Its midnight on a Sunday in New York, I just found out I wouldn’t be getting a new work visa and I need to leave the country by Thursday. I’ve got US$10 000, a backpack, a golf bag and a mind full of ideas, now all I need … is a plan.
Kangaroos on the 4th green at Eustondale Golf Club
A number of factors would go into planning the route; places I wanted to see; people I wanted to visit and most importantly, cities where I knew people and could bum a free bed!
Leaving New York in a hurry, my first destination was Cancun, Mexico. With visa issues again being my Achilles Heel, my stay had been reduced from one month to 15 hours, and with 15 hours to kill, I was perfectly aligned for my first round of golf on the road! Tourism Information pointed me in the direction of the Cancun Golf Club at Pok te Pok, getting there however would mean a series of bus journeys, storing my luggage somewhere and starting my crash course in Latin American Spanish, Ole’!
The course was laid out on the edge of the lagoon and had a few very scenic holes, but apart from the Mayan Ruins interspersed around the course, it was very ordinary, especially for the tourist inflated green fees of US$100.
My forced change in travel plans meant I now had a full three months to explore South America and with friends, Pablo and Sole, in Buenos Aires, it was the perfect starting block for my adventure, it also gave Pablo the chance to avenge his loss when playing golf in Florida a year earlier.
With most of the courses lying just outside of the city, we decided to play at Pilar Golf, a 27-hole residential estate and one of the few open to the public. I was instructed to get the bags ready, while Pablo went into the pro shop to pay, signing me up as his affiliated friend, Arturo, we avoided paying international visitor prices.
This must have been quite confusing to the starter, who after watching my tee shot sail out of bounds with a hooked drive, recommended I hit a provisional, but with my Spanish vocabulary of “Hola” and “Gracias”, he could have been telling me that “my shoe was untied” or that “I have the nicest swing he has ever seen!” Pablo intervened and I think made some reference to suggest that I was either hard of hearing or just a little ‘slow’. I managed to find my ball and proceeded to take a 2-0 lead over Pablo with a 3 & 2 victory.
I left my clubs with Pablo in Buenos Aires and headed south through Argentina, my next opportunity to play was only in Ushuaia, at the Southern most golf course in the World, but being the month of May, it was covered in snow and with only 3 hours of daylight, I probably wouldn’t have gotten around anyway.
Pucon's 9th Green
Traveling through Chile, Peru and Bolivia didn’t prove to fruitful either, the courses either being closed for the winter or just too expensive. The nicest course I came across was in Pucon, Chile. Sitting in the shadows of the active Villarica Volcano, with black volcanic sand bunkers and amazing views over the lakes, the best I could do was walk the 9-hole layout.
I had to wait until arriving in Buenos Aires again where I would go 3-0 up on Pablo at his home course, Las Lajas, a short Par 3 course where his parents have a holiday home. Before I knew it, my bags where packed again and I was leaving South America behind me….next stop: Auckland, New Zealand.
New Zealand easily fills its quota of necessary Backpacker essentials; beautiful landscapes; unlimited adrenalin activities and free beds at friends, family friends, friend’s families and the occasional random stranger. Add to that a sport mad population and cheap golf courses around every second corner and you’ve got yourself a winner!
I had become familiar with a particular Google search, “cheap golf courses” or “public golf courses in…..”. In this case it was Auckland, and in just 0.15 seconds I had 17 900 results of how to find what I was looking for. I didn’t have to go any further than the first result, Chamberlain Park, leading to my first round on New Zealand soil, make that soggy and wet New Zealand soil!
After some time in ‘The City of Sails’, I flew South to Queenstown, to start my overland journey north again and back up to Auckland. I had to wait until Christchurch however before playing golf again, this time with Neal’s clubs at Rawhiti Municipal Golf Links. The most impressive thing about this round was that the rain held off for long enough for me to complete it, the birdie 3 on the 10th was also pretty good though!
The last stop on the South Island was Picton and probably one of the most scenic spots on the trip, from here I caught the ferry to Wellington, or ‘Windy Wellies’ where I met up with Neal again. The planning was perfect, he had driven down from Auckland, bringing my golf clubs with him, and I had brought his up from Christchurch. The real golf holiday was about to begin!
In the next week we would cover the North Island, play 6 rounds of golf, sleep in some dodgy backpacker hostels and eats lots of peanut butter.
Berhampore GC, Wellington
We started with Wellington’s mid-city public course at Berhampore, which is possibly one of the most challenging courses I have ever played. With every hole having at least 20m of elevation change and ‘Windy Wellies’ living up to her name, we both scraped out of there with our dignity and sanity barely intact.
Departing Wellington slightly battered, we headed up in both geographical terms and altitude to Waiouru Golf Club, at 818m above sea level, it is the highest 18 Hole golf course in NZ. For the second time in two days we were two of only four people on the course and with no one in the pro shop, we were trusted to leave our green fees in an envelope under the door.
The affordability of golf forced us to adjust our plans to visit Roturua’s price inflated tourist attractions and seek out a lake front gem of a course at Hamurana, the 9 Hole course with alternate tees was perfect and almost far enough from downtown Roturua to evade the putrid sulphur emissions from the thermal springs. It is also important to mention that as the week was continuing, the golf was getting considerably better.
