According to Wikipedia, Norfolk is a low-lying county in the East of England, famous for having the highest concentration of Medieval churches in the world (659 if you’re interested), being the birthplace of Lord Nelson and containing the City Hall with the longest balcony in the UK (Norwich City hall at 365 feet). What the article fails to detail, however, is that the jewel in Norfolk’s crown is undoubtably its two most prestigious links courses- Brancaster and Hunstanton. And it was here that the Blues headed at the end of 1st week, hoping to make an early statement of intent for the rest of Hilary term.
It turns out that North Norfolk is quite far away from Oxford, and since no-one has decided to build a motorway between the two, the Blues left on Friday evening so as to avoid a pick-up time so hideous that it wouldn’t only be Crummey to not show up. In recent weeks, OUGC have begun to pride themselves not only on their golf, but also on their trivia, with the car journeys to fixtures starting to resemble episodes of Pointless. The long drive east left ample time for some bitterly contested battles- Reynolds, Ryan and Bastianello went toe-to-toe in naming African countries, getting 52 of the 54 recognised states (but shockingly forgetting Somalia and Sao Tome and Principe) before Brian Wilson dominated the naming of seaside courses in the United Kingdom. The weekend’s laurel wreath once again, though, went to OUGC’s resident stats-man Fergus Hardy for his comprehensive knowledge of Beatrix Potter characters.
Having finally arrived, the Blues were welcomed by the Hunstanton match manager Nick Skerritt, who had incredibly kindly offered to put the team up at his Inn, the King William IV, in Sedgeford. On Saturday morning the golf finally commenced at Brancaster. The wind was up in the morning, making the course quite tricky, but both sets of players were thankful that at least it wasn’t raining. The match held particular intrigue in that the home side fielded two father-son pairings and Oxford’s very own Hardy, who is actually a member at RWNGC, had his father Simon playing for the opposition. The dark blues clearly dealt with the blustery conditions best in the morning foursomes taking all of the first 4 matches to leave the score at 4-1 to OUGC at lunch. After a quick, but very enjoyable, steak and kidney pie, the players returned to the links with the home club in desperate need of a comeback. That comeback did not materialise, however, with Cansfield and Van Wijk as well as Reynolds and Wilson turning the screw for Oxford in the top two matches. With the overall destiny of the fixture now in no doubt, the Blues pressed home in the bottom matches with Bastianello and Hardy combining for another convincing win. With only two matches left on the course, the weather took a nose-dive and within minutes there was sheet lightening and driving hail covering the coast. It is in times like these that the golfer begins to lament the out-and-back layout of traditional courses that leave you absolutely miles away from anything (The dog-license at Deal puts you several postcodes from the clubhouse. Thanks be to Chequers). Mercifully, the squall was short lived and with the numbest of hands, Ryan and Crummey actually managed to squeeze out a 1up victory in their match. The final group, being far more sane, had already negotiated a half. That left the final result of the match at a resounding 8.5-1.5 win for the Oxford boys.
With some time to kill between the end of play at Brancaster and supper, the team decided to hit the bright lights of Hunstanton town. If you’ve ever been to Sunny Hunny, you’ll know that you have 2 options- a bar called “Bar” or the bowling-come-penny-arcade-mega-complex. Given that the last time “Bar” had seen some OUGC crests was when Jamie Tabbert belted out a rendition of “Stan” at a karaoke event on the night before the Divots/Stymies Varsity Match in 2012, the team elected for some bowling. It transpired that the team’s bowling actions were exceptionally similar to their golf- Bastianello took several practice swipes which looked nothing like his eventual swing, Wilson’s movement contained fewer than 4 moving parts and Ryan came viciously from the inside. Afterwards, the Blues retreated back to the King William for a well needed dinner where rumours started to circulate that the Hunstanton team being played in the morning was an unbeatable one. Knowing that they would have to be on their A-game to avoid being “lambs to the slaughter”, the team finished off their beers and moved swiftly on to the red wine.
The team reconvened in the morning, with Ryan and Crummey now being significantly more informed about the game of bowls, ready to march into the awaiting abattoir of Hunstanton. The weather forecast was horrendous. The morning matches got underway in windy but dry conditions which soon deteriorated into near horizontal rain. The inclement conditions, though, did not stop some quality golf being played. In the top game, Oxford had once again paired the dynamic duo of Mercurio and Van Wijk who had played together at Hunstanton in the 2012 Varsity Match. Unlike two years ago, however, Van Wijk managed to find the fairway, not the practice ground, off of the first tee. The game went all the way to the 18th and eventually ended in a half. The home club then took the initiative by winning the next two games and halving the third. The only full point for Oxford in the morning came from Hardy and Cansfield who plotted their way around the course seamlessly.
Over lunch, the heavens opened further, causing the afternoon matches to be shortened to 12 hole sprints. Likening themselves to the sheep that eludes the herder’s dog, the Blues reveled in this shortened format and began a spirited comeback. Ryan and Reynolds pared their way home over Hunstanton’s tricky closing stretch, made even harder by the weather, to claim their match before both Van Wyk and Van Wijk holed tense 6 footers on the 18th to halve their respective games. The other two matches then also went the way of the dark blues, meaning that Oxford took the afternoon session 4-1 and the overall match by 6 games to 4 to round off a wonderful weekend’s golf. There wasn’t much trivia in the cars on the way home; more sleeping.
OUGC’s Norfolk swing has really injected some momentum into the team going forward to next weekend’s incredibly tough fixtures against the Moles at Denham and Sunningdale. Here’s hoping that the weather improves and that next week’s car topics include City Hall balconies.