MAD DOGS & AN ENGLISHMAN
DESPITE HOWLING WIND, DRIVING RAIN, FREEZING TEMPERATURES AND A SWING THAT WOULDNT GET OUT OF FIRST GEAR, OUR CORRESPONDENTS ENTHUSIASM FOR TWO OF THE BEST COURSES IN THE SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE COULD NOT BE DENTED.
WORDS: LLOYD COLE
Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn! Soaking wet, freezing cold, I trudge wearily back to the clubhouse, five clubs in hand, no balls remaining. Utterly defeated. The victor the elements. The Scots have a saying Nae wind, nae golf and theyre right 99 percent of the time. I just ran into the exception that proves the rule.
Rewind ten weeks, 13 time zones and about 15,000 km north-east. Im in my attic talking to Neil from the Napier Mall newspaper. I dont know exactly where Napier is somewhere in New Zealand
no matter, I have a show there in a couple of months. I suppose youll be golfing while youre here, he says.
Journalists are so much better prepared in the internet age a quick look at my website, a few Googles, and I am indeed, according to one publication, the No. 14 ranked golfing musician in the world, sorry lot that we are.
Actually, no! No free time on this tour Why? Are there good courses in the area? I inquire.
Have you heard of Cape Kidnappers?
About that no free time 24 hours later I have emailed my promoter and moved my single day off on the New Zealand leg to Napier. Flights have been changed and Cape Kidnappers has been contacted. Im not missing out on a chance like this. If youve read a golf magazine in the last five years then you know that Cape Kidnappers is the most lauded new golf course on the planet. Miles from nowhere, but apparently, not too far from Napier, what was a cliff top sheep farm is now the preferred destination of the very, very rich. And the odd golf loving fool.
Slightly more the fool than usual right now. You see, when my Auckland concert was booked for October 26th I told my agent he could book San Francisco on the 23rd. A day to travel and a day off and Ill be nicely rested for the show. I was forgetting just one thing the international date line.
Flight departs San Francisco the 24th, arrives Auckland the 26th. Yikes! And I am not travelling at the front of the airplane I call my doctor and explain the situation I need drugs. Better than the ones you gave me last time I asked.
I arrive in Auckland at 7am, check in to the hotel and take aforementioned drugs. Somebody up there smiles, I sleep. My concert is a grand success, no thanks to the Yakatori bar immediately adjacent to the stage, but that is another story, and at 6.30 the next morning Im in a taxi. We touch down in Napier at 10.30 and I stumble into the awaiting shuttle bus. The drive from Napier is pleasant. Coastal villages, farm land, and then, off a country road a very discrete radio controlled gate. Welcome to Cape Kidnappers.
The drive from road to Clubhouse is seven kilometres, which reminds me of Monterey and in its own way this converted farm track is no less spectacular. One effectively enters a nature reserve and one no longer wonders why Saudi princes come here just to hike. Whatever created this planet was on exceptionally fine form when it got to Hawkes Bay and Cape Kidnappers. There isnt much to say except the hand of man is so deftly applied to the property that one often fails to notice it at all. I am all of a sudden at peace. Really. My mood, which was already good, starts to approach euphoric. And then we meet the television crew. Damn.
Ive agreed to play with a presenter from NZ TV3s highest rating current affairs show because they will plug my tour and my promoter would probably never work with me again if I refused. I wanted to.
On the 1st tee its about 5ºC and its so windy we can barely stand. Tristram is wearing shorts. He tops one, we lose it, then another, we lose it. Hes awfully embarrassed and yet quite happy to provide on camera comic relief. Very old school entertainment industry a trouper, and hes smart. An hour later, when he smashes a perfect 3 wood onto the 6th green, were high fiving. Well, almost. The broadcast called me the worlds best golf-playing musician. Terrible journalism, cant they Google? The crew leave after the 6th and its just club pro Jonathan, me, and the worsening weather. But I am radiant. I love this course.
Look at the photos. Enough said.
When a setting is so stunning, so exceptional, how can the golf course not be overshadowed? Heres how by integrating itself into the terrain with such elegance that it looks and feels like it was always there. That the green sites, the bunkers were found, not designed. I can think of no higher praise because these holes are also of the very highest calibre. Tom Doak was at the very height of his considerable powers when he and his design team built Cape Kidnappers.
However, late October might not be the ideal time to visit and much as I love the game, the course, and Jonathan is excellent company, there is cursing. What exactly have I done to deserve this? Its damn near unplayable. All the other golfers have called it a day and its just the two of us out there. And we do have some fun, good shots are played, I par a couple, but much of the time its hard labour. Into the wind, at least, the shot is predictable. It goes nowhere. My nailed driver on the 165 metre 13th is well short. But downwind, down grain, the ball just cant be stopped, and somehow or other I keep finding my better efforts rewarded with this proposition. Damn. A humbling game indeed. It is, in fact, one of Cape Kidnappers greatest strengths, which makes the course so frustrating today. They keep it firm and fast. The ground game is very much on. I look forward to returning and playing in a moderate breeze. If theyll have me after they read this.
