Coincidences, the number 50 and one small lie to wrap things up nicely

Fifty is an amazing number. The ol’ half-century, the big fiddy, the… uh…

Wow. There is a gaping dearth of slang terms for the big five-oh. Strange, because it’s such an amazing number.

Fifty is the number of cents it apparently takes to be a famous rapper. It’s approximately the number of awful new TV shows that my girlfriend discovers and tortures me with every month. If they walked that many miles, The Proclaimers would’ve been a tenth of the way to that door they’d so eagerly fall at. Unless they walked five hundred more.

Most notably – for me, anyway – is that fifty is the score I shot when I played nine holes of golf this weekend past at Green Fairways.

I’m not a great golfer. I’m not even a good golfer. My swing bears an uncanny resemblance to a drunken man trying to hold onto a greased broomstick as he falls down a flight of stairs. But I love playing. About a year after I started playing, I was shooting sub-fifty scores over nine holes. That was nearly 15 years ago. The memories of those rounds have haunted me since; a reminder of the dizzying heights of not-altogether-crap-ness that I might have eventually scaled if I had spent more time on the course. I believed then – and still, perhaps deludedly, do now – that deep down inside me, there is a round of 80 just waiting to be be unleashed on an unsuspecting course. An easy course, of course. But that’s golf for you: the 87 god-awful shots you hit in your last round weren’t nearly as indicative of your true potential as the 19 that went straight and didn’t take four minutes of searching through knee-high grass to find.

That’s why I was happy when I shot 50 last weekend, the first time I’ve done so since I stopped playing regularly around ten years ago. Funny coincidence, that…

Back then, I was at my local muni at least three times a week. I lacked a steady supply of funds at that time but I was always desperate to play so I often spent hours chipping and pitching for free on the practice green, the one that had a small “No chipping or pitching” sign that I never seemed to notice till I was done. After a year of conscientious devotion, I became distracted by work, family and the sheer thrill of wasting time frivolously. Eventually, I was reduced to playing once every couple of months, sometimes less. I eventually hit a spell where I didn’t own clubs and went for an entire year without playing. But, despite the lack of effort, I loved playing. Still do.

After shooting 10 on the first hole last weekend – blech – I hit a short but decent five wood that split the very narrow fairway on the 214m second hole, pulling up just short of the bunker sitting rudely in the middle of the fairway up near the green. My mud-splattered ball led to a poor pitch which left me a couple of metres off the green and about five metres from the flag. My third shot was one of those that came off the club so sweetly that I just knew it was going to give me something to get mildly upset over later when my girlfriend, who cares little about golf but loves me enough to at least feign interest rather poorly, would probably feign interest a little more poorly than I would’ve liked. The ball steadily rolled its way to the hole and ended up rattling inside the cup.

Birdie.

It was the second strange coincidence of the day because, while I can recall quite a few chips-ins during those glorious first couple of years of playing – I can recall every single one of them, actually – I haven’t done it since I stopped practicing avidly.

On the next hole, a very short par-three, my tee shot landed about eight feet right of the flag, safely in the centre of the green where I had aimed it, but an unseen ridge steered it gently towards the hole and, for a few exhilarating seconds, it threatened to go in. It would’ve been the first hole-in-one of my life. Golfers know that a hole in one is 99% luck but that wouldn’t have stopped me from having an engraving on my headstone commemorating the moment: “Here lies a dingy hacker on whose arse the sun once shined as he scored a hole-in-one at a course in Singapore you’ve never heard of.”

Birdies to poor golfers are like sedated, pre-plucked tweety birds to hungry puddy tats. I was happy to snag one, but two? I was elated. I don’t think I’ve had back-to-back birdies in a decade which is, coincidentally, around the same time that I stopped practicing avidly. The coincidences are piling up…

I had a so-so round off the tee after that but my short game and my short irons held up in much the same way that a man with a water pistol holds up a service station. I ended up on the ninth green with a five foot putt for a shaky 49. Nervous about shooting a sub-50 round for the first time in over a decade, I missed by an inch. I happily settled for my first 50 in a very long time.

I feel rejuvenated! I want to practice again and work on my game. I’m excited and ready to spoil a few good walks with more sub-fifty (forty, even?) rounds. I feel like bumping my monthly hack up to a weekly bash with time around the practice green on the side but I’ll be going back to Green Fairways because golf in Singapore is expensive. But a round of golf at Green Fairways? It only costs – you guessed it – $50.

Strange coincidence, no?

Post-script: the round of golf actually cost $55 but that would’ve made for a pretty poor ending to this post. But the rest is true. Trust me, no one would ever actually lie about being as bad at golf as I am. 

