Today 28 February marks the end of our second month on the road. ¬†(It‚??s not a leap year, I checked.) ¬†Only 10 months to go... We‚??ll be back at a desk pushing paper before we know it. ¬†Or not.
Anyway on this fine day we find ourselves in coastal Victoria ‚?? Lakes Entrance, to be precise. ¬†¬†After a brisk 18 holes this morning we drove through from Narooma, on the New South Wales coast, some 500km away. ¬†And didn‚??t see one measly kangaroo. ¬†Despite the 65723 ‚??be careful of kangaroo‚?Ě road signs. ¬†It was like going to Disney world; seeing a dozen ‚??Mickey Mouse this way‚?Ě signs; and later learning that Mickey‚??s name is actually Sharon, and Sharon‚??s on maternity leave. ¬†A let down. ¬†Maybe the ‚??roos were too busy to be hopping across the highway for tourist amusement. ¬†Maybe February 28 is the day they have their AGM, somewhere in the bush. ¬†Who knows. ¬†Regardless, it was a huge great disappointment not to see at least one marsupial. ¬†Just gum trees, dirt and gypsies. ¬†¬†¬†
Lakes Entrance must be some kind of holiday town, because there are more motels, hotels, caravan parks and camp grounds here than the whole of New Zealand put together. ¬†It‚??s got a bit of a Forrest Gump feel about it. ¬†Haven‚??t seen Bubba yet. ¬†Although there are a stack of fishing boats, and we did meet a bloke at the local hotel who could have been Bubba's twin brother. ¬†This lad was entirely genuine though; he and his labourer mates had travelled 40 minutes for a beer from the site they were working on, bless 'em. ¬†A bit rough around the edges, these boys were, but they'll all have mothers that love them and in any case they had good chat. ¬†Who knows what they thought of us... ¬†¬†
Going back to those road signs ‚?? what on earth is with the tired driver signs here? ¬†Every 200 metres a sign asks you if you feel drowsy, or if you need a nap. ¬†‚??Have a powernap‚?Ě, you‚??re told. ¬†Reading the dam things makes me tired; it‚??s like holding a gun to your head and telling you you need life insurance. ¬†Madness. ¬†Anyway.
Rewind to this morning, to Narooma. ¬†Fortunately thunder and lightning didn‚??t show up to the party, just drizzle (which made the fairways greasier than this evening‚??s fish and chips, testing our cart driving skills). ¬†Mike and I shot round the first 6 holes by ourselves, a couple of which were spectacular. ¬†The 3rd hole ‚?? Hogan‚??s Hole (which takes its namesake from Paul Hogan ‚?? aka Crocodile Dundee ‚?? who featured in a Winfield cigarette shoot in the water below, some years ago) ‚?? lived up to its billing. ¬†From the 7th onwards we were joined by Joe, a colourful character from Tipperaray, who came to the antipodes in 1959. ¬†Joe turned up in his red, fully stickered up cart, but without clubs ‚?? so Mike asked whether he‚??d be playing. ¬†‚??Nooo, sure ye woodn‚??t be gud enuf fir me‚?Ě was the response, delivered with a charming Eire lilt. ¬†
The combination of Joe‚??s chat and fast wheels (a V8 petrol cart) was a winning one. ¬†The course was a ripper too, although after volatile weather conditions of late the fairways had seen better days. ¬†Who‚??d be a greenkeeper? ¬†Drought then monsoon. ¬†Monsoon then drought. ¬†How they had the greens in the condition they were remains a mystery as puzzling as the disappearance of the Marie Celeste, a feat as impressive as being able to touch your toes. ¬†Even Matt Cleary would‚??ve sunk a putt or two on ‚??em. ¬†
Peter Jones Club Captain joined us for our last few holes. ¬†Charming chap if ever there was one, only too happy to fill us in on what it means to be a Narooma local (spoiled) and point us in the right direction. ¬†After he turned up I managed two birdies, so I‚??ve brought him with me. ¬†Against his will. ¬†I haven‚??t really, but I could have, and Peter himself said he‚??d love to be doing what we‚??re doing. ¬†So the invitation remains open my dear friend, if you happen upon this ramble. ¬†
Michael and I were privileged enough to be looked after by Joe and Peter in the clubhouse (and met another brilliant man by the name of Ray, they‚??re everywhere in these parts). ¬†They loaded us up with burgers and ginger beer before sending us on our way, along the not-so-kangaroo-infested Princes Highway. ¬†What a pleasure it was to spend the morning with such colourful characters at such a hospitable club. ¬†Go to Narooma. ¬†And if you‚??re looking for somewhere to retire, to spend your last days playing golf, it‚??s only $500 a year and it‚??s a top 100 course in Australia and I‚??m sure the sun shines most of the time and the burgers are magic. ¬†
I have a question for all our Australian readers: when are you going to reclaim your country from the Mosquito Race? ¬†They seem to rule the roost around here, and I‚??d personally like to see the back of them. ¬†If I scratch my leg any longer I‚??ll be bone carving. ¬†Dam things. ¬†At the other end of my lifestyle magazine-esque ‚??Going up; Going down‚?Ě list are flathead tails a local delicacy pulled straight from the Tasman Sea for the dining pleasure of lucky locals and tourists. ¬†When in Rome logic prevailed at the fush n chup shop, Mike and I opting for 4 said tails and 18 kilos of salty chups. ¬†A food coma I may have, but a happy one. ¬†Try flathead tails if you get the chance. ¬†Leave the chups though.
Tomorrow morning we‚??ll rise and play at Lakes Entrance, which looks like a beastly track that might chew us poor unsuspecting Kiwis up and spit us out. ¬†Violently. ¬†Especially if the wind keeps blowing. ¬†For the moment we‚??ve retired to the Riviera Backpackers, who‚??ve most generously put us up for the night. ¬†Slick digs, for a backpackers. ¬†
See y‚??all in March. ¬†
Day 58 saw us take on Mollymook golf course on the south coast of NSW.¬† After an early start and farewell to the Wilsons it took about an hour to drive from Nowra to Mollymook. Once there we were greeted by the local mozzies who quickly started feasting on our fresh kiwi blood. Fortunately, we were also joined by two local school teachers, Jeff and Ian, who after watching us itch and squirm for a couple of holes helped fend off the crowds of mozzies with a spot of repellent. Crucial.
