Can you name the current British Open champion? Apart from somewhat pedantically pointing out the apparent solecism and saying he should properly be called simply “the Open champion”, you’ll know the answer is Zach Johnson. But that’s not what I meant.
I was referring to the British Minigolf Association (BMGA) British Open, where the new champion, Adam Kelly, was crowned at Margate in September, the sixth such occasion on which the Kent coastal town has staged this particular “crazy-golf major” at Strokes Adventure Golf, overlooking Westbrook Bay, a 10-minute walk from the station.
Although the BMGA is self-evidently British in its origins, Kelly was only the third native winner of this title since its inception in 1998. Previous nationalities to have prevailed are Austrian (five times), Swedish (three times), Finnish and German (twice each) and Belgian. But Brits have been in command latterly, and in order to win the 2015 renewal Kelly had to see off Michael Smith, who – having won the title for the past three seasons – had to settle for being runner-up this time, behind Kelly’s nine-round score of 278, 46 under par.
(Incidentally, when Smith won the first of his hat-trick at Margate in 2012, his second round of 28 featured nine holes-in-one; just so you know the standards you should be aiming for the next time you have a go.)
Does crazy golf have much connection to the main game, other than perhaps the fact that the venue for this year’s World Crazy Golf Championship was the Arnold Palmer-named course at Hastings? Well, during this year’s Open Championship (the other one; the one that Zach won), the tremendous winds that buffeted St Andrews, causing play on Saturday morning to be suspended after 32 gale-lashed minutes, created what Geoff Ogilvy called “circus conditions”. On the 13th green, Louis Oosthuizen had a three-foot putt which became a one-foot putt and then an eight-foot putt, all of this without him ever touching the ball. If that’s not crazy golf, I don’t what is. The previous month during the US Open at Chambers [of Horrors] Bay, in non-weather related remarks, Patrick Reed described a putt he had on the 18th green as “Mickey Mouse golf”. So who am I, or any of us, to decry the merits of crazy golf?
To be frank, I was rather disappointed there was no clown’s mouth to putt into on the Margate layout. No windmill either. There is water but if that comes into play then you’ve putted off the course. However, on the 8th, which has a three-tiered green, there is a kind of funnel you can aim for, and if you find that the ball will travel underneath the second level and roll unerringly into the cup on the lower part. At least it did for me, which was nice. Another hole-in-one! And, let’s be fair, there wasn’t too much unerring rolling going on at Chambers Bay.
As I recall it, Sandbanks Crazy Golf near Poole is a more demanding examination of one’s madcap golfing skills, having greater elevation and possessing more bizarre hazards – such as a lighthouse on one hole. If on holiday in the South of France, we will invariably visit Adventure Golf at Marineland in Antibes. It has three 18s, one of which has a par-four (something of a rarity on a crazy-golf course) on which I ran up a nine this past summer. Quite like normal golf, in fact.
By the way, while Zach Johnson got the claret jug, the gold medal and a cheque for £1.15 million for becoming the “champion golfer of the year”, Adam Kelly collected the BMGA British Open trophy, a gold medal and £500. Not the same deal but not to be sniffed at. If you aspire to follow in the footsteps of champions, the green fee at Strokes in Margate is £4.50 (children £3.50), putter and ball provided.
Robert Green’s ‘Seve: Golf’s Flawed Genius’ is available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @robrtgreen