In Search of Swingers – chapter one

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SO IT GOES LIKE THIS. I like golf, but mostly I like meeting people. My previous travel books (‘One Man, 23 Beers and a Crazy Bet’ and ‘Bowling Through India’) are proof of that. The former involved street singing around the UK in the middle of winter (door-to-door I might add) and trying to make enough money to fly home. The latter was a case of five grown men gallivanting around the most populous nation on earth and losing cricket matches against nine-year-olds.

The book you are reading has a similar theme, only this time my idea was to tour the U.S. and play golf with whoever happened to feature on the front page of the newspaper in whatever town I happened to be visiting.

As you’ll see, it was a scary, brilliant, eye-opening look at a wonderful country.

Since this trip, new towers have been built in Manhattan and New Orleans is still recovering from the effects of Katrina. But friendships live on and many of the Americans you’ll meet in the following pages are still my friends today. Thank you to anyone who took this crazy adventure seriously.

Justin Brown – October 2013

CHAPTER ONE

World Ice Golf Tournament put on Ice!

‘Unseasonably warm weather has forced one of the world’s most challenging golf tournaments to be called off just days before competitors, including a New Zealand player, were set to leave for Greenland. The World Ice Golf Championship was due to take place from March 28-30. However, the World Ice Golf committee announced this morning it had cancelled the event because unseasonably warm weather over the last month had created poor ice conditions.’

THIS ARTICLE HAD a big say in why I had started this adventure in the first place. Two months earlier, I had been selected to represent my country in the most bizarre golf competition on earth, but now, quicker than you could say “No ice in Greenland, are you crazy?”, my chance to bring back the coveted trophy had been washed down the sink along with my jet lag pills. It would now be next year when 36 golfers from around the world would meet 400 miles north of the Arctic Circle and compete in sub-zero temperatures on a course where the greens are white, the balls are orange and the risk of exposure to sun blindness, polar bears and seal holes are very real indeed. So there I sat in my kitchen, caressing my passport, golf clubs at the ready and equipped with clothing fit for the coldest place on earth.

All dressed up and no place to go.

Course designer Henrik Bergqvist: ‘The ice is simply not stable enough for an event of this caliber to proceed safely. As this is an extreme sporting event, the safety of our representatives is a major concern.’ New Zealand’s Ice Golf representative, Justin Brown, says the setback has made him even more determined to take out the tournament next year.’

Take out the tournament? Thanks for your confidence Henrik, but I would have been happy just to play a full round with my ears intact. I know for a fact I wouldn’t have troubled the scorers but I had entertained the thought of meeting bizarre people and competing on icebergs. For now, at least, I had to take comfort in the fact that elsewhere in the world, 35 other golfers were moping around blaming global warming and thirsty polar bears.

Even though the Ice Golf Champs had been canceled, the thought of a life-changing event like this had put me in a rather adventurous mood. What could I do over the next year that was a little different to brush up on my golf skills? I needed something as ridiculous as Greenland. Having lived in New Zealand, where some say extreme sports are part of the diet, it is often hard to avoid attempting a few yourself:
1.Bungee jumping (hated it).
2.White water rafting (fell out).
3.Sky diving (lost car keys).

That’s not entirely true. I did enjoy all of the above but mostly because along with milking a poisonous snake and learning to fold maps, they’re the sorts of things you’d like to do before you die. Sometimes two birds can be killed with one stone; sometimes you die doing them.

Golf, though, is nothing like that. Not an extreme bone in its body. At least that’s what I thought until I discovered the Ice variety. Add a few polar bears, seals and snow blindness to your round and you have an interesting Sunday afternoon.

Ordinary golf may not be extreme but that’s not to say it’s not dangerous. Just ask my mother; here she was standing in the gallery at the New Zealand Open, minding her own business, tiring of other gallery members yelling out ‘Get in the hole,’ when a fly ball from a very amateur professional smacked her in the head. A rescue helicopter turned up and took her home via the hospital where Dad, the ever keen and committed golfer, gave her a cup of tea and an aspirin and returned to the tournament.

So after hearing the news I would now have to wait another 364 days, eleven hours, ten minutes and fifteen seconds (hey, I was looking forward to this), I should have then headed to the nearest golf course to vent my frustration, yet somehow a bar seemed a more attractive option. There I met my friend Jon, another fellow average golfer. We talked missed putts, best drives and reasons why we never seem to play anymore.
‘But you’re still going next year aren’t you?’ Jon asked, placing a beer in front of me.
‘Yeah, but that’s next year, isn’t it?’
‘So? It’s something to look forward to.’
‘But it’s a year away.’
‘Well, you’ll be getting lots of practice in, won’t you?’

Even though I had been playing since the age of seven, when my father had sliced a five iron in half so I could swing the thing, I had never really gotten used to the fact that golf is a game about patience and practice. As I possessed neither of these qualities, I was confined to the group of golfers who complain when they can’t get on the course wearing a t-shirt, complain when they don’t shoot under 100 even though they haven’t played for years, and never replace their divots.
‘It sounds like you need a new challenge,’ Jon offered. ‘Like playing somewhere as equally bizarre as Greenland, to brush up on your skills for next year’s tournament.’
‘Like where?’ I asked.
‘How about the Sahara?’
‘Too many bunkers.’
‘The Amazon?’
‘Too many trees.’
‘How about the Middle East?’
‘Very funny.’
‘I think I may have the answer,’ I said, placing the newspaper that bore Greenland’s cancellation on the table. The article featuring my ugly mug stared up at us as I offered a solution.
‘Shoot,’ Jon said, resigned to the fact that the Middle East obviously wasn’t it.
‘I’ll be traveling by myself, right?’
‘Right.’
‘So I won’t have anyone to play with?’
‘Right.’
‘What better place to find potential partners than on the front page of the newspaper?’
Jon obviously didn’t follow. I continued. ‘How about I challenge to a game of golf, anyone who happens to feature on the front page of the newspaper, on that day, in that town?’
‘Why?’ he asked.
‘Why not? For a start, they’re bound to be interesting, otherwise they wouldn’t be on the front page. And they’ve obviously got a story to tell and they’d be great company.’
Jon looked confused, then slightly pensive. A wriggly smile formed. ‘The front page you say?’ he asked.
‘The front page.’
‘Of any paper?’
‘Any paper.’
I could hear his brain ticking. ‘In the Middle East?’
‘No, Jon, not the Middle East. The United States.’
‘Okay, wise guy,’ he said. ‘What if that person happens to be George Bush?’
‘Problem.’
‘Or Marilyn Monroe?’
‘Bigger problem.’
‘You’re mad.’
‘Thank you.’

And so it came to be: I would travel to the USA (Sahara and the Amazon out of budget range not to mention limited newspaper print runs) and play golf with whoever happened to feature on the front page of the newspaper in whatever town I happened to be staying in that day.

Why would you put yourself through such trauma, I hear you ask. How will you get hold of these people? How will you convince them to play golf?
‘It’s quite simple. In a world full of anger, confusion and unrest, here is a pointless challenge by a pointless man who can at least see the point in a pointless game.’
‘And what’s that point again?’ he asked.
‘That point, my dear friend is to meet newsmakers and thrash them at golf.’
‘That sounds as ridiculous as Greenland.’
‘Thank you.’