Yesterday, almost before dawn, I set off to play in what – if memory serves which it probably doesn’t – my brother’s thirty-first annual golf tournament in the wilds of southern England at one of my all-time favourite golf courses.
There’s no doubt this is a unique event. For the most part its competitors began as sports-mad bright young guys setting off upon their working careers, ranging in golfing ability from the naturally outstanding to the hopeless, relatively unencumbered by personal baggage, just out for a good time.
Now we’re approaching, or even beyond, retirement age, the bulk of us fuller-figured, greyer, balder, slower and wiser. I could be wrong, but this time I was shocked by the general degree of apparently accelerating decrepitude and snow-white hair around me – this was not counting my own, of course, of which I remain in constant denial!
Most of us are either silver wedding-long married (at least the first time around) with kids who are now making their own ways in the world and/or even (some of us) with grand-kids either alive or on their way. Some have been or remain prosperous captains of industry, whilst others work for peanuts in the field of charity in far-off places and/or have fallen upon hard times. A proportion have even ended up pretty average. In fact, although all of life is there, it gets parked along with our cars outside the venue and then the business at hand – a band of brothers still, after all this time, competing for a trophy that doesn’t mean a hill of beans to any of those having a noisy reunion full of fun, camaraderie and jokes – begins.
Inevitably, perhaps, England’s ignominious exit from the Rugby World Cup was a hot topic de jour. Everyone had a view, whether they had attended all three of England’s games at Twickenham or never strayed from their television. The degree of consensus was remarkable.
For all his worthy qualities, Stuart Lancaster was a B-list head coach and out of his depth. Not a big or strong enough personality to cut through the crap. A ‘do it by numbers’ sort of a chap.
The selection – both of the 31-man squad and for individual matches – had been cack-handed, inconsistent, lacking in vision and confused. A complete clear-out was required. Additionally, there were not enough big characters or true leaders within the playing group – as a result they were passively doing as they were told and weren’t thinking for themselves.
The policy of not picking overseas-based players was fundamentally flawed, as was Lancaster’s failure to challenge it. When you go into the Rugby World Cup trenches you need your best team with you – every other nation knew that – but somehow England failed to understand this.
One who works in rugby and has connections with the RFU was scathing in his comments, deeply frustrated by England’s consistently inept approach to its flagship (the England team).
Worryingly, there was also a consensus of little confidence that the RFU would now get things right going forward. There were signs in the media that Lancaster, an honourable but limited gentleman, was desperate to stay as head coach and that the RFU’s ‘fifty-seven old farts’ brigade might fudge it and/or let him.
What is it about those who administer England’s greatest sports?
Yesterday the weather was quite outstanding. Clear blue skies, warm sunshine, the course and the landscape looking as good as I can remember them in all the time since I first played there nearly fifty years ago. It was a wonderful and enjoyable day out and I was glad to have gone.
The golf? Well, personally, that was terrible as usual.
I went round in a gross score (152) that was a world record even for me … and even ignoring the influence of my arthritic hip which hampered my swing considerably. Somehow I managed to hit some good shots (or should that be ‘satisfying for someone of my low ability’?) and even notched a birdie 2 on the par 3 eighth hole. Apart from those, my round contained little to redeem or commend it.
It’s a small mercy, but at least that’s over for another year …