto the final of eighteen holes of further strokeplay. Starting at the ninth, I fail to clear the tunnel, which would be a running theme for the weekend. I take a five and feel out of it already. However, I settle down to try and recover it. Slowly, I get back to par and then under to finish second in the opening round. “How did you get that back,” said an amazed Terry, who had witnessed my opening shots. I guess there is some fight still in this old dog. My matchplay pitted me against Shelley, the defending women’s champion. I just set about taking a hole at a time and doing a job. I don’t enjoy winning by a large margin but that’s how it goes sometimes, with a 7 and 5 victory. Shelley will do well again here this weekend.
For the first time in my career, I’ve made the final, against Marc, Michael and Ted. The trick to doing well at Margate is jumping out to an early start, control the mid-section and finish strong. Although my 36 was decent, the others just played more consistently. Marc 30 (including six aces from eight holes), Michael 31 and Ted 33. These are superb scores and it was a great way to begin festivities. I catch up with the Leicester duo of Ed and James so we can then check into our rooms. Over the years, I’ve found a beautiful little guest house to the east and thankfully, the could accommodate us once again. We’re lucky. We are the only guests.
We arrange to meet James to show him the delights of Margate. First pub, booking only. Drive to the next pub, have to order everything through an app. Posed for a selfie outside the Covid testing centre next to the closed down theme park. Thankfully, the third one contains a bit of normality. Life has forever changed, I’m starting to feel that we have to learn to adapt with the virus rather than thinking we can beat it. I have little confidence in the direction the country is taking. The delights…
Saturday 17th October: Game day. Rested well, with the pubs shutting at 10pm, I peer through the curtains. It’s overcast but calm. I work my way through the breakfast trolley, taking Ed’s share as he doesn’t do breakfast. James is two streets away but had a rough night, hearing all kinds of noises throughout the night. We’ve all stayed in places like that. He’ll learn, that’s what these weekends are all about. With the new rules in place, we are restricted to sticking our social groups, which also count as our bubble. We have five members, broken down into two groups. The great news is that we’re all teammates and can be near enough to help out if we need it. Ed and James go off first, I’m with Derek and his son, Anton.
Round one is steady with a small breakdown in the mid-section for a 33, which for the shortest time leads the tournament. Anton aces the twelfth. Round two is mostly steady with a large breakdown in the mid-section for a 40. Anton aces the twelfth. Round three has one minor blip for a 35 and a crowd gathers to watch Anton on the twelfth. Barely into double figures in the age department, Anton wows the voyuers to smash a clicker off the back wall and back into the cup. “No way,” I hear the cry. I have my hands to my face like Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’. He certainly is improving throughout the year and his unorthodox technique certainly works for him. The joy of watching a child making a hole in one is one of the great joys of life. Round four was a little bit of everything for a 38, Anton didn’t make the first two efforts on the twelfth but with his third shot from the tee, that went in as well.
We had enough time at the end of the day to resurrect an old favourite, the Pinky Diver round. It’s not as disgusting as it sounds. Pick out the bounciest ball there is and try and keep it under control. Seven people took on the battle and laughter rattled around the course as great looking putts bounced out of the cup and back to your feet. I had an inkling I was doing well but I matched my worst score of the day and won by six. “What are you doing”, we said to Will as he attempted a double rebound on what should be a straight-forward shot at the cup. He then calmly rolled in the harder effort with possibly one of the most instinctively beautiful shots Strokes has ever seen.
A quick turnaround and we hit the town, determined to experience more of the culture that Margate has to offer. The last bar we visited didn’t have a working toilet as it had been vandalised, so they encouraged anyone who wanted to “just go off the end of the pier.” Genuinely, it’s at times like these that I’m glad minigolf players aren’t famous.
Sunday 18th October: Feeling quite fresh due to the early closing of pubs, we packed our bags and headed back to Strokes. Remarkably, the weather just stayed tropically October. We have been lucky. My plan is to try and apply the pressure on the leader in the senior’s section, Martin, who stands eleven clear of me. I’m with Ed and Derek today, which will certainly help when we can push each other along. The first round was calm, although I made the tunnel hole for the first time. I really steadied myself on Heartbreak Ridge, being through the back for two, I made the putt back up the slope. You could play six great shots here but if it isn’t your time, that’s minigolf. I was pleased with the 34, still couldn’t reduce the gap.
