AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – With one golf course for every 10 thousand or so people, New Zealand has the second-most golf courses per capita of any country in the world.
Only Scotland has more – and its people invented the game.
This past Saturday, I played one of the country’s most beautiful courses – Gulf Harbour Country Club, which is stitched to a rocky peninsula 30 minutes outside of Auckland.
I didn’t keep my scorecord, but I’m confident I turned in something below 200.
You might think this traumatized me, but as a second year golfer trying to break 100 on flat, wide-open tracks in New York, it felt like a tremendous feat.
Saturday’s wind is why.
Blowing 40 knots, it would take my drives – even the infrequent, straight ones – and run them high into the sky, halt their forward progress, and then fire them in a sudden shooting arc to the right, the left, or anywhere but the fairway.
And then, my ball was never still on the greens. Even as I watched others putt, it would just sit there and quiver in the wind.
In the end, however, the horrific wind was a blessing.
Usually, I start my rounds with a charge – a run of pars and bogeys – only to inevtiably melt down toward the end of the front nine. It always crushes me with disappointed expectations. Then it takes me a couple holes to get my spirits back up enough to appreciate the outdoors and the simple good fortune of being able to whack a ball around for fun.
On Saturday, the wind beat all hope out of me by tee shot number two.
So, basically, I had all day to appreciate the course.
And what a course it was.
Hole 2 is where my spirits were crushed early. I launched a straight, high drive. It ran up the wind like an elevator and then disappeared.
Andy Hamilton is the CEO of a startup incubator in Auckland called Icehouse. Like many Kiwis, he's been playing golf since he was a kid.
Hole 4 acquainted me with Gulf Harbour's fescue grasses. See the two trees on the right side of the fairway? I did. Up close.
It's winter down here right now, so you can see the moon in the middle of the afternoon. This is from the 6th hole's fairway.
Here's the view from that green, where Andy is standing with Robbie Paul, an American project manager who works for him
On hole 9, I hit my second shot from just off the fairway to 20 yards in front of the green. Let's not get into what happened next.
Hole 15 was a short par 3. Andy tagged the green, but the wind blew his ball off it. That's why I aimed for the sand.
Despite the stunning and intimidating view, I actually reached this fairway. And it only took one provisional.
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