Winter is coming and hopefully, you will have time to find the sun and sneak in some warm weather rounds after a summer of 2008 that was rainy and cool in many parts of the country.
Writing golf travel stories is often therapy for a guy who has teed it up from the tropical shores of Hawaii to Middle East centres such as Dubai and Qatar and many points in between. The reality of deadlines can be softened by the memories of places you’ve played and people you’ve met along the way
The premier golf courses in the world have a way of providing sweet memories that last a lifetime, but those fairways and greens are only one aspect of a memorable golf vacation. Hanging out with the locals on and off the golf course is the complement to any journey.
Bertie the Bus Driver is a perfect example. His real name is Bertie Curtin, but we were prepared to call him Sir from the moment we touched down in last October on a trip that was part of a GolfScene contest. A strapping Irish lad with a mangled elbow from his rugby battles, sturdy Bertie has a rock jaw and a demeanour that initially leaves the impression that he won’t tolerate foolishness from the inhabitants of his Buckleys Tours bus.
While none of us had the physique, nor the inclination, to bring the big man down, Bertie’s barrel chest couldn’t disguise his heart of gold as the trip continued. Bertie singled out one member of our group who, at times, disregarded the itinerary, causing Bertie to either cajole him or scold him much to his chagrin and the rest of the group’s delight. Bertie the Bus Driver quickly became one of us and his knowledge of pubs at every stop was indeed impressive.
Bertie is a perfect example of someone who comes out of nowhere to enhance a golf vacation. He is now a legend in the minds of our group, but people who are higher-profile legends can also make a big difference on a golf journey.
Phoenix/Scottsdale is one of my favorite places to play. The Valley of the Sun has the resorts, golf courses, spas and attractions to make you feel like you’re living golf, instead of just playing it. Take a walk through the In Celebration of Golf retail store on Scottsdale Road and you will see what I mean.
The people will keep a smile on your face too, even if they have big names. Take Bob Uecker, for example. “Mr. Baseball,” as he’s commonly called, is just as likely to be swinging a golf club as he is a baseball bat these days and the legendary Milwaukee Brewers announcer was just about to do that the Scottsdale Celebrity event earlier this year.
When I introduced myself as one of his teammates and told him we’d give it our best to get to the prize table, his reaction was the same as mine – we’re only here to have fun.
Uecker kept that promise too. Early in the round, I thought he was clearing his throat with a distinctive “Humph.” I asked him if he was catching a cold, but he informed me that I look like Humphrey Bogart and I would, from now on, be known as “Humph,” a nickname that continued to the end and would probably be revived if I saw Uecker again.
The giggles provided by Uecker over 18 holes are too numerous to mention here, but they reminded me of a similar experience years earlier when I was informed that I would be teeing it up with a famous single-digit handicapper at Scottsdale’s Troon North.
When rock legend Alice Cooper showed up, I asked him if he preferred to be called Alice for the next 18 holes. “Just call me Coop,” he replied in a down-to-earth style that, like Uecker’s, would make you believe you were playing with someone who doesn’t get asked for autographs.
While Cooper had a child of the ‘70s cracking up at his stories, there were serious moments when he openly discussed his battle with alcohol and how golf replaced it as his addiction. Not only does he play at home, but he takes his clubs on the road and is very familiar with Canadian courses.
Having a big name is not a prerequisite to being a good person on the golf course. Take my buddy, Tom Wuckovich, for example. A travel writer from Tampa, he is commonly known as “Coach,” at least to his friends in Canada who are chartered members of his “Wu Crew”.
The king of the one-liners, he came up with a gem on a visit to Switzerland in which we crossed the border into France to play. We discovered a grave marker on one of the fairways that explained that the fellow below had been gunned down in a duel years ago.
“Know what his last words on this golf course were?” asked the Coach. “Nice shot.”
There haven’t been a lot of those when the Coach and I have played, but there have been plenty of memories. I first met him in Amsterdam nearly 10 years ago and we teed it up at a nearby course called Spaarnwoude.
A canal ran alongside one of the holes at Spaarnwoude and, after our tee shots, we began walking down the fairway when the Coach noticed two men and two women on the other side of the water close to the green. “Is it my imagination,” he asked. “Are those people wearing all brown?”
Upon closer examination, it was a different story. “I’ve got news for you buddy,” I replied. “They’re not wearing anything.”
The well-tanned naked folks were quite nice and even cheered a pretty good approach shot. I turned around and bowed and they waved as I walked up to the green. After putting out, we walked up to the next tee and noticed there were a bunch of folks in their birthday suits in a nearby clearing. It wasn’t an establishment, just a place where people like to sunbathe nude and they were there before the golf course, we were told when we inquired back at the clubhouse. It isn’t really a big deal in Holland, but a good memory for a traveling North American golfer.
There are plenty more to share, but the only thing that’s better than enjoying memories on the road, is looking forward to making new ones.