Leading a vagrant life you‚??re going to have tumultuous nights when sleep is something you chase, not something that chases you. ¬†But there are sleepless nights and then there are, Sleepless Nights. ¬†Last night as you may have guessed by now was the latter. ¬†With a 5.30am check in for our Interislander crossing we parked up Jucy Lucy in the ferry car park the night prior. ¬†The thinking being that we‚??d save a few minutes‚?? shut eye that way. ¬†Mother Nature however had other ideas. ¬†Queen Charlotte Sound funnelled 150km/h Nor West winds (carrying torrential rain) our way. ¬†Which was very kind of her.
Michael having claimed the main cabin as his own, I found myself up above in the ‚??Row Box‚?Ě ‚?? which, when erect for sleeping, acts like a giant sail. ¬†I felt like one of those poor scallywags sent up The Endeavour‚??s mast mid-storm to untie a knot. ¬†As the hurricane gusted, Jucy rocked to and forth like a bucking bronco. ¬†And under the car park floodlights, the translucent walls of my makeshift bedroom lit up like an oriental lampshade. ¬†Not ideal conditions for sleep, it must be said. ¬†But then most people lucky to have full faculties of reason and anticipation could have told us that. ¬†Anyway.
The crossing wasn‚??t cancelled and that‚??s all that mattered. ¬†I folded myself up foetal styles under a table by a window and tried like a seasoned insomniac to switch my brain off. ¬†No such luck. ¬†Instead we poured off The Interislander wired like that poor raccoon we spotted by the 5th green at Sawgrass. ¬†Our lunchtime tee spot at Royal Wellington wasn‚??t looking so enticing in the ever heavier winds and lashing rain. ¬†They don‚??t call it The Windy City for nothin‚??. ¬†In the hope of consoling ourselves ‚?? indeed, escapism ‚?? Michael and I set course for a favourite suburban caf√© of ours. ¬†A stiff doppio and full breakfast would cure our ills. ¬†Not only was Caf√© Polo not open for the day; it wasn‚??t open again until the 18th of %#$@^!# January! ¬†Foiled. ¬†Apparently Wellington goes to sleep over the summer break, as everyone scarpers for calmer, sunnier pastures. ¬†So we set up camp at the nearby airport and attended to administrative duties for an hour or two. ¬†I was tempted to jump on a plane and escape to The Galapagos Islands. ¬†On another day I might have done just that.
Things started to look up when our host for the day ‚?? friend, mentor, last year‚??s hockey coach, next year‚??s boss ‚?? Dave, asked us up to his place for a pre-golf bruncheon. ¬†David‚??s lovely wife Nadine cooked up a storm of scrambled eggs on toast, followed by The Heaviest Most Decadent Christmas Cake Ever Baked. ¬†This thing could‚??ve anchored The Titanic. ¬†When Nadine said the special ingredient was Stone‚??s Ginger Wine, she may have thrown the bottle into the mixture too... ¬†Meanwhile we got to know Dave‚??s in-laws and watched England demolish the Aussies in Melbourne. ¬†All of a sudden Life started to course once more through my veins. ¬†Despite the force 9 gales knocking over mountains and buildings with arrogance, I was starting to feel less pessimistic about It All. ¬†Dave‚??s pal Mark (our fourth) was in with a grin too ‚?? so the parachutes were on and puregolf2010-plus-two was about to jump.
Don‚??t you love microclimates? ¬†When I tiptoed out of Dave‚??s truck onto the tarmac faint sunshine kissed me on one cheek and a gentle zephyr on t‚??other. ¬†Evidently even Mother Nature bows to those that play their golf with Her Majesty‚??s blessing. ¬†Back down the road in the Capital skyscrapers were toppling; up the road in The Rimutakas, conditions had been deemed unfit for driving. ¬†But in the midst of it all ‚?? in our own wee Royal microclimate ‚?? golf was not only possible but pleasurable. ¬†For the most part anyway. ¬†
We had the place more or less to ourselves, which is always a bonus. ¬†Hardly another golfer in sight; and not a hint of life in the clubhouse or pro shop. ¬†They‚??d all run for cover. ¬†Yet. ¬†Despite the wind and rain that had clearly swept through the Hutt Valley at some point, the course was in fantastic nick. ¬†Well drained fairways and pure greens. ¬†I‚??d played at Heretaunga once before; it was Michael‚??s first visit.
Impressions of the course? ¬†A lovely bubble around which to golf one‚??s ball. ¬†Mature trees and a couple of streams make for a therapeutic atmosphere. ¬†There aren‚??t many holes that blow you away, but Turner & MacPherson will apparently soon see to that ‚?? a far reaching re-design being in the pipeline. ¬†As it currently stands, I‚??d say Heretaunga is a Baltusrol-esque parkland layout that is agreeable without being (world) classy. ¬†With the land, water features and trees that they have, it could be really quite something. ¬†So we‚??re looking forward to seeing where they get to after The New Kids On The NZ Architecture Block take their diggers to it. ¬†A wonderful canvas, no doubt. ¬†And as I said, a pleasant paddock for golf. ¬†
Mark was great company and Dave entertained us with his pan-course adventures. ¬†In the circumstances, really a quality day out. ¬†Rounded off with a fine meal at Dave‚??s with even finer claret, and an evening of suitably philosophical chatter. ¬†(Watch out for a new political movement hatching out of Wellington next year...). ¬†Thanks David and Nadine ‚?? tres bon!
Greetings golf people of the world, Matt Cleary here, special guest blogging today for this tired pair of Kiwis who are travelling the world playing golf every single day of this year of our lord Dennis Lillee 2010. Greatest golf trip in history? Unless Donald Trump does it for a year with golden Mizunos and the Olsen twins as caddy, then I would suggest that yes: this is the greatest golf trip in the history of golf and of man.¬†
Who are these people? Jamie Patton and Michael Goldstein are their names, and so long have they been playing golf that they are dinkum looking like¬†numbats¬†that the cat dragged in. I‚??ve seen healthier road-kill. Michael‚??s hands are shaking and he has the golf tan of Tiger Woods in a solarium; Jamie has the haunted eyes of a prison camp survivor. They are so chafed and wind-burned they look¬†radiated.
And subsequently despite playing at venerable Royal Melbourne against myself and Aussie cricket fellow Brad Hodge, and doing it in the deciding Game III of our little Bledisloe Cup fandaglio, they were soundly beaten and the Bledisloe returned to its spiritual home of Hodgey‚??s place.
Yes, sports fans, on a hot and even humid Melbourne Friday (unusual conditions for the city, in that it wasn‚??t raining and sunny and cold and hot at the same time, but rather just hot, and a bit humid) Messrs Hodge and Cleary just about¬†stuffed¬†Patton and Goldstein on the sticky black greens of RM West. That‚??s right: stuffed. We smashed them. Smashed them. In the second-ball counts match-play scenario, Team Patton and Goldstein were routed 3-and-1 by Cleary and Hodge, and there was much rejoicing.¬†
Actually there wasn‚??t much rejoicing, because golfing around RMGC ‚?? venerable, storied host of the President‚??s Cup of 2011 ‚?? is already joyous a thing.
B.Hodge, for those that do not know, played six Tests for Australia and batted at an average of 58 and was dropped after scoring a double-hundred, (for American readers worry not ‚?? but it‚??s a bit like someone had didn‚??t pick Derek Jeter in an All-Star game) and is considered the ‚??unluckiest‚?Ě Australian cricketer of the last 15 years because the Australian Test cricket selectors are a pack of gibbering buffoons. That's right: stuffed. ¬†And gibbering buffoons.
So today Hodgey just plays one-dayers and Twenty-20s and smashes them all over the shop for the Kolkata Knight Riders (an unlikely name for a cricket team, but there you go), and plays a bit of golf at Victoria GC which hosted the Australian Masters that Stuart Appleby won. Nice fellah.¬†
And also a Massive Massive Burglar playing off 14 handicap, and so am I (off 12), it must be said, and that‚??s probably the reason we won the Bledisloe Cup, but such are the rules of golf and what are you going to do about them, quibble?
The Kiwis did, and often, muttering about ‚??scandals‚?Ě, though it comes out as ‚??skendells‚?Ě or something, who knows what the golf-crazed gibberers are talking about, particularly the half-Scottish one he‚??s got an accent like a drunken bagpipe having sex with a¬†goanna. Ha.
Royal Melbourne? Well. It‚??s Royal Melbourne, ranked 20th in the world or thereabouts, top-3 in Australia for a generation, it‚??s a prime PRIME chunk of golfing real estate in the best few square kilometres of golfing goodness on the Earth. We played the East Course which is a beautiful thing, with holes they combine with the West Course to form a Composite Course. We played a hole by mistake. Top stuff.
The boys had the television cameras following them around again and will be on One HD‚??s golf show called The Pro Shop, I dunno when it‚??s gonna be on but know this: it will be. Ask the Kiwis. Or write to Channel Ten, and ask. They would probably know.
Today these radiated Kiwi kids are playing the Moonah Course at The National (ranked 15th in Oz, and designed by Greg ‚??The Great White Shark‚?Ě Norman you may have heard of him, it‚??s got three courses in the Australian Top-50 gee it‚??s good. Next day they play Cosmopolitan or something like it (Corporation? Combination?, another of the sand-belters anyway), and then maybe Hodgey‚??s Victoria to finish their Oz Odyssey #2. And then they‚??ll be on the Home Run in the Home Country, the fine country of New Zealand, or as the locals say ‚??New Zealand‚?Ě.¬†
And goodbye for now.¬†
(It‚??s called Metropolitan, not Cosmopolitan. But it‚??s a ripper, and if you get a chance go down to Melbourne and play the Sandbelt, you bloody should. Take the Olsen Twins. They are hot.)
We‚??ve learn plenty about The West the last few days.¬† That Fremantle has one E.¬† That it‚??s a powerhouse of the Aussie economy and one of the wealthiest places in the world.¬† And that expats are common and the ‚??kiwi‚?? is not such a rare creature here - much to the angst of a few locals.
The Royal Fremantle GC sits in the middle of Fremantle, a small manageable satellite town from Perth that is now entirely surrounded by urban development but yet retains an alternative, hippy and distinctively local charm. ¬†¬†
We were up and playing early at Royal ‚??Freo‚?? so the Doctor was not yet at work.¬† He normally makes it in around midday, like clockwork during the summer months, and works away with increasing force until late in the night.¬†¬† Yesterday Alan told me that the Doctor is the main reason why daylight savings has been rejected here during three separate referendums ‚?? it‚??s better to have the daylight in the morning during the best part of the day before the wind whips up.¬†
Like Lake Karrinyup, Royal Fremantle is on a large undulating piece of land so holes are seriously influenced by the terrain.¬† However I think the routing of the front nine at Freo might be superior as the holes seem to always be winding through the trees in differing directions.¬† Admittedly the back nine has a bit of ‚??up and back‚?? but generally it‚??s a quality layout.
