When, in 2007, Golf Digest released their list of the top 100 musician golfers there were many raised eyebrows that the leading Englishman was Lloyd Cole.
Perhaps not as strange as discovering that Morrissey was a big snooker fan, it was still unexpected to see that one of the most articulate songwriters of the 1980s should play golf to such a high level.
Cole’s handicap was listed as a very impressive 5.3, putting him in front of fellow club-wielding crooners Justin Timberlake (6), Michael Bolton (10.1), Smokey Robinson (14.8), Bob Dylan (17), Snoop Dog (18), Neil Young (18.6) and Meatloaf (24).
In fact, his band’s surprise connection with golf didn’t end there. Lloyd Cole and the Commotions bass player Lawrence Donegan, who also enjoyed a No.1 hit with the Bluebells (‘Young at Heart’), went on to become The Guardian’s golf correspondent and also wrote the best-seller ‘Four Iron In The Soul’.
Over twenty five years on from penning gold-selling albums Rattlesnakes, Easy Pieces and Mainstream, Cole, now a solo artist based in the United States, has released another record of real quality – ‘Standards’ (listen to new single ‘Period Piece’ here).
You’ll read about Tour dates on his Twitter page. Then again, you’re just as likely to find Lloyd talking passionately about golf architecture and giving his views on Justin Rose and the set-up at Merion.
Between concerts in Portugal and Spain, the man whose name still causes women of a certain age to swoon took time out to speak to us about his enduring fascination with golf.
Sky Sports: Americans don’t find it unusual to see their musicians playing golf – artists as diverse as Justin Timberlake and Alice Cooper keen to flaunt their obsession with the game. In the UK, there’s a feeling that it’s a strange mix, or that golf is being embraced on an ironic level. Having lived in both countries, do you have a theory on that?
Lloyd Cole: The UK likes to hold on to ideas of the toffs and Ronnie Corbett playing golf along with self-professed self-made men like Tarbuck and the local lad who done well. All of whom are quite easy to loathe if you listened to enough of The Clash and The Jam. My playing golf must therefore come from my being a middle class pr*ck. Unfortunately I play because my parents took a job at a small club in Derbyshire when my Dad needed to find work not driving taxis due to a medical complaint… I was thirteen or so. Golf has given me something which constantly challenges me and takes my mind off work and family. It’s amusing that golf is perceived as it generally is in the UK, because it is infinitely more accessible to the masses; it is much cheaper and, believe it or not, less exclusive. In the US, the ‘dream’ is everywhere. Golfing in Palm Springs is ‘living’ the ‘dream’. Making it in the US is generally not frowned upon…
Sky Sports: It’s a bit of an old joke that yourself and other musicians/bands arrange tours around venues suspiciously close to good golf courses. Is that really true?!
LC: No. Okay, well once. But that was not a serious tour. I was broke and needed a holiday. I contacted my agent and instructed him to find me a small town hall and club gigs in the following towns – Edinburgh, North Berwick, Dundee (Carnoustie), Aberdeen, Nairn and Dornock.
(Photo: Kim Frank)
Sky Sports: Current handicap?
LC: Currently 8 but that is slightly complicated and some explanation is needed. I’ve been playing almost exclusively with hickories for a year or so, so I went up from 5. I think I should be a 10, but my goal is/was to be able to play to 5 with the 1930’s spec clubs and then try to qualify for a Massachusetts state tournament with them. I made the Mid Am finals a few years ago. I was definitely the worst player to make the finals but it was fun. Anyway I just realised my clubs are not legal for current USGA events (parallel grooves etc). I think they should make an exception in my case and let me try to qualify, let me play, record my score and then disqualify me; in fact I could happily disqualify myself, but that isn’t going to happen. It was a cool idea, wasn’t it?
Sky Sports: Best round?
LC: Never under par. A level 70 once, a one-over 70 a year or so ago. I shot 33-36 once at a par 72 but they were the middle two nines in a 36-hole day. Best round was 1978 or so, junior match play at Shaw Hill in Lancs. I was two under after 10, I think I hit all 10 greens, and that’s where the round ended.
Sky Sports: Ever had a hole-in-one?
LC: A couple of years ago at Barnbougle Dunes (Tasmania), with a broken rib. 5 iron. Would have been a 7 in normal health.
Sky Sports: You often talk passionately on Twitter about golf course design. What makes a good golf course in your eyes and could you name a top three?
LC: The golf being fun. I think it is as simple as that. Obviously we need challenging, but it wouldn’t be fun without that so I take that as granted. Width helps a lot and makes stupid golfers look even stupider (is that a word?) Greens being too fast is stupid and a waste of money and generally only done for bragging rights. They are also responsible for the belly putter etc. My Top 3? Royal County Down, Royal Dornoch, Barnbougle Dunes/Pacific Dunes
Royal County Down: Lloyd’s favourite course
Sky Sports: Many commentators raved about this year’s US Open venue, Merion, but you weren’t so keen. Why was that?
