Golf

Is there something in your life that you dip into, and out of, over the years? Like embroidery, or jigsaw-puzzle puzzling? Or an attempt to learn a foreign language?

I’ve had bursts of golfing enthusiasm at different times in my 58 years. And over the last couple of months, it’s been a veritable feast of hooked drives, double bogies and missed short putts after years of swinging famine.

I’ve been lucky enough to play locally in Surrey, with my brother (club captain in 2014) and nephews at the beautiful Hankley Common GC , and at our local West Surrey course with neighbour Steve. In the USA with old friend Michael Warren at Richter Park in Connecticut. And, most spectacularly, at Bermuda’s coast-hugging Mid Ocean Club with friend and MOC member Phil Barnes. And, just last week, with all the Anderson boys at the somewhat unloved Kent & Surrey Club at Edenbridge in rural Kent.

We’ve watched  frankly unhealthy amounts of the game on TV, especially the closing stages of the golfing Majors, staying up late to see the epic closing rounds of the Masters and US Open, and the unscheduled Monday finish to this year’s Open at soggy St. Andrews.

And just last week, I wandered up the road to the practice day of the Senior Open at glorious and historic Sunningdale, getting up close and personal with the game’s legends, and enjoying a free lesson from the R&A coaching gurus.

A veritable golfing overdose, after years of cold turkey away from the game.

And what have I learnt?

That golf is a metaphor for life.

One day you can play a single stroke, or hole or – if the game’s gods are smiling on you – a back nine almost as well as a professional. Or way better than your handicap, anyway. But mostly, you’re likely to blow a decent round with a bad drive, a triple bogey and a mindset that means you’ll lurch from crisis to crisis after that single error.

In life, you’ll think you’re on a roll after passing an exam, or getting lucky with that nurse you always fancied in A&E. Or finding a pound coin left in the gym locker.

But then…..BANG. The door of optimism will be slammed in your face, as surely as Tiger Woods will – allegedly – whip out his fairway wood at the first sight of a blonde cocktail waitress.

You’ll fail your physics paper by 1 mark; the nurse will dump you in favour of a single handicapper; the gym sub will be increased by £10 a month.

You’re a flick of a sand wedge and a single putt away from a birdie, but moments later you’ve under-clubbed, taking 3 to get out of a steep bunker and the birdie has slipped from your grasp as quickly as Europe have snatched victory from the jaws of a Ryder Cup defeat.

Call me pessimistic, but life in the long run is more likely to be a 3 putt rather than a chip-in from off the green.

Although there’s always been the ring of truth in Gary Player’s well-worn quotation:  “the more I practice, the luckier I get.”

Time to hit the driving range, then. Until a new jigsaw puzzle distracts me. Or the next Italian lesson.

Bermuda – a pivotal place

What’s been the most defining time – or place – in your life?

Marriage? The birth of your first child? When Michael Thomas scored that last minute goal against Liverpool to win the title for Arsenal in 1989? Or when the school bully smashed your head against the climbing frame in the last week of summer term?

For me, it was the 7 years or so I spent in Bermuda in the 1980s.

Not that there haven’t been other equally significant moments – passing my professional exams; marrying my lovely wife Gillian; taking 8-14 to tie the nail-biting cricket match for my school against our local rivals. But the relatively short time I spent on the tiny island in the Atlantic Ocean has had a disproportionately important part to play in my 58 year life story.

Why? Probably because of age and circumstances. As a newly qualified 24 year-old bean-counter, jumping on a plane to a strange place where I didn’t know anybody, was – with hindsight, at least – quite a brave thing to do.

We’ve just returned from a holiday to the island – our first time back in Bermuda since 2000 – and it has only reinforced what a special, beautiful place it is and how it will always be deposited right at the front of my ageing memory bank.

The pink, sandy beaches are still unspoiled, empty and inviting. The golf courses are as challenging and photogenic as ever. The fish chowder at the Lobster Pot restaurant still tastes as good as in 1982….laced with rum and Outerbridge’s sherry peppers, of course. Hiring a scooter is still the best way to see the island. As long as you don’t fall asleep on one as I did, feeling tired and emotional after a long, hard day playing hockey.

Scratch the Bermudian surface now, however, and you’ll see some differences compared with 3 decades ago: the population is declining; the economy is mired in debt; there are perpetual immigration challenges; there is unemployment for the first time in decades; and gang warfare has resulted in occasional shootings.

But for the resident and tourist alike, this place is still pretty close to Paradise. If you like idyllic beaches, turquoise water, any water or land-based sport, a temperate climate, good food, Gosling’s Black Seal rum and a party, it’s hard to think of anywhere else that’s much better.

