December 2008

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Best Practiser Award

And the winner is Vijay Singh for the 21st year in a row. As this exclusive snap clearly shows, Vijay never stops practising even when he’s on the loo. So that’s why he craps himself over short putts!

Sexiest Player Award

Sometimes it’s difficult to tell if it’s Camillo or Camilla but the eyebrows (i.e. the two caterpillars under his hat) are a dead giveaway. This was a tight category with Camillo narrowly beating beautiful Boo Weekley, stunning Stephen Dodd and hunky newcomer Hunter Mahan to claim victory.

Highlight of The Year Award

The day the Rocco met the immoveable object at Torrey Pines. It’s now officially true; Tiger can beat any one of his fellow pros with one hand tied behind his back or in his case, one broken leg and a ripped out cruciate ligament. Woods’ win is the golfing equivalent of Nadal winning Wimbledon with no strings in his racket.

The Duffy Waldorf Best Dressed Player Award
And the winner is Peter Gustaffson. I’m sure you will agree Peter cuts an iconic dash as he sports the latest couture in the new Woody Austin “Wood-rot” golfwear collection.

Player Of The Year Award

Goes to John Daly. His impressively choreographed ejection off the tour, his Budweiser can tee-shot, his topless interview and drunken hooters escapades easily sealed victory. Even Butch Harmon dumped Daly which has to be the biggest kick in the groin of them all.

The Best Prepared For Life On Tour Award
With all that’s going on with the credit crunch and ever deepening recession, it’s good to see that Ireland’s tour rookie Johnny Caldwell is preparing in the most economical way possible for life on the road. Johnny is a bit of a MacGyver and pimped up this “Caldwell Cart” in just a few hours. As Paul Young so aptly put it “Wherever I lay my golf hat, that’s my home.”

The “Wish the ground would open up and swallow me” Award

He dumped Monty and Darren, gave away his pairings and went AWOL for the post-mortem. And now he wants to be captain again? Here, Nick Faldo is seen praying on a hill on Ryder Cup Saturday in Valhalla. Just out of shot, running up towards him, are a ripping mad Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia, wondering why they have been dropped from the afternoon matches. Also shown is Darren Clarke’s reaction to the news that he didn’t make the team.

The Best Use of Water In Victory Award

With nothing to choose between them, this award has to be shared between Pablo Larrazabal and Richard Finch. Young sensation and notorious miser Larrazabal is shown diving into the water to retrieve his Pro-V1 after mindlessly throwing it away in victory. And we all know about fishing fanatic Finch’s attempt to club a trout with his wedge in Adare. Surely he could have waited until after the tournament.

The “Everything I Touch Turns To Mush Award”

Despite earlier suggestions that Lehmann Brothers, Fannie Mae & Freddy Mac, Bush foreign policy, reckless trading and soaring oil prices were the causative factors of the US and now global recession, it has now been proven beyond doubt that it all went wrong the day big Phil rung the trading bell. It’s still not the low point of Phil’s life. That would be the day Philip “the sniffer” Price kicked his ass around The Belfry.

On the hour long drive down the A7 autovia from Malaga, as if by fate the song “I’ll do my crying in the rain” came on the radio. Thoughts immediately turned to the 1997 Ryder Cup and a rain soaked Seve first hugging Nick Faldo as both men cried tears of joys and later his iconic emergence from the clubhouse when, flanked by his victorious Team Europe, he held aloft the Ryder Cup. We were headed for the theatre of that golfing dream, Valderrama, on the eve of the final ever Volvo Masters.

With a tee time of 10am, good friend Johnny Lydon (handicap two) and I decided to be thoroughly Irish and arrived in the gates of Valderrama at about 8am to “savour the atmosphere”. The first task was getting our bearings, just looking at the splendour around the clubhouse, administration buildings and practise facilities made my arms feel heavy, tired from constantly picking my jaw up off the floor. As it turned out, our early arrival was a real stroke of luck, we were to have the whole course to ourselves, being as it was officially closed to green fees in preparation for the arrival of the Tour.