Mollymook GC is a long and testing course carved out of gum trees.¬† When I say carved out of gum trees, they did not cut down any more than needed and the course played pretty tight.¬† It was fair to say that Jamie hit his fair share of trees today particularly on the first few holes.¬† After playing a few short courses so far in Australia, Mollymook was refreshingly long and required good ball striking to score well. There was no fudging it. Coupled with the length of the course (6200m) it was also very hilly and come the 16th ‚?? a par four with a 30m deep gully short of the green - Jamie‚??s chicken legs were starting to feel the pinch.¬† My putting stroke had also started to feel the pinch as my 4th three putt of the day on the prior hole had sent my blood pressure a few notches north.¬† Golf can be an infuriating game.
Mollymook is a very natural golf course. It capitalises on both the gum trees and creeks (which is these parts of the world are called dams) that have been on the property a long time.¬† The back nine has a great stretch of holes from 11 to 13.¬† The 11th is a par four which features a very long green that slopes off on the right to a huge lake (dam) which undoubtedly catches many a weak slice hit by the local club golfer. The 12th is a picturesque par three over the aforementioned lake (dam) where today whilst standing on the tee amongst the bush we could hear the Kookaburras yacking away. And the 13th is a great par five which chicane‚??s through the trees. An accurate and long drive will catch a down slope and leave about 220m into the green which is protected by water short and right. The green has a severe slope from back to front. Fair to say it was the home to another of my dreaded putting escapades ‚?? use your imagination.
The match was hard fought with JP and Ian taking on Jeff and I. Through 9 it was square but following a number of pars to Ian playing off a 22 handicap it was quickly all over 4/3.¬† The locals were great company yarning about the local area and their other passion ‚?? surfing.
After the round we jumped in the car and boosted to Narooma where the last round of February will occur. ¬†I think I am really struggling in the monthly stableford competition despite sneaking in today with 30 points against JP‚??s 28. I am finding that I have started to make a lot of bogey‚??s but am not having many shocking holes. I don‚??t know what that says about my golf but it seems to consistently result in unsatisfying scores in the low 80‚??s.¬† I am very much in the swing of golf now ‚?? can‚??t imagine NOT playing golf for a day. In the groove and it is great.
Kia Ora. ¬†Check out the video below. Jamie and I have just had two incredible nights with Andrew and Ros Wilson. ¬†Once upon a time my father was Andrew's best man. Despite seeing very little of them since I was a tot we had a special couple of nights catching up and sharing stories. The red wine (both locally and other Aussie varieties) was not bad either. ¬†Two special days in Nowra that we wont forget.
Greetings fellow global golf travel voyeurs.
Matt Cleary here, I‚??m the sports journalist these two wandering golf adventure chancers have been mentioning in previous despatches and I‚??ve been charged with writing this Special Guest Blog because the boys are off to the town of Nowra and it‚??s possible the town of Nowra is not yet connected with the global interconnected ‚??web‚?Ě of computers known as ‚??The Internet‚?Ě.
Actually Nowra does have ‚??The Internet‚?Ě, it‚??s three hours south of Sydney and a nice enough town if you like pubs full of toothless fisherman, man-eating sharks and race riots, none of which is true though there are sharks at nearby Jervis Bay because they breed there and, presumably, make shark love. Good luck to them.
So! The boys and myself and Luke ‚??Elvis‚?Ě Elvy from Fox Sports a television program that‚??s all about sport as is right and proper played golf St.Michael‚??s in Sydney‚??s east a course founded by Catholics in 1925 because they weren‚??t allowed to play elsewhere such were the times, or maybe it‚??s because they wanted to play with other Catholics, or maybe something else I have no idea I made it all up. But there is some historical thing about the club‚??s catholic roots that you could look up if you were of a mind. And good luck to you.¬†
So! We played St.Michael‚??s which is a champion golf course with superb fairways, greens harder than a very hard maths test and rough so thick that if you walk into it it might actually attack you like a triffid or that plant that ate that house on Doctor Who a show that was on in the olden days or at least a bit before these two Kiwi were alive, I would warrant. But it‚??s pretty rough rough the rough, and more than once the Kiwis looked for their balls fearful of horrible gurgling death by red-bellied black snake and/or bears which drop from the trees like furry ninja assassins. Someone might have warned them of these things when they were 4-up with eight to play.
Unfortunately for Elvis and I who formed the Australian half of this Second Bledisloe Cup encounter, the lads didn‚??t go looking often, and dusted us 6-and-5 in the 4BBB match-play second-ball counts format. Unhappy days, though given I was able to fill them full of beer an hour after they got off the plane on Saturday and teamed myself with a 62-year-old South African who swings the club cack-handed and plays off six like Jesus would if he were six-marker, it‚??s actually 1-all in Bledisloe Cup standings and the three-Test series is very much alive and will be concluded when the boys are back in Sydney in April thereabouts when Elvis gets us on some flash place on the North Shore of Sydney Town such is the man‚??s unparalelled power.
St.Michael‚??s? Superb piece of real estate. Holes either wind through the bush ‚?? dominant organisms: witch-finger shrubs and ti tree ‚?? or roll by the Pacific Ocean or is it the Tasman Sea I can never tell it‚??s all bloody water. Anyway it‚??s a ripper St.Mick‚??s and you should play in their Thursday Open Comp when you‚??re in the eastern suburbs of Sydney because it‚??s a ripper. And for forty bucks ($NZ427.50) it represents Top Value.
The boys played pretty well, roughly to the handicaps they claim are there‚??s but which they really should be arrested for given they appear to be crimes against burglary for which they probably should be sent to a penal colony like Australia once was in chains and then whipped and put in a gulag and made to knit their own food from cat hair. Just putting it out there.
But actually they did play well. Jamie hits a big high hook that‚??s like a boomerang that comes halfway back while Mike spanks a two-iron like Michael Jackson used to spank his huge troop of monkeys. (Ha!) But what won the lads this encounter is that the bastards, particularly the funny Scottish one, putted like Gary Player putting to save his quite considerable fortune which meant Elvis and I had buy them drinks after the game such are the ways of men.
