As busy as my schedule is for minigolf throughout the season, nothing can quite measure up to the back to back tournaments at the start of the summer period. In Britain, the best supported event is the World Crazy Golf Championships at the Arnold Palmer course in Hastings, now in its seventeenth edition. The coverage has been ramped up and the entry list have both grown over the past few years and with the weather conditions at the exposed seafront location, anything can happen. I have traditionally given myself three days to get used to the cloth and ambience of the event and the run up has given us a blessing from the skies. The forecast for late Friday and most of Saturday didn’t look promising as Storm Miguel was due to hit.
I always use the days leading up not only to play but to catch up with friends again and by the Thursday, around twenty or so had set up base in Hastings, while I stayed with my dad 45 miles away. British minigolf is a very social affair and a number of nights out were already being planned at the pubs and inns of the town. A couple of novices had come down for practice early, so I decide to get to know Paul and Tim. I see in them the enthusiasm that I felt when I first started in 2013. That first day when you arrive for the World Crazy Golf Championships, life isn’t the same again. There are slight changes this year, such as having to putt through the obstacles. With a few of the holes having new felt too, different challenges awaited us all. Hole five had the blades of a windmill ready to swat your shot away. Hole seventeen had a narrow gap beneath the lighthouse. However, play them right and aces were on.
Another new development was the introduction of a new junior category, which was to be played over twelve holes on the Friday afternoon. Thirty-four children aged up to fourteen years of age took part, with some exceptional skill on display. I kept score for one group, chatting with the parents and encouraging the kids, giving advice where I could. This was a brilliant initiative and if this can lead to even three of four taking up the game, that would be the cherry on top of the cake. In the end, nine year old Cameron Fincher won with a 25 but the sport was the real winner. Earlier in the day, the hosts of a children’s television programme were being shown the ropes by Golf England ambassador, Jess. Today, the weather had held off for the most part. It was about as good a day as I can remember. Later on, the wind and rain came and everything we had learned over the last few days would mean very little in the morning.
By the time we had woken up for the morning, I pulled back the curtains to see waves crashing onto the beach and litter blowing down the road. We even saw tumbleweed on the first hole. I had been paired with two novices, a pair of work friends called Trevor and Jeremy. There were camera crews filming over the first two rounds for other television shows, one of the subjects recorded the highest score for a round ever at 115. Any coverage is good coverage, although at times it was a tough watch. It was clear after seeing the first few rounds come in that sub 40 was going to be at least competitive. My first three rounds would contain a four late on but at eight over, and just outside the paying places, I was happy. The wind noticeably dropped in the last round, which a number of players took advantage of. The 34 I hit was one of my best ever rounds with all things considered. I had really enjoyed the company of my playing partners and it had been great to chat about why I do this. The evening was spent playing hunt the minigolfer and checking out a new bar with Ed.
Sunday was completely different. No wind, no rain and just one layer of clothes. Just the kind of weather I had practiced in. Michael and Ed were my playing partners, I said let’s just encourage each other throughout. My plan was to keep the rounds clean for as long as I could and the shots would come along. My first round of the day was a 34, saving around four drops with some monster saves. The second at seventeen, where I had just crept through the obstacle in a territory where you would never map, goes into my top three putts of all time. The second round was where all my hard work started to bear fruit. Five under through thirteen, I so easily could have gone sub 30 but more lighthouse troubles and a missed putt on the last gave me a 33. As it stood, I was in sixth with a five shot cushion over the first of the non-paying spots. With the same group and now all balls in play, the task is simple. Stay out of trouble and manage the situation. Easier said than done. At the first, Ed blocked me so I took a three. At the third, a loose tee shot meant I lost another. I was now just one clear of Seve. I played with gusto and verve, trying to channel the energy of the first round of the day where I couldn’t miss. I made four of the next nine and all of the issues I had with putting a couple of years ago where I would fall apart had gone. Despite a three at the lighthouse, I knew I needed a two at the last to wrap up fifth. Around the loop, it hit the middle of the cup and fell in. I picked up my fifth place winnings and took a picture of mum up with me.
With the levels of people taking part, Sean and Marion did a superb job of organising and getting through the weekend, especially on the Saturday with the wind adding to the length of the rounds. It still is the tournament that most people have heard of, the trick is to make them understand it is more than just a once a year shindig and to show them minigolf is a lifestyle choice too. On the way home, I chatted with Will for an hour to get an update on Dave. The next day was a complete blur of unpacking, washing, ironing, picking up a new set of spectacles and packing again as the following day was all about the World Adventure Golf Masters in Kungalvs.
I woke up at 2am on the Tuesday to get down for Heathrow. I managed to catch some of the first quarter of the Raptors – Warriors game five before heading off to meet Ed in a housing estate in Hemel Hempstead. We watched the closing minutes on the bus, as a Raptors fan, the one point loss hurt. Still, there’s minigolf. Seven of the British team were on the same flight, including Martin, who had never been to an airport in his life, let alone flown. We had been warned of a few things. The weather was mixed and Sweden is cash hating economy. We arrived at the hotel in the late morning and immediately took the walk to the course, which was around fifteen minutes away. The setting was set off a busy road opposite a development site and in between two large shopping centres, where we would spend most of our funds, be it on card or paper.
