Friday: For me, today is the longest mainland minigolf trip of the year. Having already been to Ireland and the Czech Republic, I’m off the Cardiff for the Welsh Open. Rather predictably, I am up before the alarm at 5.02 am, even after having a couple of beers at a pub quiz the night before. I want to try and get as far as I can before I hit any kind of hold up on the roads. I do alright and reach the Treetop Adventure Golf by 9.40 am, a full eighty minutes before the course opens. Not one for browsing the shops, I grab a sandwich and sit outside doing some stretching exercises. I must be impatient, I never limber up.
At 11 am, the shutter rolls up and this is my home for the weekend. The set up at Cardiff is worth the trip down alone and a grin breaks out on my face. I get to work. Having lost my 2016 notes on my old laptop, I discover some from the year before in a rough form. Within an hour, I’ve already changed seven of the holes and how to master them. During the day, the public arrive but not enough to disrupt the flow of what I’m trying to do. Almost three hours after I start, I take a break for lunch. Since we were last here, they have a pizzeria in the venue. I go for the brie and red onion with extra bacon. Bacon was given to me as an option. I think the drool on my chin gave my answer away.
As the afternoon progresses, about half of the field have made their way there. Although this is a one day event on the Sunday, Treetop really know how to make us feel special so take a day off work for the Friday evening. Once again, they lay on pizzas and free beer while Sean takes on a local golf pro from Golf Development Wales. We’re particularly intrigued by the lemon meringue pizza, which looked like some dough with cottage cheese on but tasted pretty good. Before I forget, I’d like to thank Lydia and the staff at Treetop for making us feel incredibly welcome. It is quite unique on the tour that we do get looked after this way so thank you, guys. Overall, my practice has gone incredibly well. Cardiff is probably the toughest of the indoor circuits we play. Plenty of ace chances but several horror holes if it goes tits up. In my last lap of the afternoon, I break the course record with a 27. I’m attacking what needs to be gone for, I’m playing safe on the others. Holes 10 and 14 need real care. As you will find out later.
Around 9.30 pm, my phone rings. Ed, who is supposed to be dropping down early on Saturday, reckons he can get down tonight. What this means is that my plan for an early night has gone. Ed estimates he can be here just before 1 am. With this news, I pay for car parking, which is more than the cost of my hotel room for one night. True story. I travel to Newport, around twenty minutes away, to check in. I stayed at this hotel in 2015 with Paul Preston. The mattress is wafer thin, you get one pillow and very little room to swing a gnat, let alone a cat. I unpack what I need and put my head down, waiting for the phone to ring. We’re not the only minigolfers staying here. Sweden’s Jens Bergstrom, an old friend from WAGM’s and Czech Masters past, is staying here too. He has my number. I last see him check into a pub near Bristol. He may be lost. We may never see Jens. Ed arrives just before 1 am. The day is done.
Saturday: I sleep through to alarm but Ed is awake, checking his phone. We have a full day ahead. The course is closed to the public until midday, giving us a real chance to get to know it. At breakfast, we’re joined by Jens, who tells us that he missed the junction and drove around for best part of an hour. My mission is to get Ed and Jens trained up around here before settling into the routine of some scored rounds. Ed prefers a few shots to give him an idea, Jens is more studious. We’re joined by a couple of the locals, Martyn and Simon, who have played previous years. Simon is lightning quick around the course, taking around two or three seconds per shot. Some players wouldn’t even have reached for their towel in that time.
My scoring isn’t as good as yesterday but in my mind, this is good. I need a reminder of the perils that await. I finish with a flourish and retire after knocking a 30. Part one is complete. Myself and Ed are off to Newport for some lower league football. Newport County against Yeovil Town. We should let you know that we don’t have the best record when it comes to seeing matches with goals in so we both bet on either a goalless draw or a low scoring win. A quick pint in the Clarence and we’re into the ground. We have no leaning towards either team, we’re just dying for a goal. Five minutes in, a massive chance for the Newport captain, who fires the ball way over from four yards. Some say it may come down by Wednesday. Or Thursday at the latest. It’s a good game and I’m enjoying seeing the crowd getting hot snacks wrapped in newspaper. Then, it happens. A goal on the stroke of half time. Unbelievably, I have guessed the first scorer and the score. If it stays the same by the end, I’ll be £60 up.
It doesn’t. An ugly goal from Newport seals a 2-0 win.