The second nine Elvis‚??s Fox Sports camera crew turned up and followed us around which caused a brief cessation in the beating. A bigger case of stage fright than a 17-year-old in the lavatory of that pub in Once Were Warriors. ‚??Eek! Too much weights and not enough speed work!‚?Ě said the boys or something like it, as Elvis and I took the tenth hole after I spanked a quite magnificent birdie and the boys blocked their approach shots further right than Pauline Hanson. Four-down and the Aussies were back.
But from there it was all Kiwi and Elvis and I were done n dusted like so many versions of Australian road-kill, a particular piece of Australiana the boys are going to be seeing a fair bit of in the next couple of months as they continue their extraordinary odyssey. (And just as an aside: How about this trip! Who are these people!?)
Back at the golf and in the ways of men we went double-or-nothing on the last five holes and despite going one-up had to win the last hole to halve that particular match, which we did so we didn't buy them sandwiches as well. But then I did buy them a sandwich anyway because they look thinner than the half-a-dozen lob-wedges I skulled across St.Michael‚??s superb hard greens.
Jamie had to eat the Weet-Bix.
Afterwards! the boys were interviewed by Elvis on the balcony of St.Michael‚??s with the Tasman Sea views and you‚??ll see the whole shebang if you tune into The Golf Show on Tuesday night at 7:30 but only if you live in the country of Australia which the boys are quite enjoying despite taking money off good honest journalists like me¬†and Elvis who plays off six but did not today no-one knows why not even Jesus or Gary Player or Jake the Mus.
This arvo they‚??re off to Nowra like I writ before, and then Narooma, and then Lakes Entrance, three coastal country towns where the sheep aren‚??t nervous because they‚??re more dairy farming communities which also have fishing and tourism industries that prop up the local economies.
Three nice little golf courses too.
And bye for now.
Today‚??s blog is a bit unusual, in that Michael and I have been asked to refrain from mentioning where we played. ¬†The club we played at is media shy to the nth degree. ¬†So what is about to follow is less than the complete picture, but you dear reader will just have to use your imagination.
The course was an absolute stunner. ¬†3 hours since we walked off the course and I‚??ve still got a grin on my face. ¬†There were more bunkers than I‚??ve had hot dinners; the greens were immaculate and difficult to read; each hole had its own charms, no two being the same; and the atmosphere at this place was surreal. ¬†Looking up the 18th fairway at the clubhouse, it felt like you were standing on one of golf‚??s great stages. ¬†I‚??m struggling for superlatives. ¬†The fairways were like carpet. ¬†Nice, Egyptian carpet. ¬†
Going back to all those bunkers I mentioned...I got in a lot of them. ¬†This caused some damage to my score, but every time it happened I chuckled to myself, because I remembered something our friend Roy (from Day 50) said to me, which went something like this: ‚??when most people get into bunkers, they curse; but when I go into a bunker, I think ‚??GREAT‚?Ě, another chance to practice my bunker shots!‚?Ě. ¬†His enthusiasm was infectious, and his cheerful words stayed with me. ¬†Which was just as well ‚?? because had I let today‚??s sandpit activities get to me I could have ended up in a bit of a state. ¬†In the event I had the time of my life. ¬†
For the first time since we arrived in Australia, a couple we asked to join us kindly agreed. ¬†Finally! ¬†On each of the past few days we have asked people if they‚??d like to join us, and without exception the answer has been ‚??NO‚?Ě ‚?? either straight up, or followed quickly with an explanation (‚??e.g. we‚??re talking business‚?Ě). ¬†Maybe we look dodgy? ¬†Or maybe it's just not done in these parts? ¬†Anyway it was worth the wait. ¬†We met John Taylor and his wife, Hana (originally from the Czech Republic) who were up from Melbourne, en route to our very own Aotearoa (for a golf tour). ¬†John plays at Royal Melbourne, and was the Captain of a Merchant Ship. ¬†The bloke was in his 80s, but you never would have known (had Hana not tactfully told me). ¬†Both of them looked, and came across generally, as much younger than their years ‚?? and Michael and I thoroughly enjoyed their company on the way around. ¬†We‚??re planning to meet up with them in Melbourne in a few weeks‚?? time, hopefully for another game of golf!
Oh I almost forgot. ¬†Michael, my good friend, putted from the fairway, just off the green, into...a bunker! ¬†Thankfully he saw the funny side of it (I certainly did). ¬†If only I‚??d had the video camera out. ¬†What might have been a par turned into a double bogey, a debacle that aggravated Mike‚??s already irritated demeanour ‚?? as he hit the ball well and scored poorly. ¬†His 3 birdies could have easily been 5 or 6. ¬†We both left a couple of putts out on the course too, the ball having danced around the edge on several occasions. ¬†But no matter. ¬†In the end it was 83 each (yielding 34 and 32 points (J & M) respectively). ¬†We both flushed it, but on occasions got into the wrong spot, from where par is nothing but a dream. ¬†
The most vivid example I can recall was a par 3, on which I knocked a 5 iron into the greenside bunker. ¬†The thing sloped steeply both ways, and I ended up on the (down)slope facing towards the green. ¬†The lip was 8 feet high, and the slope from the lip to the pin sharply downhill. ¬†I just smiled and wished myself good luck, then took a double bogey 5 (the first of 3 in a row, along the back 9). ¬†False fronts on several greens also wrought havoc with the scorecard; twice I thought a pure iron shot had been struck within one putt distance of the hole, and twice my ball rolled 15 metres back towards me. ¬†Drat. ¬†
Another feature of this course that sticks in my mind was the variety. ¬†There were a good few short par 4s, none of which were a giveaway. ¬†The stronger par 4s (in length terms) were a treat too. ¬†And most of them ran in different directions, preventing wind direction from being an overriding influence. ¬†All holes were well bunkered, and - as far as I can remember - had Himalaya-like greens. ¬†Thrilling stuff. ¬†The last feature I will mention (I promise) was this: on the par 5s, the front of the greens slope away from the tee, towards the back of the green, making approach shots that much more difficult. ¬†Sounds simple, but an effective way to mitigate unbridled power.
