For about the last eight years I have been a regular hacker on the golf course at Mullumbimby. In that time, my game has not improved one iota. And to be brutally honest, I would have to say the same of the blokes with whom I play.
Big Fella, a left-hander (“there’s me and Phil Mickelson,” he’ll boast, before hooking his drive into the brown-snake infested rough), generally plays within his limited means and, to give credit where it’s due, he doesn’t often miss those pesky three-foot putts that the rest of us botch more often than not. Being the senior member of the group, he is also a past master at ‘creative accounting’ when it comes to toting up his score at the end of each hole.
The Cracka, who swings the club as though he has a broomstick stuck up his arse, is the most fiercely competitive of the crew, while the Prince of Darkness, as his moniker suggests, is the firebrand who does his nana whenever the ball slews off in a direction he did not intend it to go – which is not infrequently.
For myself, I hit enough good or (for the sake of accuracy) reasonable shots to make me believe that, if I put my mind to it, I might one day get my handicap down to below three figures. It’s a delusion I cling to stubbornly, if forlornly.
Gouty, arthritic and irredeemably corrupt
As we are all gouty, arthritic and irredeemably corrupt in body and mind, we limit our weekly contest to nine holes – we wouldn’t be getting back till near midnight if we walked the eighteen. At Mullum, we stick to the front nine on the principle that ‘familiarity breeds contempt,’ and that repetition will ultimately lead to at least one of us finishing a round in the high forties.
The Cracka got to within a whisker of smashing that half-century barrier recently, but it’s a bit like the boy who cried wolf when it comes to accepting as gospel what he claims was his score – which is to say, the Cracka is a bullshit artist par excellence. His MO was subtle to begin with, but became more blatant the longer he got away with it.
Arriving at the green, and before sinking his final putt, the Cracka would turn to look back down the fairway. Like a conductor waving his baton, he’d theatrically point to the location where each of his shots landed, counting them as he went. It was an act of such conviction that the rest of us naturally assumed that it was entirely kosher. Until one day he omitted a stroke that he needed to take from almost the same spot as the Prince of Darkness. The Prince verballed him big time, resulting in the Cracka’s fidelity to the honour-among-mates scoring system being terminally trashed.
The Big Fella dobs
Not that the Prince is above suspicion either.
“You know he kicked his ball away from that tree, don’t you,” Big Fella whispered to me on the dog-leg par four eighth last week.
“He’s got feet like fucking Lionel Messi,” I replied.
The course at Mullumbimby has a number of shady arbours that might have been purposely planted for the Prince’s nefarious practices, but Big Fella and I don’t begrudge him the sly toe-pokes that he indulges in. As any golfer will tell you, there is no sound more dispiriting than that of a cleanly struck ball thwacking into timber – unless it is the sound of that same cleanly struck ball plonking into the drink.
In his favour, I have to say that when the Prince hits a sweet one it flies like a scud missile, without ever climbing more than ten feet off the ground. Putting, sadly, is his Achilles heel for, after finally reaching the green, he rarely finds the cup in fewer than three attempts. And in the Prince’s case, for the sake of his own blood pressure, we’re all happier to see him miss the hole by a foot rather than half an inch.
The threat of water hazards on the front nine varies according to seasonal conditions. During spring and winter, they are mostly benign, it being the time of year when the area receives its lowest rainfall. Summer and autumn are a different story altogether, as heavy downfalls fill lakes to the brim and send treacherous rivulets running across the fairways at the precise points at which our drives will land. And it is here that my own skullduggery comes into play.
A spare ball
My habit is to carry a second ball in my pocket. When the Titleist or Srixon that I have tee’d off with hurtles towards the bank of a water hazard, sending ducks and moorhens flying, I know through experience how to cope with the setback. For a few minutes, the boys will wander around, half-heartedly helping me look for the errant ball. As they turn to walk back to where their next shot will be taken from, and just as I am about to concede the penalty of a drop, I surreptitiously remove the hidden Titleist or Srixon from my pocket, let it fall quietly to earth and cry out with surprise and relief, “hang on, here it is!”
The Cracka never believes me, the Prince of Darkness is usually getting his knickers in a knot over his own impossible lie, so couldn’t give a rat’s anyway, while Big Fella will laconically observe, “it’s a wonder we didn’t see it there before, isn’t it mate.”
But it’s at the par three fifth that our wicked wicked ways come to the fore. None of us have gotten anywhere near mastering this bastard of a hole. A five-iron is all we need to make the distance, but it’s as though there is an evil spirit hovering over us as we tee-off, for we invariably lob into one of the steep-walled bunkers on either side of the green. Sometimes the Prince of Darkness will belt the dimples off his ball and send it flying into the day-dreaming herd of Brahmans across the road, but it’s the sand that is our nemesis.
Being blokes of a certain age who learnt long ago what our shortcomings are, both on and off the golf course, we have come to treat the fifth with painless fatalism. Adopting a laissez-faire attitude to the hole, we are only too aware of the ignominy of registering ten on a par three (if you saw those bunkers you’d appreciate how easily it could happen), so we literally turn a blind eye (and a deaf ear) to the futile flailing that ensues.
Purists will be appalled at our lack of integrity, but I’m not seeking forgiveness. This is Friday arvo at Mullumbimby, not day-four at Augusta or St Andrews.
The game, warped as it might be, maintains our friendship, and it is over beers at the nineteenth that we celebrate it.