How Many Countries Have You Played Golf In? – I Count 42 & Looking To Make 50.

I was asked recently how many countries I have played golf.

In all my many years reporting on golf I don’t think I had been asked that question but then, and as I am always travelling with my Callaways, it got me thinking and after much deliberation and studying a map of the world for a good while, I counted 42 countries where I have be fortunate to tee-up a golf ball.

Now that’s not to say quantity translates into quality but 42 countries I thought that’s an awful lot of travelling.

My first round of golf in growing up in northern Sydney suburb of Willoughby was at the nine-hole Castle Cove Country Club and where was father was a member.  I was also a late starter to golf and finding my way into golf in my early 20s.

In mentioning Castle Cove, and where my father is honoured on the 4th hole with a rock he brought back from St. Andrews in Scotland and mounted in a plaque, I had my first hole-in-one at the hole before being the par-3 third hole.

Set in stone – A stone taken from the Swilcan Burn and now in a plaque at CastleCove GC in northern Sydney

Willoughby is a northern Sydney suburb and it was central to where many of us lived and our growing interest in golf led to the formation of a social club in March, 1979 when four of those who we shared a wee beverage on nearly every Saturday afternoon within the Bridgeview Hotel in Willoughby, left us and headed south to the sleepy town of Bowral, birthplace of cricketing legend Don Bradman, to play golf over the weekend.

Born out of the visit to Bowral was – The Willoughby Laurels.  We termed the ‘four’ who headed off to leave all the friends in the pub as the ‘Founding Fathers’ of the club.

Before long the golfing bug caught on so that we were now eagerly playing competition once a month.  Someone visited a local charity shop and walked out with a smart-looking green jacket.  That green jacket has been presented each March since 1980 to the winner of the 36-hole Laurels Masters and with the past champion, and as is the custom at Augusta National, fitting the new champion with the coveted green jacket.

The Willoughby Laurels have played over 500 rounds of golf and religioulsy every month, aside for a handful of washouts, since that weekend in March 1979 and two years ago very proudly celebrated 40-years golfing.  They also still continue to head out of Sydney for a 36-hole ‘Masters’ weekend early in every New Year.

My first overseas game of golf was in U.S. in 1980, and in the company with fellow Laurels member and still very good friend, Joe Sroba.  We landed in Vancouver and proceeded down the West Coast before heading all the way across the continent to visit my parents for Christmas and New Year, who at the time were living in Maryland and with my father working at the Australian Embassy in Washington, DC.

And while Maryland was in the depths of winter, Joe and I still managed a few games on a local Rockville course where all the water hazards were frozen.

That three-month U.S. journey was the first of now countless visits to the U.S. and highlighted golfwise with the excitement of teeing-up at Augusta National in 1998, and the day following Mark O’Meara winning the Masters and then eight years later in being selected from the Masters media ballot in 2006 to again play the Georgia golfing gem the day following Phil Mickelson capturing his second Masters.

In 2000, I travelled to the Pacific Island of Tonga to be the first to tee-up on a golf course at the stroke of midnight on 1st January, 2000 on the nine-hole Tonga Golf Club.  The feature story on this accomplishment appeared a day later in the UK’s Daily Record newspaper that I still so much enjoy filing copy.

One of the great aspects I’ve found in reporting on the European, PGA and Asian Tour’s is that there is always an opportunity to play golf whether is on a Wednesday afternoon when preview copy has been filed or, and most often has been the case, on a Saturday morning  when it is quite and the leaders of the tournament you are attending have yet to tee off.

For the record, here is a list of countries I’ve played golf and remembering also some of the golf courses I’ve played :-

🇦🇹 Austria

🇦🇺 Australia – So many but highlighted by Royal Melbourne (Grouped one year with Wayne Riley for a Heineken Classic Pro-Am), NSW, The Australian, Kingston Heath, Victoria, Huntingdale, Metropolitan, Sanctuary Cove, Royal Adelaide, Kooyonga, Royal Perth, Joonalup and The Links at Kennedy Bay.

While in Western Australia, I vividly recall going out to play Lake Karrinyup in 2002 very soon after Ernie Els won the Johnnie Walker Classic. Play had began very early to accommodate east coast of Australia TV and we finished our own round with patrons still ‘partying’ in the corporate boxes and giving us the look ‘who are these guys walking up the 18th?.  Other courses include a visit to Alice Springs and so many games in and around Sydney. I could drive up or down the coast from Sydney and boast ‘Oh, I’ve played there or played somewhere else’.

