England win back Mulberry Ryder Cup trophy in style

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PSC golf from The Golf Club

Hua Hin and Summit Windmill were the venues for this year’s Mulberry Ryder Cup.  Following last year’s stunning win by the Rest of the World team the expectation was of a battle-royal, with England determined to put up a much improved performance this time around.  This year’s captains, Simon Philbrook of England and Brent Philp of the RoW, would be put to the test to bring out the best in their players.

Before any of this, however, we had to endure all the customary trials and tribulations that have become the norm it seems.  Firstly we had the good natured ribbing at the Saturday night pre-tour get-together down at the Golf Club.  This is a good excuse for an early tasting session and for some of the new guys to get their faces known and a feel for what’s to come.  The newbies this year included Grant Montgomery, Tim Wilkinson, Blair Philp, Doug Fitzgerald, Andreas Grunenberg, Peter Bauer and Derek Doyle.  A big welcome to all those guys.

The scenic back nine at Sea Pines Golf Club.The scenic back nine at Sea Pines Golf Club.

Here, of course, is where we receive our tour itinerary, not that it ever resembles the reality!  Amply pointed out by only 2 lonely tourists, out of 38, standing outside the Xcyte disco meeting point at 7 a.m. on the morning of departure, bags and clubs at the ready, receiving a barrage of jeers and whistles from the homeward-bound revellers of the Thai karaoke bars of 3rd road.  Indeed a call to one of the organisers to check time and date were in fact correct, revealed that said organiser was still in bed at 7.10am, in Jomtien!

When the stragglers (and the bus) finally showed up, it was a definite case of déjà-vu.  This wasn’t the nice, new, shiny bus as promised but a re-incarnation of the pile of junk that broke down on us the previous year.  Bodywork that had definitely seen contact with more than a few immoveable obstructions, seats that wouldn’t recline, or worse still wouldn’t stop reclining and a gear box that was crying out for help didn’t fill the tourists (or a clearly irate Steve) with much confidence.  But we had beer, spirits, Breezers, wine and lots of it, so we were a happy bunch, none the less.

So, at the crack of 8.20 a.m., we finally got on our merry way, only for … and I’m sure you hardened Pattaya-ites are way ahead of me here, the stop just round the corner for fuel.  You couldn’t make it up, honestly!  But Summit Windmill here we come.

Day 1

Forgetting the unusual circuituous route, the Windmill course was a very pleasant first day experience.  The welcome was good, it was a very nice lay-out, if a little wet in places but no reports of any really outstanding play came back to me, which I can only put down to a little over-eagerness to get in the party mood.

A very happy chappie, England vice-captain Barry Tregurtha.A very happy chappie, England vice-captain Barry Tregurtha.

England started their campaign to win back the trophy with a solid 7–3 victory and believe me on the trip down to Hua Hin the serious stuff got underway with a vengeance.  There was some pretty over-the-top performances that first night.  None more so than our very own ex-circus performer, acrobat and lion tamer, Geordie Jack, who left the girls bewildered by a dance routine that, I’m sure, nothing of the kind has been seen before.

The imperious ‘Captain Clipboard’ Sproxton tried hard to emulate this as did one of the original rat-pack members, Loz Shaw, but none of this prepared us for Loz’s late-night Meatloaf rendition, it was definitely a Bat Out of some kind of Hell..

Day2

So as we began day 2 at the new Sea Pines course it fair to say our party was not in the best of shape.  This course has been feted as one of Thailand’s very few that have holes actually running along the coastline and, although most of the course turns inland, the finishing holes around the bay are quite spectacular.

In true Mulberry Ryder Cup tradition, despite 3 months advance booking, we arrived to find not a single caddy for our 38 strong group!  In fairness the management tried to get their act together and most got caddies out to them by the 4th or 5th holes.  But not before some comical scenes of bags and trollies being left behind on tee boxes and the side of greens, pins left out and puzzled looks trying to read the greens.

