Lovely Bubbly

Packing was never my favourite part of the job. To sit down and make a list of all the things one might possibly need on a trip and then refine that list to make sure all those items fit in one’s luggage would be the sensible thing to do. To leave oneself some time after one has packed to then remember all the things one has forgotten would also seem prudent.

They say that nothing inspires like last minute panic. I would argue that when it comes to packing, the only time I ever feel the urge to do it is when I only have about half the time left that I actually need to do it. The only way for me to do it is haphazardly and with a bit of a grump on. Remember the passport, the credit card and the phone; anything else that you might forget can fairly easily be purchased pretty much anywhere in the world these days. The financial pain of having to buy again something that you already have at home might make you remember it next time.

That’s for a normal trip. But normal is so terribly 2019 these days. Out here beyond the thunderdome, the rules have changed.

The UK Swing (see what they did there?) starts this week at Close House with the British Masters. Five more tournaments in the UK will follow in successive weeks as the European Tour gets back to business. In order to be allowed by the UK government to hold these events, numerous special rules apply.

There will be no spectators, no courtesy cars, and no exchanging of scorecards. There will be regular testing for COVID-19 of everyone involved, social distancing, and handwashing on a scale few could have imagined a few months ago. The Tour have established a Tournament Bubble to keep everyone as safe as possible.

To get into the bubble, I had to bring with me a negative test result from a PCR test I took within seven days of arriving at the venue. I then had to be tested again. If you haven’t had a test yet, there’s nothing to it. A very kind lady swabbed the back of my throat and my nose. A word of advice: if you do have to undergo a test at any stage, have something nice for breakfast. There’s a reasonable chance not only that you might see it again, but that your tester might end up wearing it.

While my mucus and snot were analysed, and once my nose and eyes had stopped watering, I had my temperature taken. 36.5 degrees was considered acceptable and I was given access to the outdoor areas of the venue while I awaited my results. I got my yardage books from Dion and walked the front nine. As I sat on the range recovering (this is a hilly golf course, and 130 days on the sofa have taken a toll), I received an email from the Tour confirming a negative result and welcoming me into the bubble.

The rules of the bubble are many and varied, but the key one for the incautious packer is that once you’re in it, you can’t leave it without needing another PCR test to return. For the next few days, I can be in my hotel room, the bar or restaurant in the hotel (as long as I stay far enough away from everyone else), my car and the venue. Nipping out to Boots because I forgot toothpaste is not an option. Ordering a takeaway is not an option. Running out of… anything, would be catastrophic.

Consequently, my packing strategy this time was different. I made a list and purchased what I didn’t have ahead of time. I gave myself all day on Saturday to pack several bags (having the car at least meant I didn’t have to be as space conscious as usual). I stocked up on every conceivable medicine and food stuff I might need or just fancy over the coming weeks. And then I spent an hour wandering around the house looking at things and wondering if I ought to take them with me.

The PlayStation made the cut. Two dozen books, because I never know what I’ll be in the mood for next. A portable electric hotplate and some tins of baked beans. When I picked up a lamp at one point, my wife gave me the look that says “You’ve taken that too far” and I settled down.

It’s nice to be back at work, even in this strange environment. Spot the caddie can be a difficult task at the best of times, even after a short hiatus. We nearly all wear hats and sunglasses, and a rounder belly or an extra chin can appear almost overnight if the catering was good at the last event.

As I walked nine holes and bumped into (whatever that expression means anymore) other caddies, I realised the game has been cranked up a notch with the addition of masks, new hairstyles (I think I look like Jim Morrison now; my wife says I look like Micky Flanagan), and some altered body shapes (not all for the worse, either).

A tee time has been booked for practice tomorrow morning – just turning up whenever you fancy is not permitted in the bubble – so I must force myself to bed early for the first time in 130 days. I only walked nine holes without a bag today and already my back feels like a pretzel. Damn it. Pretzels. I knew I’d forget something.

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