What a week it‚??s been over here in the UAE. ¬†Hard to believe that we‚??re finally here after months of ‚??sure, we‚??re heading through Dubai later in the year‚?Ě. ¬†Even harder to believe that our time on Emirati soil (read: sand) is almost over! ¬†Below are a few, condensed reflections on The UAE Leg thus far (Mike‚??s going to pen a few words focusing on Abu Dhabi in particular).
1. ¬†We have a love triangle of Fairy Godparents to which we owe a huge debt of gratitude. ¬†(I use the term ‚??love triangle‚?Ě loosely, and only because there are three ‚??fairies‚?Ě, to be clear). ¬†Martha & Bill Wong have gone out of their way to make us feel like royalty ‚?? housing, feeding and entertaining us as if we were their own. ¬†2 days before we boarded the plane in Glasgow we had no accommodation organised for our 8 days in Dubai. ¬†Martha (a friend of a friend of a friend) came to our rescue with no questions asked. ¬†Since she picked us up from the airport at 2am in the morning Martha has ferried us around Dubai, fed us at home and at lavish eateries, and generally mothered us with faultless compassion. ¬†Staying at Chateau Wong has recharged our batteries beyond belief. ¬†It‚??s also been a true pleasure to sit and chat with Martha and Bill ‚?? who hail originally from Singapore ‚?? about All And Sundry; amusing to realise that despite coming from a cultural landscape so different to my own, and being a good few years my senior, both are in many ways Just Like Yours Truly. ¬†‚??Poor sods‚?Ě I hear you cry. ¬†Their generosity has been mind blowing to say the least.
2. ¬†The third wheel in The puregolf2010 UAE Leg Love Triangle is one Mr. Chris Turlik. ¬†An Englishman (of sorts), no less. ¬†He has of his own volition taken care of all our golf needs in the UAE, and even joined us for a couple of games himself. ¬†(Poor bugger has teamed up with Goldy on both occasions and unsurprisingly found himself on the losing side...ha!). ¬†After what sounds like an interesting path woven through the hotel management industry (he worked on the QEII) Chris has spent the last decade or so in golf, most recently as GM at The Emirates Club for 8 years. ¬†Now he‚??s running his own business organising events, one of which we played in down the road in Abu Dhabi (great craic ‚?? Goldy will tell all). ¬†The Man Himself has had us ‚??round to his place for BBQ and rugby viewing; driven us to and from our golf fixtures; and generally been A Tremendous Human Being. ¬†He‚??s even thinking of coming over to Auckland for our event at The Grange instead of going to a U2 concert in Melbourne! ¬†Encouragement please...
3. ¬†Wealth takes on a new meaning here. ¬†Granted it‚??s Abu Dhabi that has all the oil (i.e. cash) but Dubai has grabbed the bull by the horns and Made It Happen. ¬†How surreal it is to see a city that‚??s sprung up with such urgency in just a decade or two. ¬†Skyscraper upon skyscraper; construction at every corner. ¬†Without these concrete peaks it‚??d be hard to get your bearings here, because the desert is so dam flat. ¬†They also have the ‚??biggest X, the fastest Y, the longest Z‚?Ě and so on and so forth. ¬†An Emirate of superlatives. ¬†And rich, rich ‚??locals‚?Ě (ironically in the minority). ¬†Everyone has a new car (SUVs are par for the course, especially Range Rovers and Porsche Cayennes); it seems most have maids (Bill & Martha‚??s Burmese maid is to washing and ironing what Roger Federer is to tennis); and there‚??s a general consensus that quality of life over here is unparalleled. ¬†A long way from little old Nu Zillin...
4. ¬†Golf here is a past time for the wealthy, but everyone‚??s wealthy so everyone plays. ¬†The clubhouses are fantasies that only in this dream world could come to being. ¬†At Al Badia GC ‚?? which we played on our first day here ‚?? every imaginable luxury was available to the sweaty golfer. ¬†Cucumber infused iced water for me took the cake though ‚?? simple but heavenly. ¬†It‚??s very much a case of resort golf too, in the sense that you always hit range balls before play and take a cart out on course. ¬†Lazy man‚??s golf. ¬†An unfortunate offshoot of this complacency is the lack of etiquette observed by many: bunkers not raked and pitch marks not replaced. ¬†Word is half of these folks see themselves as above such menial tasks. ¬†Luckily no one we‚??ve played with has fallen in this camp.
