What better way to pass a lovely summer’s day than a few rounds of crazy golf? Okay, there are plenty of better ways, but when you’ve got construction’s finest to tee off against each other on an adventure-themed golf course, it’s a whole new ball game
Some of the industry’s finest putters, ball-positioners and indeed swingers assembled in a corner of Kent, next door to something called Flamingo World, last week for a competition that would decide who was the best golfer of all. Crazy golfer that is. Why? Well, because it’s the silly season and because Building magazine has succumbed to Ryder Cup fever, in much the same way as we succumbed to World Cup fever a few weeks ago when we held a table football championship. So this time it’s crazy golf and we’re at the newly built Lost Island Encounter course at World of Golf, Sidcup, whose centrepiece is a light plane painted in zebra stripes and perched at a jaunty angle (we can’t explain that one).
We’ve got six teams of two, each hoping to prove their mastery of the “sport”. Among the competitors we have Zinzan Brooke, the former All Black number eight (who now works in construction). He is an imposing presence, but will a man who kicked a 47m drop goal in the World Cup be able to do something similar in the more delicate world of crazy golf? Read on to find out …
Zinzan Brooke and Trevor Mills take on Steve Hughes and Paul Heyworth (see below)
Zinzan is up first and it’s clear from the look of concentration on his face at hole one that this man wants to win. His giant stature and focused determination don’t really go with the tiny crazy-golf putter or the fake waterfalls and caves dotted around the adventure island-themed course, but it certainly makes for an amusing image.
The first hole is key - the players are watching each others’ technique with an eagle eye, hoping for signs of weakness. The results are level, with each player taking the hole in two shots. It looks as though this could be a close run thing.
That is, until the second when Zinzan misjudges the terrain. The sloping course’s deceptive dogleg deceives the legendary flank forward, who drops a shot and the score is two, two, two, three. “Jees-us,” he sighs, shaking his head and tutting at himself as the Malcolm Hollis duo saunter on to the third, buoyed by their early, and if we’re honest, pretty unexpected, lead.
On to hole five. It’s in a different league. The players must attempt a chip shot over a flowing torrent onto the green. Zinzan is first up. He is forced to retrieve his ball from the water and try again. This time, better. But all the others have seen how it’s done and Trev, Steve and Paul each make the shot in a respectable two.
By the time we arrive at the eighth, Zinzan has dramatically improved his scorecard with some “very nice play indeed”, according to Steve, and the Malcolm Hollis boys are only a point or two ahead. And this is when Trev pulls it out of the bag with our very first hole in one. “Yes! - and on number eight as well,” shouts Trevor, punching the air (for anyone who hasn’t been paying attention, that is both the name of the team and the number on Zinzan’s former All Black jersey). “It’s a sign,” shouts Zinzan, doing a little celebratory dance - something far less manly than the hakka.
On a roll, Trevor plays another hole in one on the ninth, overshadowing everyone else’s respectable twos. But then - much to Steve and Paul’s delight - he messes up with a four.
By the time the teams reach hole 14, with the end in sight, the competition levels have soared to new heights. Every shot counts at what Steve names “the Teletubby hole” as our players must navigate their golf balls over five raised mounds to sink the shot. Everyone does it in two. And everyone is very pleased with themselves.
And then things go dramatically downhill. It’s the 17th. The penultimate challenge. Our golfers need to chip the ball onto the top of a giant rock where it will fall down a hole and out the other side onto the green. Zinzan does it in three which, it soon becomes clear, is an exceptional score. “Hole in one” Trevor takes four and Steve, five. Then comes Paul. He chips the ball, but it gets stuck on the top of the rock - actually between a rock and a hard place. There is nothing for it but for him to clamber up and try to dislodge it. A queue is forming behind him. “This is a disaster,” laughs Zinzan, before a teenage boy waiting in line decides he has had enough. “Come on man,” he shouts. “Just hit it.” Paul tries his best and seven shots later, we’re done with hole 17. Thank God.
There is some confusion on the 18th. At this stage, the separate golf courses meet, and the two final holes are played next to each other. And another group of men has started to play the wrong one. “Mate,” shouts Zinzan, “this is our course.” “Oh yeah, sorry,” says the mistaken golfer before bellowing down to his friend: “Danny, you’re in the wrong hole.” There is a pause, before: “That’s what she said …” echoes around holes 17 and 18 in surround sound. Men and sport, eh? Not even the innocent world of crazy golf is safe.
And the teams are …
Number 8 Construction and Consulting Services
Zinzan Brooke, chief executive, and Trevor Mills, managing director
Steve Hughes, partner, and Paul Heyworth, associate
Michael Keverne, structural engineer for the London Olympic stadium, and Hamish Sutherland, civil engineer for same
Stephanie Johnston, education and communications manager, and Nina Neeteson, education and communications officer
Adams Kara Taylor
Gem Ahmet, director, and Peter Evans, associate director
Turner & Townsend
Rob Edwards, director
Players: Michael Keverne and Hamish Sutherland vs Stephanie Johnston and Nina Neeteson
The first hole is a seemingly straightforward oval patch of green with a easy-to-reach hole at the far end. What could possibly go wrong? Sure enough, the Article 25 girls do it in two and four, respectively, which is a fine start. Things go unaccountably badly for the Buro Happold boys, however. Hamish, whose single snazzy white golf glove and matching visor suggests he means business, nabs it in two. But it takes Michael six strokes to get through this unthreatening setup. “Come on boys, you don’t want to lose to the charity girls,” says Stephanie, with surprising aggression for one from the caring sector. No pressure, then.