In the second round of the day, I finally get a start to the round, going four under for the first five holes and drag Derek along with me. The thoughts of going sub thirty for the first time here are rampant but get dissipated at the tunnel once again. I’m still totally unsure about why I’ve played this so badly but one to work on. My best round of the weekend with a 31, Derek’s personal best here with a 32. I had cut Martin’s lead to five. The final round just couldn’t motivate itself, although I used up my get out of jail free card for the second time this weekend, making a second shot ace on the tenth after the first attempt went in the water. I finished on a 35 and in sixth overall. For a course which I have always struggled at, I’ll take it. Martin held his nerve to take the senior’s title by two. If I had another round, I’m sure I would have caught him. Overall, it had been a successful tournament with a battle royale between Marc and Michael, with Marc slowly turning the thumbscrews to win by three and complete his set of major trophies. I said goodbye, knowing it wouldn’t be long until the next chance.
Saturday 24th October: With the rumours sweeping around that we could be heading back into lockdown if someone in power could do what someone in power should do and lead, the British Masters in Sidcup potentially offered the tour a final hurrah of the season. The course had set up an online booking system, which would prove challenging if you wanted to get the two for one offer, but also gave you a good idea as to how busy it would be. I sorted out a tee time for me and Paul, one of the promising newcomers over the past few years. We soon found that due to how quiet it was when we arrived, it almost made a mockery of actually playing rounds in practice, and anyone groups on the course, we could let play through. In effect, if the rain didn’t come in the afternoon, we could have played all day. I understand courses wanting to maximise their profits in the time of Covid but on a couple of occasions throughout the season, it feels like we aren’t as welcome as we have been.
I had arranged to meet my friend around 4pm at her house nearby as I had kindly been offered a bed for the night. The rain arrived about 2pm, so I drove to a nearby shopping centre for some sleep in my car. The rest of my day involved curry, lager, helping to write a quiz and the annual battle as to whether my phone will show the correct time in the morning due to the clocks going backwards. I’m sure everyone is delighted we get one more hour of the horror show that is 2020.
Sunday 25th October: We were promised overnight rain, which stuck around for far longer than it should have done. It’s now with us until 10am, forcing a delay in the start of the event so the staff could clear the course of standing water. I can’t be critical here, they did an incredible job. I dig out my old golf shoes out to provide some waterproofing and a curry container to clear my path for putting. With how the season has panned out, the British Masters will now be the only event that I would have played every year on tour. It was my first event when it was held in Worthing back in 2013 and on a couple of occasions, in 2016 and 2019, I maybe should have won. I came even closer at the last Kent Open, losing to an incredible final round by Andy. “We’ll have none of those shenanigans today, thank you,” I warn him with a smile.
My original playing partner has pulled out on the morning, with what the clouds looked like having an influence more than likely, so I joined Derek and a long overdue return by my original vice-captain at the Wasps, Paul. The course is playing very heavy and the length of the holes will mean as usual anything around par will do. We start on my least favourite hole, the tenth, which I just can never get right. Having a practice shot helps so I’m happy to start with a two. It is noticeable how quiet the field are, purely down to lack of aces. Myself and Derek really prosper and both hit clean rounds of 34 and 35 respectively. For me, it’s enough for a share of the lead.
The second round starts well enough until I had my mad ten minutes as always seems to happen at Sidcup. In a way, it is the ultimate test of temperament. Holes in one are hard, dropped shots are hard on you. Whoever wins here will have played more consistently than anyone else. I drop four shots in six holes to close out with a 38, which is only two shots back. Not the disaster it could have been but I should have been leading, and probably would have been if not for the woman on the neighbouring speaking to her children like out of control animals. The third round would seal the fact that I won’t be winning this year as I could not get anything going in a 37. Paul was now the most likely and had pushed himself into second spot.
Going into the final round, Will had put himself in such a position that he shouldn’t lose when he took a five shot lead after the fifth hole. I was fairly certain I would be fourth at worst so time to see what else I could do. A 34 got into a share of third with Paul so we went to a playoff. My two at the first was also trumped by Paul, who suffered from premature celebration as his shot lipped up. Everyone saw the funny side. However, he aced the second and we were done.
2020 looks like it has come to an abrupt end on the minigolf circuit, with a new nationwide lockdown announced on Hallowe’en. So much did happen this year and it seems so long ago that I realised a dream by taking part in night marathon in Monza. So much didn’t happen also. No World Crazy Golf Championships. No World Adventure Golf Masters. With the onset of Brexit, I’m wondering whether it is financially viable to travel to events overseas in future or when we can even travel again. There is a feel of Groundhog Day about 2020 and maybe somewhere in Punxsutawney, Bill Murray is trying to fix this all for us in a way the leaders haven’t even grasped yet. We can only hope that the future is not as bad as the current and we can all one day live in an environment where we don’t look at the news and go “what next.”
Whatever next is, may all your putts run straight, may you and your loved ones have their health and maybe one day, we can wake up and all this will have been one prolonged distant memory. Much love to all of the minigolf community and thank you for taking the time to read my witterings. See you all very soon and be as safe as you can.
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.