The Longest Day
Six and a half hours. That was it. For the three of us, the realisation of this came as a bit of a shock. For three guys who barely ever shut up, to find that we ran out of banter at just past the halfway point of our epic charity challenge was a humbling experience. But before we get there, let’s start at 5.30 am, 27th July 2011, on the first tee at Hurtmore Golf Club in Guildford. And amazingly, it wasn't raining.
As the previous blog post explained, Phil Bennett, Simon Hoyle and I accepted Macmillan Cancer Support's Longest Day Challenge. This fund raising event aimed at golfers is to play 72 holes of golf in one day, walking the whole way. So for us that meant a walk of 20 miles, a par of 280 and strikingly (or should that be shockingly) pink shirts to do it in, for which we all thank you Simon.
Joining us on our adventure was Phil's neighbour, and another Simon, Simon Hoffman. Simon 2, would be our official photographer, logistics man-in-the-golf-buggy and “enthusiasm coach” to shout the required verbal at us when the willingness to continue flagged. So, armed on the first tee with cans of Red Bull (supplied and delivered by Red Bull, thanks once again!) we looked down the first and let rip. Knowing we had to average around three to three and a half hours a round to get the whole 72 in before sunset (20:47 that evening), we set off at a pace, and something amazing happened. The balls started going where we aimed them! Now for Simon (playing off a handicap of 7) and Phil (playing off 8), this is only to be expected, but as a 24 handicapper myself, this was nothing short of miraculous. But considering we had agreed to go for it over the first 36 holes, we thanked the golfing gods (Angus and Seumas, if you've ever wondered what their names were) and cracked on. The first round was rather enjoyable, given the lack of sleep and the early start, determination was high and the chat was flowing. As we worked our way round the lovely parkland course at Hurtmore, two things were becoming increasing clear, Phil and Simon were playing superb golf and Simon 2’s giggling, seconds after what was becoming the obligatory sound of the shutter on his camera and the pictures he captured, proved that this whole thing may not have been such a crazy idea. But that was the Taurine in the Red Bull affecting my thinking. It would get so much worse…
But that point was a good few hours away. The first and second rounds would prove to be highly enjoyable. The first round was a bit of a blur, Simon and Phil playing excellent golf and despite the 05:30 tee off, the banter was to a high standard. That or the Red Bull just made stuff funnier. Either way, the aim for the first round was speed, so we cracked on and surprisingly, if memory serves, putted out on eighteen with the balls we had started with. We walked off the 18th hole of the first round in just over three hours and headed for the 1st tee, via the loo and a quick intake of bacon and coffee. It was at this point we started chatting to the barman, and found he had completed his Macmillan’s Longest Day the week before. He had done it on his own and completed the 72 holes around Hurtmore in about 7 hours. That was an epic achievement. What was even more impressive, having been hit up for sponsorship by one of their own only a week before, the members and visitors to the course that day were very generous and regularly putting their hands in their pockets for us and we were able to add a tidy sum to our total for Macmillan. Round one ended with very healthy scores all round. Phil shot a gross 71 (net -7), Simon a gross 73 (net -4) and my good self a gross 95 (a net +1, a string of 6’s on the back nine killing the card). Round two loomed before us and the fifteen minute break felt like mere moments.
Round two began at the same time as the regulars to the course were making their early starts, which meant we encountered our first issue of the day. A group got to the tee just before us and questioned our priority on the course. It took a hole or two, but the four of us are a rather intimidating bunch when in the correct mood and we played through. So after a group of bogeys on the par four 1st, and a couple more bogeys for Phil and I on two and a par for Simon on the second, thus began a personally battle for me. The par 4 3rd hole is a 448 yard dog leg right, with an out of bounds running down the length of the right hand side of the hole. I’d walked off the first time round reasonably happy with a five, this time, Angus and Seumas (the aforementioned golfing gods) must have woken up and properly reminded me of how fickle they can be. I over rotated on the tee shot and sliced my shot off into the out of bounds. I took a drop and put one in the bunker about a hundred yards short of the green, two swings later, I was still in the bunker, the third out but short of the green.
In the end, I carded a nine…
My demeanour wasn’t cheery, the boys had walked off to the next tee, Simon 2 kindly waited and asked something I couldn’t hear in my rage, which I took out on that stupid ball from that nightmare and threw it into the woods as far as I could, choice words about it, and the board of Srixon, following it to its final resting place.
I stormed up to the tee on the generous par 4 4th hole. I say generous as its only 235 yards long, but well defended by trees and bunkers. Phil and Simon had teed off when I walked up, giggling as they saw me, all pink shirt and red faced scowl.
