What makes the perfect golf fourball? Comedian and broadcaster John Robins, co-creator of YouTube channel Bad Golf, explains his perfect group.
Last year I joined my first ever golf club at the tender age of 38 and after less than a year of being a member I’ve seen my handicap drop around three shots.
There’s no doubt that regular play and becoming familiar with my home course has played a part in this. But one of the great benefits of joining a golf club is getting to play with a huge variety of different golfers.
I’ve learned so much from watching how other golfers play the game, and if your club has an active and thriving membership with regular roll ups you might get to play with a dozen different people in a week. To play with a mix of people of different skill levels from different backgrounds is one of the very best things about golf.
It’s really opened my eyes to just how many ways there are to approach a shot. I’ve played with golfers in their 70s and even 80s who have had to accommodate a loss of distance with a wicked short game.
I’ve played with younger people who have natural sporting ability and can rocket a drive 300 yards. There are near scratch handicappers who hit the ball in ways I’ve never seen, and people with handicaps over thirty whose carefree attitude is a real lesson in remembering that, above all, golf is about enjoyment. People who putt from the fairway, people who chip from the fringe, people with glorious swings, and people with swings so, how can I put this, Unique? Idiosyncratic? Like they’re escaping from bees? that you can’t believe they get the ball off the ground.
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Then there are the other facets that make up the rich variety of personalities. I’m lucky in that my club is very down to earth and welcoming. I certainly haven’t encountered any of the golfing snobs I was apprehensive about.
There are the rules gurus, the stats analysts, those who play with any old ball they find in the trees, those whose bags are kitted out with every gadget under the sun and those whose completed scorecards are calligraphic works of art.
This exposure to other people’s golfing life makes the experience of playing so much richer, and it got me thinking about what makes the perfect golfing companion. If I were to create the perfect trio to accompany me in a four ball, what sort of golfers would I pick?
Firstly, they all need to have a good temperament. The perfect judgement of when to lighten the mood, when to console and when to just keep their mouth shut (usually after your second consecutive bunker shot).
Another key trait of any dream golfing partner would be knowing when to give advice. The golden rule is: WHEN IT’S ASKED FOR!
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There’s nothing worse than getting a running commentary on all your mistakes. We’ve all played with someone whose contribution to your round is a constant stream of “you lifted your head up”, “you’re coming down too steep on the ball”, “you’ve not taken enough sand”.
Trying to change your technique, or even thinking about it too much, is a calamity when you’re mid-round, so you want someone who keeps your mind off it. That said, when my chipping game fell apart one day, I asked the golfing gods (and my partners) what on earth I was doing wrong, and a quick pointer to put more weight on my front foot yielded immediate results.
So, if the above is a given, what are the individual characters in this fourball?
Something I’ve really appreciated from other, more experienced golfers, is getting a handle on the seemingly infinite rules golf has. When you go for your first lessons it’s not like a driving test, you don’t get a copy of golf’s highway code, so my first partner will have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the rules.
However, there is one caveat. At my local club everyone uses their experience to educate and help you avoid penalties, but we’ve all heard tell of players who wait until after you’ve made the mistake to enlighten you on some obscure ruling that costs you the hole. My first companion will happily pop over and explain whether an ant is a burrowing animal or not, as opposed to pointing out that you weren’t entitled to relief after you’ve taken the shot.
But it works both ways too, it’s good form to consult on anything complex or unusual before taking your shot. We’ve all raised an eyebrow at someone returning from the woods with an epic tale of the complex scenarios their ball had encountered which enabled them to tee it up on a soft patch of moss. “So, a badger had built its own area of GUR in the middle of the gorse bush next to a sprinkler head?! How extraordinary!”
Good sportsmanship all round is the key.
So, my first companion is a rules guru with a perfect temperament, a good sense of humour, waiting for your permission to impart the odd pearl of wisdom. Not much to ask, is it?
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The next player in this dream roll-up fourball would be someone who plays the game a bit differently. Usually of the older generation, they were brought up on bump and runs, 40-yard pitches and a knowledge of how to keep the ball out of the wind.
They carry only a handful of clubs, their short game is something to behold and you come away from the round with at least three new shots to practise. I also want them to regale me with tales of how they saw Bobby Locke master the Old Course with just a jigger and a mashie. Golf is better than most sports at remembering its past, but it’s nice to be reminded that people can still make birdies without a smart watch and hours spent on a launch monitor.
For this person golf holds joys far away from technical perfection and scorecard success, there’s something within them that connects to the soul of the game. They’ve also seen every quirk imaginable and will tell you with glee about that time they got a hole-in-one with the aid of an unfortunate pheasant that now sits stuffed on their mantlepiece.
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But who will join the rules guru and old timer to complete my dream group? Well, I’m hoping I can bring a bit of the average golfer to proceedings. I might hit the odd classy shot, but I cancel it out with a duff and missed short putt so I’d want my third partner to be a superb golfer.
They used to be scratch but now play off 2.4. Modest and humble with it, they are willing to offer the odd tip, and when I do hit one of my small number of good shots their praise will ring in my ears for the rest of the round.
I once played with a pro who saw me hit a nine iron and he said, out of nowhere “never lose that tempo”. I had no idea that I possessed any tempo whatsoever, let alone tempo that was worth keeping hold of, and even though I have spent every round since losing said tempo for long periods of time, those words return in my hour of need.
I also find you really raise your game when you’re able to see just how well that game can be played. I’ll never forget walking away with the long drive prize during a game with a scratch golfer. Had I not seen his ball launched into space I doubt I’d have focused the mind enough to keep my ball on the fairway. He, unfortunately, neglected to keep his on. Gallingly for him the fairway ran out about fifty yards past my ball and two feet before his came to a stop.
There you have it, the dream roll-up fourball. It’s so good I’m starting to wonder if I’ll even make the cut!
Find out more about John Robins at johnrobins.com
WITB: Bad Golf’s John Robins
Click the club names to read reviews and tests of John’s clubs
Driver: Cobra King RadSpeed Loft: 10.5º set to 11.5º. Shaft: Tensei blue 65 reg
Hybrid: Cobra King Speedzone Loft: 2H. Shaft: Recoil reg
Irons: Cobra King Speedzone Lofts: 5-GW. Shafts: Recoil reg
Wedges: Cobra King MIM Lofts: 52º, 58º. Shafts: STD wedge shaft
Putter: Odyssey O-Works 2.0 R-Line
Golf ball: Bridgestone E6
John Robins is an award-winning stand-up comedian and BBC Radio 5Live host. Download the podcast here and watch his comedy special ‘The Darkness of Robins’ on Netflix here. You can also follow John on Twitter and Instagram.