Golf can save lives – I should know

The Scoop

Tom Irwin returned home for an emotional visit to a golf club that did so much more than introduce him to our beautiful game

I am not an alcoholic. I do though have an unfortunate relationship with alcohol. I slur, I stagger, I say extremely stupid things, I black out. It is really not very pretty. I started drinking early. I was regularly drunk as a teenager. I was always the drunkest of my peers. In every time and every place I have had to sever ties with someone, or some people or everyone because of some drink related incident or incidents. Maybe by one definition or another I am an alcoholic.

Regardless I never go back. I lose contact easily. Perhaps we all do. I worry about seeing people from the past. I am never sure if I have crossed them in some late night altercation. I don’t like losing touch it is just easier. I make friends in a particular place or time of my life, and when it feels broken I move on.

These days I offend people, while sober, on here. Sometimes people don’t like what I write. Recently though people did like something I wrote. The people were from my first golf club, Louth Golf Club in Lincolnshire, and the piece was about the salad days I enjoyed there.

Louth is a small town in Lincolnshire. It is not quite the middle of nowhere, but you can see it from there. It has a beautiful church as its centre piece, it is a Georgian market town that never quite made it out of the 50s, there are no trains, and motorways start an hour away. It is set in the stunning, unspoiled Lincolnshire Wolds, it has 52 pubs, and I still consider it home 23 years since I last lived there.

Welcome sign at Louth Golf Club

My blog talked fondly about my time at the golf club. It was a genuine piece recounting what in many ways were the best years of life. I wanted to write it because I meant it. So when the golf club got in touch to say they liked it, I was tearful with pride.

I don’t want to overstate it – I know I am overstating it – but the validation of people associated with my past, and a part of my past I held so dear was, and still is, amazing. The feeling of re-acceptance made a real difference to me. I have never crossed these people, I don’t think, But I have crossed others. No matter how analogous, knowing I can go back somewhere, somewhere so special to me, and knowing that I can go back with my head held reasonably high, means everything.

The director of golf, Nikki Chantry, wrote to me saying they had read my piece, people at the club loved it, and would I like to come and help them open a new 1st hole. We made the arrangements: I was to cut the ribbon and then play a betterball charity game with the captain, John Bett. Childcare arrangements were made, and I was going home.

The drive to Lincolnshire is uncommon. You head east and you keep going. The M62 becomes the M18 becomes the M180 becomes the A16. The roads get narrower but the direction never changes. There are no traffic jams because no one goes there. I often wonder why not. Hills roll endlessly, the skies are enormous, everyone can afford to live there, there is space, everything is familiar – the hills, the houses, the faces. The smell in clubhouse is the same: chips and cheese.

I learn that a new 1st hole is required because land has been sold for houses to ensure the club’s survival. Like many – nearly all – golf clubs, Louth is struggling. It needs money, and selling a few acres has ensured that its near future is secure.

Tom Irwin opens Louth Golf Club new 1st hole

The event is the captain’s charity day for the On Course Foundation, supporting those who have suffered at war. Heroes. Real ones, not feted tour pro heroes. Golf provides them not with mansions and jet planes but a reason to be, a reason to keep going.

Louth, despite their own problems, is choosing to help them. Among accusations of racism, sexism, unpalatable quirks and the desperation for modernisation, our sports benevolence is often lost. These are good people doing a good thing. They are not dinosaurs or bigots. They are kind, big-hearted people helping people the less fortunate.

They are the real story here, the story we should be telling.

We cut the ribbon and head out to play. The course has changed, it has matured, it is harder. The views are still stunning, it is still hilly, and the greens are still unfathomably quick – genuinely the best I have putted on this year by a country mile. The 8th is still a monstrously difficult par 4, the 15th is still an awful par 3, the 18th is still an incredible roller coaster par 5 do or dare finish. Putts on the 11th green still don’t break, long driving is still rewarded, all the par 5s are still exceptional.

The captain John and I score 37 points. My golf isn’t great, I am nervous throughout, desperate to live up to expectation and relive some idealised view of glories past. The company is just how I hoped it would be: easy, funny, relaxed. The golf is secondary, it is not important. Which is just as well…

I shake an unfathomable amount of hands. Recalling names is so much easier than I imagined: Rob Murdy who doesn’t look a day older than he did 25 years ago when he collected me every Saturday morning at 7am sharp; Colin Frary, a long-suffering Grimsby Town fan who’s a bit thinner on top; Dave Nurrish, George Chester, Derek Adlam, Curly Vertigan, Jeff Kettle, Steve Savage, and of course Whitty, always Whitty; Ali Barber, yes he is called that and aptly these people are still thick as thieves 25 years after I first met them.

They were members long before me, and still are now. They have decades of loyal membership to their names.

The life support may have been on but the club’s heart still beats. It still will when mine has stopped. It is the loyalty of these people that will keep the club going when the property money is spent. They don’t come back to win trophies, or moan about 54 handicaps, or criticise dress codes, they come back for the sense of warmth, of kindness and kinship, and of belonging. That is what a club brings.

Maybe our shiny marketing campaigns should focus on this. Maybe who participates is more important that the number of participants. Maybe we should all go home occasionally, to remember and reflect on what we value.

I will always value Louth Golf Club and the people there. It gave me a hobby that is now my job, my first best friends, my fondest memories. It gave me a sport that has rescued me time and time again. It also introduced me to Stella top. I will forgive it that.

Now by seeing my pithy words and reaching out in an unassuming, generous, genuine fashion without desire for leverage or benefit in return, they have given me a big, broad smile.

Thank you.

More from The Foghorn

Click here for the full Foghorn archive

If you want to go and try Louth’s new 1st hole – and hopefully do a better job of it that Tom – they have a two-bedroom self-catering apartment which overlooks the golf course. They offer a midweek golf break of three-nights for four people to include three rounds and a one-course meal after your round. This package is available for £150 per person. They also offer a one-night stay at local hotel, The Brackenborough, including dinner, bed and breakfast, and two rounds of golf for £99 per person. More details can be found here of both packages and contact details for the club can be found on Louth’s website.

Previous article
Next article
Top