It was an invitation to heaven. Come and play six courses in Thailand and write an article about the experience. Business class flight, top hotel accommodation and a guide to make sure the tourist delights of Bangkok and Pattaya were fully appreciated. Heaven indeed. And some.
Things were going swimmingly, mostly because I was drenched in sweat, and then we reached the third hole on the first course. A ‘half way house.’ WHAT?
This miserable, misconstrued and misconceived concept was supposed to be limited to South Africa. But my misery was cut away as surgically as the chef had dealt with the fresh crayfish the night before. The hiatus lasted barely a minute and comprised an ice-cold, mint aroma face towel, a glass of iced something-or-other and a pickled onion. No, I didn’t understand the last bit either.
Similar pit stops took place every three holes. What joy. It was hotter than a Bethesda braai and the local replenishment customs transformed ‘the beautiful game’ from a survival exercise into a unique leisure-meets-culinary culture-and-exercise expedition. At the fourth replenishment station we had iced lemon grass tea. I think.
The South African half way house is the greatest scourge on the game in our country. It is truly an embarrassment to entertain guests from anywhere else in the world. Is the intention to play golf, or have lunch? Or a hangover-induced full English breakfast?
The only time in my life I shot an even-par 36 for nine holes was on Milnerton’s links. It was downwind, I admit. My partners had played considerably less well and comforted themselves with bacon and cheese toasted sandwiches, a wretched burger of some sort and chicken curry. I made do with a banana and a large portion of sulky anxiety. Fourteen minutes later we resumed. It felt like 40.
The tenth at Milnerton is a par-five with a pond in front of the tee extending about 30 metres. My drive barely made it halfway. Half bloody way.
Who the hell eats chicken curry half way through any sport? Even cricketers have started eating salads and drinking protein concoctions at lunch time these days. What the hell are we doing?
Such is my detestation of this miserable custom that I have started choosing my partners on the basis that they are not people seeking to combine an N2 greasy breakfast with exercise and a chance to ‘catch up’, either socially or professionally.
It would be tolerable, even acceptable, if golfers had the option of a ‘grab-and-go’, a la Thailand, but the last time I asked to move through the field I was verbally assaulted by a furiously indignant man who was still waiting for his second course. Or third, or whatever.
The professionals all seem to agree, too. Director of golf at prestigious Steenberg, Jason Bird, says: “It’s a ridiculous custom that only exists in South Africa. We’ve tried to make it sandwiches only but it just takes one member to insist on having his bacon and eggs and that’s that,” Bird says with a calmly disgusted shrug of the shoulders.
The professional at my own club, Kevin Booysen, says the same thing: “It should be a grab-and-go, or put vending machines next to the tee. It takes three and a half hours to play a round in the rest of the world but we seem to add an hour because the half-way stop is never just ten minutes. It just takes one guy to complain about his toasted chicken mayo and the other 120 have to wait. Golf is about rhythm but we can feel like we’re playing two different rounds.”
It certainly was at Milnerton that day. Seven pars, a birdie and a bogey. The hair on my arms was standing up as I walked off the ninth green. On the tenth tee it was standing up on the back of my neck. I needed to hit the ball nine more times on the back nine than I had on the front. 36-45. And all because people can’t be bothered to feed themselves before they get to the course.
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