I love golf courses. I love everything about them. The raised tee positions that welcome you like launch pads, the fat promise of the fairways with the criss-cross roller markings, the strategic ponds and the lakes filled with huge fat carp the size of snorkelling Labradors, the artificially made babbling brooks and little humpback bridges that cross them, the huge swaying trees incorporated into the course from the original Georgian parkland and the glittering Treasure Island of the green which has mossy lime-coloured grass which is smoother and closer weaved than the carpet in your lounge, and the X marks the spot prize of the fluttering flag. Leaving aside the thrill of a perfectly smashed long iron shot, with the ballistic flight of the ball soaring over the landscape to fall in a steep dive and pitch two hundred yards away, or the joy of rolling in a thirty-footer to make Birdie or save par, one of the reasons I love golf courses so much is because they are a make believe world where I can hide myself away from reality. A golf course is a landscape that can be controlled and shaped to suit the imagination. To please the imagination. I love golf courses in the same way that I love serial fiction. The Sherlock Holmes stories, with the master sleuths cosy rooms and the snug feel of the fog wrapping around me as I walk with Holmes through the cobbled streets of Victorian England, Albert Campion and Magersfontein Lugg reappearing in novel after novel, familiar friends. Dalziel and Pascoe, Sexton Blake, Hercules Poirot, Dirk Pitt and Al Giordino, Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade. They all present worlds that are familiar and safe. Regardless of the murders and the coshes over the head and the psychotic serial killers. And to step onto a golf course allows you to suspend the real world that surrounds you like the pages of a thick book. For four hours you are isolated from the bills, from anxiety, from worry, from the pressures of work, from the answer-phone message that you dont want to listen to that brings you bad news or the email that you dont want to read. Every course, from the local municipal up to the Augusta National should have the name Shangri la GC. You are walking through a never-neverland in spiked shoes and a Pringle jumper. And the Pringle jumpers important. Dont under estimate the Pringle jumper. The Pringle and the Lyle Scott polo shirt and the white Lacoste trousers and the Samuel L. Jackson Kangol flat cap, help make the event of playing a round of golf special. It creates a dividing line from your everyday life of t-shirt and jeans or drab shirt and tie and the cheap suit from Next and the dreamscape of the dog leg right and the par three with the kidney-shaped pond shielding the green. Its a bit like a bobby putting on his uniform before he steps onto the street. The Pringle jumper is a statement of intent. A dividing line. Pull on that 100% pure wool Pringle sweater and the next four hours are going to be something different. The next four hours are yours.
Even the problems and gripes are part of this artificial world. Moaning about the badly seeded green on the par 5 15th, the poor drainage on the waterlogged apron of the par 3 6th. Arguing about a tricky ruling over an unplayable lie, or some infringement over a dropped ball. Grumbling about a bandits handicap when he scalps you. It gives your mind something to focus on. Its better than arguing about the Irish problem or the Lebanon. Its a trivial distraction that helps to soften the real world. This is why grown men get into Scaletrix or model railways. Building the track, having it weave under chairs or through papier-mâché models of Mount Snowdon. For the same reason men follow football teams passionately. The season fixture list gives a sense of certainty and security. Whatever else happens in life, they know that on Boxing Day theyll be watching their team take on Manchester United or Worthington Rovers, a Pukka pie in hand chanting some racist homophobic song about the strikers wife. Even if as they shiver on the terraces theyre moaning about the lack of spending by the chairman and the appalling first touch by the kid whos on loan from Burnley as they take a drubbing. It doesnt matter. And cricket. Pouring over Wisden, comparing batting averages and memorizing lists of bowlers whove taken the most wickets in Test matches. The attraction is the same will all hobbies, regardless of whether its stamp collecting, train-spotting, Sunday league football, body-building, rock climbing, surfing or making model airplanes. They all give a sense of control and escape. We should all have a hobby. Imagine if Hitler had been bitten by an obsessive love of crown green bowling and spent his time dreaming about curling a long one into the jack instead of a thousand year Reich. Or Lenin had started making ships in bottles. The world would have been a better place. The recent London riots might have been averted if a few more people took up pub quizzes or fell walking.
Now its time for me to get out in the September sunshine and let the big dog off the leash. To pull on the Lindeburg tank top with the Farah hopsacks and the Footjoy shoes and knock a long one down the park. Its time to cast off the ropes that bind us to the mortgage and the endless grind and head to Treasure Island. Booshta!