Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Whacking balls in Ooty.

The 15th got underway in much the same way the prior day had – we had to find a hotel room. We had breakfast at Lymond House, packed up our stuff, and sorted out what to do. Money wasn’t an issue, the problem was that this was peak season for Ooty and this particular weekend was the Ooty flower festival, the highlight of the season. All of southern India had descended upon our little hill town.

The owner of Lymond House told us that she had a recommendation for us. It was called the Flower Cottage and, while she hadn’t been there herself, she thought it might do. (Not much of a recommendation when she’d never been there, but we were already pretty fed up with her by this time.) It was walking distance so we decided that we’d go over there and check it out, and if it wasn’t wonderful we’d simply go to the very pricey Savoy, just down the street, which I was certain had to be nice.

We walked over to Flower Cottage, where the owner met us. It was pleasant enough, in a tiny long-term home stay kind of sense, but not a good spot for us to continue our recuperation. So we walked back to the Savoy, which had to be nice. Right? Immediately after going through the gate I knew we were in trouble from the tacky children’s toys strewn across the lawn. They showed us a room, which was dark and musty and miserable and not somewhere that you wanted to be spending a day. We couldn’t stay there either. So money wouldn’t solve our problem.

We went back to Lymond House to figure it out and Colleen remembered the Holiday Inn that we had pooh-poohed before. I called and they had a room. We’d take it. We didn’t need to see it. We had faith that there would be a minimum standard to an international hotel chain. We packed up and headed over. When we got to the Holiday Inn we were incredibly pleased. The room was great.

I was pretty amused to look around the room 20 minutes later and realized that I’d be horrified to have a room like this in North America. Nothing was quite right and all was a little old and sad. But my standards are flexible, and I was very happy to have a guaranteed room for more than a single night that didn't smell and was mostly clean.

We went down to their buffet lunch for a couple of bowls of chicken noodle soup. Soup is good food when you’re not feeling so hot.

Then we got properly dressed and caught a taxi over to the OGC. Yep, we went to the Ooty Golf Club. I’d discovered it online a few days earlier and it sounded perfect. 18 holes with pretty good yardage. When we checked in they let me know that they couldn’t let Colleen play, since all she had for footwear was sandals. I wasn’t necessarily surprised, since it seemed to be the kind of place that would consider itself the last bastion of civilization in the region. But they were OK with Colleen walking the course, and she was happy with that.

I got a set of old rental clubs. They included woods that were about 20 years old and had tiny little club heads plus some old Ping Eye irons that, while aging, were still up for the job.

The next question was how many balls did I want to buy. They were going for 50Rp each, which is a pretty good deal. But I didn’t want to buy too many and have them left over afterwards. They asked me what my handicap was and, when I told them, they suggested 10 balls. I thought that was outrageous and went for five. Those who golf with me know that 10 isn’t out of the question, but I simply couldn’t buy that many prior to a round. It seemed like bad karma.

And we were paired with a caddy. Actually, we were paired with two. We started with one, but the first caddy convinced me that, since you couldn’t see much over the various hills on the course a second caddy that would go ahead and show me the line and spot the ball was a good thing. Since caddies were going for under $5 for the round, I agreed. It wasn’t the first time my caddy would try to scheme me and get away with it.

So we headed off to the first tee. I was hoping the five balls would do OK. We hoofed it up a small hill and got to a point before some trees and my caddy said “you hit from here”, then he teed up a ball. It was a 560 yard par five playing down hill, then over a hill, then off somewhere I had no idea. My second caddy was standing about 300 yards away, acting as an aiming point. The clubhouse was on the right and a stand of trees was on the left, with nasty scrub all along the ground amongst them. It was a nice wide open fairway.

I stepped up with my little driver. Took a practice swing or two. And tried to carefully drive it down the middle. Nothing doing. Pulled to the left, into the trees, and long gone. I tried to laugh it off, teed up another ball, and yanked it left, into the trees. I was now hitting five from the first tee. I tried to be casual, tried to be amused, and lined up a third tee shot, which I then pulled left again, into the trees and unfindable. This was not cool. 60% of my balls were gone, and all my manliness. I smiled and said “Let’s go” to my caddy. We walked forward about a hundred yards and he teed it up for me again – from the women’s tee. I hit a decent drive from there, but the damage was done. I’d lost all credibility.