A few holes on and Michael isn’t playing any better and begins mentioning a “shoulder injury”. On the fourth he makes a miraculous comeback, though, scoring a hole in one. It seems to have riled the females somewhat and on the fifth, Nina, in a pointedly uncharitable move, whacks the ball straight at the Buro Happold team. They dodge it, though, and by the eighth hole (which is a particularly crazy one comprising a cave with waterfalls whooshing past large holes in a wall for no apparent purpose), Michael and Hamish are in the lead.
Hamish yells over the din of the water that he honed his technique on the toughest course in the world. St Andrews? Er no, it turns out to be the mini golf course in his hometown of Fielding, New Zealand.
With that he misses his next shot spectacularly.
The eighth is a tough hole, not so much because the shape of the cave requires players to force the ball round in an arc, but rather because of the deafening noise of the waterfalls, the alarming bright green colour of the water and the fact that it’s really quite dark in the cave. The two teams acquit themselves well, though, with each pair scoring three and four apiece.
As they approach the ominous 13th we ask Nina about her technique. “If I actually aim, I tend to miss, so just hitting the ball and hoping for the best seems to serve me better.” No doubt Ballesteros used much the same technique. Yet Nina’s approach to the 14th is deadly. The Buro Happold boys go first and Michael’s shot is fantastic. The ball stops, teetering on the edge of the hole. Nina’s up next and deftly knocks Michael’s ball miles (okay, inches) away from the hole, as if she is playing petanque, to cries from Buro Happold of “that’s not sport!”
The charity girls and the engineers are pretty much neck and neck now, and it’s not long before they’re at the 18th, the most fiendish hole of all, with a green of varied levels that drop down a series of steps and a section that can only be tackled by putting the ball over a bridge.
It’s a tough one but now our teams are into their stride and everyone gets it done in two - except Michael that is, who takes six goes. No doubt that shoulder injury is flaring up again …
Players: Gem Ahmet and Peter Evans take on Rob Edwards
Even before they’ve hit the course the sledging starts. Unfortunately it’s between Gem and Peter, the Adams Kara Taylor boys. Gem: “Do I have to play with Pete? He’s rubbish!” Pete is not fazed, however: “Just call me Tiger Pete.”
“I’ve actually read a book about crazy golf,” Gem says, then adds, “God, don’t put that in the article”. Oops. But on with the action. Rob makes an impressive start against AKT, nailing the first hole in two where they require three each.
The second hole also goes well for Rob, who despite being a one-man team, is looking remarkably strong, especially compared to the AKT boys, who are still putting more effort into attacking each other than the ball.
Hole five has a couple of tree stumps in front it. Peter strikes a blinder and the ball somehow ends up a few millimetres from the hole. “I was trying to impress the kids behind us,” he says. Gem spots Hamish picking up a ball that looks impossible to hit, being lodged against a large plastic rock. “I’m not impressed with that,” says Gem. “He may have the visor and the glove but that’s still not allowed.”
We’re on to the 11th and it’s clear that this is the toughest yet. The path to the hole is barred by a fast-flowing stream. There is, however, a narrow bridge, which looks the surest way to get your ball over, even if it offers no chance of a hole in one. AKT’s Peter, clearly in a risk-taking mood, sends the ball hurtling into the air - then plummeting straight down into the water.
It’s carried off at speed, pursued by some children. Gem takes no heed of this disaster and smacks the ball in similar fashion.
This time it lands very close to the hole. Sterling stuff.
By the 15th the teams are close and Gem’s looking pretty professional now. He stands in front of the ball, club poised next to it, feet together, knees bent, calm … and then a ball comes flying from nowhere nearly knocking off his glasses. It’s those pesky kids again. They’re trying to return the ball they’ve helpfully retrieved from the green water (they claim, unconvincingly).
The players move to the 17th hole, where Gem spends an age measuring the distance between his ball and the hole with his club. Unfortunately, his shot is wide of the mark. He pitches again but misses.
Then tries again and again, and again. Rob points out a sign giving you six shots maximum for this hole and we quietly move on to the 18th …
The final scores
With the last ball sunk, our 11 crazy golfers reconvene outside the bar to compare notes. They crowd around the scorecard, trying to get a better look. Zinzan is alarmed that he appears to have the worst score: “What? Are you sure? Is that definitely right?”
Questions are being asked about how to arrive at a fair score for Rob, the only one-man team. Building suggests doubling it? Apparently that’s neither fair nor representative. And so Zinzan steps in. “I need a pen, some paper and a hat,” he says. All materialise almost instantly as he writes the name of every player down and puts them into a hat for Rob to choose from. This will make up the rest of his score. Rob picks his own name, sparking another bout of debate and haggling. As rain clouds start to roll in, Building announces in no uncertain terms that the scores will remain as they are.
As Building reads out the results, anyone hoping for girl power to reign supreme on the golf course is disappointed when Nina and Stephanie come in last, but only just behind AKT and their rivals, Hamish and Mike. Then it’s Malcolm Hollis. So - it’s between Zinzan and Trevor and Rob. Does Rob look nervous - would many people feel comfortable about potentially stealing a sporting crown from a former All Black forward? No. Rob is cool as a cucumber - right up to the moment he is announced as the overall winner, beating Zinzan and Trevor’s score by two points.
Concerns over an unfair advantage are put aside and everyone claps and cheers as Rob collects his winnings - a bottle of bubbly and a moose head bottle opener - the closest thing to a trophy Building could rustle up (don’t ask).
Bizarrely, Zinzan, Trevor, Steve and Paul decide to stay on in Lost Encounter Island for another game. You can’t help thinking they might be taking this a little too seriously …
Turner & Townsend 84
Number 8 Construction and Consulting Services 86
Malcolm Hollis 91
Buro Happold 94
Adams Kara Taylor 96
Article 25 100