5. ¬†Bermuda greens are dam near impossible to putt on. ¬†In fact not near, just plain impossible. ¬†How those tour players sink putts for their living week in, week out on the Asian PGA Tour or in Florida I‚??ll never know. ¬†The paspallum grass used as an alternative is much less disagreeable in my books. ¬†In any case there‚??s no excuses because the conditioning out here is, well, hard to believe. ¬†Despite recent overseeding we‚??ve still been blown away. ¬†
6. ¬†Because all the courses are relatively new, they‚??ve been designed with modern technology in mind. ¬†So the black tees are real black tees, often a good wedge away from the whites. ¬†And given we masochists play as far back as we can, we‚??ve been hitting ¬†a lot of mid- to long iron second shots. ¬†Not many birdies then...and plenty of bunker practice.
7. ¬†During an average round you‚??ll pass 30-60 staff members on the cart paths, none of whom seem to ever do anything. ¬†Can‚??t fault their manners though ‚?? among the smiliest demographic I‚??ve ever come across. ¬†But they must just drive around and ‚??round. ¬†Full employment an‚?? all that innit. ¬†
8. ¬†Waste bunkers are not provided for in the R&A Rules Of The Game, and as such should be used only in such extra-terrestrial domains as the moon. ¬†
9. ¬†November must be just about the best time of year to come here, weather wise. ¬†It‚??s been between 25 and 32 the whole time; for someone who grew up in Scotland, any hotter and golf‚??s not pleasant. ¬†And for a trio that‚??ve just come from Glasgow in November, well...‚??nuff said. ¬†At last we‚??ve started absorbing Vitamin D once more.
10. ¬†Cart paths carry off-line tee shots even further astray. ¬†I love it how sometimes you just know as soon as you‚??ve struck the ball that it‚??s going to career into the concrete and bounce 20 feet in the air. ¬†Despite that sense of inevitability you still plead with your ball ‚??don‚??t you f#@$ing dare.‚?Ě ¬†But it dares. ¬†Long story short: don‚??t like cart paths.
12. ¬†The Majlis Course at The Emirates Club is the best course here if you ask me. ¬†Long and classy, it plays host to the upcoming Dubai Desert Class tournament. ¬†Golf World lists it as one of the Top 100 Courses in The World too. ¬†Fair dinkum.
11. ¬†Henrik Stenson despite being Swedish is rather good. ¬†We played the front 9 at The Els Club with him yesterday, and he took it apart like a Jack Russell takes apart a brand new pair of shoes. ¬†A cool 7 under through 9 (having made disappointing par 3s at the short holes). ¬†I parred the first 8 holes and was 6 down! ¬†Hits the ball two country miles too... ¬†As much as it pains me to say it, his company was tremendous too ‚?? a sound balance of banter and insight. ¬†When I told him about the birdie challenge we‚??re jacking up for December (have you signed up yet?), he then asked, ‚??so you‚??re hoping to raise a good $50 then?‚?Ě ¬†Put me in my place. ¬†At all day he was. ¬†But then I had the last laugh when I interviewed him: a wee snippit of which you‚??ll see soon. ¬†Anyway, great lad and rather good golfer. ¬†¬†¬† ¬†
Golf on Day 147 was always going to be a low key affair. ¬†At 3pm on Day 146 we rolled out of Phoenix and onto the 10 Freeway heading east...towards Dallas. ¬†Google Maps clocks the journey at 1068 miles. ¬†It felt longer.
Add to the mixer a hint of uncertainty - over Dodgy's long haul capabilities - and you have an interesting episode in the saga that is puregolf2010. ¬†Against all the odds it was quite an enjoyable 22 hours. ¬†Travelling in Dodgy is like travelling business class on a long haul flight, in some ways. ¬†There's plenty room; a bed to lay your head on; a built in chilly bin (in this case stocked full of Starbucks espresso cans, red bulls, powerades and anything else that might keep us awake); and a quality stereo. ¬†The engine purred gracefully too, masking Dodgy's true...longevity.
