If life were a party, golf would usually be the guest in the kitchen, tidying glasses and checking the bin for bits that should be recycled. But this summer, it has hit the dancefloor like Miley Cyrus grinding up against Robin Thicke at the VMAs. With Justin Rose contributing a golf gold to Britain’s bank of Olympic medals – and the South Korean suitcase scandal – golf is now exciting!
If you missed it, suitcase-gate was like a re-run of Tonya Harding’s hit on figure skating rival Nancy Kerrigan before the 1994 Olympics. In this case, the father of Olympic hopeful Ha-Na Jang dropped a suitcase on the back of her rival, Gee Chun, as she stood on an escalator. Jang won the HSBC Champions tournament, and rose from number six to number two among Korean golfers – putting her in position for the Olympic team.
Suddenly, I can see golf as the backdrop for a Jilly Cooper bonkbuster. How much passion might there be behind those pastel argyle sweaters? Perhaps I’ll find out at the 9 Hole Championship, taking place at the Belfry. I’ve been invited by a PR, who books me in for a lesson first. I’m already kitted out in purple golf shoes with a matching glove, embodying the adage “all the gear, no idea.” My lesson is with PGA pro Matt Nicolle, who tells me I’m very good. This is not even a lie. I am hitting the ball at a screen that measures the height and distance of my shot! The swing, where I’m meant to get my arms across my body, is tricky because of, well, breasts, but I wouldn’t want to grasp it too quickly or there’d be no need for someone hot and handsome to help me.
We arrive at the Belfry after a two-hour-plus train journey, because the PR booked the cheap seats. The Championship starts later, so we gather in a caravan where a sales rep tells us how we can upgrade our golf handles. This is the gist, anyway. I recognise 30 per cent of the words in each sentence, but I am at the front, nodding with Berocca-boosted enthusiasm.
At lunchtime, American Golf’s director of marketing makes a speech, saying they want more women involved in golf and a better image in the media. After the buffet, we go for a game of crazy golf, which has miniature replicas of Ryder Cup holes. Although I feel competitive, I don’t keep score because I can’t be bothered to carry the bit of paper. Instead, I make up for my lack of results by lifting the flag in a showy manner, each time I retrieve my ball. Patient PR explains birdies and eagles but I’m more taken by the holes. One offers ‘U-bend Fun’, while another promises a ‘Spiral Fun Hole’.
Back in the bar, I ask a waiter what the golfers are like. He says they get pissed and have punch-ups – Bel Air, the on-site nightclub, is apparently the local meat market. We stop for a G&T at the Halfway House, overlooking the final hole. We’re joined by ‘Long Drive Champ’ Lucas Dornan, who recently hit a golf ball further than anyone else. He shows me a picture of his abs on Instagram. Then he smiles, and it’s like that episode of Friends when Ross bleaches his teeth and they glow.
Head PR has told us all day that Dornan is “not your idea of the average golfer!” This seems to centre on him being a trader with tattoos. Head PR asks if Dornan’s wife is joining us that evening. He says they’ve split up but his girlfriend is coming. Bizarrely, when I sit down to dinner, a woman on my right, wearing a massive rock, introduces herself as Dornan’s wife. Golf’s intrigue, innuendos and skulduggery mean Jilly Cooper must consider it for her next novel…
Thank you to FootJoy for kitting me out in my golf gear.
Samantha Rea is a freelance journalist living in London. She can be found tweeting here