The Swindle had planned an away day to the seaside but none of us knew what lay ahead. We hadn’t read the tea leaves. Gazed into the crystal ball or checked the horoscopes. No one knew that Venus was in the ascendancy. And no one mentioned The Undertaker or the Austrian Archduchess and the cake.
The timing was almost perfect.
“I will be away tonight” said the Golf Police.
It almost worked out. Two nights would have been perfect. Beggars can’t be chosers…..
A quiet evening to prepare for the seaside run.
I retuned the radio station and sang as I chopped the salad. Prepared pasta with avocado and rocket. The last of the tomatoes from the garden vines, drizzled with olive oil. No meat. No smoke alarm. No carbonized offerings. Watched the golf channel, cleaned the clubs and shoes and went out to the garage and stocked up with balls.
From the Alladin’s cave of balls. Lost and Found balls, retired balls, favourite balls. I selected twelve that had not shared any meaningful relationship. Balls which had not rattled into the cup on the twentieth, after a battle hard fought. Balls which had not won knock out matches or a fiercely fought singles match. Balls which had not suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. The lip of the bunker or the edge of the lake. Balls with no history. We could walk away from one another without a backward glance. Twelve balls washed in the sink until they gleamed like fresh fallen snow.
The alarm was set and by the time the fox was on the prowl and the owl in the tree, the light was off and the dreams were being spun. The dream had been pre ordered. A dream of sub par. Of the best ball drop. Of nearest the pin. But the wrong dream turned up. A four ball. A strike on the head. A body on the ground. Paramedics and the boys in blue. The Undertaker with the sombre black hearse. The dream was wrong. I woke and read and tried to find another dream. The mind kept going back to the body on the fairway. I gave up. Got up and cleaned the oven.
I picked Gus up early.
“You ok?” he said. “You look tired”.
“Fine” I said. “Fine”. It didn’t seem right to mention about the body.
As ever, the wind blew by the sea and the linksy grass bent to the wind from the north.
“Played here before?” said one of the members. The build of second row with legs encased in long socks. A sea farer who was impervious to the cold wind. I told him about the last trip. The lost balls. Taylor mades and ProV1s.
“How many did you say you lost?” I repeated the number quietly.
“Seven” I said . “Seven”.
“Well good luck” he said. “Good luck”.
Cooked breakfasts were consumed and Big Rich ordered extra toast. And as we ate the toast, coated with thick marmalade, I caught sight of him. Across the fairways. A maroon jumper and familiar purposeful walk.
“You sure you are ok ?” said Gus.
I gave the same answer. Just a whiter shade of pale.
The balls were thrown. The Sheriff drew Gus and Ruggy. Team event. Best two scores to count. Individual stableford. Nearest the pin on the fourteenth hole.
Bill was ill. A cross between swine flu and the bubonic plague.
“Sure you should be playing?” said Ruggy.
Bill coughed, fought for breath and nodded. He had the look of a man who would soon be measured for his coffin. Pale and not long for this world.
I remembered the dream and shivered beneath the fleece.
Big Rich jumped on the tee. An easy par four to start. The red tees were next to the yellows. Two hundred and ninety seven yards. Bunkered fairway and green.
I took out one of the twelve balls. Teed it up and hooked it into the rough.
“Good start” said The Sheriff. “Don’t hold us up”. Bill and Rich found the fairway and we walked off with five points.
I kept the next ball until the third shot, where it found a watery grave in a lateral water hazard.
“Hard luck” said Bill. He then tugged his shot left. Big Rich played over the hummock shielding the green. And then part of the dream almost came true.
Behind Gus, Ruggy and the Sheriff had reached the ditch. All balls in play. The green was in reach. Gus threw some grass up and checked the strength of the wind. The shot was directly into the wind. It was a two-three club wind.
“Everything you’ve got” said The Sheriff. Gus took the three wood. He took a few practice swings and checked his alignment. Perfect. The club was taken back on plane, the hands accelerated through as the club squared at impact. A crisp pure strike out of the middle of the club. A little bit of draw. It sailed into the wind and headed towards the hidden hummock guarded green.
On the green Rich had missed the putt. Bill had no luck finding his ball in the unforgiving links grass. He walked past the flag as the ball of Gus homed in on the flag. A titleist Prov1. It sailed past the head of Bill and landed on the green, close to the pin.