Outside the tinted windows were cacti rising 30 feet into the air, boulders the size of shopping malls and wide open expanses of Not Much. ¬†Everything's huge in these parts (including the trucks that do their best to block every road sign from view).
Anyway we arrived in Dallas early afternoon, and did a brief interview¬†(scroll to "Norm Golfer" segment, on Thursday) with the local radio kingpin, Norm Hitzges (who by fortunate coincidence loves all things Kiwi and is pals with Phil T). ¬†A good yarn it was too, even though I nearly keeled over half way through from the suffocating heat within a parked Dodgy oven. ¬†
Relief was the overwhelming emotion when we reached Phil‚??s place ‚?? after getting lost in the labyrinth that is the golf complex he lives in (we were looking for ‚??eagle street‚?Ě; found ‚??par street‚?Ě; assumed the next street would be ‚??birdie street‚?Ě so drove straight on and missed the turn (there was no "birdie street" - no logic to the street naming system here). ¬†Both of us were pretty delirious, and probably not much chop on the conversation front when we arrived ‚?? but after years on the road Phil and wife Mel could relate to our plight and so were very understanding. ¬†And welcoming.
We met son Kahu (9 years old) and daughter Talia (a few years his younger). ¬†Lovely kids. ¬†Kahu‚??s going to be a real ladies man, and he‚??s got a bit of sporting prowess about him too (not surprising when you look at mum and dad). ¬†As soon as the bags were unloaded from Dodgy we got out into the yard and shot some hoops with Kahu. ¬†With a 180 dunk (to an 8 foot rim) in my arsenal, I may as well have been Michael Jordan (at 5 foot 10 inches Phil can't reach the basket unless he uses a stepladder...). ¬†Then there was a bit of table tennis on the back patio; then a few putts struck on Phil‚??s practice putting green. ¬†This would‚??ve been my dream house as a kid.
Golf was the last thing I felt like doing ‚?? in 40 degree heat ‚?? but...well, you know...we sort of have to! ¬†Phil tentatively hopped in the driver‚??s seat of Dodgy and zipped us down to Lake Park Executive, a little 9 hole municipal course in Dallas proper. ¬†The course wasn‚??t much to write home about, but it was perfect for our needs. ¬†Because it was a par 3 course it was also great for Kahu to showcase his dynamite short game (which ended up being the decisive factor in bringing victory honours upon him and yours truly). ¬†The wee fella had his best 9 hole round ever, with 41 (previous PB 46) ‚?? despite a disappointing 8 on the final hole, which he was visibly gutted with. ¬†He‚??s got his father‚??s competitive streak.
Father and son took turns at caddying for the other on each hole. ¬†Father gave son a few tips. ¬†Son wasn‚??t particularly receptive, but desperately wanted to impress Father. ¬†The episode reminded me a lot of my early playing days with my dad out at Lundin Links in Fife, Scotland. ¬†I never listened to a word he said, and got hopelessly frustrated if things weren‚??t going my way. ¬†All part of growing up.
Back at Tataurangi base camp we fired up the BBQ and grilled a few steaks ‚?? well, Phil did, and he did it like a seasoned chef too. ¬†More than just a pretty face. ¬†One beer; one steak; and a couple of veges was bliss and enough to send me to sleep. ¬†It was gutting, initially, to learn there was only one bed (it was Goldy‚??s turn), but the sofa proved to be more comfortable than a King Size at The Ritz ‚?? and being as shattered as I was, I would‚??ve slept like a log on a bed of nails.
A long day. ¬†And a very warm welcome by a Kiwi family. ¬†Day 147...
And so our desert leg begins. ¬†From LA to New Orleans apparently there‚??s nothing much but sand, and a few rocks. ¬†Vast, vast countryside ‚?? the next few days are certainly gonna be an eye opener. ¬†And hot.
