Friday, 12 June 2015

Par for the course

Listening to a Professor of Catholic Studies on the radio yesterday, banging on about – what else? – religion, I was reminded of the story of Reverend Ian Paisley as an indefatigable firebrand preacher during the troubles. Between rousing speeches and leading marches and generally shouting his way through the nineteen seventies he used, also, to lay claim to an enviable golf handicap and could often be found getting in a quick nine holes first thing in the morning… before the shouting started. Early one crisp cold spring day he found himself in a short four-ball with some Belfast city councillors along with the Lord Mayor.

It all kicked off perfectly well with all four making decent drives off the first par four and two strokes later all were in with a chance, if slim, of making par. Laid up ten feet from the pin, the good reverend laid his marker and picked up his ball as the town councillors both chipped from just off the green to within a gimme of the hole. The Mayor, a big, ruddy faced man had just a long putt. He carefully strode the green, stooping to see the lie of the land and then gestured for silence as he made his attempt. The ball rolled past the hole and kept on rolling another twenty feet. “Bugger!” he cried, “I missed!”

Mr Paisley was somewhat taken aback by the outburst and chastised the Mayor for his language. “The Lord looks not well on such words, Sir” he said “I would caution you to moderate your speech on this beautiful, heaven-sent morning.” The Mayor looked suitably chastened and the round continued without incident for a few more holes. As the sun slowly climbed in the sky the dew melted away and the full glory of a late spring day lifted all their spirits. Until they reached the fifth.

Councillor one made a textbook par three, Councillor two saved a wayward slice for a four and the good reverend managed a wonderful five iron off the tee to land eighteen inches from the hole and the others applauded and nodded to let him tap in for his second birdie of the round. The Mayor was in trouble. He mis-hit from the tee, chipped into a bunker, took two swings to get on the green and was now looking at a tricky six-footer to save a five. If anything his cheeks were even redder, the sun beginning to make his hefty frame give forth a sweat. He huffed and puffed up to the ball, steadied himself, took a breath and tapped the ball to within an inch of the hole, where it stopped dead. “Bugger!” he cried, “I missed!”

Paisley was not amused. “Did you not hear me, brother?” he admonished, “The Lord will smite you down for such words.” And with that he pointed up into the sky, where in the vast expanse of blue, a solitary cloud was beginning to form and darken at the base. For the next few three holes the cloud darkened and grew and seemed to be following them menacingly around the course. They finally arrived at the ninth, a tricky par four, with Ian Paisley in the lead on a creditable 32, the two councillors on 35 and 37 respectively and the Mayor, face like thunder, struggling with a score of 42. Paisley suggested they trust themselves to the power of prayer and led them in a brief, stirring verse of thanks for their good fortune.

The Mayor visibly relaxed and managed to arrive on the green in just two strokes, the chance of par within his grasp. He putted into a perfect position to finish in four and set up to save his game. The cloud rumbled overhead and Paisley looked up. He said a silent prayer as the Mayor took his shot and watched, dismally as the ball trickled past the hole. The Mayor threw down his putter, thrust his face at the sky and drew a deep breath, “Bu…” he began to scream, but the words died in his throat. Lightning arced across the sky, a bolt of good old, righteous Christian fury and struck Ian Paisley full in the chest.

I bloody hate golf!
Crazy? I'm mad as hell!

Pole-axed, the future Lord Bannside fell, gasping, to his knees, a look of bewilderment across his face and whisps of smoke gently curling from his blackened scalp. Above them a cleft appeared in the thick dark, broiling cloud and a light such as no mortal had witnessed in millennia shone down upon the scene. A mighty thunderclap followed swiftly afterwards and then the deep rumble of thunder resolved into the voice of God himself. “Bugger” saith the Lord, “I missed!”

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