The sad news had reached us that our teammate, Dave Donnelly, had passed away on a day where he had been looking forward to so much. I took it upon myself to let my fellow countrymen know. We had been expecting the news, it did not make it easy to deliver. In the evening, we had a team meal at the hotel, where we talked about our memories of Dave and what we could do to honour those thoughts. I had made up some red and blue ribbon as a mark of respect and the team would wear them on our shirts. The news had immediately bonded us and whenever we had a drink, we would raise a toast to Dave. Wednesday afternoon was pretty much a wash out, with only Tommi Lantta of Finland fighting his way through the puddles. The rain cleared for the opening ceremony in the evening, which was a walk through the back streets of Kungalvs past the locals and restaurants, which we would later frequent. The reception was held at Bohus Fortress to the south of the town. The effort gone to by Bjorn Dinau and his team to make that night memorable was something that will live with everyone. Pasi led a minute’s applause for Dave, which I manage to record live. It was the most moving moment. I’m glad I captured it.
Thursday had improved and Great Britain were qualifying for selection. It would give us an idea of what to expect for scores. I scrape into the first team with a three round total of 79. Accusations from home was that the course must be easy. Lower scores were being recorded, this is true. The mindset to keep hitting putts in batches of six, seven, eight or higher in a row gave the course a feel of playing an eternit event. That was where the pressure was and I haven’t played in a competition like it on MOS. Having made the first team, I took a break at what was becoming a regular haunt in the shopping centre, Yalla Habibi. My diet this week had consisted of chicken kebab meat, fruit in yoghurt and white chocolate strawberry Magnums. Calories don’t count abroad, do they?
Tournament day arrived and I had been drawn to play Jenny from Sweden and Richard from Ghana. Fairly quickly, I knew I was in a group that was going to have fun. With the growing numbers taking part in the sport, this year’s WAGM was going to be spread over three days, the first time I had ever taken part one of that length. During the first round, Jenny would start to sing when she made aces. I relaxed and I did too. Jenny would quite often drop in Hakuna Matata from the Lion King, I knew some of the words. I started quoting the arcade game NBA Jam as my ace inspiration. Although I putted very well, I wasn’t quite getting the breaks, especially around the mid-section of the track. This would be the theme of my week. I was close to having a very good tournament but at Kungalvs, the margins of excellence was indeed fine, despite the drop pockets. I ended the day with lots of Bom-Shaka-Lacka everywhere, with a new PB of 24. Richard had hit the most insane rescue putt on the fourth, which would have been worthy of an Allan Cox trick shot video. Jenny had introduced me to Cookies and Cream Magnum ice cream. The day ended at a good hour, which gave me enough time to relax at the hotel before going out for a curry and a pint. The usual British night out.
Saturday arrived and would be one the most frustrating days I’ve ever played. My partners today were Tommi from Finland and Vanette from the USA. I had planned on breaking my PB again but the roll of the felt wouldn’t let me. I played so well but was leaving four or five shots a round out there, being out by an inch or less so many times. I was starting to beat myself up that when I got to the final round of the day, I dropped my only shot on the long fourth. From then on, all I wanted to do was just get away from the site. MInigolf gives you so many emotions and I was going through all of them. When I took my last putt, I gathered my bag and went for a long walk, stopping short of the Brian Johnsonesque screaming in the woods level of annoyance with myself. After a few hours of sleeping it off, I joined my teammates in the local Italian. It had been a successful day for the British. Adrian broke the national record with a 21. Terry nearly equalled it. During one round, Great Britain 1 managed to beat Sweden 1 and Germany in a round. We also learned that Pollo means Chicken and lateness gets shown on a scorecard. We had a great night.
Sunday gave most of us a chance to go through the motions one last time. I decided not to practice and turn up half an hour before my tee off time. I just wanted to hit a few shots a get yesterday out of my system. My partners today were Bobby from New Zealand and Jan of Slovakia. I was fairly carefree and despite missing the seventh, I reached what I thought was a fair target for a round of 26. I just didn’t do it enough. During the WAGM, I reckon I had nineteen putts that needed either one roll more or less. I hit only two bad putts all week. Although I loved the course (and many did, with nearly 6,500 aces), I don’t think it liked me. I walked around the shops to buy a kilo of cheese only to find minigolfers packing the toy store to pick up marbles. A good business opportunity for people looking to get into selling klickers.
The closing ceremony gave us a chance to learn the Swedish national anthem and mix as a group. I got a Ghanaian shirt from Richard and I gave him my local club shirt in return. I feel extremely fortunate to have done this five times now and it still feels like the first time. Kungalvs is a great town, very clean, friendly and somewhere I will now hold dear. The running of this year’s event has been right up there with the very best I’ve been at. Every bit of it was exciting to be involved with and when it’s all over, we have the memories of what we can bore our families and friends with. We will never have this time again but for one week, we did. My fortnight of minigolf debauchery is over for another year. Here’s to qualifying for Austria in 2020 and living la vida loca.
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