Last night we zipped down the 10 from LA to Palm Springs, which was more of a climb than I‚??d expected. ¬†By some fortunate coincidence a chap called Gary ‚?? from the Westin Mission Hills Resort & Spa ‚?? contacted me in the afternoon, before we set sail, offering his help. ¬†(He‚??d run into a mate of ours down in Florida last week, and heard about what we were doing). ¬†With no accom arranged for last night, the plan was to spend it in Dodgy ‚?? no worries. ¬†Gary had a better idea though, and instead put us up in a plush pad overlooking one of the 26908 golf courses in this area. ¬†What a treat. ¬†Trading the back seat of Dodgy for a bed the size of a small nation was like trading muskets and salt for large tracts of land ‚?? a sweet deal!
This morning we boosted 17 miles or so down the road to PGA West, a phenomenal golf facility. ¬†There are 7 courses or so here, and a whole bunch of condos lining each. ¬†Almost entirely a golf town (La Quinta). ¬†Because we don‚??t yet have a GPS for the car, before we left I scribbled some directions on my forearm taken from the ever mercurial Google Maps. ¬†¬†Not for the first time, we were misled. ¬†It was a happy coincidence, therefore, that the chief staff writer for the USPGA Tour called Mike for a yarn while we were en route ‚?? she was able to give us (proper) directions in between questions! ¬†Dodgy rolled into the carpark 5 minutes late for our tee time, but thankfully there was a pretty open tee this morning, so all was not lost.
The Americans really do golf well. ¬†As soon as my left foot hit the tarmac a gentleman rolled up in a cart to take our sticks, and usher us to the pro shop. ¬†The pro told us there was no rush, and that we could hit some balls if we‚??d like (which we did). ¬†Given the Stadium Course at PGA West had been built up as a monster, we thought we better sharpen up and be ready. ¬†The starter then cautioned us against playing the tips (circa 7000 yards), which turned out to be a shame. ¬†We accepted his counsel and played blues ‚?? too short at 6500. ¬†The ball flies further up here too, with the heat and altitude.
Neither of us got off to a flier, but after a few holes birdies began to trickle onto our scorecards. ¬†With receptive greens and generous fairways, you can really score here. ¬†That‚??s if you stay away from the water (something we each failed to do on several occasions). ¬†Dye has built a balanced course, with water running along left and right; with long par 5s and short par 4s; and tough par 3s. ¬†He‚??s renowned for designing tough tracks ‚?? but going solely on PGA West, you‚??d be far more worried by Greg Norman or even Nicklaus. ¬†I‚??ll reserve judgment until we‚??ve played a few more of his designs.
One of the nicest things about this morning was that there was hardly anyone out there. ¬†A sign of the times perhaps? ¬†Maybe just a reflection that there are a ton of courses around here, so competition is hot. ¬†The offshoot for us was that we got round in 3 hours, including a couple of ‚??comfort stops‚?Ě (I love American euphemisms). ¬†You can drive carts on the fairways, which means you don‚??t have 55 walks to and from the cart as you do when it‚??s ‚??cart paths only‚?Ě. ¬†Nice.
The scenery was pretty dramatic, too. ¬†Real Lone Ranger stuff. ¬†On the horizon all around you are scraggy peaks, creating a (hot, dry) cauldron effect ‚?? framed by piercing blue sky, of course. ¬†Might have to pick myself up a pair of sunglasses, David Duval styles...or not. ¬†They must use a boatload of water out here for irrigation, ‚??cos there ain‚??t much rain. ¬†We did see snow on a couple of peaks though; snow that looks really enticing when you‚??re being toasted alive by the California sun. ¬†(Note to self: avoid playing in the middle of the day in the desert). ¬†¬†
Mick and me played a best ball today, in the hope of having a combined under par score. ¬†I weighed in with 4 birdies, but Mike‚??s putts weren‚??t dropping. ¬†And after a careless bogey on the last for each of us, 1 under disappeared from reach ‚?? giving us a disappointing 72. ¬†Rubbish. ¬†Today was one of those few days that I should‚??ve shot under par, but instead bottled it and shot 76 (thanks to a 3 putt par on 16 and some sloppy chips coming down the final stretch). ¬†Life goes on.