Today there was most definitely a golf performance worthy of report: John McHugh and his partner Grant Montgomery, who both, incidentally, didn’t fall into the trap of first-night excesses, produced a blistering display of golf that, frankly, I have never witnessed in amateur golf circles.  And, yes, I was on the receiving end!  Looking at the other scores, my partner, Captain Philbrook, and I would, in all modesty, probably have beaten any other side out there.

In the Greensomes format we made the turn in level par 36 only to find ourselves 6 down!  Our opponents shot an incredible 31 that could have been even better, 4 birdies on the bounce were gimme putts of no more than a few inches.  Grant was long with laser-like accuracy, allowing his partner to bludgeon prodigious drives that, without exaggeration, were consistently around the 350 mark.  It was the best display of long, straight, power hitting I’ve ever seen!

Okay, that’s enough of that … the rest of the England boys fared much better and a repeat performance of the 7-3 win was recorded, so we were clearly out for revenge.  Obviously a number of lads were 2 for 2 and it would be interesting to see if anyone could go unbeaten.

Day 3

Day 3 was at the eagerly awaited Black Mountain course which, only a couple of weeks ago hosted the Royal Trophy between Asia and Europe.  It’s fair to say all the management and staff were thrilled at hosting another major event so soon after.

Before our arrival our coach driver managed to save the local authorities a few baht by performing some amateur topiary and tree-lopping service with the side of the bus, but no big deal.  First impressions were, indeed, impressive.  It was simply stunning.  A magnificent setting, superbly manicured and in tip-top condition with lightening quick greens.  Let’s hope we could all do it justice.

The RoW team rallied here today in the 4 man better-ball format, recording their first win of the trip by 5 and a half points to 4 and a half.  Making the overall gap at this stage 7 points, with 19 points up for grabs in the singles – and with memories of their singles demolition of England the previous year still fresh, the RoW team were certainly not out of it.

Besides some solid performances in the golf, two other incidents stand out from this day.  One previously heralded player, after seeing his chip short chunked into the water, had difficulty holding on to his club and looked on horrified as the club got a nice big bounce and followed the ball into the drink.  Fortunately this spot was quite shallow and the chastened individual managed a rather sheepish recovery of the offending article.

Contrary to popular belief the final mishap was not a planned event, in short Steve ‘Mr. Organiser’ Ellison was inadvertently left behind.  Two hours after the first group had finished Steve (who was not in the last group, by the way) was still tittivating himself in the showers as the bus headed off for a further night of merriment.  When questioned, RoW captain Brent, pleaded the Fifth.

Day 4

Another superb course, the Banyan, awaited us for our final days singles play.  Again the whole set up was professional and inviting.  We were met by the Director of Operations who welcomed us and gave us a run-down of the facilities.  Our group and competition name were on the welcome poster outside the pro shop and also replicated on the day’s score cards, with the final touch being free photographs of all groups on the first tee, waiting for us as we finished.

On to the golf then and there were some serious faces around, ready to do the business.  The RoW guys were down the range or on the practice greens, while more than one Englishman had to be called away from his breakfast to get to the first tee.  A case of over-confidence maybe?

Many games went down to the last green with some tremendous golf in evidence, far too much to single out here, but special mention has to be made for 3 guys who achieved perfect records.  Dave Mather (despite looking like death warmed up), Barry Tregurtha and Jeff Calrow were the stalwarts of the week.  If by some strange reason I have missed someone out then I do genuinely apologise, remember, a lot of Singha passed under my bridge too!

So, today’s singles score was England 14 and a half, Row 4 and a half.

The presentation was planned in the Banyans own Mulligans bar with a very acceptable hot buffet and more drinks.  The only problem was, this being the Mulberry Ryder Cup remember, no one had bought the trophy along.  So it was off on the long trip back home.  But wait, there’s more.  Five kms from town, to put the tin lid on everything, the bus runs out of fuel.  Like I said earlier, you honestly couldn’t make this up!

Final result then was a resounding win for England by 33-16.  Well done and congratulations to all the competitors, many thanks to all the guys behind the scenes and just one more thing … see you all next year!