Alice Springs GC – In the middle of Australia

I had my second hole-in-one at Kiama Golf Club in the company of the then club captain and on a day prior to a Laurels Masters weekend.  On my most-recent visit back home in late 2019 I played Roseville, Bathurst and on Christmas Day afternoon went out to play 9-holes, and has been a custom for many years, at Castle Cove. The 1st January, 2020 was celebrated joining good friends Michael Court, Barry Gentle and Pat Carmody playing Long Reef in Sydney,and always on my list to play when back in Australia.

🇧🇸 Bahamas – Paradise Island, Royal Blue (During the course Hero World Challenge).

🇧🇭 Bahrain – Royal Golf Club (2011 – Day following Paul Casey winning Volvo Champions).  The golf course boast oild production pipelines about the course and even lining some of the streets in Bahrain.

🇧🇪 Belgium – Royal Waterloo post a Belgium Open that used to be on the European Tour schudule.

🇧🇷 Brazil – Gavea CC, Rio De Janiero (During 2000 European Tour Brazil Rio 500 Years Open won by Roger Chapman)

🇧🇬 Bulgaria – Thracian Cliffs (2013 Pro-Am Volvo World Match-Play Championship & won a nearest to pin while Tour Miss  proudly won a stunning cyrstal vase for the women’s longest drive.  The event won by Graeme McDowell).  I also played nearby Lighthouse GC during tournament.

2013 and Bernie in Bulgaaria on the Thracian Cliffs course overlooking the Black Sea.

🇨🇦 Canada – Golfed in Vancouver & Montreal.

🇨🇳 China – Hainan Island, Mission Hills, Shanghai – During TCL Classic, HSBC Champions, BMW Masters.  One of the great pleasures playing golf in China is the caddies.  They’re all young women and we’ve had great times helping them work on their English.  They’re great in reading the line of your putts and they’re always completely covered with only their face exposed.

🇬🇧 England – Royal Liverpool, Royal Birkdale, Royal St. Georges, Royal Mid Surrey, Royal Cinque Ports, Wentworth, Woburn, Silouth, Wallasey & so many more.  Very special memories of playing Haydock Park near Warrington with another long-time good friend in Trevor Peake.  I would stop over on Sunday nights at Trevor’s house at Newton-Le-Willows on route back to Scotland following Tour events at Wentworth and around the London area.  We would be up bright-and-early Monday and play a golfing version of the Ashes Series (Australia -v- England) with about two to three matches a year.

Haydock Park GC – Ninth green and clubhouse

I remember humbling Trevor 7 & 6 one year and sending him a postcard from a Europe event just a large ‘7’ and a very small ‘6’ written on the card.  Trevor had a good excuse and something along the lines of getting ‘bowled over’ the day before in the hospitality tent at the Haydock Park races. Of course, he kicked my butt many times.  It was always great fun and after the golf, I would get back on the M6 and continue to head north.  As well, one of the great attractions in visiting the Haycock Park club was being greeted by the lovely Julie who worked in the pro shop.

🇪🇨 Ecuador – Salinas GC.  A country not known for golf courses but this golf course was located along the Pacific Ocean and was stunning.  Also, in saying that Ecuador is not known for golf courses, there’s actually a golf course (Quito Golf Club) laid out beside Quito airport in the country’s capital and it came as a big surprise to me when first flying into this volcanoes-abound nation.

🇫🇷 France – It is only in the last decade that I have been playing more golf in France.  Most recently I’ve been teeing-up at Beauvallon, Barbaroux, Saint Tropez, Valescure, Sainte Maxime, Valgarde, Sainte Baume & Old Course, Cannes.

One of my favourite golf courses in France – Beauvallon near Sainte Maxime

🇩🇪 Germany – Velderhof GC north of Cologne & close to Gut Larcenhof and venue for German Masters.  Also Golf Club Muchen Eichenried & venue for BMW International Open + other venues.  I once teed-up in the Pro-Am for the BMW.

