The Otago Golf Club ‚?? commonly referred to as ‚??Balmacewan‚?Ě ‚?? is the oldest in New Zealand, dating back to 1871. ¬†It‚??s also one of the most agreeable. ¬†And toughest on the calf muscles. ¬†‚??Balmac‚?Ě is well thought of in golf circles but, despite dozens of visits to Dunedin throughout our school and university days, neither Michael nor I had every played there. ¬†This venture then was a real treat. ¬†Incidentally, for non-Kiwis out there, Dunedin was settled predominantly by my countrymen, the Scots ‚?? hence Dun (from Dundee) Edin (from Edinburgh) ‚?? whereas Christchurch was a decidedly more English hangout.
In atypical Dunedin fashion the sun was out in spades and the wind nowhere to be found. ¬†I‚??d awoken on the bed of a one time friend and hockey teammate (Chris ‚??Crashton‚?Ě ¬†Ashton) who also happened to be a university and hockey friend of Bart‚??s. ¬†Having made arrangements to spend the night elsewhere Crashton‚??s bed was vacant; Bart and myself seized the opportunity to colonise it (lamentably one of the final few opportunities we‚??re going to have to Top And Tail ‚?? a ritual that will be sorely missed next year...or not). ¬†The last time I‚??d seen Crash was at the conclusion of the National Under 21s tournament at Mount Maunganui, way back in April 2006. ¬†After a largely unsuccessful week us Otago lads decided to celebrate on finals day, in this case by ridding the town of the burden of carrying its Jamesons whisky supply. ¬†At half time Crash, myself and a third (one Joel Brown, from memory) took it upon ourselves to provide Half Time Entertainment for the crowd ‚?? by streaking the length of the field! ¬†Crash and I managed to escape from the ground without being apprehended ‚?? Joel wasn‚??t so lucky ‚?? and ended up after Legging It in a suburban pub, where we spent the afternoon making new friends with a bunch of local tradesmen. ¬†Ah, the silly things we did when we were young... ¬†That was the last time I saw the man, until now.
Anyway. ¬†All of that is neither here nor there. ¬†Upon arrival at Balmac we were greeted with a big smile and bear-like handshake (Do bears shake hands? ¬†¬†Unlikely I would have thought) from current club captain, Eddie. ¬†The sort of man who instantly puts you at ease, and from whom you get the feeling that conversation around the golf course will be stimulating rather than the opposite. ¬†Another man ‚?? who would be unfortunate enough to end up as my partner ‚?? Alistair, appeared from the shadows to introduce himself. ¬†After a quick application of sunscreen and three practice putts we were Away. ¬†
The first tee shot sets the tone. ¬†From up high you drive down through a tree lined gully past well cut bunkers to a snaking fairway. ¬†It‚??s quite a picture, and right away reminded me of a course that would be in my thoughts throughout the adventure: Pasatiempo. ¬†That both Michael and I both made the association is High Compliment indeed to Balmacewan, given the high regard with which we hold both that Californian masterpiece and Dr. Alistair MacKenzie‚??s work in general. ¬†Balmac like Pasatiempo is cut through majestically contoured terrain with wonderful variation, clever bunkering and an abundance of risk / reward options. ¬†A true delight to golf your ball around.
Much like Royal Melbourne ‚?? another MacKenzie masterpiece ‚?? Balmacewan plays either side of a road. ¬†Holes 2 thru 5 have a slightly different feel to the others, but the course doesn‚??t suffer one bit for it. ¬†Quite the opposite. ¬†Two short par 4s played up and then down a rise provide genuine birdie opportunities; followed by a couple of longer par 4s from which most would be glad to escape with a pair of pars. ¬†
What was so nice about Balmac ‚?? or, at least, one of the things that was so nice about it ‚?? was that the trees don‚??t come into play as much as at your Run O‚?? The Mill Nu Zillin tracks. ¬†Sure, they frame most holes. ¬†But the golfer has space to breathe, and invariably has hit a very bad shot indeed if he or she finds themselves in the shade. ¬†Then there‚??s the fact that some holes have real Atmosphere, of the kind you experience at some of the world‚??s best clubs. ¬†The 11th, which plays from up high down through Ross Glenn, is an apt example and not surprisingly is the signature hole. ¬†Others like the 8th, 13th, 14th, 17th and 18th also fall in this category. ¬†In fact Michael and I were really scratching our heads wondering how MacKenzie hadn‚??t had a hand in designing the layout. ¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†
Something special happened on the drivable par 4 17th. ¬†Alistair and I were dormy 2 down, and both Michael and Eddie were by the green in one. ¬†We‚??d probably need an eagle to keep the match alive. ¬†Y‚??er man (who‚??s probably the wrong side of 65) stepped up to the plate ‚?? the Blacks, of course ‚?? and delivered a merciless blow with his driver. ¬†The ball sailed high and handsome and eventually came to rest 8 feet from the pin. ¬†Sure enough Michael made his three, so Alistair needed his 8 footer (across recently cored greens) to send the match down the last. ¬†It dropped! ¬†Not only that either. ¬†On the uphill, into the wind 18th hole (a driver and a 3 wood for Alistair) Michael made his par, so My Man needed his 14 foot across the slope par putt (he had a shot) for The Half. ¬†Again he found the bottom of the cup, in one of the most stirring closing performances we‚??ve witnessed this year. ¬†Well done Alistair ‚?? you‚??re an inspiration!
With aching calf muscles and a keen thirst we made our way into the bar. ¬†On the wall hung a photograph of a familiar face ‚?? Snoop Hollyer, no less, a club champion during his university days. ¬†Looked like an IRD official with those horn rimmed glasses and unkempt hair... ¬†Wish I‚??d photographed the photograph so y‚??all could share in the amusement. ¬†In truth we could‚??ve spent all afternoon sitting there looking out over the course with these fine gentlemen, but the show had to roll on.
In this case, down to the Speights Brewery! ¬†A chap called Chris had come out to play with Bart and Andreas; Chris happens to run the Brewery tours (of which 35,000 a year are taken!). ¬†‚??Twood‚??ve been a shame to leave Dunedin without learning how The Pride Of The South comes into being, so we hucked it back down the hill and quickly found ourselves immersed in All Things Speights. ¬†Chris was kind enough to shout us a delectable pub lunch and to give us a personal tour through the brewery, which is a must for any visitor to the area who has even a remote interest in beer. ¬†
After a thoroughly memorable 36 hours in Dunners the time sadly came to move on up the road, for a BBQ with Mike‚??s family in Christchurch. ¬†What once felt like a long drive up the coast, was this time a dawdle ‚?? after the distances we‚??ve travelled this year!
JP ¬†¬† ¬† ¬†
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