After many months of planning, changes to format, personnel and even location, the great charity golfathon of 2014 is finished. Having had a few days to recover and reflect on what happened, it's now time to share a summary of events.
Thursday 12 June - 4.45am - Ringmer, East Sussex. Daylight pierces through a gap in the curtains, stirring your author from his much-needed slumber. A glance at the clock and the realisation dawns that today is the day - 5hrs sleep isn't the best preparation for what lies ahead. After scrambled eggs, toast & coffee, we're ready to get it on.
Thursday 12 June - 6.55am - Mid Sussex GC. We arrive at the golf club to find a car park filling up and other members of Never Up Never In getting prepared for the off. Supplies, spare clothes & tents are moved from cars to buggy for the transfer to the halfway hut, our base camp for the next 24hrs. Golf gear is organised; suncream is liberally applied & drinks are collected - we are almost ready for the off.
Thursday 12 June - 7.38am. The three groups had taken their places on tees 4, 6 & 8, ready for the blast of the shotgun* to signal the time to get going. The clock ticked over to 7.40am - one swift swish of the driver, a click of metal on polyurethane & the ball traced an all-to-familiar path from tee to cabbage and we were underway.
*there was no actual shotgun, disappointingly
Thursday 12 June - 10.14am. Your author's group found themselves leaving the 3rd green, the first 18 holes having been completed in a brisk 2hrs 34 mins, and made their way, creatively avoiding the building traffic, to the 8th tee in order to maintain some pace and avoid waiting. Could this pace be maintained as the day went on? Er, no.
Despite the promise of being granted courtesy of the course, and members being notified of our presence, it became apparent that our searing pace of play was as unfamiliar as it was unexpected. Whilst the vast majority of groups encountered were supportive & accommodating, allowing us to play through without impediment, it was a shame to come across some who were less than enthusiastic about our endeavours and, indeed, our creativity when it came to keeping moving and avoiding hold-ups.
What lifted the mood somewhat was the arrival of Mark Walters, an OCF member from Folkestone, who had the intention of playing 18 holes with us. He rotated between the three groups and actually stuck it out until well after 7pm, getting through more than 50 holes, which is incredibly impressive for someone with 'one foot in the grave'. It made a real difference to the day to meet someone who has personally benefitted from the help that OCF provide - we all wish Mark all the best in his quest to make the GB team for the forthcoming Simpson Cup.
Thursday 12 June - 2.54pm. Fast forward a few hours and, stepping on to the 9th tee, your author's group prepared to play our 49th hole with the prize of a bowl of nourishing pasta & a Guinness awaiting us at the clubhouse. Getting round the course in the way we had, jumping ahead of slower groups and avoiding traffic jams, was a strange feeling to get used to, particularly the repetition of certain holes and, due to the layout, not playing other holes as much.
Thursday 12 June - 5.20pm. Having had a slightly longer break than planned, it was nearly 4pm before we got going again and, with the traffic issue failing to dissipate, our group chose to divert to the 13-18 loop after playing the 1st, bringing a sense of deja vu as we returned to the 1st tee just 80 mins later, having completed 56 holes. It would be fair to say that the quality of golf on display was starting to drop, the day rapidly moving towards the process of attrition that the overnight spell would inevitably become. Niggling aches & pains started to be more noticeable; each retrieval of golf ball from hole slower than the previous.
Thursday 12 June - 6.30pm. The sight of the halfway hut behind the 7th green, as we came to the end of our 63rd hole, was even more welcome than it had been in any of the preceding 11 hours, knowing that our tired legs would shortly receive salvation at the hands of Rachel & Bill from Equilibrium in Lewes. When informed of the plan that we would have sports masseurs available, I will admit to being a tad dismissive of the requirement. I now stand corrected, as it was a godsend. Thank you both for your help.