🇳🇱 Holland – Kennemer, Hilversum

🇭🇰 Hong Kong – Hong Kong GC during Pro-Am for UBS Hong Kong Open and the adjoining New Course at the club. I recall one year playing the 18th hole on the New Course as the players were teeing-off in the distance for the start of their rounds.  I hit this awful shot way left that cleared the trees and landed on the first fairway of the championship course.  Suffice to say, I gingerly disappeared off to the right and never went looknig for my ball.  I thought myself damn lucky as Colin Montgomerie was contesting the event that particular year.

🇮🇩 Indonesia – Bintan Island (High speed ferry from Singapore to Bintan during 1996 Johnnie Walker Classic won by Ian Woosnam) in accepting an invitation to play the new Ian Baker-Finch designed course.

🇮🇪 Ireland – Where to start?  Portmarnock, Portmarnock Links, European Club, Old Head, Dooks, Waterville, Mount Juliet, Ballybunnion, Kilkenny, Carton House, Lahinch, Doonbeg, Tralee, Belmullet and many more including Roganstown, Ballyliffin, Portsalon, Rosappena and Donegal on most recent visit mid-2019 with good friends and jounalist colleagues Michael Court, Barry Gentle and Paul Bennett. In 2002, I played alongside Andrew Coltart in the 2002 Pro-Am for the Northwest of Ireland Open on Pat Ruddy’s magnificently designed Glasheddy course at Ballyliffin.

Helping ‘Old Tom’ with a grip issue at Rosapenna

🇮🇹 Italy – Gardagolf, Golf De Milano (The day after 2015 Italian Open) and Is Molas during 2000 Italian Open.

🇯🇲 Jamaica –  Tryall Bay following Fred Couples winning 1995 Johnnie Walker Championship.  I recall playing cricket on the beach following with the third round with the likes of Ernie Els, Craig ‘Pazza’ Parry and the ‘cricketing nation-born’ caddies.

🇰🇿 Kazakhstan – Nurtau GC – Played in 2008 Kazakhstan Open pro-am alongside Scotland’s Greig Hutcheon & also that week I played Zhailjau GC in Almaty. I recall that in playing the Arnold Palmer designed Zhailjau course I was informed there was a house to the side of one hole owned by the then President of Kazakhstan.

🇲🇾 Malaysia – Kuala Lumpur GC for Malaysian Open & also pro-am 2016 EurAsia Cup at Glenmarie plus Saujana and Royal Selangor.

Saujana Country Club in Kuala Lumpur

🇲🇹 Malta – Royal Malta GC.   Not long but a great golf course when on one par-3 who have to hit over the ruins of a small chapel.  Gives new meaning to ‘divine intervention’ should you hole out in ‘1’.

🇲🇨 Monaco – Mont Agel following 1990 Monte Carlo Open. Ian Woosnam won the event three years runnning 1990-1992. and in 1990 went onto win the following week’s Scottish Open.

🇲🇦 Morocco – Royal Golf Dar Essalam in Rabat and Golf du Soleit in Agadir during the Hassan 11 Trophy week.

Dar Es Salam in Rabat, Morocco – Venue for many Hassan 11 Trophy events

🇳🇿 New Zealand – Gulf Harbor to the north of Auckland + others

🇬🇧 Northern Ireland – Most recent golfing visit in 2019 – Ardglass, Royal Portrush, Castlerock and Lough Erne. Other Northern Ireland venues include Royal County Down, Portstewart, Kilkeel, Holywood (and home to Rory McIlroy), and the 9-hole Bushfoot course.

🇵🇹 Portugal – Vilamoura – Victoria, Old, Millennium, Pinhal, Vilasol, Laguna, O’Connor along with Vale De Lobo.   I played these courses during many visits to the European Tour’s Portugal Masters.  Lisbon – Atlantico, Oitavos Dunes, Penha Longa, Estoril

🇶🇦 Qatar – Doha GC (Pro-Am Qatar Masters and other years day following tournament)

🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia – Royal Greens G & CC (Day following 2020 Saudi International)

With good friend Ernie Els during the 2020 Saudi International and the Arabian Sea as the backdrop.

