Tuesday: With the bags packed, I would have liked to have got home on time from work but the drivers of Cambridgeshire had other ideas by driving into one another. Whatever slight hope I had of visiting my mum in hospital had extinguished but getting to see dad late in the evening drove me on. What lay ahead was a mix of family, mileage and minigolf, two of which were my first loves.
Wednesday: I woke up before the alarm, I had been restless for most of the night. I couldnít visit my mum until 2pm so I took the opportunity to go to Hastings, the home of the first major of the year, in the morning. It was a cloudless sky and the sea was eerily calm. For the first time, I have a role to play in the running of an event as I have filled a vacancy at the executive committee. I had been notified on the journey down south. I am keen to prove that it is not the thankless poisoned chalice that some have warned me about and hope that a fresh, energetic outlook while trying to pacify most factions. I am congratulated by everyone on the course who is taking part. I hope to serve all fairly and with compassion and understanding. Aside from the politics, I tear up a number of my notes for the course, spending three hours making surgical changes.
Around midday, I head off to Guildford to see mum in hospital. Itís been Easter since I last saw mum, part of the perils of living away from the area I grew up in. We spend around two hours just chatting as mother and son. She has improved from when I last saw her but is still being built up with energy supplements through a drip for an operation. As I leave, I take a photo of us and mum is well enough to walk me to the lift. On the way home, I donít say a word. The occasional tear negotiates its way from my eye.
After twelve hours on the go, I put my head down for a short while and spend the rest of the evening supping a beer or two, re-writing my notes, hoping to hatch a plan to finally have a decent result at the British Championship.
Thursday: Today is a family day, helping dad around the house with a few chores before the eighty mile round trip through The Downs to see mum. In the morning, I collect the new range of polo shirts for my club, the Sussex Wasps. Weíve had a few new members since 2016 when I last got some kit. The current range was now discontinued so we now have the Ďkit for lifeí. A bright yellow Ďfirstí option (think Newcastle United away kit from 2009 and go even brighter) and a black Ďsecondí option. I give my players the insensitive to pick the colour scheme for the next tournament by becoming the top Wasp in this one. As I was top Wasp last time, weíre black for Saturday and yellow for Sunday.
I drive dad to the hospital and we spend some quality time with mum. I finish off one of my mumís puzzles, while a nutritionist talks through the process of recovery and a timescale. She is very reassuring at a difficult time, giving us hope that one day soon, mum can return home again. The evening is spent in my dadís favourite haunt, a reconverted launderette which is now a micropub. He wins the beer raffle. It is also a chance to see some friends from yesteryear, which is always a good reason to come back to the motherland.
Friday: A rarity. I sleep through to the alarm. See, I can do it. I want to beat the traffic into Hastings, so I say goodbye to dad and the dog. This one isnít easy for me, so much has changed in our lives over the past two months. I fully appreciate the wedding vows, in sickness and in health. Now, I am in the minigolf bubble for the first major of the year. The weather is once again outstanding, banishing the tepid spring we had been suffering. Normal service would be resumed on Saturday. Gathering at the course, it is a time to reconnect with friends. With myself now on the executive committee, I am keen to make a good impression and although I have previously fallen out with some members of the tour, whatís in the past stays in the past. Iíve only ever wanted the best for minigolf, whether you are a seasoned visitor or a curious bystander, I want people to see the joy it has brought me over five years and to share my enthusiasm.
Since I last played a tournament here, I now have run screaming into the 21st century and got a smart phone. The previous one was a relic but it did for what I wanted. I downloaded the Hastings Adventure Golf app and used it to track scores. It is really user friendly for a luddite like me and didnít drain the battery life. Win win. A large proportion of the field arrive by the early afternoon, including my vice captain, Derek. Weíre challenged by James and Martin to a matchplay doubles and we duly punish them, 6 and 4. With the changes Iíve made in my grip, rather bizarrely, this seems to have controlled my anxiety. It has to be psychological but at least on the course, I may be starting to win this battle.
After ten hours, I check into the hotel, Pier 61 on the seafront. I often say I just want somewhere I can crash for the night and thatís about the most redeeming feature. The TV doesnít work, the bathrooms are on a different level and Iíve been in bigger garden sheds. You get what you pay for but I at least expect it to resemble the photos. The rest of my night is dictated by the usual late evening arrival of Ed so I stay in the pub until around 10.30pm. As he is making his debut for Britain next month, it gives me pleasure to present his kit. Ed is the most excited person going and he still canít quite believe its real.
Saturday: Our night in Fawlty Towers is uncomfortable and I have a headache. I wake up at 5.40am to discover Ed has already got up and showered. It gives us a chance to get to the course and settle into the day. Unsure of quite what to expect in my new role, I immediately get to work on chalking out the tee off areas. The one thing I donít want to do is wait to be told something needs attending to. I chat with anyone during my task, shaking every hand wishing them good luck for the weekend, which is relaxing to my regular routine of shutting myself off. Weíre promised indifferent conditions today, even the forecasters canít make up their mind. Shortly before 10am and our start time, the first drops start to fall.
