Saturday: It had been a troubled week, as coming to terms with a series of firsts since mum’s passing was hitting home. I had the ideal chance to just take my mind off things at Sidcup, the home of the Kent Open, the last outdoor event of the year. Typically, I wake up before the alarm, partly down to the middle-aged body clock, making breakfast and driving to the course around a hundred miles away. I’m dressed for any occasion, we are expecting rain late in the day and a deluge of it. I bump into Sean and Marion in the restaurant area, who are the first amongst many to offer their condolences. It will be stirring on the pot of emotions, practising and being consoled.
I believe for many of us, minigolf is our form of escapism. The player, the putter, the ball, the cup. Nothing else even matters, other than hugs and compassion of my compadres. The Kent Open is one of the few events on tour where we just play the one ball, the VTK Kent Open ball. It takes a while to get used to the properties as it is almost double the weight of a regular golf ball. After a couple of hours of getting back in the saddle, I get myself a Chicken Caesar wrap. The food quality has improved so much over the last five years I have been coming here. Some point, in a future blog, I will list my favourite course meals, if you’re really interested.
During the afternoon, the Kent Invitational Trophy is up for grabs but I decline to take part this year. The specific rules require four different balls to be used over the two rounds. I entered it last year and found that all the practice I had acquired on the morning was undone during those two rounds. That and I wanted to go putting in my own headspace. For the record, Tony won the Invitational and Adrian the guest title. As the day went on, I kept looking skywards waiting for the downpour that never came. We had gotten away with it for the first time that I can remember on the Saturday of the competition. The evening, we weren’t so lucky.
My roommate for the night was Derek, my vice-captain, and we checked into our accommodation after negotiating the electric gates. The hotel owner’s daughter had initially confused us for being part of a race team, which was different. I had scouted out some drinking establishments for the evening. The first one good food, the second one had great beer. We were joined by some of the newer upstarts on the tour, Simon, Henri and Vini. The more I do this, the more I feel I am selling the tour to beginners, not just the tournaments but the off-course activities too. The enthusiasm of many of the newcomers in the last year has been quite infectious and has led to buoyant mood for the most part and hope that the future of minigolf in Great Britain is bright if the participants want it to be. Myself and Derek headed back, leaving Simon and Henri to try and find some more bars open late. Henri even sent me a coded text, saying he was still out and to wish him luck.
Sunday: The rain hadn’t stopped all night and by the time we had woken up and got to the course, had created some unwelcome water features. Practicing a number of the holes had become either impossible or pointless so I picked up a broom to sweep away what I could. Some would call it volunteering, I just get on with trying to make the day better for anyone and everyone. I’d rather take the lead and set an example than wait for another to do it. Shortly after clearing the laying water, it rained hard again, this time from about ten minutes. Out came the broom, I’d be a natural at curling.
With the sun breaking through, the Kent Open unbelievably will be played in the dry. Just how the second Sunday in November has escaped the weather every year in a corner of south east London shall remain one of life’s continual mysteries. My partners for the first two rounds were Adrian and Stephen, who had missed the Welsh Open due to the birth of his daughter. Starting at the last, I get underway with a steady rhythm, except the third, which would prove a thorn in the side all day. I make five and six but drop on the pipe for a level par round. What I noticed that bar a couple of holes and despite the damp felt, my speed of putt was about as good as I can remember. It’s a game of fine margins, but you don’t need me to tell you that. The surprise leader was Simon, who was showing no ill effects from his previous night out.
As tradition dictates at the Kent Open, we paused to remember those who fought and died in war for our country and future. Dave led the remembrance with a moving speech, exactly one hundred years after the guns fell silent. We will always remember and the largest field for a one day event in the history of the BMGA observed the moment impeccably. The event had attracted people from all over Britain and for the first time, a team of four from the Azores. Round two began at the ninth with an ace, which I gave straight back at the next. It seemed to be a theme for me today, in between the unerring length of shot, which gave me a hole in one at the tricky uphill 14th. I had my run of bad luck on the volcano when I clipped the only bit of raised metal which gave me a double bogey. I followed that up by getting trapped under the bridge to drop another shot. I scored a 38 but I was far from disappointed. Maybe the best two over I’ve ever scored. This left me in tenth spot, just five shots off the lead held by four people. Sidcup was proving competitive all over again.
At this point, when we took lunch, I’d like to give props and love to the catering staff at Sidcup, who not only catered for our forty plus meal selections but also the public too. Amazing efficiency. Feeling hungry, I combined two puddings, a chocolate fudge cake on top of a millionaires slice. Ooh my goodness. I’ve won at life today. My third round group was David and Mark. I made the perfect start at the first and dropped at three. Aced seven, bogeyed ten. At least I know where I have to practice for next time. Despite having a level par round, I rise to joint seventh. This time last year, I fought anxiety and ended up third. Today, I fought tragedy and finished well. Next year, I’d settle for happiness. Even though I dropped a few shots through the day, I ended up aces champion and won something called ‘Prosecco’.
Driving home, I saw the Azorians posing for photos by a pillar box. The distance gave me a chance to be alone in thought. This weekend had been a great and unifying experience. I’ve always had an appreciation for others running tournaments (Sean and Marion always do an excellent job) and this year, have taken the further step in helping run them myself. So much of the work that goes into the day is unseen, in amongst the bereavement, the illness, the family commitments, the job security and personal life, which comes first before any minigolf. Organising an event is for the most part is something that all who are involved in are very proud of but hard work. At times this season, with all that has happened to me, I’ve thought of walking away from it all but my mum told me to keep doing what I enjoy. It hasn’t been enjoyable at times, some factors cross your path, whether they be human or out of your hands, which make it slightly unedifying. I view our roll as being like a dog. Show it some love and gratitude and it will return the ball and wag its tail. Poke and prod it enough times and it will bite back.
The 2018 Kent Open was a huge success, superbly run and with a large amount of people working together to make it what it was. Long may this continue for every single person who takes part in this wonderful, sociable pallet known as minigolf.