International cricket teams no longer play in Priory Meadow, and the world tennis pro circuit calls in next month at Devonshire Park, Eastbourne, not Hastings or St Leonards. Nevertheless the town retains its claim to a place on the international sporting stage. For the last 17 years it has hosted the World Crazy Golf Championships on its minigolf Adventure course on the seafront. 

2018 runner-up Adam Kelly receives his cheque
PICTURE: Hastings Adventure Golf

This year’s championships offer an overall prize fund of  £4,500, and are divided into professional, novice and junior categories. The junior category, a new initiative at the event, is open to contestants aged 8 to 14 and will be played on Friday 7th June starting at 5.30pm. The novice category – which excludes any ‘recognised’ international players, contestants who have previously played in the pro section of the competition or who made the top 18 cut at last year’s novice tournament – was first introduced in 2017 and will be played on Saturday 8th with a top prize of £500. The ‘professionals’ play over two days, Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th, for a bounty of £1,000 plus lesser sums for runners-up.

There are also team events in both pro and novice sections, and also prizes for ‘best dressed’ competitor, ‘most improved’ player and ‘personality of the weekend’. 

Simon Tompkins of Hastings Adventure Golf said: “We are thrilled to introduce the junior category to this year’s championships. The three separate competitive categories, professional, novice and junior, help make the championships even more inclusive.

“The novice category was established two years ago to give non-professionals an event of their own. Now the addition of the junior category makes the Championships an open playing field for younger players too. So get the putters polished and start practising!”

Minigolf clearly removes some physicality from the St Andrews version of the sport,  but players have to maintain a consistency of stroke, relentless concentration and nerves of ice. The winner of a regular minigolf competition at this level will need to average under 30 strokes per 18 holes, which means getting seven or eight ‘aces’ (holes in one) and the rest in twos each round. A single three or four will destroy the card. It’s very much a mind game.

Crazy golf is not just an alternative name for minigolf but a distinct variant. In particular, the rotating windmill is an essential feature: no windmill, as on the Hastings Pirate course alongside, and it’s just not crazy enough. There is also strict control of balls used. Each competitor is given an identical ball at the outset, and required to compete for the whole tournament with just that, whereas in tournament minigolf, the top competitors arrive with a bag of balls, and will carefully select different qualities of weight, bounceability and other attributes for each hole or variable weather condition.

In crazy golf the final round is known as the ‘crazy crazy round’ in which all balls are put in play together. That allows for some tactical blocking more akin to the snooker tables of the Crucible than the greens of Augusta.

The top competitors in crazy golf tend nevertheless to come from the same ranks as in regular minigolf. Acknowledged British minigolf number one, Michael Smith  – the Roger Federer of the sport, one would say, though the Fed doesn’t compete in a woolly Blackburn Rovers hat or dishevelled tracksuit bottoms –  has won the Hastings crazy golf title four times in the past ten years. He finished third last time, but will surely be back. Others to keep an eye on are Adam Kelly (second in 2018) and Portuguese contender Nuno Cunha. 

Last year’s winner Marc Chapman, a fencing instructor from Canterbury, had been close to the crown in previous years. He has confirmed, in a recent BBC interview, that he will be back to defend it. 

“It’s crazy golf. Of course it’s not serious”, he said. “But it is. I’m a world champion. That’s quite a serious thing for me. A very small club of the human race can say they are the champion of the world at something, and I feel very privileged, very honoured, to be part of that”.

The World Crazy Golf Championships take place on the weekend of 7th to 9th June. Spectators are encouraged to follow the action, free of charge, from the edge of the seafront course.

The Bavard Bar Novice Experience

Tim B’vard, compere of the monthly Bavard Bar at the Kino Teatr in St Leonards, took part in the novices tournament last year. With no background in minigolf other than childhood holiday experiences and a series of challenges on a back-packing odyssey round the Italian and Dalmatian coasts 30 years before, he entered a team of four, with Daniel Hewson (Dan the Piano Man), Eddie Flyte (the Lens) and Andrew Harston.

He found himself in a playing group with serious Portuguese contender Nuno Cunha, which is rather like turning up for a pro-am golf day and finding yourself partnered with Rory McIlroy. Nuno showed him his personal dossier, the equivalent of a river pilot’s navigation chart, advising on routes and angles of approach, cambers near the lip of each hole, and other sophistications. 

Tim B’vard, novice competitor
PICTURE: Hugh Sullivan

“Well, I got an ace on the first hole”, Tim exults. “Then it all went rather downhill”. Though actually he’s quite proud of finishing 19th out of 48 novices over four rounds, not only comfortably defeating his fellow Bavarders, but completing the third round in par (2 per hole) – one better than Nuno, though 43 down, it has to be added, on the latter’s cumulative score.

The Sky Sports camera team were there – it was a world championship, why wouldn’t they be? Tim pulled them over to where Nuno was putting. “This’ll be a hole in one”, he told them. They set up carefully to track the ball from putter to hole. But it didn’t drop, and they turned away, thus missing Tim’s own successful ace immediately following – ah, so close to TV immortality.  

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