The rain holds off for the most part, a few minutes here and there, but it stings like hell when its hitting your already weather beaten cheeks. And then on the 17th the heavens open. We cant quit now, weve made it this far. Heads down, we march on.
When my second to the last heads into the soaked hay short right I feel like leaving it there. I feel like crying, actually. But, I am representing England, and Im soaked to the bone already. I go look for it and, damn if I dont almost step on it. I hack it out, chip on, putt out and that must have been about 110. I stopped counting hours ago.
Back in the clubhouse, the remarkably understated farmhouse style clubhouse, it takes me an age to get dry but I cant stop the shivers. Back at the hotel I hang the wet clothing where I can. A quick dinner, a glass of wine and Im in bed. No need for drugs tonight. In the morning the sun is shining, there is barely a cloud and a light breeze is coming off the ocean. Damn.
Sure enough, I now spend most of my free time between shows in bed with a hot water bottle and a towel around my head, drinking tea with Manuka honey. Singing is not easy, flying is not fun, but I do get the sleep I need (thanks doc), and although I miss a scheduled golf day in Melbourne, a week later Im just about well enough to head to Tasmania.
Not for the beer, but for the golf. Im off to Barnbougle Dunes, on the north east coast the second most written about new course in the Southern Hemisphere. The No.1 ranked Public Access course and the first real links in Australia.
Designed by Doak again, this time partnered with Melbournes own Mike Clayton. Who was supposed to be playing with me, but some tournament came up, in Spain some European Seniors Tour Championship. Sort out your priorities, mate!
Had I wanted to get sick again I would have just booked myself the flight that Golf Australia did the taxi picks me up at my swanky CBD hotel at 4.45am. I am getting a little old for this. Choppy flight, but I no longer worry. If I dont fly I dont work. If one goes down, so be it. This one doesnt, and we touch down around 9am. By the time Im shuttled to the pro shop an hour or so later, it is clearly not calm its blowing, and it seems to be getting worse. But its clear. And my mood is good. Sheep on the driving range made me chuckle now that shows fabulous indifference to typical bourgeois attitudes. Are they wearing proper attire? Plus, my welcome was warm and down to earth. No TV crew. But by the time I get to the 1st tee its deja vu all over again.
The 1st is a classic get them out there opener. A par-5 about as wide as it is long lost balls should not be an issue. Right. I hit a nice solid baby draw into the teeth of the wind and pull my rented clubs behind me in the gigantic wheeled contraption they have given me. Its hard work, and before I even get to the fairway Im feeling mulish, and not in a stubborn way. Like a work animal. The landing area was blind from the tee, but my ball must be out here somewhere, left of centre. It is not, its gone. Not in the light rough. Gone. On the wind, as they say. OK, no sidespin at all allowed today. Im not that good, but Ill try. I drop a ball, no way Im I making that walk again. I set up to play and the buggy is off, as if propelled by some golf hating poltergeist, back towards the tee. This is some wind. I run to catch it and finally manage to position it in such a way that it remains motionless for a few moments. Hit, pull, hit, pull, hit, pull. Damn. Its taken me 15 minutes to get the green. I cant do this. I walk back to the clubhouse and ask if I might take a carry bag instead. This thing is useless in the wind. There isnt one. The trick, apparently, is to knock the buggy onto its side to park it. Thats stupid, but, OK.
As I reach the tee again Im greeted by a vicious near horizontal downpour. Damn. I pull out my rain jacket and attempt to put it on, but I cant. Its flying left and right in like a wind sock. Damn. I cant get my arm in it. I must look like Buster Keaton, but I am not amused. Im reduced to cowering behind the buggy using the jacket as a blanket, shivering until the worst of the gale subsides. Damn. Damn this weather!
Eventually I get out there again but Im not in the best of moods. To tell the truth, Im feeling slightly picked upon, and a little lonely.
As a rule I like to golf alone, and I like to golf with friends, I like a friendly match and I like to play in tournaments. Thats right. I like to play golf. But golf without an opponent, well, Im not so sure about that. Should the weather be within the bounds of reasonable expectation, Im happy to play alone against par. Or if it is tough going, bogey. But on a day like this? Really, matchplay is the only way to go. Its the same for both of you and fun can, and will, be had. But Im alone. Maybe I should just walk the course. No, Im not that smart.