Thursday 12 June - 7.10pm. Having hauled ourselves back on our feet after our massages, forced aching feet back into increasingly heavy golf shoes and got ourselves going again, it was tough to find ourselves back on the 2nd tee for what felt like the twentieth time (traffic on the 8th forcing a detour). Soldiering on, we knew we were within touching distance of our previous milestone, the 72 holes completed on the Macmillan Longest Day in 2011 and, putting out on the 10th green, the clock ticking past 8.30pm, we found ourselves in uncharted territory. How would the bodies, minds & swings cope with the fact that we were only just over halfway through our available time? How slow would the golf be overnight? Would anyone drop out? The answers to all these questions, and more, were soon to be revealed.
Thursday 12 June - 9.50pm. The sun had set, the last few dregs of daylight helping the final group find their way along the 18th hole and a well-earned break. As the 9 of us sat down outside the clubhouse in the gathering darkness, tucking into our freshly-delivered pizzas and ice-cold beers (an athlete's dinner), we reflected on what had gone before. Your author's group led the line with 80 holes completed; the other two groups were a little behind with 70 & 69 done but we were all safe in the knowledge that, even with an hour's rest, we still had nearly 9 hours of playing time left. Armed with that information, the group practically leapt* out of their chairs to prepare for the night shift - glow sticks had been diligently added to tee boxes, hazards and flagsticks by the last group and so, once everyone had got their balls glowing, we were ready to step into the unknown.
*it was a slow process, with lots of groaning
We had decided, in the interests of pace of play & proximity to base camp, to focus our night golf on a loop of five holes - 1, 8, 11, 12 & 13 - which provided a mix of two par-3s and three mid-length par-4s and were also practical to tackle when the longest club being used was a 7-iron.
Friday 13 June - 02.10am. After starting with night balls that glowed after being struck, we soon discovered that price doesn't necessarily equal quality, the balls failing one after another to leave us using Glowballs. Our initial misgivings about a ball which required 'charging up' by shining a torch on it, soon gave way to satisfaction about the performance & feel off the club. A top tip - if anyone out there wants to do something similar, use Glowballs as they're really quite good. As the night progressed, we all felt our bodies starting to protest that much louder until, much to our disappointment, Ash declared himself done after completing 100 holes. This then presented Pete & I with a number of challenges, not least motivational & the reliance on each other for conversation. Nevertheless, we soldiered on, even when discovering that the other 6 players had also decided to rest their legs at base camp.
Friday 13 June - 03.45am. The first chinks of daylight had started to filter across the tree line to the east of the course and, as the sun crept closer to breaching said trees and flood the course, the decision was made to switch from night balls to regular Srixons for the final push. Your author's & his remaining partner had steadfastly refused to yield to growing fatigue, continuing to bunt the ball around the course (finding the same bunkers with alarming regularity) but making steady progress. In all, we completed 35 holes during the roughly 5 hours of darkness we negotiated which, all things considered, is a fairly fresh pace. As we came back past base camp, having tackled 114 holes, we discussed strategy with the others and decided we had a practical window of 3.5 hours to make a lunge for the line and get a final, regularly-ordered 18 holes in before our deadline of 07.40am. One last charge-up of drinks, snacks and Nivea (for a sore arse, in case you were wondering) and it was game time.
Friday 13 June - 07.35am. At last, the final hole is here. Having accepted that it would be unfeasible to dash back to the 18th tee and get another hole done in time, we walked down our 133rd hole with a huge sense of satisfaction, tinged with a hint of absolute agony & biblical fatigue, that we had achieved what we set out to achieve. We knew the other teams had all done 112 holes each so, even with Ash being forced to stop, we were comfortably beyond our 1000 hole threshold. It's fair to say the final tee shots weren't particularly brilliant but, frankly, we didn't really care. There was great relief when the final ball hit the bottom of the cup and we could shake hands & celebrate the achievement of the group.
I must say a huge thank you to Lee at Mid-Sussex GC for all his help in getting this challenge off the ground; to Mark Walters for sticking with us and keeping our spirits up; to Gavin for his patience & fortitude throughout; to all the sponsors, friends & family without whom none of this would have been possible; to Pete, Ash, Peako, Aggy, Pughy, Simon, Murray & Graham - thank you for being equally idiotic in agreeing to complete this challenge.
1039 holes completed by 9 golfers in 23 hours and 55 minutes.
That'll do, gents.
I am the Part-Time Golfer