Anyway...I could wax lyrical for hours about Private Course X, but I‚??m sure you‚??re getting as bored as I am tired. ¬†Following golf we‚??ve had a lovely Chinese meal with Michael‚??s relatives, and in the morning we‚??re up at the crack of dawn to play St. Michaels (our game will be filmed for Fox Sports, so hopefully we don't get the shanks). ¬†Day 55 was a jaffa of the highest order ‚?? in terms of both the golf course itself and the company we enjoyed on the way around. ¬†Thanks to Private Course X and to John and Hana for joining us ‚?? one for the scrapbook.
Today we were blessed to have a hit at The Aussie. ¬†One of the group one (read: out of this world) courses in Sydney. ¬†Unfortunately the front nine was out of action, so we played the back nine twice. ¬†This was actually really good as we got to play each hole twice and get a better understanding of its intricacies (which is very unusual this year!!).¬†
The Australian is a strong golf course requiring good golf shots to score well. ¬†Despite hitting a fair few of these, JP and I still struggled to score well. ¬†But no excuses as the course which was in perfect condition, boasting incredibly true greens. ¬†No birdies for the day, despite hitting a wedge for my second into the par 5 18... frustrating stuff.
Again, we were without playing partners as other two balls declined our invitation to join up which was a shame.
The Aussie has atmosphere, it is private and very plush with the most amazing clubhouse that either of us have ever been into. ¬†Fortunately we did meet a couple of local members after the round and also thanked and yarned with the General Manager, Mr Bill Green who was a generous host. ¬†Check out the video below:
Sydney was hotter than a Two Fat Indians suicide curry today. ¬†36 degrees, give or take. ¬†The westerly wind ‚?? which blows off a great big desert ‚?? decided to rear its ugly head, and make life difficult for us cold blooded Kiwi creatures. ¬†I‚??ve sweated less in fully cranked saunas than I did trudging around 18 holes at Bonnie Doon this morning. ¬†Thank goodness we teed off at 9; a midday start would have been prohibitive. ¬†It reminded me of one new year‚??s day ‚?? some 5 years ago ‚?? when we played at New South Wales (a stone‚??s throw from the course we played yesterday), in 42 degrees. ¬†After 4 hours‚?? sleep. ¬†Not ideal. ¬†¬†
Anyway there was more to today than suffocating heat. ¬†Bonnie Doon is a cracking course located in Pagewood, Sydney. ¬†Mike and I have played it a few times before (through a reciprocal rights arrangement with our old club, Russley) - so we knew more or less what we were in for. ¬†¬†Big white bunkers, gum trees, rolling fairways and pockets of tussock/scrub characterise what is a pretty tight track. ¬†From the 2nd tee you can see right across to the City, and down to neighbouring courses like The Lakes. ¬†You get a few other glimpses of the outside world, but for the most part I felt like we could have been anywhere. ¬†
BD‚??s greenkeepers should take a bow; each hole was as immaculately groomed as the last, and the greens, in particular, rolled beautifully. ¬†I reckon the design is pretty good too. ¬†The par 5s on the front nine (1 and 4) are a bit short, but there are plenty holes that can undo the good work of any birdies they yield. ¬†Take the 17th: a 295 metre par 4. ¬†It‚??s mildly uphill, and doglegs slightly to the left. ¬†Standing on the tee you think ‚??birdie‚?Ě, and that a simple blow with a 3 iron will set up the approach nicely. ¬†However. ¬†Miss the fairway and good luck landing your 2nd on the tiny green, which by the way is guarded by a raft of (deep) bunkers. ¬†Other holes, like the 7th and 10th, look innocuous enough but can make you look the fool. ¬†The trick, I think, is to know where you can miss the greens ‚?? because the fairways and semi cut are so well presented, you can find yourself with pretty straightforward chips if you‚??ve run off the side of the green. ¬†Off the tee the fairways tend to be wider than they look, so hitting the ball with confidence and that in mind will keep you in play on the whole.
Any gaps in our quasi-local knowledge were filled by Matt Cleary, our journo mate and playing partner for the day (see also Day 51 blog). ¬†We‚??re probably the only blokes this side of the Danube that play more golf than Matt, so he‚??s a valuable resource (not to mention good for a bit of a laugh). ¬†With just the 3 of us in the group, we played some ridiculous format that Matt suggested (whereby, roughly, the honour rotates, and the first player to tee off decides whether to take on the other two or team up with another against the third). ¬†It took the best part of the front nine for us all to be on the same page about what was going on; it must be one of those haggles that you get craftier at playing after a few attempts. ¬†We also entered in the club stableford comp, but wouldn‚??t have won any of the spoils (with 29, 26 and 24 points ‚?? myself, Mike and Matt respectively ‚?? it wasn‚??t even worth putting our cards in). ¬†Mike and I can‚??t hand in handicapping cards here anyway, so are just keeping them for our own records.
I had my first encounter with Australian wildlife today, having come across a few geckos in the thick stuff. ¬†Wired little chaps they are. ¬†Thankfully I didn‚??t meet any snakes ‚?? although surely, with the amount of golf we‚??re playing, and the hours we‚??ll be spending in the Australian scrub over the next 80 days, it‚??s only a matter of time. ¬†It‚??ll be the rural courses that are the death traps; in the metropolitan areas I reckon you‚??d have to be unlucky to get bitten. ¬†Touch wood.
One final thing to report. ¬†Just as Kinloch had the best showers in New Zealand, Bonnie Doon has ‚?? for the moment ‚?? the corresponding honour in Australia. ¬†The pleasure was probably enhanced by the fact that it was 36 degrees. ¬†But I could happily have 3 showers a day in these cubicles, just for the sheer enjoyment of it. ¬†The old school locker rooms were great too, with bryl cream and shaving foam available to those hoping to pick up in the bar. ¬†Being something of a nostalgic I‚??m a sucker for such idiosyncracies. ¬†
Anyway my laptop is about to melt, a process which will leave molten aluminium on my upper thighs. ¬†So I‚??m heading down to Coogee for another swim. ¬†Then we‚??re having a BBQ this evening back at Matt‚??s, with a couple of the chaps we met on Saturday. ¬†Should be good value. ¬†Off to The Australian tomorrow (ranked 11 in Oz) and St Michaels (ranked 58) on Thursday ‚?? so a great golfing week ahead, suitably kicked off at The ‚??Doon this morning. ¬†Glorious.