I thought of the dream and the man in the maroon jumper. It had been a close call. Bill had dodged a date with destiny. He walked on to the next tee. Gus got the par but not the man. The Archduchess of Austria was not mentioned until the tenth hole. Until the team had lost too many balls in the rough. Too many errant shots which rode on the wind and snuggled down in the long salt drenched grass either side of the fairway. A nesting and resting place for skylarks. And golf balls.
I watched another ball sail off into the grass and then I thought about the Duchess. Daughter of an Empress, who married the King of France. Born in Vienna. Sister to the Queen of Naples.
“I have had enough. I just want cake.”
The sort of cake Marie Antionette knew was good for the peasants.
“Let them eat cake” she said, wearing her jewels and dainty shoes. Heavy is the head that wears the crown and she lost hers on the 16th October, 1793. A headless Queen remembered for a throw- away line about cake.
Rich agreed with the cake bit. Every lost ball brought us nearer to the cake.
Nearest the pin was straight into the wind. We clubbed up two clubs. It should have been three and it was carried over to the seventeeth hole.
Behind marched the man in the maroon jumper. I watched his walk and his tee shots. I watched his putts. But I didn’t make eye contact with him or his four ball. And I blocked out the dream.
Out to sea, the horizon was smudged with grey cloud. Well wrapped dog walkers whistled for excited dogs. Cyclists leaned low into the wind and rode on the sea wall, silhouetted against the skyline. Far out to sea, ships followed the coast and the waves pounded on the pebble shore. Golfers played and strayed from the fairways and the green ran fast and true.
After an afternoon of the hacking and tacking up the fairways, searching for the elusive balls, we reached the seventeenth hole.
Bill hit his shot between coughing fits. The ball rode with the wind and landed on the green. Right side of the flag.
“No one will beat that” said Big Rich and stuffed his into the right hand side bunker.
I stood on the tee and thought about the cake. The coffee and walnut cake. The sponge cake. The fruit cake. Two more tee shots and the cake was mine. In between the fruit and sponge visualisation, I hit the shot. It landed on the green and ran up to the flag. Inside the shot of Bill. You don’t hit a man when he is down. You don’t pull against the man. Bill had spent a day in the rough. With his cough. This was his brief moment of glory.
“I can’t believe you did that” said Big Rich. Bill looked sad.
“Sorry Bill” I whispered. The team got seven points on the hole. Behind, Gus, Ruggy and the Sheriff tried to work out the wind. Undecided between a two or three club wind. They hit their shots. They all landed on the green. But none were inside the marker.
“Let’s have a good finish” said Big Rich “and then it’s time for cake”.
We lost to the Team of the Sheriff. The Sheriff won the individual. Thirty six points off six.
“Good Golf” said Big Rich.
“You must have hit some good drives.”
“No trees” said The Sheriff. “Love it”.
I made a mental note – google how to rifle low shots into the wind off the tee.
The member with the long socks was still in the clubhouse. A birthday celebration on the links. Smoked salmon and champagne breakfast. Golf, lunch and wine.
“So how many balls did you lose?” he said.
I thought about all the balls that sailed into the rough. The balls which Rich found and the ones that would not be making the journey back from the original twelve. Balls which I could lose without a backward glance. He didn’t need to know about the balls of Bill.
“Two” I said. “Just the two”. He smiled and they ordered another bottle of wine. Birthday wine.
We ate the cake and Ruggy had seconds. So did Big Rich. Bill survived the round. There was no body on the fairway. No blue lights or paramedics. Just the man in the maroon jumper.
The man in maroon jumper finished well. Four. Three. Three. Eagled the last and won the match over thirty six holes.
Great finish”. I said. “How did you find the fairways?”. Single figure golfer. Usually played from adjacent land to the fairway in play.
“Straight off the tee today” he said. “Not bad for an Undertaker on his day off”.
“Lucky you” I said. But I didn’t tell him about the dream. Nor about picking up a job and body on his day off.
It was late when I reached home. Very late.
The Golf Police sat in the dark. Hungry.
“Sorry I didn’t ring. Left the phone in the golf bag”.
“So a good day?” he asked.
I thought about the silence of the links and the three club wind from the north. I thought about the sky larks and balls that never made it home. I thought about the cake and the man with the long socks and the birthday wine.
I thought about nearest the pin and the cough of Bill. The shot of Gus which nearly took him out, in one perfect pure strike with a three wood rifled to the green. And I thought about the man in the maroon jumper who played in the four ball and won his match with an eagle.
“Good day” I said. “And you’ll never guess who I saw on the fairways.
But I didn’t tell him about the dream.