On the way ‚??round we bumped into a 6 strong crew of lads ‚?? probably a couple of years older than us ‚?? up here on a golf vacation. ¬†We got chatting as they let us through. ¬†Their warmth and positivity was indicative of the enthusiastic reception we‚??ve been lucky to receive here in the US. ¬†Everyone seems to ‚??get‚?? puregolf2010, which helps keep us ‚??up‚?? 24/7. ¬†I can see why people love this place.
Mike‚??s going to put up a video blog showcasing the golf course and the surrounding scenery. ¬†And our swish LoudMouth pants! ¬†Enjoy.
Who knew you weren't supposed to eat meat on Good Friday?¬† The lovely family we stayed with last night in Wagga put on a famous feast of salmon, prawns and other treats.¬† Only thing is I don't eat seafood!¬† So after our 500km drive I picked away at cheese & biscuits, and guzzled a few glasses of fine Margaret River shiraz to drown my sorrows.¬† A wonderful evening - family styles.
Cameron the Man Of The House had worded us up about some desert like course down the road that has "sand scrape" greens (literally sand that's oiled every so often to keep it from blowing away).¬† Too good an opportunity to miss.¬† Polo shirts were swapped for t-shirts; caps flipped backwards; and insect repellant should have been applied (it wasn't).¬† You'd have to see this place to believe it. ¬†We played in a 5 ball with Cameron & his twin sons, Tom & Drew.¬† They smoked us in the¬†haggle (their ambrose score versus the worst Michael or I could muster on each hole).¬† Absolutely smoked us.¬† Local knowledge.¬† Banter as fierce as a hungry sabre tooth tiger¬†kept us on our toes -¬†even¬†the 12 year old twins were sleding us!¬† Little tykes.¬†
This was golf as we will probably never experience it again.¬† Clay fairways, sand scrape greens and plagues of locusts.¬† Royal Canberra tomorrow will probably be more of the same.¬† Or not.
Below is a short vid of The Coolamon Experience that we've put together. ¬†There's a touching wee story behind the "Coolamon Mens' Shed" sign you'll see. ¬†This be rural country, and dry rural country at that. ¬†When it's in drought, depression is rife among farmers, and suicide isn't uncommon. ¬†So a few of the local farmers got together to teach the skills they have - usually a trade, like woodwork - to young chaps twiddling their thumbs in drought ridden times, to keep 'em off the farms and interested in something. ¬†It might only be once a month or so, but these lads at least have a hobby to get their teeth into. ¬†Touching, I thought.
"I've been through the desert on a horse with no name, it felt good to be out of...the rain...". ¬†America's catchy words spun through my head as we drove 400km - in a car with I've named Yoshi, as a nod to his Japanese heritage - from Millicent, through No Man's Land to Adelaide. ¬†Rural South Australia is pretty dam rural. ¬†It's only once you reach regions like this that you realise just how vast 'Straya is. ¬†Which is very vast. ¬†
On these long straight roads the temptation is to cut loose, autobahn styles. ¬†Mike succumbed and was duly pinged by the South Australian Police Force; an unwelcome pouring of $220 down the drain. ¬†Oh well. ¬†The funny thing - if there is anything funny in all of this - was Mike's attempt to chat him up, with puregolf2010 business cards and all! ¬†(I don't think his efforts were in vain, because apparently the fine was knocked down from $360 to $220...either way I'll let Mike fill you in if he feels the need).
In just over 4 hours we reached the big country town of Adelaide. ¬†There are no high rises (other than the Westpac Tower, but they don't count 'cos they're everywhere). ¬†Apparently the town planner was the same chap who drew up the plans for Christchurch - certainly the story stacks up because the middle of town is a perfect grid. ¬†Easy to navigate. ¬†What beautiful buildings too, particularly along North Terrace (the CBD is framed by Terraces North, South, East and West).