Our first full day in Oz took us to The Coast, a links course on the La Perouse coastline ‚?? a Monterey-like stretch of spectacular golfing turf. ¬†With St. Michaels immediately next door, and New South Wales (ranked #2 in Australia) just over the hill, the place is in good company (Randwick GC, which I haven‚??t played, lies just to the north). ¬†A buzzing beach lay just below the back nine, adding to the relaxed atmosphere. ¬†Like yesterday, the sun was out in spades, and the wind was fresh without being overly menacing. ¬†Lovely golfing conditions.
Wish I could say the same about the body. ¬†But in the event sore legs couldn‚??t detract from the stunning scenery at The Coast. ¬†The Pacific was a brilliant deep blue; and there was something captivating ‚?? even therapeutic ‚?? about watching the waves crash against the tabletop rocks of the national park coastline. ¬†If I‚??d concentrated more on the golf and less on the views I might have played properly. ¬†As it happened I didn‚??t, nor did Michael.
Our golf today was very much a game of two halves. ¬†The back nine was far more enjoyable than the front, for two reasons. ¬†First, I think the holes are simply better ‚?? both in terms of design and of surrounding scenery. ¬†Second, and more pertinently, the pace of play on the outward nine was snail-like. ¬†Had we done our research we would have learned that the Pennants competition is being held on Sunday afternoons currently, which means the chaps in front were lining up putts as if they were playing in the Ryder Cup. ¬†Fair play to them too; it was just one of those things (but no less frustrating for us). ¬†Realising at the outset that we were in for a long one, Michael and I asked several 2 balls in front whether they'd like to join up with us. ¬†They all declined. ¬†We must look like dodgy Kiwis. ¬†Anyway, 2 hours 45 minutes it took us to play 9. ¬†And slow golf is one of my pet hates. ¬†The frustration for me was all consuming, and ruined my concentration. ¬†One‚??s got to have respect for the pros, who appear able to maintain their focus in such adverse circumstances.
Faced with the prospect of another 3 hours or so of golf, we decided to take half time. ¬†This involved going for a dip in said beach, and having a ginger beer in the clubhouse (which, by the way, came complementary with the golf), and a quick shower, before tackling the back side. ¬†Thankfully a family 4 ball let us through on the 11th tee, allowing us to play at a more sensible pace. ¬†Really the last 8 holes were chalk and cheese when compared to the first 10, at least in our experience. ¬†For a moment there was a worry that we‚??d be playing the last couple in the dark, but as we moved briskly on that worry abated. ¬†There were some glorious holes down the stretch: I particularly liked 14 (see photo below) and 16, both short par 4s that don‚??t leave much margin for error (the former sitting atop the cliffs; the latter snaking through the scrub). ¬†17 was interesting too; it has a double, sloping fairway and the approach shot is hit over a creek to a narrow green perched above the beach. ¬†Hair raising stuff.
One thing that's stuck in my mind was the uncanny ability I showed today to hit the hole but still miss. ¬†8 lip outs, I counted. ¬†Some days they drop; others they don‚??t. ¬†Any golfer worth their salt knows that it doesn‚??t pay to dwell, and that the correct course is to banish any self pity from the mind. ¬†Coming back in 10 shots less than I went out in was enough to give me some encouragement anyway. ¬†An 86 (48; 38) for me, and an 87 for Mike (43; 44) - yielding 29 and 26 points respectively. ¬†Again the Weetbix honour then went to my friend. ¬†Perhaps he likes them.
The Coast, I'm moved to repeat, sits on a stunning piece of real estate. ¬†A couple of the views (particularly from the back 9) would stand up against the best anywhere. ¬†The course itself has a few strong holes and a few weak ones. ¬†
Unfortunately, there appears to be a problem with getting people to repair their pitch marks. ¬†Looking after your golf course was an imperative instilled in me at an early age, so failing to do so is something I struggle with. ¬†Perhaps a few of my lip outs might not have been lip outs had other players been that little bit more considerate in their actions. ¬†Respect for the golf course is something that the kids learn about at The First Tee (as a precursor and parody to learning about respect for oneself and others) - which gives me confidence that the next generation of golfers - at least in NZ - are in good hands. ¬†My gripe, however, is only a minor one; the overall experience today was a fantastic one, and we‚??re looking forward to playing next door St Michaels on Thursday. ¬†
Thanks to Gary, Robert and co at The Coast for hosting us. ¬†It was a treat of a day, the (understandably) slow play aside. ¬†¬†
Looking back it's been an epic 50 days in Aotearoa. ¬†Check out the vid below, which picks up on a few highlights. ¬†We've also put together a Facebook photo album with a few choice snaps. ¬†Peace.
This morning we crossed the ditch, taking puregolf2010 to the shores of Australia. ¬†Sydney! ¬†What a thrill. ¬†Up at the crack of dawn for the redeye flight, it's fair to say we had a slow start; and when we struck a logjam in the check-in queue at Auckland airport, the nerves began to jitter (notwithstanding the calming influence of our new friend, and Auckland host, Roy, who kindly saw us through to the departure gate). ¬†Our sweat glands continued to work over time when we were faced with the prospect of paying $200 excess baggage charges (just about more than the flights themselves cost). ¬†But somehow we managed to talk our way down to $80 with the first airline official, and down again to zero with the second. ¬†A narrow escape. ¬†
Just when we thought all drama had passed us, I then got into a bit of a disagreement with an Indian security official in the baggage collection area - for horsing around with the video camera. ¬†The earnest chap didn't like me filming (apparently it's against "The Rools"); I was told in no uncertain terms to delete whatever footage I had taken, and to behave myself. ¬†So I did. ¬†The lovely Hispanic lady on the Customs Desk was far more pleasant; she asked curiously, with a broad smile, about the stated occupation on my passenger arrival card ("ADVENTURER"). ¬†When I told her about puregolf2010, she appeared disappointed; her idea of an adventurer, the charming lady volunteered, was someone who jumps out of a helicopter, as opposed to punters who spend their mundane days playing golf. ¬†I can see how it would sound boring to some people.
