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Urban Golf O

n Wednesday I went round in 83. Fantastic! Now, you might wonder, what is this octogenarian

buffer banging on about? What did he go round? A racetrack? The bend? Is he confused? Was he perhaps thinking that’83 was a good year for claret? Of course not. Any golfer among you will know what I mean. Eighty-three strokes, dammit. Of the golf club. On a full round of eighteen holes. Eleven over par – and par, for you non-golfers, is the ideal number of strokes you should need to play each hole without fluffs, mishits, pieces of shocking bad luck… and preferably without even a mulligan. Aha! That last one really is for the experts. It means rubbing out a bad stroke – even an air-shot – as if it never ever happened, winding back the clock, wiping your mistake off the face of the golf course. Magic!

But no mulligans for me in my

round. Just 83 solid whacks in a row. And I’m seventy-four years old. In my seventies, mind, not eighties.

Let me tell you something else. I did it all by myself. In a cubicle about fifteen foot square, with a big screen in front of me and a computer screen on the side wall. In Smithfield. It’s a different kind of meat market and it’s called Urban Golf. I’m getting really rather good at it.

Let me take you back a few years before I became a widower. I wasn’t allowed out on a golf course then. The very idea of my spending a whole day tracking a white ball as if it were elephant spoor in a wildlife park was anathema to Marjorie, a woman who was the very antidote to a golf widow. Or do I mean antithesis? Reminder to self: keep up the crosswords and send Alzheimers packing. Anyway, one winter afternoon


A short story by Barbican resident, Julian Hale

just before I turned seventy, tempted by the sunshine through the window of our Cromwell Tower flat, we went for a stroll. We passed this shop front, just a door really, opening onto stairs that went down into a basement. “What on earth,” she asked me, “does Urban Golf mean? Don’t say they are going to turn the market into a golf course. Whatever next.”

I must admit I was a bit flummoxed myself. So I went in. Marjorie followed, protesting that

So, to cut a long story short,

that’s exactly what happened. I don’t know if you can imagine what it’s like to take up golf at seventy, but it’s brilliant. I used to play a bit of tennis, doubles mostly, and when I was really young I did cross-country running to some effect, but golf, no. Too expensive for one thing. Too time-consuming – I did actually sympathise with the golf widow argument – and too boring.

Or so I thought. Now I’m hooked.

The only thing missing is a bit of competition. I have no-one to play against, no-one to beat. Except now, this coming Saturday, I am playing a round of golf with Bob Smithers.

Not urban, rural. The real thing. On a posh course in north London.

I should tell you a bit about Bob.

there were better ways to find the answer, if, that is, I actually did want to find the answer to what was after all a pretty trivial question, almost rhetorical, really, and she didn’t need to know what Urban Golf was, so wouldn’t it be simpler if….

But I was already downstairs. Give her her due, she was quite intrigued by the sight of all those cubicles with pictures of golf courses and young men swinging clubs and downing pints of lager and a particularly handsome young man sitting behind a long desk and bidding us welcome. “You know what?” I said. “You asked me what I’d like for my birthday. Well, I think I’d like a year’s subscription and no complaints if I come here once a week.”

We haven’t known each other long, just a couple of years, certainly I met him after Marjorie died. He’s a widower too. So we’re sort of members of the same club. He’s been trying to get me to come up to his other club for weeks if not months. He’s very proud of it, even if it is really just a glorified gravel pit rescued by some sharp developers from turning into an inglorious bog. A businessman is Bob. To his fingertips. Used to be a farmer till he went into the food packing business. I’m pretty sure he wants me to bet against him on Saturday. He’s already hinted he will give me two to one. A big chap, huge really. All bulge and bicep, neck like a tractor tyre and fingers you could fry up and eat for a week with a bit of mash. I reckon I’m about a third of Bob’s size and weight. But we get on well enough. He likes to be called “Tich”, so I do. He moves well, I’ll say that. Never walks, always trots. Follow close behind him and the earth shakes. He’s younger than me by quite a

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