The throbbing sensation against his inner thigh had become rhythmical, urgent. The Welshman’s hand, conditioned by years of training, much of it instinctive, reached deep into his pocket. After some fumbling, Ken Bones, golf organiser extraordinaire, extracted the mobile phone looked at the screen and immediately feared the worst. Shit. Don’t tell me one of my drivers can’t make it. After the call Ken crossed the driver’s name from the starting sheet and studied the four names now without transport. Glancing round the bar he noted it was still reasonably early which, going by the numbers present, suggested a good turn-out. He reviewed the starting sheet for the umpteenth time and knew he had no choice – he booked a third mini-bus.
Some forty minutes later and Sparrow’s Fart Bar, a hive of breakfast activity not ten minutes prior, now boasted just two customers; a somewhat fractious Farang and an amused Thai mini-bus driver. ‘Bloody no-shows,’ bemoaned Ken. ‘I can handle those that have the decency to let me know, but those that don’t…. jeez.’ The driver, whose services had been booked just 30 minutes prior, and whose vehicle was now surplus to requirements, simply shrugged and held out his hand.
‘Where the hell have you been?’ said Ken.
‘On the bog, ablutions,’ said David. ‘What’s the problem?’
‘You should be on the tee. Your group’s there now, waiting for you. You’re holding up the entire field.’
David looked at his watch; 1025. ‘The sheet said 1030 start. You told me I was in the second group. That should mean I’ve still got ten minutes.’
Ken’s eyes went skyward. ‘TIT forchrissake! Look, we’re in the hands of the starter. If he decides we go early, then we go early. You should know that by now.’
David was new to Pattaya. A 5-handicapper, he should have a reasonable knowledge of both rules and etiquette. The Kiwi appeared keen to fit in, although knowing he needed to be ready early had apparently escaped him. ‘Anything else I need know?’ he said, through clenched teeth.
Ken nodded. ‘Your first task after meeting up with your clubs and caddie is to seek me out, so I can confirm your playing group and actual starting time. It also tells me you’re present and correct. I can’t be arsed chasing down thirty-odd golfers each time, especially those whose routine involves ablutions just before tee-off. ’
Ken watched David stride off to join three Aussies on the first tee. A tad harsh, it’s only his second outing, he thought. Too bad. Now where is that gang of bloody Scotsmen making up my third group? Didn’t see their car in the car park.
‘When are we off, Ken,’ said Big Phil, a regular Sparrow’s Farter.
‘You were in group five, Phil, immediately after me. Are your playing partners all here?’
‘Good. Get yourself and them on the tee as soon as those Antipodeans clear off. And Phil, keep an eye on the bloody Kiwi in the group, the black-shirted one that comes across as the R&A’s spokesperson on all matters. Check out his pace of play. If he’s playing for the Green Jacket on every shot, I want to know.’
Big Phil nodded and wandered off to collect his group. Looks like another of those days, mused Ken. He had now accounted for all but six of his charges; the four Scotsmen who had their own transport, and two Scandis who were probably on the practise tee. He decided to hold his group back at least until he had located the missing two. The other four can bloody-well fend for themselves.
He was somewhat annoyed by the shambolic start to the day. Khao Kheow Country Club was amongst his favourite courses. That and his efforts at hitting practise balls during the week – a rare event for him – meant he was hopeful of a reasonable score. Ken loved nothing more than to cast all his worries aside and partake in his favourite pastime; a round of golf with the sun on his back, on a fabulous course and the chance to be competitive – what more could a man want?
Fifteen minutes later and Ken looked on as the first of his own playing group teed it up. In the absence of any warm-up, he formulated what he knew to be a reliable swing-thought – just take it back low and slow and stay behind the ball. At that moment he felt a prod in the back. It was one of the missing Scotsmen. He moved off the tee, out of earshot. ‘Yes?’
‘I thought we were third off. How come we’re now at the back of the field?’ said the Scotsman.
‘Because, Alan, you were late. I had no way of knowing where you were, so I promoted those who were here. You know the rules.’
‘To hell with that,’ said Alan, the Glaswegian accent hissing forth from clenched teeth. ‘We’ve had a gutful of going last. You’ll not be seeing us again.’
Ken shook his head at the departing Scot who stormed off to join his mates at the bar. ‘You’re up, Ken,’ said one of his playing partners.
Low and slow, stay behind the ball, thought Ken as he completed his first and only practise swing. As he starts to approach his ball, a thin, nasal whine pierces the air, ‘Ken, why are we playing the yellow tees? We’d be far better off playing the whites.’
Ken, choosing to ignore the comment, grits his teeth and continues with his routine. Driving is the strength of his game. So much so that he feels confident of a good result, even with the distractions he’s had to put up with. The first is a par-five dogleg left, and even allowing for water down the left-hand side and OB right, it is nonetheless a wide fairway. The mind is a strange thing however, for about the time Ken starts his down-swing, it reminds him that this is the fourth bloody time this month he has heard that same bloody whine complain about the bloody tee of the bloody day. His ball, his favourite brand and a Christmas gift taken out of its wrapping just minutes before, never stood a chance.
By the time Ken made the turn he had amassed 12 stableford points, which wasn’t too bad considering it had taken him four holes before he scored his first one. With just the 18th to play, he had built his score up to 31 points with an excellent back nine. Khao Kheow’s a tough course. Even a net par could see me with a podium finish. He was on the tee waiting his turn when one of his playing partners, who had a similar score, asked, ‘Ken, why do we pay more in green fees than other IPGC groups?’
