I awoke to find an empty room, George having most likely headed down for breakfast without bothering to give me as much as an indicatory nudge. Stretching, I stumbled to my feet and shuffled along the corridor towards the bathroom, the rush of blood to my head upon rising causing momentary dizziness followed by the feeling that someone was trying to hammer a nail into the top of my skull. I was in no state to play golf, and by the look of the two guys sprawled out on the living room sofas, neither were Russ and Nick. The pair hadn’t had but a wink of shut-eye, having returned from dinner and decided to stay up all night with a crate of beer. True golf Tour etiquette. Our only hope was that the English were in an equally dishevelled state.
For Saturday’s third round clash, I’d been paired with the very eager Sarge in what was billed to be a competitive wild-west shootout against Bradders and Streety. All three of these men had shown promising displays of high-calibre golf over the previous two days, and with the revised scoring format I’d have nobody to carry me and nowhere to hide. Up to that point, the matches had been played in a four-ball-better-ball format, in which the lowest score from each pairing is compared to decide the winner of each hole. The Saturday format, however, had been altered to make it a combined affair, with both playing partners’ scored added together before being compared to their opposition’s total. To put it simply, this means that if one person messes up then the hole is effectively lost. A dreadful scoring format that I would immediately eradicate where I to ever be awarded the honour of Celt captaincy.
Incidentally, in order to receive this privilege, one must first serve as vice-captain to their predecessor, and to be eligible for vice-captaincy selection Tour rules state that you must have participated in a minimum of three Tours prior to this. As a result of these stringent regulations, no individual in the history of the Anglo-Celtic Cup has served multiple stints as captain, making it the most difficult segment of the still-elusive Holy Grail to tick off. Laid out on parchment by Tour’s Founding Fathers, the Holy Grail can only be obtained when a Tour player has served time as world number 1, won the annual Tour Championships (a separate event from Tour), and led their team to victory on Tour itself. Many a player has completed two out of three, but as of yet nobody has stamped their name on the Grail and confirmed themselves as the G.O.A.T – Greatest of all Time.
“I’m expecting a good showing from you today, Crobs,” said Sarge as I hopped into the passenger seat of our buggy and we set off down to the first tee. I was definitely in no state to be driving, be that in a cart along cobbled paths or with a wood in my hands from a tee box. Drawing my 3-iron from its holster I shook hands with Bradders, wishing him luck, before taking one look at Streety and bursting out into laughter. He was looking remarkably fresh for someone who’d been absolutely hammered in a kebab shop just a few hours previously, but how either of us could take this duel seriously with the antics of the previous evening still fresh in our minds was beyond me.
Bradders, on the other hand, was raring to go, having recently taken up a stringent exercise regime that had him running 5kms before breakfast and laying off the booze. Refraining from drinking spirits isn’t exactly in the spirit of Tour though, I have to say, and as his opening tee shot split the middle of the fairway I was still trying to rinse the taste of tequila shots from my mouth, which was as dry as Gandhi's flip-flops.
Taking a few feeble practice swings, I then addressed my opening shot. Were I to have received a Police sobriety test at that point I would have failed it with spectacular colours, and as I squinted at the tee peg with blurred vision I could make out about three balls sitting atop it. ‘Here goes nothing,’ I thought to myself, and with all eyes of Tour on me I hacked at it with the finesse of a lumberjack. The ball squirted off the hosel and shanked straight-right into a lake that acted as a hazard on a completely different hole. My playing partner just shook his head in despair.
Having matched my opening 7 with an equally disastrous 7 on the following hole, Sarge and I reached the short par-3 3rd one-down and most definitely on the back foot. As I rolled in a 20ft right-to-left breaker for a birdie two, however, and Bradders failed to convert a near-gimmie tap-in, we were back on level terms. And when my stinger of a 3-iron approach under a stiff breeze to the well-guarded par-4 4th landed like a feather a mere 5ft from the pin, my confidence was restored. Unfortunately, however, the farcical change to the scoring format made what would otherwise have been an enthralling game a rather tedious and sorry affair; every mistake accompanied with a slew of apologies and unfulfilled promises of redress.
