Spotlight on … Keith Whitfield, Club Captain
When did you start playing and how long have you been a member at Newark?
I started playing in 1974, when I was 15, at Whittington Barracks Golf Club, Lichfield. My Dad had recently taken the game up and, after walking round in the evenings with our dogs, I thought ‘how difficult can it be?’ … and soon found out. I joined Newark Golf Club in the summer of 1990, when I was serving at RAF Cottesmore (near Oakham) and I've been a member, on and off (when posted away), ever since.
Favourite course played and why?
I have been fortunate enough to play several Open venues and a couple of US PGA courses over the years and my favourite ’top course’ has to be Royal Birkdale. Hard but fair, it sets so many different golfing challenges but the course I would go back to play, time and time again, would be Ashridge Golf Club. Set in the heart of the old Ashridge Estate, Henry Cotton was resident club professional here when he won the British Open three times in the 1930s.
The course is a fair test of golf and great fun too. Shortish par 5s offer chances for birdies which can easily end with double bogeys or more if you get out of position. Play what is in front of you and you should score reasonably well. The main challenge though is on the greens which are very undulating and, in the summer months, like grease lightening. Not quite Augusta, although often as pretty, leave your ball on the wrong side of the hole and three putts can be very good, if you don’t putt the ball off the green that is … Also, a fourball rarely takes more than three hours, 15 minutes to get round. I think it’s something to do with the layout: there are two par 5s in the first five holes and three par 5s on the back nine.
Best result as a golfer?
I have had reasonable success in matchplay competitions over the years, both at Newark and elsewhere but my best result would have to be shooting a gross 73 to win a Monthly Medal at Newark to qualify for a national competition run by Lombard Finance. I finished birdie, birdie, knowing that was what was required to qualify. Things have never been the same since!
Biggest tournament you’ve attended or played in?
I've attended the Open Championship for many years and several Ryder Cups. The rain-delayed last day of the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor in 2010 was incredible as Europe, who had led by three points going into the singles, were reeled in by the Americans. It came down to the anchor match between Graeme McDowell and Hunter Mahan. McDowell somehow managed to get his nose in front and the match ended on the par-3 17th when Mahan duffed a chip. We were stood on the hill overlooking the green when Europe won the match and McDowell and Captain Montgomerie were engulfed by fans on the green.
Most memorable moment on the golf course?
I've never had a one hole-in-one, although I have managed a hole in 3 acing with my provisional ball. My most memorable moment was in an RAF inter-station match at Tewkesbury Park when the chap I was playing holed-in-one twice on two consecutive par 3s (on the 5th and the 7th for those who have played there). In between the two hole-in-ones, I eagled the 6th that day, chipping in from just short of the green: so, three eagles on consecutive holes.
Funniest thing you’ve seen on the golf course?
Alex and I played at a course called Mystic Dunes in Orlando. We were paired with two other visitors, one of whom proceeded to tell us that he was back from Iraq, where he was working for a certain US company that made a lot of money out of the post-Gulf War reconstruction. Alex had decided he was going to play off the back tees – he often does this when we play in America – while I had picked a tee where the course yardage was about 6,200 yards.
Alex teed off and this guy – his name was Darby – went to the back tee with him: eight shots later he had still not reached our tee. On the second hole, a par 3 over water, Darby proceeded to put three balls in the water. We suggested he go forward to the dropping zone but no, he wanted another go. Having hit his fourth in the water, he went down to the edge of the lake to see if he could retrieve one of the balls, oblivious to the sign warning of alligators and snakes. By hole 5, nearly two hours later, he had run out of golf balls and decided to go in. Before he left he said that this was only his third game of golf ever, that he had really enjoyed it, and that he had booked in to play at Bay Hill the next day …
Favourite player and why?
Like most people, I have admired several golfers over the years. While Seve was my first golfing hero, my favourite golfer is Phil Mickelson, who, like Seve, is a wizard of the short game and a fantastic entertainer. His sportsmanship too, exemplified both at Medinah when he lost to Justin Rose in the Ryder Cuo singles and at Troon when an inspired Henrik Stenson won the Open, is second to none.
Away from golf … other hobbies and pastimes?
I've always been a keen follower of sport. I played football, rugby union and cricket both in the RAF and at private clubs. In more recent times, I thoroughly enjoyed keeping horses as my daughter went through her school years show-jumping here, there and everywhere. My other pastime is hill-walking: we love the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales and having an active dog to walk – we have a Springer Spaniel – is a great excuse to get out into the hills. I also have been known to follow Nottingham Forest and held a season ticket for over 15 years until this season … when they have been doing rather well without my support!
Favourite holiday destination and why?
Windermere in the Lake District: great walking, spectacular countryside and some fantastic restaurants and bars in the Town. My current favourite place to eat is the Crafty Baa, which is an old terraced house converted into a two-storey bar – ‘compact and bijou’ would accurately describe it – serving craft beers, lagers and ciders to wash down a great ‘slate’ of artisan bread, charcuterie meats and cheeses (including a Le Rustique Camembert if you like).
Always difficult to choose one, but it would have to be Beef Wellington, served with mustard mash and vegetables, including red cabbage, with a red wine, either a Malbec or an Italian Salice Salento.
Castaway on a desert island:
Your piece of music and why?
My musical tastes are quite eclectic. However, I’ll go for “Stay Free” by the Clash because it reminds me of the first concert I ever attended while still at School in the late 1970s. Probably still my favourite band of all-time, the lyrics to pretty much all of their tracks are memorable and whenever I feel like rebelling, there’s a Clash song for the occasion.
Your chosen book and why?
I read a lot and enjoy both fiction and non-fiction. Picking up The Best of Henry Longhurst recently led to me back to PG Wodehouse and the Jeeves and Wooster stories. While from a very different time, the scrapes young Bertie Wooster gets into, only for the inestimable Jeeves to rescue him, entertain and amuse on so many levels. The writing too is a joy: I could read these stories time and time again.
Your luxury item and why?
English breakfast tea. I can’t get by without a cup of tea too start the day!
Something about you that is unusual?
I have been held up at gunpoint, twice … both times when I was working for Williams and Glyn’s bank in the early 1980s. The first time was in Exeter branch on a Friday afternoon, when someone decided to rob the branch, while the second was when I was required to visit a farmer who had fallen behind on his commercial loan repayments. Which was more frightening?
Difficult to say but the second time was probably funnier looking back. I had tried to call the farmer several times and he kept hanging up – perhaps there was a clue there – and so I went out to see him. The gates were locked. I climbed over and started walking towards the farmhouse when he came out pointing his shotgun at me. After a few moments of brief discussion, we agreed that I was in the wrong place and I left. The reaction of my branch manager when I rang him to ask whether I should report the incident was both nonchalant and surprising: ‘no’ he said, ‘… he does that all the time, go back and talk to him again’.
And finally … your ideal fourball? My three partners in my fantasy fourball would be Phil Mickelson (my partner obviously) and we would take on Joe Strummer (from the Clash) and, an unusual choice perhaps, Lech Walesa (pronounced Vowensa), a Polish shipyard worker and trade unionist, who later became President of Poland, who is credited with bringing democracy to Poland in 1988, an event which led to the fall of the Berlin Wall a year later. The conversation would not be dull!