In the swing – Hi Ho Silver…

Remember the Lone Ranger? A ‘one off’, a rare breed, who was not easy to find. Certainly, when it comes to golf course rangers they seem to be a very rare species. We know they exist – it’s just a matter of finding them!

For those of you who are avid readers of this column (that’s my mother and Aunt Doris) you will know that as the peak golfing season hits us here on the Algarve, a number of problems arise; I get on my soap box and have a good whine, feel better for it, get over the frustration and start all over again!

So back to the Lone Ranger, or rather, the lack of. Why are so many courses content to let havoc and mayhem reign, when a little effort would keep things rolling smoothly and leave me having to think about something else to moan about?

My round of golf last Friday took in excess of five hours, on one of the shortest courses on the Algarve. There were lots of security men hurtling around on quad bikes, but course rangers ensuring pleasurable golf? Non Monsieur! The fourball in front included two players who could not hit a ball more than 150 metres, but continually waited to play to greens 200 metres plus away! Frustration crept in and the next thing you know there were balls whizzing over our heads from the four behind us. It was dangerous and totally unnecessary. With green fees reaching very expensive levels, is it really too much to ask clubs to actually consider the client and provide them with a service that ensures that they return? There, I told you I would feel better!

I now move on to that other emotive subject, the cost of it all. I can well understand the temptation to charge what you like when your course is continuously busy, “making hay while the sun shines” I think is the expression. But where will it all end? And I am not just referring to Algarve golf. Thankfully there are still thousands of golf courses around the globe that still offer fabulous value for money, but what about the chosen few?

Some 10 years ago, a golf course was opened just a three wood away from St Andrews – the home of golf. The estate involved had had a short nine-hole course, which had fallen into disrepair during the war years. The owner was a farmer not a golfer, but decided that golf would be a little more lucrative. The land was being used as grazing land for sheep and ran down to the seashore. It was nothing outstanding, but had some great views across St Andrews bay to Carnoustie and was a perfect over-spill for golfers who were unable to play at St Andrews– not quite the Old Course, but nevertheless a pleasant links/parkland layout and at an affordable price.

The owner called it Kingsbarns – it is now part of the Dunhill Cup venues and costs some £120 pounds (170 euros) per round! It’s more expensive than the Old Course and is only three or four years old! It is, of course, geared to the American and Japanese market and their great love of the traditions of British golf courses.

Each year I organise a couple of golf events in both the North and South of Ireland, a wonderful country for golf, with some great venues. My all time favourite place is Royal Portrush. Less than five years ago, it cost £60 to play Portrush, it is now £95! And while it is one of the great links courses in the world, is it really worth it when the very challenging Ballycastle golf course is only 15 minutes drive away and costs £30? Or a little parkland gem called Gracehill, which retails at £20 a round and offers fabulous golf and great value? It is amazing what people will pay to play renowned golf courses. Valderrama is now 245 euros, if you can get a time! Pebble Beach in California is 290 dollars! It is all getting a little bit out of hand, but while people are prepared to pay, these places will willingly keep taking the money.

On a lighter note, if you will forgive the pun, I see Darren Clarke has shed some 30lbs this winter, stopped smoking and is determined to challenge for a major this year. I also hear he is putting his weight behind his first venture in golf course design on some fabulous cliff top terrain in South Africa. I wonder what the green fees will be when this course opens? Personally, I prefer Ireland, particularly when the weather is kind, and look forward to playing Royal Portrush once again. What a hypocrite! I’m sorry, I’m just so weak-willed and it is a great course! Thank goodness for credit cards! You pays your money and you makes your choice. And, as long as you enjoy it, what’s money anyway?