The course isn‚??t incredibly long and would be described as a local or members course.¬† The best kind of golf in my opinion! Our match started with a hiss and a roar as Ned and Bart began their rematch against puregolf in style.¬† They had plenty to prove after their dismal showing at The Cut and that they did as Ned was a new man at his home course.¬†¬† Drives were shaped with the fairways, barely a shot was missed and even his one handed chipping was On Song. ¬†
Bart even found form as he birdied three of the first six holes without missing a shot.¬†¬† The opening holes featured traditional features such as dogleg holes,¬† ‚??Ozzie bunkering (which after traveling the world over is still something special‚??) and small and simplistic greens.¬† After combining for 5 birdies in the first six holes we were rolling along nicely until we got to the par three 8th‚?¶¬†
The 8th is one of two holes that have been redesigned.¬† A short par three at around 140m, from the tee (pictured below) it looks like a glorious hole as the green angles away to the right and is protected by two front bunkers.¬† Us three young‚??uns missed the green - inexcusable but probably very common for the average player.¬† When we got up we saw that the effective landing area for the tee shot is actually incredibly small as the green is a sloping mess of turf - the kind of thing dreamt up after a particularly nasty night on the turps.¬† Getting up and down is nigh on impossible as well ‚?? particularly from the left as the huge shoulders on the green are too large ‚?? and realistically a ‚??1-in-20‚?Ě proposition.¬† This is too hard ‚?? you have to give people a chance, like they have on the rest of the golf course.¬† You can guess that three double bogeys later we trudged off to the next tee discussing the merits of the hole‚?¶
The course then reverts to type with some charming short par fours, 9 and 10, before the testing up and back duo of par fours 13 and 14 is where a score is made.¬†
[the signature par three 17th]
On the back nine we were joined by the gregarious Georgia who came down to join team puregolf on the backnine to try and wrestle the match away from the Irishman & Bart.¬† Georgia did all she could but unfortunately it was my golf in particular that let down the team (along with the magic of the Irish) as we couldn‚??t claw the deficit back.
But the back nine was all about the Stokes‚?? as this fine morning Ned and Georgia were celebrating their 43rd wedding anniversary.¬† And where better than at Royal Fremantle GC with a couple of vagabonds from New Zealand?
The 15th is the other hole that has been redesigned ‚?? a quirky uphill par four with a blind tee shot and water looming on the right.¬† The green can be reached down the (now strong) breeze for the really long hitters.¬† The green is very firm, like the 8th but appears to be flatter and more playable. Particularly for a short par four, and so it gets the thumbs up from me.
The finish is classical Freo stuff with the index one 16th hole swerving through the bush, the picturesque par three 17th where from the tee you look out across the ocean, and then the dogleg right par five 18th played back down to the clubhouse.¬† Handshakes and photographs later on the green our WA leg was over!!
But the back nine was all about the Stokes‚?? as this fine morning Ned and Georgia were celebrating their 43rd wedding anniversary.¬† And where better than at Royal Fremantle GC with a couple of vagabonds from New Zealand? ¬†¬†¬†We have got a few gents in trouble this year dragging them out to the golf course when they ought be doing other things, so it was great that we could reverse this trend and have Georgia out too at least for the back nine as we played as a 5!!¬†¬† Our time in WA has been a hugely successful and fun few days primarily thanks to the Stokes.¬† It‚??s been great to meet you guys and we‚??re hugely grateful for your help!¬† As we say often, we‚??ll see you in NZ sooner rather than later hopefully!
To the courtyard ‚?? we weren‚??t to be inside as there was a Serious Function inside ‚?? the cards were signed with JP just missing out on another under par round with a solid 72.¬†¬† The Serious Function?¬† The annual Governors match where the queens representative in WA and 15 colleagues have an afternoon of golf with the members.¬†¬† So the riff raff outside were having a Guinness and complementing our hosts on some spectacular golf and their 43 years of marriage and then we were summonsed.¬† The Governor would like to meet us.¬† And so we stumbled into the Serious Function to silence and many eyes upon us as His Excellency greeted us.¬† We both managed to awkwardly¬† greet him appropriately, JP particularly stammering it out as if the words ‚??your excellency‚?? were not part of the Scottish vocabulary.¬†
John (Club Captain) and Governor, Dr Ken Michael were terrificly positive chaps who made the situation as comfortable as it could be.¬†¬† And then all of a sudden a few words were being spoken about our journey.¬† I think I may have even cracked a joke at some stage‚?¶
The Governor was an awesome guy.¬† Hugely enthusiastic, particularly about young people, he really lit up telling us about a function he held last week which was packed out with bright young West Australians all doing things for the community.¬† He‚??s obviously a guy who has been very successful, has an amazing warmth and goes from function to function impressing people along the way. You might say he‚??s well practiced at it.¬†
Sans golf, we traveled to Melbourne. On the red eye missing a nights sleep and losing 3 hours against the clock. ¬†The most trying flight of the year and yet only 3 and a half hours long‚?¶
Jetlag hasn‚??t troubled us overly this year, but on this hot Wednesday morning in Perth we found ourselves fairly and squarely in The Twilight Zone. ¬†As usual Bart and me ended up in bed together; Mike had his own suite upstairs at Chateau Stokes, of course. ¬†Both The Gaffer and I started to make movements towards our packs, to get suited up suitably for the day ahead. ¬†Pyjamas off, golf shirts and shorts on. ¬†Only was something wasn‚??t quite right. ¬†I had a Matrix Moment. ¬†
Looking back at Bartos I asked him why we‚??d got up; hard the alarm actually gone off? ¬†He looked at his watch and saw it was 6.20am ‚?? the iPhone wasn‚??t scheduled to disturb our coma until 0800 hours. ¬†Ha! ¬†We‚??d obviously just taken it as given from the other‚??s movements that It Was Time To Rise. ¬†Back to bed then... ¬†Goldy burst through our door some half an hour later, and found us dozing away fully (golf) clothed. ¬†He too thought we were running late, and that it must be time to get up. ¬†I explained what had happened, and that he too had got himself confused. ¬†So y‚??er man buzzed off and we all snatched a crucial extra hour of shut eye. ¬†Much drool found its way onto my pillow (sorry Mrs. Stokes!).
Over breakfast with Ned & Georgia we weren‚??t much chat, but did our best. ¬†Each of us looked worse than the other ‚?? like we‚??d been on a 72 hour bender in Vegas and not held back one bit. ¬†How encouraging it was though that I summoned the coordination to get the cornflakes from the bowl into my mouth. ¬†Without falling asleep while the spoon was half way through its journey north. ¬†
Today‚??s golf was not your ordinary affair either. ¬†Sam Hartrick a chief champ boss captain skipper from the Aussie PGA ‚?? who‚??d helped us out with a game or two earlier in the year around Melbourne ‚?? dropped us a note a few days back. ¬†Want to play in the Australian Seniors Open Pro Am at Royal Perth on Thursday lads? ¬†Why not... ¬†‚??Fresh‚?Ě after a 3am landing we found ourselves at the golf club around 8 hours later. ¬†There we met Sam in person for the first time; had a chat with Channel 10 for a news piece; and spotted a few legends of the game on the putting green (Lyle, Torrance, Woosie, Chook Fowler, Terry Giles, etc). ¬†Oh, and it was 38 degrees Celsius.
Baker Finch was on the microphone inside talking to a gathering of adoring lady fans. ¬†Granted, for an Australian, he has a rather endearing brogue. ¬†When he was hitting balls on the range next to me some 15 minutes later though I didn‚??t feel the need to tell him so. ¬†(Pardon me: I should say, when I was hitting balls next to him...). ¬†Nor did I ask him about his careless misplacement of The Plot after the heights of his success. ¬†No folks I just watched with interest and an ounce or two of admiration as he pelted a few iron shots down the way. ¬†
Unusually Michael and me were split up ‚?? which both of us with the best of intentions would say made for a nice change. ¬†I was teamed up with Terry Giles ‚?? West Australian farmer turned legend of golf ‚?? and a couple of tremendous humans named Tim and Keith I can only assume by their respective parents. ¬†Tim being a sales guy for Avis Car Rentals (a sponsor) and Keith being a Wakefielder who has made his home in Queenstown of all places. ¬†Terry also had a formiddable caddy in the form of Val, a member at Royal Perth and from what I could gather a very competent golfer more or less of his vintage. ¬†In typical ‚??Strayan fashion he flirted the whole way around with Val by showering her with false abuse. ¬†Funny creatures these ‚??Strayans. ¬†
In the heat we did the best we could. ¬†Which didn‚??t happen to be that good. ¬†I too was having a good old tussle with the 626 million flies that had found their way from the desert to Royal Perth courtesy of the hot East Wind. ¬†Giving it the Perth Wave an‚?? aw that. ¬†My new friends seemed to be amused by my epic struggle ‚?? noting that this was a pretty mild day on the fly front ‚?? but I took no notice of their ridicule and concentrated on the battle at hand. ¬†Apparently these particular flies are especially fond of moisture too (go figure), so they go straight for moist areas like your mouth and eyes. ¬†Excellent.
The course itself was tighter than most Wellington law clerks, which I can assure you is very tight indeed. ¬†Having just spent a week in the deserts of Dubai and Abu Dhabi ‚?? where there are no trees ‚?? this was something of a shock. ¬†Mediocre shots were punished more punitively than very poor ones, in the sense that going a fairway either side of the correct one wasn‚??t necessarily the end of the world. ¬†It was all academic though because we played an Irish Stableford (take the best tee shot of the bunch and play out from there, taking the two best scores each hole). ¬†While Tim, Keith and I peppered the gums Terry would step up and deliver another gun barrel straight blow. ¬†He even appeared bored by his straightness, almost as if he longed to hit an errant shot. ¬†Either that or in his head he was cursing at having been paired with such a thicket of talentless nitwits. ¬†It takes a while to gauge Terry I found, but after a while (i.e. once you feel comfortable enough to start slagging him off) he lowers his guard. ¬†When he laughed at a shanked 9 iron I hit on one of the par 3s I knew we were friends...
Ned very kindly walked around the course and offered words of encouragement (it would have been hard for him to offer words of congratulations...). ¬†Amazingly he got sick of watching us play after a hole or two, and instead chose instead to watch hackers like Woosnam and Torrance embarrass themselves. ¬†Word is Woosie was looking good. ¬†But the answer is Melville...Alfie Melville, of course.
After a delightful few hours in the company of my new friends I found myself under the comforting shade of the clubhouse deck. ¬†Cold beer and deli snacks were being served up to an ever growing contingent of sun battered golfers. ¬†We chatted some more; surveyed the talent; and managed to escape before the dreaded prizegiving and accompanying speeches got under way. ¬†Result.
One big thank you must to go Sammy Hartrick and Royal Perth for allowing us the privilege of lowering the tone at the Pro Am. ¬†Ditto to Ned for being good enough to, well, feed us, house us, ferry us around, and not laugh at our golf. ¬†And a personal thank you to my playing partners for being such good company despite my jetlagged state of consciousness. ¬†‚??Twas indeed a grand (albeit blurry) episode of puregolf2010.
Georgia then made the best cheesecake ever made, which we demolished without hesitation out on the deck under the Fremantle evening sun. ¬†Not bad ay?
JP ¬† ¬†¬†
The world of golf is, in a word, idiosyncratic. ¬†Trotting the globe, moving from club to club, you come across some interesting sights; some interesting people; and of course some interesting golf courses. ¬†Royal West Norfolk (or ‚??Brancaster‚?Ě, among the well heeled) just about takes the cake. ¬†The sort of place that when I visit, I‚??m thinking ‚??how the hell am I going to describe this place to our readers?‚?Ě ¬†With great difficulty, is the answer.
