I HAVE always had an uneasy relationship with the sport of golf.
Under certain conditions, there is nothing better. Weather is certainly important: I would rather wear sunglasses than a raincoat, I would rather the ball skipped along crisp, dry grass than plugged soggily into the mud. The vital ingredient in an enjoyable round, however, is the complete absence of human contact.
I am an extremely fragile golfer. My game is constructed, to borrow a Biblical analogy, on foundations not of rock but of sand. The burning gaze of a clubhouse full of hardened experts is, therefore, more than enough to unravel my round.
The start of a round always has the potential for embarrassment. As the first hole is normally located near the clubhouse, you are usually guaranteed an audience.
On one occasion, I was preparing to take my chances with a driver off the first tee when a group of players appeared behind us. Normally this would send me scurrying back to my bag for some more conservative club, but on this occasion, I recklessly decided to stick to my guns.
The result was not ideal, as the ball swung away to the right at a brisk pace, coming to rest in a forbidding and cavernous bunker. A member of the party behind, with the air of a man preparing for a long wait, sighed: “Come on Jim, get your coffee out”.
As well as the impatient fellow player, another inhabitant of the golf course to be wary of is the ruthless enforcer of club rules. These darkly officious figures of authority can be seen darting out from behind trees or out of bunkers, brandishing their rule books like rapiers.
I cannot be expected to perform to the best of my ability when some fierce committee member is peering at my golfing attire, on the lookout for non-tailored shorts or other evidence of wrongdoing.
It is essential, when under scrutiny on the golf course, to engage in occasional acts of deception. Even a golfer of my modest talents will, by the laws of physics, occasionally pull off an uncharacteristically brilliant shot, snatching a par from the jaws of a bogey.
If you happen to have an audience on such a joyous occasion, it is important to resist the urge to break into wild celebration, thus betraying the fact you have just played your best shot since a long putt in January 2008.
Instead, you pick up your ball, stony faced, and proceed to the next tee, leaving the spectators under the erroneous impression they have seen merely one in a glorious succession of pars.
I would not consider myself, in general life, to be an especially nervous, or neurotically self-conscious person. When I step onto a golf course, however, all that changes.
Why do I keep playing, you ask? Why do I endure all the run-ins with authority and the embarrassing shanks? I keep playing because every so often there is a magical round. A round played in beautiful sunshine, and with a sympathetic friend who will murmur “Hard luck” and shout “Good shot!” at the appropriate times.
A round when we can saunter through an abandoned course at our own leisurely pace, masters of all we survey.