The flight itself was a breeze, although the chap perched next to me could do with a year at finishing school - he coughed and spluttered on my left shoulder for 3 hours, without once covering his mouth or offering an apologetic gesture. ¬†Some people... ¬†Mike put together a nice wee compilation vid of the last 50 days, which will go up shortly. ¬†Looking back we've had a lot of great experiences in a relatively short space of time. ¬†It's forward we're looking now, to the exciting Australian leg ahead. ¬†
Matt Cleary - a Sydney journo who last year undertook The Great Lap, a golfing adventure around the perimeter of this great big country (an adventure that obviously shares a bit in common with our own) - kindly met us at the airport, and took us back to his pad to gather ourselves. ¬†Matt's a top bloke whom we have been in touch with for weeks now, and after a few banterous emails we were looking forward to meeting him in person. ¬†Hilarious lad. ¬†And after 10 days of mediocre Auckland weather it was revitalising to feel the sun on our backs in what I always remember as a sunny city. ¬†(I spent a summer here in 2005/2006). ¬†
We got straight into the Aussie groove before golf, by shooting down to Coogee Beach for a dip. ¬†Matt lives a stone's throw away, which is handy to say the least. ¬†What a gorgeous beach, packed with gorgeous people. ¬†A bit of body surfing was just the thing to dust away any cobwebs left behind by the redeye flight, and to ready us for battle in The Coogee Plate.
The Plate (itself something of a piece of art) has been played for annually by a good bunch of locals for 4 years now. ¬†The $40 entry fee got us a round of golf and a good spread at the Coogee Bay Hotel in the evening - plus the opportunity to win a prize or two. ¬†Eastlakes GC was our venue: a nice public track in Sydney's Eastern Suburbs. ¬†It's probably the poor cousin of 3 courses plonked more or less side by side (the other two being the more elite Bonnie Doon and The Lakes) - but I thought it stood up well, particularly when the wind got up. ¬†The front 9 was pretty benign (and short), but stopping your ball on the greens proved tricky as the sunbaked turf played more like concrete than grass. ¬†On the back 9 (and along the latter few holes of the front) were stronger tests; a climbing par 3 surrounded by scrub was especially daunting, and on the par 3 17th I was forced to take the undignified action of pulling driver. ¬†Big girl's blouse. ¬†
Some good golf was played, most prolifically by the 4th member of our group, an amazing chap by the name of Cass. ¬†The man's in his early sixties, but is fitter than most people could ever hope to be in their 20s. ¬†Growing up in South Africa, had it not been for apartheid-related obstacles Cass would have competed in the Olympics as a whippit 1500 metre runner. ¬†He's run a 4:03 mile. ¬†Each morning Cass rises at 5am for a brisk gallop and a dip at Coogee. ¬†A pretty amazing guy, as I said. ¬†Anyway his golf was impressive, unfortunately for The Kiwis. ¬†(We took on the Aussies in a best ball match, for a beer). ¬†Par after par after par sunk our hopes of clinching the Bledisloe, which we lost 1 down. ¬†His 81, combined with a few good pars by partner Matt (who sunk a¬†downhill, breaking¬†15 footer on the last for the match) proved too good - although I managed a 78, which wasn't bad. ¬†Poor Mike battled with himself for an 88, winning him the Weetbix.
The fixture migrated to the Coogee Bay Hotel, for the after match do. ¬†For those that haven't heard of it, the CBH is an Aussie icon (although sometimes for the wrong reasons). ¬†A massive pub. ¬†Prizes were dished out for closest to the pin, longest drive and, of course, for The Plate itself. ¬†Matt took out the best scratch trophy (rightfully awarded to locals, to encourage a continuing culture of participation across the years) - an honour that won him an Ebenezer of good Aussie shiraz. ¬†A couple of ceremonial words were said, then good natured banter took over, as the more social end of the day took hold. ¬†Good clean fun. ¬†I got chatting to a few blokes from my part of the world (an Irishman, an Englishman and a Scot - which sounds like the first line of a bad joke), who had played in the golf and who had a few good stories to tell. ¬†Like many before them these boys had come out on their OE some 15 years or so ago, and got stuck. ¬†Coogee will do that.¬†
A great day all round; a magic way to get under way in Aussie. ¬†Eastlakes was no Augusta, but it was the social dimension of the day - and the occasion of playing in The Plate - that made Day 51 stand out. ¬†We're staying with Matt tonight, and will play at The Coast tomorrow (probably after a refreshing morning dip down the road). ¬†Aussie Aussie Aussie; Oi Oi Oi!
Well what a day it has been, an amazing way to wrap up our first NZ leg. ¬†Today, quite simply, was the story of one man's generosity - and that man is Roy Boquiron. ¬†I'll get to Roy in a minute.
I should say first that our good mate, Ace - who charitably lent us his car for the past 50 days - got up at the crack of dawn to drop us across town. ¬†He also made a second trip across town, later in the day, after I left a few clothes hanging up at his place. ¬†A good friend indeed. ¬†
We arrived at Roy's house around 645am, to meet our new friend over a big kiwi breakfast, the perfect preparation for our golf at The Grange (of which Roy is a member, both of the club and of the committee). ¬†Roy contacted us some weeks ago to pass on his best wishes for our journey, and to ask whether we'd like to join him and his son - William - at The Grange during our Auckland leg. ¬†I remember being quite blown away by the enthusiasm and kindness in that original email, but even that could not have prepared me for the inspiration Michael and I have drawn from this chap today. ¬†
Roy's auntie and mother-in-law rustled up a sublime fry up, which lined hungry stomachs handsomely, and probably added another inch to my expanding waistline. ¬†Roy, Mike and I then made our way a few minutes down the road to The Grange, for an 8am tee time. ¬†We met up with Roy's good friend, Raybert (who after 5 minutes became just 'Ray') and were introduced to various of the local sheriffs - including the starter, the club captain and the pro. ¬†A south westerly was blowing pretty viciously across the course, and after a restless night's sleep I questioned how competently I would acquit myself in front of our new friends. ¬†Promisingly, I knocked my first tee shot straight down the middle, some 50 metres or so short of the green. ¬†Needless to say it all went downhill from there.
