As happy chance had it recently I found myself at Sunningdale not once, but twice, in the space of three days. The only way in which this state of affairs could have been bettered would have been if I had managed to squeeze in a third day at the old club that nudges its quirky nose into Berkshire.
I’ve been going to Sunningdale on and off for some 30 years now and always feel the same rampant sense of delight as I park the car and smell the air. This is partly because the air always seems to be particularly good in this part of the world, but mostly because the smell, if you get there early, is that of sizzling bacon.
There are many reasons to like golf but, for me anyway, the bacon sandwich is up there in the top three. Be fair, is there anything more beguiling in this occasionally tasteless life than pitching up at a decent track secure in the knowledge that before you top one off the 1st tee you may digest a properly made bacon buttie?
A pal who vehemently denies that he works for the intelligence services – and so therefore quite clearly does – tells me that our spooks reject waterboarding as an interrogation technique. This is because the chaps have discovered if you starve a bloke for 48 hours and then hover a pan of frying bacon under his nose he tends to cough up interesting stuff immediately. The Americans, who have yet to discover how to produce a decent slice of bacon, don’t understand this.
Some golf clubs here in the UK also sadly fail to source decent bacon. If there is nothing better than a proper sarnie before a round then there is nothing worse than being offered bacon that is the grey side of vibrant and that offers a couple of litres of water with each slice.
Fortunately, Sunningdale is not one of them. Here the bacon is reassuringly ruby-red, nicely crisp around the edge and just as perfect as perfect can be. Throw in the crunch of gravel as you make your way to a clubhouse verandah that had the approval of both P.G Wodehouse and John Betjeman, the whiff of new-mown grass and you are in ‘smell heaven’. The secretary’s after-shave even has a reassuringly musky, manly scent about it.
The reason I was at Sunningdale for the first day was our annual Golf Writers match against the Golf Foundation. This achieves several objectives: (a) we all get to eat well; (b) we get to play Sunningdale’s famed Old Course; (c) someone tells me what the Foundation is up to in its attempts to promote golf among a younger generation hooked on games that require nothing more strenuous than sitting at a computer.
Well, I’m happy to report that it all appears to be good news at present. Under Mike Round’s impressive stewardship this charitable organisation – supported by all the relevant professional and amateur bodies – has transformed itself from a bit of a sideshow into a truly impressive organisation when it comes to ‘selling’ golf.
Six years ago just 14% of state schools offered any sort of introduction to golf. Last year it had risen to a creditable 42%. This year it will rise again, thanks to the expansion of its Grass Roots programme that takes golf in innovative, accessible forms into schools, clubs and beyond.
Twenty three English cities have been targeted for 2010 as they battle to bring golf to the attention of urban kids, often the sort of ethnic-minority youngsters who think, understandably, that to play golf it helps if you’re white, a man and reasonably well-off. This is exceptionally good work that takes a huge amount of planning, organisation and effort. Mr Round and his staff deserve our applause as, judged generally, they do it for buttons.
What they also do rather well is play golf. So much so that their team roundly thrashed ours. This, unfortunately, is rather usual on these occasions. On the other hand, I do believe that we ate considerably more bacon sandwiches. When it comes to playing the game there is no denying that we golf writers know on which side our bread is buttered.
By the way, the reason I was at Sunningdale two days later was to help raise money for Prostate Cancer Research. If they have one of these events at a club near you then please do support it. You never know, you just might be saving your own bacon.