Once in a while the golfing gods cut even the least fortunate golfers a break. This week it was the turn of me and six other journalists who were kindly invited to St Andrews by International Pairs.
Following weeks of atrocious weather I filled my car with umbrellas, waterproofs and spare pairs of socks, it’s fair to say I set off expecting the worst. So, it came as something of a shock when the powers that be decided to grant us three days of lovely weather at the Home of Golf.
Before I recount the details of our trip I should explain a little about International Pairs:
When it began in 1998 it was just a county event but it’s grown into the largest competition in the world for club golfers. Over 10,000 golfers in the UK alone have competed in International Pairs since its inception. Participating clubs pay an entry fee of £250 and can select their representative pair in any way they choose over any format. It could be foursomes medal play or a fourball knockout, it could even be a raffle prize.
Each winning pair at club level goes to a semi-final held at top-class venues like the Players Club and Ladybank where they’ll compete using a better ball stableford format. They’ll also be put up for a night in a local hotel.
The leading pairs at the semi-finals move on to the televised UK final at Carnoustie where they’ll enjoy two nights in the hotel. The top English, Scottish and Welsh pairs at Carnoustie will qualify to represent their country at the International Pairs World Final in 2009 where players from all over the globe will compete to be crowned World Champions.
This year the World Final takes place at the recently revamped Dukes Course in St Andrews. Re-launched in 2006, the layout now stretches to 7,500 yards and features new bunkering modelled on the heathland courses of the early 20th Century. With incredible views down over St Andrews and up the coast towards Carnoustie, it’s a dramatic setting. For more information on International Pairs go to internationalpairs.com
Now: the golf. Ladybank was the first venue. It’s one of my favourite courses and it didn’t disappoint. Despite the recent rain and snow the course was dry and the fairways their usual springy selves. The greens were running true as ever, the birds were singing and the trees beginning to blossom. Sorry, getting a little carried away here, what am I writing about? Oh yes, golf.
My preparation for the round suffered an early blow as I had a late change of start time. I had been scheduled to tee off last with my fellow blogger Clive Agran. But, when Clive realised he’d forgotten his golf clubs and would have to go back to the hotel for them (Yes, you’ve read that right, he forgot his golf clubs), names were shuffled and I was moved up to group one. Composing myself quickly I started unpromisingly with a bogey five.
Fortunately things improved a little and I finished a solid two over for 35 stableford points. On the way round I discussed with my playing partner Mike Baker how stableford doesn’t suit the low handicapper. He was of the opinion that I’d have no chance of a victory in the sweep. I agreed and our prediction was confirmed when Pete Simm cruised in with 42.
With Pete cut by four shots, our second round was at the Dukes. Suffering from a sore head and a touch of nausea (possibly self inflicted) I struggled and was pretty happy to record 31 points, three behind Roger McStravick of Visit Scotland.
Day three and it finally happened. The grudge match that all Golf Monthly blog readers have been waiting for: Bisset versus Agran. The magnificent Kingsbarns was a fitting venue for a contest of this magnitude and we were both confident of producing a display to match the quality of Kyle Phillips’ masterpiece.
Clive had been consistent over the first two rounds with 23 points from both relentless stuff. On the first tee he was feeling further buoyed by a new swing thought he’d had over breakfast and the success of the short game clinic he’d given around Kingsbarns’ excellent practice green. I was intimidated to say the least and displayed my nerves with a lost ball on the first resulting in a blob.
I fought back though and things were looking very tight right up to the final hole. I was on 31 points and Clive on 32, so I needed something special to happen. Unfortunately it happened for Clive as he produced one of the greatest up and downs in recorded history to make a four nett three and finish on 35 points. I failed to get up and down from the greenside bunker, made five and finished on 32.
I was a little disappointed but couldn’t feel too downhearted having just played such a wonderful golf course. The last time I visited was a few years ago now and I was reminded of just how good it is definitely in my top three.
I’ve made another discovery this week: Superfeet. It’s a high quality orthotic (insole) that, by supporting your feet, stabilises your whole body through the swing tests suggest they actually help you produce more clubhead speed. I’ve had a pair in my ski boots for a couple of years but had never really thought of them for golf.
But, I’ve been trialling a pair for a week now and have been very impressed. I’ve got a decent pair of shoes but when the insole came out I was amazed how insubstantial it was. The Superfeet are a marked improvement. I’m not sure if I’m hitting it further but I do know my feet are more comfortable. For more info on Superfeet go to anatom.co.uk
You might notice I haven’t mentioned last week’s medal performance. All I’ll say is my handicap is now 1.2.