TO GREENER PAS­TURES

Golf nut Jimmy Thom­son tours the world tak­ing a swing at those lit­tle white balls

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel -

STAND­ING on the side of a hill near Siena in Tus­cany, curs­ing a small white ball buried in the finest im­ported sand, I re­alise there is noth­ing quite like golf­ing on for­eign cour­ses. It’s an ed­u­ca­tion. As the brisk At­lantic breeze at Troon or Turn­berry in Scot­land turns your slices into hooks, you ap­pre­ci­ate why links cour­ses need no trees and lit­tle wa­ter to at­tract your golf balls.

There’s vir­tu­ally nowhere in the world that’s out of bounds: from flood­lit golf in In­dia to post-match foot mas­sages in Canada, from tak­ing in some tango be­tween rounds in Ar­gentina to hav­ing your chakras checked, along with your swing, in Cal­i­for­nia. In some coun­tries you can play on cour­ses that look as if they have been man­i­cured with nail scis­sors — be­cause they prob­a­bly have been — and hire a caddy for the price of a beer. He (or, in Viet­nam, she) will know the course bet­ter than the vet­eran club mem­bers, even though they have prob­a­bly never played it. You end up feel­ing like a pam­pered pro, de­spite play­ing like a hope­less hacker.

You tip the cad­die ex­tra for sti­fling laughs and groans. Take my word for it: gin and tonic tastes bet­ter when an African sun is set­ting over the 18th hole. And even a par-three ho­tel course in Tus­cany has its chal­lenges as well as its charms.

Which is where golf tour op­er­a­tors come into their own. Thanks to them, there’s a lot more than just scenery to dis­tract us from the aw­ful knowl­edge that, wher­ever we go, our fluffs, yips, slices and shanks go with us.

SOUTH AFRICA

In South Africa they know a bit about com­bin­ing golf and wildlife, and Cruiselite Tours of­fers a 15-day golf­ing sa­fari for those who want the best of both worlds. Golfers are able to squeeze some game-watch­ing be­tween rounds at venues such as the Skukusa Golf Course, the Gary Player Coun­try Club, the pic­turesque Ele­phant Hills Golf Course (where cad­dies of­ten have to clear the course of wildlife), and half a dozen beau­ti­ful Cape Town cour­ses.

Non-golfers can go on game drives and walks in such wildlife won­der­lands as Kruger Na­tional Park and the Drak­ens­berg Moun­tains, Mpumalanga. The trip also takes in Jo­han­nes­burg, Lesedi Cul­tural Vil­lage, Sun City, Cape Town and Vic­to­ria Falls, where there are ad­ven­ture ac­tiv­i­ties such as white­wa­ter raft­ing and bungy jump­ing (and they say golfers are crazy). More: www.sa-venues.com.

AR­GENTINA

If you want to prac­tise your swing dur­ing the day and your tango at night, Ar­gentina is the place. The pro­saically named Golf in Ar­gentina group of­fers a num­ber of tours that are as se­ri­ous about the game as Ar­gen­tineans are about their na­tional dance. For in­stance, one tour starts in Buenos Aires with a round at the Pi­lar golf club, fol­lowed by an af­ter­noon sight­see­ing in the city and a tango show dur­ing din­ner. Next day, tackle La Orquidea and the day af­ter play the fa­mous Jockey Club be­fore fly­ing to Mar del Plata, where Acan­ti­la­dos Golf Club, Mi­ra­mar links course and Playa Grande await, as well as the beach and casino. Al­ter­na­tively you could form your own party and use an agency such as Coolabar, which or­gan­ises ev­ery­thing from low-bud­get hit-and-run trips to lux­ury golf and tango tours; you tell them what you want and they’ll make it hap­pen, in­clud­ing trips across the border into Uruguay. More: www.gol­fi­nar­gentina.com; www.coolabar.com.

