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Warm Winter Golfing and a Happy New Year

Dermot Gilleece looks back on some warming winter golf tales

Posted Jan 03, 2013 by Dermot Gilleece

winter golf

Frozen fairways can provoke intense feelings of deprivation among golfing devotees at this time of year, though course closures are more likely to be attributed to flooding, given the way the weather has been in recent weeks.  On the other hand, modern travel makes it possible to enjoy the best of two worlds during the festive season, while meeting some very interesting people along the way.

Still, it seemed decidedly odd to be sitting in short sleeves in a clubhouse bar, drinking a cold drink and listening to "Silent Night" from the club Tannoy. This was the North Shore GC outside Auckland, New Zealand, where I had the pleasure of a delightful round of golf back in the winter of 1998.

When I remarked on the excellent condition of the course, club official, Maurice Boland, explained that it was playing host to the country's leading amateur event, the Interprovincial Tournament, over six days the following week. Also at North Shore, I met the remarkable Bob Glading, then a sprightly 78-year-old reinstated amateur with a very useful game off five-handicap. Which became easier to understand when I learned of his victories as an amateur in the New Zealand Open of 1946 and 1947 and then in the PGA Championship of 1948, after he had turned professional.

"While on tour in South Africa in 1959, I met Max McCreadie, who was then a member of Royal Johannesburg," he said, recalling the former Irish international who famously won the British Amateur at Portmarnock in 1949. "He was a delightful man and a very fine golfer and thinking about him makes me regret never having had the pleasure of playing golf in Ireland."

Later in January, Paul McGinley will be savouring the New Year in similarly balmy temperatures in Abu Dhabi.  He will also be hoping that his colleagues on the European Tour’s Tournament Committee give him the nod as their Ryder Cup captain for Gleneagles in 2014.  In the meantime, McGinley can take great joy in the memory of traditional winter holidays in Dunfanaghy, County Donegal, when he was an eager teenager learning his craft.

"I remember the ground being so hard with frost, that one of the guys brought a screwdriver with him to make holes for the tees on the par threes," he recalled.  "He was a past captain of the club, Bernard Hanlon, who was a fine player and a regular competitor in the West of Ireland Championship.

"Though the screwdriver did its job, with all four of us using the same hole, it was a bit of a farce, really.  I wouldn't do it now.  I'd be afraid of an injury from slipping in the frost.  Or of losing confidence by hitting shots off hard ground.  Perhaps I'm getting soft with the passing years."  He went on: "Normally on Christmas Day, I'd play after mass with my dad, my brother Michael and maybe with my mother, if she could spare the time from preparing dinner.  Happy times at Dunfanaghy."

Before bidding goodbye to this special season, we should also acknowledge it as a time of profound tragedy.  We're told that on Christmas Eve, 1875, Young Tom Morris bade goodnight to his parents.  And that on the following morning, Christmas morning, Old Tom heard his son stirring.  But Tommy failed to appear for breakfast, and on going to his room, his father found him dead, his lips smeared with blood.

A postmortem concluded that at 24, he had died of a burst blood vessel of the right lung.  Many of his contemporaries, however, believed it was of a broken heart, after the death of his wife Margaret in childbirth, only three months previously.

We finish on a brighter note, more appropriate to the season.  And our little chuckle is provided by a story of acute frustration from the typewriter of celebrated golfing scribe, Henry Longhurst.  It concerns a Christmas fourball in which his opponents were the vicar of Northampton and "a gentleman whose complexion indicated either good living or shortness of temper, or both."

It seems that the vicar and his partner were in contention until the 17th where, in attempting a short pitch over a greenside bunker, he with the complexion lifted his head and duffed the ball feebly into the sand.  As Longhurst recalled: "The man raised his niblick to heaven. 'Bastard!', he cried, and 'bastard' and 'bastard!'

"Then, pulling himself up with a jerk, he began to make embarrassed apologies.  The vicar's reply remains in my mind as though it were yesterday. 'Brother,' he said, slowly and gently. 'The provocation was ample.'"

Happy New Year.

- Dermot Gilleece

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