LC: Too narrow. Not everywhere, of course. Same chip shot on every hole, almost, to greens that are just too difficult to be chipping speculatively (out of that rough there has to be guestimation). I played there once. I am often very lucky. It is lovely but I don’t like the set up – the rough around the greens. And when (USGA supremo Mike) Davis says the course drains beautifully… well it’s only because of all the sand they dump on top of the clay. So the fairways are basically artificial. Their annual budget to look after the bunkers, I believe, exceeds Kingston Heath’s for their whole course. And I’d rather player KH. Any day.
Sky Sports: This year’s Open is at Muirfield. Have you played the course and where does it rate for you on the list of venues on the Open rota?
LC: I haven’t. I haven’t played enough of the rota to rate them. I love the look of Muirfield. Hopefully there has been no temptation to rustic up the bunkers as has been the recent fashion… I love the look of Royal Melbourne, Walton Heath, etc also with the heather and brush merging into the sand. But there is a severity to Muirfield that seems to make sense, to my eye. I haven’t played Royal St George’s, Royal Birkdale, Troon or Muirfield. Of those I’ve played I’d rate them: St Andrews, Carnoustie, Turnberry. But I prefer Royal County Down and Ganton to all of them.
Sky Sports: The USPGA is at Oak Hill in Rochester – not too far away from your US home. Have you played there?
LC: No. I read the Hagen books though. I love his story.
Sky Sports: Who do you see shining in the year’s final two majors. Give us a tip for a) The Open and b) The USPGA
LC: Well, I think Woods has to break through, as well as he seems to be playing when he’s on. But I hope not. I’d love it if he became our generation’s Snead. Nobody actually liked Sam, did they? Westwood really looks like he’s putting the work in and he usually plays well at The Open. But is he now in Monty territory where he wants/needs it too much? I can see Rose being the next Faldo if he becomes a consistent putter. Faldo won several times (like Hogan) without putting well, just adequately. My Money? Rose or G-Mac for the Open, Dufner or Kuchar for the USPGA.
Sky Sports: Which is your favourite major?
LC: The Open.
Sky Sports: Two-part question. What would your dream fourball be if it comprised only musicians?
LC: Alice, Iggy, Dylan and Me
Sky Sports: Same questions but for golfers?
LC: Alive and still playing – Ollie, G-Mac, Dufner. No longer playing – Hagen, Hogan, Seve.
Sky Sports: How many shots do you give Lawrence Donegan?
LC: He wouldn’t take them even if he should and I think right now I should be taking a few. Maybe 3. But I wouldn’t. I probably enjoy beating Lol more than anything in golf. He does win, from time to time, but I think he’ll concede that I have the lion’s share of the wins.
Sky Sports: Jack Nicklaus once said he if was told he could have just one more round, he’d play it at Pebble Beach. Where would you play your final round?
LC: There are so many great courses I haven’t played, so I may change my mind here, but if we have to take into account the atmosphere of the club, also, Ganton wins.
Ganton: Another Lloyd favourite
Sky Sports: Is being on a golf course a good environment for thinking up songs? Or are you too focused on hitting fairways and greens?
LC: I play to escape songs.
Sky Sports: You said in a recent interview that you feel marginalised and frustrated by the lack of recent success despite the critical acclaim. Do you identify on some level with a top-class golfer who seems to be doing the same things he did at his peak and yet isn’t getting the results?
LC: Not really. Clearly I’ve just strayed further from the music that people want me to make. And it’s also possible that many feel that having five or six of my albums is more than enough. Which is fair enough. I can still get the ball in the hole. I may just be playing the wrong tour.
Sky Sports: The new album sounds great. Tell us about it and your tour plans.
LC: Everywhere. With almost no time for golf, but I will be with my sound engineer Mike and he is keen, also, so we will have pencil bags with us. I think there is a day off in Glasgow. I will stay on in Melbourne for a week at the end of the Australian leg. More than that I don’t know. I should be out for a year or so, on and off.
Sky Sports: Which golfer is most likely to be seen at a Lloyd Cole concert?
LC: I think they are all Dire Straits fans. I’d love to think G-Mac or Ollie, but I doubt it.
Sky Sports: If the 2013 Lloyd Cole had to choose … would he have a No.1 or play in a major?
LC: I have no interest in professional golf beyond being a spectator. I think the amateur game is far more interesting. I’ll be working on my game to compete in senior ams, but my chances of winning anything beyond local events is almost zero. With my current game – zero. So a No.1 rather than playing in the Senior Am. But Winning the Senior Am vs a No.1? That’s a tough one. Would it feed my kids? Probably not.
UK/Ireland Tour dates 2013
October: 17th London – Union Chapel, 18th Worcester – Huntingdon Halls, 20th Dundee – Gardyne Theater, 21st Glasgow – Oran Mor, 23rd Glasgow – Oran Mor, 24th Stockton – ARC, 25th Manchester – Sale Waterside, 26th Cambridge – Junction, 28th Leeds – City Varieties, 29th Nottingham – Glee Club, 30th Stamford – Corn Exchange, 31st Wolverhampton – Wulfrun Hall; November: 2nd Dublin – Vicar Street, 4th Bath – Komedia
Publication: Sky Sports
Publication date: 21/06/13