Saturday Ė With parts of Britain in the grips of one of those named storms, it was time to get on the road again for one of the toll booth tournaments, which requires me to pay the charge for crossing the Thames. Although it was an exceptionally early alarm, I was kept going by the thrill of the new. Not only were Britainís newest club, the Thanet Silverbacks, hosting their first Open, we were also going to play a brand new course. Back in September at the British Open in Margate, local businessman James Godden had come down to see the tournament and introduce himself. James runs the Flamingo Amusements on the seafront and talked about his new course he was building in the basement. Today, we were going to get to play it.
I make great time and the good news is that the winds have dropped right back and Margateís off chocolate seas are lit by golden sunlight. As Iím waiting, Iím joined by Dave and the Smith family, all of whom had been in Castleford a fortnight earlier. They have very kindly opened early for us as we are promised it will get busy. As I walk down the stairs and catch a glimpse for the first time, I audibly gasp. The Lost Island course is a genuine beauty. Quickly, it is apparent that every hole has its own character and, on many occasions, totally unique from anything else Iíve seen before. Iím actually rather thrilled. The task is now to learn what I can before the public hit it. Around two hours is what it takes to get a basic grasp of the fundamentals here but three of the holes have me scratching my head. The highlight is the seventh, which involves teeing off on the left, running the ball around the banked curves from right to left before it comes halfway back to you into the cup on a slight incline. This immediately goes into my top five all time favourite holes to play.
My teammate Ed arrives just before the madness hits and make do with practicing on whatever looks available. As much as I want to carry on, the hordes of families queueing up the stairs mean we decide thatíll be lunch. Not before a spot of basket shoot, air hockey and tenpin in the arcades. If you truly love the typical British seaside activities, Flamingo Amusements does pretty much cater for everything with flashing lights. Any hope of trying to learn more after food is non-existent and I was on the verge of checking into the hotel before Andy shows up. I decide to stick around and play a round, which took around 90 minutes. With no idea what would be a decent score, Iíll settle for a couple of 32ís. Ed returns, excited about seeing the Deal Or No Deal machine. ďWatch this,Ē he states, as he bags his third straight jackpot of tickets. Just another forty more of those and he can win a small Lego set.
We finally check into our digs for the night and weíre in for a shock. Our twin room had turned into a double room, so we eagerly set about separating the bed into beds. There was a TV, which couldnít tune into anything. There was a Wi-Fi code, which didnít connect. We had to talk to one another so we decided to have a few beers before food at the Ali Raj Curry House. Ten of us were sat in the usual table, introducing the newest member to the tour, Andrew (a nattily dressed throwback to an extra from The Legend Of Bagger Vance), to the social side of minigolf. Conversation turned to television appearances, as a number of British minigolfers are famed for having appeared on quiz shows. ďI was on television once,Ē expresses Andrew. ďI was on Big Brother.Ē Andrew had laid down a vocal Royal Flush. Sure enough, in 2010, Andrew was indeed on Big Brother and finished fifth. In terms of introductions, this is one that everyone around the table will remember. And with that and another couple of beers, Scott drove us back to borstal and we called it a night.
Sunday: With the course opening at 7.30am, the hunt was on for a) breakfast and b) a reasonably close parking spot to the course. Parking turned out to be the easy part. I went searching any kind of store that was open, amazed that the first place with activity was an amusement arcade, with a couple of people still playing the fruit machines. I eventually found a sandwich. I set my laptop up for scoring and just played a few shots on each hole. With Margate being on one of the extremities of the British Isles and an early start, twenty-four combatants is a great turnout, although a few had dropped up in the previous day. My playing partners for the first two rounds were John Sharp and Chris Smith and we started at the ninth. I quickly got going and despite a drop, I was four under with six to play. I could have been even better as my arrow straight tee shot got to within a couple of inches of an ace at the sixth before coming back down the hill. I missed the putt but made a far harder putt for a three. 33 to open with, behind Michael but level with tournament organiser and local expert, Scott. Very satisfying. John and Chris have steadier beginnings but are still in the mix.
Round two was a clean 33 but overall disappointing. I didnít take chances where the good opportunities were, which was probably the difference between a share of the lead and the three shots back I did find myself behind Michael. I was now in second on my own, two ahead of Seve and King Bacon. I could feel a confidence coming back to my game, which had been missing for most of last year. My mind is settled and at piece. James, the owner, pays a visit and has been quite touched by the number of positive comments about his creation. Iím in the final group with Michael and Seve, looking to reel in the British number one. Seve makes a fast start and with myself getting in trouble on the relatively tame fourth, I find myself back in a share for third. With Michael once again disappearing off into the distance to pick title number fifty four, itís time to turn on the afterburners. Iím back level with Seve by the sixth and pass him with a rare ace at the tenth. With two to play, Iím now two clear in second and almost seemingly just need a pair of deuces to stay there. Seve produces some magic to claim both and only a tough putt from over a lump at the last puts me into a playoff.
Seve has been one of those players over the past few seasons where you think that on the right course, he will one day win a tournament. Heís on of the tourís quieter competitors but very likeable. Still, I have to beat him. Seve was part of my last playoff at the Midland Open. I played first and missed right. Seve missed left. On the second, both of our tee shots get bad kicks from the wall. On the third, I subconsciously try and get into my opponentís head. After taking a two, I pick out my choice of ball straight away for the next and just keep looking down at it. Kind of my way of saying ĎI donít think its finishing here, my friend.í It worked. On the fourth, Seve plays a beautiful line to within an inch. Itís a hole I havenít had any success at all weekend so Iím expecting this to carry on. By now, we have caught a family group up, who we had talked to on the tee about minigolf. The ball leaves my putter a little hot and I say ďthatís too firm.Ē However firm it was, it came off the slope and slammed into the cup. Game over. Me and Seve embrace. I win £15 and a bottle of wine.
Speaking to people throughout the weekend, there is only one slight complaint. Indoor courses in this country canít quite get the temperature right. Most of them are like a blast furnace. Lost Island is a fraction the other way but certainly not that cold that youíre reaching for a jacket. The Thanet Open has been a huge success and the course went down so well with everyone who took part. The enthusiasm of James and his entrepreneurial ideas is incredibly refreshing and we thank him and his team for their hospitality. 2019. We are in you.
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