It is a privilege to be able to write about our day at Royal St Georges as day 301 of puregolf was one of the very best days in a year of great days of golf. ¬†¬†¬†
Our day began with a 2 minute drive from the Dormy House at RCP across the private road demanding a 6 quid toll which, I think, if you‚??re off to the golf course you needn‚??t worry about.¬† But, of course, a 2 minute drive across narrow country roads becomes more like 10 when you‚??re stuck behind a tractor and the postie.¬† Wonder if they have to pay the toll as well?¬†
Upon arrival two gentlemen were waiting by the clubhouse for the kiwis to straggle on in, the tanks engine blaring like a lawnmower ruining the serenity of this links land such that the secretary almost had to come out to tell us to shut up. ¬†
Our two hosts today were of the Lucifer clan and go by the names of Paul Mitchell & Bertie Shotten.¬† Both men were incredibly welcoming to us and a huge thank you to them for having us here. ¬†¬†Being lucifers, they both have connections with Commonwealth countries and both chaps are heading out to New Zealand in the new year for the annual Lucifer tour.¬† After todays hospitality we‚??ve got quite the task at hand to reciprocate in Wellington!¬† Paul‚??s Lucifer connection is particularly strong. ¬†Follow carefully - his wife is the sister of the wife of Peter Costain our host from Rye. ¬†The father in law of both Peter and Paul is now ‚??The Senior lucifer‚?? and at the age of 99 I believe has only recently hung up his sticks.
So into the clubhouse we went where we changed our shoes, but first inspected the rich tapestry of golfing history that drips from the walls of this traditional and elegant clubhouse.¬† Many an Open Championship have been held here and famous names such as Walter Hagen, Bobby Locke, Sandy Lyle and my childhood golfing hero Greg Norman, feature.¬†
Without getting too carried away with the memorabilia out we went to tackle the course on a fresh but clear day with Bart kindly on my bag and also on the camera taking the imposing challenge of photographing this links off our hands.¬†¬†But don't get me wrong I think Bart was, along with all four of us, like a pig in mud just walking around this hallowed links land. ¬†
The match was laid down, Bertie and I taking on Paul and JP in a foresomes match.¬†¬† From the outset it seemed like this was more of a ‚??golfers club‚?? than some we have visited of late.¬† Both Paul and Bertie were both incredibly proud of their golf course and were both fairly competitive golfers.¬† I‚??d need to do more research but I wouldn‚??t be surprised if St Georges had a high proportion of members who really know how to hold a club ‚?? a bit like Pine Valley. ¬†So despite playing a foresomes, for the entire round each shot was talked through and generally well thought out and we all got a great look at the course.¬† Throughout the round the craic flowed and both Paul and Bertie had a fantastic warmth about them.¬† I‚??m sure that most members of RSG are ‚??upper-crust‚?? but these lads were down to earth, very supportive of our quest and really good fun!
I am now going to unashamedly talk about the Royal St Georges golf course which is the best golf course in England and is the host of the next Open Championship.¬† For those not interested in the golf, feel free to skip this part and go back to your latte and find another procrastination tool to get you through your morning at work. ¬†For those golf lovers, please read on.
First, the flags.¬† They are cool. ¬†The St Georges cross stands out on a small white flag, making depth perception difficult but most crucially being as distinctive as the big greens of The Old Course.¬†
[the old coal fired power station in the background which is now too costly to remove because of asbestos]
Early on the round the class of RSG makes itself known.¬† After a strong start you stand on the 4th tee with some of the most ghastly bunkers eyeing you right in the face.¬† Legend goes that Robert Allenby failed to clear the sand during the 2003 Open here and took 3 shots to get out en route to making a quintuple bogey 9.¬†¬† I know Robert is a reader of our blog (yeah right) so, for his sake, there is a friendly reminder about his favourite bunker below.
The par fours at RSG as a grouping stand out.¬† Numbers 2 and 4 require immense drives which can, played well, set up a birdie opportunity.¬† The 5th hole is a fantastic hole where the green is nestled behind the dunes leaving a blind second if you don‚??t place your drive well.¬† On the 5th Vijay (surely downwind) took aim 35 degrees left of the sane man and bombed it over the dunes and some 400 yards onto the green.¬† The 5th hole is pictured below.
Taking a pause from the fantastic par fours, the front nine is bisected by the signature hole, ‚??the Maiden‚??.¬† A par three nestled amongst the dunes and surrounded by bunkers and, like a maiden, a pleasure on the eye.¬† ¬†The Maiden used to be a blind hole played over the sand dunes, but RSG has adapted and there are now very few blind holes ‚?? a feature which pleases the R&A and the professional golfers as opposed to the more ‚??quirky‚?? traditional courses that have remained the same (i.e., Prestwick).¬†¬† The ‚??Maiden‚?? is pictured below. ¬†
There are only a couple of par fives on the course.¬† The first long hole (the 7th) JP hit a remarkable shot, yet to be seen in 301 days of consecutive golf, when he holed out from the bunker some 25 yards away by hitting the top of the flag and riding the flagstick down into the cup on the fly.¬† That gets the adrenaline pumping.¬† Lucky for he and Paul, that was for the half (in birdies) after y‚??er man Bertie had left me a mere 220 yards for my second shot in.¬† The second par five is the famous 14th and, along with JP‚??s celebrations, is pictured below.¬† The suez canal plays alongside the boundary by Princes with O.B. staring you in the face all the way down the right hand side, a burn at driving distance, and bunkers everywhere.¬† I gave an offering to the Princes rough from the tee, leaving Bertie displeased and stopping our run of quite a few consecutive pars, whilst JP and Paul played signature golf to take the hole.¬† I look forward to seeing how many of the pro‚??s succumb to the OB next year when the wind is howling from the left.¬†
Back to the par fours in the middle of the round, which, for me, turned a good golf course into a truly great one. You see, this course is not a traditional out and back style links and throughout the entire round the wind is constantly hurtling at you from all directions.¬† Add to this the constantly challenging green complexes on the 8th, 9th, 10th,12th and 13th holes and you walk off from that stretch truly impressed.¬†¬† Both the 9th and 10th holes are the type that make you stand there, wedge in hand, hoping for the life of you that you can keep it on the green and be spared the task of trying to get up and down.¬† The 12th and 13th holes could on a good day seem like simple birdie chances yet on a bad day ruin your round completely.¬† And the stroke one 8th is sublime.¬† I‚??ve photographed a couple of these holes and they are below.
[one of the most written about holes on the course the par four, stroke 1 index, 8th hole. ¬†The green is off in the distance between Bart and Bert and protected by both bunkers & dunes]
[Paul on the par four 9th hole]
[12 - one of my favourite mid length par fours. ¬†If you can drive it over the ridge it's an easy wedge onto the green. If not, you need to exhibit some local knowledge like Bertie did!]
[The 16th. A par three where Thomas Bjorn famously lost the Open in 2003 from the bunker on the right (hidden, but right next to the pin)].
The round finishes with a incredibly strong par four lined with bunkers but which is like ‚??links stadium golf‚?Ě because of the wide expanse along the fairway and green for the grandstands to go.¬† It will have great atmosphere next year and Paul and Bertie, as club members, will have the best seat in the house as stewards on the 18th.¬†
Into the clubhouse the RSG experience continued to improve as the tankards of beer came out and we were entertained by not only Bertie and Paul but by the senior Lucifer Fergus and his mate Robin ‚?? two accountants who had qualified many moons ago.¬†¬†¬† Fergus, an incredibly lucid chap, shared with us about his life running the family company including during his time in the South of Ireland where he had great time but missed RSG. ¬† ¬†We had a sparkling lunch, meeting not only members but visitors who were out to play the future host of the Open.¬† The visitors were chatting with the members in the sprig bar and we were introduced to a couple of Japanese businessmen out from the city.¬† Of course, our day finished with the customary Kummel, pints of the stuff no less which brings me to my closing plea. ¬†The Wolfschmidt brand of kummel is closing down and I know many a golfer who would be keen to invest in this company and continue to supply the golf clubs of the UK.¬† I‚??ve googled it without luck ‚?? anyone know anything about the Austrian spirits trade?¬†
A three page essay on RSG later I‚??m sure that no amount of writing can do this day justice.¬† So for those who have made it this far down I‚??ll leave it that, but to again put a huge thank you out to both Paul and Bertie and the entire Lucifer clan for entertaining us during a week of golf that will be forever etched into the memory.¬†¬†
The Kent Mission has been a much anticipated one. ¬†After the heathland interlude that has been the past few weeks, it was with great enthusiasm that we returned to the links. ¬†After four months of bumping and running, fescue has become our natural habitat; and a happy habitat it‚??s been at that. ¬†With the triumvirate of Royal Cinque Ports, Prince‚??s and Royal St Georges lying within a stone‚??s throw of one another this little slice of England had always been on our radar. ¬†Having Rye only an hour away over in East Sussex only served to multiply the magnetic pull. ¬†Four days to savour. ¬†
There was nearly a monumental balls up on my part but one Mark Chaplin ‚?? our fairy godfather ‚?? came to the rescue. ¬†You see we‚??d had a couple of invitations throughout the year to RCP, one of which I thought we‚??d locked in when in fact we hadn‚??t. ¬†Oops. ¬†So just a few days out I spot the mishap and scratch my head with fervent self loathing. ¬†Twit. ¬†As it happens though, Mark has come upon our website; seen we‚??re scheduled to play Deal on Monday (RCP‚??s colloquial name, taken from the town it borders); and enquired who our host was. ¬†I explain the situation and Mark rectifies it:
Jamie, I have put you down to play at 1030 as guests of the club... ¬†If you arrange to arrive around 0945 I will ensure you are met and taken care of...not sure if I can get down on the day, will try my best. ¬†You will meet Richard Craven the new captain who drives in this Sunday...and senior past Captain Findlay Gordon an R&A member and regular visitor to NZ. ¬†Your luncheon account will be on me. ¬†Mark
Absolute gentleman. ¬†Fortunately Mark did make it down so we were able to thank him in person. ¬†He‚??d taken the train down from Tumbridge ‚?? an hour or so away ‚?? to meet us, and to walk around for a few holes...before heading up into London for a meeting with Scotland yard (he‚??s a policeman). ¬†Now if that‚??s not hospitality I don‚??t know what is. ¬†Not only that either. ¬†Over coffee in the bar Mark asks us where we‚??re staying while down in Kent, and upon hearing that we‚??ve got a gap on Wednesday night he jacks up a stay in the dormy house for us too. ¬†The sort of guy who‚??d give the shirt off his back to anyone ‚?? ATTENTION New Zealand: when Mark Chaplin comes across please make sure that he is extended every thinkable courtesy and as many unthinkable ones as possible too.
Incidentally ‚?? the Captain‚??s driving in? ¬†I assumed Richard had spent the summer elsewhere, and was literally driving back to Deal to take up his post. ¬†And so naturally I asked Richard ‚??where have you driven in from?‚?Ě. ¬†Of course, ‚??driving in‚?Ě in this context means hitting a tee shot down the 1st hole to ceremonially mark the commencement of one‚??s tenure. ¬†In this case with a white hot golf ball fresh from the oven (they go further). ¬†Now I know. ¬†Muppet.
