Gaining a single figure handicap..Done. (well almost)

In June 2011, when the RiG and I were the only hackers around the Shey & Maybury courses, I chanced upon a posting on the Hoebridge notice board. This was for the monthly 9-hole Improvers competition. I snapped a pic and sent it to RiG to check his appetite for participating. Shey is a 9-hole, par 33 course. RiG was not very keen as he thought we would be rubbish at it and would end up embarassing ourselves. While there was merit in the argument, I prevailed over RiG and as they say the rest is history.

The picture that started it all…

In the first competition (16th July 2011), RiG & I were in the same group. It would be fair to say that neither of us knew the rules or had much clue on the proceeding. RiG was a much better golfer than me. We also had the advantage/disadvantage of playing with someone who knew all the rules, and who took a dim to RiGs flexible interpretation of rules. As it was the first time we were playing, neither of us had a handicap. I am not sure what RiG scored that day, but he played better than me. I think I shot a 54 and stood last that day. The only thing I remember as we were getting into our cars to go home is RiG’s banter around me getting the wooden spoon. It was funny and I laughed it off, but it also ignited something in me.

I was starting to like the game, and I wanted to get better. So that day, I set my first golf goal: Gain a handicap and half it in 18 months. In my mind, it was a very realistic goal, as it would give me two full seasons to achieve it. It was also a bit of a stretch goal, since it would need significant investments in time & money to attain the goals.

The next game was in August and I played off 18 (translated to 36 for a 18 hole course). So the target was set to bring this down to 9. Imagine my delight and relief when I turned up to play this this Saturday and I looked at my scorecard. The HC section stated 9!!!!  Yippee, I have achieved my goal with about 5 months to spare. Along the way, the Shey improver competition has yielded some prizes: 2x Gloves, 1x Towel, 4x Ball Sleeves. I have won something in every category – except the ‘longest drive’. Someday I will nail that too. My best aggregate score was 39 i.e. +6 and a far cry from the +18 that I shot that 15 months ago. In the coming comps, I hope to have bogie round or better; with the aim to stay under 40. I do have occasional blow out rounds, which is the nature of the game and I dont worry about them.

What a few weeks, I have achieved both my golf goals. I have won the Rob Holman Pot and got my HC down to single figures for the Shey comp. I think I will raise a toast tonight and sleep like a baby.

PS: The handicap awarded on Shey is not a real handicap. I still play off 24 on a normal course – though someday I play like a 18 while on others like a 28 🙂

Early September competition

There are going to be 2 competitions this month and the early competition was held last Sunday. Only RiG, VK and I showed up – Sunil being out of practice and Pradeep possibly heading out to his regular haunt near Slough.

VK had an early tee off . As is the tradition with our senior golfers, he arrived at quite late and had to head straight to the 1st hole. He was playing off a 9 handicap and had a par round to end up on 42. This despite a blowout on the 2nd hole makes it quite commendable.

Ritesh and I teed off together at 9:00 a.m. for a 4- ball. When I say together, I mean I teed off along with other 2 while Leighton sought him out from the driving range. He rocked up, as per tradition, a little late to the 1st tee box.

Ritesh started well with a par on the 1st and had a decent 6 on the 2nd hole. It was the 3rd hole though where he showed his true power with a beautiful drive landing at the edge of the green. Of course, it took him 3 more putts to finish the job – so ended up with a par. The 4th hole was unspectacular for him with some poor chips.

This brings us to the 5th hole and the reason I am inspired to write this post. If RiG can summon the same luck while buying lottery tickets, he’d be a very rich man. Normally, 5th is a safe par for RiG but this started out as a nightmare. The first shot barely reached the fairway. The 2nd was badly sliced, but luckily it hit a tree and ended up back on fairway. The 3rd was again sent in wrong direction resulting in a lost ball. Luckily again for RiG, rather than getting the correct ruling of having to drop 2 shots, he was told he could have only 1 shot penalty if he re-attempted the shot. So he played the 4th shot which ended up in the rough next to the green. And then, he hit a chip shot ( right direction, wrong pace). The chip hit the post and the ball just dropped into the hole. RiG ended up with a 5 on the hole.

