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Chinese Golf

I watched the wonderful display of golf by Francesco Molinari and World Number One, Lee Westwood in Shanghai. As in the Ryder Cup, they were helped by overnight rain to soften the greens and virtually no wind. Give the top professionals these conditions and they can go for the flags and show how incredibly good at the game they really are. It was a feast.
I have a running argument with those who are so determined that “their” course will not be made to look too easy, that they trick them up – and then find themselves with “flukey” winners: eg. The R&A course set-ups at Troon 1994 (Justin Leonard) Carnoustie 1999 (Paul Lawrie –courtesy of Jean van de Velde) Royal St Georges 2003 (Ben Curtis) and Troon again in 2004 (Todd Hamilton).
My attention was then caught by a commentator who described the current explosion of interest in golf in China. He casually mentioned that there are over three hundred new courses under construction within the catchment area of Shanghai with a population of 18 million people. Which begs the question. How on earth are people going to learn the game before setting foot on these courses, all of whose architects and constructors will be vying for the honour of the finest “Championship” course in the area? Almost by definition these courses will be totally unsuitable for beginners.
Everyone will be starting from scratch. No Dads and Mums, Uncles and Aunts to show them the way. It will no doubt prove a bonanza for golf professionals from the world over who will be clamouring for teaching opportunities but without some kind of enlightened practise facilities, leading to some more accessible, more simple golf courses i.e. flat, not too long with minimum rough and sensible greens, the brave new world of Chinese golf could turn into a sporting nightmare.
Which brings me to the matter of golf instruction generally. We are all advised to go to a registered PGA professional but what do they really have to offer, apart from a bucket of balls and advice on a few general principles e.g the grip, stance and some basic idea of the swing? If they were even mildly successful in what they do, there would surely be a lot more reasonable ball strikers to be seen at driving ranges. In fact I find it hard not to rate golf as one of the worst taught games in the world.
If anyone really cared about teaching someone to play golf properly, the last place they should begin is on a normal practise ground or driving range. Without question, the best way (possibly the only way) of learning the GAME – as opposed to just learning some sort of swing – is to start with a three inch putt and work slowly backwards from the hole. Long putting will become chipping, finally short pitching and so on. This way a controlled strike on the back of the ball is at least an achievable goal. Waving a long club round your body on a range with a success rate of one reasonable hit in fifty is a dead end process: in fact it is worse than that, because the poor sufferer naturally believes the following: if only I could repeat that one good strike, my path to golfing glory is assured. In fact, the likelihood is that the swing concerned was as inept as all the others and almost certainly unrepeatable. Talk about a vicious circle!!
The only way I ever recommend a beginner to hit a bucket of balls if they have serious aspirations is to use no longer club than a seven iron and swing with their feet together – actually touching. Until they are able to make good contact the majority of the time, there is no point whatsoever in moving on.
There is a new, rather charming, golfing publication available called Golf Quarterly (by subscription only –
There are a couple of pages, headlined “How to make golf more fun”. Banish the tee peg, less clubs, bigger hole and finally “design courses in multiples of six holes”. Courses of six and twelve holes would be built – especially attractive to beginners and juniors. China even gets a mention. I just hope that someone over that side of the world takes out a subscription.