It was a crisp blue morning, the light darting in sideways from the low winter sun. ¬†The only visible clouds were homeonimbus (i.e. our breath). ¬†Findlay and Richard looked like they‚??d just robbed the Pringle factory, wrapped up in a dozen wooly sweaters. ¬†Findlay‚??s top layer looked as if it had been handed down through the generations and had the saggy appearance of being freshly pulled from the sea. ¬†Richard‚??s top layer (a V neck) was on backwards in what looked like a cunning ploy to keep his throat warm. ¬†
The Skipper and I were paired together to take on Young Goldstein and the Weegie (Findlay hails from Glasgow). ¬†Deal like the other traditional clubs down ‚??ere is a 2 ball club on most occasions, certainly on Mondays. ¬†I think green fee paying visitors can play a fourball on certain days. ¬†Our last game of foursomes was up at Muirfield some months ago, so we were looking forward to having another bite at the cherry. ¬†It adds colour to the game. ¬†Right away The Good Captain revealed himself to be an excellent putter, wielding a blade like instrument that‚??s no doubt lived across three centuries to devastating effect. ¬†Y‚??er man Faxon wouldn‚??t dare take this chap on for a bob on the putting green.
The course sits below the sea wall and is the southernmost of the links triumvirate of the Kentish coast ‚?? Royal St. Georges being next door and Prince‚??s immediately beyond. ¬†Indeed out at the turn you‚??re closer to the St Georges clubhouse than you are to the RCP one. ¬†The golf cognoscenti among you will know that Deal held The Open Championship back in 1920, so it‚??s one of The Fourteen. ¬†¬†¬†
Richard and Findlay were quite a pair; tremendous company. Findlay very Scottish (he even worked for DC Thompson in Dundee for a spell, before he had to move on because there was no longer a woman in the office whose company he hadn‚??t enjoyed! ¬†Which he won‚??t thank me for mentioning). ¬†Richard was very English (down the 18th I loved his utterance, ‚??now come on Richard, let‚??s hit something rather juicy‚?Ě). ¬†Quote of the day must have been his instruction to me on one of the (down wind short) par 3s: ‚??Jamie, I want to see you hit a firm wedge here with plenty of munch on it.‚?Ě ¬†Munch!
In the smart room upstairs we were looked after like kings by the lovely Laura. ¬†A hearty lunch avec dessert (Eton Mess, no less) was inhaled around a large round table in the bay window. ¬†Richard and Findlay had a couple of half baked bottles of vino left over from Richard‚??s driving in. ¬†Or that was their story anyway ‚?? I think they‚??ve always got a bottle handy for a wee tipple. ¬†Being sociable characters and all. ¬†
Perhaps the highlight of the day was Story Time. ¬†Findlay produced the club scrap book, an ancient looking beast jam packed with good humour and the odd newspaper clipping of a successful member (notably Karen Stupples, who hails from RCP and who won the Weetbix Women‚??s Open a few years back at Sunningdale). ¬†One of the better letters was one Findlay wrote as the then Captain to The First Admiral of The Sea, concerning a member whom Findlay hoped would be called away to sea rather than being able to attend a club function. ¬†But the best one for mine anyway was An Absolute Stomper. ¬†
An eccentric and revered past Captain of the club is one Major David Morris, and he had a dog named Badger who accompanied him around the course frequently. ¬†Now, as y‚??all know the English golfscape has struck as being hugely dog friendly. ¬†Not so with Deal. ¬†Permission to take your hound out on course comes and goes here, apparently. ¬†Badger must have been defecating in the wrong spots, because the good Major received a letter from the Secretary asking that he desist from keeping Badger‚??s company on course, on account of the mess he was making. ¬†Naturally Badger himself penned a response, that went something like this (I emphasise the ‚??something‚?Ě because I don‚??t have the letter in front of me...):
I take exception to your assertion that my behaviour has been unbecoming of a Deal member... ¬†Over the past twelve years I estimate that I have walked some six thousand miles around the links, and that I‚??ve supported the half way house to the tune of seven hundred sausages... ¬†
No one writes letters like this these days, it seems. ¬†And what a shame too. ¬†I salute you Badger (Major David) Morris for your wit, and commitment to the club. ¬†And I thank Richard, Findlay, Ken, Mark and Laura for making our RCP experience a delightful one. ¬†Will be back. ¬†With bells on.
The golf world is full of tenuous claims ‚?? ‚??Tom Watson when he came here said this...‚?Ě, ‚??this is Ben Hogan‚??s favourite hole in the world,‚?Ě ‚??people have been playing golf here since Egyptian times...‚?Ě, etc etc. ¬†Some are credible, some you fire a wry smile at and change the subject. ¬†Westward Ho!‚??s claim to be the oldest course in England falls into the former category. ¬†For me, its credibility derives entirely from two sources. ¬†The first is the name, which is so immediately and intensely endearing that one can‚??t help but swallow anything fed to one about the club with lustful appetite. ¬†Second, is the place itself ‚?? clubhouse and course. ¬†So steeped in ancient dust and that smell of oldness is the clubhouse ‚?? and so quirky and St. Andrews-like is the course itself ‚?? that there can be no doubting Westward Ho!‚??s claim. ¬†Plus it‚??s Royal North Devon to us underlings ‚?? giving another, royal, stamp of approval. ¬†I rest my case.
Quite apart from all the history, RND is also just a tremendously pleasant place to visit. ¬†Mark the Secretary had kindly accommodated our request for a visit at relatively short notice (and a rescheduled tee time in light of burst tyre on the M5 to boot). ¬†When we met the man himself he was delightful, and spoke with what I can only assume is a thick Devonshire accent. ¬†In a past life he may have been a gentleman farmer. ¬†But that‚??s beside the point ‚?? Mark couldn‚??t have been more welcoming, something y‚??er man on the street doesn‚??t always expect when he visits a Royal club. ¬†(Truth be told, we‚??ve found most of the Royal clubs we‚??ve visited ‚?? some 14 or so, by now ‚?? to be among the most welcoming we‚??ve experienced this year). ¬†When in his presence, our three were like naughty school boys visiting the headmaster. ¬†I say that because we were standing in his office ‚?? which is just offset from the lounge / museum, where the members were sitting with apple juice in hand ‚?? in our socks, there being no spikes allowed in this part of the building and our loafers being back in the car. ¬†An unorthodox but warm encounter. ¬†
On the putting green we got talking to a very pleasant chap who looked and sounded like a pirate. ¬†An affable pirate, of course, who was clearly off duty from pillaging ships off the Devonshire Coast. ¬†Which, by the way, is nothing short of stunning. ¬†As we surveyed the vistas in front I couldn‚??t help but draw parallels with Waterville over in Ireland, which has a similar wow factor. ¬†Added to the mixer was the enchanting village of Bideford behind, set against the hill. ¬†All I could wonder was how many times this place has been invaded by the Normans and the Vikings (more likely) and the Romans (most likely) and every other dastardly uninvited guest through The Ages. ¬†In any case, today was the day of The puregolf2010 Invasion. ¬†What a windy day we‚??d picked for it too.
From the 1st tee you immediately get a sense that you‚??re not about to play an orthodox course. ¬†A burn gurgles some 50 yards or so ahead. ¬†A wide fairway opens up yet further ahead. ¬†Another burn / ditch runs along the right side of the hole. ¬†To the left is rough that you wouldn‚??t wish on anyone. ¬†Even your most bitter adversary. ¬†Nope, not even him. ¬†30 yards short of the surface snakes the same burn (it‚??s a short par 5, by the way) that was a‚??snakin‚?? before. ¬†Then there‚??s a fairly wide open green complex with little standing guard other than a flat-ish sandpit. ¬†In benign conditions the big boys would tear this up. ¬†However. ¬†I‚??d be surprised if the odds at William Hill on there being two calm days in a month were not longer than the Danube. ¬†This be windy country. ¬†And, like The Old Course at St. Andrews ‚?? Westward Ho!‚??s ever so slightly more ancient northern cousin ‚?? the course needs it. ¬†
A Sou‚?? Wester wind, coming from Bideford and beyond, makes the front nine a fairly gentle proposition. ¬†Relatively speaking. ¬†The inward nine on the other hand is a devil of a thing in such conditions ‚?? the sort of nine that you‚??d happily walk off having played within a shot or two of your handicap. ¬†Ahhhh, links golf.
On the third tee we spotted our first rafter bunker ‚?? something I‚??ve always thought the south of England is famed for. ¬†(Is it?). ¬†This miscreant was deeper than Barry White‚??s voice and apparently fortified with every tree felled in the northern hemisphere 116 years ago. ¬†A huge expanse of a hazard. ¬†Now, without sounding overly self-assured, The Thing wasn‚??t in play for us. ¬†In this wind the 385 yard hole was almost driveable (Mike and I were just short of the front edge). ¬†We did however witness a few more mature golfers toiling away ‚?? ‚??thud‚?Ě after ‚??thud‚?Ě ‚?? as we walked to the 17th tee, some hours later. ¬†Not funny of course, but mildly amusing.
More remarkable bunkering was to be found on the par 3 5th. ¬†Every shape and size of hole ‚?? a bit like Pine Valley in this sense; you look down in misbelief that someone‚??s been bold enough to cut a hole in the ground in this shape. ¬†We‚??ll blame it on the Romans for now.
Again, dog walking was a feature of this very traditional slice of golf land. ¬†Natural I suppose, given people like to walk their dogs by the seaside, and the UK‚??s coastline is peppered with prime golf terra firma. ¬†Often it means you have an audience when teeing off; an audience that unlike you probably doesn‚??t see one iota of sense in chasing a wee white ball around scrubby ground. ¬†Sometimes even the dogs look on with bemusement, even disdain. ¬†In such cases I stare ‚??em out and invariably win the battle of machismo (most probably they get a whiff of a good looking bitch down on the sand and decide they‚??d rather be looking at her posterior than my repugnant dial).
Bart on a number of occasions would blurt out ‚??this is the best designed golf course I‚??ve ever played.‚?Ě ¬†Quite spellbound was our gaffer. ¬†I was surprised at his preoccupation with this most quirky and fun of golf courses, given the real possibility that his mind could be elsewhere. ¬†Bart you see had met a wonderfully exotic ladyfriend the night prior who‚??d taken to his Kiwi charm like a bee to honey. ¬†Friends you‚??ll be pleased to hear the feeling was mutual. ¬†And so, I expected, pining could get in the way of his enjoyment of RND. ¬†But it didn‚??t. ¬†Indeed the three of us ‚?? like a trio of school pals at the beach on their summer holiday ‚?? were in our element, breathing in the salty Devonshire air. ¬†And pirate spotting. ¬†And staring out dogs.
Life changed when we turned into wind. ¬†Fresh off a solitary front nine birdie on the par 3 8th my tail was up, then quickly blown back down. ¬†Par 5s became par 5 and a halfs; par 4s became par 5s. ¬†Pars on the scorecard were replaced with bogeys. ¬†A right battle we had on our hands. ¬†
At RND you will find holes that you won‚??t find anywhere else. ¬†Like the 13th, deceptively named ‚??Trap.‚?Ě ¬†The only trap is the name, which leads you to believe you‚??re being trapped. ¬†In fact the 12th has one of the widest ‚?? if not The Widest ‚?? landing zones I have ever laid eyes on. ¬†Yet from the tee all you see is gorse in front and in the foreground on both sides ‚?? and so you assume it‚??s tight like a tiger the whole way to the green. ¬†When it‚??s not. ¬†A lone bunker guards the ‚??fairway‚?Ě and a couple of greenside bunkers ‚??guard‚?Ě what may be the most wide open green complex in the northern hemisphere. ¬†More threatening were the two horses munching down chlorophyll behind the green like it was going out of fashion. ¬†Oh, did I mention the wildlife? ¬†By this point, we‚??d also met the acquaintance of sheep and cattle. ¬†The horses then rounded off the barn animal complement. ¬†
Equally as quirky was the 440 yard par 5 14th. ¬†Straight into the Great White Shark Teeth of the hurricane. ¬†3 bunkers guarding the LZ (as we called it back in ‚??Nam), but 34 acres of light rough on either side of said sandpits in which to park your tee shot. ¬†Then it‚??s a heave with a 3 wood or long iron. ¬†Followed by a pitch or a chip (no, you won‚??t be keeping it on this green in twe). ¬†To say that the green is an upturned saucer would be to say you‚??re all sick of my pointless ramblings ‚?? a bloody great big understatement. ¬†More like an ice cream cone. ¬†Pitching from 50 yards to it ‚?? in a howling gale ‚?? is no enviable task; I suspect the Texas Wedge comes out frequently when the old boys are out ‚??ere. ¬†No one would build a hole like the 14th and that, my friends, is a shame.