Contrast this with my approach. I teed off using a 5 iron rather than a driver to give myself a good angle for the approach shot. The 2nd shot was slightly misdirected and it clipped off the edge of green and fell into the bunker. From there I scooped it out on the green. All well so far and then it took me 3 putts to finish the job. So a 6 compared to Ritesh’s 5 – if you ever need proof of life’s unfairness, this was it.

There wasnt much to the rest of the game – I played within my limits and ended up with a score of 47 (-2) while Ritesh ended up with a 44 (par). Luck deserted him on the 6th and 8th where he again had to get the ball out of the trees.

It was a good outing and its almost a year to the day when I had my first game (30th Sept 2011 on Maybury if you want to know). My handicap has gone down to 16 and I expect to play off 15 in the next round.

An amazing finish to a year of golf

Last July, I played my first 18-hole golf competition at the EY Corporate Golf day at West Hill GC. It was a great experience; I guess I learnt a lot of golf language, mannerism, traditions etc that day.  That day was all about participating and enjoying the journey rather than playing golf.  I was allowed to play after I promised to finish the game with a score of less than 110. Playing with my old Sports Direct – Dunlop kit, I am not sure what I scored, since I had never played Greensome or Stableford before.  I am guessing, the morning 9 hole Greensome was about 11 point and the evening individual Stableford was about 14 points.  As I watched the prize giving ceremony in the evening, I was simply awe-struck by the skill and the score posted by the EY crew.  One of the prizes given away was the Rob Holman Pot for the ‘most improved golfer’.  Rob Holman was a Partner with E&Y, whose life was tragically cut short by cancer.  When I heard about the Pot, it sparked my desire to win the Rob Holman Pot in the 2012 edition of the EY Corporate Day.

Since that eventful July day, my golf has all been directed at winning the Rob Holman.  I changed my kit, invested in some lessons, conned a few friends to take up golf, and spent a lot of time online and on the course.  So as soon as the invites for the 2012 edition came out, I jumped for it.  This year the game was held at Ashridge Golf Club on 16th July – almost exactly a year since the 2011 edition (held on 18th July).   This time around, I was a bit more aware of golf speak, the dos and donts, what club to use etc. However, that did not mean it was going to be any easier.

The morning 9 hole greensome was a bit of a damp squib.  I struggled with my swing and my putting. My partner was a much better golfer and saved me a few blushes.  The biggest advantage of the morning session was that I got an opportunity to look at the back 9.  This was followed by a heavy lunch and I did really feast on it.

The afternoon individual tournament was a shot gun start.  I was playing off 25 (last year I played off 28).  My game was swinging around like a mad out of control jackhammer – up and down.  However, I was lucky that I had a good run on holes that contributed good points while the ‘easy’ ones just fell apart.  I played with John Croxford (HC 24), who did all the counting – as Stableford is not my strongest areas.  I ended the day with 37 points and a big grin on my face

As the prizes were announced, as per tradition a golfer gets only one prize.  I was surprised and disappointed that I was 3rdin the over-19 HC category!!!  The winner shot 38, while the second guy got a 37 – but won on countback. As I went

My winnings of the day..

up to pick my sleeve of balls and shoe bag, I had a sense of loss for missing out on the Rob Holman Pot.   So imagine my relief & happiness when the club chairman (Tom Passmore, EY CFO) announced that he will break tradition and award the Rob Holman Pot to me.  He described the feat of improving by 20 odd points in a year as ‘extraordinary’.  I was asked to make a short speech.  I have no idea what I said while I held to probably the most coveted silverware.  This was me winning the Open.

The Pot has set the direction and tone for an extra ordinary first year of golf for me.  It was the perfect result and hopefully it will be the first of many in the years to come…. Amen

Golf Monthly, Ping and meeting Lee Westwood,

As I was part of final shortlist in the Golf Monthly – Ping ‘Play your Best 2012’ challenge, I was hosted by GM-Ping for a meet with Lee Westwood on 9th July 2012.  It was an unbelievable opportunity to meet and interact with Lee.  The event was held at Ping’s HQ in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire.