From a personal perspective though, the clincher is people. Of those who I first met over 30 years ago, some are now spread around the world, some are native Bermudians and some are long-term residents. But all are kindred spirits.

It’s as though time has stood still. We share a mutual passion for wonderful Bermuda, and I will always count my blessings for the time I spent there and for the friends I have made through being there.

I know that when I’m dribbling into my cornflakes at the nursing home, I’ll still be able to conjure up a rejuvenating image of drinking Amstels at the Robin Hood on a Friday night, strains of “Don’t You Want Me Baby” leaking into the humid night as we hatch plans for tomorrow’s sporting activities and party location.

 

 

 

 

God Bless America

Stars and Stripes flags flutter proudly, high above perfectly manicured lawns.

A few firecrackers spit, as the barbecues sizzle.

White picket fences gleam in the summer sun.

It’s the 4th July in Connecticut, an affluent state just north of New York, and Americans are revelling in their Independence Day holiday weekend.

We enjoy our own BBQ and generous celebration, thanks to good friends Michael and Amanda Warren. Originally from the north of England, but now assimilated Americans after living here for almost 25 years, and bringing up their 3 children in the land of the free.

Later, we watch the “Macy’s 4th July music and fireworks concert” live on TV. A dazzling pyrotechnic display dances over the Hudson River, as a succession of musicians laud their mighty country.

Afterwards, we watch The American Sniper on TV. Based on the real life of Chris Kyle, Bradley Cooper plays the fiercely patriotic Navy Seal, who joins up after watching 9/11 and knowing that being a rodeo cowboy does not give him what he craves.

In 4 tours of Iraq, he kills more than 150 “insurgents” in their own country and becomes known as the legend.  A huge bounty is put on his head by the Iraqis.

Back home between tours of duty, he struggles to come to terms with leading a normal life with his wife and young children, when he could be in the war zone protecting his comrades and everyone in his home country.

Barack Obama is nearing the end of his second term of office. The Democrats’ natural instinct is to recoil from fighting wars overseas, after the disastrous Iraqi conflict undertaken by the Bush Republican administration.

But the new ISIS threat increases by the day.

The United States of America is at a crossroads. Does it continue to be the world’s policeman and, like Bradley Cooper, remain proud to fight on foreign soil for freedom at home, behind the white picket fences?

Or is that exactly why the developed world is terrorised today by an organisation that makes Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda look like boy scouts?

How will USA and the world look next 4th July, I wonder…….

 

NYC revisited

When I first visited New York City in the early 1980s, its Guardian Angels patrolled the streets and subways in response to escalating violence throughout the 1970s.

I half expected to see Charles Bronson gunning down a few gang members on every corner.

Fear lurked throughout the city, especially in areas like Times Square, Central Park.  and Washington Square Park.

Fortunately Mayor Rudy Giuliani spearheaded the much heralded zero tolerance approach to crime, and the city gradually became a safer place. There were around 2,000 murders every year in the 1970s and 1980s. Since 1998, it’s consistently been below 1,000. With the stark exception of 2001.

Gill and I are spending a couple of days in NYC now. I’ve been back many times since that nervous first experience, but I’ve never felt as safe as we have done this time.

We’ve walked the length and breadth of Manhattan. Well, almost. To Times Square very late at night. North from mid town to Central Park. West to Hell’s Kitchen. South to Chelsea, the Meatpacking District, through Soho and Tribeca to One World Trade Center. The entire length of the thrilling HighLine project.

We drank in Greenwich Village, then enjoyed a brilliant R&B, jazz, funk, soul session in a small, sweaty atmospheric venue in the Village, before walking the 2 miles back to our hotel, after midnight.

And we felt safe.

I remember Washington Square in the Village as edgy, drug-fuelled and lurking with danger. Today, after a recent makeover ended in 2014, it feels like a safe haven. The chess games are still played out under the shade of tall, wind-blown trees. Dogs have their own canine playground. Everyone sits calmly around the fountain and plaza, by their very own Arc de Triomphe structure, enjoying city life.

NYC hasn’t been completely sanitised. It still has some rough edges, and I hope they’re retained. But it is good to walk the streets with relative optimism that you won’t be subjected to random violence. At least not to the extent of previous generations.

Looking at the 9/11 memorial and reading that the city is on alert for a potential terrorist attack on the symbolic 4th July, it’s thought-provoking to contemplate the way in which life in this iconic city – and further afield – has changed in recent years.

What would Charles Bronson do now?