Saturday: After three seemingly endless months away from the cut and thrust of the main tour, 2018 has finally kicked off. For me, the battle will be getting there as Britain has been pelted by the grips of winter, or has the press dubbed it, ĎThe Beast From The Eastí. In short, itís been cold. Friday had saw another four inches of snow dumped on top of what lay before. The back roads in Cambridgeshire have been affected by drifts and ice so Iím going to set off early to give myself half a chance. To get to the motorway normally takes 15 minutes. Today, its 35. However, from there, the rest of the journey runs like a dream.
I reach Hastings around 8.45 am and the weather couldnít have been any different. Clear skies and bright orb, which I remember for a bygone era to be the sun. Due to the unique nature of the competition, we shall be playing all three courses on the Sunday, all of which are in varying states of playability. The Pirate course has been cleared, the Crazy course has snow where the sun canít reach it and the Adventure course saw conditions Roald Amundsen would turn his nose up at. I donít intend being here long as for me, I am using the occasions to visit my parents as it was my dadís birthday during the week. Just long enough to put into practice some minor changes to the grip and develop a tactic for the morning. There is one main rule for the tournament. You can use just one ball on each course. Within half an hour of playing around, it is quite evident which ball I will be using. An MR6001, for the completists amongst you.
Around midday, Iím about done and with the permafrost on Adventure still not clearing, I head off to my folks. We exchange gifts, whiskey for my dad, card and flowers for my mum, frankfurter sandwich for me. Iím relieved to be here, I havenít seen them since Christmas and I just think how many more times we will have like this. My parents take me out for dinner in the evening at the Capri in Lancing, followed by my treat at the bar next doors. I get a surprise from occasional and father to my godson, Steve Ragless. It rounds off a long but satisfying day. My thoughts turn to the competition. I won here last year, which to date is my only victory on the tour. I wonít lie, I really want to win it again. There was a ring in the dust on the cabinet when I picked it up. I look at it one last time to see the legend Ď2017 S. J. Lovellí inscribed. It means a lot still.
Sunday: A new year, same old me as Iím awake an hour before the alarm. Mum is awake and I give her a kiss on the cheek goodbye as I leave. Weíre expecting wetter conditions today but it starts with a beautiful sunrise. I reach the course around 7.30 am and Iím the first there. Over the next hour, everyone else starts to put in the hard yards. I join my team mates Ed and Bob, trying to help them around the Adventure course. It is damage limitation there and very hard to teach a newcomer how to play it. Today, I am also on scoring duties, something I seem to have got involved with for the past couple of Planet Hastings events. I have a new role this year of running the BMGA Shield so probably just as well Iím in control. With the threat of rain nearing, the tournament attracts 32 players. A fine turnout.
I get grouped with two locals, Marion Hartley and David Taylor. David is a promising newcomer and I will get to see first hand his progress. On to the Adventure course, if you can keep bagging twoís, you will be doing well. I start well before having three lip outs in consecutive holes. I avert a disaster at the ninth when I fail to putt the ball up the slope. With my second shot, I play it perfectly. Although I donít make any aces, a round of 41 will certainly be amongst the early pacesetters. David is playing well, netting a 42 and Marionís 47 is decent too. There is no hanging around as the waterproofs come in handy on the Pirate course. I put in a solid round with a couple of minor slips. A 34 will leave me seven back from Michael Smith in a share of fifth spot. David produced the best lap on Pirate with a 32. He had really impressed me, playing in the right way.
As well as David, a couple of the more unheralded putters on tour are having their day in the rain. My team mate Martin Relf is playing the game of his life and John Sharpe is also compiling a nice event. One of the bonuses of doing the scoring is I get to keep warm in the hut while the rest shelter from the breeze off the English Channel. With the course getting wetter, the mindset for the final round is to take your chances where you can but leave it makeable. I partner up with John and James Rutherford as the defence of my title goes into the final eighteen holes. After aceing the first, I make fourteen consecutives pars, including a miracle putt at the 11th. I clip the inside of the obelisk and I have to play a rebound shot off the left wall. I roughly figure an angle out and it goes straight in the centre of the cup. Immediately, it goes into my top three putts of all time.
My close of tournament is a mixed bag, with an ace at 16 before two drops, which drops me to fourth place. David has held it together and finished in second behind Michael. Now, the real fun begins with the prize giving ceremony. You could win absolutely anything, most of the gifts being of no use to man or beast. Ted pointed out the Michael Smith ball of fame was donated. ďWhat good it that,Ē I bellow. ďThatís useful.Ē When you get called forward, you pick a number out and that will relate to what will be in your house later. There are a couple of prizes people are trying to avoid. No one wants the blonde hair dye and the doll. Matt definitely doesnít want another antique phone. The doll goes early to Michael, who later gives it away to Tiger, who also wins the hair dye. Dave wins some cash and heads to the pub. Matt wins the phone and I win a Val Doonican CD. Iíll treasure that, to an extent.
I travel back home with Derek, via Subway and his home in Turners Hill, listening to my team Brighton taking apart Arsenal. A lot has happened since we all last met at the beginning of December but life goes on. Planet Hastings Crazy Golf Open is the perfect way to open a season, with the laid back attitude needed to take away some of the online tension of recent weeks. The tour continues and the clientele are determined to ensure that it will still continue to be a success.
Picture; Tiger Pragnell models his prize at Hastings (credit Steve Lovell)