Saturday: It’s been a long couple of weeks with so much on my mind. At the very forefront is my mum, who got rushed to hospital and has had an emergency operation two weeks ago. I haven’t slept very well since and quite frankly, my thoughts are anywhere but minigolf. With my regular northern travel companion called into work, I get to travel to Nottingham for the English Open without going via anywhere. For the second time this year, I strike an animal on the way, although I think the pigeon may have survived flying into my car bonnet. I didn’t look back to check.
For me, other than my local course, Nottingham is the easiest track to get to at around an hour and a quarter. My resentment of paying over the odds for car parking kicks in once again and I find a street around ten minutes walk away. The Lost City course has once again very kindly provided a closed practice session for a few hours and although the length of it varies on how busy the complex gets, it is still appreciated. I get down to the repetition of practice, changing my approach on just one of the holes, the long 12th. Since the introduction of a flipper on the side wall, a lot of people are now taking a different option and going for a safer two. It’s still a beast if you get it wrong. Training is going well and you know when you’re in a groove, the hole just looks like a yawning chasm. My scored rounds are extraordinary. No drop shots with a worst of 28 and a best of 23. Yes, a 23. And I missed two of the easier ones. It is my finest practice lap since the 22 in Dublin last year.
The session had been very light hearted and for the back end of it, I teamed up with Scott for a few rounds. We’re of a similar era and have a habit of breaking out into song. Famously once at Bluewater, where the piped teeny bopper music got the better of us, and almost at Margate, where we performed a medley of Prince songs after he died. This time, it was Eighties TV themes. There is nothing like the sight of grown men bellowing out the theme to Willy Fogg. Nothing I tell you. The course becomes open to the public shortly after 11am and starts to fill up. Although it is good to see the facility in heavy use, it doesn’t become much fun and so I leave to grab a Subway.
I had back to Ed’s in Leicester, around thirty miles away. I get changed and we’re straight off down the ‘donkey shop’ (the bookies) for a collection of worthless bits of paper. The plan is to watch the football scores come in. Ed finds a pub called The Winchester, just like the one in the film ‘Shaun Of The Dead’. I don’t care if it takes time to get there, I’ve always wanted to say I’m heading to The Winchester, wait for all of this to blow over. Life box ticked. Later on, Bob makes his way over and we round off the night at the local steakhouse. The waitress had been talkative all night. She asks of our plans for later. “We’re off to bed”, I say. “We’re professional sportsmen.” She chuckles. Yes, lady. You’ve just been serving a couple of British internationals in a sport that no one outside of the sphere takes seriously. All in a days work as a minigolfer.
Sunday: The one day of the year that we lose time, we have to get up and go play some minigolf. Naturally, I’m up and out of bed. Ed is gradually getting used to being ready on time. Bob, on the other hand, claimed to be awake. To be fair, he gets ready immensely quickly. It’s a beautiful morning and for once this year, reasonably warm. Just the right time to be heading into the sauna at Lost City. The groups had been ‘drawn’ the night before and I’m really pleased to be partnered by my great mate, Andy ‘Bacon’ Exall and his son, Matty. My practice hadn’t gone so well, I’m feeling strangely tense today. When I feel tense, I struggle with the precise, controlled shots. I just can’t get hole six going at all.
The first round starts well. Beginning at hole seven, I confidently stroke an ace. I completely mishit hole eight but with a bounce and a roll, that’s in too. Then hole nine too. Maybe this is my day.
Spoke too soon. I top my tee off at the tenth twice for a three. Way to bring me back down again. The rest of the round is frustrating, most putts get within a foot of the cup. I have played well, I didn’t need to refer to my notes once so that represents some form of success. A 33 here won’t be challenging. Michael has a 26 and Ed a 28. I need a steadying round. Although I go clean, making four of the holes I class as a bonus, I fail to really put a charge in and end with a 31, leaving me in fifth spot. Still, I’ve had a great time with Bacon and the piglet.
The final round will live long for a number of reasons. The main one being a protest by one of the competitors. I won’t expand on what happened and although they may have felt wronged, their reaction was out of order. There is a time and place for a protest and it is not at the detriment of everyone else. I’d like to think if I did that, I’d be suspended for a number of tournaments. The atmosphere noticeably dropped, some players losing concentration, some going for a wander to chat with others, one even practiced yoga. By the time everything was back up and running, I had managed to push myself into a podium spot with a fine selection of recovery shots and my teammate, Ed, was level with Michael.
The final hole brought back memories of the 2017 event, when leading by one, I took a four and lost in a playoff. Once again, the ball slides off the wall behind the rock. I decide not to be brave this time and take a three. It leaves me tied in third so I will be in a playoff with Ruth. I watch Michael and Ed finish. Down by one, Ed aces the last and although Michael overhits his tee shot, he buries a four footer to go to extra holes. This tournament has seen its fair share of drama in its short lifespan and this would be another chapter.
I win the toss and elect to go first, trying to apply the pressure. I miss the rebound shot by a couple of inches. I have a plan for in playoffs if I go first. If I make the putt, I’ll leave my case alone. If I don’t, I’ll pick it up and move to the next hole. It works. Ruth misses left. At the second, Ruth clips the rock and leaves herself a twelve foot putt, which she misses right. Two for the win, I only need one. We both wanted to say that we enjoyed the round. Circumstances outside of our control meant we couldn’t. Michael won at the first extra hole. At the back end of an event, down the stretch, he really is cold blooded.
After the presentations, myself, Ed, Bob and Henri retire to the Three Crowns man creche across the road for a roast dinner. This pub still can’t get parnsips right. It’s become a traditional way to wind down, not the greatest bar but it’s the first one we see when leaving. On the way home, my whole weekend falls apart. I speak to my mum who has taken a turn for the worse (although at the time of writing, she has improved). I’m instantly numb. In my five years of competitive minigolf, minigolf has take over my life. I adore it. Moments like this remind me that there is more to life than minigolf. There is the very essence of life which is life itself.
Ruth Burke passes the time with some impromptu yoga. (picture credit: Steve Lovell)