Those of you who have had the doubtful pleasure of playing golf with me may have noticed that I don’t ordinarily bother lifting and cleaning the ball on those happy occasions when I finally make it to the green. Perhaps if I had been blessed with a silky putting stroke, I might feel a bit different but, unless it’s a significant splodge of detritus visible from, say, 20 feet or so, I’m inclined to leave it where it is in the hope that it might counter the inherent flaws in my stroke and miraculously cause the ball to drop in the cup.
If you need further evidence that I’m not an obsessive, you only need look at my clubs, which I religiously never clean. Leaving aside my solitary ace, one of my proudest moments on a golf course came in the pro-am prior to the Tunisian Seniors Open about ten years ago when former Ryder Cup star Maurice Bembridge pointed to my bag and said, “They are the filthiest golf clubs I’ve ever seen.”
There are times, I must confess, when I wished I were a little more anal. For example, although I have played literally hundreds of golf courses in dozens of different countries, apart from the travel articles in this magazine and elsewhere, I have no complete record of where I have played or, thank goodness, of the number of shots I took at each.
I have a few vague memories of, for example, thinning my approach at the last at Jolie Ville in Sharm el Sheikh and watching anxiously as the ball bounced back off the pro shop window to within six feet of the pin, but I can’t remember the names of the other courses I played in Egypt. Some buy ball markers everywhere they go or at least keep the cards of the courses, but I don’t.
Bored to distraction at Faro airport by a five-hour delay six months ago, I was reduced, in a desperate effort to keep myself amused, to writing down the names of all the countries in which I had golfed. Forty-eight was the moderately impressive total. Although I considered listing them all here, you will be relieved to learn that I decided not to.
Two months after the ‘Tedium of Faro Airport,’ I was in Greece (49). Then an invitation to Estonia arrived and an irresistible opportunity to reach my half-century. Despite the fact that I have an impressive ‘B’ grade in ‘A’ level Geography, I had to look it up on the map before satisfying myself that it wasn’t long-haul and therefore worth the effort.
Adolf and Joseph
For me, part of the attraction in visiting Estonia was to cock a snook at two of the nastiest non-golfers never to have pulled on waterproofs – Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. The former rendered Estonia Judenfrei (free of Jews) in January, 1942 and would surely have got his lederhosen in a terrible twist had he seen me wandering unmolested around the beautiful cobbled streets of the capital, Tallinn.
As if one megalomaniac dictator ripping your country apart isn’t enough, after Adolf came the evil Joseph to heap yet more misery on poor old Estonia. Since golf is a quintessential bourgeois activity, he would surely have ruptured his gulags at the thought of so much fun being had knocking balls around without so much as a KGB agent lurking in the deep rough to record names, addresses and handicaps.
Eventually the collapse of the Soviet Union allowed this tiny Baltic state to re-establish its independence in 1991 and celebrate its new-found freedom in the best way possible by building half-a-dozen decent golf courses.
Sumo Wrestling Star
Despite it having won the Eurovision Song Contest in 2001, I must confess I wasn’t expecting very much in the way of great golf from a country whose most famous sportsman is a sumo wrestler called Baruto Kaito. I couldn’t have been more wrong if I had said Rory McIlroy would never win a major because the Sea course at the Estonian Golf and Country Club has rocketed into my all-time top ten and is right up there with the likes of Turnberry, Royal County Down, Monte Rei, Pinehurst and quite a few others that I can’t remember right now because I don’t keep cards or buy ball markers.
After running gently downhill from an impressive clubhouse through majestic oak woodland, around several imposing lakes and pretty ponds, the course skirts the Baltic Sea before weaving its charming way home. Wonderfully isolated and natural, it also boasts several unusual features of special interest to us ‘A’ level geographers such as classic limestone outcrops with glacial striations and what are known in the wacky world of geology as ‘glacial erratics,’ in other words enormous great boulders that were left stranded when the mighty glaciers that carried them retreated when the sun eventually came out and the weather finally warmed up.
Here’s hoping the glaciers, fascists and communists never return so that the warm and welcoming Estonian Golf and Country Club survives for many centuries to come. Right, now where’s Uzbekistan?