Every year the golf club holds a charity day and invites sporting legends to tee up with fans of the round ball. Some legends have long since hung up the studded boots. They walk the walk of too many tackles and too many matches. Others have turned to the role of coach or manager and pace the tense touchline, nail biting or drawing on their nicotine sticks. Win. Lose. Draw. Fans, transfers, agents and goals. Promotion and the fear of relegation. The game of the studded boot and round ball.
“Shall we put in a team for the charity day?” said Gus after another round of dimpled ball bashing and swindle bantering on the fairways.
“No chance” said Big Rich.
“ Sorry. Busy” said Sid.
“Can’t find my game” said The Busman
“Off to Ireland” said Pancake.
“Having my hair done” said Ruggy.
Gus wanted to be part of the day. Since boyhood, he had the name of his football team tattooed on his soul. He knew the heartache of loss, the elation of winning a cup final. He knew the different formations, who he would buy to beef up the defence, which striker would work best up front. He discussed games with Sid and Pancake. Goals taken and goals missed. First touch and tight calls made by the ref. He knew the stats and knew the score and during the football season, there was only one person who had the remote at home. And that person wore the trousers.
In the end, Gus decided to ball spot and stay for the meal with the legends.
“I’ll put my name down too” I said as we shared out the winnings. Pancake took the front nine and Big Rich got nearest the pin. Gus scooped up the rest for the front and overall.
“Can you give me a lift on Monday?” he said.
“Fine” I said. “Fine”. We left the car park and little club house with its Union Jack fluttering on the breeze. Fine is always fine until life intervenes, like a long lost relative at the reading of the Will.
The weekend was busy with its usual chores. Gardening and shopping. Ironing shirts, changing beds and planning supper. It was the week of the car swap. Daughter No. One headed west to ride across the moors.
“OK if I take your car? Will be back late Sunday night”.
“I need it for golf on Monday”. We shook hands on the deal.
“OK if I borrow your car?” I said to the Golf Police on Saturday. “Just need to drop a present off to someone”.
“Just mind the wing mirrors”.
The wing mirrors were fine. I knew where the button was to pull the mirrors in tight and get through the width restrictions. The proximity beepers went into overdrive but we made it through in one piece.
It was daylight. I didn’t need to know about the lights being on full beam or dipped. The sun was out. I used the wipers to clean the windscreen. I hit the odd wrong button and lever en route to the wipers then pulled over and rang the friend.
“What is the number of your house?”
“Fifty five” she said. “See you soon”. I pulled over and rang again.
“Sorry. What is the name of your road?” It seemed simple. I was five minutes away. A few roundabouts to negotiate and a left turn. I did the roundabouts and turned right.
By the time I reached a church surrounded by fields and a stream, I knew I was lost.
I stopped and asked a walker. He was Polish. We managed hello and goodbye. The next direction giver was Russian. I know some phonetic Russian. I know how to say hello and goodbye. And thank you. I know my sleva (left) from my right (pravo) but the bits inbetween were too tricky. We tried sign language and charades. But it was lost in translation and we left out the bit about the directions and the house opposite the school playing fields.
“Do svidaniya (goodbye). Spasibo drug (thank you friend)”.
I tried to ignore the text which came pinging through.
Fifteen minutes ago you said you would be here in five minutes xx
I rang home.
“Just programme it into the Sat Nav” said the Golf Police.
The answer to my prayers. Above the radio and to the left of the wiper lever. I parked a bit nearer the pavement and turned on the Sat Nav. I programmed in the address. Everything went according to plan. But then something went wrong. The voice told me the route was being calculated. But the words were not English and the symbols on the screen were not the twenty six letters of the English alphabet. There was no Golf- Papa- Charlie. Somehow a button had been pressed. An inadvertent choice made on the menu selection. Another scene lost in translation. And I had no grasp or knowledge. Of Arabic.
I found a postman. Found the house. Delivered the parcel.
That night I took some reading material to bed. To the bed destined for the scrap heap. The bed not of dreams. Or sleep. I read the manual from front to back. Found the section about wipers and cruise control. Full beam. Dipped and side lights. I read about the Sat Nav and made a note to alter the settings. Back to English.
Daughter No. One was delayed in Devon. Along with the horse and the car.
“Don’t worry” she said “I have arranged a taxi”.
“Good luck with the ball spotting” said the Golf Police. He paused by the front door.
Why do you need your clubs if you are ball spotting?” I hunted for an answer.
“There might be time to hit a few balls” I said. There did not seem any point mentioning the eighteen holes to be played before the ball spotting.
The Golf Police went off to find the traffic and the office and the taxi turned up. It was not a golfer’s car. Small. Red. Compact.
