In his latest travel blog, our man and his passport find their way from Tbilisi to the UAE via South West England and Paris. As you do
My month began in a random Eastern European country, continued in South West England, took in an architect’s conference in Paris, and concluded with another trip to the Middle East. An eclectic mix that included skiing and golf, and only really one minor drama…
April in Georgia (not that one)
This trip essentially started in June 2018 when I got an email out of the blue from Sergey Koldin, who introduced himself as the MD and owner of Gorki Golf Resort in St Petersburg and wondered if I’d like to visit his course and go to the 3rd-place play-off at the World Cup.
Just the kind of email we all get on a daily basis.
I couldn’t do that sadly, but I did go in September and it was a lively old time in St P. If I went an hour between vodka other than when I was sleeping at any point in the three days, I’d be surprised.
Lassi Pekka Tilander, who designed Sergey’s course, also joined me there and on one of the nights we hatched a plan to ski and play golf in Tbilisi the following spring – exactly the sort of idea you agree to after a vatful of vodka but fully expect to be quietly forgotten about from the next morning onwards.
Unless Sergey (pictured below – and note what sits on the snow between us despite it being 8am) is doing the hatching, that is.
So in the first week of April, when I’d usually be in a Georgia of a different continent, we met up in Tbilisi.
The weather was awful on day one, which we were due to spend at the golf course. Normally I’d just get on with it, but when Sergey is involved, plans can always be changed. And fast.
In what seemed about 90 seconds he had rearranged the ski accommodation and transfer for that afternoon, giving us a ‘long lunch’ in the capital before setting off for the mountains.
We then made an early start to skiing the following day, which can safely be described as decent because of the ridiculous weather before shooting down to Tbilisi Hills to play golf with Lassi and the club’s urbane director of golf Paul Pohi.
In glorious sunshine, it truly was a day of days and was one of those moments that made me feel very fortunate to have this silly lifestyle.
Tbilisi is fantastic, as befits somewhere named 2019’s most exciting city by Forbes magazine, and the course – which had a difficult birth (not always in the safe hands of Tilander, pictured below driving off the elevated 1st tee) but is now thriving – exceeded expectations.
If you’re looking for a golf destination with a difference, including possibly skiing, Tbilisi will not disappoint.
Paris in the spring (sorry)
Every year I receive an invitation from the European Institute of Golf Course Architects to attend its annual conference.
It is, you can probably imagine, a humbling experience for me to be rubbing shoulders with people who actually know what they are talking about with regards to golf courses.
Nevertheless, I have yet to be completely exposed as the total fraud that I am, and so they keep kindly inviting me back.
They even asked me address the conference when it was held at North Berwick a few years ago. Imagine?!
That was was the closest I’ve come to being outed as utterly clueless, because after my speech on how I rank/assess golf courses, the EIGCA decided it might be a good idea to do a Q&A.
It was actually a lot of fun, but thankfully just when I was being mildly heckled by one architect, we ran out of time.
Three more minutes of the interrogation and I was about to give the pre-agreed signal to Jeremy Ellwood of despised rivals Golf Monthly (joking) to smash the glass and set off the fire alarm in the very likely event of me being out of my depth.
Fortunately then-President Tom Mackenzie called a halt to proceedings, thus avoiding the need for the Macdonald Hotel North Berwick to be entirely evacuated because a golf course writer was floundering in front of people who actually know stuff.
This year it was in Paris, and the week is a happy mix of playing golf (this year at classic Harry Colt design Saint Germain and Ryder Cup venue Le Golf National) plus drinks receptions, dinners, and on the main day, listening to leaders in their field – and me – address the conference.
As well as architects there are also lots of ‘partners’ such as irrigation firms, landscaping people and so on.
I’m not going to pretend to you it’s Ministry of Sound meets Ibiza, but it is a thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening week.
What always amazes me is that the room is full of competitors – architect vs. architect, irrigation firm vs. irrigation firm and so on – yet the atmosphere is brilliant.
Obviously there are those who everyone knows are busier than others in their field at that particular time, but I have never detected a ounce of envy or bitchiness.
Mind you, they do have a behind-closed-doors session on one morning so that could be like a scene from Fight Club for all I know.
Anyway, roll on next year – there is some talk it may be South Wales’ turn to host – and congratulations to friend of this column Tim Lobb for his elevation to vice president of the EIGCA.
He will follow a stellar recent cast when he gets the top job – Tom Mackenzie, Ross McMurray and now Christophe Staedler are the last three incumbents – with the EIGCA, which is in my view not only progressive and ambitious but also just full of people you hope you can think of as friends.
Something for everyone (a bit closer to home)
Tewkesbury Park (pictured above) and St Mellion provided a two-stop trip, assessing a couple of our Top 100 Resorts in GB&I and demonstrating that no matter what you want from a golf trip, these islands can provide it.
At the former, you get an exquisite and stylish hotel, fabulous food and a pleasant course. At the latter you get a solid hotel, great value and two terrific inland courses.
If you go on a golf break and you don’t get what you’re looking for, you’re not doing your research right – such as on National Club Golfer dot com – there just isn’t an excuse not to find a destination that suits.
Car-themed antics (part IV)
I also managed to fit in another trip to the Middle East, as part of my Middle East Top 25 research.
A hire car was as usual essential to get to courses as widely spread as Al Zorah in Ajman and Els Club in Dubai.
As is also very typical in basically every day of my life I had a 26-hour schedule, as unforgiving an itinerary as a 2-iron Mizuno blade.
So things like punctures are deeply unwelcome.
But that’s precisely what happened en route to Al Zorah. And as hard as I tried to force some air into the tyre to limp to the course, it had to be changed (I realised why when I saw what had skewered…)
So I got the spare out of the boot’s well, and got the tools out too. Except the jack. Nowhere to be seen. Have they forgotten to put it in? Is there a new system for jacking a car I don’t know about? Do I need to call Jon Pall Sigmarsson? (Google him, kids.)
Bewilderment turned to anger as minutes agonisingly slipped by.
There was an attendant at the petrol station where I’d tried to blow the tyre up, so I explained the puncture issue using some classic motions that made me look like Lionel Blair. (Google him, kids.)
“Flat,” said my new buddy.
Yes thanks for that. But any idea about the jack?
He mumbled something unintelligible and made some motions. Now he’s got the idea.
Suddenly he skips round to the driver’s seat, pushes it forward, takes a plastic cover off that was beneath it and produces the jack like he’d caught his biggest catch of a long career on Fish-o-Mania.
He doesn’t look very friendly here for some reason – probably camera shy? – because the rest of the time he grinned more than Matt Kuchar, and was a lot more helpful to a man in need.