The opening hole on Amendoeira Resort’s O’Connor course is a lengthy dogleg par 5, its wide and welcoming fairway lined at the extremities by a creek which wraps around to create a run-out zone about 250 yards from the tee box. The hole then swoops to the left, where mischievous fairway bunkers play with your lay-up shot before the back-to-front sloping green provides a modicum of respite for the inaccurate golfer. A slight headwind could be felt as we drove our buggies in convoy from the clubhouse down to the first tee, an amphitheatre setting being created for the commencement of the Anglo-Celtic Cup’s latest edition.
As the Celts all stood there in matching pink polo shirts and beige (definitely not grey) shorts, history was ready to be written. Having hit a series of dreadful shots on the practice range that very morning I was feeling rather nervous but hoped that I could hold it together. Whilst the first group posed for a photo, I gave a wry smile in the direction of my playing partner, Morray. The stage was set. It was game on.
Like all great leaders, both captains had decided to lead from the front, and as a tense hush fell over the first tee each player in the opening four-ball proceeded to impressively smash their drive straight down the middle of the fairway. As they then scooted off in their buggies, I took a 3-iron from my bag. Garrett had jotted down the Celts’ detailed tactics and well-thought-out game plan on the back of a restaurant napkin the previous evening after having consumed four pints of Super Bock lager and, as a result, Morray and I were up next. My fellow Scot and I had been drawn against the English pairing of Fitzy and Webby in what was sure to be a tightly-fought contest.
When Morray, who had been billed to me as Mr Consistency, snap-hooked his drive into the creek on the left, however, and I then stood up and shanked one into the waterside reeds on the right, our opposition may have thought differently. It wasn’t the start we were after, but once away from the gallery of watchful eyes I managed to somehow zig-zag my way along the first hole and come away with a bogey nett par for the win. Now one-up, what ensued was a cagey, see-saw battle.
We were pegged neck-and-neck as we reached the turn, some rather ropey and suspect golf being played by all parties involved, until Fitzy, the lowest handicapped golfer in our four-ball, put together a string of good holes. I tracked in a long-range birdie putt from all the way across the 12th green to steal one back, but Webby was able to cancel this out on the par 3 that followed by sinking an equally-monstrous putt of his own for a two. Despite our best efforts, the Englishmen managed to keep a hold of their slender lead for the remainder of the back 9 and we fell to a deserved 2&1 defeat. Battle of Bannockburn, it was not to be.
There had been a glimmer of hope on the 14th fairway when Webby’s approach to the narrow par 4 veered straight to the right and landed plop in the middle of a picturesque lake, but it was agreed that his ball had connected with one of the overhead power lines that crossed the course. Checking the rules on the back of the scorecard, he was allowed to replay the shot, and subsequently knocked his mulligan attempt onto the fringe of the green from where he got up and down for a four net three and took the hole. Sometimes you get the rub of the green, and sometimes it’s just not your day in the office I suppose. Regardless, the rest of the Celtic partnerships had fared better, and we finished the day with a commanding 4-2 lead over the defending champions.
Once the final shots of the day had been played everyone congregated on the clubhouse balcony for a bite to eat, celebratory/commiseration beers, and a run-down of how each others' rounds had faired. The scores were then announced before the pairings for the following day revealed. I would be forming a rookie pairing with Greg and also given a chance for redemption against Fitzy, who had this time been paired with another fresh recruit in the form of Westy. Knowing that a key to victory would be how well we communicated and operated as a unit, Greg and I decided to start our partnership there and then by teaming up as drinking buddies.
After quickly showering off the sun cream and buttoning up a trademark checked shirt, I jumped in one of the numerous taxis that had been booked to ferry us the half-hour into Albufeira’s Old Town. All twenty-four boys were in attendance, each in a different state of intoxication, and there was a feeling of a bachelor party about the place as we unloaded at the drop-off point. A stag do without a stag.
It was your typical Brits abroad scene as we marched down the neon-lit cobbled street, plastic seating and booming music spilling out from every bar and club, drinks promos the order of the day, and drunken, sunburnt groups of tourists getting rather loose and yelling in the Queen’s English. I got flashbacks to my boys’ holiday to Zante in 2009 and coming-of-age scenes I’d rather blinker from my mind.
From his exuberant antics in the clubhouse bar, I’d already deduced that Garrett would be one of the loosest of the group, but as he ran around the highly-concentrated area of bars chatting and joking with everyone he bumped into, sweated profusely on nightclub podiums, and danced provocatively with a pre-op tranny wearing a pair of denim hot-pants that showed off his great arse as well as his knob, I quickly developed a newfound respect and loyalty for our team captain.
“Are you guys here on a stag do?” asked a girl from London as we moved from one bar to the next, Webby jeering from a balcony on the opposite side of the street from where we were currently downing shots, shots, shots and indicating to us that the party was definitely where he was at.
“Golf tournament,” I responded to her in a blasé and deadpan manner. “9th edition of the Anglo-Celtic Cup.”
As she took in Morray’s fantastic ‘grandpa-at-a-wedding-style’ dance moves and tried to make heads-or-tails of what I’d just said, the look of confusion on her face was priceless.
“Please tell me you’ve heard of it?” I added. “It’s quite a big deal and we’re only a quarter of the way into it. There’s still all to play for.”
Tour website: https://angloceltic.weebly.com/