Not deterred by this, we’re going to have a good time anyway. Martyn and Simon had recommended a bar called Tiny Rebel. It’s nice, the beer is good although the look is a little ‘Industrial Zone’ from the Crystal Maze. We embark on a pub crawl, being joined by Jens around 7.30 pm. Jens wanted to drink some English beers, I quickly tell him to have some British or Welsh ones instead for his own safety. Our final drink of the night should have been in a micropub but we’re informed this hasn’t been built yet. We get directed to another pub called The Lamb. Our table has a chair missing the seat. About as British as you can get. Our ears are overwhelmed by the playlist, which is random. Squeeze, Springsteen, Pavarotti (?), Kenny Rogers. Yes, this really happened. Although we’re all singing, Jens really gets into Nessum Dorma. I’ll remember that for years. Into the cab and back home. This will leave a vast amount of memories.
Sunday: Surprisingly hangover free, I feel ready for my third crack at the Welsh Open. I want a quick knock around and no more than that, just tidying up the loose ends. I finally sort out the sixth hole, which had been a thorn in my side, in terms of aceing it. I’m at peace with everything. I catch up with Natasha, who played a few times before, and then got married and had a baby girl. My partners for rounds one and two are Rocky Bullin and Kate Haynes, who is making her first appearance for several months. We quickly get held up by one of the group in front who, if I’m honest, is the slowest player on tour. With myself being quite a rhythmical putter, I’m not good in a stop start scenario. I make a hash of hole 10, one of the lanes I told myself to take care on. You need to leave it short to be safe. I didn’t. I took a five. I can’t get going and a 38 is what I deserve. Incredibly, I’m only four off second spot and seven behind Jens. I believed I would be right out of it by now. Of my partners, Kate has done really well. A 43 means she is five ahead of her husband.
Round two and the pace is much better. We have no hold ups. I overhit my first three tee shots and I’m lucky to be one over. At three over for the event, I think I’m out of this. Then, I catch an absolute heater. 17th, 18th, 1st, 2nd and 3rd. I make the lot. The fire is back. The 5th goes. And the 7th. And the 8th. I’ve just played the last ten holes in TWELVE shots. I don’t know where this came from but it is more than welcome to hang around for a while longer. Although I drop one at the 11th, I ace my last hole of the round for a 29, tying the tournament record. I was buoyant stepping off the course until someone said I should be drug tested after that round. “Really,” I retort. “I’ll autocorrect it for you to say, ‘well done, great effort, amazing round’.” After all of those shenanigans, I’ve taken the lead. I did not expect that to happen.
The final round will see me out last with my old final round foe, Sean, and local hero Seve Kukielka. With just four shots covering the top five, there is so much that can happen. As I have time, I grab a cup of tea and a salted caramel cupcake. If you ever make it down to the Treetop, try the cupcakes and thank me later. Slowly, the field whittles down until there is just the three of us left. In my mind, if I can win this group, I will win. For me, Sean is a huge threat. He has experience, knows how to get the job done and normally beats me in these situations. Seve is a bit more of an unknown quantity in the final group but this is his home course. You have to respect that.
I start off steadily, Seve drops a shot at the second, but picks it up at the fifth. Sean is just edging this so far. I finally get the sixth and the next. Everything changes on the eighth as my opponents both get stuck behind the rock. This leave me at least three clear and more importantly, I’m managing the situation. We all ace the 13th and although I don’t know it, I’m just two in front on the charging Jens. If I keep my head, I will do this. The 14th, the platform hole. I manage the hard part, leaving the ball under a yard from the hole on the platform. What happens next has given me nightmares since. It clips the right edge and falls off. From then on, my anxiety kicks in and I lose all concept of weighing up the situation. I feel like I’m putting with spaghetti. I hit a six. I cannot even put into words what went through my head in those mad couple of minutes. I went pale.
Sean and Seve are right back in it, almost as if I wanted to keep it interesting. By now, Jens has finished. We don’t know his score. I find some inner strength to ace the penultimate hole after the others get it too. I figure I have to get the last too. I do and let out a roar. As I walk off the course, I discover Jens has got a 31 to my 35. I’ve lost out by one shot. I go and shake Jens’s hand and then take myself away from everyone to reflect on ‘improving’ my final group record to 0-14. I’m second but have never felt so gutted after playing minigolf. This keeps happening and I need to work out why. I’m pleased for Jens, he’s made a real effort to get here and has embodied just why we do this. For the experience, for friendship, for the competition, for the memories. If anyone ever tells you they do this for the money, they are talking out of their flute. The drive home feels longer and when I get home, I open a bag of jelly babies and pass out on the sofa. The next event is in three weeks time. Hopefully, I would have moved on to have learned enough from two minutes of utter chaos.