Last year Jonathan Coe published his 13th novel. Luckily, it’s good – well worth a read. It’s called Middle England and at its heart is how a bunch of people, in their different ways and with their different opinions, deal with the outcome of the EU Referendum. On its publication it was described as “perhaps Britain’s first Brexit novel”, and if you have been keeping up with the news you will know that the subject of Brexit is all around us.
So, you’re thinking, what about the golf? In the book, two friends, Sohan and Sophie, had been discussing the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in London in 2012, which many commentators had subsequently suggested had evoked a feeling of ‘Deep England’. Sohan and Sophie had never managed to define this satisfactorily – until she accompanied her husband, Ian, while he played a round of golf. (She doesn’t play the game.) Coe writes of her that “on the morning of Sunday 9 August 2015, Sophie came as close, she felt, as she would ever come to solving the mystery. If Deep England existed, she decided, it was here: on the fifth hole of the Golf and Country Club at Kernal Magna”.
He continues: “A feeling of immense restfulness was stealing over her. Nothing mattered here; there was nothing more important in this precious cloistered space, than the simple, straightforward task of getting a small ball into a small hole in as few strokes as possible.”
I don’t know if Coe plays golf or not, but really! Simple? Straightforward? Anyhow, the round at an end, Sophie chides Ian in the clubhouse that she feels she has been transported back to the 1950s. He replies: “You may think it’s the 1950s, but for some people this is a perfectly normal part of Britain in 2015. Don’t knock it just because it’s not what you’re used to.”
But it is part of golf’s image. Unlike with Ian and Sophie’s marriage, there’s no for better or worse. It’s only the latter. To cite just one example (I could find hundreds), in a political sketch about Brexit in The Guardian last November, John Crace wrote about an event staged by the pro-Brexit European Research Group of Conservative MPs under the banner of ‘Global Britain’. Crace wrote: “Global Britain turned out to be a bunch of white men waiting for the golf club bar to open. Only the presence of [Jacob] Rees-Mogg brought the average age down below 65.” Rees-Mogg was then 49.
To many people, and not just journalists on The Guardian, this is what golf represents. Ageing and stuffiness. Middle class and white. Those of us who love the game know that it means other things, too. Integrity and respect. Fresh air and gentle exercise. The enjoyment of the countryside. Oh, well – a bit like J.B. Holmes, perhaps John Crace & Co will get there in the end.
And Middle England? As Sophie fictionally found out that summer’s morning, when you’re playing golf what you’re thinking about is middle of the fairway, middle of the green, middle of the hole – although in via the side door would also do nicely!
You can follow Robert Green on Twitter @robrtgreen and enjoy his other blog f-factors.com plus you can read more by him on golf at robertgreengolf.com