Back in the clubhouse, showered and repasted, Ken sat alone as he compiled the results sheet. He soon realised he was two score cards missing, a problem as the owners had already left in private transport, along with their playing partners. Blast, another late presentation. His attention was drawn to an unsigned card. He looked at the name on the top and called him over. ‘Your marker’s signature is missing, Lob. Without that you will be DQ’d.’
Lob, a big congenial Aussie, shook his head and pointed to the table besides the one where most of his playing group were seated. It’s that bloody Kiwi. He refuses to accept our Local Rules as gospel. Reckons my birdie on the 16th should’ve incurred a two-shot penalty because my caddie took advice from his. It’s why he’s playing Nigel no-friends and sitting by himself. Know-all prick.’
‘And did she?’ asked Ken.
‘Yeah, she probably did. My putt followed his line so the two of them yak yak after his putt had missed. She just confirmed my thinking. But you know how it is out here, Ken. We can’t be expected to control our caddies on everything. We allow them certain indiscretions as I tried to explain, but he said it wasn’t in our Local Rules, so it’s a penalty.’
Ken nodded. ‘Ok, leave it with me,’ he said, making his way to where David was seated.
He placed Lob’s card in front of the lonely golfer. ‘Not here to make friends then?’
‘His caddie sought or took advice. Rule 8-1b; two-shot penalty. Simple,’ said David, not bothering to look up.
Ken eased himself into the chair opposite. He spoke in a low, conspiratorial tone. ‘David, you are new here. There are certain circumstances we encounter that require different management, and caddie infringement is one of them.’
David looked up. ‘Fine, so apply to the R&A for their sanction, which I doubt you will get, then include it in your Local Rules.’
‘Doesn’t work like that. Look, I’ve had a trying day as it is. And DQ’ing Lob’s card for lack of your signature, especially given it’s probably a winning score, is not going to make it any easier. How about you take my word that what his caddie did was allowable under our conventions, and that I am perfectly happy he not be penalised.’
‘What else was I to do? It’s not mentioned in your Local Rules, yet it appears your regulars are well aware of it. That means some of us are singing from a different song-sheet. Hardly seems right.’
Ken sighed. ‘I understand your concern, but you need to accept that those same regulars, on seeing you adversely affected by a caddie indiscretion, would advise you accordingly. Your score wouldn’t suffer. Tell you what, let’s have a beer or two after the presentation tonight, and I’ll try and cover some of the nuances of golf in Pattaya, OK? But in the meantime, you need to lighten up and I need you to sign this card.’
By 1800 most of the day’s golfers sat patiently in Sparrow’s Fart Bar waiting for Ken’s presentation. Their number was six less than had played that day. Unfortunately, they included two of the prize winners – from the Scottish group – and two who usually made it back, but were notoriously late. Ken apologised to the expectant crowd saying he was waiting on the arrival of two prize winners who, for some unknown reason, had been delayed. The announcement, Ken noted, was greeted with some discord.
‘Ive had a gutsful of playing with that prick. Slow? A broken watch goes faster,’ said Big Phil. ‘Last time I play with him.’
Ken’s mind wandered. This was the fourth request for alternative playing partners he had fielded in the half-hour since the presentation. His group, a veritable UN of golfers, generally got on very well. But today’s combination of a tough course and high scores seems to have tested the patience of many. ‘I’ll see what I can do. Were you held up much?’
‘Not by the group in front, no. Just by Derek. Don’t know where he learnt his golf, but it wasn’t at a golf club back home, and that’s a fact. Four, can you believe it, four bloody practise swings before each shot. You can’t tell him as he won’t listen. Typical Geordie.’
‘Really?’ said Ken, himself an avid Newcastle supporter. He looked at the man from Birmingham, ‘We occasionally need to shuffle those new to Pattaya in with our regulars, Phil. You were a newbie once. It’s part of your role to teach him the error of his ways. You were similarly regarded when you first arrived, as I recall. Try telling him over a beer as opposed to out on the course. Geordies have been known to listen, as indeed has the odd Brummy.’
The familiar throbbing sensation chose that moment to return. It was a fellow IPGC golf organiser. Ken’s brow creased the more the conversation went on. When the call had finished the front half of his completely bald head, normally a smooth porcelain-like dome was also furrowed. His head was bowed, propped up by his hands. His eyes were clenched tight. It appeared his next scheduled venue, a very popular course on the outskirts of Pattaya, had no record of his booking. Ken’s reservation, for eight groups of four, had been made some three months prior and re-confirmed just last week. Now, according to his mate whose group had played there today, the course had closed the starting tee for the next two weeks to accommodate a huge Korean tour party. Ken stormed off to the notice board. It was as he thought; the starting sheet for their round in two days’ time was already over-subscribed. His chance of securing a replacement venue with a similar tee time was, in high season, remote.
‘Khun Ken, what do you do for relaxation, play golf I understand?’ said the doctor.
Ken lay on his back, staring up at the transparent plastic bag whose contents were slowly being drip-fed into his body. He turned to his doctor and nodded. ‘Three times a week.’
‘It does not appear to relax you much, Khun Ken. I also play and when I tee it up, all thoughts not golf-related simply float away. I find all I think about is my golf. For four fabulous hours I enjoy a wonderful rest from the rigours of the day. So why doesn’t it work for you?’