Next we met our host, General Manager Derek Brown, a big burly Scotsman with a roguish smile and that larger than life charm that immediately puts you at ease. If they’re ever looking for an EU secretary general of golf, this man is perfect for the role. He’s the golfing equivalent of Michael Palin; there’s not a person alive or dead that played the game that he doesn’t know and he has a charming story to go with each. He excitedly quizzes us on an old black and white photo from the late 70’s of an older gent and a tall fit looking man, both smiling and chatting around a steel bucket overflowing with practise balls in Valderrama. The subjects were none other than three time British Open Champion Sir Henry Cotton and Ireland’s own legendary amateur Joe Carr.

The Calm before The Storm.
John Lydon, Derek Brown (General Manager Valderrama) and The SpinDoctor overlooking Valderrama’s practise ground.

After clinking a few dozen pristine callaways on the range (that Faldo called the best in the world), we tore into a few drives in the vain attempt to reach the smattering of balls some pro had crushed 300 yards down to the very end. Little did we know at the time, but we were absolutely wasting our time and energy. Valderrama is no place for JB Holmes wannabies. The only place you should use your driver here is to measure a club length when taking a penalty drop. Henry Cotton was a great proponent of the use of the hands and forearms to correct flaws and produce accurate shots and indeed the first key to unlocking the Valderrama code is exacting accuracy off the tee. “Remember this boys”, shouted Derek after us, like the skipper of a Scottish trawler as we headed to the first tee, “Stay left of centre, on every hole”. Like Nicholas Sarcozy, I thought. And of course he was bang on. Valderrama’s fairways seemed as narrow as a landing strip, on a lego airport, and are endlessly flanked by what we christened “goalkeeping trees” which just seemed to grab the balls out of the air and drop them vertically into the rough below. On the odd occasion we did throw caution to the wind and rip a long drive down the centre of the fairway, we found we had driven too close to the Peter Schmeichel-esque trees which blocked the trajectory of the second shot and left no chance of hitting the green.

You know the way the touring pro’s always seem to get a lucky bounce when they carve their drive into the trees? That doesn’t happen much around here. If you’re wild, you’re history. I made the cardinal error of going for a big drive off one tee, but pirouetted like a ballerina during the swing and sent the ball at least 100 yards left of its intended line. Having left that ball for dead, I carried on, taking double bogey with a provisional. As if to teach me a lesson about use of the driver, Valderrama decided to later reunite me with my stray ball, leaving it six foot from the pin, four holes from where I lost it! I should have taken a hybrid off the tee but as Charlie McCreevy said, “Hindsight is 20/20 vision”. At under 7,000 yards, with a par 71, this course demands prudence, course management and flawless ball striking, borne out by its list of tournament winners which include our own Paul McGinley, Tiger Woods and Canadian Mike Weir. Defending Volvo Masters champion Justin Rose, won here with a total of one under par in 2007.

The second key is being comfortable on the greens. Make sure you clean your spikes before walking on them because they are glassy. A round without three putting in Valderrama is unthinkable. Ken Brown would be like an excited child here, dropping balls on the slopes and watching them whizz away. The aprons probably run faster than most clubs greens and you almost feel guilty taking a divot. The greens are absolutely tiny too, hitting them sometimes felt equivalent to hitting the bullseye on a dartboard.

My standout holes in Valderrama include the first, purely for the fact that the hole speaks to you in a stern voice and says “You better be able to hit it straight lads or you’ve no future here.” The fourth hole, “La Cascada” is probably the best known hole on the course; a par-5 with two tired green flanked on the right by cascading agua. I also loved the dramatic par-5 17th; yes the slope on the apron of the green is as severe as it seems on TV and just gobbles up any chip shot short of perfect and deposits the ball in the water. Just ask Sergio, he’s had a few pro-V’s in the drink there over the years.

This year sadly sees the last staging of the Volvo Masters at Valderrama after 14 consecutive years and the push is on to create a new tournament, the Valderrama masters; a plan which is sure to succeed on a course which is brimming with golfing memories and consistently ranks among the best in the world. If you are escaping the rain to Malaga for a weeks golf, be sure to make time to drop in and play Valderrama; it is pure golfing gold. Full details are on .