Roy and Ray are of Filipino extraction, and both have amazing stories to tell about how they ended up here. ¬†Ray wasn't meant to be joining us, but thankfully answered the last minute call when Roy's son William had to pull out due to school commitments. ¬†It was great that he did, because R & R fed off each other the whole way around. ¬†They are obviously great mates, and play a bit of golf together. ¬†In fact, both are members of the local Filipino Golf Society, which plays an annual Ryder Cup against their Wellington expat counterparts (as well as various warm up matches against, e.g., Thais, Vietnamese, Japanese). ¬†It's serious stuff! ¬†Roy's the President, and from what I hear he has introduced some discipline into preparations for what in the past has been a somewhat more 'social' event. ¬†He even sits down with each member of the 14 strong team (give or take) and talks through with them how they'll play each and every hole of the two courses on which the tournament is held. ¬†I don't think I've ever met someone so methodical.
Within 2 years of taking up the game - in his forties - Roy got down to a 7 handicap. ¬†Because that was his goal. ¬†He breaks the game down into compartments, and devotes each attention on a rotational basis. ¬†Driving; iron play; chipping; and putting. ¬†Mike and I couldn't help but be impressed. ¬†Roy backed it up on the course too, and (now on a 14 handicap, after falling ill last year) was 3 over at the turn. ¬†Which was a good few shots better than us. ¬†It was a real pleasure seeing a guy so thrilled to be out on the course enjoying himself, the fruits of his systematic labour clearly paying off. ¬†Ray played some effortlessly graceful golf too. ¬†And it got me thinking: these chaps don't hit the ball half as hard as we do, but they hit it a dam sight straighter. ¬†Maybe there's something in that? ¬†(A rhetorical question...)
The Grange itself was a strong course. ¬†It's tight. ¬†When the wind's blowing, and you're playing off the blues, it's even tighter. ¬†And the greens were pretty quick too. ¬†So we had our work cut out to make a decent score; but having said that our Filipino mates were tearing it up, so there were no excuses. ¬†I had particular difficulty on the par 3s, which are pretty dam tough. ¬†One of them - ironically one of the two I scored a par on - was nigh on impossible for a punter like me that plays a strong draw/hook. ¬†Tall pines form a natural chute through a rising gully to a narrow green surrounded by bunkers. ¬†The pin was on the far right; the wind howling from the right. ¬†Chances of Jamie hitting it on the green (with a 4 iron): NIL. ¬†A downhill bunker shot to 25 feet and a putt, though, was enough. ¬†Phew.
Roy and I won the haggle on the 15th, 4&3. ¬†My friend deserves the lion share of the credit, with his outstanding front nine setting up the victory. ¬†Poor Mike and Ray didn't know what hit 'em. ¬†I also managed to beat Mike again, with 31 points to his 27. ¬†(Roy presented him with his Weetbix later in the day, and enjoyed witnessing our daily ritual).
After the golf we retired - battered and bruised by the elements - to the plush clubhouse at The Grange for a nice lunch with Roy, some of his mates and the club captain, Phil. ¬†Great toasted sandwiches (kindly purchased by Roy on our behalf)! ¬†
Then came what was perhaps the most memorably part of the day, for me. ¬†Roy invited us back to his house for afternoon tea (I forget the Filipino term he used for it), over which we waxed lyrical about pursuing one's goals, contributing to society and all things in between. ¬†A couple of hours of philosophising to remember. ¬†It would be inappropriate of me to share publicly what Roy undoubtedly shared in confidence - suffice to say he's an incredibly intelligent, open, encouraging and generous man, and we were utterly inspired by his approach to life. ¬†
One of Roy's current goals - which I can share - is to play the Old Course at St Andrews. ¬†After being told by his mates that it's impossible to get on there (what with the ballots and everything they have there), Roy made it happen. ¬†Carpe diem, is his motto (embossed on his personal stationary, no less). ¬†On August 6 Roy will pick up his sticks and tee off on the famous links; and on the 18th he'll get his photo taken walking across the Swilken Bridge. ¬†We are very excited for him, and can't wait to hear about his experience.
I could go on about memories of today, but it's late in the evening and I've got an early flight to catch. ¬†To Sydney. ¬†To begin the next leg of our odyssey.
Day 50 has been an incredible day. ¬†As I said earlier, for me I will always remember it as the day we met Roy Boquiron, one of life's genuinely good people. ¬†And his friend, Raybert. ¬†The pair have pledged their support for us, and have each donated a dollar to The First Tee for every course we played this year. ¬†It has been a privilege to spend our last day in NZ with them. ¬†No doubt our paths will cross again; hopefully they'll be available to play at one of the events we hold in December upon our return home.
Thanks also to The Grange for hosting us today - a very challenging course, and a welcoming club too.
The alarm's going to go off in 4 hours 40 minutes, so it's time to bid you farewell, and finish my packing.
See you on the other side of the ditch...
With our Australian leg looming - and plenty to sort out before we hop on a plane Saturday morning - it was nice today to have a low key one. ¬†Just the 9 holes. ¬†All of which were par 3s. ¬†Most of which were pretty short. ¬†Nice.
The morning was spent sorting our lives out - writing to golf courses in the US, running errands, and the like. ¬†Driving around Auckland in 100% humidity provided its own challenges, and tested the limits of my patience. ¬†How¬†do¬†the locals cope? ¬†I swear the washing hung out this morning had absorbed, rather than shed, water throughout the day. ¬†Bring on that dry Aussie heat. ¬†
At The First Tee we hooked up with Shane and Stu, a couple of the coaches, who joined us at next door Firmount for a hit. ¬†They're both pretty handy. ¬†Very handy, in fact. ¬†And top guys too. ¬†On our way around they shared a few of their experiences at The First Tee, and gave us a better understanding of how the program runs at a micro level. ¬†Shane and Stu are passionate lads, and it's pretty inspiring hearing them talk about what they teach. ¬†There was a sincerity in their words that I wouldn't have thought comes through when many speak about their work.
