Friday, August 1, 2008

Shandon Park Spitfire and the adventure of Knock

Four very elderly people were sitting at the table behind me in Shandon Park’s clubhouse. I never like listening in, but every now and again you can’t help but overhear. At the start they were talking about great grandchildren. One of them had six of them and photographs were passed around. But it was a conversation later on that made me realise something both amazing and sad. Very soon there will be no WWII veterans left, and the memories that these remarkable men and women carry around with them will become history.

The man with six great grand kids started talking about the time a spitfire was grounded and what he and his comrades had to do to get it ready for action again. I missed much of it, but I heard reference to approaching German tanks, scalding hot metal and Tobruk, in Libya.

Why read it in a book when you can hear it from people who were there.

Shandon Park was an early morning outing that started in the rain. Even on a damp, grey day the pleasure of Shandon Park shone through. Tucked away in the suburbs it is green and flat and cosy. No, wait, scratch that. It starts out as flat, and from the 1st tee and clubhouse that’s all you see, but once you head up 2 and then down and across 3 you realise it’s anything but. It’s clever deception but it’s all fun, and mostly straight. 14 is the hole you have to be wary of off the tee as it is the only blind shot. It’s index 4 and it curls right, around the trees, to a slightly raised green. I birdied it of course. It’s always easy when you can chip in from 30 yards.

Good facilities and good food too.

I had only just arrived at Knock that afternoon – having driven by Stormont, which was a moment in itself – when there was a knock on the window. Here’s trouble, I thought, but it was Robin, the Hon Sec, and we headed inside for a quick drink. The first thing he told me was that back in the early 1900s, Knock used to be a 9 hole course playing at Shandon Park. Small world.

After that we went in to the pro shop and Ricky (the pro) asked a few of the usual questions. Then he threw Waterford at me. What, I asked. I like Waterford, he said. You mean the golf club, I asked, thinking he must be mad. That’s exactly what he meant, and I’m in no position to question him when I like Scrabo and seem to be the only one who does – quite literally. When I said it to Ricky, he blanched.

Knock is another course that surprises after an unimpressive entrance – immediately off the busy A20. It is extremely tight in places, generous in others, always entertaining but with greens that don’t excite. They’re fine as putting surfaces but, as an example, take the 6th – a beautiful drive with huge trees down the right. The fairway bumps a bit, hops over a rocky stream and runs to the green in a tidy little corner of the course. But for your second (or third depending on your abilities – it’s a long hole) the green lies flat. It’s something that crops up at many courses and I know you can’t click your fingers and find thirty grand per green to make it sit up and look inspiring. And on some courses (Down Royal for instance) flat ‘on-the-land’ greens work best. So, for the purposes of my book, I want people to know that after good drives your approaches are a little less inspiring. It doesn’t mean I don’t like the course, because I do – I think Knock has plenty of energy to keep you thoroughly entertained.

And speaking of the 6th. I was standing on the 7th tee as a fourball came up 6. One of them hit his shot wide and it bounced up onto the tee box, not far from me. I had played off the proper yellow tee, as suggested by Robin, and not the yellow markers of the day which were further forward (and well out of range of errant shots). As the man approached he gave out to me, pointing out that there was a very good reason why the tees were forward. Hmm, evidently! When I told him that the Hon Sec had recommended that I play off those tees you could see the light going on. “Are you the guy writing the book?” And then he was as nice as pie. Now, as amusing as the switch in moods was, I congratulate him for making the comment. All too often we go about muttering under our breath because someone is too slow or someone is rude. I’ve been keeping it in for a number of years and it’s made me bitter and twisted. Scratch that. More bitter and twisted.

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