I pulled the 3 wood out of the bag, grabbed a fresh ball, took a moment to remind it of the fate of its predecessor, popped it on a tee and swung. The ball heeded the advice and flew true. For the record, Srixon make excellent golf balls. In the ten seconds or so of hang time as the ball flew down the hole, we knew it was a good drive, but as it rolled up the green, for just a moment, it looked better than perfect, it looked ace. Unfortunately the 20 or so inches past the hole proved it was not to be. I happily took the eagle and felt my mood lift as did the mood in our group, it was a good day. We followed up that with a 2, 4 and 5 on the par 3 5th and with a par for Simon and I on the 6th, we put our heads down and powered on.
Lunch, showers and a fresh set of clothes waited for us.
This was needed as even at this stage of the day, it was getting hot, and the chain drinking of Red Bull must have been raising our body temperatures.
Now, it behoves me to mention that one of us, on that day, was a complete idiot. Granted, there is ample evidence to say that it goes that all four of us, generally, are idiots. But on our Longest Day, Philip Bennett esq had chosen to wear brand new golf shoes. When I say new, I mean so new he was taking the labels off of them in the locker room before we walked out that morning. We mentioned he shouldn’t do it, or change into them for a round or two (“mentioned” could be substituted for mocked if I’m honest) but Phil wouldn’t be moved. Granted, if he sets his mind to something, even when he is blatantly wrong, he bunkers down and will not be budged. So every couple holes we ask, in good nature, “How’s the new shoes, Phil?” The response was always “Great! Best cash I’ve spent on golf shoes!” etc etc etc… Well, this time he says he’s looking forward to the half time break as the ball of his foot “was a tad sore from all the walking.” The Simons and I latched onto this and mocked for the remaining holes. Now good natured mocking is fun, mocking when it comes to pass that the words uttered manifest themselves in a huge blister on the ball of Phil’s foot when he peeled off those shiny Adidas, is pure joy. Apparently, his feet would have been worse with the old shoes. Right, Phil… Round 2 ended well with the good scoring continuing. I went one better than before with a gross 94 (net par 70). Phil, blister coming into play, I would guess, four worse than the first time with a 75 (net 67, -3). Simon was leading the pack, shooting another gross 73 (net 66, -4). We were enjoying ourselves and had reached the halfway point. Things, it seemed, were going well. Refreshing showers, clean shirts (still powder pink) and a light lunch (Steak sandwich and chips, we are top athletes remember) awaited us as we walked (or limped in Phil’s case) off the 18th green to the clubhouse. Once we had refreshed ourselves with the above, off out we went for round 3. It had been around six hours and 20 minutes or so on course and the banter was about to die.
We had been warned by the barman that the third round was the worst, that it was hard going and you will want to stop. Every word of that was and is true, but it cannot convey exactly how difficult that round of golf was. Let me try to explain. 36 holes is easy, fun even. 72 in one day is as mental as all get up, but holes 37-54 are terrible, punishing holes. All the enjoyment you have for the game seems to still be in the bar, not noticing you’ve already teed off. To put it bluntly, the mood got dark. At this point of the day, we had been on the go for over 8 hours and had reached the point where the Red Bull seemed unable to help us. You see, there is magic point in massive Red Bull consumption when your body’s blood sugar level and the amount of Taurine in your blood stream plateau and your body just stops feeling it effects, or if it does, the effects only last about a hole of golf in our world. Diabetics call this point Death. We felt about the same as we reached my nemesis, the 3rd hole. This time I shot a 7, but having reached the green in 3, the four putt was extracting the urine a tad. Phil, who must have been feeling sympathetic, took a six, Simon, not feeling anything of the sort and with a reserve of energy that came from depths Phil and I had drowned with years of professional drinking, took a par 4.
It was an unspoken moment, but just while the words stopped, Simon went on a tear. Now this can be easily put down to Phil and I not distracting Simon, but in reality, by the 6th hole (our 42nd of the day) we were all looking inwards, concentrating on just moving forward, as the realisation that we had to play all these holes yet again was setting in like an unannounced visit of the in-laws. We tried to gee each other on, start a chat, but it just didn’t work. Other than talking shots, yardage or a “good shot, mate” here or there, our brains were just working on continuing. Simon’s brain was working better and produced an amazing third round score of 71 gross, a net 64 or 6 under par. In the circumstances, it was an epic achievement.
As we trudged down the back 9, the mood was lighted by the arrival of a couple of angels and a cheering section. Phil’s wife Val, their son Seldon and some of their neighbours appeared, quite literally, over a hill bathed in the glorious sunshine that we had on that perfect summer’s day. It was a perfect time to show up, even though we were counting down the holes, we weren’t talking. But with new faces and no idea of what had happened so far, we could tell the story of our adventure so far and watch Seldon hijack Simon’s buggy and try and drive off into the distance. The company stayed with us over the back nine and got us through a bad time. So far our bodies, with the exception of Phil’s foot, were holding up rather well, our minds not so much. The concentration level needed for this was not something I was expecting, just holding the club right takes brain power and for all you haters saying “playing golf all day for charity isn’t difficult”, I throw down this same challenge for you next year. It will shut your smug faces right up. Even remembering it makes me techy! Round 3 came to a glorious end with Simon’s aforementioned heroics being the highlight. I, looking back at the scorecard in wonderment from the safety of six months between now and then, am still shocked I shot a gross 95, one over handicap. Phil was starting to feel the yards and carded a gross 77, a net 69, one under par. It goes to show the standard of the first two rounds when dropping to a 77, seven over par gross is considered “starting to struggle”! Angus and Seumas seemed to have taken a liking to us.