The rest of the round is something of a blur: a struggle into the wind, past cowpats, over roads and burns and God knows what else. ¬†I do remember though that it was a boatload of fun. ¬†There‚??s that word again: Westward Ho! Is a fun name to say and an even more fun course to play. ¬†Fun, fun, fun.
Three weary Kiwis washed away the cobwebs in the shower, then perched by the fire with a couple of locals. ¬†There we drank pints and pints of OJ and lemonade; ate a fill of chippies; and put the world to rest with our new friends, whose names sadly have escaped me. ¬†Let‚??s call them Bert and Eddie, for those are two names befitting of these cheerful and somewhat long in the tooth characters. ¬†Exchanges like this are in many ways what puregolf2010 is all about ‚?? spontaneous, interesting and banterous. ¬†(At this point, Microsoft is telling me something that my ‚??friends‚?Ě have long asserted: namely, that ‚??banterous‚?Ě is not a proper word, and I shouldn‚??t use it ‚?? WELL, to hell with you Microsoft and to you, my righteous so-called friends; I‚??m using it anyway).
Mark popped his head around the corner and insisted that we pop our heads back into the office before leaving. ¬†After we‚??d inspected the riches of the museum (honours boards going back to 1874; medals of biblical age; clubs from times gone by that look improbably difficult to use; paintings of The Great Triumvirate Braid, Vardon and Taylor (the latter having been a past Captain); etc etc) we did just that. ¬†Much to our amazement Mark produced four wonderful prints of the course and of RND mischief gone by ‚?? a gift to us, to auction off for The First Tee when we make it back home in December. ¬†What a gentleman. ¬†Folks warm up your wallets; these are of a rare beauty. ¬†They were done as a fundraiser for the upcoming 150th anniversary of the club, and will look spiffing on your wall. ¬†
On that note, a sincere thank you to Mark & Westward Ho! for their incredibly gracious hospitality, and touching gift. ¬†Today was a real step back in time and a tremendous amount of...fun!
JP ¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† ¬† ¬†
This week we‚??ve had a few lessons on the geography of the Lancashire Coast in England‚??s North West.¬† Manchester, Liverpool & Preston are all twin cities and pretty much blur into one and this being a very heavily populated part of the world means that getting to and fro each coastal golf course has had its moments. ¬†We‚??ve had two bases for the week, Wayne & Gail‚??s place on the west of Manchester, and with Charlie and Vera Donald in Southport.¬† The destination for today was equidistant of the two, south of Liverpool at Hoylake.¬†¬† So the plan was hatched that we‚??d stay with Wayne & meet Charlie at the course at 745 sharp before heading back to Southport to stay for the next couple of nights.
So it was up at 520am & farewell to the family before we hit the road by 6, JP singing you'll never walk alone at the top of his lungs and the tank well and truly at sixes and sevens.¬† Firstly she wouldn‚??t start, and then we drove along with our broken window flapping as I struggled to look out through the crack in the windscreen. ¬†¬†Fortunately we‚??d allowed for plenty of time and after a congestion free ride down the M58 & M6 we pulled into the township of Hoylake well before 730am to a deserted clubhouse.
The course at Hoylake, of course, was Royal Liverpool and this would be our third Open Championship venue in the last four days. ¬†At last count this was our 10th course we've played to host the Open and hopefully by the time we leave these fair shores we would have had a crack at 'em all. ¬†Pulling into the car park I was taken by the formality of the club as the clubhouse sits grandly covered in ivy and the memorabilia almost pours out from the walls inside.
Our host for the day, who had arranged the game early before an invitation tournament was to close the course the rest of the day, was [ a proud member named Michael, a local lawyer whose family practice has gobbled up a few firms over the years and now is about the size of our old stomping grounds back in NZ. ¬†
Lets talk about Hoylake, the course which has recently got back on the Open roster since 40 years or so in the wilderness and hosted the 2006 Open where Tiger triumphed by hitting 2 iron all week off the tee. ¬†Hoylake was founded in 1869 on what was then the racecourse of the Liverpool Hunt Club. ¬†The majority of the layout is what was laid out by Harry Colt in the early 20th century. ¬†Since Colt's work the course has seen a number of changes, and our host Michael, being a long serving member of the club was able to tell us about much of the history of the routing of the course.
What was still close to mind was the week of the 2006 Open where the famed winds did not blow but the course was set up hard and fast, far more difficult than the softer conditioning we experienced and what the members are used to. ¬†Michael told us there was so much roll that all of the par fives were easily reachable in two (making it effectively a par 68 and so no-one beat the course). ¬†Today we were fortunate enough to have a whirl from the championship tees and with a light breeze getting up the course played long but was very fair.
The course has its share of quirks such as the internal out of bounds around the practice ground to the right of both the 1st and 16th holes. ¬†Both these holes bend at almost 90 degrees around the practice ground (which for the Open becomes a tent village making the OOB far less imposing). ¬†¬†The first is "Prestwick style" daunting ‚?? on both the tee shot and the approach shot the OOB looms directly on the right ‚?? it is barely 5 feet from the edge of the green!¬† During the Open the course started on the 17th hole, and so it wasn‚??t the first and second swings of the day that those boys had to hold their nerve 7 not go right to prevent a disaster start.
Internal out of bounds used to be more of a quirk here when it was originally built around the racecourse and the club didn‚??t own all the land, but over time this issue has subsided and now the only internal OOB is the aforementioned practice ground. ¬†The best way to understand the internal OOB by the practice ground is to look at this overhead photo:
[a profile view of the first green - see how close the OOB is]
The bunkering here is quality, like other open venues and any links course worth its salt. ¬†The two biggest factors you need to control around a flat and exposed links like this are your line, and your trajectory. ¬†If you get the ball running at the bunkers, it will invariably go in. ¬†If you hit it high in the wind - you're in the hands of the golfing gods. ¬†Below is an indication of the bunkering - in this instance around the green of the short par four second hole. ¬†
For the Open a few championship tees were used to really stretched the course out.¬† The first such tee was on the stroke one, 490 yard par four 5th hole where neither Jamie or I could reach the fairway with our drives.¬† ¬†But we both escaped the gorse left and right and from just short of the fairway I knocked a 3-wood onto the green and made birdie which felt like eagle.
[the view from the championship tee on 5]
[the 5th green complex. ¬†The simplicity of the greens is a feature here]
The next hole has a brilliant blind tee shot over a hedge with out of bounds left.¬† Not knowing what awaits us at the fairway is a feeling we have become well & truly used to after playing 270 new courses in a row so it was a case of head down and good contact over the stake.
The par three 7th hole was remodeled some years ago.¬† The old hole was polarizing ‚?? from what I understood there was a road and out of bounds directly to the left of the green such that a shot hit even on the green would often roll out of bounds.¬†¬† The staunchest supporter of the old hole had actually made a score of 12 there during one medal round but he still stood by the hole through numerous deliberations at the club as to whether it should be changed.¬† Now this hole is normalized into a state where the course can host a modern Open Championship.¬† Still, I would have loved to see and play the old 7th to see what all the fuss was about!
The stretch from 9 through 12 plays along the coastline with the Welsh coast and a huge windfarm framing the panoramic view.¬†¬† These holes play with the prevailing wind coming from the left and are a great stretch.¬† 9 is an old fashioned sunk green, something not ordinarily seen on a modern championship course, 10 is a strong par four to an elevated green with a huge roll-off right, 11 is a long par three to a green amongst the dunes, and 12 is Tiger‚??s hole ‚?? a 450 yard par four through fairway bunkers to an elevated green perched on the perimeter of the property with all kinds of trouble (read the ocean) left and again a severe roll off right.¬† It‚??s Tiger‚??s hole because he knocked a 2 iron, 4 iron into the hole to make eagle 2 here en route to his victory in ‚??06.¬†¬† Trying to emulate him I managed my flushest two strikes in a month to hit 2 iron, 6 iron to 20 feet and saw the putt drop for a memorable birdie.¬† Such shots have been few and far between of late as my scoring average has increased by almost 10 shots per round as fatigue ‚?? both mental and physical, and a dodgy swing have got the better of me since leaving Scotland.¬† Today was like going back in time a couple of months and there was some semblance of consistent ball striking. ¬† Unfortunately for Michael and I, the opposition of Charlie and JP were dovetailing beautifully and the match was quickly getting out of our grasp. ¬†Charlie, after his putting woes of the last couple of days had resisted temptation to resort to his old side saddle style and was starting to roll one or two in.. that cheered up the old bugger - he's a competitive chap and doesn't like losing!
[the old fashioned sunk 9th green. Blind from the fairway unless you can bomb it well down the left]
[looking back down the 10th hole]
[the par three 11th - the ocean in the backdrop]
[from both the tee and the green on the classy 12th hole]
After the par three 13th (which rounds off a solid set of par threes all of different distances and all which play to different directions of the compass) the course loses a tad of momentum.¬† 14 and 15 are up and back and very flat with the defense being the wind and the pot bunkers (although 15 is one of few greens on the curse with a tiered green) and could do with a couple more strategically placed bunkers.¬† 16 is an interesting par five played at right angles around the practice ground (see the aerial photograph above coming back towards you) such that if you take the racing line down the right your second will be all carry across the out of bounds and onto the green.¬† A daunting hole where you could easily make a 3 or 7..¬†¬† 17 and 18 are out and back par fours from the clubhouse, 17 with a new green replacing what was once the Lancashire equivalent of the road hole where the road was immediately beside the green ‚?? but health and safety got the better of that quirk and now the new Hawtree designed green has plenty going on but doesn‚??t push my buttons. ¬†Didn't help that on this green it was caps off and hand shakes all around as Michael and I were finally put out of our misery.
