Too much gin at the 19th hole; golf bag in the boot of the Jag; clubhouses where the women staff can get sacked for not wearing skirts; businessmen doing dodgy deals; mind-boggling finicketiness over what you wear on the course-English golf does not have a progressive image. The Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club, the Conservative Association and the Golf Club-all are part of the suffocating web of Home Counties Tory life. Ever since I became politically aware I have regarded a good golf swing as ideologically unsound.
Until now. Three years ago I revisited the game I had only ever played once in my life before-on a nine hole course behind my school where I failed to lift the ball in the air once. I never had that satisfying feeling of effortlessly clipping the ball and seeing it fly into the heavens before descending to nestle plumb in the middle of the fairway. Only public school boys and the inhabitants of the big houses in the suburb where I lived seemed to be able to hit a ball like that. This was a Tory game unplayable by lank, bookish grammar school boys. I gave up. I would never be able to hit a golf ball in the air; and never straight.
Today my record at hitting golf balls straight or in the air is still erratic, but I have come to love this absurd, obsessive and beautiful game. I owe my reacquainticeship with golf to my ten-year-old son (seven when he persuaded me to start playing) and an easy-going club in Kidlington, run by a friendly group of golf-loving Scots. It is true that over the past three years I have played mainly in the uncritical company of boys under 11 (great shot, Dad-as the ball carries 30 feet and then can’t be found in the saplings/swamp/high grass). But recently my confidence has been growing. I have begun playing with grown-ups, and I have twice gone round an 18 hole course and scored less than 100 (99)-a triumphant moment, as any golfer will tell you.
And I have come to see golf not as a Tory game, but rather one of the most democratic sports I have ever played. To play golf is to court regular humiliation-and the brilliant thing is, it’s the same for everyone on the course however good they are. Golfers share solidarity in their…