A motley crew of 25 of us turned up from all across the country.  The day started with a Q&A with Lee.  Hosted by Mike Harris (Chief Editor of GM), Lee was very candid and humble about his past and future plans.  It was inspiring to hear his journey from the man himself. I had a few questions for him while trying hard to avoid being too dovey eyed.

Then we moved to a clinic with Lee.  Lee talked us thru some of his shots and how he would go about choosing his clubs, balls etc.  Again, his humour was as good as his club head speed.  Enjoyed the session thoroughly and picked up a few pointers.

We finally moved had an opportunity to play 18 holes at the Karsten Golf Course.  The torrential rain for the past few weeks meant that the course would be closed.  However, as luck would have it, the course was open and we went out.  My four-ball was made of folks trying to break 70 and 90. Meeting the lads was a great thing, but my game was absolutely useless.  The course was waterlogged and the skies opened up mid game.  All the waterproof clothing were useless, when it came to gripping my clubs.  I was consistently missing my putts to the right.  Ended the day, with 19 stableford points.  Not a good result.

While the game was substandard, had tons of fun and learnt a lot.  It was great to meet Lee, GM boys and Ping team.  I hope they do a PYB 2013 and I will surely be applying again.

More pictures at

http://www.golf-monthly.co.uk/galleries/34248/1/0/play-your-best-challenge-lee-westwood-day.html

June improver’s competition…

Four of us rocked up to June improvers competition on Shey 9 hole course this weekend.  It was near perfect weather in the morning. All of us tee-ed off separately.   I went out first, followed by Ritesh, then Prashant and then Rakash.

I haven’t played Shey competition for a couple of months, so was looking fwd to it.  I started with a par  – not the best of starts, as I have always gone to blow my round if I open with a Par.  So it downhill when I blew the next two hole.  After 3 holes I was +5, partially thanks to a penalty on the 3rd.  Fought back with a few pars.  On the 5th hole (350y) I had to hit a provisional as we were not sure if we could locate the first.  Absolutely smoked my drive to about 80yards of the flag, a sure contender for the longest drive.  However, we found the first one and I bogied the hole.  At the 6th, I realised I might have a chance of getting a good score if I switched to playing safe.  Par-ed the remaining holes to shoot an aggregate 40 i.e. -5 !!!  With 5 pars, this was my best aggregate score on Shey under competitive condition.  Kudos to the figuring out that golf is really a mental game and course management and short game is far more important than  hitting monster drives.

Ritesh started with a handicap of 11 (so should be on the leaderboard)  As the fourball in front of us was a slow bunch, we had a lot of waiting, so I could watch Ritesh play a few shots.  I saw him drive a good one on the 3rd (P4) to about 50 yards to the green.  However, he duffed the rest to settle for a bogie.  While waiting on the 6th, I saw someone from Ritesh’s group hit a good drive, but about 50 yards shorter than my provisional.  Later on he would go on to win the longest drive – ahh, a missed opportunity for me.   Ritesh finished with a one under par.

I could not see much of PGs game.  He continues to struggle with his direction.  While he is starting to dial in his distance, he is missing his direction.  He eventually shot 50 and ended net par.

[PG update : Started well and ended well -the middle bits left a bit to be desired. I had 2 blowouts – on the 4th and the 5th which affected my overall score. On the 4th, I lost my head as I topped my tee shot and then just rushed through the hole trying to put it to an end. Bad mistake – 4 putts on a par 3 hole tells its own story. On the 5th, my tee shot was badly sliced and I had to play with a provisional ball. Thankfully, I gathered my nerves back and pulled back the score – getting through the last 4 holes at par or bogey score. Not pleased with the effort given the amount of practice I had the whole week]

RaG brought in the tail, but with him tee-ing off 30 mins after me, did not get any opportunity to see or talk about his game.  He finished with a score of +3.

In my group, Mark and I played off 12, both scored a 40!!.  I finally won the best aggregate score on a backcount of 6, while he kept the winners crown.

PS:  Based on last months, Ritesh leads the leaderboard.  He hasn’t updated the leaderboard. However, given this week’s performance, I will shave off a couple of strokes of mine. So we might leave the leaderboard intact (unless Ritesh updates it)

PPS:  RiG, PG and RaG, if you read this, can you add your bits to the blog..