[charlie knocking it on the green on the 16th]
As we were walking down the 18th attention turned to the clubhouse where gentlemen from across the North-East of the USA had congregated to take part in a match with the locals. ¬†Michael informed me he had another round to play this afternoon, followed by 2 the following day - now that's commitment! ¬†So in we went to shower up and tour the clubhouse. ¬†We saw all kinds of memorabilia from Tiger's nike bladed 2 iron to celebrations of Bobby Jones' triumph in the 1930 Open here en route to his famous grand slam victory.¬†
In the bar we were meeting other traveling golfers left right and centre from clubs such as Myopia, Brookline, Pine Valley and Somerset Hills. And who would we see from Somerset Hills but our host from that fine day a couple of months back, the great Rory Corrigan - the legend who the day after our round took Dodgy for an early morning drive, on his 60th birthday no less, to meet us for a quick coffee before our sleep deprived but extraordinarily memorable round at Plainfield (it's a long story but I encourage you to work your way back through the blog roll to read all about it). It's a small world this wide world of golf - and Rory is one of those champions that just epitomise the collegiality of it all. ¬†We had a team hug & wished Rory well for his afternoon match (I believe he was captaining the side for the afternoon). [Postscript - I have just heard that today Rory, John Miller (from Plainfield) and Slambino have been out golfing together which is very cool]
And with that I must bring this rant to an end. ¬†Hoylake was epic - an absolute must play course for any golfer. ¬†Thanks to Michael for looking after us, and a huge thank you to Charlie for rounding up his lads from the Mersey to help us with this week. ¬†
What a cracking afternoon at Royal Lytham & St Annes! ¬†And after a month of rubbish golf it was nice to string together a few decent shots on this beauty of a course. ¬†Our golf today was organised thanks to my uncle Wayne Goldstein who is a barrister in Manchester and wrote to the club explaining our quest. ¬†After a series of correspondence we were kindly hosted which was fantastic. ¬†As I write this blog post some 10 days later I can report we have not had the same welcoming from all English courses and arranging a round of golf has, at times, proved rather difficult. ¬†
We have been staying with Wayne and his wife Gail the last few days which has been fantastic. ¬†It has been a chance for me to get to know them both (prior to earlier this year on tour in Australia I had only met Wayne as a very young boy) and also recuperate in the comfort of their house. ¬†After our game at Lytham we got some bad news as I mentioned in my previous blog post and now both my parents and Wayne & Gail have headed back to Australia.¬†
After our golf at Royal Lytham we all went out for dinner in Lytham. ¬†John & his wife, my parents, Wayne & Gail and us puregolf lads enjoyed a spot of italian to top off a cracking day. ¬†I would like to thank everyone involved, John for hosting us, Wayne & Gail for having us all stay (they've had 3 Goldstein, an O'Connell and a Patton) and my folks for coming all the way out to see us!
The golf? I've left that to a youtube style course tour which hopefully will do the course justice. ¬†If, for some reason you can't get on youtube - you should move mountains to watch this one - Royal Lytham & St Annes is one of my favourite courses of the year....
Royal Birkdale is a name most golfers would be familiar with. ¬†It‚??s on The Open roster (held a casual 9 of ‚??em) and held The Ryder Cup on two occasions. ¬†Not to mention The Walker Cup, The Curtis Cup and Women‚??s British Opens. ¬†In terms of pedigree Birkdale (ROYAL Birkdale, pardon me) is right up there. ¬†And so it was really a great privilege to be paying a visit, on our second day in England. ¬†Our first taste of the links fruit of Lancashire. ¬†Mmmmmmmmmmmm.
A fine gentleman by the name of Andrew Maxwell was our host. ¬†Andy / Max belongs to The Hittites, a society made up of upstanding humans drawn from the Lancashire clubs (spiritual home: Royal Liverpool). ¬†They play matches against other societies like The Pirates (Muirfield) and The Grizzlys (Bridge Pa!), and generally keep the game‚??s great traditions alive. ¬†One of their number ‚?? Charles Donald ‚?? brokered our games at Birkdale, Formby, Royal Liverpool and Wallasey (despite having never met us). ¬†More on Charlie later. ¬†
Max and his pal Jonathan / JD (the pair have been friends since primary school) met us in the clubhouse for a quick club sandwich before play. ¬†It was a right cold afternoon, the wind biting through our pullovers on the dash to shelter. ¬†Which we found in the form of a lovely big art deco clubhouse, one of the more striking structures we‚??ve seen on our travels. ¬†Very distinctive.
The introduction to perhaps England‚??s most revered links wasn‚??t a gentle one. ¬†450 yards straight into the teeth of that bitter wind. ¬†Faldo apparently reckons it‚??s one of the best opening holes in the world, because you ideally should draw your tee shot and fade your approach. ¬†(That assumes that your ‚??approach‚?Ě is your second shot.... - but he‚??s onto something). ¬†
One of the features of the course became apparent straight away: hardly ever do you see another hole from the one you‚??re currently playing. ¬†Some people place great emphasis on this as being indicative of a great golf course. ¬†I myself don‚??t see it as being so important ‚?? but in many cases, as at Birkdale, it makes for a lovely surprise each time you stand on the tee and process what‚??s unfolding in front of you. ¬†You also feel like you‚??re the only ones playing the course.
By the 5th tee I remember Andy pointing out the Artisans‚?? clubhouse, a wee white structure nestled behind a hedge. ¬†This was the first example I‚??d seen first hand of one of the game‚??s fine traditions. ¬†A bunch of artisans ‚?? be they electricians, plumbers, or whatever ‚?? get to play the course and hang out in their wee clubhouse on the condition that each year they give a certain amount of their time to the upkeep of the place. ¬†I forget how many hours it was, but it sounded like a fair deal to me. ¬†Bet there‚??s some good craic in that wee lounge from time to time...
Another thing that struck me about the course was how much ‚?? in parts ‚?? it reminded me of Paraparam‚?? back home. ¬†The dunes were of a similar stature; the odd pine tree lurked, although not really anywhere that should create peril; and the simplicity of some of the holes was endearing. ¬†Like the 5th. ¬†No fairway bunkers until you approach the green; just a semi-blind tee shot to a left elbow fairway. ¬†
As we marched up the fairways Andy and JD would have the occasional summit meeting to discuss matters of the club. ¬†JD (though he wouldn‚??t tell you, Andy had to draw it out of him) chairs The Championship Committee, a post he holds until the next Open (2014). ¬†The pair are obviously well involved in what is, if we‚??re being honest, one of the world‚??s great clubs. ¬†And yet you couldn‚??t find two more unassuming chaps, who seemed just pleased to be sharing their muse with us. ¬†
Our four paused for quiet reflection after 9. ¬†And for a cup of Joe to warm up the pipes. ¬†Then the golf course, for mine anyway, got even better. ¬†Each hole made you think. ¬†Y‚??er man Hawtree apparently came in before the last Open was held here, and did a bit of bunkering work. ¬†Having not seen the course prior to his changes, it‚??s hard to evaluate whether the lad has his head screwed on. ¬†Nevertheless Andy and JD were able to enlighten us on a few of the alterations, and they all seemed quite sensible to me (perhaps with the exception of the eccentric 17th green). ¬†Certainly the tee shots were as demanding as you might expect for an Open track ‚?? and we didn‚??t even play it off the backs!
I thought 12 and 13 were two of the better holes on the course: 12 being a short par 3 reminiscent of its counterpart at Muirfield, 13 being a long-ish par 4 to a magnificent green complex that I couldn‚??t help but photograph. ¬†Check ‚??em.
As with many courses steeped in history, we found a plaque to photograph. ¬†We like plaques. ¬†This one commemorated Arnie‚??s win here in 1961, which of course was around the time when y‚??er man started to put The Open back on the map with his charisma and determination to win over here. ¬†I couldn‚??t help but reflect on what a shame it was that we didn‚??t catch him at Bay Hill back in June. ¬†The 16th itself, where the plaque lies, is a gorgeous wee short par 4 in itself. ¬†And in broken sunshine the green complex looked quite magnificent.
From the 18th you could see glimpses of Hillside next door ‚?? apparently another very good club which unfortunately we don‚??t have the time to play. ¬†Tales of its back nine are legion. ¬†Anyway we had something of a treat ahead of us yet, in the form of that famous par 5 that Justin Rose pitched in on in 1998 when O‚??Meara won. ¬†A good 3 shotter into the wind. ¬†
Andy introduced us to his lovely wife inside, who was attending the ladies medal presentation. ¬†We got out of the girls‚?? way and were shown around the clubhouse, every wall of which is covered in fascinating memorabilia. ¬†There are photos of past champions, letters of gratitude from distinguished visitors, paintings of the course and all sorts of other interesting Stuff. ¬†You could tell Andy was (quite rightly) proud to be a part of the club that is Royal Birkdale GC. ¬†If he‚??ll forgive me for saying, he was like a primary school kid showing a new friend around his bedroom, and all the toys in his toy chest. ¬†A delightful way to follow up our first experience of Lancashire links.
Post farewells it was off down the road to Southport, to stay with our man Charlie. ¬†He and Vera had just got back from the south of France, where they holiday every year in an old cottage they‚??ve bought and done up. ¬†Must be tough coming back to Lancashire after a bit of late summer French sun (and the rest). ¬†Charlie (again, like JD) is a modest man ‚?? being a Scot it somewhat goes with the territory ‚?? who played hockey for Great Britain at the ‚??68 Olympics in Mexico City. ¬†First Olympian we‚??ve stayed with I reckon. ¬†Over the next couple of days we would have one of the most memorable episodes of homely hospitality of the year. ¬†Great company. ¬†Vera baked us several cakes (Charlie was left instructions to make sure we had a piece to go with our cup of tea when we got back from golf...), and conjured a lovely meal or two as well. ¬†We pondered the more significant questions in life with Charlie (and Vera too), and talked a lot of tripe to boot. ¬†The sort of people you could spend days on end with and never get sick of. ¬†Given they‚??re off to Nu Zillin for a month in February ‚?? to play a few golf matches across the country ‚?? we also sang for our supper by acting as NZ consultants, giving instructions on where to stay, play, eat, etc etc. ¬†Tourism NZ should have us on the payroll!
JP ¬† ¬† ¬†
Driving along the Giants Causeway Coastal Route your eyes are accosted by some spectacularly impressive sights. ¬†It‚??s an area rich with eye candy (not of the adolescent schoolboy type, although maybe that too?). ¬†First there‚??s Dunluce Castle which though only a skeleton of its former self nonetheless casts a bold silhouette on the cliff tops. ¬†Then, just a couple of bends later, a panorama of supersized dunes assaults you. ¬†Massive creatures that they are. ¬†You wonder, ‚??surely we‚??re not going to be chasing a wee white thing between those mountains of sand are we?‚?Ě ¬†Of course, you are.
Royal Portrush would be one of the more famous tests of golf on God‚??s Good Earth ‚?? certainly on The Emerald Isle. ¬†[N.B. In Ireland, if something ‚??would be X‚?Ě, anywhere else in the English speaking world it ‚??is X‚?Ě]. ¬†It would lie along a spectacular stretch of Nor‚??n Irish coastline near Causeways Built For Giants, famous distilleries known as Bushy Mills, and little fishing towns. ¬†And it would be the home of the current US Open Champion (although McDowell belongs to the more ‚??local‚?Ě Rathmore Club, not Royal Portrush itself). ¬†A sign on the town boundary reminds you that you‚??re entering the, ‚??Home of US Open Champion Graeme MacDowell‚?Ě. ¬†GMac must‚??ve been tickled pink.
On this happy occasion we were supposed to be joined by a friend of my grandfather‚??s, one William Harbison. ¬†Willie however was otherwise engaged, so once again it was Just The Two Of Us (can you hear the Austin Powers II soundtrack spinning?). ¬†As we approached the 1st tee a battalion of caddies was leaning shivering against the shed. ¬†Ranging in age from about 20 to 70 this was a caddy corp. to behold; the sort you might see featured in a black & white photographic calendar that would no doubt sell thousands of copies in the pre-Christmas rush (thanks to the sons and daughters of golf playing fathers who are notoriously hard to buy for). ¬†Wind blown faces that have seen many a ball soar into oblivion. ¬†Canny ears that have heard many a curse word muttered in disdain. ¬†You could see the experience emanating from their bones, each wrinkle telling a story.