🇬🇧 Scotland – Old Course, New Course, Jubilee, Eden, Muirfield, Carnoustie, Turnberry, Royal Troon, Prestwick, Askernish, Brora, Gullane (1,2 and 3), Dunbar, Kingsbarns Links, Lundin Links, Leven, Boat of Garten, Isle of Harris, Skeabost, Benbecula, Stornoway, Macrihanish, Dunaverty, Barra, Isle of Skye, Durness, Stromness, South Ronaldsay, Orkney, Loch Lomond, Castle Stuart, Nairn, Tain, Fortrose and Rosmarkie, Royal Aberdeen, Trump Scotland, Murcar, Cruden Bay, King James VI, Gleneagles (Kings, Queens & Centennary), Auchterader, Dundonald Links, Montrose, Monifieth, Panmure, Scotscraig, Ladybank, Dukes, Anstruther, Pitreavie, Abedour, Musselburgh (Old), Kilspindie, The Glen, Longniddry, Archerfield, North Berwick, Roxeburgh and many more including coming up to 20 proud years a member at Crail Golfing Society.

🇸🇬 Singapore – Sentosa (Both Serapong and Tanjong – During week of Singapore Open), Tanah Marah, Laguna National (Played in Singapore Masters Pro-Am), Changi GC.

🇿🇦 South Africa – Joburg – Centurion GC (2000 – First golf game in RSA during inaugural Alfred Dunhill Championship at closeby Houghton Park. Met Graham Pollock at Centurion GC, then 2nd highest test average in cricket).  Capetown – Royal Cape GC & Steenberg.  Durban – Durban CC and Prince’s Grant.   Twice in Durban for the Volvo Champions event.

Stunning 15h tee at Princes Grant to the north of Durban and overlooking the Indian Open

🇰🇷 South Korea – Pinx GC, Jeju Island (2008 – Played in pro-am first Ballantine’s Championship won by Graeme McDowell)

🇪🇸 Spain – Valderama (Teeing up in ‘Volvo After The Masters’ and the Monday after the Tour season-ending Volvo Masters), Sotogrande, Vila Del Sol, Almenara, Alcaidesa, La Reserva, Finca Cortesin (2012 – Played Pro-Am for Volvo World Match-Play)  Marbella, Mijas, La Quinta, Aloha along with courses in Madrid and Barcelona.

🇸🇪 Sweden – Barseback GC – Day following Scandinavian Masters.

🇨🇭 Switzerland – Crans-sur-Sierre (Both the main 18-hole course and very often the 9 hole course in the Omega Media Challenge on the Saturday morning of the European Masters). Also once played Bad Ragaz, a host venue on the European Seniors Tour, and stopped off with colleagues on route from a tournament in Germany to Crans Montana.

Stunning Blue Canyon & host venue for the 1998 Johnnie Walker Classic and played the course the Monday after Tiger Woods with good friend, Dai Davies

🇹🇭 Thailand – Blue Canyon in Phuket (I played the course the next morning after Tiger Woods stunning success in the 1998 Johnnie Walker Classic.  My playing partner was the late Dai Davies, golf writer for The Guardian).  Also played he course in the Pro-Am for 2007 Johnnie Walker Classic.  Other courses on Phuket include Banyon Tree.  I also teed-up in the 2011 Pro Am for the Asian Tour’s season-ending then inaugraul Thailand Championship outside of Bangkok, and won that year by Lee Westwood on the Amata Spring course that boasts a 17th hole island green that you can bizarrely lengthen and/or shorten, and where you board a boat to the green itself.

🇹🇴 Tonga – Tonga Golf Club.  In the spirit of a new Millennium I got myself organise to head to Tonga and hit the first golf shot on a golf course at midnight on the 1st January, 2000.  I flew from Sydney via Auckland to the Tongan capital of Nuku ‘alofa.  Tonga encompasses around 170 islands of which 36 are inhabited while some 70% of the now 100,000 total population of the islands live on the main island. So why go to Tonga to golf?  Tonga is located 2/3rds of the way between New Zealand and Hawii.  The International Date Line lies just to east of Tonga and with Tonga boasting the most easterly golf course in the world, I got myself organised with ‘Welcome to 200o’ banners, posters and bunting and headed off to Tonga.  The Tonga Club also celebrated the occasion with a ‘YK2’ (Year 2000) event firstly playing 18 holes on 31st December, 1999  and the second 18 on 1st January, 2000.  There was no lighting when I drove up to the course around 11am that night and with the help of a couple of the locals we used car headlights, I set-up the banners had photographs taken and at the stroke of midnight, I drove a golf ball into the darkness.  Sadly, an elderly couple arrived soon after and having left midnight mass early and with same intention.  The next day, one of the club members got a ‘hole-in-one’ on the second day of the Tongan YK2 tournament.

