On the perfect golf club

Photo by Kindel Media from Pexels

I love golf.  The chance to escape the city and walk purposefully around beautifully curated, lush meadows.  The thrill of waiting to see whether your 9-iron has landed bang in the middle of the green, or bang in the middle of the greenhouse behind it.  The trousers.

There’s one problem though, which is that many golf courses – perhaps even a majority – are attached to golf clubs.  And that, I’m afraid, is where my love affair with golf ends. 

Golf clubs are so universally awful, so rammed full of pootling, needless fustiness, so brimming with petty, self-important, gin-swilling premature retirees, that only the fulfilment of the most essential bodily requirements can compel me inside.  It’s not the people.  Ok, it’s partly the people – my general view is that the best way to interact with other golfers is via a barely perceptible nod at a minimum of 100 yards.  But it’s not their fault – everyone becomes an idiot when they enter a golf-club.  It’s a natural by-product of being hemmed in on all sides by dress codes, complex bar-tab rules, and arcane conventions about locker allocation and use.  It’s a world designed during the eruptive wet dream of a 55 year old accountant called Geoffrey.  Mmm…shall we make the signs in the car-park big or small?  Let’s make them extra small! Shall we have the same dress code at weekends and during the week?  How about no!   And how about we put a combination code on the gents, lest one of the people who has just parted with anything up to £100 for an afternoon’s entertainment should take an unauthorised dump on our premises?  Why yes we shall – and make sure that code is kept damn well hidden behind the bar.  And don’t even talk to me about the car-park – that assortment of cars with boots which are exactly – to the millimetre – the size of a set of golf clubs.  The most practical car for carrying around a load of golf clubs is a Vauxhall Astra van, with no rear windows.  Roomy, comfortable, secure.  But for some reason these boys have all gone for BMW Z4s. 

The walls of smiling Geoffreys – Geoffrey the club secretary, Geoff the treasurer, G-boy the winner of the captain’s cup in 1985, Jeff the social secretary, and in pride of place, Geoffo the President.  The pleading invocations to repair pitch-marks and divots, laminated and needlessly framed.  The anal-retentive account of the procedures for crossing the 8th fairway: ‘Ring the bell twice at 30 second intervals, wait a further 30 seconds and then cross swiftly between points V and VI as shown on the adjacent map.  DO NOT CROSS left to right UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.’  And surely, it is here, in the club committee room, during the 145th minute of a sub-committee meeting on a possible revision to the footwear policy for the bar during the second Tuesday of April (if wet), that the actual beating heart of bureaucratic tedium can be found, inside a man called Jeff.

The whole enterprise makes me want to start a revolution.  Tear down the flags!  Smash the giant silver crests mounted on oversized mahogany plaques!  Toss the 10 digit combination locks into the lake!  Pull down the Geoffries!  Why is this?  I think it has something to do with the fact that everything in a golf club-house is designed to obscure one critically important fact – that golf is a rather silly way to spend time and money and nothing that happens on a golf course – short of murder – really matters much.  But the golf club-house represents a much embellished attempt to disguise this fact – like a cathedral built around a branch of Burger King.  The oak panelling, the rules, the luxuriant carpets – they’re all designed to generate a sense of grandeur.  But hitting a ball with an expensive stick isn’t grand.  It no more deserves these trappings than a Burger King burger deserves silver service.  Why is golf so affected by this pomposity?  You don’t find roped-off parking spaces at a trampolining club.  They don’t issue stern reminders that only ‘tailored shorts are permitted in the Grantham Bar’ in snooker clubs.  Why does golf construct this edifice of puff and bluster around itself, inflating the diverting but banal act of hitting a ball around into something almost sacramental? Except it isn’t about the act of playing golf at all – I’m not convinced that half the people in a golf club-house ever set foot on the course.  Evidence of this can be found in Lima, Peru, where there is an extremely expensive and exclusive golf club attached to a course which is almost always empty.

But thankfully, I’ve found the solution.  The perfect antidote to golf-induced self-aggrandisement syndrome.  It’s a course without a club attached to it.  Now these type of courses have always existed in the form of touristic ‘pitch and putts’, but what I’m talking about is a full length, 18-hole course, with all the features you would find at a ‘proper’ club.  But in place of an oak-panelled, gin-infused carcass of middle-aged frustration, there is simply a portacabin.  You can’t ‘join’ this club.  You just turn up and play.  And afterwards, there’s no dress-code in the bar because the bar comprises a take-away coffee consumed in the (gravelled, un-signposted) car-park.  Better yet, there’s a serving hatch on one side of the portacabin so that you can get a bacon sandwich after the 9th hole!  They don’t even have a code for the loo.  And the walls are far too weak to sustain trophy cabinets, portraits, or tablets of stone carved with the names of winners of obscure local competitions…’Third Secretary’s Over-44’s Special Medal’…’36 hole Mulligan Multi-ball ladies play-off’.  All you can do in the clubhouse is pay (and it’s not expensive, because a portacabin is considerably less expensive to maintain than a country-club), buy a Mars bar, and exchange pleasantries with the owner, who will tell you half-heartedly about his plans to raise money for a club-house.  We exchange winks as I leave – we both know that there will never, ever be a club-house.  And if there ever were, I would never come again. 

“See you again Geoff”, he calls as I push the door open and fumble around for the keys to my BMW.

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