I felt terrible that we weren‚??t going to be commissioning a couple of the boys ‚?? they looked as bored as they did cold ‚?? but our modest budget doesn‚??t allow for such luxuries. ¬†No, we would just have to guide ourselves around this minefield. ¬†With caution. ¬†The mantra of late has been: Royal County Down you will find perilously difficult, almost to the point of being unenjoyable (I‚??d beg to differ); Royal Portrush on the other hand you will find to be tough but far more pleasant, more a delight than a struggle. ¬†I‚??m always suspicious of such assertions. ¬†As I am of many things, like magpies or people whose eyes are very close together.
The first, and one of the most fearsome, sights you see at RP is the bunker just short of the elevated 1st green. ¬†The World‚??s Most Tyrannical Opening Hole Bunker ‚?? as I have creatively dubbed the hellhole ‚?? is long and deep and wouldn‚??t suffer the indignity of many sand saves. ¬†You could build a modest bungalow inside it that wouldn‚??t be visible from the tee. ¬†What‚??s more, the false front at the green‚??s entrance sucks back helpless pills that with an extra slice of toast for breakfast would‚??ve been propelled within birdie range. ¬†It‚??s as if the course is making a stern statement to you, The Golfer, from the outset: Don‚??t get too cute champ and don‚??t, for goodness sake, have any delusions of adequacy; I will crush them mercilessly into Delusion Dust. ¬†Suffice to say I took an extra club and avoided any confrontation with TWMTOHB (acronym for new title cited above) which would, no doubt, have ended in tears for the golfer not the bunker.
If ever there was a day to bring the beast to its knees, today was it. ¬†By that I mean it was a quite gorgeous day on the links, with only a breath of wind intent on troubling us. ¬†Then again, I suspect there is no such thing as a day to bring RP down ‚?? unless you‚??re a 15-year-old Rory McIlroy, that is. ¬†He shot 61 at an age when I was grappling with the much more vexing problem of determining just what it is that makes the other sex tick. ¬†(I‚??m still working on this, by the way). ¬†He‚??s some boy isn‚??t he? ¬†As you can imagine he‚??s much talked about in this part of the world, and well he should be. ¬†
On the 3rd the dune country starts to open up beneath you. ¬†It‚??s hard to concentrate on hitting a high, soft landing 9 iron to a small undulating green when there are views like these. ¬†And when the wind‚??s coming off the left and you have a tendency to hit, shall we say, a soft draw. ¬†But we do what we can. ¬†On the charismatic par 4 4th it‚??s a question of survival, really. ¬†Bunkers again are the primary threat. ¬†T‚??ree of the buggers peer back at you from the middle-left of the fairway, encouraging you to play down the right (which, of course, is lined with white stakes). ¬†Even if you do manage by some miracle to find yourself on the short grass, your approach must be played through a narrow gateway to a green surrounded by walls of sand, tussock and gorse.
It really is rollercoaster stuff. ¬†Where the 4th dares you to, ‚??Come And Have A Go If You Think You‚??re Hard Enough,‚?Ě the 5th by contrast sits there looking innocuous enough, like a Venus Fly Trap, and will ankle tap you if you get too cocky. ¬†Magnificent 180 degree views of the coastline could distract the less than fully focused golfer. ¬†A white painted stone has been placed atop a dune guarding the left hand side of the fairway; I suppose it marks the line over which you‚??re supposed to bash your ball. ¬†That line looked much too far left, so we decided to take dead aim at the green instead. ¬†The McDowell Line. ¬†Alas ‚?? as you will see in the photo below ‚?? there is a huge mound that‚??s positioned itself very inconveniently in the middle of the fairway. ¬†Not for decoration, but to deflect golf balls in directions their owners did not intend them to travel. ¬†My well struck tee shot that Was heading for the front left corner of the green stopped almost dead in its tracks, having hit the upslope ‚?? leaving an unpalatable 50 yard pitch up the tiered green, immediately behind which lies Out of Bounds pegs. ¬†Not for the faint hearted.
After putting out one can do nothing but admire the picture that lies beneath. ¬†Golden beaches stretch for miles down the coast, interrupted only by Giants Causeways and the like. ¬†There‚??s a distinctly Irish feel about the place.¬†
At this point you‚??re as far from the clubhouse ‚?? and as close to the beach ‚?? as you get. ¬†You‚??re as well stealing an extra moment or two of the view, because gorse and thick tussock will occupy the front of your cranium more or less until you‚??re back at the car. ¬†Or the bar, as the case may be. ¬†My advice, then: hit it where you can see it. ¬†On the 8th it‚??s not clear at all which way the fairway deviates once you pass the crest of the hill (though if we‚??d used our modest brains we could‚??ve worked out where the 9th tee was ‚?? we‚??d walked past it en route to the 7th ‚?? and, by extension, the 8th green). ¬†Driver wasn‚??t a very prudent play. ¬†Brains neglected on two counts then. ¬†Shame, because it‚??s a smashing little short par 4 that if played properly could be a good bit of fun. ¬†The green is 3 times deeper than it looks; the caddy would earn his money on this one.
Two very short par 5s follow, the first being more treacherous than the second. ¬†A little half way house ‚?? not something you see much of on traditional Celtic links‚?? ‚?? is set into the gorse between the two. ¬†As you can see it‚??s distinctly Irish in appearance (not only does it have an emerald trim, but there‚??s an Orange gas bottle tucked not inconspicuously off to the side). ¬†
The lovely thing about Portrush is that the course dances to a changing tune ‚?? it‚??s not all one note. ¬†A straightforward enough looking par 4 (like the S.I. 2 12th) might have vicious greenside contours, or one particularly gnarly bunker. ¬†Then a hole like the par 3 14th ‚??Calamity‚?Ě might come along and knock your socks off. ¬†(It‚??s 200+ yards uphill over a gaping ravine). ¬†I loved the 13th, a short par 4 that on the card looks tame enough; but stopping your approach with something even as lofted as a lob wedge is no mean feat. ¬†
We‚??d been posting live updates on Facebook as we played. ¬†One chap had been kind enough to warn us about the Big Nellie Bunker on 17. ¬†Here‚??s why:
You could cram every inhabitant of Portrush into it and they‚??d still have room to swing a club.
It‚??s not just The Dunluce Course at Portrush that looks swell either. ¬†From the 14th tee you get a clear view of one of the other tracks down below ‚?? which looks equally mouth watering if not a little less tormenting. ¬†I don‚??t doubt you‚??d get families coming for their summer hols here, playing a ton of golf on that course below and the odd (treat) game on The Dunluce. ¬†If I was a wee nipper I‚??d be at me da‚?? all week for a game on the big course; no doubt many a son has had the promise of a game cruelly-but-justifiably withdrawn on grounds of misbehaviour (fighting with brothers and sisters, etc). ¬†Had we come on holidays here before emigrating, I‚??m quite certain I would‚??ve been one such ‚??son‚?Ě, given the amount of mischief me and my siblings managed to find. ¬†But there you are.
Portrush. ¬†A wonderful place; a varied and challenging golf course; heavenly views; and a healthy sea breeze to blow the cobwebs away. ¬†It‚??s easy to see why people travel from far and wide to come here. ¬†And why Rory McIlroy makes as much money as he does...
JP ¬†¬†¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†
Who‚??s had Bushmills on their porridge before? ¬†Well, if you haven‚??t, you should have. ¬†With cream, honey and a little brown sugar. ¬†Can‚??t promise it‚??ll help your golf, but it‚??ll certainly get your day off to a very delectable start indeed. ¬†And possibly help clog your arteries a little further. ¬†Y‚??er man Tom Cotter from Hastings Hotels (which owns the Slieve Donard in Newcastle) contacted us a week or two ago, asking whether we needed a place to stay while we were in Newcastle (suspecting that Royal County Down might feature in our plans). ¬†The toss up between The Tank and The Slieve wasn‚??t a tough one, to be honest. ¬†Luxury it was then.
The man himself, a real gentleman, met us downstairs for breakfast / a Tremendous Feast. ¬†Bushmills porridge may have been the signature dish as far as I‚??m concerned, but the buffet spread was in a micro sense life changing. ¬†Soda bread and potato bread and bacon and sausages and eggs and black pudding and cereal and toast and muffins and berries and...well, everything. ¬†Not only was the food Top Drawer, but there had been a wedding on, so there were a dozen good looking women dressed in their Sunday Best in the dining room too. ¬†Day 240 had started well. ¬†
We had our photo taken out front, then I headed along the promenade for a stroll. ¬†In this turbulent part of the world I wasn‚??t sure how long the sun would be out. ¬†Sure enough it was brisk ‚?? the wind biting through my jersey ‚?? but scores of folk were out in form, some no doubt thrilled to be out in the fresh air to ponder the lessons they‚??d learned in church. ¬†On the way ‚??out‚?Ě you marvel at the Mourne Mountains rising up above you. ¬†On the way back ‚??in‚?Ě it‚??s The Slieve sitting regally just off the beach that catches your gaze, as if it were guarding that famed links next door. ¬†A nourishing, restorative walk; and a necessary one too, after all the calories I‚??d ingested at breakfast.
Anyway it wasn‚??t RCD today, but Ardglass ‚?? a links 40 minutes up the road that we didn‚??t know much about. ¬†Ardglass itself is a bonnie wee village, and an ancient one at that. ¬†Parts of the former Manse which is now used by the Golf Club as its clubhouse date back to the 13th century. ¬†Perched on the links not 20 yards from the black rocks it‚??s a very impressive sight. ¬†With flags and canons and ruins you might be forgiven for thinking you‚??re at a medieval tourist attraction, not a golf club.
The acting general manager, Brian McMullen, and Vice Captain, Cormac MacMullan, met us for a jar of the black stuff. ¬†Two very affable fellows they were too, bursting with enthusiasm about their club‚??s heritage and very open about how it was faring in the current climate. ¬†It seems to be in good order. ¬†Certainly the busy bar upstairs was a good sign. ¬†We couldn‚??t resist the temptation to sit out on the terrace, which had views through the trellises across the Irish Sea and down to the 1st and 18th holes below. ¬†From here you can see the hair raising Championship Tee, which they only use when the wind‚??s not blowing (for obvious reasons) - see below.
After being taken on a very illuminating Tiki Tour of the clubhouse and surrounding ruins we were led to the 1st tee to meet our playing partners ‚?? Joan and Dave, a lovely couple from near Manchester. ¬†Joan was originally from this neck of the woods, but like so many left for University never to return. ¬†With their 17 year old daughter having taken off to Hong Kong to see a friend, Joan and Dave snatched the opportunity to sneak across the water for a spot of golf. ¬†They play on a parkland course back home, so Ardglass was always going to be something a bit different; in wind like this however, it was a completely different game. ¬†Nigh on gale conditions. ¬†
Your first shot is an incredibly daunting one. ¬†There are sheer rock faces at the end of a not insignificant carry, and if you go left you‚??re on the rocks. ¬†Wind howling; effects of the black stuff not quite having worn off; VC & GM watching intently ‚?? not a great time to thin shank one. ¬†Which is what we both did. ¬†Oh dear. ¬†The only thing I could do for my 2nd was hit a 5 yard pitch straight sideways, over the corner of said rock face (I was sitting right underneath it). ¬†It didn‚??t get any easier from there either. ¬†Hitting the small elongated green was an improbable proposition to say the least, with the wind howling from our backs and the greens running rapidly. ¬†Thanks to the unintended intervention of a few mounds around the green my ball somehow came to rest on the dance floor ‚?? Hooray ‚?? but inevitably a 3 putt from 25 feet followed and the round was off to a wonderful start. ¬†Mmmmm. ¬†Joan with her Tom Watson-like Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong swing looked, on the contrary, to be in full control of things. ¬†
To say that the experience was getting off to an invigorating start wouldn‚??t quite cover it. ¬†Atop the hill by now, looking down over a few keen locals doing a bit of fishing, we were getting blown sideways. ¬†The sun too was blazing, but the warmth of its rays had lost the fight with the biting chill of the breeze. ¬†I felt alive.