For the first time ever at a tournament, I have the honour of taking the opening shot. Itís a sign of how far Iíve come since my debut in 2013. My day one partners are Ruth Burke, one of the departing members of the executive committee, and Alan Marsh, all the way from Cornwall, taking part in his first event since 2009. I have a steady start, making the 6th before dropping that at the 9th. It would be my only drop of the day. I save my round with five in a row for a score of 30. The weather moves in and the rain, although light, is persistent. I get in the hut to learn how to input the scores on Bangolf. Itís straightforward enough. I have tried to learn previously, but never known how to set up an event. This is a start and Iím enjoying it.
The second lap of the track is just so static. Iím playing very well and getting into the recurring theme for the rest of the weekend of lip outs and six inch putts. I can honestly say with hand on heart that I have never had so many close but no cigar moments. It is mentally scarring to be feeling so incredibly comfortable with my stroke with a lack of reward for it. Alan has really settled in, getting a career low of 33. Heís a very likeable character and with his partner, Trish, I hope this renaissance lasts for everyone.
I close off day one with my best round of 29 and an unimpressive 32, considering the start I had to it. I find myself in seventh, needing binoculars to see Michael Smith in the lead. I stay on to help the executive committee with the end of day duties, reordering the groups for day two. Despite my obvious frustrations on the course, it is the off course action which I am revelling in. I am aware of issues that have happened and Iím honoured that people feel they can confide in me regarding their concerns on the tour. I will always listen and I hope I will always have that trait about me.
Back in our ramshackle accommodation, I put my head down for an hour before dinner. Iíve been finding more often than not that I am one of the more senior members on a night out and so, where I once paid attention to BMGA folklore past from the likes, I am now regaling tales of my own. In five years on the tour, Iíve seen a heck of a lot. Some of which I wish I hadnít. Our group spends the last half hour of the night buried in our phones looking up the worst football kits in history. Congratulations to the Caribous of Colorado. You really have to see it to believe that happened. On the way home, we wait for Scott outside the chip shop as he picks up a battered sausage for the walk home. I had hoped to stay up for the conclusion to Eurovision but forgot the Bates Motel didnít excel in televisual delights. I fell asleep.
Sunday: Once again, I wake up early with a headache. I have a suspicion it maybe the hotel, which I will research more when I stay here again next month. We make the course in good time and with the overnight rain having washed away the chalk markings, I set about becoming Captain Chalk, as Scott would later dub me. My new grouping sees me with Chris Smith for the second tournament in a row and Mark Wood, a regular day two partner of mine. I was set to embark on the unluckiest day of minigolf Iíve had. After a cup of tea, though.
The climate had improved somewhat to allow my legs to make an appearance. I had been poor on the front nine on day one, just not making enough aces. I finally made the eighth, having changed to something which would rebound back further. Mark and Chris were both picking up on my apparent bad fortune. You canít be disappointed if you have the stroke going, which I did. It was just making me frustrated and in a bygone era where I would have forced the issue, I kept plugging away hoping that this would improve. You have to. Weíve all had days like this, itís just recognising that it is happening to you right now.
Round five, I finished well. Round six, I started well. Round seven was the round from hell. When I tell you that round seven was a 31, that sounds ok. I had five shots lip out and sit by the hole. I had a further three sit on the cusp of the cup. I finally snapped at hole eight, where a putt horseshoed out with the ball inside the cup. I couldnít believe what I was seeing here. During the round, I began to putt angry and my playing partners probably knew it best to let me stew. It led to my best streak of the weekend, making six out of nine coming back. Maybe I should putt angry more often. I sloped off to get a gourmet burger.
Now being involved with the organisational side, it took my mind off being a competitor. Right now, the best that I could do was input other scores and not dwell on my own. Being in the hut, I remember something that Marion had once said about all the hard luck stories left out on the course. I was hearing everything and it gave a verbal portrait to the antics of the day. I approached my last round believing that I had fielded the lot in terms of what could be thrown at me. Along with Mark, James Rutherford was in our three ball. Whereas they were both starting to smoke the track, I couldnít buy a putt. At times, I wanted to get rid of the putter and have more luck kicking it round. My penultimate hole put the final nail in my cross. The ball stopped on a down slope as it was making its way to the hole. The shot defied all laws of physics and gravity. Nothing was stopping the ball from momentum. And yet, here it was goading me. I will never see that happen again.
With the closing ceremony upon us, I was setting up the PA when I found out I was going to do the announcements. I had the information to read out and made sure that I did the thank yous before the awards. Our guest of honour presenting was Peter Parr, whose hard work in the formative years of the Association has given me a social life today. It was my honour to meet him and shake the hand of the man. As we packed up the hut for future adventures in minigolf, I stepped out of the news bubble that I trap myself in while playing. I rang my parents. I treasure these times. I donít do much in life but the passions I do have, I really care for. We received a lot of plaudits for the smoothness of the event, in particular, from the newer participants. It takes a team of people to make this work and whether they are on the committee or just wanting to play minigolf, it will continue to succeed if we let it. Despite what I have been told about being involved at the top level, I have my own ideas about this will work. Iíll never take individual praise, the team will. Iíll never engage in conversation about others, I will never willingly create division that way. Iíll just get on with being enthusiastic about the sport of minigolf.
In four weeks time, we are back again at the home of British minigolf for the World Crazy Golf Championships, which has always been the highlight of my calendar. Hastings will once again hold a place in our hearts where the memories will live on.