The Par That Was’nae. (The Par That Wasn’t)
We used to sprint up the steps as fast as our little legs could take us. My brother and I would be full of excitement and steely, competitive determination. It was easy to tell that the first tee would be clear as we could see it from the bay window in my Grandmother’s front room. I used to sit and watch the golfers concluding their rounds on the 17th and 18th that were perched on the side of the hill, facing the house. I longed to be out on the golf course, even at that early age. I’d wait for the course to quieten then dash over to the first tee.
The links at Kinghorn, in Fife, seemed to always be illuminated by the summer sun and by the time in the evening that we would be allowed to play the wind that had swept briskly through the course during the day had calmed to a relaxed breeze. I don’t think I ever remember seeing a golf course look more inviting to my imagination in my life.
I had 2 clubs passed on to me from the garage, a cut down 5 wood which I used for every shot and a putter which I used to putt with but only because my grandma told me I couldn’t use my 5 wood when on the green. Kinghorn golf course is a unique lay out, a links course that sits high above the town. A fantastic character of quirky holes that dip in to rolling nooks and crannies and rise up to perched greens that, when playing them at my young age, might as well have been sat on top of Mount Everest.
I come from a family of Scottish golfers, my Mother and Father and their siblings grew up in Fife and the boys lived on the golf course during the summer months. My Grandma, too, was a keen golfer and a stickler for the rules and decorum of the game. The Golf club was always such a central part of our holidays. I admired the simple act of playing a ‘full round’ of golf. 18 holes- all the way round- seemed like such a mammoth task. It blew my mind when I found out my Uncle routinely played 2 or even 3 rounds in a day when time and the long daylight hours allowed.
At the age of 6, my elder brother being 9, we were limited to the number of holes we could play. Of course, I felt we were more than capable of doing at least 9 holes but under the watchful eye of my Grandma we were limited to playing a loop the first 4 holes. The 4th green at Kinghorn loops back round directly in front of the pavilion where there was a starters hut, alongside the 1st tee and some very old, stoney locker rooms. This meant that we could play the first 4 holes and have a go on the putting green afterwards if we were well behaved.
My grandma was firm but fair with us. My Mum would always brief us with a warning as we neared our Grandparents house that there was to be no messing around- ESPECIALLY on the golf course. I have a vivid memory of crossing the Forth Road Bridge into the kingdom of Fife and my mother turning round to us as we read our comics in the back of the car and saying ‘right, boys… I want you on your best behaviour’ or words to that effect. Unfortunately this was a tradition that continued well in to our 20’s and was always greeted with ‘oh for goodness sake mum…’ or words to that effect.
There were a lot of amazing shots that occurred during these loops of holes. Cracking drives that would run and scamper up the parched fairways for what seemed like 1000’s of yards. These long drives were always the most fun to do and, as a family, a good drive off of a tee soon became known as a ‘whammer jammer’. I used to fling myself into these drives with all of my might, routinely missing the ball and spinning 360 degrees and landing on my bum. Choosing to ignore any counter advice- so much for my Grandma’s classic tips of ‘keeping your head down’ and ‘keeping a smooth tick tock rhythm’ we just wanted to smash it and go find it!
As I’m sure you can relate to if you’ve had any dealings as a player or parent with junior golf, or even golf as an adult, there was plenty of frustration too. Memories of my brother and I trying to out do each other on every shot and lots of Grandma attempting to calm us down after each missed putt that ‘should’ve been a gimmie’. I’m sure It cant have been easy when looking after two hot headed red heads who had a slight tendency to be a bit boisterous- especially the younger of the two! The truth was we were playing golf for fun, wholey and truly for the fun of the game and we would love every minute.
On one of these evenings a very special moment arose. I moment that taught me pretty much every single golfing lesson I would every need to learn in one fowl swoop of a sand wedge.
We were playing the par 4 fourth hole back towards home and directly in to the warm, orange, setting sun that was fading cozily in to the ocean on the horizon. I remember standing on the tee and concentrating hard on smashing this ball further than my Brother’s drive. I connected with my tee shot a treat- scorching this wee 5 wood in to the air before catching a downslope or two and jumping over humps at speed. We walked up the fairway and my pace increased as I realized my drive was probably one of my longest ever.
I found my ball in the fairway which, on the 4th hole at the time, was literally about 400 yards wide- full of undulations and cool pockets of shady, summer-evening air. The 4th hole isn’t a long one and I’ll be honest, I don’t remember playing my 2nd shot at all. Although I know my club selection was a 5 wood and I know that I hit it ‘first go’ so it was a reasonably successful effort. I’m guessing it was fairly similar to my tee shot- fairly low and running but running in the right direction.
I walked up towards the green after waiting for my Grandma and Brother to hit their approach shots which I didn’t really take much notice of. I was in the zone now and I only had eyes for my ball and where it had came to rest. It soon became apparent that my ball had caught one of the many greenside swales and fallen in to the left hand green side bunker pin high with the hole.
Now, this filled me with a great worry because bunkers meant hard work. Bunkers meant annoyance with not being able to get the stupid ball out of the stupid sand. Bunkers meant James trying to give me tips that I would ignore because I knew how to do it. Bunkers. Were. Trouble.
It came to my turn and I was preparing myself by taking a few practice swings and trying to figure out how I was going to lift this ball out the sand and pop it onto the green. I had a few more swishes with Grandmas wedge that I borrowed to try and get out the bunkers and settled over the shot. I took a good gouge from the sand which exploded nicely and blew back into my face in that very linksy way. The ball popped over the head high lip and rolled nicely onto the green- to about 8 feet. This was possibly the greatest shot of my young life. In fact this was Definitely the greatest shot of my young life. I remember that feeling of sheer delight and disbelief and ecstasy and flabbergasted expressions on James and Grandma’s faces. I was smiling ear to ear.
The enormity of the occasion then hit me when I went to get my putter from next to the golf bag on the side of the green. I had this putt for par. My first ever par. My first ever, fully fledged, no messing, text book, stick that on the score card par. This putt was a must make.
It never left the center of the hole. I remember it starting a little left of the cup and curling to the hole as I jumped for joy shouting ‘PAR!!!!’ at the top of my lungs!
My Grandma looked confused, she did that thing where you point back down the fairway whilst counting shots. “1, 2,3…and how many did it take you to get out of the bunker? 4 or 5?”
I was offended. “No, no… I got it out first time- it was a par!” I said, beginning to get defensive.
“Come on Christopher” Grandma continued “I saw at least THREE splashes of sand from the bunker”
My jaw had dropped, my brow furrowed and my lip trembling slightly, I told her they were practice swings- I PROMISED they were practice swings. I really really promised.
“Well I’m sorry Chris, but you cannot ground your club in the sand before you play a shot from the sand” Grandma concluded as she marked me down for a 7.
With that sentence I was crushed. Momentarily fixed to the ground I attempted to argue my case. “B….B…But…It….It….Th..Th…They were practice swings….”
It’s now 22 years later now and I’m starting to be able to reflect on the incidents with a bit more of a positive out look. These things are life lessons- grandparents are here to teach us these valuable moral outlooks on life. I appreciate it now. It broke me at the time and stayed with me for years to follow but I can appreciate now.
I can categorically tell you now, I have never, ever touched the sand in a bunker before playing a bunker shot since that fateful, fateful day.
Grandma I thank you.