The opening holes really are spectacular stuff, as you play out towards The Mourne Mountains. ¬†All the while those rocks sit menacingly down to your left, the wind doing its level best to guide your ball in their direction. ¬†Distance may not have been a problem on these holes (we were nearly driving the par 4s), but stopping your pitches was. ¬†Some shrewd greenside bunkering most definitely put pressure on the shotmaking department (which in my case, like the banks, seemed to have closed for the weekend). ¬†However the greens, once you got the speed of them, were a true pleasure to putt on. ¬†Given the elements they‚??re exposed to the greenkeepers do a magnificent job.
Some rustic character really started to emerge when we got to the par 3 7th. ¬†It‚??s a fairly straightforward downhill job, about 210 yards or so. ¬†You play straight out towards the sea, with gorse lurking immediately behind the putting surface (very much in play down wind). ¬†What makes the hole unique though is the little white cottage perched adjacent to the green on the right. ¬†I made full use of the backstop and pinged my 7 iron straight into the wall on the near side, leaving me a relatively flat putt straight across the green! ¬†
Once you reach the 10th tee the lovely little village of Coney Island (from which the district of New York must take its name) reveals itself before you. ¬†From the elevated tee (it‚??s another downhill par 3) your eyes are drawn immediately to the white paint of the village, its striking little harbour and, of course, to the Mournes in the background. ¬†What a view. ¬†The next few holes play along the rocks (this time they‚??re on the right) in very linksy fashion. ¬†Hair raising stuff they are too (a short par 5 and a(nother) downhill par 3). ¬†
With very few birdies rolling in we were moved almost to forget about the golf altogether, and just enjoy the walk / company. ¬†Joan and Dave were great craic, a real pleasure to play with. ¬†Down to earth, lovely people ‚?? we may be going to visit them in a few weeks‚?? time when we cross the Irish Sea. ¬†The four of us sat in the bar afterwards and watched Monty announce his picks for The Ryder Cup team (my prediction was horribly wrong). ¬†They very kindly treated us to the famous fish and chips too, which ‚?? as Cormac had pronounced earlier in the day ‚?? was big enough to choke a donkey. ¬†The fish was straddled over both ends of my dinner plate; more a small whale than a fish.
Replete, somewhat jaded after our adventure and satisfied, we toddled off back down the road to The Slieve, to get some R&R. ¬†Instead of making use of the lovely spa facilities I caught up with a friend of a friend for a drink down in the town, a very likeable local girl by the name of Katie. ¬†It soon became too difficult to hear each other though because Every Man And His Dog descended upon Quinn‚??s, Co. Down having won their semi final against Kildare in the Gaelic. ¬†A quiet Sunday evening atmosphere soon turned into Friday night disco. ¬†Old, young, big, small ‚?? they were all up on the dance floor, celebrating with gusto. ¬†Quite a spectacle, believe me.
I retired to The Slieve content in the knowledge that in the morning I was playing my most anticipated game of golf of the year, at Royal County Down. ¬†To mark this special occasion I even cleaned my clubs!
At last, Royal County Down. ¬†When journalists asked us right back in early January which course we were looking forward to playing the most, my answer was RCD. ¬†For several reasons, really ‚?? but one in particular: my grandfather played his golf here before emigrating to Nu Zillin, and he‚??s bent my ear ad nauseum about just how good it is for as long as I can remember. ¬†About his beloved Royal County Down. ¬†There are paintings of the course hanging in their house (most notably of the par 3 4th, the painting of which I think was gifted by his pals before he defected); The Good Doctor wears his sand coloured RCD sweater often and with pride; and I‚??ve heard enough about the club‚??s jealously guarded history to be able to write a comprehensive volume on the subject myself. ¬†
I was always too young to be taken down for a game; then, just as I was getting competent enough my parents whisked me away to the other side of the world ‚?? before I got a chance to play it. ¬†Och poor me, having to live in beautiful Nu Zillin, I hear you cry. ¬†Well, fair enough. ¬†But missing out on RCD has nonetheless left a residual itch that needed to be scratched. ¬†So I wrote to Alan Hewitt, Secretary of RCD, to ask whether I could scratch it. ¬†He didn‚??t know quite what to make of the scratch metaphor, but he was kind enough in any event to allow Michael and myself the courtesy of the course (NB: Grandpa, I‚??ve used ‚??myself‚?Ě there instead of ‚??me‚?Ě, just to keep you on your toes, because I know 1. You‚??ll be reading this blog; and 2. How much you detest erroneous grammar). ¬†
Grandpa lined up one of his old pals, Des Browne, to join us on the day. ¬†He‚??s the wee fella you‚??ll see pictured in Mike‚??s slide show. ¬†Small in stature but big in character; he was getting well stuck in at every opportunity. ¬†In very un-Irish fashion he appears to have held onto a grudge for some 15 years or so: when he was playing in the group in front over in Portnoo, I caught one out of the middle unexpectedly and my ball bounded past him. ¬†Memory of the scandal escapes me, but I‚??m quite sure I would‚??ve jogged up there to apologise. ¬†In any case Des hasn‚??t forgotten.
Des arranged for his mate Bill to join us too. ¬†Bill‚??s a retired policeman (who, as it happens, pioneered the use of the Identikit technology in Nor‚??n Ireland) and uses his finely honed detective skills each time he plays golf to find more balls than he loses. ¬†It‚??s uncanny; every time he ventured into the long stuff he‚??d emerge with a handful. ¬†Maybe his height helps (he looks particularly tall standing next to Desmond). ¬†Oh one other thing about Bill: he was an Irish international 400 metre runner. ¬†A whippit. ¬†Nowadays his speed and his hearing may have deserted him, but his sense of humour hasn‚??t. ¬†Nor his putting (which was just as well because he was my partner).
Our commute to the golf course wasn‚??t a long one, given The Slieve Donard Hotel had been kind enough to put us up there for the past couple of nights. ¬†Ideal, really. ¬†Mike‚??s already told you about the fine welcome we received from Tom Cotter, and how comfortable our stay has been. ¬†But I‚??d like to pitch in with a very big thank you to Tom & the Hotel myself: it was a real treat to stay at The Slieve, one of the most comfortable and friendly hotels I‚??ve had the pleasure of experiencing. ¬†Ah the breakfast... ¬†Friends of puregolf2010, a word if I may. ¬†If you ‚?? as you well should ‚?? decide it‚??s high time to experience the best links golf course in the world, then The Slieve is where you want to rest your head and fill your belly. ¬†You‚??re 50 yards from the club; have world class spa facilities at your disposal; there are views of the Mourne Mountains, the course and the beach that will bring tears to your eyes; and you will not believe it when you see the breakfast buffet (included in your room tariff). ¬†It‚??s sublime.
I pulled the curtains open like you pry open an exam results bearing envelope ‚?? with grave apprehension. ¬†Was it raining? ¬†Had Mr. Gale decided to make an unwelcome cameo? ¬†NOT A BIT OF IT! ¬†Sure the sun always shines in Nor‚??n Ireland, and on RCD in particular. ¬†Not a cumulus or a nimbus or a cumulonimbus or a stratus or even a cirrus in sight (see, I was paying attention in 3rd year geography!). ¬†Just Big Blue. ¬†What a welcome sight. ¬†I‚??ll admit to dancing around the room with glee, waking up me mate from one of his comas (he sleeps deeply). ¬†There was only one thing for it: time for a celebratory carb load downstairs. ¬†Soda bread, potato bread, porridge with a healthy nip of Bushmills whiskey (it‚??s laid out, I didn‚??t bring my own), fruit, yoghurt, bacon & eggs. ¬†Smashing.
Our good hosts were waiting expectantly for us in the car park (it would‚??ve taken less time to walk from the Hotel than it did to drive around): ‚??get your feet on boys we‚??re teeing off in 10 minutes!‚?Ě barked Desmond in his best ex-bank manager brogue. ¬†There was precious little time for coffee or niceities; hell we only got 3 or 4 practice putts to get used to The Glass. ¬†Game on.
I was pleased to have drawn Bill, because 1. He‚??s meant to be a good putter; and 2. I knew I could quite happily wind Des up all morning (and he‚??d give it back with interest). ¬†Thankfully we were teeing off in the block allocated for members, so there were no 4 balls of over zealous foreigners who would no doubt be savouring each one of their 126 strokes. ¬†And the sun continued to gaze down at us, uninterrupted by cloud or wind. ¬†You couldn‚??t hope to catch Royal County Down on a better day.
The photos in Mike‚??s little video will tell the story, so I won‚??t go into any detail. ¬†A few brief observations and I‚??ll leave you to it:
¬†1. It‚??s a real test, even in benign conditions. ¬†If everyone was good humoured enough and willing, they could rename it after that dark period in Ireland‚??s recent past, ‚??The Troubles‚?Ě Golf Club.
2. It‚??s the hardest and fastest golf course we‚??ve played all year. ¬†The best turf we‚??ve encountered by far. ¬†You could go out half an hour after a torrential downpour in socks and not get wet feet.
3. Late August is a magnificent time to play because the heather is out in all its purple glory. ¬†Or is that lilac? ¬†In any case it‚??s stunning.
4. Don‚??t play the blues unless you‚??re feeling good about your relationship with your driver; the carries are at times fierce. ¬†And the rest of the time tremendously fierce.
5. Don‚??t assume that if you‚??re putting from the fringe your putt will be any slower than if it was entirely across green ‚?? there‚??s really no difference. ¬†Just ask poor Chris Barnard who had to mow them during the Walker Cup...in the middle of the night...
6. The hairy bunker lips have a bite as bad as their bark - don‚??t mess with them or, for God sake, underestimate their tyranny.
7. Make sure you savour your birdie putts because you won‚??t get many.
8.¬†That said, good shots are rewarded ‚?? it‚??s by no means an unfair course. ¬†If I‚??d hit any good shots I could attest to that.
9. Take your camera; it‚??s one of the bonniest spots on earth. ¬†Or commission Patton Goldstein photography to come with you as we‚??ll gladly return for a visit and to take a few.
10. Don‚??t play with Des Browne unless you have a thick skin. ¬†Even if you do, don‚??t let him get his tail up. ¬†His banter is known across Ireland.
11. Play with Bill if you‚??re likely to need help finding your golf ball(s) - like the caddies at Cypress he‚??s probably never lost one.
12. Yes, Grandpa, it is the best (links) course in the world (in my humble opinion). ¬†A true, rare, pleasure. ¬†
A sincere thank you to Royal County Down Golf Club for your generous hospitality. ¬†And to Des & Bill for being good natured enough to endure my company for the best part of a day. ¬†Thanks also to Des for treating us to ¬†a lovely meal in the clubhouse, rounding off the RCD experience.
When we left the Golf Club Des took us back to see Evelyn, his darling wife, who's also pictured at the end of the slideshow. ¬†We had shortbread and coffee and basked in the sunshine on deckchairs in the back garden. ¬†Just smashing.