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 At the 19th

Retriever is man's best friend
With some savvy trading, our intrepid correspondent is beside himself at the immediate dividends he has enjoyed as a result of accepting some home truths and rearranging the make-up of his golf bag

It’s possible, although somewhat doubtful, that I might be the greatest exponent of the 1-iron in the world. I don’t know for sure simply because I’ve never attempted to hit a 1-iron. It’s also possible, although equally doubtful, that I might be the greatest 2-iron player in the world. I don’t know for sure because, you’ve guessed it, I’ve never tried hitting a 2-iron. One thing I do know for certain, however, because I have had a lot of bad experiences with it, and that is that I’m not very good with a 3-iron. Although not quite as bad as I am with a 3-iron, I’m not very good with a 4 either. In case you fear this sad litany of failure is going to ramble right through my bag, let me reassure you now that I’m more or less OK with a 5-iron and all clubs south.

Although I hardly ever deployed them, I still carried my 3- and 4-iron around with me. I did so partly to impress opponents and, because they were the longest irons in my bag, using the two together I could reach balls in ditches, on the wrong side of barbed-wire fences and in the myriad other places that my ill-directed shots would finally come to rest, and return them skilfully to safety. Retrieving balls in this way was arguably the strongest part of my game and came to me far more naturally than, say, either pitching or putting. One day I hope to persuade the editor of this magazine to allow me to write an instruction piece on this sadly neglected aspect of the game so that I can explain the technique to fellow hackers who might struggle with it.

However, as I grow older, my appetite for scrambling down crevasses and penetrating deep inside gargantuan gorse bushes is diminishing rapidly and so, highlighting the fact that their sweet spots were virtually untouched, I flogged my 3- and 4- irons on eBay for a combined price of £15.

But what should I do with the empty space in my bag and the spare dosh in my pocket? Not the sort to carry five wedges or blow 15 quid on a wild night out, I agonised before it came to me in a blinding flash of inspiration of the sort that I haven’t experienced since deciding to tie my wood covers together so that I wouldn’t lose one. That particular trick worked insofar as I didn’t lose one but lost them all together in one tragic accident quite recently. When the scars have healed I shall possibly revisit the incident in this column.

Anyway, back to my more recent flash of inspiration. Being reluctant to write off even a severely battered X-out, I realised that I wouldn’t be happy without some means of retrieving balls from bushes, ditches, etc. To those of us for whom a lost ball is more devastating than a quadruple-bogey, there is nothing in the world more frustrating than being able to see a ball without possessing the means with which to retrieve it. So the obvious solution to my problem was to spend the proceeds of the sale of my redundant irons on, wait for it, a ball retriever.

Of course it’s embarrassing to carry one and, yes, I know that it’s horribly negative, but I’ve never been one to worry what others think or concern myself unduly with sports psychology. Getting my balls back is the priority.

Not having ever researched the subject before, I wondered if the technology concerned with this particular aspect of the game had kept pace with the revolution that has transformed regular clubs. For example, have titanium and other lightweight metals extended the reach of retrievers beyond the range that was previously imaginable in the same way that they have, for example, transformed the distance drivers smack the ball? Is the sweet-spot in modern retrievers much larger than those of yesteryear, making the actual scoop much easier to execute?

Since the rest of my clubs are embarrassingly old, I thought it would be nice if at least my ball retriever was the very latest and hottest model that might attract a few envious glances. Without wishing to go into too much technical detail that may overwhelm any of you technophobes out there, the Black Widow features a unique eight leg design that wraps around the ball much in the same way that the arachnid after which it is named envelopes its prey. The 12-foot extendable pole is rather appealing although, given my history, I am naturally a little anxious about the protective head cover. But what is undeniably perfect is the price. £14.99 is pretty well precisely what I got for my 3- and 4-irons and the 1p change will work nicely as a ball marker.

Unlike double-glazing that takes on average 23 years and eight months to save on the heating bills what it costs to install, my Black Widow has paid for itself within a fortnight. Had I bought a ball retriever 37 years ago when I took up golf, I calculate that I would now be somewhere in the region of £20K better off. To earn that sort of money from golf, I would have had to have finished about 57th on the Challenge Tour last year. Now that I think about it, if I broaden my horizon to encompass any lost balls that I encounter, perhaps retrieving them offers me a more realistic route to golf’s riches than actually playing the game. Hm… Black Widow, golden opportunity?

June 2010

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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