Day break and first out on the Montgomerie course at Belek and the morning after the 2017 Turkish Airlines Open

🇹🇷 Turkey Belek region – Montgomerie, Gloria, Antalya, Titanic, Carya and Cornelia Park.  It is only thanks to the efforts of Fusun Iklay at Turkish Airlines that any of my golf reporting colleagues can boast we have played golf in Turkey.  Fusun first arranged for members of the golf media to travel to Turkey in 2012 when Justin Rose captured the 8-man Turkish Airlines World Golf Final.  Rose showed his fondness for Turkey in winning the back-to-back 2017 & 2018 Turkish Airlines Open.

🇬🇧 Wales – Royal Portcawl and teeing-up in a R  & A media outing ahead of the 1995 Walker Cup.  I returned in 2011 after the Open Championship, and also in the company of great friends and fellow journalists Michael Court, Barry Gentle and Paul Bennett, to enjoy playing Cardigan GC, Portmadog and the stunning cliff top layout at Nefyn.

🇦🇪 UAE – Abu Dhabi – National at Abu Dhabi GC, Saadiyat Island and Yas Links.  Dubai – Emirates Club (Majlis & Faldo courses), Arabian Ranches, Dubai Creek, Els Club, Jumeirah (Fire & Earth courses), Montgomerie, The Track, also the 18-hole course formerly inside the Dubai horse-racing track and for a first time this year (Jan 2020) Jebel Ali.  Sharjah – Al Zorah.

On the tee at the Emirates Club in Dubai – the first golf course built in the UAE and arguably still the best. Though the backdrop has changed so much since this pic was taken

🇺🇸 USA – A better question would be what States have I played in?   I know I’ve not played golf in Alaska, Montana, Iowa, Idaho, Nevada, both Dakota’s, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas, Vermont, Delaware or Maine.  So that leaves 37 U.S. states where I have played golf and with the most rounds in Florida.  Picking out the highlights:  Augusta National (twice 1998 & 2006), Bethpage Park (Black) and a media day ahead of the 2019 PGA Championship, TPC Sawgrass, Winged Foot (day after Davis Love 111 won 1997 PGA Championship), Whistling Straits, TPC San Antonio (Venue for Valero Texas Open), PGA National (Palmer course and during Honda Classic week), BallenIsles, PGA Village (3 courses), BlueJack National north of Houston (Tiger Woods first US design course and played during Shell Houston Open week), Desert Princess and Indian Canyons at Palm Springs during CareerBuilder week.

TPC Sugarloaf in Duluth to the north of Atlanta – Opened in 1997 with Michael Court and myself teeing-up in the media day to celebrate the opening of the Greg Norman designed course

I joined good friend Michael Court in 1997 at the official opening of TPC Sugarloaf at Duluth and venue for the Bell South Classic.  Also in Atlanta, I have played East Lake.  There was tackling the stunning Lake of Isles and Mohegan Sun in Connecticut during Travelers Championship week and Ohio State and Firestone in Ohio in the week of the respective Memorial and WGC – Bridgestone Invitational.  I enjoyed teeing-up at River Bend, Vicksburg, Tunica National and Great Southern in Mississippi and then Riveira and Torrey Pines to name a few in California along with Princeville and Poipu Bay on the island of Kauai in Hawaii and that was in attending the 1997 Grand Slam of Golf.

So, what countries do I wish to add to my listing of golf in 42 countries.

I would love to play in other Scandinavian countries ie Denmark, Norway and Finland while I have never played golf in Poland.  I would love to combine a journey to Poland with a visit to the former POW Stalag Luft 111 prison camp at Zagan, and now in Poland, given I’ve probably watched ‘The Great Escape‘ a hundred dozen times.

The King of Cool – Steve McQueen in The Great Escape and looking to play golf one day in Poland. (NB – Check out the 1970s era chucky tyres that was a film set in 1944)

I’ve had offers too from great friend and colleague, ‘Swammy’ who wrote the history of the Indian Open, to travel to India to play golf while one of my wishes too, is to return to Malta.  I just loved that golf course.

But then there is still so many golf courses in Scotland I’ve not played such the new Dumbarnie course in Scotland and despite the club’s David Scott throwing open the front gates.  High on my wish list in my own native Australia is to visit Barnbougle Dunes and Lost Farm in Tasmania.

 

 



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