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
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