Dexter v Crawley

The redoubtable and apparently ageless John Woodcock, Times cricket correspondent extraordinaire of yore, has sent me two golf related extracts from his personal archive. The first was a scorecard he kept when I was lucky enough to have 18 holes of golf with Sir Donald Bradman in 1963. The Don was 1 handicap at the time and I was three. On a par 72 course the scores were 73 and 75 respectively – which is of no great significance or worthy of debate.
The more recent “blast from the past” concerned a difference of opinion on the subject of relative skills at golf and cricket – i.e. who deserved the accolade of best ever Cricketing Golfer? JW wrote in 1976 that it was Edward Dexter – eliciting strong reaction from those contemporaries of Leonard Crawley who would have none of it.
The famed Walker Cupper Laddy Lucas was the strongest in championing the Crawley cause with vibrant memories involving International golfing prowess on one day, followed by high class batsmanship for Essex the next. His case was weakened only marginally when JW had to point out a number of factual inaccuracies – such as these feats occurring a couple of years apart rather than on consecutive days.
I was privileged to play more than a round or two with Leonard and can vouch for his wonderful striking, the product of a slow and powerful swing which was the envy of all who saw him. He was long past his best competitive days and his putting was on the wane by then but he usually came out on top nevertheless. Living close by Royal Worlington GC, home to generations of Cambridge University golfers, he was prone to pop out onto the course of an afternoon and give us a tip or two. We were always glad to see the great man and listen to what he had to say.
The Dexter/Crawley argument can come down to semantics , with one critic pursuing a line of argument distinguishing CricketING Golfer from CricketER Golfer: rather splitting hairs in my book. The way I see it is pretty simple in essence i.e. I achieved more at cricket and Leonard achieved more at golf. In fact Leonard achieved more at cricket than I ever did at golf. So on that reckoning Crawley is the winner.
However I will now go in to bat for myself. Leonard only played top level “Amateur” golf. He won an “English Amateur” but not “The (British)Amateur” which has an International field. The only “Open” golf mention in Wikipedia is as runner up in the French. I, on the other hand, mixed it with the professionals all my cricketing career (though designated an “amateur”) playing International cricket at the highest level. The pinnacle of my career was to be rated number 2 batsman in the world in 1963 – ahead of Kanhai, Cowdrey, Barrington, Lawry and co, second only to the mighty G.StA.Sobers. My points rating was only 32 behind Sobers. Kanhai's was 83 behind mine. There is little to suggest that Leonard could have claimed any such lofty position in the world panoply of golf
The only point at which my golf can be compared directly with Leonard's is our relative performances in the President's Putter. He won 4 to my 2 but curiously, in an all time “Putter” points table devised by John Littlewood, sole chronicler of such ephemera, I rate one point ahead of Leonard behind the greats of a previous golden era Ernest Holderness and Roger Wethered .
So you pays your money and takes your choice. As so many arguments do, it all depends where you are coming from.


Sorry for the extended drinks break. I popped down to Spanish golfing climes for a fortnight. The idea was to play a round or two at La Reserva Golf Club ( round the corner from Valderrama) and then watch Walker Cup players compete in the Spanish Amateur on the same course. Sadly the course was waterlogged after unprecedented rainfall so it was a question of play where you can in between the downpours. Even Sottogrande had to close a few holes. The highlight was an invitation to Valderrama on my last day when the sun shone and the Ryder Cup course played at its brilliant and infuriating best.

I have never for a moment understood the "slope" variation to one's normal handicap but an extra six strokes on top of my current 10 would have seemed generous anywhere else. But since my "Valderrama" objective is always six pars, six bogies and six doubles, it was not far off. I actually hit the ball well for 4 pars (including a perfectly played seventeenth) 10 bogies and four doubles i.e.18 over so whoever invented the "slope" evidently knows a thing or two. The "killer" problem is usually the downhill chip from a wiry grass lie. But there are equally subtle traps for the unwary. Like the Par 5 fourth hole. A sweet drive into the wind drifted to the right edge of the fairway. An attempt to move the lay-up from left to right did not come off, leaving me down the slope and chipping back into play. The approach to a front pin pitched within 12 feet but spun back, then trickled off and finally rolled gently back another 15 metres. A slightly strong chip and two nervy putts down the slope added up to seven - albeit with hardly a poor shot. Without being very long Valderrama is a superb test for the best players but a real graveyard for the rest of us. I love it and hate it at the same time.

They did manage to play the Spanish Amateur at the nearby Ca(g)nada Golf Club with only one day washed out. An all english Final between Tommy Fleetwod and Matt Haine was decided in favour of the latter - deservedly perhaps after leading the qualifying with a superb first round 66. I had a particular interest in Stiggy Hodgson, having played with him at Sunningdale over the years. He might have had a useful course knowledge advantage at La Reserva but it was not to be. He qualified OK but went out in the first round to a very noisy young Spaniard at the 21st hole - shades of John McEnroe by all accounts.

I mentioned some cricketing poetry before I rather rudely went off the air with not so much as a by your leave. It concerns my innings at Lord's against the West Indies in the early sixties - that match which went to the last ball, Colin Cowdrey batting with his broken arm in plaster etc etc. I have managed to download it into my "media library" but it remains to be seen whether a. you can access it, or b. I can bring it to the surface. I will do my computer clumsy best.