‘Even the bad shots don’t matter’ for hole-in-one ace Gareth Robinson on return to the golf course
“Even the bad shots don’t matter”.
It may lack the poetry of ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ but for Gareth Robinson and the hundreds who recently returned to golf courses around Northern Ireland, the above viewpoint offers an apt summary of just how welcome many found the opportunity to, once again, spoil a good walk.
Robinson was quick to book up tee times at his Portadown Golf Club home course on each of the first two days government regulations gave the green light to a post-lockdown game.
His delight at that first simple swing back on the familiar Carrickblacker first tee helped the frustrations of the previous 11 weeks fade into memory.
And within the shots - both good and bad - across his first week came one perfect moment...
“On my second day back out I hit my first-ever hole-in-one at Portadown, so that’s a brilliant memory to have around everything else going over the past few months,” said Robinson. “It came at the sixth hole and once I hit it I felt good so was just thinking it needed a nice bounce.
“It was a great shot and something I will remember forever.
“The only surreal bit was when it dropped in the hole and I turned around to celebrate with Chris Sloan and John Kernaghan but we realised we couldn’t ‘high five’!
“Chris, my best mate, is trying to claim some credit for the shot based on his advice...”
Robinson, who turned to a putting mat at home and stepping into the garden for some swing practice in a bid to fill the void, was quick to praise officials with the Golfing Union of Ireland and Portadown club for such a professional approach.
“The course was in great condition, helped by so much hard work from Portadown staff, with everything basically going to plan in terms of the logistics,” said the 42-year-old. “A starter was on hand at the first hole to confirm the rules and then a course warden would go out on a buggy to keep an eye on everything.
“It was good having that support and, ultimately, there was a shared responsibility to adhere to the regulations for health reasons, plus everyone was so glad to just have the chance to play.
“We had been notified by the club pre-lockdown to get our gear from the locker-room so we just changed at our cars and the 14-minute intervals for threeballs worked well.
“Obviously the clubhouse is still closed and it was a case of only one person in each time at the Pro Shop but everyone seemed to adapt quite quickly.
“At first it did seem a bit strange not lifting a flag or having to use your feet instead of a rake in the bunker but we soon got our heads around it all.
“Really it was just about enjoying getting out again and playing.
“There are fewer people allowed out of course and not as many hold-ups as a result, so we managed to complete 18 holes one day in three hours 15 minutes.
“When the hole-in-one went in the ball dropped just below the surface line on to some foam inside the cup, which meant it wasn’t as deep a drop to reach down and lift it out.
“I didn’t hear of the foam affecting anyone’s shot and it was just a case of everyone smiling and loving getting back out, especially with the weather so nice.”
The former Portadown juvenile returned to the club in the early noughties and sat on a pre-lockdown eight handicap.
“I was pretty pleased with my handicap heading into the lockdown and increased my playing time over the past few years to the point I would be out four or five times a week,” he said. “We’ve a WhatsApp group going of around 20 people, so there’s always someone available to play.
“I first joined the club as a juvenile as my Dad also played, then I quit for a few years but returned as a member about 15 years ago or so.
“People know how much I love the game and have been asking for weeks when I think I would get back out playing.
“I live a few minutes’ drive from the club in Portadown and, really, it has been so good to get out.
“I was talking to someone recently and they asked about my score but I truthfully told them it didn’t matter.
“When I would have been out in the past as normal I never got too frustrated with the difficult days anyway as I took the stance another round was just around the corner.
“But that’s the case even more so now and it’s definitely a sense at the minute of having fun.
“For me, getting out on the golf course is how I relax and clear my head for a few hours of the normal pressures.
“You are outside in the fresh air and having a laugh with your mates at the same time, so it was certainly something I missed during lockdown.
“It must be hard for people playing team sports for those same reasons but without that release at the minute.
“Although the lockdown may not be officially over and we all still have to be strict and sensible about the health guidelines, for golfers the mood has lifted as we have our game back.
“Even the bad shots don’t matter.”