Surviving the recession bunker

Golf Clubs need to rise to the challenge… collectively.

I am very lucky. Within a 10 mile radius, I am spoiled for choice re golf club spanning the exclusive to pay-and-play ones and everything in between.    It’s been nearly two years since I took up golf, and my mission is to play as many courses as possible.  I have ticked off some of these clubs in my catchment area and have had different experience at these clubs.

As I read about how clubs up and down the country are struggling during the recession, with my management consultant hat I am tempted to do a Porter five-forces model to the industry.  However not wanting to complicate the issues, I have donned my ‘shoes of the customer’ and penned down my top five things that clubs could do to prevent the downward spiral fuelled by recession, customer attrition, onslaught Internet voucher etc

  1. Know thy competition:  In the current recessionary times, golf clubs need to understand that they are not competing against other clubs in the area.  Golf is competing with ‘other choices in the household basket’.  Golf can be seen as a discretionary expense for most amateur golfers.  GCs need a change of mindset to understand this and therefore refocus their efforts to make it easier (not always the cheapest) to entice golfers to visit them more often.
  2. Know your customer:  Getting more people involved in golf is going to be fundamental in securing a long term sustainable future of the game.  Golf can be intimidating for a newbie; GC can help soften this image.  A number of options are currently be trialled e.g. 12 hole games, 9 hole course, Tee-it-forward, Wide-Open etc.  Forward looking GCs can trial or adopt some of these.  Easier options of relaxing dress codes, free wi-fi in the club house, a health club or a kids’ corner and schemes to engage the whole family rather than just the male golfer would go a long way to get more golfers in.  Anyone sparing a thought around what can the WAGs and kids do when daddy wants to go wants to go and play golf?
  3. Offer choice:  Where clubs can, GCs should partner with other clubs within their area – a form of cooperative competition or Coopetition as it is known in management circles. If clubs are part of a group, then club members could be given free access to the other clubs in the group.  If not part of a group, then GCs could team up with other GCs and offer reciprocal preferential green rates or work with their county golf association on county cards.
  4. Simplify membership: As a weekend golfer, I see no value in joining a 7 or a 5 day member that most clubs traditionally offer.  I have seen instances of ‘executive memberships’ that try to address this gap, but need to see more of these around.  On the subject of memberships, am not convinced of the idea of creating a barrier to joining by asking for high ‘joining fees’; which are increasingly being waived by clubs. If you are going to waive it, then why ask for it in the first instance? These days, Membership (and green fee) options seem to be like Railway ticket prices – more options and restrictions than what a common man can understand.  Remember, most golfers cannot count beyond a double bogie on a Par 5, so simplify!!
  5. Improve stickiness in the pro shop:  Most golfers tend to research before buying big ticket golfing items.  They know the cost of clubs, balls, gps etc before they look at the sticker price in the pro shop. Some pros will match Internet or High street prices and therefore keep the stock moving.  This is a good move, since it keeps inventory turning over and avoids the loss via end-of-season-sale. One strategy for GCs to capture this market would be by giving away free driving range credits on loyalty cards based on pro shop purchases – a clear differentiator for clubs over Internet or High Street providers.  Similarly, there are several instances of Pro shops leveraging their PGA status on Internet sites like eBay to sell kit – a great way to provide peace of mind against counterfeit golf kit.  GCs could do more by empowering pros and shop assistants to cut deals on kit or green fees that recover cost rather than deliver an absolute margin on investment.

Golf clubs need to monetise multiple revenue streams while addressing underlying fundamentals around competition and customer demand.  Besides looking at their peers, they need to rethink the business model and look at other industries for inspirational ideas.  In some ways, golf clubs can draw parallels with the airlines industry. Both have significant sunk cost either on the ground or in the air and both are selling a perishable commodity.  Each plane ticket must be sold before a flight takes off, just as a tee slot has to be sold before the tee time—so it’s in the interest of the GC to get some money, rather than no money for them, even if it’s not very much.  Also like the segmentation within the airline industry, GCs can do well to see how they position themselves, leverage their assets and what kind of clientele they attract.

