I’m heading to a wedding in the English countryside. If a golf trip happens to pop up along the way, it’s hardly my fault.
The men are set to arrive in the U.K., on Monday morning. Wives and girlfriends will rendez-vous with us on Friday for the weekend wedding.
So, we have four days which, with this cast of characters, means at least four rounds of golf.
There are seven of us in the wedding party plus the groom — more importantly, two foursomes.
Growing up, the members of this group played thousands of rounds of golf together. Years later, there is a fair deal of parity among the group, although the lawyer needs a little more practice and the golf pro needs a lot less.
We were warned that getting from the airport to our first tee-time would be tight, which explains why I’m wearing slacks and a golf shirt on an overseas flight in the middle of the night.
After arriving in London, we stumble out of the airport. Seconds later, we spot the groom illegally parked, in the driver’s seat of a 16-man bus.
Our U.K. journey begins.
The first stop is Wentworth Golf and Country Club and its famed West Course. One of the British-based members of our group has a membership and will be meeting us there.
Wentworth is a mainstay on top-course lists, the site of the European Tour’s BMW PGA Championship and the home course to a number of British pro golfers, celebrities and business magnates.
It’s a safe bet that we will be the only ones pulling up to the parking lot in a bus.
The glitz and glamour of Wentworth is without question. The clubhouse looks like a castle. In fact, it is a castle. After all, this is England.
As for the West Course, it was designed in 1926 by Harry Colt — who also designed Hamilton G&CC and Toronto G&CC. The West Course’s design was recently touched up by Ernie Els. It is a parkland-style championship layout, with giant tree-lined fairways — a course you could easily imagine existing in North America.
While you won’t find the classic British golf experience at Wentworth, you will see the definition of opulence and extravagance ... and today, you’ll see us.
Nothing says classy like four Canadian men changing out of their jeans in the backseat of a shortbus.
After being in a plane all night and a bus all morning, things weren’t going well on the course. My drives were causing the most trouble. I had brought a new driver, the first new driver I had put in the bag in several years. Problem was, everything was going sky-high and nowhere.
“If you bring that swing to tomorrow’s course you’ll be in trouble,” our resident golf pro says after the fourth or fifth moon shot.
Back home, Mr. Golf Pro is the head teaching professional at Whistler Golf Club and right now he is referring to the gusty conditions that will surely greet us the rest of the week when we hit the English coast.
Despite my best efforts, nothing changes throughout the round. As we stand on the 18th tee, I’ve had about enough of my one-day-old driver. Then I notice a little arrow on the hosel of the club.
Turns out, during the experimenting I had done on the range at home the day before with my new adjustable driver, I had unknowingly adjusted it from 9.5 degrees of loft to 12 degrees.
I quickly -- and illegally -- change my driver back to its standard setup and hit my first good drive of the day ... four hours too late.
After the round we retire to Wentworth’s pub for a bite and a few beverages. It seems we have the bar to ourselves until we hear a deep voice commenting on the Euro Cup from the corner.
It’s Ernie Els.
Just yesterday, Els was in contention on the back nine at the U.S. Open in San Francisco until a mistake on the 16th hole cost him everything.
Surely, none of my buddies are dumb enough to bring that up.
“Ernie, what happened yesterday at the U.S. Open?”
Apparently they are that dumb.
Despite this unfortunate question, Els has plenty of time for us and tells us he is coming to Canada for the Canadian Open in a few weeks and suggests that Shaughnessy last year was more difficult than last week at Olympic Club.
His caddie Ricci Roberts likes his man’s chances at the British Open. I make a mental note to check the odds on Els when I get home.
The long day was turning into a long night, and after Ernie and Ricci left we decide to do the same.
It’s morning now and we’re heading to the country, to the coast, to Trevose Golf Club.
The roads in much of the English countryside are tiny. Think of a one lane, one-way road in Canada, cut that in half and surround it by bushes. Now, allow two-way traffic and you get the picture. It’s not really where you would want to be driving a 16-man bus, but the hero of our story, The Groom, barrels toward our destination knocking blooms off of rose bushes on the left while narrowly missing vehicles on the right.
Someone mentions his risky driving techniques.
“I KNOW THE DIMENSIONS OF MY VAN!” he shouts at us.
We try to point out that it’s a bus, not a van and that he just rented it yesterday.
He’s having none of it.
Once we approach Cornwall we are getting close. Before we know it the Atlantic ocean is in sight and we are in linksland.
