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 At the 19th

Under-paid and over-looked
An invitation to a lavish awards ceremony in Ireland could surely mean only one thing: a lifetime’s endeavour at the cutting edge of journalism was at last about to recognised with a major award

So Lee Westwood is the world No.1. Well, he is at the precise moment I’m writing this but, who knows, he may have slipped back to world No.2 or even world No.3 by the time I’ve reached the end of the article down there at the foot of the right-hand column. It all depends on maintaining his impressive form and the speed with which I can knock out the remaining paragraphs.

In some ways I like to think that Westwood and I are rather alike in that we’re both consistent in our respective specialist activities and yet neither of us has hit the proverbial jackpot. Despite being up there nearly every time, he’s yet to win a major championship. And although I’ve received a fair amount of critical acclaim (four emails and two phone calls already this year), no significant award such as the Booker, Pulitzer or Nobel Prize for literature has so far come my way. In fact, now that I think about it, no insignificant award has come my way either.

Generally considered by my close friends and family to be the best golf writer never to have won an award, I honestly thought the lifelong drought was over when I was invited to Northern Ireland recently for the 2010 Gala Irish Golf Awards at the beautiful Slieve Donard Resort and Spa. You should go there. It’s about three-quarters of an hour south of Belfast and right next door to Royal County Down Golf Club.

Anyway, it was a proper ‘do’ with dinner jackets and everything. Like every other awards ceremony I have ever been to, I assumed that I would just have to sit there, not slurp my soup, handle the knife and fork properly, stay awake through the speeches and clap politely whenever someone went up to collect an award. So why was this one any different? Well, when I was first contacted the bloke who told me about the event seemed more than ordinarily keen that I should go. Then, on entering the huge banqueting suite, I discovered that I was not sitting where they usually shove me, next to the kitchen, but bang next door to the top table. Not only that, but also my chair was on the side of the table that had easy access to the stage, which obviously would save a bit of time in the event I had to go up and collect something, a statuette for example.

If I leant backwards on my chair to the point where it was just about to topple over, the back of my head would almost touch Pat Jennings’ shoulder. Now how exciting is that? There were other celebrities in the room, including Martin O’Neill, Mike Gibson and Dame Mary Peters, who were there to present awards. Had the researchers really done their homework, discovered that I was a keen Tottenham supporter and arranged for the Spurs’ goalkeeping legend to present me with an award?


Everything seemed to be indicating that I was at last going to receive the recognition I passionately feel I deserve. But the event was hosted by the Ireland Golf Tour Operator Association and, apart from a couple of rather-good-even-if-I-say-so-myself travel features on Ireland, why would they choose to honour me?

As I quietly sipped the soup, I figured that it was because the Irish are a particularly literary lot who appreciate words and well-constructed sentences almost as much as they do a frothing pint of Guinness. I gather that there are even tax breaks available to writers over there that, were I ever to earn more than the minimum wage, might make it worthwhile for me to move my wife, daughter and overdraft to somewhere near Lahinch, Ballybunion, Killarney or Doonbeg.

But what sort of award could I have won? I was hardly a strong contender for ‘Golf Resort of the Year’ or ‘Best Boutique Hotel’. My heart sank as I scanned the list of awards desperately searching for something like ‘Most Gifted Golf Writer’ or ‘Best User of the Semi- Colon’; or anything for which I might conceivably be eligible. But there was nothing. How cruel. But hang on, what’s this? ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’. Of course, now comfortably over 60 and having been banging out sparkling features since the golden days of the gutta percha, that had to be it.

Now so excited that I could hardly eat the sorbet, I began working on a speech in my head. Yes, I shall mention my sadly departed parents but no, I shan’t talk about the nearest-the-pin prizes I’ve amassed over the years. By the time Pat Jennings had risen to his feet to present the award, I was ready. Having sensibly eased up on the wine, I sipped some water and cleared my throat.

“…and the ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ goes to…Darren Clarke.” What? Surely some mistake. I was so gutted, I couldn’t even clap. And he wasn’t even there to receive it whereas I had travelled all the way from East Sussex.

Oh well, perhaps in 2011 Westwood will win a major and I’ll pick up an award. I don’t know about Lee but at least now I have a speech prepared.

January 2011

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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