The parallels between air travel and golf certainly isn’t perfect (I will blog about it later), but there are parallels that golf clubs can learn from and exploit to their advantage.   Also, like the airline industry, not every golf club will survive this downturn, but it is in the interest of the golfing community that we can save as many as possible and keep the game alive, otherwise I am not sure what I will do next weekend.


The Volvo Pairs at Hoebridge

This saturday, I teamed up with Rakash to play the Volvo pairs matchplay.  We faced off to Ben Hunter (HC 3) and Simon (HC 13).  Ben is probably the lowest ever handicapper I have ever played in an amateur matchplay.  With 3/4 handicap difference available, RaG and I got 16 HC, while Simon got 8. I was hoping that this weekend would end with a different result than last week’s singles matchplay.

We got in on time.  RaG had warmed up with a quick 9 hole on Shey in the morning. However, that was belittled by Ben and Simon turning up after playing 18 holes at Pirbright.  Looked like I was the only one looking a bit rusty on the first tee box.  Below is the match summary.

#1 (P5): Simon went first and hit a decent fade with some good distance. Ben went next with one of the longest drive I have ever seen.  It went miles and with a very aggressive line, landed on the fairway way past the dogleg.  My first shot of the day was not too bad, but started to gain a bit of an unplanned fade towards the end. It ended up near Simons.  RaG put a big hook on him, and just missed the bunker on the 3rd hole.  After that I hit a couple of trees and was never in contention. Ditto for RaGs, and we lost the first hole as soon as both Ben and Simon landed their second shots within chipping distance.

#2 (P3): Simon ended short on the left while Ben went into the bunker at the back.  With the pin placed up and towards the left, there was little margin for error as the greenside bunker is on the left.  I hit a decent 8-iron, and ended just short of the greenside bunker.  RaG sliced onto the third hole on Shey, and was out of contention straight away.  Simon had a double contact on his chip and Ben executed a flawless exit from the bunker. I chipped well and then putted to par and win the hole.

#3(P5):  Shortlived joy for me, as I topped my tee short to see it dribble into the long grass before the ladies.  RaG got some distance, but could not get his slice. Lost ball.  Ben and Simon were coasting.

#4(P4): Ben opened his shoulders to show us the art of hit a 300+ yard monster. Simon got reasonable distance on his tee, and I matched his distance.  RaG also had a decent drive and was starting to feel upbeat.  With about 200y to go, I pulled out my hybrid.  It has worked in the past, but not today, as I saw the ball get airborne and then disappear into the long grass.  RaG got a decent second shot, but did not hold his nerves after seeing Ben deposit his second shot on the green.  The lead was increasing.

#5(P4): Simon topped his tee and did not go past the ladies, however Ben’s monsterous drive, got a bit of slice but went miles.  RaG had a great drive to set him up with a beautiful approach.  My drive was ordinary and gave me a tough approach.  RaG capitalised on his drive by hitting a beautiful second shot that got his just outside the green. After much searching, we found Ben’s ball. While all of us expected him to push the ball, in a brilliant display of the short game, he showed us how to hit the ball over the tree and get it to die on the greens. What chance did we have against this.  RaG did not hold his nerve and saw his chip run away down the far side.  To his credit, he chipped and putted well to help tie the hole. It was good to see RaG among the winners list

#6(P3):  The steep downhill P3 is a very interesting one.  Simon ended on the left hand side greenside bunker, Ben in the one on the right hand side.  High on his win on the previous hole, RaG promptly dispatched his ball OOB on the left hand side, while I was the only one to get onto the green.  I two putted to keep the fight alive.

#7(P4): The curse of the winning hole, came into play, as the wind picked up and deposited my ball on the mounds on the right hand side.  RaG and Simon hit two flawless drives, only to be out driven by Ben who had now started playing his 2-iron!!!! A masterclass on how to play the wind. I nearly pulled off a miraculous rescue, only to clip a tree and get out of contention for the hole.  RaG soldiered on and nearly tied the hole again, but we had a lost another one.

#8(P4):  The wheels were coming off my game, as I saw another slice on my drive.  I searched for my ball, and spent some time with the local fauna (see pic).

My lost ball was quickly followed by a lost ball from RaG.  We conceded the hole. The lead was starting to bigger.

