What a month it has been. ¬†Going somewhat into the unknown, Michael and I ‚?? truth be told ‚?? didn‚??t really know what we were in for. ¬†Would we be well received at the clubs we visit? ¬†Would the media be kind to us? ¬†Would we be at each other‚??s throats within days? ¬†These are just a few of the questions that floated around my head in late December. ¬†At that stage ‚?? during the calm before the storm ‚?? a lot of questions were asked of us that we just couldn‚??t answer. ¬†We were winging it. ¬†And so 1 January arrived with some relief ‚?? reiief that at last we had got under way.
Kauri Cliffs was a pretty special place to begin our odyssey. ¬†A magnificent setting if ever there was one. ¬†Playing at Kauri was an experience that encompassed more than just a spectacular golf course; it gave us an insight into what luxury means for a privileged few. ¬†I could get used to it. ¬†With the TV cameras on us, and Day 1 butterflies in the stomach, we were exhausted by the time we reached the Coromandel Peninsula later that evening. ¬†Exhausted but elated. ¬†I‚??m sure throughout 2010 we‚??ll play a good number of courses of Kauri‚??s calibre (indeed through January there are a couple I‚??d put on an equal footing, at least in design terms), but I doubt whether our breath will be taken away again quite like how it was by Matauri Bay, over which Kauri Cliffs is perched. ¬†Like most places of ridiculous beauty, photos (or, at least, our photos) don‚??t do it justice. ¬†Which means you‚??ll all just have to visit to see for yourselves.
In January we played 31 golf courses, each accompanied by its own stories and, in our memories, with different people. ¬†New Zealand, in my humble opinion, has an oversupply of golf courses, an explanation for which may lie in mitigating the risks of post-golf drinking driving. ¬†If there‚??s a course around the corner from the farm, y‚??er man can sink 3 well earned pints after double bogeying the last and shoot home without fear of endangering his own life and the lives of others. ¬†It may also have something to do with Kiwis‚?? parochial yearn to have a track to call their own (‚??those lads down at Paihiatua have got a course, so should we...‚?Ě). ¬†Whatever underlies this surplus of golfing terra firma, it doesn‚??t bother me in the slightest, because the outcome is obviously a good one: there are hundreds of layouts on which to test yourself; to enjoy beautiful views; or just to wander around with friends and a quiet beer. ¬†There‚??s something for everyone. ¬†So if you‚??ve been following our adventures last month you might have noticed that we‚??re keen to experience it all. ¬†Sure it‚??s nice to play at a Kauri Cliffs or a Wairakei; but on other days it‚??s just as fun hacking around a coastal 9 hole links, or a tree-lined country course. ¬†Vive la difference, as the French would say.
This being a project that centres around golf, it would be remiss of me not to mention briefly a couple of golfing highlights from the past month. ¬†Kinloch. ¬†It has its detractors, and as a business has run into difficulties. ¬†But I can only judge it based on the golf course itself, and on the hospitality we received. ¬†Both of which were first class. ¬†Every hole challenged us, and ‚?? even though we walked it, playing from the suicide tees ‚?? getting beaten up has never been so fun (Jack‚??s Point, which I‚??ll mention shortly, is the only other course that I‚??d put in the same boat). ¬†Tommy Long, the pro, also made Day 10 what it was. ¬†His chat and willingness to help us out (not just on the day, but beyond, i.e. In planning our UK leg) were gratefully received; he is a credit to Kinloch and I hope he gets the help he needs to take the place up a level, to what I think it can be. ¬†Already looking forward to my next visit. ¬†Wairakei was a different experience altogether, but no less enjoyable. ¬†The overriding impression for me ‚?? the thing that really sticks in my mind ‚?? is the tranquility of the place. ¬†It‚??s almost therapeutic. ¬†That we played with Phil Tataurangi and his entertaining mate, Keith, lifted an epic day into a truly memorable one. ¬†Beautiful golf course + great company = lifelong memories. ¬†Mahia was yet more different; a truly unique experience that I don‚??t think will attract comparison this year. ¬†At the other end of the green fees spectrum (they were recently raised from $10 to $15, to partially alleviate pressure caused by dwindling annual subscriptions), Mahia is as stunning as it is remote (it‚??s very, very remote). ¬†There‚??s a solo full time greenkeeper, aided by a hardcore battalion of determined locals, folk that keep the place alive. ¬†We met most of them on the evening we arrived, at Lil & Bill‚??s place on Nuhaka Station. ¬†Our time at Mahia was as much about the people as it was the golf, but the course stood up with the best ‚?? at least in terms of the wow factor. ¬†My only hope is that it doesn‚??t get ruined like many a bumpkin spot before it. ¬†Pure links golf at it‚??s humble best. ¬†I‚??ve mentioned Kauri Cliffs, so won‚??t go over old ground. ¬†Finally, then, Jack‚??s Point. ¬†Like Kinloch in many ways, Jack‚??s Point is a monster of a course ‚?? particuarly of the sinisterly coloured black tees ‚?? that will eat most golfers up and spit them out. ¬†But what fun. ¬†Standing on most tees adrenalin floods the arteries, and you are faced with the daunting task of steadying yourself, to hit a golf shot (if you fail, I don‚??t need to tell you that the consequences aren‚??t good). ¬†It‚??s no secret that I love a challenge, and in this fact probably lies the explanation for my reaction to Jack‚??s Point (and Kinloch). ¬†Beautiful, tough, stimulating, at once fair and unfair...