THE US

The US is awash with top-class golf cour­ses, so the Za­gat guide to its top golf cour­ses — the re­sult of a sur­vey of more than 6000 keen golfers — is in­valu­able if you in­tend to plan your trip in­de­pen­dently. The Za­gat guide con­tains rat­ings and re­views of 1095 golf cour­ses, based on more than 500,000 rounds last year. The guide also in­cludes golf travel tips: it’s like a Lonely Planet guide for golfers.

For the record this year Za­gat rates Whistling Straits, Wis­con­sin, the best course while Peb­ble Beach, Cal­i­for­nia, has been voted the US’s most pop­u­lar course for the fourth year run­ning. The guide in­cludes all sorts of vi­tal in­for­ma­tion such as green fees, which vary greatly: from less than $US40 ($47) to more than $US500 a round at the snazzy Shadow Creek, Ne­vada. More: www.za­gat.com/shop.

But, while trav­el­ing around ex­otic coun­tries has its own charms, in the US you’ll want to spend more time on the fair­way and less on the road. With that in mind, you can’t go past Myr­tle Beach in South Carolina, which has more than 100 pub­lic cour­ses along its 100km Grand Strand coast­line. More: www.mbn.com; www.lacosta.com/golf; www.golfhol­i­day.com.

An al­ter­na­tive is to stay at a golf re­sort, prefer­ably with a spa at­tached for any less golf-ob­sessed com­pan­ions. La Costa Re­sort and Spa has two PGA golf cham­pi­onship cour­ses that have chal­lenged greats from Jack Nick­laus to Tiger Woods. Just 30 min­utes north of San Diego and 90 min­utes south of Los An­ge­les, it is near the beach and fea­tures 17 ten­nis courts, four heated out­door swim­ming pools, five whirlpools and a chil­dren’s camp.

Its re­cently ren­o­vated spa in­cludes an ayurvedic Cho­pra Cen­tre, and renowned golf fit­ness in­struc­tor Roger Fred­er­icks has in­tro­duced flex­i­bil­ity train­ing ses­sions to aug­ment the ba­sic golf in­struc­tion.

CANADA

Canada isn’t the first coun­try that springs to mind when one thinks of golf but the In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Golf Tour Op­er­a­tors re­cently named Bri­tish Columbia as the golf des­ti­na­tion of the year for North Amer­ica.

It’s not hard to see why when Golf Canada West has clever ideas such as Pam­pered Put­ters, a pro­gram for women golfers that in­cludes spa treat­ments, guided hikes, horse­back break- fasts and foot mas­sages (in a limo while be­ing whisked off to lunch); and that’s in ad­di­tion to some great golf cour­ses.

Golf Canada West also brings out your com­pet­i­tive side with a two-day, 72-holes-a-day con­test for a cash prize. Feel the pres­sure the pros en­dure — even if you don’t play like one — while you thrash your way around cour­ses with the Cana­dian Rock­ies as a spec­tac­u­lar back­drop. More: www.golf­canadaswest.com.

IN­DIA

If Canada isn’t on your A-list of pre­dictable golf des­ti­na­tions, then In­dia will seem pos­i­tively bizarre. But the Bri­tish didn’t leave only cricket and snooker when they slunk home af­ter a cou­ple of cen­turies of colo­nial­ism, and there’s an added pi­quancy to golf­ing in the sub­con­ti­nent.

The Great In­dian Golf­ing Ex­pe­ri­ence takes you from the mon­u­mentstrewn fair­ways of Delhi Golf Club to night golf at DLF Golf and Coun­try Club, also in Delhi. There’s a nine-hole course in the shadow of the Taj Mahal at Agra while the Ram­bagh Palace Polo and Golf Club in Jaipur, Ra­jasthan, boasts an 18-hole par 72 course.

In be­tween, there are all the usual In­dian treats — ele­phant rides and tours of forts and palaces — but golf­ing in In­dia has its own ap­peal, if only to say that you’ve done it. More: www.in­di­agolf­tours.com.

