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Fast Golf

Imagine Golf CLub's Dermot Gilleece muses on fast rounds, 24hr golf and the etiquette of brisk play

Posted Jun 29, 2009 by Dermot Gilleece

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                    Let us consider fast golf.  The thought is prompted by a heated argument in my golf club at the weekend over slow play.  While all sorts of solutions were being offered by serious, well-meaning practitioners of our favourite game, I remained steadfast in my belief that the problem could be attributed largely to one, simple human weakness:  selfishness.

                    No, I'm not suggesting that this is also the case in the professional game, where putting on seriously slick greens can play hell with time-keeping.  I'm talking about normal, social golf where there's an increasing tendency for players to ignore a fundamental of etiquette by having those in the next group stand impatiently, waiting for each shot.

                    So, having offered the solution, as in eliminating selfishness from our approach to the game, I hope to further brighten your spirits by recalling some notable, speedy play.  Incidentally, I loved that one from Gordon Strachan last season when, on being asked by a reporter if he could have a quick word, the then Celtic manager mischievously replied: "Velocity."

                    In the 1992 Players Championship at Sawgrass, John Daly and Mark Calcavecchia thought they would take advantage of being first off the tee for the final round.  So, they showed even the early-bird spectators two clean pairs of heels, by covering the 6,896-yard stretch in two hours and three minutes. 

                    As it happened, Daly scored 80 and his partner had an 81 to fill 72nd and last places in the championship, respectively.  And though Brad Faxon and Bob Estes both had 78s soon afterwards, the two front-runners were fined by the PGA Tour for allegedly failing to apply themselves properly to the challenge.

                    Interestingly, Daly had Scott Verplank as his partner when the US finished second to England in the final staging of the World Cup under its old format, at Gulf Harbour, New Zealand in 1998.  One of the reasons cited for a change of format was that players were frustrated and unhappy about playing six-hour rounds. 

                    Isn't tournament golf fascinating?  Especially when one notes that on June 14th, 1922, a round was played at St Andrews in one hour, 20 minutes.  That was when local-born Jock Hutchison, who covered the front nine in 37 strokes, went on to beat trick-shot expert Joe Kirkwood of Australia in a challenge match.

                    You may be surprised to hear that speed records in golf are still popular, mainly as a means of raising money for charity.  But with the globalisation of the game, there is now an even greater interest in golfing feats of endurance.

                    It struck me as a fascinating challenge when I happened to be in Iceland in 1981 to cover the staging of the European Junior Team Championship in Reykjavik.  That's where 24-hour golf becomes a perfectly reasonable challenge in almost constant daylight at the height of summer.

                    So it came as no real surprise to me 10 years later to learn of a remarkable feat by four British golfers, Simon Gard, Nick Harley and brothers Patrick and Alastair Maxwell.   On the 18-hole stretch at Iceland's Akureyri club, which has the most northerly course in the world, they completed 14 rounds in one day, thereby raising £10,000 for charity.

                    Against this background, it is clearly difficult to do something noteworthy in terms of holes played on the one day.  But one can only aspire to beat the best around, and this is what two members of Ireland's most westerly club, Ceann Sibeal, did on 6th August 1998.

                    Setting off at 6.30am - you'll note they don't believe in overdoing the early-rising thing in that part of the world - the modest objective of the vice-captain of the year, Vincent O'Connor, and the 1996 Ceann Sibeal captain, Richie Williams, was to set a new Kerry record of 100 holes.  Having accomplished this by 6.35pm, however, they set their sights on the national record of 108 holes in a day, which was established at Luttrellstown Castle in 1996.

                    With an Atlantic mist gathering over the nearby Blasket Islands, the Irish record had been secured by 7.25pm and the intrepid duo still felt strong enough to complete a further 18.  So it was that to the cheers of members and equally excited visitors to the club's 25th anniversary celebrations, they took their total of holes to 126 before darkness closed in on the Dingle Peninsula.

                    Finally, there was the occasion when I called into Royal Dublin at midday to have lunch with a friend.  Just setting off the first tee as we headed for the restaurant were resident professional Christy O'Connor Snr and one of his twin sons, Peter.

                    When we emerged from the clubhouse after lunch at 2.10pm, father and son were in the process of completing their round on the 18th green.  O'Connor Snr was in his late sixties at the time, with no thought of setting any records.   Brisk play was simply second-nature to his generation.

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