Royal Porthcawl; foursomes in a force four
Thankfully the lifeboat station on the approach road was open for golfers and seafarers alike. The surfers were contending with enormous brown rollers sweeping up the Bristol Channel and we bore the brunt of the wind and spray. Visibility was poor and there was no point leapfrogging your partner at foursomes as you would lose eye contact with both your ball and your partner.
This is what we call a 'true' test of links golf; foursomes in a force four. The course was more than up for it with nary a puddle, and great lies if you kept your ball on the fairways or first cut. Tracks of earlier putts, like vapour trails across the sky guided you across the greens and they too stayed true.
Foursomes is a great game. I don't know why so few people play it. If people want to play every shot, just play two rounds in the day and get to know the course and your game even better. Aside from the speed of play and the ease of playing two rounds in the day it brings a deeper understanding of the way to play golf. Watching someone else tackle a shot, discussing the best way to play out a hole, and conferring on putts teaches you more about your own game and the right mentality to play golf.
It is a pure game. What happens elsewhere on the course is irrelevant. In 18 hole stroke play the early riser might have posted a score before the wind got up and the rain lashed down and your day is effectively over before you drove your first tee peg into the ground. They were playing a different game. The competition wasn't fair, you could not eyeball your opponent and beat him toe to toe.
This is just the four of you, in the moment, a shared experience. Identical elemental conditions, and handicaps averaged across the pairings. Just how good are you at strategy, ball striking under the critical gaze of your opponent or the expectation of your partner? Positive psychology beats negative, nobody likes the intentional wind up and it almost always backfires. You may be drawn together again!
Stick the ball on the fairways, position yourself strategically and make the opponents play the 'glory' shots. And if you haven't given away too many holes by stretching yourself it is surprising how often the 'glory' shot will fly off your clubface when you need it most. A failed attempt to secure the miracle shot breeds loss of confidence, concentration and only increases the pressure.
Always assume your opponent will make every shot and every putt, never let your guard down and assume a hole is won. Be ready to play your shot. Be positive with your putting and you will earn more gimmes. Don't be churlish when giving them, but remember line is more important than length. Never give the dodgy putter a chance to rebuild their confidence.
Players can be intimidated by their partner as much as the opposition. The high handicapper can be worried about showing their partner parts of the course they have never visited so you need to work together, talk together and set each other at ease. If you are concerned about tactics or club selection ask what your partner intends and reinforce their decision unless it is definitely the wrong approach. Find something to applaud in every shot your partner makes. Say 'sorry' to your partner on the first tee and then get going.
My partner was a model of these qualities and secured us a first day win.
On the second day the visibility improved, the fog was mainly in the brain, and the wind had picked up. A great evening; delicious dinner in the clubhouse, good friends, more drink and closing with a magic and informal meeting in the Committee room where, fortunately, minutes were not recorded. I retired to what the Americans call a 'homely' room in the Dormy House.
An excellent breakfast in the dining room overlooking the first tee almost broke the will. Commendable fried bread, black pudding, mushrooms, eggs, bacon, beans and sausages were consumed partly to build up warmth and energy, and partly to keep your feet firmly planted. No one would be blown off their feet. The contrast, inside to out, was too great, revolution was in the air, a few took the white feather and the rest stumbled out for the Colonel's seven.
The Colonel's seven plays the first four down the shoreline and then climbs up through sixteen and seventeen to the eighteenth tee and home. Spume was blowing off the sea making ball spotting more difficult on the fairway than the rough. So I stuck it in the rough having been blown from a left of centre line and lost it. So much for that theory. They also say that the sea is visible from every hole but I shall have to take their word for it. What I can say is that you can feel the sea from every hole.
I love these opening holes. Some that follow are less glamorously linksy but every green and greenside is carefully crafted to make you think. No average shot will run up to these pins. The bunkers are steep and sticky with sea salt. Take your medicine, learn and move on. Perfect golfing turf and no sand hills. Whilst some holes could be described as cliff top rather than links it is the cleverly designed greens and their surrounds which keep the course cohesive and analagous with true links.
For those who haven’t played Porthcawl do please make the effort, it is a classic course near the centre of golfing history in the UK and not that far down the M4. Less linksy than many, more fun than most and a fair test of golf when you can see it. Check the weather cam http://www.porthcawl-lifeboat.co.uk/live-streaming/ before you go. A warm welcome awaits.
I drove well enough, made few really egregious errors, and was sustained by my partners to a win on the first day and a draw on the second. Let it be remembered that their patience never frayed.
Thanks to RPGC, MCC and XL for two days when any other activity the wrong side of the duvet would have been unthinkable.