What golf is really all about: A hacker’s perspective

Golf in Singapore is expensive. For the cost of four rounds at most places here, you could buy a set of clubs. Literally. That’s why many golfers here – both good ones and hackers (not-so-good ones) – opt for cheaper rounds in Johor Baru, which is just over the other side of the Malaysian border, or on the Indonesian islands of Bintan and Batam which are both less than an hour away on a ferry. For around half the price of a round of golf in Singapore, you get a ferry ticket to Batam or Bintan, transfers to and from the ferry terminal and caddies who know their greens in the same intimate way that fifteen year old girls know the lyrics to all of Justin Bieber’s songs.

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This weekend I played golf at Batam’s Tering Bay GC with my mate Duncan. We’re not exactly threatening to grab the PGA Tour by the neck to shake loose a swag of trophies but we enjoy playing. And that’s what golf’s really about: the chance to play a sport you love with your mates, to get a little competitive and to drink copious amounts of beer without having your girlfriend constantly saying “Another one? How will you post about this on your blog if you don’t remember any of it?”

Although it’ll never host a PGA tour event, Tering Bay GC is a nice course. It doesn’t have many of the elevation changes that I personally think make a golf course a little more interesting but the layout is very polite and courteous to hackers like me. Its wide fairways forgive wayward shots, its slow greens won’t punish you heavily for putting a little too much pepper on your putts and it’s not entirely shrouded in thick, ball-hungry jungle like some of the other courses on Batam and Bintan.

IMG_5494We decided on a matchplay format to determine who would be crowned Best Player Within A Fifty Metre Radius. Matchplay is great padding for the egos of not-so-great golfers because you can shoot seven on a par three and still have a chance of winning the hole.

My playing partner, Duncan, was hitting the ball well but he was frustrated. He was spending more time in the sand than the cast of Baywatch. His ball found bunker after bunker and, understandably, it was getting to him.

Jackfruit

Jackfruit growing on the course. The flora and fauna on Indonesian courses is, at the very least,  interesting. At worst, it’s fanged and possibly poisonous.

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Friendly local kids from villages bordering the course were cheering us on with cries of “Bagus!” (“Good!”) when we’d hit a decent shot. Lesser efforts were met with giggles.

Swearing like a Scotsman – because he is a Scotsman and that’s the only way Scotsmen know how to swear – he was cursing the sport of golf from top to tail. He angrily teed up his ball at the par-three sixteenth after a poor performance on the fifteenth. He swung and connected well but as it soared towards the green, it veered just a little too far left and found a greenside bunker. He was about twenty five feet from the hole and chest-deep in the sand trap. Frustrated and looking forward to beers after the round, I think he stopped caring what happened.  I, on the other hand, was only trailing by a hole and saw my chance to wrench victory from his sweaty grasp.

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The local wildlife. Seeing monitor lizards – much bigger than this cute little thing, mind you – is pretty standard on golf courses in the region.

I stopped watching him as I thought about my shot. ‘I’ve got this hole’, I thought to myself. I was studying the green closely when he swung and fired it out of the bunker. I looked up to see the ball snaking its way towards the general vicinity of the hole.  “Nice shot,” I said to him as the ball edged closer to the hole. Seeing that it was actually going to end up very close to the hole, I repeated myself, this time with verve. “Nice shot!”

Then it trickled into the hole. Duncan, that #$%@.

It was an amazing shot, not least of all because I know he was in the throes of a palpable rage and that’s when it’s toughest to perform well.

Was he happy? See for yourself:

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High fives, hugs, gleeful swearing and a huge swig of beer from our cans followed. And that’s what golf is really, really about: beer and swearing. It was beautiful.

Bintang Beer.

Bintangs, fresh from the cooler. On a hot Indonesian afternoon, they’re absolute gold.

We were in pretty good spirits and with reason. Cans of Bintang are three for $12 there (a pint costs $18 in Singapore), we had a good round of golf on a sunny Sunday at a nice course in Indonesia and, despite our complete lack of skill, each of us had a handful of the type of shots that give you a glimpse of what it would be like if you actually bothered to practice. And that’s what golf’s actually really, really about: eyeing that next level of performance and striving for it.

If you’re in Singapore and keen for a round of golf, Batam, Bintan and Johor Baru are definitely worth checking out, not only for the price but for the range of courses on offer.

But don’t play with Duncan. He’s likely to pull another shot like that out of his #$%@ and when he does, he will hug you, soaking you in litres of sweat.

Me? Dirty on that lucky #$%@? Can’t imagine what would make anyone think that. And that’s what golf’s really, really, really all about: hating your mates for having beaten you despite their ability to find nearly every bloody bunker on the course. Really.