William Hague, the British Foreign Secretary, is probably not a golfer. And I most definitively am not a politician. But it seems that we both have recent experience of sharing a hotel room with a male of our acquaintance.
I’m sure that Mr Hague’s nocturnal preferences while on the recent UK election campaign trail were as practically motivated as mine, but at least I don’t feel I have to explain myself. Room-sharing is the tradition on all-male golf tours, and I’ve just come back from five days in Northern France hacking my way around the golf courses of St Omer, Le Touquet and Hardelot with nineteen other members of the SHAGGS golf society on the annual golf tour.
Room sharing with a bunch of middle aged golfers is something of an art, but much depends on who you get as your room mate. If you’re allocated a room with a known snorer, it’s sensible to equip yourself with earplugs, and make sure you go to bed at least an hour before the other guy. At least then you get an hour’s sleep before the commotion starts, and with any luck you sleep through it. All the better if you fortify yourself with a strong alcoholic anesthetic.
As I’m not much of a drinker, this tends not to work with me. On my first tour in 2002, we went to a number of rain-swept courses in Belgium. In those days it was a quite a physical challenge – seven rounds in four days, and after the first day’s golf I was pretty tired. There were knowing smirks when the room allocations were announced. It seems that an initiation rite for tour rookies was to be paired up with a notorious snorer known to fellow tourists as The Walrus. Now I’ve never heard a walrus snoring, but I thought I had a pretty good idea of what was in store.
I was wrong. I headed for bed good and early, and had been asleep for about an hour, when I woke up to a sound I can only describe as a cross between a growling pit bull and a pavement cutter. The Walrus was in full flow. Fellow tourists had advised me to keep a seven-iron by the bed, ready to poke him with it at moments of crisis. But this guy’s snoring didn’t come and go. It was a continuous, high-volume, low-frequency, deafening, roar.
After an hour, I’d had enough. Brain scrambled, dead tired and fearing four days of torture-grade sleep deprivation, I went down to the lobby and begged for a room, any room, at any price, on my own for the rest of the trip. Duly ensconced in heavenly silence, after another hour I woke up with cramp in both thighs and spent twenty minutes in a cold sweat, screaming in pain, until the agony abated.
After that introduction, the tour went swimmingly. Literally. Drenched at the Winge course, balls with my initials deposited in every lake and bush across Belgium’s finest courses. But at least I got a decent night’s sleep for the rest of the tour.
Fast forward to France 2010, and the Walrus, after an absence of a few years, had returned. This time I was not the lucky partner, and anyway in the interim he’s had an operation that eased the problem and probably saved him from an Anti-Social Behaviour Order, the UK’s favourite weapon against noisy neighbours, teenage drinkers and others whose activities are considered by society to be unacceptable.
But snoring continues to be a major topic of conversation. One of our veterans, a delightful guy much loved by all who tour with him, tends to erupt into an industrial snore whenever he, shall we say, has had a few. His roommate recorded the snore for posterity on his mobile phone, and played the clip the following day to the admiration of all. He ended up moving his mattress into the bathroom by the third night.
Nocturnal incidents notwithstanding, the SHAGGS tour – the name, by the way, stands for Staines Hockey and Guests Golf Society – is a delight. It’s been an annual event for nineteen years, thanks to its organizer, inspiration and guru Mike Waite, who has recorded every score and every round played by members both on tour and at our host golf course for a quarter of a century.
When you have a bunch of people who go through shared experiences for that length of time, you get a taste of how life was before the internet and even the printing press. Stories told and embroidered with each telling on evenings in bars. Not quite the same as hunters gathered around fires in caves, but the oral tradition which began in the stone age lives on. Outrageous shots, clubs broken in fury (I’ve contributed a few of them), epic nights and even more epic hangovers. SHAGGS has its heroes, its disasters and its traditions.
As we all get older – backs creaking, knees giving out – the schedule’s less demanding these days. But it’s still a joy to tee off on a sunny morning in France, Spain or the Czech Republic and dream of walking away with the ultimate accolade – King Shagger – at the end of five days of sweat, laughter and the occasional humiliation and ridicule.
And it’s also a delight to play a sport with such a strong ethos of fairness and honesty. More than can be said of modern cricket, whose batsmen don’t walk when they know they’re out, or soccer, where players dive for penalties, or even rugby, where players bite on blood capsules to bring about a tactical substitution. There are cheats in golf, but once exposed they are shunned and despised.
So if William Hague fancies the camaraderie of room-sharing without attracting the attention of the news hounds, he should take up golf. No doubt Mike is working on next year’s tour as I write this. And I have a whole lot of new balls to replace the thirty five I lost in France.