Club competitions are back and, despite reminders that things are very different, Steve Carroll found things are actually all too familiar

Who said cash was king? An arm stretches expectantly out of the double doors but my money’s no good here anymore. Instead a bleep of a machine, a millisecond of contact between phone and plastic, and the competition entry is paid.

After years of frantic last minute ATM stops, of scrabbling round the back of car seats in a desperate hunt for stray pound coins, this is a consequence of coronavirus I can actually get on board with.

The hazard tape less so. It stretches rigidly round the back of the clubhouse, ready to block the ambitions of anyone whose mind might be wandering on the way to sign in.

It’s an effective barrier, but add in a couple of cones and a digger and it looks like a stretch of the M1. It’s an all too painful reminder that times have changed.

There’s one scorecard per group now, and one threeball at a time on the practice putting green.

It was always a bun fight to find a spare hole if you teed off at peak time and it suddenly occurs to me, as I roll a few five footers, that I’ve no longer got a reasonable excuse for leaving the opening putt 20 feet short.

Today, I’ll achieve a first. But it’s not a hole-in-one, or anything else that won’t leave me repeatedly slapping my head and cursing my stupidity.

club competitions

It’s been so long since I’ve teed it up properly that on the 5th green I inexplicably pick my ball up without marking it first.

What’s worse is that now I finally know the rules, I’m instantly aware of the penalty. The solitary Stableford point I was about to cradle from a battling bogey like a newborn has been snatched from my grasp.

I’m also consciously fighting the compulsion not to touch the flagstick. Our poles are a little thicker than most and I can never quite shake the conviction that anything a touch firm has a decent chance of coming right back at me.

If everything else around this delayed start to a truncated season feels different, there are still reliable reminders that, even in a Covid-19 world, some things never change.

Like my opening tee shot, which nestles in its usual position of straight left into the trees. Or the blocked drive on the 7th, which demands an immediate reload and the fleeting cognisance that my return to action is probably going to end in an all too familiar .1.

As it does, when another tee shot that comes straight off the toe end of the club isn’t even worth a perfunctory search.

The result is unsatisfactory. I don’t need to look at a leaderboard to know 30 points won’t be anywhere near the upper reaches.

That’s probably for the best. It’ll need 48 hours and a member of the golf team looking like something out of Contagion before we’ll see the fruits of our labours.

I’m not sure I could have handled the anticipation of having a score that was actually worth waiting for.

What is novel, though, is my attitude to this setback. Banging clubs in anger has never been my style, but an afternoon spent sulking like my four-year-old denied an ice cream is the usual consequence of a day that has ended with my handicap once more on the rise.

Instead I’m filled with expectation. Hark back to March and who’d have been confident of having any sort of season with which to look forward?

But the calendar is stacked, we’re out again on Wednesday and board comps are just a few weeks away.

This is the year my name finally ends up in lights. At least now I am able to dream.

Has your club got back into competition action and did you play? Let me know how you got on in the comments, or tweet me.

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Steve Carroll

A journalist for 23 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former captain and committee member, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the national Tournament Administrators and Referee's Seminar. He has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying and the PGA Fourball Championship. A member of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap.

Handicap: 10.9

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