VIET­NAM

Given that Viet­nam is Com­mu­nist-run and golf has long been con­sid­ered a bour­geois pur­suit, this coun­try was slow to pick up on the trend. But the cli­mate is per­fect for lush grass and wa­ter haz­ards and, in­creas­ingly, much of the ac­com­mo­da­tion in Viet­nam is world class, so golf cour­ses and re­sorts are spring­ing up ev­ery­where.

From the Song Be Golf Re­sort (a walk­ing course where the cad­dies are fe­male) near Ho Chi Minh City in the south, via the Dalat Palace Golf Club (orig­i­nally a nine-hole course cre­ated for em­peror Bao Dai in 1922) in the cen­tral high­lands to the spec­tac­u­lar King’s Is­land Golf Re­sort and Coun­try Club, 45km from Hanoi, there are at least 15 top-notch cour­ses and an­other 10 un­der con­struc­tion.

Golf in Viet­nam has sev­eral pack­ages, in­clud­ing a seven-day, four­course ex­cur­sion. Viet­nam Golf Tours of­fers up to 10-day, five-course guided tours for groups of six to 16 while Lux­ury Travel Viet­nam has trips from two to 19 days for the ter­mi­nally golf­mad. More: www.golfin­viet­nam.net; www.viet­nam­golf­tours.com; www.lux­u­ry­trav­elviet­nam.com.

BALI

Bali is get­ting in on the golf­ing act with the lux­ury Melia Bali Vil­las & Spa Re­sort, Nusa Dua, of­fer­ing a three-day golf es­cape pack­age that in­cludes two nights’ ac­com­mo­da­tion in a su­pe­rior room, break­fast and one 18-hole green fee at ei­ther the Bali Golf and Coun­try Club or Nir­wana Bali Golf Club. The Bali Han­dara Coun­try Club is also nearby if too much golf isn’t enough.

Non-golfers, mean­while, can en­joy the Melia spa’s tra­di­tional Ba­li­nese mas­sages and beauty treat­ments. The re­sort has a fit­ness cen­tre with pool and sauna, ten­nis, squash and bad­minton, and a la­goon-style swim­ming pool. More: www.meli­a­bali.com.

THAI­LAND

This des­ti­na­tion’s rel­a­tive prox­im­ity to golf-ob­sessed Ja­pan means Thai­land is get­ting into the golf mar­ket in a big way. Thai Air­ways Royal Orchid Hol­i­days has a variety of mostly short-stay hol­i­days, many based in the hol­i­day hot spots of Chi­ang Mai, Phuket, Pat­taya, Hua Hin and, of course, Bangkok. Re­ports are that the cour­ses are im­mac­u­late and chal­leng­ing; and all this proves Thai­land isn’t just about bud­dhas, beaches and kick­box­ing. More: www.tha­iair­ways.com/Royal— Orchid—Hol­i­days.

SCOT­LAND

So to fin­ish, ap­pro­pri­ately, where it all started. As with most of Bri­tain, Scot­land is lit­tered with de­cent golf cour­ses but if you want some­thing spe­cial, take the lux­u­ri­ous Royal Scots­man golf tour from July 19 to 23.

It’s not cheap — ex­pect to pay about $15,000 — but it in­cludes four nights aboard this very spe­cial train and two nights at the stately Gle­nea­gles Ho­tel. The golf in­cludes the King’s Course, Gle­nea­gles and Carnoustie, venue of this year’s Bri­tish Open. Then it’s off on the train to play Royal Dornoch, Nairn and Cru­den Bay. Mean­while, non-golf­ing com­pan­ions will see more dis­til­leries and stately homes than you can shake a five-iron at. More: www.roy­alscots­man.com.

Pic­ture: Hoang Dinh Nam/AFP/Getty Images

A swipe at tra­di­tion: A fe­male caddy watches play­ers on the green at one of Viet­nam’s grow­ing num­ber of qual­ity golf cour­ses

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