Friday: “Is there a service stop nearby, I really need to go?” My passenger, to protect his identity, let’s call him ‘Saddam’, is busting, after downing three pints in Huntingdon, waiting for me to finish work. “About twenty miles, mate,” I reply. “OK, don’t make me laugh and get there quick.” We reach Birchanger Services and ‘Saddam’ makes a quick march, complaining about the toilets being situated at the other end of the building. From there, we continue on our way to Worthing, familiar territory for me as it was once my hometown, and for the British Minigolf Association as the course at Splash Point has become the regular home of the Masters, one of the biggest challenges on the tour.
We reach Worthing around 8.30 pm and I deposit ‘Saddam’ safely at his hotel on the seafront. Next stop is the neighbouring village of Lancing for my base for the weekend. My parents. I’m greeted lovingly by the dog, by my mum with food and my dad with a beer. I rush to get my laptop out so I can watch the second half of the QPR – Brighton match. I’m a huge Albion fan and for once in my adult life, it looks like we’re going to the big time. After last month’s debacle with the old laptop, I have to reload Sky onto the new one, thus missing all the goals. But it doesn’t matter. Brighton wins. I spend the rest of the night watching my mum fall asleep on the sofa and listen to my dad putting the world to rights. It’s been a long day and indeed, a long few weeks as I have been to Romania and back. Tomorrow will be my first day off in twenty. With that in mind, I hit the pillow and fall straight to sleep.
Saturday: Blast, I’m up far too early but there is a knock at the door and mum comes in with a cup of tea and asks if I have brought any washing down with me. I’m home again. After an early sea mist, the sun burns through and it is glorious outside. All the thermal clothing I have brought along is redundant. Mum drops me to the course and dad said he will pick me up after going to see rugby in the afternoon. Perfect. I get to the course around 9.30 am to find course owner Anthony Pope sweeping up mown grass and ‘Saddam’ picking a few balls out. I haven’t played here since July and I need to remember how to play it (all my notes were on the old laptop) so I spend the next two hours adjusting to the quick pace of the felt and trying a few new shots out. It is more beastly than I can remember and my first practice round is a shocker. Probably just as well my godson and his family make an appearance and we head to a local pub.
After some light refreshment and finding some old friends, it’s back to the course where another old friend joins me for a round. For me, Worthing is more than just a tournament, it’s a homecoming. Any minute, I am likely to bump into someone I know. The next to turn up is my club mate Charlie Dart. We pair up and work on a few shots. Charlie hasn’t played since the last Masters but I have to admit, he’s got a solid stroke and a good putting brain. I genuinely feel he is a top prospect for the near future. It’s nearing 5 pm and dad calls to say he’s on his way. I gather up my possessions, which crucially didn’t include sun lotion.
I get in the car and dad tells me about his day, which hasn’t gone well. His team have lost by over fifty points at the rugby but there is always a chance to redeem yourself when you have bets on the Grand National. No win there either, but my football bets come in and I’m up £35. The plan for the evening is the same as every pre-Masters with an open invite to my friends to join me at the local micropub, the Stanley Ale House in Lancing. First there is once a year minigolfer, Steve Ragless, who is father to my other godson. We chew the fat for a while before some others join me. It’s a nice chance to just relax before the heat of the competition. The star of the night is my dog, who howls for pizza. We knew he did, just no one else in the building did. A wander home on a warm night and one final beer before the impending ominous challenge of the British Masters.
Sunday: Here we go then. My normal routine for the Sunday at the Masters is a fry up at the Farmhouse Grill just north of the railway line with Steve Ragless and Ed Pope but seeing as it is just me this year, my mum delivers an immaculate breakfast. I say my goodbyes, I’ll be down again for Easter to see the rest of the family but minigolf will now take over. Yesterday, only about a dozen had made the practice day with hotels at a premium due to the Brighton marathon being on the same day. As I make it, I see Paul refereeing the first round matchplay tie between Terry Exall and Seve Kukielka, which becomes the earliest a competitive round of minigolf has ever taken place. Since the Welsh Open, I have given up scoring practice rounds on the day of a tournament. It gives me a false dawn if I put a cracker in. I’m happier for having the extra day lapping Splash Point, it is a course which has its rewards but way more pitfalls. I spend the last five minutes applying sun cream to my calf muscles, which are a particular shade of crimson.
My partners for the first two rounds are Cindy Kukielka and Sam Childs, who is handicapped by refusing to take off his back pack. After a steady couple of holes, I hit a bad patch on the turn at holes four and five, dropping three shots. I know there are aces out there and I hit six in eight holes. Always nice. After my start, I was looking to get back under par so 34 is a minor triumph, just two off the lead held by Derek and Nuno. Round two and we start at hole ten. I’m on a bit of a run here, having made my last three tee shots here. The tenth is notoriously tricky and rarely gives up ones. I ace the practice shot, and then the actual shot. It’s just mindboggling. Only one other person would ace it as well. The rest of the round is one of my more placid affairs but I close it out well, hitting a 32. It’s good enough for third place. Time for lunch and I have the baked camembert, which Nuno remarks that I had the same last year.
We go into the last two rounds in reverse leaderboard order and I’m in the top group with Nuno and Will. The advantage for me is I get to go first. That way, I control the pace of the round, which is brisk. It also allows me to turn the thumbscrews. I get through the first four in level before I explode. I hit one of the biggest purple patches of my career scoring SIX in a row, including the tenth. AGAIN! With this, and the accompanying dance, I have overturned a five shot deficit and now led. Nuno recovers well and by the end, is in front by three. I swap places with Will as I try and catch the putter from Portugal. I genuinely think I can pull this off. Three shots around Splash Point can be just a matter of a one hole. It is so demanding on the mind. There was some light relief as Nuno played a shot from the bushes on the sixth with myself and Will holding back the foliage with our putters. That is the spirit of the BMGA, right there.
On the first in the last round, Nuno immediately flings the door wide open with his bogey hole only to shut it again by the eighth. The crucial moment is on the ninth when Nuno leaves the hardest putt on the course and for a moment, it’s game on. However, he hits a wonderful recovery and all but seals the victory. I’ve been pushing so hard and mentally switch off, as demonstrated by my woeful tee shot on the 16th. I’ve been caught and passed by ‘Saddam’ and with that, I drop out of the medals. The pay off for doing so is to collect the aces prize, with twenty one over four rounds. Not bad, Sheila. Not bad.
On the way home, ‘Saddam’ checks his train time from Huntingdon and we need to get there by 7.32 pm, which shouldn’t have been a problem. Unfortunately, all the day trippers to the coast are leaving too and we are at a crawl. Now the real drama begins, as the SatNav readjusts to our delays. This is going to be so close. We reach the turning with six minutes left and cross our fingers all the lights are green. As I pull into Huntingdon station, the train pulls away. ‘Saddam’ will have to wait another hour.
*apologies to ‘Saddam’ but it was the only name I could think of that rhymed with Adam. Blast.