“We can do this” said the taxi driver, dismantling the car. The clubs stopped short of the driver’s head rest and the kit bag, shoes and trolley were rammed in the empty spaces. There did not seem to be a good time to tell him about Gus. And his clubs. I sent a text.
Thanks for arranging the taxi. Nice red colour. Shame you didn’t mention about the golf x
Thought you were only ball spotting xx
We decanted from the taxi. Played eighteen and shared the spoils. I left my clubs with the Chef. In a store room with the mayonnaise and custard.
“Look after them Chef” I said. He plays off ten. They were in good hands.
The footballing legends turned up and the teams were drawn out of a hat.
“Got your waterproofs” said Gus looking at the ominous sky.
“There will be no balls lost on my watch” I said to Gus.
We took up our places and proceeded to spot the dimpled ball.
Ball spotting gives a different perspective on the game. To say it was interesting was an understatement. The whole golfing congregation stood on the tee and smacked the dimpled ball. The hookers, the slicers, the toppers, the pushers and pullers. The shankers and the natural swingers. The draw, the fade, the monster drives.
Few balls found the fairway. Some found the wrong fairways. Some the heather. Others the ravine.
“Have you read your course planner?” I asked several groups. Worryingly, they all said yes to the question. Only three out of the whole field had marked their ball. And they were all playing the same make of ball. Except for one rogue top flite.
The wind howled and the rain lashed. The Union Jack on the flag pole danced to the tune of the strong wind. The legends were on good form. Wet but still striking the ball. Fred from Fulham was kind and took the slings and arrows of the game in his stride. With his bad knees. Too many tackles and too many games. He hacked out from the heather and carried the ravine, with a smile. Some legends lost their game. Others knuckled down and found the pars and the fairways.
There was lots of incoming fire from the fairways either side of my hiding place. Several got close. To my right ear. An unmarked titleist. I leapt out of the way, dodged the ball and hit my head on an overhanging branch.
The guilty golfer, dressed in black, walked towards my tree.
“Seen my ball?” he said
“It’s by the zip of my rucksack”.
He smiled and chipped out sideways. I didn’t tell him about the tree or my head.
Only one ball remained firmly lost in the heather. It was not technically a lost ball.
After five and a half long hours of ball spotting, I returned to the club house. Gus and I traded tales of wayward balls. The Boss joined us.
“So how did it go?” he said.
“Fine” I said. “No balls lost on my watch”. The lie was tiny and white.
I didn’t tell him about the missing ball.
We told him about dodging incoming fire. About the rain and howling wind. Watching balls so off beam it was lucky the golfers were not pilots. Or sky divers having a bad day.
“Made me feel better about my game” said Gus.
I got my clubs back from the Chef. My mobile was in the golf bag.
“Someone must want to get hold of you” he said. “Phone never stopped ringing”. He had a ring tone induced migraine.
I checked the call log. All traced to the same number. The Golf Police. I turned the phone off.
Gus changed out his waterproofs and had supper with the legends. He listened to the speeches and listened to a man of courage. A man who saved balls from the back of the net in another life and spoke as a father to the legends and the fans. And the love a father carries for his daughter. A beautiful daughter and the foundation which perpetuated the love between them. A daughter nicknamed ‘Willow’.
I got my taxi home. Not the little red taxi but a seven seater.
The clubs were away and the supper was on when the Golf Police arrived home. He was not happy.
“I have been trying to ring you all day”.
“Have you?” I guessed where this was going and went to find the wine and bottle opener.
“I tried to accelerate in the car today. Nothing happened”. I remembered the fight with the wipers and the cruise control levers.
“Strange” I said.
“And then” he continued. “Then I tried to use the Sat Nav”.
“So you don’t speak Arabic either?”
I put my hands up. Owned up. Innocent until proven guilty.
“Good day?” he said.
I thought about the quick eighteen holes when I took nearest the pin and split the back nine with Big Rich. I thought about the taped knuckles which only hurt on the back swing and follow through part of the swing. I thought about the over clubbing legends with their course planners and wayward tee shots. The balls in the ravine and the incoming fire from the ninth and tenth tee. The tree, the ball and my head. I thought about Fred and young Tom who lent me the brolley when the Noah’s ark rain hammered from the heavens.
And then I thought about the golfer and the missing ball. The golfer who was not a legend. Just someone who ignored a humble ball spotter. I was not asking for a papal blessing. Just eye contact. A smile. Passing the time of day. Instead I got diffidence. And so I took my revenge.
I watched the ball when it was struck. I followed its flight. Saw it land. And then looked the other way and turned the other cheek. So there were no balls lost on my watch.
But mainly I thought about the man of courage, who spoke from his heart. A Gunners man who wore the red of Arsenal. And the day belonged to him. And to beautiful Willow.
“Yes” I said quietly. “A very good day”.