Thursday: Iíve gone to bed early to try and shake a cold as well as getting ready for the 4 am start. As the night goes on, I feel myself getting worse and by 1.30am, Iím awake with a medicine chaser. If this had been at home, I wouldnít have gone, but this is Dublin. Itís the second Irish Open and Iíve paid upfront. Before I know it, I've ran over a hare who ran out in front of the car and Iím in the departure lounge at Stansted waiting for Adam and Tony. Breakfast at the Windmill bar is actually pretty good and as the sun rises, we go through check in, heading to another minigolf event. Although the seats on Ryanair are not comfortable for the six foot plus man, weíre only there for an hour. After dropping our bags off at the hostel, we head back to Dundrum Shopping Centre to the south of Dublin, home of the Rainforest Adventure Golf Course.
Thursday: Iíve gone to bed early to try and shake a cold as well as getting ready for the 4 am start. As the night goes on, I feel myself getting worse and by 1.30am, Iím awake with a medicine chaser. If this had been at home, I wouldnít have gone, but this is Dublin. Itís the second Irish Open and Iíve paid upfront. Before I know it, Iím in the departure lounge at Stansted waiting for Adam and Tony. Breakfast at the Windmill bar is actually pretty good and as the sun rises, we go through check in, heading to another minigolf event. Although the seats on Ryanair are not comfortable for the six foot plus man, weíre only there for an hour. After dropping our bags off at the hostel, we head back to Dundrum Shopping Centre to the south of Dublin, home of the Rainforest Adventure Golf Course.
The welcome is always friendly and I immediately start recognising staff from last year. Itís great they recognise us too. Weíre straight into practice with notes from twelve months before in hand, so much of today will be remembering the lines and seeing if there is any alternates. My time clock is all over the place so by the time I feel the need to eat lunch, itís nearly dinner. I spot a couple of Irish entrants who are keen to learn from us. Michael had dressed fairly smart compared to our sportswear but had already bought a putter and a couple of balls to boot. A couple of guys who played last time, Niall and Sean, are also down for a few hours. By 6 pm, weíve done enough so itís time to get to the room. As I have booked separately from the Kellyís, weíre in different rooms. The Canadian girl on reception must recognise charm when she sees it as Iím upgraded to an eight bed dorm with free breakfast.
We take a trip out to a favourite bar from 2017, Against The Grain. My good fortune streak continues with my food coming to the table in under five minutes while the Kellyís food goes to another table. Adam takes me down in a first to five games of Connect Four. Iím blaming this bug I seem to have developed. ATG has lost none of its appeal and with it almost being classed as a local pub, weíve struck oil on location. At the end of the night, I get back to the dorm. I have it all to myself. Adam and Tony get to meet their roommate, a Polish Ďsleeping beautyí.
Friday: I have slept well in my quiet room. I have no one else to blame for the smells other than me. With my complimentary food inside me as well as streaming nose, weíre on the Luas to the course. Tonight is a reception for the participants, with free beer and food. Time to get in some serious scoring. Dublin is, on average, the lowest scoring course we play. This does NOT translate into meaning the course is easy, so donít listen to the uninitiated. Only four holes draw the ball into the cup (compared to seven on the Hastings Pirate), three of them are on the pipe holes. You have to putt well, especially in the heat of battle where everyone is making shots. Itís the pressure that builds here which is like nothing Iíve felt before in a tournament. I try and practice with as many people as I can, most of the British and also Milan from the Czech Republic. My scores are good, eight rounds straight without anything worse than 28. I chat with one of the Irish competitors, Lee. ĎI entered this but thought it was a piss take. And then you guys turned up.í Not the first time Iíve heard this reaction about professional minigolf.
At the reception, the introductions from Ross and Sean are supplemented with pizzas, wedges, sausages and some sort suicide chicken wings. This is where you donít mind how quick the beer goes down being free, just to get the taste of the wings off my tongue. Theyíre nice. Just too hot for me. I return to my room in the early, incredulously finding it empty bar my luggage. Surely someone is going to stay with me during my stop. We head to a couple of bars at the top of the road in Camden Street, Devittís in particular being a particular gem. Iím still not feeling great but I am on holiday and determined to at least try and enjoy myself. We donít stay out overly late, resisting the lure of ATG, despite Tony mentioning it every five minutes. Back in my room, yes. Itís still just me.
Saturday: Day of the tournament start. Oooh, I donít feel well. The cold is developing into something a little stronger and is starting to really affect me. I jump into the shower, hoping that might shift the lurgy. Itís a bit more serious today. As well as the Irish Open title, there is a little bit of side action between Great Britain and the Czech Republic. Looking at the sides, itís going to be very close. My day one partner is Dylan, who took part last year. He bares more than a passing resemblance to England cricketer, Jonny Bairstow. We begin and Iím not feeling it. What a time for illness. Whatever happens, Iím not dropping out. ĎI didnít come this far just to watchí, I mutter. I make a steady start with a 32 but as the round goes on, I get a migraine, which would last almost the entire day. I try and be encouraging as I can to Dylan. He doesnít have the best of opening rounds but does improve significantly. Something we found really engaging about the Irish players is their willingness to learn the more experienced overseas travellers. At times, I almost feel as if Iím just a coach now. It hurts to focus.
