We’ve all been missing foreign golf trips, but for comedian and broadcaster John Robins an overseas golf adventure changed his life for the better.
In his exclusive Today’s Golfer column, the co-creator of hit YouTube channel Bad Golf explains how an anxiety inducing invitation actually helped him discover his love of golf.
For a long time during both lockdowns, playing a round at a local course was so near yet so tantalisingly far. For those of us who felt golf was of a low enough risk and of big enough benefit to have some kind of exemption, the idea of people walking their dogs or hiking with friends around the holes we found so familiar was a tough pill to swallow. Now golf is well and truly back my mind has started to wander to the next milestone. Playing golf abroad.
My reintroduction to golf some five years ago was all because of a foreign trip. My friend Alex Horne, a comedian and Taskmaster’s assistant of some renown, called me out of the blue and asked if I fancied a trip to Spain to play golf with twenty other men I’d never met.
I’ll be honest, I had my reservations. Firstly, foreign golf trips can be expensive, and this is before I knew the truly stratospheric inflationary pressures on cold bottles of water in mainland European golf resorts! Anyone who’s played golf abroad will know that ice cold bottled water is about four times as expensive as petrol whenever you’re within two miles of a club shop.
Secondly, I’m not entirely comfortable in large groups of people I don’t know, especially not twenty of them, all men, in a foreign country.
WATCH: Bad Golf Abroad
Thirdly, and perhaps most pressing, was the sight of my golf clubs. Which, at the time, I treated very much like a lot of people treat a guitar gathering dust in a corner.
“I see you have a guitar…Will you play something?”
“Ah… oh… yeah… well I do play. It’s just… it needs tuning… y’know… temperature changes have put it right out. And it needs restringing actually. And I’m carrying a bit of a finger injury, so I’d rather you just never mentioned it again if that’s ok?”
I paused on the phone. I had played golf. But it’s a very different thing to say you play golf.
For a day I wrestled with various anxiety demons. What if they were all amazing at golf and I held everyone up like a big idiot? Would they just leave me on the course? I’d need to buy some actual golf shoes! What if my clubs are really bad? What if you need a handicap? And a proper handicap, not just the fact that you haven’t played since the coalition government.
Luckily the better angels of my nature were also at work. “John you drive a 2004 Skoda Fabia and you haven’t spent any money on anything nice since the pair of sunglasses you got in 1999. And you left them in a phone box. Alex is nice, his friends will be nice. Just do it!”
And so I did, and it’s one of the best decisions I ever made.
It turned out that not only was this group of twenty golfers some of the nicest people I’ve ever met, they were also all of a similar standard as me. Mostly ranging from 15-36 handicaps with one scratch golfing mascot who answers the barrage of questions about technique with patience and grace, the most common one being “HOW THE F*CK DID YOU DO THAT?!”
We play a Ryder Cup format in two teams over three days to compete for The Murray Cup, a trophy that has been competed for by the same two teams for the last seven years. It is the highlight of all our calendars, and I’m sure you have similar events in yours.
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There’s something about the build up, the initial salvos of banter on the WhatsApp groups as handicaps are discussed, announced and then complained about (with tongue in cheek… mostly). The excitement for sun on the back and the little van that comes round with ham baguettes and cans of San Miguel. The breakfast buffet, and the improvised sandwiches smuggled out to make a bit of money back on the bloody water.
And then the pints. Oh my god the pints. Last year our group had swelled to proper Ryder Cup proportions, 24 men in two teams of 12. Can you imagine how many pints that is over three days? After arriving on my first ever year, Jeremy, who handles the kitty, waited for the final member to arrive before saying “so, 20 Estrellas?”. Now, I am not a lager drinker, never have been. And my stomach sank at the idea of sipping and burping my way through the next 72 hours. It was now or never. I put up my hand. And it may have been my very first words to anyone. “Do they have Guinness? Or ale? Or cider?”
One by one other hands went up, polite men who had finally found a leader, and since then Jeremy has had to oversee some of the most complex rounds ever ordered, a skill which he carries off to perfection, and a burden for which he has never forgiven me.
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Most of all though, it’s the competition and the camaraderie. We play matchplay for the cup and Stableford for prizes, and everyone has their quirks. Tristan is a 36 handicapper who everyone dreads playing. He hits seven iron after seven iron, topped gun barrel 120 yards straight down the fairway. There’s Kev, known for his precise putting and distinctive preference for a lager top. Ulf, who saves his best shots for when he’s in the rubble and cactuses. Nick, who plays WITHOUT A GLOVE! And then our beloved captains, John and Eddie. Each corralling their teams with secret tactical discussions, and, if the rumours are true, even more secret individual WhatsApp groups.
And then there’s me. Never one to trouble the Stableford scoreboards, it turns out I’m a mean matchplayer. My record would make Ian Poulter cower. 10-1-1. Not bad for a newbie whose handicap has gone from a guestimated 24 to a pretty solid 19 in 2019’s trip to Amendoeira.
WATCH: Bad Golf at Amendoeira – Part 2
Of course, as it was for many of you reading this, last year’s golf trip was cancelled. We booked a consolation night in England. That too was cancelled. And I am hoping beyond hope that the trip goes ahead this year.
I’m sure many of you have been scouring the news desperate to get some kind of clue as to whether golf getaways are likely. We’ve all had flights rescheduled, cancelled, stress and disappointment, especially about vague rules on refunds (and the companies that take no notice of the rules anyway). I hope we soon get some kind of certainty. I owe my entire golfing life to that first trip abroad.
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So desperate were Alex and I to get in some practice before the second trip that we started BadGolf, our YouTube channel, with the main purpose of making sure we played once a month. It now has nearly 50,000 subscribers and in turn, is the reason I was asked to write this column. So many great things came from that decision to pretend I could play golf.
Now if you could all do me a couple of favours. Please do keep your fingers crossed that this year’s trip can go ahead. And please don’t tell the group that I’m off 15.8 now! I really don’t want to get cut.
Find out more about John Robins at johnrobins.com
WITB: Bad Golf’s John Robins
Click the club names to read reviews and tests of John’s clubs
Driver: Cobra King RadSpeed Loft: 10.5º set to 11.5º. Shaft: Tensei blue 65 reg
Hybrid: Cobra King Speedzone Loft: 2H. Shaft: Recoil reg
Irons: Cobra King Speedzone Lofts: 5-GW. Shafts: Recoil reg
Wedges: Cobra King MIM Lofts: 52º, 58º. Shafts: STD wedge shaft
Putter: Odyssey O-Works 2.0 R-Line
Golf ball: Bridgestone E6
John Robins is an award-winning stand-up comedian and BBC Radio 5Live host. Download the podcast here and watch his comedy special ‘The Darkness of Robins’ on Netflix here. You can also follow John on Twitter and Instagram.