Round 4 started with joy at the fact it was the last time we would face the course. Each hole would be the last time we saw it; each step was closer to the pub. But after over 12 hours, for two of us, Angus and Seumas decided to play their hand. I’ve joked about the state of Phil’s foot, which was bad, but his knee, broken falling off a motorcycle was starting to make itself properly known. My back, hurt falling out of a window in the rain after leaving my keys at a mates house, had decided it had enough of all this rotating business. Round four would be fun…
Oddly enough, it was. We started quiet again, but as each hole put onto the scorecard, and the countdown was getting ever so close to single digits, the banter returned. But before then, my old friend, the 3rd hole, needed taming.
My tee shot was safe, my second shot not so much and the ball went out of bounds. Now hitting my forth shot into the green, I left myself a nasty putt to escape the only tricky hole on the course with a bogey. A good twelve footer lay before me; putter back and through the ball and straight into the cup. Cue jumping and cheering and general abuse aimed at this awful hole, which I will be happy to never see again. The mood was light now, but each step was its own battle, yet Simon was still in the zone. Simon had started with a +4 gross over the first five holes. He then calmed down and proceeded to produce a master class of golf. Over the next thirteen holes, Simon shot 4 under par gross.
It was a joy to watch, especially knowing that he did it on holes 60-72 after 12 hours of playing the game. It may have helped his girlfriend Amie, showed up on the back nine to watch, but who am I to say! Amie did have ibuprofen, which I stole a few of, chewed them up and washed down with the last of the Red Bulls. Psychosomatic or not, they allowed me to at least get the club ¾ of the way through my back swing and stumble to the worst score of my four rounds, but I didn’t care, the end was in sight.
It was on that final round that something magical happened.
At the turn and working our way home, hot air balloons began to rise from the fields around us. Playing a hole with a brightly coloured balloon growing before you after 60-odd holes is calming, oddly energising and rather wonderful.
Thank you for that treat Angus and Seumas.
Standing on the 18th tee was an odd sensation. We posed for a photo and just really looked at each smiling for a moment. This was it, hole 72 and we still had an hour of daylight to spare. Simon, with the honour, led the way down the hill, over the water and up to the final green. For the first time in four rounds, only one of us ended up in the green side bunker, me. A par each for Simon and Phil, a 6 for me, but it was over, we had done it. The scores for that final round were a gross 80 (net 72, +2) for Phil, a gross 98 (net 74, +4) for me and a final level par gross 70 (net 63, -7) for Simon.
Told you it was an epic round.
There were hugs all round, exhausted smiles and I think we each took a moment to look back up the course where we had spent the last 14 hours and 50 minutes. Walking off the 72nd green felt amazing and we made a bee line for the showers, to wash the experience off of ourselves and get to the pub for a very hard earned pint. But as we staggered out onto the club’s patio, blistered, sore and with an exhausted wild look in our eyes, we were met by our friendly barman, whose name I am ashamed to say I’ve forgotten. But he stood there with three beers and said he’d kept the bar open for us so he could buy us a beer. Legend. Needless to say, that beer didn’t touch the sides. Thanking the staff at Hurtmore for their amazing support, we decamped down the drive to The Squirrel pub where nibbles and pints of ice cold Peroni were ordered to round off the day and what a day it had been.
The final tally for the day was (Par 70 x 4 = 280):
Total Gross Total Net
Phil (8) 303 (+23) 271 (-9)
Simon (7) 287 (+7) 259 (-21)
Matt (24) 382 (+102) 286 (+6)
Stapleford scores (Four Round Total: 355 points):
R1 – 92 points R2 – 93 points R3 – 86 points R4 – 84 points
Looking back with six months of distance between me and the day in question, the memories are all good, tinged with pain. But the pain wasn’t the physical pain of the blisters and my back, but the mental pain of needed to keep going, to swing the club, to get through the next hole. The only thing that’s come close to this in a sporting sense was the cycle through Hell’s Gate in Kenya (shameless plug for previously blog post…). Another thing that only came to mind recently is that I’ve only played once since. Granted my travel schedule hasn’t been kind, but a single round with my Dad at UBC in Vancouver after all the effort and preparation of the month leading up to our Longest Day still does strike me as odd. Think I need to get back in the swing of things, get the clubs out and see how the swing is.