What a remarkable day we've just had. We've endured a fairly aggressive electric storm; played at one of the most anticipated courses of the year; and shot round the last 12 holes in an hour and a half in what felt like Siberian temperatures. Thrilling stuff.
After chowing down a couple of the most memorable bacon rolls in living memory (courtesy of our incredibly hospitable friend and host, Colin), we zipped south down the Peninsula to The National, where we were due on the tee at 1.30pm. Those of you that have been to The National will know it as one of the most phenomenal golf facilities on the planet. An astonishing place, home to 3 of the best courses in Australia. When you turn off the main road into the driveway your eyes are drawn to the horizon, under which sits the deep blue Bass Straight. Looking further down you can't help but marvel at the some of the best golf real estate in the world; flashes of green snake through the dunes for almost as far as the eye can see. Paradise. A kilometre or so along and the driveway ducks left; and you're confronted with a spectacular clubhouse perched atop a hill, which manages at once to be striking and to blend seamlessly into its surrounds. A breathtaking introduction.
Making our way to the pro shop we were taken by the buzz of the place (although I guess a facility with 3 courses, of this calibre, on a Saturday afternoon is bound to be busy). Justin pointed us in the right direction, to The Ocean Course (designed by the legendary Peter Thompson, Wolveridge and Perrett); we warmed up for a couple of minutes in the nets and hit a few practice putts; then stepped onto the 1st tee. What a view.
The 1st is a 'short' par 5 (just 500 metres), which drops from an elevated tee to a fairway split by a cluster of 3 massive bunkers (surrounded by tussock, of course). I drilled a 2 iron straight at them, and much to my relief came up 3 metres short left; Mike, being the gorilla that is he, pulled driver and knocked it 320 metres over them (aided by the wind, the drop in elevation, and a big bounce - but a glorious shot nonetheless). A good start. We both hit the green in reg and walked off with 5 thinking "this is easy".
The 3rd hole is where the course started to get the better of me. Standing on the tee (we played off the blacks, as you do) I picked what seemed like a sensible line over the right hand side of a waste bunker the size of Texas, which turned out to be an ambitious line because my purely struck drive caught the lip of said quarry and ended up on a spot marking the confluence of sand, gravel, tussock and lava (well not lava, but the others). What might have been. Incredibly relieved to have dug the ball back out onto the fairway I took my medicine and made 5. (Mike, who said he was aiming down the same line as me over the quarry, pulled his driver 30 metres and ended up in the middle of the fairway, sand wedge in hand for his approach - either some gamesmanship back on the tee, or a bit of good fortune). The National 1 : Jamie NIL. On courses like this you just can't afford to get in the wrong place - a truism of which I was kindly reminded of on the very next hole by The Ocean Course (this time having whacked a 5 iron atop a greenside bunker lip, into deep fluffy stuff pretending to be grass).
This pattern of golf continued - for my part - for the next few holes; Mike played them more or less in regulation. Hitting the ball well on courses like this, but somehow getting caught out, is a phenomenon I've experienced a few times of late. At the time you feel robbed, and that on no other occasion will you ever be as unlucky as this very moment. But on reflection you realise that it's a combination of two things that's generating this strange emotion: the calibre of the golf course, and your own shortcomings as a golfer. You see amateur golfers (myself very much included) tend to think they are better than they are. This is something the pros we've played with this year have shared with us - and it must be true. Playing the first 6 holes I felt I was hitting the ball well, and was frustrated that my scorecard didn't reflect this. With the benefit of hindsight, the golf course was better than me, and my shots just weren't good enough.
Walking down the 4th and 5th an eery calm ensued. Mike and I started looking to the skies nervously and more frequently, as the forecast storm rolled ever nearer. And nearer. Lightning forks that 10 minutes prior were miles away now seemed perilously close. Thunder that 10 minutes prior had been a distant murmur was now rumbling directly overhead. Hmmmm. By the time we reached the 6th green - the furthest point on The Ocean Course from the clubhouse - things were really starting to get hairy. A young chap approached in a cart - surely, we assumed, to tell us that play had been suspended and to whisk us back in his shiny cart to the clubhouse. Nope. He offered us sandwiches and powerade; we politely declined; and he drove away. No sign of suspended play, according to the young man. Oh, we thought.
As Murphy's Law would have it, the sirens blared just 30 seconds after he disappeared, and as we were putting on the 6th. Gosh how inconvenient. To walk with our clubs or to leave them on the 7th tee? Would we be walking lightning magnets with the clubs on? if we left them on the tee would they get soaked? In the event we marched the 560 kilometres back to the clubhouse, clubs on backs, in the rain. Thunder and lightning bringing up the rear. I've never been so relieved to be back in the clubhouse after 6 holes.
With 3 courses' worth of golfers all back in the sheds, the place was humming. Given most of these people were just out for a normal Saturday game - quite unlike us, who have to get a round in come rain or shine or lightning - bottles of wine were uncorked and huge feasts plated up. The atmosphere was electric (pardon the pun). Mike and I waited patiently, while watching New Zealand's middle order capitulate oh-so-uncharacteristically. Eventually we got back out on the course, around 5pm, thankfully this time armed with a cart.
The satellite pictures on the flatscreen in the pro shop (yes, they have everything here) showed a gap between storms, so we suited up and readied ourselves for a quick 12 holes. Would the lightning return? Pardon me for pointing out the obvious, but waving a golf club in the air in an electric storm is tantamount to charging around a fully packed bull ring with a red one-piece suit. Suicidal. But puregolf2010 is puregolf2010, and we were determined to (1) meet our self-imposed obligations; and (2) play the rest of this magnificent golf course.
An hour and a half it took us to play the last 12 holes. No practice swings; no mucking about; no lining up putts. It was freezing. (Up the road in Melbourne hailstones the size of soccer balls were knocking holes in cars, houses and just about everything else). The temperatures didn't help Mike's shoulder injury, which seemed to be a bit of a handicap. Nor did wet grips and not knowing where to go on most occasions (you really should get a course guide when you play The Ocean Course).
But the course was magnificent. Mike was too tormented to be taking it in, but I managed to enjoy the challenge and the beauty of Thompson, Wolveridge and Perrett's labour. It probably helped that I came back in 39, with 11 putts, for an 84 (with a triple bogey and a couple of doubles). I'd like to offer more insightful comments into the course, but to do so wouldn't do justice to it given the fashion in which we zipped round. For a proper analysis i'm afraid you'll have to search elsewhere - or refer to The National's website itself.
A quite unique experience, was Day 65. In a way it was cruel that lightning, hail and darkness struck on the day we played my most eagerly anticipated course of the year. But c'est la vie. Certainly it was a day I won't forget for a long time. Hopefully the weather is kinder to us next Saturday, when we play The Old Course (a Trent Jones Jnr masterpiece).
Cold and wet we retreated for the comfort of Colin and Anne's place up the road. By some divine coincidence they had been inspired to cook up a steak and guinness pie - the sight of which was probably one of the happiest moments of my life. Another wonderful evening in their company, on the back of a quite crazy day of golf, and I'm exhausted. Moonah Links tomorrow.
Posting comments has been disabled.