The front nine is absolutely fabulous, full of quirk, charm and challenge, but thats enough. The buggy thing is annoying, I havent been able to find anything like a golf swing, and to add insult to injury, a good portion of the course is effectively out of play. A key feature at Barnbougle, a controversial one, are large expanses of exposed sand Clayton calls them blowout bunkers similar to those naturally created by the wind in the dunes. Well, when it howls like this (its over 70 km/hr Im later told), these areas would quite simply be blown away. Cant have that. So, massive jets of water, looking more like Geneva fountains than anything Ive ever seen on a golf course before, constantly hydrate these sensitive areas, which makes perfect sense, unless you hit a ball into or even near said sensitive area.
I park the buggy and hit the bar. A cup of tea and a whisky, please, and one of those cookies. Thats better. Warmed and refreshed, I have an idea. Why didnt I think of this earlier? I walk on to the 10th tee with a ball in my hand, two in my pocket, and a 3 iron, 7 iron and putter in my hand. Im going old school!
Amazing what mood can do for the golf swing. And then vice versa. The Hogan blade 3-iron goes about 110 metres into the wind, hit perfectly, anything else goes nowhere. So it takes three or four shots to reach most par-4s but I dont care. Im golfing my ball. If I could shoot bogey golf for nine holes with three clubs, in these conditions, that would be really something. That it would. When, exactly, I had that thought, I dont recall, but I shouldnt have had it. Still, I only seriously screw up the 17th and about an hour after teeing off on the 10th Im back in the bar, feeling almost smug. No one else is playing. Im the lone wolf out there.
Same again, please. Two whiskies before dinner is never recommended, but Im not driving. Still, my logic flies out of the window and I add the 3-wood and the wedge to the hand held set having decided Id like another go at that outward nine. Disaster doesnt strike immediately, but I cant hit a 3 wood without a little draw, and I should know that. When Im down to just one ball left I revert to the 3 iron, but Im tiring. My game is deteriorating. Still Im glad to see the front without the devil buggy. The 4th hole, probably my favourite out there, would, under normal conditions, be a 3 wood and a pitch. Its drivable for todays young guns. I know now, that there is fairway beyond the giant bunker which dominates the hole, and whats more it will feed my ball to the green. I execute two 3 irons and Im left with a six-footer, my only serious look at birdie all day. When the putt races past the hole I didnt see that slope and then I miss the next one, thats probably when I should have just enjoyed the walk back to the clubhouse. But no, Im not that smart.
The 7th is a very short three, gorgeous. A tiny green with dastardly bunkering short and left. I come over the top of a would-be punch 7-iron, into the first bunker, which just so happens to be a sensitive one, so the hydration is set to full blast. I can see my ball. Its partly buried about a metre up the face. The sprinkler is oscillating, covering about a 120º arc. It takes about 30 seconds to complete the cycle. I can do this. I watch, I time my move, I get to my ball, I swing splat the club hits the saturated sand. The ball moves maybe an inch. Then the deluge hits. I am thoroughly hydrated. I exit without raking the bunker. Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn!
Back in the bar and after a shower, Im reading Claytons book, Barnbougle Dunes The Beginnings. The hole-by-hole essays are especially helpful to the would be journalist who just cursed his way around the course. How there ever came to be a course here is a fairytale story that would warm the heart of the most hardened cynic. Too long to relate here, Im sure you can Google it.
For the record, the Richard Sattler I met loves his red wine and loves to share it. Seated to my left at dinner hes exactly as youd want your potato farmer turned golf speculator to be warm, generous and full of life. As for the course he hired the right guys and left them to it. Thats how you do it. Ill drink to that!
Doak writes: To design courses that can be enjoyed even when you are playing badly and that will stand the test of time, is the art of golf architecture. Sure, I had a rotten day. Two, actually, with a rotten week in between. But up here in the attic, looking down at the New England snow, Im already planning my return to both courses, only next time, not alone, and not in October.
LLOYD COLES SOUTHERN ODYSSEY
Lloyd Cole is an English singer and songwriter, who was lead singer of Lloyd Cole and the Commotions between 1984 and 1989. The bands biggest hits in Australia were Perfect Skin (1984) and Lost Weekend (1985). Now living in the United States, he is an avid single-figure golfer and travels regularly to Australia with his golf clubs.
WHERE TO PLAY
Location: Hawkes Bay, North Island, New Zealand.
Architect: Tom Doak, 2004.
Green Fee: $400 (high season, October to April); $300 (low season, May to September).
Contact: +64 6 873 1018 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting +64 6 873 1018 end_of_the_skype_highlighting, www.capekidnappers.com
Location: Bridport, Tasmania.
Architects: Tom Doak and Mike Clayton, 2004.
Green Fee: $120 (all day fee).
Contact: +64 6 873 1018, www.barnbougledunes.com.au
Note – This article originally began and ended with “Fuck, Fuck, Fuck, Fuck”, which is what I did say. Brendan, the editor, tried his best to keep it that way… but he was overruled by the publisher. Which is fair enough. I’m happy just to be published.
Publication: Golf Australia
Publication date: 14/4/2010