The Grange sits out 15km or so from the city towards the coast, and has 2 courses - East and West. ¬†Yesterday we had the pleasure of playing the West, which is the more mature of the two. ¬†Although we had a 3 o'clock tee time - which we rushed through town to make - the pro was pretty relaxed, so we just teed off when ready. ¬†A fella by the name of Tony joined us. ¬†He'd contacted us some months back, having heard about what we were up to. ¬†Tony's goal is to play every golf course in South Australia (think he's about half way).
Hell of a nice guy, and not a bad golfer either - he cleaned Mike and I up in the split sixes, taking full advantage of his 16 handicap. ¬†To be fair we didn't offer much opposition, with 90 and 84 respectively. ¬†The Grange off the back markers is a stern test, particularly in strong winds! ¬†No excuses though. ¬†
The fairways were wider than most, although on the whole were well bunkered. ¬†The prevailing sou'wester made it tough to hit many of 'em, but when you do they're a pleasure to play off. ¬†This be sandbelt golf, just like Melbourne a week or so ago. ¬†Drawing another parallel to Melbourne, they've ripped a fair bit of ti tree out of the place in recent years too. ¬†There are quite a few pine trees around, invariably framing the tee shot, so it would've been interesting to see pine-ti tree combinations, something I haven't seen before.
You get some nice views from the course. ¬†On several holes (like the 8th, pictured below) your eyes are drawn to Footy Park, the AFL stadium. ¬†Apparently it's shared by the Adelaide Crows and Port Power. ¬†I'm told the Crows fans are the chardonnay drinkers, and the Port fans meths drinkers, but the Port fans I've come across have been entirely upstanding lovely folk - so who knows.
I'll stick to what I know. ¬†Back to the golf. ¬†Our 3 ball became a 4 a few holes in, when a local firie' (that's a fireman to those not in the know) by the name of Paul joined us. ¬†Salt of the earth bloke, good company. ¬†Between the 4 of us we had a good few laughs, largely at our own expense. ¬†Grange 1 : puregolf2010 NIL. ¬†The score however will be levelled on Thursday when we attack the East Course!
There were a few lovely holes that I should mention. ¬†The 15th is a short-ish par 4, which plays from an elevated tee to a generous fairway then to a narrow green set against the houses. ¬†A big fairway bunker caught Goldy's tee shot, and one of the greenside bunkers caught his pitch too. ¬†The prevailing wind blew hard off the right, pulling my approach left of the greenside trap, leaving a nigh on impossible chip along the shoulder into which the trap's cut. ¬†Subtle but quality.
The next hole - the 17th - was my favourite. ¬†A relatively open tee shot between the pines - again, with the wind off the right - leaves you poised to strike a daunting approach. ¬†The green is hidden from view over a gentle rise; the view is framed by a funnel of tussock and pine. ¬†Like marriage you've just got to commit. ¬†I closed my eyes and swung a 6 iron, and thankfully it ended up just off the green. ¬†On another day it might've ended up somewhere Nasty. ¬†A glorious hole.
By the time we walked up onto the 18th green the shadows had grown pretty long. ¬†And we were pretty shattered. ¬†The games we play that are preceded by a 400km drive tend to be the weary ones, and yesterday was no exception. ¬†Sam & Paul's chat kept us going, as did the prospect of wrestling the split 6s lead from Sam (fat chance). ¬†On the puregolf2010 haggle front, I snatched 2.5 points to Goldy's 0.5, giving me a strong (but not insurmountable) lead going into the last couple of days of March. ¬†It's hotting up.
We're staying with friends of friends back in NZ - a lovely couple who go by Blair & Kate. ¬†Home for them is an awesome little heritage cottage Right In Town, down a quaint little side street. ¬†Blair cooked up a delectable risotto which we duly devoured, along with some fine South Australian red. ¬†He's in the oil & gas industry (which Goldy worked in last year) and a Kiwi to boot; Kate's mad keen on sport, and was a handy hockey player. ¬†So we've got plenty of common interest to keep us blethering for days. ¬†
Today we're off to Glenelg which apparently is another great track. ¬†Adelaide has been good to us so far.