These dramatic pieces of land are built for golf. The sandy soil is perfect for fescue grass to flourish, and it has unbelievable natural drainage. On most links courses, fescue grass is used on the tee blocks, fairways, rough and greens.
Trevose is everything we hoped it would be. The Championship course was established in 1925 and, like Wentworth West, designed by Harry Colt. The course belongs to the uncle of our resident golf pro, so for him this is something of a homecoming. We are staying in the Fairway Cottage just 50 yards from the first tee.
Without wasting any time, we are on the tee for a quick nine before dinner. There are two bunkers dead ahead, but like most links courses there are plenty of options.
In North America most golf holes make it pretty clear where they want you to hit the ball. In links golf you get no such clues. You devise a plan in your head, try your best to execute it, then hope the course agrees with your decision.
My drive goes right of the fairway and I have a blind second shot over a large hill to a green that apparently sits in front of the ocean. I hit hybrid over the hill and hope for the best. Walking over the mound I realize the green isn’t where I thought it was, yet somehow my ball sits 20 feet away from the hole. I two putt for par.
This first hole has taught me a valuable lesson. As much as people want to complain about the bad bounces in links golf, there are good bounces out there too.
Our tune-up nine goes quickly and we are thoroughly impressed with the course, anxious for tomorrow’s round.
We wake to the sound of rain on the roof. The golf gods must have heard we were looking for a true links experience and decided to place a call to Mother Nature.
We tee off in a drizzle. We reach our ball in the rain. We get to the green in a downpour.
This does nothing to dampen our spirits. This is what we came for. Bring it on.
I take an instant liking to links golf. My game is not built around power. My strengths are keeping the ball in play, staying in every hole and making putts when I need to. My game wouldn’t be described as pretty but there is a beauty to it -- just like linksland.
The most common miss by a North American weekend player is a weak slice, a banana ball. Over here, that will kill you. The rain and wind will eat your ball up and spit it back at you. Low hooks are the miss of choice here. Keep it out of the wind and get it on the ground early.
We reach the halfway house and our resident golf pro tells us that he used to work in this halfway house with his cousin in the summertime when he was growing up.
The halfway house is open 365 days a year, even on Christmas.
“On Christmas, the guys come out after spending time with the family,” the lady working the glorified shack says. “We have to make sure we have lots of beer that day.”
Our resident pro asks if they still have Kummel.
“We sure do,” she answers.
A few minutes later I’m holding a glass half full with a clear liquid.
“Do we shoot this or sip it?” I ask.
“Sip it,” says the pro.
Although apparently a popular liqueur at British golf courses, Kummel packs a wallop and tasted like a stronger version of mouthwash. There is some discussion as to whether gin or vodka was added to it.
The driving rain began to dilute the drink and it became more manageable for lunch-hour.
The rain has been coming down hard for more than two hours by the time we get to the 15th tee.
I am 4-over par.
I know this because I just checked the scorecard. It was the last thing I should have done. My mind starts doing the math. I couldn’t stop it.
“You can par in for 76,” my brain tells me. “Wow, what a good score that would be in these conditions. Hell, even three bogeys and a par will give you 79.”
Right then, the rain stopped and I take this for a good omen.
I’m dead wrong.
I double-bogey 15. I double bogey 16. I double bogey 17.
I bogey the tough closing hole for an 83 and stare numbly at the ocean. I don’t feel upset or mad. I think if it was something more serious than golf, people would say I was in shock.
I head inside for a much-needed drink.
Once in the clubhouse our pro tells me I should put my clubs and rain gear in the Drying Room.
“In the what?” I ask him.
“There’s a room that dries out your stuff,” he answers.
This is the first I’ve heard of such a room and just one many differences between golf in the U.K. and golf in North America.
After the third or fourth pint, I start thinking about all these differences.
We call them golf carts, they call them buggies. We tip waitresses 15%, they tip them 15 cents, make that, pence. We call it a foursome, they call it a four-ball. We think a round of golf should be played in 4 1/2 hours or less, they think it should be played in 3 1/2 hours or less. Finally, we come off the course when it rains, they go out on the course when it rains.
Our days at Trevose begin to blur together. Maybe it’s the Guinness, maybe it’s the way of life. After living 50 yards from the first tee, I’m not sure how it could get any better.
Friday morning we pack all the gear into the bus and leave the linksland behind.
Which brings us to the real reason we are all here -- the wedding. I promised the bride I wouldn’t sell this part of the trip short in my article.
It was nice.