Our method of driving from town to town, keeping our eyes peeled for any sign of shortly mown grass or a fluttering pin flag had been working like a charm, until reaching Tauranga, the largest town on our trip so far. Fortunately on our third attempt, we found an affordable option at Otumoetai Golf Club, a very tight layout in the city and also the busiest course we would play.
In celebration of a good round of golf, we hit the town running that night, which in turn left us in no state for an early morning tee time the following day, only just making it up to Tairua on the Coromandel Peninsula in the afternoon. Our hostel turned out to be a small house which we had to ourselves and worked out to be perfect for watching South Africa beat Samoa in their Rugby World Cup 2007 match.
Purangi Country Club
The following morning we packed a few more travelers and their bags into an over flowing car and scraped our way very slowly to Cathedral Cove, the beautiful beach making the painful drive worth it and after a swim we headed off again. Just around the corner, hidden between rolling hills and farmland, the Purangi Golf & Country Club was another great find.
A great benefit of playing mid-week on a quiet, country course was being able to change from your swimming shorts into your golf gear in the parking lot and then after 9 holes, instead of stopping in the half way house, making peanut butter sandwiches with a Swiss Army Knife on the back of the car!
My best golf was saved for the last 9 holes on the road, at Thames Golf Club, missing a sub 40 with a bogey on the last! And with that, the road trip was over, and so was my time in New Zealand…next stop: Sydney, Australia.
Before settling into Sydney however, I had the mammoth task of attempting the public transport system fully loaded with my bags. The joy though of even the public transport in Sydney is that the ferries come and go from the foot of two of their major attractions, The Opera House and Harbour Bridge. So sitting out in the sun, my feet up on my golf bag and happily snapping away from the back of the ferry to Cremorne Point.
With the social network of South Africans spreading over both New Zealand and Australia, I con-tinued to keep my accommodation expenses down by staying at various friends and acquaintances, but with little planned again for Oz, I decided to clear my head with my first game of golf, the Cammeray Golf Club playing host.
As is normally the case, the city layouts charged more than their country cousins, but I could still afford 18 holes at Sydney’s most reasonable public course. The 9-Hole Cammeray course had some really good holes and under the guidance of a local member for the first 9 holes, I managed to get around in far warmer conditions than New Zealand had made me accustomed to.
I obviously hadn’t learnt too much the first time around, only improving by one stroke on the 2nd 9 holes. The highlight of the round, possibly, was not having to use public transport to get home again, but rather in the air-conditioned luxury of my hosts Mercedes AMG I was using.
Leaving the golf clubs behind again, I left Sydney on the Greyhound to explore Australia’s East Coast. A brief visit down to Melbourne had the added bonus of a truly Australian tradition, a weekend long ‘Ute Muster’ in Deniliquin, with more Bundy Rum consumed than necessary!
Heading north again I made a stop in Byron Bay, where three things happened; One – I needed a swimming costume and towel for the first time in almost six month of traveling; two – I planned and booked buses, flights and tours for the rest of my Australia trip, and three – I ran out of money!
With two weeks to go, my bank accounts were empty and a desperate call was made (reverse charge) home. Being bailed out by my folks was one thing, making it through the weekend while the bank transfers the money, was another!!
In land from Brisbane, perched on the edge of the Great Dividing Range, is the city of Toowoomba, way off the usual tourist trail, but home to a primary school friend, Paul, whom I hadn‟t seen in 20 years. Home also to Eustondale Golf Course
, described as ‘a natural Australian golf course’ it is a relatively short Par 33 9-Hole course. Bearing in mind the severe drought being experienced at the time, it explained the rock hard fairways and greens, making it impossible to stop a ball without 20m of roll. This was fortunate in a way as I only had two clubs, a 5-iron and wedge, in my rental bag with anything resembling a grip, and at over 30 degrees, I needed all the grip I could get.
Further north was dominated by all touristy activities, including a 2-Day safari to Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the World and a day of snorkeling off Cairns on the Great Barrier Reef.
Back in Sydney, with only two days before flying home there was still time for one more round of golf. A few weeks earlier, while being shown around, I had spotted out of the corner of my eye, the Bondi Golf Club. While most tourists spend their time on the famous beach, I set the GPS and headed off for the golf club. Sitting on top of the cliff and overlooking the beach and oceans on two sides, this short links style course is a test beyond its Par 28 scorecard shows. The only par 4 is the 5th hole, running along a steep cliff with ‘Out of Bounds’ markers reminding players where neither they nor their balls should go. Coming in with a 4 over par, 32, my ‘Round the World’ golf tour had ended well and I realized I had one more pack to do and one last flight to make.
Bondi Golf Club, Sydney
After 6 months around the World, the holiday was over, 216 holes of golf, 6½ hours on boats, 25 hours on trains, 77 hours on planes, 334½ hours on buses and 1 hell of an experience later, I was on my way home.
You may not have heard of any of the courses I played at and you surely won’t find them on any list of the ‘World’s Best Courses’, but for a social golfer like me, they were the best 14 rounds I could have asked for and finally after two years away from home, arriving in Cape Town with less money than what I left with, I wouldn’t change a thing, every crazy situation and decision justified and not a single regret …. except for my tee shot on the 7th at Berhampore, maybe I should have used the 7-iron!
Overlooking Tauranga’s mid-city course at Otumoetai Golf Club