By Mark Fairmaid
Manor Park Golf Sanctuary, Wellington
March 16, 2016, was the day I registered for the 2017 World Masters Games in Auckland.
From that point on I had some doubts about whether I had done the right thing. Would I be out of my depth?
My golf was in okay shape and it certainly gave me something to focus on for the next 12 months to maintain my game. But coming down to the last month before the tournament, my form started to fall away and, as always, my putting was the worst part.
The format of the competition was four rounds with a cut after 3 rounds. Pakuranga, Akarana, and Murawai were the courses for the three qualifying rounds with finals day at Remuera.
With about 760 golfers competing in the five divisions in both men and women, and 80 of them in my 45-54 age bracket, the competition was going to be tough to qualify for the top 28 of my bracket for finals day.
There were two competitions being played simultaneously — a scratch stableford competition and a handicap stableford competition.
It was a little complicated but they took 14 from each of those competitions for finals day but you could only qualify using one of the options. As you can imagine it was a massive task to make it all work over the four days. Anyway, I was excited to have the opportunity to play four courses I had not played before.
As I drove to Auckland on the Sunday beforehand I was full of excitement at what the week was going to bring. Arriving in the World Masters village on the Auckland waterfront and picking up my accreditation was the first highlight of a week that did not let me down.
So come Monday, April 24, I turned up at Pakuranga Golf Club with much anticipation. The shotgun start for my age bracket was down for 12.37pm where I was second off the No 2 tee. I had played interclub at home on the Saturday and it is fair to say I played very poorly and got my butt kicked. So I was probably not in the best frame of mind.
While warming up we were told that we would be late teeing off, as the morning wave of older golfers were taking a lot longer than anticipated. That delay did not help my state of mind — I just wanted to get started.
Along with that, there were a lot of good looking golfers warming up — much better than me I thought. So at 12.45pm we were called to make our way to our tee where I met my playing partners for the day.
There was Stephen from Christchurch (10 handicap), Andrew from Howick (10 handicap), Mervin from Pakuranga (22 handicap), and me off a 12 handicap. That helped me to feel a little more comfortable as we eventually teed off at 1.10pm.
Then that bubble burst when I double-bogeyed our first hole and the others all parred. I wont bore you with too many more fine details, but as the round continued, we had a great time together and some great golf was played.
Organisers were concerned that we might not get finished before dark, so as I putted out for bogey on the last hole in the dark (I could barely see the green as I hit my wedge into the last green), it was a relief to sign for an 86 and 34 stablefords with no non scoring holes.
My mate Stephen and I managed to snatch a win in the haggle as we came back from five down to win one up on the last. Overall a great introduction to my Masters Games 2017 and I was keen for more.
With the Tuesday being Anzac Day we had a day off from competition. I took the opportunity to visit both Akarana and Muriwai to see what was in store. I am pleased I did as I was excited at what I saw and was really looking forward to Muriwai on the Thursday — a course a bit like Paraparaumu Beach, north of Wellington, but probably with bigger fairways. The big question was what would the wind do?
On the Wednesday it was another superb sunny day and it was off to Akarana for a 12.37pm shot gun tee time starting on the long par five 12th hole.
My playing group included two guys (3 and 10 handicappers) who had played as paying amateurs at the New Zealand Open in Queenstown so it was good to spend time with them. The fourth person was from Tahiti (18 handicap). He was part of a group of 13 from Tahiti playing in the games.
The round started well which was good as I was keen to post a good score. Unfortunately the wheels fell off a little in the middle of the round but I finished strong playing my last seven holes three over par.
My partner and I managed to take the win for the day, playing best stableford, so it was another round of free beer. I shot 87 for 31 stableford points with only one non-scoring hole and one out of bounds. Overall I was outside the cut line but still possible of making finals day if I managed to put together a good round the following day.
Thursday was an early start, leaving my accommodation at 5.30am, to head to Muriwai where it was a 7.31am shotgun start.
It was a slightly eerie feeling hitting some practice shots in the early morning dawn but what was to come was stunning. The sun rising and the dawn of daylight at Muriwai was simply spectacular.
Apparently according to a life member there, you don't very often get days like that at Muriwai, so we were very very lucky as there was virtually no wind. Full credit to the Auckland weather that had turned on a stunning week of weather which was just superb to play golf in.
My foursome for the day included two eight handicappers, myself off a 13 at Muriwai, and a 22 handicapper. I was paired with the 22 handicapper also called Mark and for the record we recorded a majestic win on the 18th hole (our 17th hole) when I managed a spectacular birdie from a poor drive after hitting my three wood to the middle of the green from about 180m.
However I knew it was not going to my day when on the our first hole (hole No 2) for the day, I three-putted from three feet for bogey.
I went on to battle my putter demons for the rest of the day and one of playing partners made the comment that he thought that there was no one else that could putt as poorly as him. I ended up shooting 90 for 30 stableford points which was disappointing. But I really enjoyed the course and the company.
So I did not make the finals day at Remuera which was always going to be a tall task when I knew my game was not quite where I wanted it to be. However it was a fantastic experience and one that I am pleased I took up.
The opportunity to play four fantastic courses with a bunch of keen golfers from all over the world was awesome and everything that I imagined it would be. The organisation by New Zealand Golf on behalf of the World Masters Games was excellent. They were very well supported by the many volunteers at all venues which just helped to make it a great day. Socially, a great event and I have to admit that I was one of the last to leave each venue every day.
Highlights for me were as follows;
• All the courses
• Losing only one ball, having one out of bounds, and only three non-scoring stableford holes over the three rounds!
• The organisation and volunteers
• Winning all three haggles = free round of beer.
• The Auckland weather.
For those that are interested, the next World Masters Games are scheduled for May 2021 in Japan. While golf is yet to be confirmed as a sport, it will be hard for me to say no having visited Japan once before.
And if you are wondering about my putting, on the Thursday in Auckland, I caught up with a mate of mine for a beer who is a PGA coaching professional and he gave me some tips on putting. As it has turned out, some very valuable tips as I shot 78 at Miramar in Wellington interclub on a following Saturday which included 26 putts.