Stu and I won the haggle, 2up. ¬†Mike lost the puregolf2010 haggle too, with 31 shots to my 28. ¬†Because the course was short, we managed a few birdies too (M:1; J:3), to keep the counter ticking over. ¬†(This is one of the counters that will appear on our soon to be constructed stats page - keep an eye out for it).
After walking off the 9th we dropped our clubs and joined in with a lesson. ¬†These particular kids had only recently come into the program, and were about 7-10. ¬†What struck me initially - and this is something that still sticks in my mind - is how proficient these wee fellas were at introducing themselves. ¬†Without a shadow of hesitation they came up, one by one, to shake hands; look me in the eye; and tell me their name. ¬†Pretty incredible really. ¬†If only I had been so courteous as a wee tyke...
Stu then took the kids next door to the range, to hit a few balls. ¬†The group decided they would hit 2 balls each, then rotate; and that's what they did - no gripes, moans or arguments. ¬†Two deliberate blows and then some encouragement for their mates. ¬†One or two were particularly forthcoming in telling me about their (limited) golfing experiences, and about themselves generally. ¬†A wee chap by the name of Conor (whose name my brother shares) was especially chatty. ¬†
In the classroom - where they played "Who Wants to be a Millionairre" - the good behaviour uncannily continued. ¬†
It's now late in the evening, and the rain is pouring down. ¬†The wind is howling too. ¬†And in the morning we're getting up at the crack of dawn to play our last round in New Zealand. ¬†¬†
We have had another good day playing at Akarana golf club. The members and management welcomed us to their course and kindly raised $230 for The First Tee NZ. Pretty awesome stuff from the "most social golf club in Auckland".
Akarana is a fine course. We have heard it is very boggy in the winter, but today it played as a very solid course. Had a few great par threes with water hazards around the greens. And a number of challenging par fours, particularly the stretch 13 thru 15. The course was in good nick so congrats goes out to the greenstaff.
Fortunate enough to play with Geoff Burns and Peter Williams today from the First Tee NZ board. Apologies to Geoff for losing the match, and having him suffer the consequence of chowing down on a couple of weetbix.
Check out the short video below: a final 'farewell'¬†NZ video will follow tomorrow so stay tuned!
The Muriwai links, west of Auckland, is renowned as a pretty stern test of links golf.¬† The course is a tale of two halves in my mind.¬† The front nine is open and sparse and there is very little trouble, either tee to green or around the flat greens. It is a nine that is very much subject to the wind, which meant that on a calm day like today it was uncharacteristically easy.¬†¬† The scoring on the front nine reflected the benign conditions. In particular from one of our playing partners, Robert, who shot a spectacular 34 (2 under par) off a 10 handicap. Epic.
Rob‚??s golf also combined well with JP and it was a tough ask for Craig Batty (our other playing partner) and I to keep up.¬† By way of introduction, Craig is a good guy and golfing enthusiast that we met while in Christchurch. He is in the insurance game and has the flexibility to get out for a round or two of golf midweek which is the way to go! Both Craig and Robert are proud members of Titirangi where Craig is also a member of theit an interclub (pennants) team. This matchplay experience proved handy as we turned to play the 10th hole 5 down‚?¶
The back nine was much more challenging with tee tree and scrub catching misdirected shots and more undulations on and around the greens.¬† This nine is set amongst the sand dunes and is more of a typical links. Shots to elevated greens, shutes off the tee between the sand dunes and gnarly pot bunkers made it a better test of golf.¬†
The standard of golf remained high on the back nine, but the format we played - best ball, but second ball counts if it is a tie - made a comeback easier for Craig and I. We quickly started gnawing away at the lead and by the 17th had it back to 1 down. At that stage our combined score for the back nine was level par, with Jamie and Robert not too far behind.¬† Then Craig came to the fore, sinking a 12 footer to keep the match alive on the 17th, and then an incredible double breaker for birdie on the last to win that hole and halve the match. High fives all around. And no weetbix punishments for the match.
I think that playing golf with guys who are scoring really well makes you compete with them and subsequently score better.¬† That was the case for both Jamie and I at least until the last when I bottled it for a triple. The scores ended 78(38 points) and 83 (34 points).
Final thoughts on Muriwai are that I would love to play it again in the wind to get a better feel.¬† It has some awesome holes, like the 100m par three 17th sitting on the highest point on the course and completely subject to the elements. And the 13th where you hit to a narrow and elevated green with three tiers and trouble both sides. The course was very green and the kikuyu grass was very spongy which made it not play like a typical hard and fast links. There were good sandy and scrubby lies off the fairway which required some creativity, particularly around the greens. But for me, the course could have been much better ‚?? it does not capitalise on the natural terrain enough, particularly to give it the wow factor around the ocean, the par fives all run the same direction (a pet peeve of mine) and there are few holes that require decisions off the tee ‚?? there are no risk reward par fours or ‚??three shot‚?? par fives.¬† That said, I think Jamie rated it as one of his favourite in the country.
The day ended with a good chat on the drive home, and a very nice meal with Geoff and Jill Burns where the banter for tomorrows round begun..
This morning we met with JB. ¬†The meeting was scheduled some weeks ago, but - in the melee that is life on the road - until last night we hadn't given any thought as to what we would actually talk to the man about. ¬†Our primary goal, it was decided, was to bring The First Tee to the Mayor's attention. ¬†From here we would seek whatever support the City (or Supercity, as it will be reincarnated in a few months) could lend - e.g. administrative support with events. ¬†We struck somewhat of a roadblock though. ¬†His Worship, Mr. Banks, thought it would make a lot more sense if all charities (or at least those in the Auckland region) were rolled into one, such that (1) giving support would be more efficient and administratively easier; and (2) the said charity would be easier to promote, everyone involved "being up in lights." ¬†Hmmmm. ¬†Sensing the fruits of our perseverence weren't going to pay dividends, we changed tack.
Being quite intrigued by the man behind the job, I asked John a couple of quick-fire questions about himself, to get an insight into what makes him tick. ¬†I'll leave you to decide whether I had any success - see below.