My auntie was also a great woman for Christmas presents. Every November she would ring my mother and after some small talk about hummel figures and the benefits of royal jelly she would always enquire as to what the kids were into this year. “Get Donal anything to do with golf” was my mother’s stock response when it came to me. The presents would duly arrive and I would spend two weeks rattling the pack, mad keen to unveil the wondrous contents. Alas the anticipation always proved the most exciting part as the presents, which ranged from three pairs of Ping winter socks, to a sleeve of pink Molitor balls and a warped wooden three piece putter never quite matched the expectation.

I may be all grown up now and suffer from a debilitating bald patch but I’m still like a Clarkson with a Bugati when I see a golf shop or find a new golfing website. Here are my five top Christmas gift ideas from low to high price range for the discerning golfer. Mammy if your reading, any of the expensive ones will be fine!

Level 1: Cheap and Cheery
The Pitchmaster Divot Tool
Okay these things may seem on the face of it a stingy present, but trust me, they’re ten times better than the likes of a digital scorecard kit and they will be used. The Pitchmaster is the Ferrari of pitchmark repairers with a shed load of designs available. I don’t know how many times I have looked at these on the counter of the pro-shops but could never quite justify the €10 price tag, but they make an excellent stocking filler that no golfer will turn their nose up at.

Level 2: I Love You, but not that much
Head Covers
A couple of years back some of the world’s top pro’s endorsed a range of personalised head covers. For instance Tiger’s headcover is a lion and Sergio’s is a Spanish bull. These are probably the most popular but I like the Tim Clark penguin which is surprisingly lifelike and the Pat Perez “Double P” boxing glove which nicely sums up his, let’s say, questionable temperament. Look out also for the Shrek, Puss in Boots and Donkey headcovers which may be a better present for juniors. Widely available from about €20 in golf shops and online at

Level 3: I’m willing to pay to get you out of the house!
Shag Bags
Are you old enough to remember Peter Shilton running out at Wembley with a little purse to hold his Sondico gloves? If you are, and still cant play golf, you could do with one of these. Despite the unfortunate name, nothing sets you apart from the other hackers on the range more than tipping 75 muddy top-flites out of a pristine “shag bag”. Cheaper nylon bags cost about €20 while the top of the range leather Titleist bag will set you back around €50.

Level 4: I want an eternity ring in return.

Even though our Irish climate is best described as “slobbery”, the Sun has been known to appear for a few minutes around 8am on a Summer’s morning. Whether you choose to wear sunglasses on the course or prefer to let them lie backways on your hat like the pro’s, these things are all the rage. The most popular brands as found on the tours are Bolle and Oakley and range in price from about €70 to €160 or sometimes more depending on the style. Equally cool when worn behind the wheel of a car, this is one present that will be appreciated.

Level 5: You’re a diamond in the rough.
The ultimate golfing present. Unlike Bernard Dunne, when it comes to electric caddies the Golf Glider is still the lightweight champion. While the rubbish trolley imposters you buy in DIY stores crash and burn after six months, a Golf Glider will last a lifetime. The great news is they’re made in Ireland by a team of elves supervised by a Santa like figure called Mark Sturdy. It’s believed that faults with Golf Gliders are so rare that air accident investigators have to be sent in to investigate. The “Classic” golfglider is available from €450 while the top of the range “Microlite” is around €570. You can locate retailers on

Hi, I'm Donal Hughes aka "The SpinDoctor". I write a weekly golf page for the Irish Examiner. In general its a humourous look inside the ropes of the golf world. I cover topics such as:

Tailored Shorts: The funniest golf stories of the week garnished with a fair dollop of lies

What's In The Bag: A look inside a tour players bag

Bet Your Balls: Odds and tips for the coming weeks big tour event

Four Lads In A Car: Course reviews based on four lads heading somewhere nice for the day

Golf Science: Decoding the daVinci code of golf terminology

Top Dogs & Chokin' Dogs: The big winners and losers on tour

Hot Off The Forge: The latest equipment and gear reviewed

Watch out for my new posts every week following its appearance in The Irish Examiner.

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