When Tweeters Play Golf: Hot Chocolate, Fairway Mats & Llamas by Kieran Clark
Twitter has truly been one of the great social developments thus far in the 21st century. A simplistic but ingenious tool that has brought people from all across the world, together. It has influenced historical events, and given a voice to people who would otherwise never be heard. I’ve noted that it has proven to be particularly receptive to people with a niche interest, including golfers. After-all, golf is a truly social sport, therefore it is only natural that social media’s most revolutionary device should be a perfect fit.
And this interaction goes beyond the simple exchange of information and opinion between fans, players and esteemed members of the media. People have genuinely found friendship through Twitter, and golfers have discovered potential playing partners.
Four months ago, I experienced this by playing the Old Course at St. Andrews with three other people. Two Scots and one American. Something that would have never happened if it wasn’t for Twitter. Perhaps I’m easily impressed, but I find that a remarkable thing. A great thing.
So, it was only natural after experiencing my first “Twitter round” that I sought another. And it wasn’t long before the next opportunity came up. Once again, in St. Andrews.
In November, I had the great fortune of arranging a round with Stewart Armstrong, an affable engineer from Glasgow. We had been “friends” on Twitter for a few years, but had yet to meet in person. It’s a difficult concept to explain to people who have never utilised social media.
After a bit of deliberation, we decided that the New Course at St. Andrews would be the location of our round. A fine layout in its own right, opened for play in 1895, it sits adjacent – a matter of feet – from the legendary Old Course. Possessing a fine variety of holes and challenges, the New makes for a very satisfying golfing experience.
Stewart had never played golf in St. Andrews before, and I could detect a sense of excitement in the days leading up to the round. He was studying the course guide, looking through holes – no doubt imagining how they should be ideally tackled. It’s all part of the fun, and his enthusiasm was infectious.
And so it came to the day of the round. A murky day with misty skies. I walked from my aesthetically unappealing home in Perth (which looks like a military bunker from the outside) to a nearby service station, where Stewart would pick me up. (Me, being one of those mysterious people who doesn’t actually drive.)
But it was about this time when I became extremely nervous and anxious about the whole thing. As I paced around like an expectant father while drinking an utterly appalling excuse for hot chocolate, all sorts of thoughts went through my head. What if I didn’t like him? Or worse, what if he took an instant dislike to me? It would make for a highly uneasy few hours.
Meeting someone you have ‘known’ online for the first time is an odd experience. You are able to bypass the standard conventions of conversation. An introduction is not required, as I already knew his name. I knew where he lived, what he did for a living, and the names of his children. But he was still, in essence, a stranger. It’s an unusual dynamic.
It’s a bit like meeting a celebrity. You may know a lot about them, but you don’t actually know them.
Thankfully, my sense of dread quickly dispelled. After a quick handshake and brief chit-chat, it was time to hit the road to our destination.
The journey from Perth to St. Andrews takes approximately 50 minutes, plenty of time to ease any potential awkwardness. But there didn’t seem to be any, as we scoured across conversation topics as diverse as careers, appearances on televised gameshows, and Llamas. Strangely adorable creatures, Llamas.
The experience of driving into St. Andrews never grows old. Each time, there is a palpable sense of anticipation as you approach the Auld Grey Town. And suddenly…it appears before you like a golfing mirage. You instantly see all of the iconic images that have adorned countless numbers of photographs and paintings. For those brief moments, all of the ills in your life subside.
As we arrived, parked the car and removed the clubs, there was just enough time to have a quick change in the charming locker room of the St. Andrews Links Clubhouse. And so to the first tee.
The starter provided us with the course guide, a scorecard and pencil, before pointing out the small fairway mats that we would need to hit from if we found the short grass. It’s fair to say that my mat had a very quiet afternoon.
Stewart missed the fairway with his opening tee shot, but found himself in a reasonable position on the short par four. Me? Well, after stepping onto the tee feeling a sense of trepidation, my worst fears were realised. Only a gorse bush prevented my first shot from ending up on the Old Course, and so the golfing suffering began.
It was as if I hadn’t played the game before. And Stewart must have been wondering how I have persisted with playing golf for the majority of my life. I am a glutton for punishment, basically.
But I took a great deal of pleasure from watching Stewart play. There are few things I enjoy more than watching good golf, and my playing partner was producing a lot of it, particularly off the tee. I sensed that he grew to appreciate and really like the course as time went along, which made him become a little frustrated when he made mistakes. The course made him care.
As for me, well, by the sixth, when I had enough time to warm up, it was clear that my game had abandoned me to dash off for a few pints in the famous Jigger Inn. So I was past the stage of being frustrated. With Stewart hitting the ball with a commanding trajectory off the tee, I felt about as useful as Danny DeVito would if he was playing in a NBA match. Not very.
Ultimately, like most average golfers, the quality of my game goes up and down more frequently than a promiscuous young woman’s underwear. But this day was one of those truly bad ones. In fact, even the strongest cologne wouldn’t mask the stench of my game. It was repugnant.
But the company made it all worthwhile. And that is in essence what golf is all about. Companionship. Yes, there is the challenge against the elements, and the satisfaction when something comes off as envisaged, but the game is truly made great by the shared experience it offers with other people.
Afterwards, we licked our wounds in the clubhouse, with a cup of tea and diet coke being our choice of poison. It was in there (with the sprawling landscape of the St. Andrews Links around us) that I felt most comfortable. I had come a long way from my nervous state at the service station. It was a pleasant conclusion to what had been a thoroughly enjoyable day.
If it wasn’t for Twitter, Stewart and I would have never met. That may be a fact that he regrets, but not I. This round would have never have occurred, and you wouldn’t have had the opportunity to read this tale if it wasn’t for those 140 characters.
I can only hope that, the next time we play together, my game has decided not to run off to the pub.
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