#9(P5): Decent drive by me was followed by a poor second shot. However, some decent recovery from me saw us lose the hole by a shot.  The lead was upto 4 holes.

With daylight between our scores, we stopped for a quick bite, as RaG kindly bought some food.  Unfortunately, being a busy course, we could not sit down to enjoy it.  So we hoofed it to the 10th.

#10(P4):  All drove well, but RaG and I hit poor second shots to see our ball end either side of the green.  I chipped back while RaG struggled for control.  We lost the hole by another stroke.   The misery continued.

#11( P4):  Simon and Ben went right, I went left, while RaG went extreme left in to the long grass.  With RaG out of the equation, I hit a poor second shot to come short of the green.  Ben rolled into the right hand bunker while Simon hit the green.  However, I did an up and down to win the hole.  There was a flicker of hope.

#12(P3):  Hit the green in regulation about 15 feet from the green.  Simon and RaG found themselves near the bridle path on the left.  The accuracy of Ben came handy for him as he ended up between me and the flag.  I had a horrendous putt as I stopped short of the hole.  A bogie from me meant, we had lost the hole.  The flicker was turning out to be dying embers.

#13(P5):  With the tees moved to the left hand side of the bridle path, it created an interesting angle.  Simon’s tee shot looked like it went past the white OOB markers.  Ben’s tee did not create any such questions, as it sailed over the trees onto the #14th.  They guests conceded gracefully, I guess they were being gracious J

#14(P4): I topped my drive, but got some reasonable distance on it, which was promptly matched by Simon. RaG was short but all of us were outdriven by Ben and his 2-iron.  Second shot from Simon found the green while Ben was just outside the green.  I probably hit the best 8-iron all day, to see myself about 5 feet from the hole. Held my nerves on the putt to win another hole.   We were starting to stage a bit of a comeback!!

#15(P4): Another drive, more wind and another slice… I ended just short of the trees on the right.  The other three shot about the same distance as me.  My recovery shot saw me go right into the rough; Simon went left into the rough; Ben’s aggressive line saw him in the greenside bunker; RaG shot himself out of contention.  A perfect pitch shot saw me next to the flag, while Simon failed to hit green and Ben got onto the green.  Some accurate putting under pressure, got me another hole!!  Indeed a comeback.

#16(P3): The uphill p3 has eluded me for the past six months.  RaG saw his ball tickle past the ladies.  I was determined to break the jinx, so pulled out my 4 hybrid instead. Unfortunately, got underneath the ball and saw it balloon but stay on the fairway. Simon got into the greenside bunker, while Ben was just short of the green on the right.  This would have been a lost hole, if I hadn’t hit a perfect pitch and got a lucky bounce.  The ball ended about 5 feet from the hole. Ben then showed his ability to read the green perfectly as he nearly holed his 20 footer.  Given my stroke advantage, Ben conceded the hole.  The lead was now cut down to 1 with 2 holes to play.  There was a flicker of hope now!!

#17(P5): Another bugbear of a hole for me. My drive went right creating a very difficult angle for me.  Fortunately, Ben also matched me.  Simon went left and saw his ball roll off the fairway.  RaG whose mind was already playing the finals in Portugal duffed his drive and second shot to get out of contention.  With Ben and me having a difficult angle, there was a chance to equalise.  However, Simon pulled off a blinder with a difficult uphill that set him up very well for a third shot. Ben and I chipped out and saw our third shots on opposite sides. I was behind a tree, and this meant I need a few more shots to double bogie the hole.  Ben was out of contention once he got into the long grass.  In a heartbreak moment, when we least expected it, Simon bogied the hole to claim the hole and the match.  It was a great fight back but we lost 2&1.

#18(P3):  With the match lost, we played the last hole. RaG and Simon got anywhere near the green while I topped mine and Ben went into the greenside bunker.  RaG and Simon tied the hole, but there was no fight left.

Overall it was a great day out and it was pleasure to watch (and play) how a low handicapper would approach the game. We did fight back and it went to the wire. Ben’s approach lines were far more aggressive and his ability to shape the ball and hit really really far makes me want to be like Ben when I grow up 🙂