After round two, I go to the chemist for paracetamol. The sunlight is piercing so for an indoor tournament, Iím donning shades. I try and keep myself to myself but some people donít see it. ĎDid you see (insert name of any pot stirrer) said thisÖí FOR CHRISTíS SAKE, WHO CARES!!!! Iíve come away from all of that to play minigolf and yet the hot topic is back home. Minigolf is fun but I wish the advocates would practice this more often. Iíve become extremely irritable with this migraine and I need my own space. I go outside where I can to get air as it is warm in the building. For me, it is important to not get tetchy on the course with Dylan as I want him to do his absolute best. I just want to finish the day. Dylan performs very well, going level par from round two to five. Technically, he only needs to alter a few things but his recovery shots are great. I battle through round three but start playing well in the final two rounds of the day, eventually hitting a blue number. The pain sat behind my eyes is real and I know Iím too far behind for prizes on the Sunday. Success right now would be for me to go out for food later.
Back off to the hostel, I find the bags for two people in my private eight bed suite. So Iíll be sharing at least. We head off to the river to one of our haunts of last year, Sweetmanís brewery. The walk is quite windswept and does a fine job of shifting the migraine. I order what I had last year, a Beef and Guinness pie. The food is stunning awesome, I probably didnít need the brie wedges to start with. From there, we head to another bar Tony wants to check out. By now, the events of the day are starting to get the better of me so after a quick drink, I return to the hostel, hopeful of who my two roommates would be.
Sunday: Whilst sitting on the toilet at 5.50am, my roommates return from a night out. Iím 43, slightly portly in places and stood in my underwear. They are female, mid twenties and apologetic. ĎNo worries, ladies. Nice to meet you. Iíll be off early.í With that, we all went to our own beds. This brief encounter was probably not what Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson had in mind. Leaving my future ex-wives to sleep, I take my bags to the Kellyís room as I am checking out today while they are staying on until Monday.
Iím feeling much better today. The migraine and the cold subsided enough. My plan today is to treat it like a fresh start, just to show that Iím still a fighter. First thing I notice is Dylan hasnít returned. Even his friends arenít sure where he is (he would later turn up around three hours after he stated he would Ė even a local canít resist the sirens call of the Dublin bars). My playing partner to start with is Owen Johnson but half way through the opening round, he retired from the event and I was joined by his dad, Paul. Paul has been playing very well over the weekend. Itís the best Iíve seen him play. My putting isnít bad, I just leave a number of putts around six inches to a foot short. Itís the story of my weekend.
Going into the final round, the fight between the British and Czech teams is exceptionally close, just a handful of shots in it. I join Zdenek for round eight, which will be a battle for the wooden spoon in the international class. Neither of us play that well without dropping a shot. In the end, itís me dusting down a spot on the mantelpiece for my spoon but Great Britain win the inaugural Pifko Cup, beating the Czechs by four. The scores have improved from last year, surely come next year, they canít improve. The standard is insane. By the end, the Irish guys are the real stars. They have shown so much potential and enthusiasm so I stay on after the event to chat with them and even play a round with Rob. I also arrange to send some minigolf balls in the post.
Once again, like last year, we say our goodbyes. It is sad to leave. We encamp ourselves here for four days and we become the shopping centre. I know most of the layout of the third floor. I end my stay in Devittís for a quick beer and food before getting the plane home. One day, the Irish Open is going to be one of the absolute must visit tournaments in the world. It needs support but it also needs promotion earlier and ready to hand information. Announcing the event a fortnight before Christmas isnít enough time to gather people for Dublin. It was a challenge to get flights, accommodation, spending money and other extras sorted for an event held during a home weekend in the Six Nations rugby but I have the freedom to do so. Many others struggle, especially those with families. Give this event more notice, at least four to six months, and there will be a stellar field. A couple of the Irish guys had tickets for the rugby so had to leave after round three. If they had known it would have taken until 5 pm on the Saturday, they wouldnít have played. The event itself and the hospitality is fantastic and once again, I have made new friends in another corner of the earth. The Irish participants really got why we do this and seem determined to get the Irish Minigolf Association off of the ground. Please just look upon this last paragraph as feedback. I really want this tournament to be the highlight of my year. Every year. Just give us, the players, plenty of time to arrange to get there.
Pictured are (L-R) Sean Kelly, Matthew O'Donovan, Marion Homer, Steve Lovell, Niall Gibbons and Michael Peirce