AN OLDIE BUT A GOODIE

A re­cent up­turn in on-course for­tunes for our editor-at-large has done much to con­vince him that, when it comes to golf, age should not be a bar­rier

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ed up with the way you play the game? Frus­trated at a steady de­cline in length, fo­cus, abil­ity as you age? Do you still think John, Paul, Ge­orge and Ringo were the great­est band of your life?

If the an­swer to all these is a swift and em­phatic YES, then wel­come to the club pals and pal­ettes. It’s not easy get­ting older al­though it does, just about, trump the ob­vi­ous and rather alarm­ing al­ter­na­tive.

Here’s the great thing about golf – it’s still the­o­ret­i­cally playable for the older crowd. Try to join in a foot­ball kick­about and within a cou­ple of min­utes one or both of your knees will be scream­ing for mercy and you’ll be pant­ing for air, the thought of a con­sol­ing pint turn­ing from an idle dream into a stitched-on ne­ces­sity.

It’s the same with so many games, and while there will be some­one out there who will now snort be­fore send­ing me an ir­ri­tated mes­sage that they are deep into their 70s and still en­joy­ing play­ing a creative mid­field role for their lo­cal team, let me pre-empt this mis­sive by point­ing out that they are the ex­cep­tion to my gen­eral rule and that we’d all ap­pre­ci­ate it if they would merely thank their good for­tune and leave the rest of us alone to hob­ble to­wards an un­cer­tain fu­ture.

The thing is that golf is not only the most frus­trat­ing of pur­suits be­cause one round is never like the next in terms of per­for­mance, it re­mains also the most at­trac­tive be­cause it is, for many of us, the only one we can still man­age to ac­tu­ally try and play.

Well, I say play, but re­ally the key word here is par­tic­i­pate. Play with me or any­one around my age and sooner rather than later we’ll bore you with the ‘when I were a lad and women knew what a kitchen was, I could hit the ball bloody miles’ schtick. Ac­tu­ally I’ve stopped bleat­ing in this way be­cause (a) I was bor­ing my­self, never mind my play­ing part­ners, (b) my wife’s an un­re­con­sti­tuted fem­i­nist and (c) I’ve sud­denly dis­cov­ered that I can hit the ball al­most as far as I ever could. Some­times in the in­tended di­rec­tion.

I started feel­ing this change in things af­ter a few years of what ap­peared to be ter­mi­nal de­cline, my game a tat­tered mock­ery of its younger mag­nif­i­cence ( I may be overeg­ging things here but you know what I mean), and so, as I’ve men­tioned be­fore, I took to play­ing a bit of tennis – dou­bles only, give me a break. Golf, for the last few years,

Fhas been an oc­ca­sional game. I’ve maybe man­aged a dozen or so rounds a year. So when my in­vi­ta­tion to the an­nual Tom Clarke Put­ter comp whizzed into my in­box a few months ago I hes­i­tated long and hard be­fore sign­ing up for an event that is now in its 40th year at Thorn­don Park Golf Club in Es­sex. The rea­son I en­tered was be­cause Tom, one-time Sports Editor of the Daily Mail and then The Times, is an old friend but also be­cause there would be other journalists present, men and women I hadn’t seen for years. Plus Harry Colt’s course is an out­stand­ing ex­am­ple of this de­signer’s ge­nius.

The draw­back was that this place is 77 miles from my home and in­volves the M25 and the Dart­ford Cross­ing, a combo that many of you will re­alise is to an­tic­i­pa­tion what a quiche is to a hearty meal. “You’re mad,” opined a pal when I told him of my plan but, hey, do it while you can is my motto du jour. Still, when that Septem­ber Mon­day morn­ing dawned, a dreary driz­zle adding to the mix as I climbed into the car, I felt Mitch might have a se­ri­ously good point.

To cut to the chase... I made it through the tun­nel and to the club, played nine holes be­fore a light lunch and then an­other 18. Off the white tees (yes, the flaming white tees) I ac­cu­mu­lated 53 points. David, Stan and I fin­ished sec­ond in the team com­pe­ti­tion and I man­aged to win an in­di­vid­ual prize. Happy, se­ri­ously un­ex­pected, days all round.

I got home at mid­night laden with prizes and so tired I needed a nap be­fore falling into bed. First, though, I sent Mitch an email ad­vis­ing him of my suc­cess and adding the thought that he was a wimp. Then I dis­cov­ered that al­though I ap­par­ently could still play rea­son­ably ac­cept­able golf, I could no longer do the one thing I’ve got much bet­ter at in re­cent times. You guessed it... I couldn’t sleep. I was too ex­cited.

So there you have it. This month’s mes­sage is, what­ever your age, don’t give up, the abil­ity is still in there some­where. You just have to find it. Oh, and prob­a­bly play tennis. Nil des­peran­dum folks. I knew that Latin O-level would come in handy even­tu­ally. On­ward and side­ways as Cicero al­most cer­tainly never said.

PS: If you’re my younger reader, re­mem­ber that you too will be older one day. If you’re lucky.

“Golf is not only the most frus­trat­ing of pur­suits, it re­mains the most at­trac­tive be­cause it is, for many of us, the only one we can still ac­tu­ally try and play”

Bill El­liott is Golf Monthly’s editor-at-large and Golf Am­bas­sador for Prostate Cancer UK

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