Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Atlantic Coast Challenge - Day 3

“Why are you talking to me like that?” Finbarr asked the Starter in astonishment, looking across the 1st tee box at me and Dave for support.

We both shrugged, having already endured the fatuous Starter’s diatribe. Give a man a clipboard and a yellow fluorescent jacket and he thinks he’s God’s gift.

What he was, was a muppet. We were late for our tee time, that was true, but I had phoned from the road and spoken to someone at Enniscrone Golf Club, who assured me there wouldn’t be a problem. Our tee time was 12.52 and we were going to get there a few minutes late (two minutes as it turned out). The girl in the clubhouse assured me that we would simply be switched with the group behind us. Besides, she said, they were running 10 to 15 minutes behind.

When we arrived, I headed swiftly to the clubhouse to check in, while Dave headed for the 1st tee. I encountered the 2011 Captain and he wanted to have a few words, so we chatted about the tournament and the club. I encouraged him to start work on their centenary (2018) book, as these things can take a long time to research. I excused myself, telling him I was late for our tee time. He said not to worry:

“Just tell him I said to squeeze you in,” he said with a smile. 

[Photo: the approach to the astounding par four 12th]

Squeezing In
I passed Fin coming the other way.

“1.20 tee off,” he said, disappearing into the Pro shop.

I was getting my gear together when Dave appeared.

“1.20?” I asked.

He looked bemused. “No. He’s being… well…” Dave shrugged. “There were three guys going out at 1.24 who wanted to go earlier so we suggested a swap. You’d think that would be easy. The Starter wasn’t having any of it. Says it will ruin his schedule and that we don’t get to make the decisions. It’s a straight swap – how hard can that be?”

I headed up to the tee.

“Hello,” I said, when the Starter approached. “Kevin Markham. We’re down at 12.52. Obviously we’re late, sorry. I was just talking to the Captain at check-in and he said you’d be able to squeeze us in.”

The man was probably in his late 60s, willowy thin and grey haired. It took exactly one sentence out of his mouth to realise we were in trouble.

“Well, he’s not the Starter is he!”

For some reason over the course of the not very civil conversation that followed, he kept pointing to my name on the timesheet, explaining that I was late. I had of course forgotten my name and that I was late, so I was grateful for his kind reminders, in a fist-clenching kind of way.

I explained that I had contacted the club and that I had been told there was no problem because everything was running 10 to 15 minutes late.

“It is not,” the muppet retorted hotly. “We’re four minutes ahead of schedule,” once again pointing to my name on his clipboard. “You’re late, you’ve held everything up and I have every right to put you at the bottom of the timesheet.”

At this point I stepped away and stared at him. Clearly we hadn’t held anything up, especially as he’d given the 1.24pm guys our slot, but the man was a control-freak. I know how it works when you turn up late and being a Starter is a thankless task, but this guy was being an ass because he could.

“Where’s you third?” he snapped.

Finbarr. Oh crap.

[Photo: Dave on the 13th tee box, about to hit it a long way way right. A fade... I think not!]

I stepped back into the car park to see Finbarr strolling out of the clubhouse. He still assumed we were teeing off at 1.20. It was 1.10. I waved and gesticulated until he saw me. I gave him the ‘hurry up’ signal and he looked at his watch, confused.

“Don’t look at your watch,” I barked. “Get an effing move on.”

So now Finbarr was mad at me.

Three English guys were standing beside me, laughing. “Who’s he?” one of the asked Finbarr, “your mother?’

Finbarr, didn’t get a chance to chastise me though, because the Starter got a hold of him too, and went through our litany of crimes again, complete with pen pointing. That’s when Fin asked his question. He was gob-smacked by the attitude.

Myself and Dave simply stayed out of the frame. I think both of us were on the verge of violence. Clearly Fin was getting there too.

The Starter’s assistant, also in fluorescent jacket, came over with our bags of drink and fruit. He looked remarkably sheepish.

I have no idea if the Starter was planning for us to play next or not, but I stepped onto the tee and smacked a three iron down the fairway. It was a surprisingly good shot.

We all played the 1st in a fit of fury, ripping the Starter to verbal shreds. It was pretty clear this was going to ruin our last day of golf.

“Let’s declare a moratorium,” I said on the 2nd tee and we all agreed.

Lord knows, we tried and tried and we lasted almost two minutes before the invective started again.

[Photo: view of the 3rd hole, green to tee (and ocean)]

Slow Start, More Haste
The day hadn’t started particularly well, either. I had got to bed at 2am and then got woken up by Finbarr knocking on the door at 4am. He’d stayed up chatting with Dave and had discovered on his return that his swipe key didn’t work.

Breakfast was a quick affair but we still left late, only to get stuck behind a truck doing 40mph across most of Mayo. There were beautiful views and gentle green valleys, but not many places to overtake. Perhaps we were a bit tense when we realised we were going to be late. But everything seemed to be fine once I’d called the club… only for the Starter the get a superiority complex.

