Joys of Golf in the Sweltering Heat of Perth, Australia
WHILE you guys and girls are all still shaking and shivering back home, wondering how you can keep warm and figuring out how on earth to hit a golf ball with a great lump of mud on it, yours truly is in Perth, Western Australia, with Her Indoors trying to juggle with a whole different set of problems. Well, one problem, if I am entirely honest with you – namely, how you manage to survive 18 holes when the temperature reaches 35C, and higher.
Now let me be the first to tell you that I am no fan of winter golf in the UK. I grew up in Glasgow and played much of my golf in freezing conditions, on fairways that were solid with ice. I don’t like being cold and I hate being wet even more, but if you are brought up north of the border then you learn to suffer for your sport. Come on – have you seen our much-vaunted rugby union team? Have you watched Elise Christie at the Winter Olympics? We are a nation that is born to feel pain.
Anyhow, meanwhile back Down Under. Let me assure you that playing this great game in sweltering hot conditions presents its own set of unique challenges.
The first thing you notice in Perth is that nobody tees off between midday and 2pm. It is not that you can’t do so, but the golf clubs in this part of the world are conscious of the dangers of doing so and actively discourage people from playing the game during the hottest part of the day. Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun, and all of that…
So sensible tee times are part and parcel of golf in and around Perth.
What next? Oh yes, sunscreen. Nobody goes out here unless they are plastered in factor 50. And let’s not joke about this – the sun is dangerous and you should not expose yourself to too much of it. I have to admit that I have, in turn, gone from pasty white to tomato red to a rather attractive toasted brown (even though I say it myself). But I realised pretty quickly that you do not lie out for extended periods here because if you do then you will pretty quickly be calling for the emergency services.
We went out for a stroll the other day and walking towards us were a middle-aged couple. He was wearing shorts, but nothing on top. Instead, his T-shirt was wrapped around his head. “British,” said Her Indoors. We said hello as we passed them. Turned out he was Scottish. How is it that women always know these things?
Meanwhile back at the golf…
If you are a cricket fan then you will know that there is a breeze in and around Perth that is known as the Freemantle Doctor. Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thompson used it to terrorise a generation of English batsmen. The thing about the Freemantle Doctor is that it blows most of the time and takes the edge off the heat. So when you are chasing a little white ball around the fairways it is all too easy to forget that the sun is still beating down on you. Ignore it at your peril.
When you leave the pro’s shop after paying for your round, you will do so with the keys to a buggy and with a plentiful supply of ice-cold water. You can throw your bag over your shoulder if you want, but at some point in your round you will be approached by men in white coats asking you if you have taken leave of your senses. A buggy is the only way to travel when playing golf here, and when the little man in his cart approaches you midway through your round, DO NOT follow the temptation to ask him for a couple of bottles of beer. If you do, you will quickly regret it.
There are lots of plusses about golf in Perth. For a start, the fairways are hard and fast and that means that the ball rolls forever. All of a sudden, little old me is capable of hitting the ball 290 yards – or even further with the wind at my back. And there is proper sand in the bunkers too; the white fluffy stuff that is actually easy to escape from. None of your hard-packed concrete in this part of the world.
It is probably best not to miss the fairways, however, as you just never know what is going to rear its ugly head up at you as you enter the rough and start looking for your ball.
Just try and stop the ball on the greens. The putting surfaces are firm – very firm. And they are also lightning quick. Stand over a downhill 10-footer for a birdie and try to cosy it into the cup – and then stand back and watch as it rolls two feet, three feet, four feet, five feet, six feet beyond the hole. And then there is the whole challenge of trying to focus for 18 holes when the sun is beating down, the sweat is dripping down your back and trickling off the end of your nose.
You look around and the sky is impossibly blue, the grass is greener than you ever imagined it could be, everybody has a friendly word for you. And you eventually reach the sanctuary of the clubhouse and finally it is time to reward yourself with a beer, or a stubby as they call it in these parts.
So, golf in the UK in February or golf in Australia…which do I prefer? ARE YOU SERIOUS?