An Irishman representing England in the golf writers’ version of the home internationals turned out to be one of the comparatively logical aspects of the three-day event
Have I mentioned to you the Home Internationals? Once a year for the past 17 years 24 golf writers – six Scots, six Irish, six Welsh, five English plus one adopted Englishman who is in fact an Irishman (me) – gather to play our version of the competition.
This is much like the original, except that our Home Internationals are taken more seriously and involve a tad more ribaldry and what I hope is a lot more alcohol. Last month we did it again, this time in Ireland at the stupendous Carton House 14 miles west of Dublin.
I can thoroughly recommend this place if you are looking for somewhere to play the game or just to unwind and enjoy delightful service and more than slightly decent food and drink. It’s not cheap, but it is very, very good.
What I will tell you about is the golf. Two courses here, The O’Meara, designed by Mark and, like its creator, rather nice and cuddly, and The Montgomerie, designed by you-know-who and, like him, is at turns impressive and then rather frightening. Each is presented in great shape by course superintendent John Plummer and The Monty is good enough to have hosted a couple of recent Irish Opens.
In other words these tracks were far too good for us. Well, most of us. As the Scottish team contained a couple of very low single-figure handicap chaps, including GM’s Fergus “Show Me The Money” Bisset, and the Irish and Welsh boasted guys who clearly had wasted time practising at some point it was the English that turned pale at the sight of O’Meara and Monty.
This was as inevitable as it was reassuring. Just being able to actually see what we were playing was, I thought, a serious result. This is because the average age of this proud side was a rather depressingly impressive 67. No wonder Fergus and his mates looked on us much in the way I used to smile at my granddad when he proposed a bout of table-tennis on Boxing Day.
I can’t say I blamed them even if I was one of the younger English stars. Anyway, we gave it the best effort we could. Admittedly this was pathetic, but it remains the best we could do on each of the three days. We also gave it our best on each of the three nights. Age, however, eventually caught up with some of us.
On the second evening, several hours of which were illuminated by one of the Irish playing his guitar while we sang the wrong words to a succession of songs from both our youth and somebody else’s, the second most senior English star had a rather alarming senior moment.
This occurred around 3am when, having retired ridiculously early at 2am, he woke with an urgent need for the loo. Disorientated, he stumbled to the bathroom. Except that it wasn’t the bathroom but the corridor he was now in. He only realised this as his room door smacked shut behind him. He was now faced with a 300-yard yomp to reception, a walk that included 150 yards of glass-walled corridor. Fortunately our hero was still wearing his underpants.
Not that this was much consolation as he appeared before an attractive young woman and mumbled that he needed, please, please, to regain entry to his bedroom. Quite what happened to the peeing urgency thing we didn’t ask. Surprisingly, the next day he played out of his skin in his greensomes match against Wales and only lost by five holes.
This match against the warbling warriors from the Principality took place on the final day. At stake was the Wooden Spoon. No-one was surprised as this is what usually happens. This, however, meant that we all took it even more seriously than usual.
Nowhere was this more apparent than when my match approached the showpiece 15th on the O’Meara, a par 5 that climaxes over the River Rye and a spectacular weir, and overlooked by a delightful house that, apparently, once housed Marianne Faithful. Now only three down with four to play, after winning the previous hole, we had a glimmer of hope given that we had shots on this and the 18th.
I was left with a 5-iron over water to the green. Naturally I thinned this, but the ball whacked into the rocks on the far side of the river and bounced up to finish 20ft from the pin. Oh how I chortled. This grin disappeared soon after when I and the two Welshmen found ourselves standing alone on the green. My playing companion had disappeared.
I found him five minutes later peering in the windows of Marianne’s house. He was, he explained, looking for evidence of Mars Bars. Oh, and he had forgotten – FORGOTTEN – that we were still playing a hole.
Someone’s dear lord help us. I have lost playing partners before, but usually for medical reasons, never because they had forgotten they were playing a hole. Remarkably we won this hole and, with our opponents now too convulsed by laughter to play properly, ended up halving the match and avoiding the Spoon.
Oh, by the way, on the second day I had my first ever hole-in-one, a 7-iron (only because I’d left the six at home) from 155 yards at the 7th on the Montgomerie. It was a perfect shot, well worth waiting nearly 40 years to see. Worryingly, I nearly forgot to tell you that. Mind you, I’d also very nearly forgotten about the 200 quid it cost me in champagne.
There’s something to be said about growing old and forgetful. If someone could remind me what this is I’d be awfully grateful.