Saturday: Britain had been experiencing record breaking temperatures. Two days before, we had the hottest day of all time not far from where I live. All of this was a mirage to the actual weather we did now have. It had been raining for most of the night and as I drove down to the double header at Dunton Hills, I drove through a number of flooded roads. Vests and shorts weren’t necessary. Full on waterproofs were. I got to Stansted and the rain had eased. I wondered what state an already treacherous course was going to be in.
Martin was already in the clubhouse when I arrived shortly before 7.30am, both of us peering out into the gloom. I decide to take the plunge. “No point turning up if you don’t practice in the wet,” I said. All things being considered, the lanes were holding up very well with almost no standing water. Dunton Hills is the toughest course we play, the BMGA’s version of Prishtina. What the weather had done was made it quite playable. Putts were holding where the previously would keep on drifting. During the next hour or so, the rest of the field arrived, with most opting to at least have a go. I’m glad I did. A couple of 41’s was solid for me.
My determination for today, the Cambridgeshire and Essex Open, was to not finish second. Everyone knew it. In the previous four editions, I have finished runner up every time. My closest effort was in 2017, when I came from seven down with seventeen holes to play to lose by one to Mark. Although I won the doubles here in 2016, I feel the singles will probably always allude me. My playing partners for today were Paul and Matt. As it’s raining, I decide against wearing gloves for the first time in an event since 2013. It has eased slightly. The good news is my Chinese import trainers are waterproof.
Starting at the tenth, I make a poor start. Three at the tenth is average. The next two holes are both three’s as well, including one where I clip the jagged wall on the way to the hole and head sideways. I knuckle down and start hitting two’s. The final four holes of the course are about as tough as you can imagine, where a par feels like an ace. I hit four pars. None of my second putts was closer than seven feet away. My radar was dialled in. I take a double bogey on the first with an overhit. Not that I felt I overhit the shot, the course let the ball meander away. Oh, I like that excuse. Feel free to use it. After the start I made, 43 was good enough for a share of joint fourth. Michael broke the course record with a 38. Ridiculous scoring for the length of the holes, which is probably up to three times longer than your standard minigolf course. Paul also had a 43, he played much better. Matt had a 48.
Round two was also a disappointing start with two drop shots in consecutive holes. The next eleven were quite inspired, dropping just one more. I now have visions of something around 40 and perhaps, this is where I let the round slip. The tough end to the course chewed up my card and spat out a 44. Just when you think you’ve got to grips with Dunton Hills, it reminds you of who exactly is boss. I was still joint fourth but eight back from Michael. If I was going to end my run of second place finishes, it wasn’t going to be because I won for once.
Things have changed over the years at Dunton Hills. They used to have a kitchen and a bar, which along with a course which the public rarely set foot on, made it perfect to host a tournament. Nowadays, you bring your own feast. I had a couple of cheese and tomato rolls. The Hartley’s had an entire hamper. By now, the rain had died right off, enough to consider removing a layer. My playing partners for the final round were Mark and Dave. For once, I did get a good start and was now a shot off third after half the round. From there, I bumbled through the second half, taking a four at the routine twelfth. I think by then, I knew that I wasn’t finishing second today. What did happen on the fifteenth was that got my first ace here for three years. Maybe one year, the club could put up a prize of the latest Chrysler model if you do happen to get an ace. Overall, there were twenty-three aces from 1,620 tee shots. That will give you an idea of what you’re up against. I finished sixth. It wasn’t second. Being the top member of my club, and also the only member of my club, I won some York Fruits. I’m claiming I had my five a day.
As the rain kicked in again, myself and my doubles partner for the Sunday, Simon, decide to skip practice. I drive home for a glass of red wine and some sleep.
Sunday: The weather didn’t relent. At one point, around 1.30am, the pounding from outside woke me up. By the time the alarm goes off, I had a rough one. I needed some loud music to keep me going the eighty miles. I pick Simon up on the way, who had spent the night at a ten pound AirBnB while taking in a George Michael tribute act. We certainly had two completely different nights. We have decided to go with the team name Albion Rangers for two reasons. The first one was that it combined both of our football teams. The second one is that couldn’t come up with anything clean. During our recent trip to Sweden, we both swapped shirts with Ghanaians, which had varying degrees of success when it came to how well they fit. With just twelve holes in play and alternate tee shots, we worked on what was going to be the best strategy.
As I was undertaking the role of running the doubles and with thirteen pairs, my plan was to insure the smooth running of the day while looking like I was in control. An odd number was always going to be an issue but I think I had it sorted. We did the draw the day previously. Albion Rangers had avoided a number of the big guns but this is matchplay. Anything happens. We had the Skinner’s, the Johnson’s and the All-Star Supreme Dream Team Drinking Machines, or Dave and Ted. The Skinner’s were our first opponents, who had been travelling since 4am to take part. Having led by one after three holes, they went on a run we couldn’t match, winning six in a row. We lost 5 and 3. Like the great prophet Jamie Lawson once said, I wasn’t expecting that.
The other result in the group was a half, which I thought was probably the best for us. Next up were the Johnson’s, who had a habit of saving their best minigolf against me in previous doubles events. Owen was up to his usual tricks, making a number of crucial putts. We gave it our best but it was another half. With the Skinner’s winning the group already, we knew we would have to win our final group match against Dave and Ted to have any chance of making the elite eight. A win for us and if the Skinner’s avoided defeat, we were through.
It didn’t start well. Three down after three, we were up against it. However, by the penultimate hole, we were one down. Simon then made an ace, to which we high fived across the track. Our final hole was the fourteenth, which had more pars than any other hole here. It lived up to the hype and we halved again. We had finished bottom of our group. If we had lost by three instead of five against the Skinner’s, we would have been through, even with no wins. Our chemistry and teamwork hadn’t been quite there. I trust my notebook. My partner went with his eyes. I know why I prefer working on my own at minigolf, it’s how I play best. I’m not used to talking about minigolf during a round and for me, a teammate can sometimes complicate things. It’s nothing personal and I certainly don’t mean it in a disparaging way, it’s just me and who I am. We still had fun, we did make some great putts, another day and we would have qualified but we still had a chance of some silverware in the Pool B section.
In between matches finishing, I would rush back in to update the situation for everyone. Other than lunch, the day was fast paced. We started winning matches in the afternoon. A 5 and 3, a pair of 2 and 1’s. We lost to the Exall’s on the final hole, which cost us the gold in the Pool B but silver will do. Overall, the day had been a success. The weather improved as we went on and we finished at a reasonable hour. Organising events does take its toll on you and I was feeling it as I approached home. We now get all of August off minigolf before the big one. My own competition, twelve miles from my front door.
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Image: Steve Lovell receives his prize from James Rutherford. (credit, CEMGC)