The 26 courses I didn‚??t mention above were all worthy of a mention too, for one reason or another. ¬†However the need for blog-esque brevity dictates that I need to move on. ¬†And so to the people I now turn, the people that have made January one of the most amazing months of my time on God‚??s good earth.
I mentioned before that neither Michael nor I knew quite how people would react to us. ¬†Would they ‚??get‚?? what we were setting out to do? ¬†Thankfully, on the whole, they have. ¬†Gratitude is something that I hope has come through in our daily blogs, because it‚??s something that, for me, needs to be impressed upon you, dear reader. ¬†From those that have hosted us in their homes to the Colliers lads that took us under their wing at the NZ Open this past week; from our mates that pulled together to get us a petrol card and food vouchers to those that lent us cars; everyone has been incredibly generous, and encouraging of what Michael and I are doing. ¬†It has been inspiring. ¬†Already in the memory bank from one month on the road are experiences that would never have occurred had we not taken a leap of faith to make puregolf2010 a reality. ¬†Among the many good people that have supported us, some are old friends and some are new (obviously there‚??s family too, who have played a significant supportive role). ¬†If January is anything to go by, and success is measured by how many friends we have in life (as someone famous once surmised), we are going to be successful young men by the end of this year. ¬†Fingers crossed.
However awful our golf has been (and it has been bl**dy awul at times, particularly for me), the routine of seeing new places and meeting new people every day is one that it‚??s hard to get tired of. ¬†It‚??s often put to us that we must be knackered, playing all this golf. ¬†Not a bit of it. ¬†(Although after a heavy week in Queenstown burning the candle at both ends we‚??ll sleep well tonight). ¬†
As I write this we‚??re on the back 9 of our initial New Zealand leg, and in a few weeks will be Sydney bound. ¬†We still don‚??t have the sponsorship dollars committed that we hoped by now would be rattling around in our piggy bank. ¬†And traveling around Australia will probably throw us slightly further out of our comfort zone than the past 31 days have. ¬†But The Challenge is puregolf2010‚??s raison d‚??etre, so in an ironic sense we wouldn‚??t have it any other way. ¬†Being glass-half-full-kinda-punters, we share an unspoken (perhaps na√Įve) belief that it‚??ll all be alright. ¬†Time will tell, no doubt. ¬†
In an hour I‚??ll be sitting with my family for dinner, perhaps for the last time for a long time. ¬†We‚??ll be joined by good family friends that flew across from Scotland yesterday for their maiden visit to Aotearoa. ¬†I‚??m looking forward to hearing how life has been for the Duncans during the 10 years since I last saw them. ¬†Uncle Graham (who‚??s not a real Uncle, but has a title grounded in respect) was good to me growing up, and is a good golfer himself ‚?? one of those guys that plays effortless off a 7 handicap at a tough links course (where they hold qualifying for The Open when it‚??s at St. Andrews). ¬†Hopefully Michael and I will get the chance to take a few bob off him when we reach the UK in July! ¬†After tonight he‚??ll have had plenty warning, but somehow I don‚??t think practice will be needed ‚?? based on current form I‚??ll be on a 36 handicap by then, so it might have to be a stableford match if I‚??m to have any chance!
I hope February‚??s blogs bring you as much enjoyment as writing them gives us. ¬†One month down; eleven to go.
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