It’s the end of July, it’s 2.15am. My alarm clock is buzzing away. I’ve slept for 90 minutes, if that.
At this ungodly hour, the collective beeping of alarms can be heard in neighbouring rooms. It’s a noise to make you groan, and groan. A noise nobody ever wants to hear at this time of day. Especially as it’s a Friday and I’m on a day off, apparently...
While resting my head again on comfortable pillow now seems the easiest ever option, I stumble to the bathroom (somehow adding contact lenses when my eyes can barely open), dress and make my way into the darkness below, murmuring a few unsavoury words and questioning what on Earth I’m doing.
In a nearby block, there is booming music and raised voices, a party in full swing. Yes, revellers are still on their ‘night out’ as I troop out to start a new day. Again, I debate my decision-making on this most bizarre of mornings... up before the milkman, the postman and before others have even gone to sleep!
I admit, there is a thought or two about doing a U-turn back to the warmth of my bed. Heck, I even wonder about joining the party people who are in full swing. However, at the end of the floodlight path, my mood lifts almost immediately. Still shrouded in virtual darkness, I fix my bleary eyes on grown men dressed in golf gear, carrying more balls than clubs and offering beaming smiles.
There are handshakes, backslaps, a quip or two about this strange scene and an overwhelming feeling of camaraderie. I belong here. As golf addicts up for a challenge, we all belong here.
I only know a handful of the guys in our 20-strong group, but you’d have thought we had been friends for life. I guess that’s what sport and charity challenges do - bond people together like never before.
A convoy of cars set off through St Andrews, bound for Crail Golfing Society. There is an eeriness to it all, the ‘Home of Golf’ deserted and the roads empty. We head along the A917, turn left for the golf club and slowly emerge in a pitch black car park, the clubhouse offering some flickering light. It’s 3.27am.
There are laughs and jokes, blurry photos and some silly putting practice. It’s still dark but we need to start.
Fluorescent balls are dug out of the bags and, on the Balcomie links, we are soon underway, shots struck into the gloom to start our epic 99-hole challenge. It’s bonkers but my word it’s fun! It’s also exactly what my dad, Ken, would have wanted me to do for him.
Growing up in Perthshire, he introduced me to golf as a boy at Muthill and Auchterarder and our bond for the game remained until his untimely death from bladder cancer at Strathcarron Hospice in January this year. He was only 71.
It came as little surprise to many of my friends that I felt the need to do a ‘wacky’ golf challenge this year in his honour, given our wonderful years together on the fairways and the many great golfing adventures we enjoyed. ‘Medinah 2012’ the undoubted highlight. How we celebrated Europe’s astonishing comeback in Chicago.
When The Masters came around in April - as well as various other sporting events that we enjoyed together - I missed him more than ever, so teeing it up to raise money in his absence seemed only appropriate.
When I heard there were guys equally as mad as me out there, playing 99 holes in one day was the only choice!
Together with two of my best pals, Gary Paterson and Gordon Robinson, we joined organiser-in-chief Alan Young for an epic 54 holes over Crail and then 45 at Fairmont St Andrews. Both venues were hugely supportive of the activities.
While Strathcarron was my charity of choice - the Denny-based hospice care superbly for terminally ill patients and their families and, incredibly, need to raise over £11,000 a day to continue to provide their support in local communities - Alan impressively embarked on his fourth annual Margo Young Foundation (MYF) 99-hole challenge.
Back in January 2014, Alan and his wife, Evonne, established the charity in memory of his mother, who sadly lost her life to breast cancer. The aim of the MYF is to collaborate with established organisations to optimise access to respite and bereavement support for children and their families affected by terminal illnesses.
So, when you virtually jog in between shots while playing the first few holes at Crail shortly after 4am, the charities certainly provide motivation.
Come 5am and an early loss of balls to at least lighten the load (!), it was picture perfect as a bright red sun emerged over the Firth of Tay to take our collective breath away. The banter was flying, as were the balls, sparking the odd false shouts of ‘Fore’ for entertainment value in the gloomy light. I was soon yelling ‘Genuine Fore’ when shots could actually be seen heading in players’ directions!
Shortly before 8am, after several bottles of water, bananas, rolls and fruit bars, we had remarkably raced around 36 holes of the superb Balcomie links and it was onto the Craighead - before golfers had actual tee times!
A hearty Crail ‘full Scottish’ then awaited us in the clubhouse to re-energise our increasingly weary limbs. Nobody can prepare you for how sore your feet will be after three quick rounds of golf, so the feeling of putting on new socks is uncannily good. “I’m going to change my socks more often at home now, just for the feeling,” joked one wag, clearly giddy on excitement and adrenaline.
There was no time to waste as we set off for the nearby Fairmont resort, quickly playing nine holes on The Torrance before a gruelling 18 holes over The Kittocks straight after.
Many of us were struggling come 4pm, but a club sandwich and a pint of Peroni (the first of the day!) gave us the fuel to complete another round on The Torrance. At the short 89th, our ‘spirit’ was lifted further with Eden Mill staff on hand for a gin-tasting session and a nearest-the-pin contest to win one of their locally-crafted bottles.
To be honest, the last few holes are a bit of a blur (perhaps the gin?), legs almost seizing up as we completed some 70,000 steps and 36 miles. Golf’s a good walk spoiled? Never! Sinking that final putt is a feeling I’ll never forget, achieved with a little tear in my eye as I realised how much dad would have enjoyed the day himself.
“The Margo Young Foundation is most grateful for the continued support of this event,” explained Alan.
“The 20 golfers who participated in the event spoke highly of the four courses and the warm welcome we received during this challenging event at the venues. Thanks a million to all who took part and to their family, friends and work colleagues for sponsorships. We look forward to continuing the success of the 99-hole challenge in 2018 and would be delighted to hear from golfers interested in playing.”
To date, this year’s event has raised over £15,000 for MYF, which will be used to fund child bereavement and respite projects across Scotland. Personally, I’ve raised over £1,700 for Strathcarron Hospice to support their sterling work. Quite simply, that’s enough motivation to clamber out of bed at 2.15am for golf anytime.