As the course wound its way out from the clubhouse we were matching one another blow for blow, but as we made our way around the turn a number of fortuitous members’ bounces and get-out-of-jail-free golf put Bradders and Streety in the driving seat. A series of reckless tee shots from our opponents, which you’d have bet your bottom dollar were goners, were found in very playable lies, and as Sarge and I failed to carry one another’s errors the wheels began to fall off the wagon. As much as we tried to cling on in there, in no time at all we were staring down the barrel of a rather hefty defeat, and Streety dealt a decisive blow with an exquisite birdie on the most difficult hole on the course to seal a somewhat deserved 5&4 victory.
Saturday is known as ‘moving day’ for a reason and, despite Aaron’s table-topping performance, the Celts didn’t fare well across the board in the combined four-ball format. The English had eaten into a big chunk of the lead we’d manage to amass over the first two days’ competition, and we would be heading into the final day singles matches with our noses 10-8 in front. It was still all to play for, but we were in prime position to make it rain and end the five-year winless drought.
The Celts were all out in black polo shirts and beige shorts for the Sunday singles, with eight hours kip under our belts, no hangovers, and eyes firmly on the prize. 12 singles matches meant that 12 points were up for grabs, and we needed 6 of them to ensure that the trophy would be coming home in the bag of Garrett, our motivational captain, that evening. I had been pitted against the frustratingly slow-playing Westy in the penultimate group, and accompanying me in the Celt’s buggy was to be George, my Kiwi brother, roommate, and opponent of Webby. The hour of reckoning was upon us.
George had a challenge ahead of him from the get-go as he knocked his opening tee shot on the Faldo course out-of-bounds, but I, somewhat uncharacteristically, smashed one straight down the middle and raced into a one-hole lead. The 13 strokes I was ceding to my unwieldy opponent, however, got him back into it, and despite being four Stableford points up at the turn I found myself one down in the match play stakes. I was swinging well, but Westy’s ludicrous four-net-two on the 8th, canned 50ft putt from off the green on the par- 6th, and snap-hook recoveries from nearly every tee box weren’t allowing me the walk in the park I’d somewhat naively envisaged.
Webby, on the other hand, was imploding like a chain of ticking time-bombs. Having had an absolute shocker of a front 9, he managed just a solitary Stableford point on the back half to gift George a 6&5 victory, despite his playing partner putting his body on the line to help out a lost cause. Westy, aforementioned as having incredibly poor course management, found himself sauntering aimlessly across the 12th green when a ball struck him square in the chest and knocked him to the deck. Webby had been playing a blind shot into the pin and hadn’t realised where his fellow Englishman was. The result was a rather winded Westy, and Webby having a 20ft putt for par as opposed to raking around in the bushes at the back of the green where his ball would more-than-likely have otherwise come to rest. Despairingly, he still found a way to three-putt and lose the hole, however.
“That was a horrific golf shot,” I said to Westy as his drive on the par-4 14th was topped straight into the foliage at the front of the tee box, causing George to burst out laughing. Any form of course etiquette had been wiped out by the speed of Westy’s play. Shorelines erode quicker than it takes for the man to line up a clutch putt. One of the course martials had parked his buggy at the top of the hill and, with a member of the establishment gazing down at him, Westy had folded like a deck chair. I took the hole with a well-constructed par and a short while later found myself standing on the 16th tee in a dormie 3 position.
But it ain’t over until the fat lady sings, and despite my unassailable lead I’m gutted to say that my nerves got the better of me. A three-putt followed by two shanks on the 17th and 18th, and I found myself shaking Westy’s hand for a halved match. To use the official terminology: I’d ‘shat it’.
At the end of the day though, the result didn’t matter, with an elsewhere dominant display from the Celts providing us with a winning margin of 18-11. For the first time in half-a-decade, the trophy belonged to those with Welsh, Irish and Scottish blood in their veins. And we weren’t going to let the English forget that any time soon. As everyone bode farewell at the airport that evening and went their separate ways, Garrett promised to give the trophy the lap-of-honour that it deserved. The very next day, our group chat received a photo of him holding the Anglo-Celtic Cup aloft in front of the Eiffel Tower – two iconic images brought together in the same picture. It had been a joyous, loose, entertaining, and competitive long-weekend. I couldn’t wait to return to the fold the following year and contribute to the defence of what was now rightfully ours.
Tour website: https://angloceltic.weebly.com/