Now I knew I had to buy some more balls. I hoped that what had just happened on the first tee wouldn’t happen again, but I also didn’t want to be half way through my round and run out of balls. So I said to my caddy – “I think we might need another five.” He popped into the club while I went ahead to continue the hole. My second (or eighth, if you're keeping score) shot was fine and the third/ninth found the green. When my caddy came back from getting some more balls he had a great big bag of fifteen balls. He said I should buy all of them. Now, I know I was bad off the first tee, but I didn’t need a total of 20 balls to play a round. (I hoped.) I told the guy I only wanted five, but he insisted I needed all of them. I said no and we left it at that, with him stuffing all the balls in the golf bag.

The Ooty Golf Club was very interesting. It seemed to have originally been built for the tea plantation managers and the subsequent English governors of the regions. Our caddies described it as one of two “natural” golf courses in the world, with the other being in Scotland. (Not true, but a good tale to tell.) By natural they meant that it wasn’t mowed, but was kept in shape by flocks of sheep roaming the course. The flock came into play on a few holes and I prayed I wouldn’t kill one of them with a shanked iron. As nice as it sounds, this means that the course was pretty rough, with big bare patches in some places and extra “fertilizer” laying about in others. Also, apparently the South India Amateur Championship was being played at the course over the next couple of days, so the greens had been taken care of. They were playing rather quickly, unless you were putting uphill, in which case the ball would stop dead immediately. And other greens were soaked with water, making them almost unplayable.

I played much better after getting off the first tee. I was never able to figure out the tiny driver, but all my other clubs came together. It was amazing playing at such a high altitude. The ball would go farther than it ever has before. I was reaching 210 yard par 3s with a 3 iron with no difficulty. For a golf fan like me, it was a great experience to play at such a high altitude.

One further note about our caddy. He didn’t seem to be terribly happy with us. After a couple of holes he got a call on his mobile (which went off in my backswing!!!) and seemed to have other thoughts. On the next hole he suggested that we didn’t have time to complete our round, and that we should move over to the back nine now. Knowing he was screwing with me, I declined, saying I wanted to play the holes in their natural order. He then said he needed to see someone in the clubhouse but would be back in five minutes. He asked if he could be paid for the balls now. I told him I didn’t want to 15, but that I’d pay for 10, just to be on the safe side. I knew I was being scammed, but I also knew I’d feel like an idiot if I lost a bunch of balls again like I did on the first tee and couldn’t continue. He took the cash and disappeared. I didn’t think I’d be seeing him again, and was pretty happy about it. The other caddy seemed much nicer, and happy to be out with us.

The round was a lot of fun. Crazy holes that went up and down hills, over gullies, and across one another. I got my act together and didn’t need half of the balls I’d bought. And, while I’m sure my score was crazy high, I had a good time. By the 15th hole though I was dying. We hadn’t eaten a proper meal other than soup in several days, the temperature was in the mid-30s with high humidity, and we were playing at 7,000 ft. I could barely drag myself through the final few holes and was very happy when 18 was finished. This was the first time in my life I’d golfed with a caddy, and I was so glad to have someone to carry my bag.

One final note – we did meet our scammer caddy again at the 9th hole, where he was waiting to rejoin us and get paid his fee. I let him know that we wouldn’t be needing his services anymore. He acted shocked, but I’m certain he wasn’t. I expect he pulls his tricks any time a tourist shows up.

I don’t think the Ooty Golf Club gets many western tourists coming by to play. But, if you’re in town, look it up. It’s definitely worth the trip, and it’s a totally unique golf experience.

After the round we caught a rickshaw back to the hotel. We were exhausted from being in the sun all afternoon. We cleaned up and ate dinner at the Chinese restaurant in the hotel. It was a weird place. We were the only ones there. Apparently all the Indian guests eat in the other restaurant, where they have vouchers as part of a package. And we were most definitely the only non-Indian guests in the hotel.

After dinner, we retired to our room where we watched the awful League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I wonder about Sean Connery’s selection of role’s sometimes.

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