The build up to Day 97 was a bit of smoke and mirrors stuff. ¬†Bill ‚?? Goldy‚??s old man‚??s mate who we‚??ve played with a few times of late ‚?? arranged for us to play at Pennant Hills with a friend of his, and ‚??a famous Aussie cricketer‚?Ě (who would remain nameless). ¬†He wouldn‚??t tell us who this bloke was, but as the day drew nearer he gave us a hint or two, or three. ¬†Eventually we narrowed it down to one Doug Walters. ¬†And we were right. ¬†Doug bloody Walters. ¬†In the flesh.
When I was inconveniently awoken by my irritating soon to be smashed alarm clock it was hissing with rain. ¬†Bugger. ¬†Not unthinkable that our playing partners ‚?? who turned out to be fair weather golfers ‚?? would desert us in favour of the bar, or somewhere else. ¬†As fate would have it the clouds over Pennant Hills parted, and the sun even made a cameo appearance. ¬†The stars were aligned. ¬†Bill (or ‚??Bull‚?Ě in the Kiwi venacular) met us on arrival and did the introductions. ¬†Rolf & Doug & co were perched at what looked like their usual table, where they sink a schooner or two every Saturday morning before their 11.19am tee time (we had a coffee...).
No messin‚?? round with these lads. ¬†The 4 of us stepped up and thinned it off the 10th tee in less time than it takes your average rooster to sneeze ‚?? to be honest we were just relieved to knock it over the big gaping ravine (which Goldy knocked it into on his last visit here when he was a child). ¬†In the Bledisloe match that ensued Mick and myself rolled in a couple of 10 footers on said 10 hole for par, putting our best foot forward and all. ¬†Inevitably given we were walking up and down Pennant HILLS we faded into oblivion on the back 9 and Doug started taking us apart as mercilessly as he did to our (Kiwi) bowling attacks. ¬†Rolf chipped it in or close on just about every hole too. ¬†In fact the only one that went in was on the short par 3 9th (our 18th), levelling the scores at 41 stablefords each. ¬†The man was like Brad Faxon, on a good day.
We stopped after 9 for a refreshing beverage. ¬†As you do when you play with Doug Walters. ¬†Goldy‚??s old man‚??s best mate, Mike Irwin (who lives near by and happened to be passing by), also joined us. ¬†Quite a tea party we had. ¬†However all good things must come to an end, and the time soon came to torture ourselves again on the steep slopes of PH. ¬†Inevitably the 1st tee shot (our 10th) was over the same big crevasse that put hairs on our chest a couple of hours prior. ¬†Thankfully we all cleared it again, although in my case only just ‚?? ¬†this time with a thinned driver that was less convincing than Steve Williams‚?? claim that he had no idea what Tiger was up to with all those lovely ladies.
I should say a word or two about the course itself, for it‚??s a very nice one indeed. ¬†I‚??ve already made the rather blunt point about the Hills ‚?? most people would be best advised to take a cart. ¬†The style reminded me of Royal Canberra, in that most holes play among tall trees through what can best be described as chutes. ¬†Some are narrower than others; some veer left and some veer right. ¬†There‚??s plenty variation ‚?? although too many dogleg rights for my liking, given my strong draw was stronger than usual. ¬†If you‚??re disciplined / lucky enough to keep it on the short stuff (which as it happened wasn‚??t that short, as they‚??ve had an issue or two in recent weeks), you can score well ‚?? particularly ‚??cos the greens are eminently puttable. ¬†Rolf obviously liked chipping onto them too.
When you meet someone of wide renown it‚??s sometimes a tricky balance to strike between being inquisitive and just chatting to them like they‚??re an Average Joe. ¬†With Dougie it wasn‚??t so hard. ¬†The man is The Iconic Aussie Bloke, and can spin tremendous yarns more casually than Walter Hagen used to roll in 10 footers. ¬†From the moment I asked him about the Harlem Shuffle component of his golf swing on our 1st hole (he admitted he does have a tendency ‚??to go for a walk‚?Ě), he was open and generally good craic. ¬†We heard stories about overseas tours (he loves NZ; England is close behind), great innings (like his top score 250 at Lancaster Park in Christchurch, or the ton he scored in a session without hitting a boundary because the grass was so long), his after dinner speaking gigs (apparently the boy can talk) and old ads he used to do on TV (like the Tooheys beer commercials). ¬†Once in the clubhouse the stories gushed out yet quicker. ¬†
My favourite was the one about the long time New South Wales Cricket CEO, who resigned without notice on the 25th anniversary of his employment. ¬†Thanks and good night. ¬†The chap also had a triple breakfast gin to begin the day and was often paralytic by lunchtime ‚?? but still was widely respected, even revered, for his work. ¬†Doug also told us about how he‚??d quit smoking 13 and a half months ago because his mate ‚?? one Jack Newton ‚?? introduced him to a laser treatment that Doug tried out of curiosity, rather than because he had any desire to be ‚??cured‚?? (they live within a couple of blocks of each other and for years smoked like chimneys together). ¬†
We also heard about Doug‚??s visit to Ellerston ‚?? courtesy of the Packer family ‚?? that mystical place in the Hunter Valley where one of the best golf courses in the world sits almost dormant. ¬†(There are 6 or 7 full time greenkeepers that keep the place looking better than Augusta in April, but a busy month might see 10 or 12 players trod the fairways). ¬†Ellerston‚??s apparently also home to about 750 polo horses, each of whom of course have a stable bigger than the penthouse suite at The Ritz (and are worth over a million in their own right). ¬†Doug had a fair bit to do with Kerry Packer during World Series of Cricket Days (Doug being one of the drawcards of the rogue series), and spoke of him quite fondly. ¬†As you do. ¬†Ditto with Dennis Lillee, Rod Marsh and one or two other absolute legends. ¬†A bit surreal in one sense, but in another they‚??re just people at the end of the day.
Rolf (who emigrated from Germany with his family when he was 11) was equally good company, and we plan to meet up with him in St. Andrews at The Open in July. ¬†¬†Maybe we‚??ll have time for a game of golf too, and he might even give me a chipping lesson. ¬†
Truth be told Mike and I could‚??ve sat in the clubhouse ‚??til the wee hours chewing the fat with these blokes. ¬†However we had more important duties to attend to, The Golf Widows being across town awaiting our company. ¬†They‚??d been tearing up the pavements of Oxford Street and the like, but by late afternoon were ready for some kai. ¬†So Angela and I went to what is surely the best pizza restaurant in the world, Hugo‚??s in Kings Cross. ¬†The fig and gorgonzola pizza I had will stay with me for life; tomorrow I might go back and get another one. ¬†
It really has been a tremendous day indeed. ¬†Golf at a beautiful, traditional private club with a legend and another Top Drawer Human (in Rolf); catch ups with Bull and Mike Irwin; then some quality (scarce) time with my gorgeous other half, Angela. ¬†Surely it doesn‚??t get much better than this.
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