I guess it was a good three holes before things had returned to normal and we were enjoying the golf. On the 4th tee, an S-shaped up-and-down par five, we were held up. Dave promptly lay down on the tee box and went to sleep for a few minutes. He did it on two other tee boxes too, and I admired his ability to switch off like that. It helped that we were playing much of the round in sunshine.

[Photo: Dave enjoys a power-nap on the par five 4th]

In fact, considering the look of the weather forecast on the Sunday night, I was expecting significant rain on each of the three days.

Last year, I was talking to Pat Sweeney, Enniscrone’s Manager at the time (sadly, he and the club parted at the end of 2011), and when I said we’d been expecting rain he just laughed.

“Was that a Dublin weather forecast?” he asked. “They haven’t a clue what’s going on over here.”


Enniscrone is a big-duned adventure. It’s a beauty on Killala Bay, with plenty of blind shots and stunning holes. It requires guile and restraint in equal measure, and we were playing off the back sticks. It was tough going. And this is no place to go offline – the rough is too deep. But nothing could stop me loving this place, and just because I'm having a damn good gripe about the Starter, don't let that put you off playing an amazing course. Chances of him being on the tee when you turn up are pretty much zero.

Chicken or Egg?
There is a school of thought that says you should never play a shot that you haven’t practised…

Utter rubbish. The only way you learn is by trying and, as anyone knows, what you learn in a lesson and take to the driving range is completely different to what you take to the course. You have to do things in the real world.

That’s why I love links. You get to play shots that you’re never required to play on a parkland. You engage your brain, you think and then you execute. I’m going to brag, because I played three of the best shots of my life at Enniscrone, and I would never in a million years play them on a parkland, my normal golfing environment. They’re shots that will live me with for years because they required something different.

[Photo: Dave finds the lone bunker on the left of the fairway - the par four Index 4 5th at 450 yards]

I was snapping photos and tweeting them from my phone. The sunshine made the place (and my playing partners) look great. Dave sank several long range putts and, despite the 1st tee encounter, Fin posted several three-pointers in the opening holes. It didn’t last of course. By the time we reached the astounding 12th and the ensuing brilliant run for home, balls were being sprayed everywhere. The 13th plays alongside the 12th – sort of – and Dave’s drive sliced out way to the right landing on the 12th fairway. When we next saw him on the green, sinking a putt for par, he said it was a great line in.

Dave ventured a long way off target on the 14th too, and into another interesting encounter. Now on the 4th fairway, he blasted a shot blindly over the dunes.

[Photo: The par five 14th. Look at the wisp of dune on the right - that was Dave's line]

“Repair your divot,” an approaching golfer roared as Dave headed after his divot.

“That’s what I’m doing,” Dave roared back, picking it up.

“Repair your divot,” was roared again.

Dave gave him some very friendly advice, which can’t be printed here, before stomping over the dunes to rejoin us, which kicked off the whole 1st tee furore again.

[Photo: approach to the par four 15th, with Enniscrone beyond]

Holes 12 to 17 at Enniscrone are brilliant, with three holes right beside the sea and the 15th being the hardest hole on the course – a par four of 420 yards that demands precise positioning off the tee. It is no place for errant drives as both Fin and Dave discovered. On 16, I decided to honour Pat Sweeney with a slightly odd approach to playing the par five. I hit a seven iron off the tee. Pat had told me he’d played the hole in par, using only a seven iron. I tried to follow suit, but failed him by a shot.

[Photo: the par three 17th green, with the 18th hole beyond]

The 18th is not the course’s best hole, but it has three pothole bunkers on the right side of the fairway. Finbarr let the side down badly when he failed to find the only bunker that didn’t have a ball in it. I failed to get out of my bunker on the first attempt, while Dave got out of his only for it to drop into the next one. Not a good finish.

My 31 points was nothing to celebrate, but I had one little victory. I started at Rosses Point with a Titleist 3, with the initials CJC on it, and I had finished at Enniscrone with the same ball. Three rounds of links golf and not one lost ball. I’ll take that any day.

[Photo: if anyone knows who CJC is, please thank him for me]

Back in the clubhouse, Finbarr and I grabbed a bite to eat – Dave having already headed back to Dublin. Fin approached the threeball who had played ahead of us and asked about the Starter. It turned out that they were Enniscrone members and they’d found the Starter similarly rude. In a way it was a relief to know it wasn’t only us, but it still rankled.

I spotted Mary Walsh and David O’Donavan, the GMs at Carne and Rosses Point respectively, setting up the prizes. I walked over to congratulate them on the competition’s success and Mary told me that a lone Englishman from the previous year had returned with eight friends this time. The word is getting out there, and hopefully the Atlantic Coast Challenge will continue to grow and grow. Three brilliant courses for just €135… and one Starter who I’m hoping to run into again next year. Who could ask for anything more!

Photos of Enniscrone
Photos of Carne
Photos of Rosses Point 

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