A round ball on a square pate

HOLIDAYS again, and thoughts turn to pastimes. It's always seemed that golf should rank higher in my interests than it actually does. In my teenage years I lived only a sliced drive away from the first tee at Royal Birkdale, and my train journey to school took me through at least three championship or qualifying courses.

I remember getting up early one morning to see the BBC film Tony Jacklin and Arnold Palmer play two holes at Birkdale as part of a series on the 18 best holes in Britain. Jacklin had just won the American Open at the end of his annus mirabilis, and as I watched the immaculate smoothness of his swing, it was easy to realise that I was in the presence of sporting magnificence. However, much as it sadly turned out for Jacklin, 1969 was to be to be the apotheosis of my golfing involvement.

A schoolfriend and I occasionally sallied forth on the municipal links, but we soon realised that, with golf, unless you play regularly, each outing is as bad as the first. We never got any better, on a diet of three games a year, and when I recognised that I could actually complete an entire game of cricket, including the post-match drinks, in less than the time it would take me to hack my way from bunker to bunker for 18 holes, I kind of gave up, except for the odd round of pitch andputt in the West of Ireland.

I was forcibly reminded of the ancient game last week in the school dining room, when, not to put too fine a point on it. I was hit on the head by a missile. Wily old campaigner that I am, I flinched not a muscle, but had to admit what had happened when a pupil approached our table and said: "This just landed on my plate, sir." In his hand was a golf ball.

Fortunately, I had not been the target of some vicious assault, rather the hapless victim of a third-year pupil discovering, as countless golfers have over the years, that a golf ball bouncing on a hard surface takes on a life and a mind of its own.

You might expect that I received fulsome sympathy from my senior management colleagues. Not a bit of it. My fellow assistant head pointed out that I had doubtless avoided serious injury through the ball's having skited off my baldy heid.

Sadly, I have to report that my headteacher, a man well respected by colleagues and honoured by the Queen, produced the kind of reaction that gives golfers a bad name. You could almost see him, metaphorically, slipping into the diamond check Pringle sweater: "What make of ball was it?" he asked. "And where is it now?"

I haven't seen it since, but I hear he came in on level par at Ladybank last week.

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