Many congratulations. You have successfully negotiated the front nine with the initial Membership Interview, judging by the invitation to today’s playing-in session.
This forms the next stage of the candidate process (and remember, you will probably not have been told anything about these stages; nor must you ask). If you thought that the in-person interview was a gruelling episode, the playing in experience will push you to breaking point.
To succeed, you must push through these challenges, stretching yourself to a new level of commitment which will, in turn, prove useful when the Club later imposes a hefty levy for essential capital works, or raises the price of a Club sandwich with the sort of inflation percentage last seen in Weimar Germany.
You are halfway through, and many obstacles remain on the back nine. But remind yourself that you have got this far, meaning you are in with a chance. So, take a moment to breathe slowly and prepare for the work ahead. Ready? Let’s go:
10. Don’t play too well, or too badly (see point 1 of Part 1)
No one likes a sycophant, but no one came here to be well-beaten, either. This is a line so fine as to be invisible, and you must straddle it without a wobble, while also carrying your clubs and your even weightier hopes and dreams along.
11. Don’t play too strategically
It is likely your fellow players will have been fighting the same personal battle against the golf course for years, if not decades, and it will involve a stubborn and at times demented optimism that flies in the face of every shred of evidence that has appeared thus far. Now is not the time to display a superior tactical approach to such dilemmas as whether to lay up short of an enormous bunker, or to cut the corner of a dogleg. No one likes a sycophant, as previously mentioned, but no one likes a smart-arse either. Having said all that, you don’t want to appear dumb, so you also mustn’t just repeatedly stumble into the mistakes they are making. A tricky balance.
12. Be willing to repair every pitchmark and replace every divot on the property
Whatever you do, though, do not pass judgment on the condition of the course (or, for that matter, on any strokes played, including your own). These people love this place, so regardless of whether the fairways look like they have recently staged a reenactment of the charge of the Light Brigade, or the bunkers appear to have last been raked in a leap year, do not make any comment that could be perceived as critical or even ”a suggestion”. Which brings us to...
13. Avoid the “Suggestion Book”
This tip could well have been included in the prep for the Membership Interview, but its importance straddles both, and the clear tactical position of never making a suggestion should be followed throughout the election process, and indeed, through any membership that may or may not come to pass at the end of this trial. There is a precedent, according to club folklore, for an on course “Suggestion” having catastrophic consequences for the person brave or stupid enough to issue it. Word has it that at one rather upmarket club on the east coast of America, a member was heard to suggest that a windmill would look rather nice at the top of a certain hill. He returned several months later to find not only a windmill, with a nice halfway hut stationed within it, but also, languishing in his slot of the oak letter rack shelves in the Members’ locker room, a bill for the full costs of the recent instalment. You have been warned.
14. You may not do anything that implies that you care about your score
No throwing or breaking clubs, swearing or blaspheming. Remember: these people are here to beat you – that’s one of the hidden conditions – so you should appear to want to win without appearing to want to win. And lose when it suits them, not you.
15. Turn a blind eye
In the face of repeated frustration from your playing partners, which may include any or all of throwing or breaking of clubs, swearing and blaspheming, do not appear to notice or to not notice.
16. Don’t play too fast or too slow
This is critical. No standards are given, but you must fall within them anyway. Linked to this is the protocol when looking for a ball. Don’t appear to know that the rule changed from five minutes to three in 2019; that implies you care about, or perhaps even understand, the Rules. If it is your ball that the search is for, give up looking well before three minutes is up. If it is their ball you are looking for, consider looking for it until you find it.
17. Don’t break any Rules, but don’t pull anyone else up on the Rules either
Don’t appear to be relaxed about the Rules, nor uptight about them. And if you see a breach, and consider reminding anyone of the collective responsibility for ensuring that no Rule is broken (see Rules of Golf 1.3b(1), but not in such a way as they can see you), bear in mind that were you to fail this stipulation, you will not only never get in here, but probably nowhere else either. Golf is a small world, in which eyebrows raise and tongues wag.
18. Don’t appear too mean or too generous with regard to gimmes
This one is of course the toughest of the lot, and if the above seemed vague, my advice regarding gimmes is non-existent, really. It is a mystical game of chess, gimmes, and nothing can prepare you for the minefield of possibly terminal errors you could make in this realm. So instead of a further pointer, I will simply wish you the greatest of luck with respect to this final point. You will need it.
You may feel that the game actually went okay, and have some sense that your copybook is not entirely blotted. But be prepared for the fact you still may never get in, and regardless of whether that is the case, you will never be permitted to even ask for feedback or an update, let alone receive one. The interview process is really a blend of Catch 22 and Yes, Minister, with a hint of Twin Peaks thrown in as top-dressing. But don’t admit to watching (or not watching) TV, and particularly not Twin Peaks. Obviously.
If, after several months of a radio silence that will make death seem entertaining, you receive a letter cordially inviting you to join, do so without delay (within the hour, ideally, regardless of the fact that no-one, at any stage of the process told you what you were 'in for', or the terms of the arrangement). And never, ever forget that you are, and will remain until such time as someone tells you otherwise (and this probably won’t ever happen), the “new member”.
And who knows, one day – if you can avoid the tap on the shoulder to say your time is up or that you have transgressed another invisible diktat – you might be invited to serve on the nominations committee yourself, and thereby enjoy the endless drinks on some other poor soul’s account as they grovel before you. By then, you will have forgotten how confusing and nerve-wracking the whole drama was for you, and will therefore be suitably equipped to inflict terror on another excellent and petrified candidate, without any shadow of guilt.
This is Part 2 of Richard Pennell's guide to the Kafka-esque process of joining a traditional British golf club. You can find part 1 here.
Read more of Richard's writing at his Stymied blog.