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TWIN CUPZ - A Golfing Odyssey

It was a summers evening. "Gavalar" and I took advantage of the Β£15 twilight fees at my old track, Dudsbury Golf Club. That course successfully single-handedly destroyed my A-level results, but did grant me a 2 handicap by the time I left to get drunk and ruin my degree at university. This was a trip down memory lane, and a privilege to educate mr D in the Dudsbury ways. 

The trees are much bigger now, no more free drops from the once staked saplings. The course is still in good nick, with water in play on 16 out of 18 holes. Large and smooth greens, well kept fairways and rough up to your elbows. A true test as we're about to see. Pay attention to our tribute to a Golfing Classic, with Twin Cupz. Enjoy.

The Open Golf - Memories of St Andrews

Watching the Open Golf is always a favourite. I look forward to it every year, and what bugs me the most, is that I've yet to go and actually watch one. 

 View of St Andrews

If I was to go watch one, it would most certainly be at St Andrews (like it is right now, I know!). St Andrews is a magical place, you feel the atmosphere as soon as you drive in to the town - it's almost like a fairytale, a place you've seen so many times on the TV, that when you go there you feel like you're on a TV set.

Watching the golf this week reminded me of a few years ago when I was fortunate enough to play the Old Course at St Andrews. I was up there for a client Sales Conference and I took my clubs, hoping to get a game, by hook or by crook. 

I was fully prepared that it could be the Jubilee or the New Course, or even the excellent Kingsbarns. But, being the cheeky chap that I am, I approached the starter box and tried to fix a game on the Old Course, thinking that if I got turned down, I'd just work my way round to the next favourite course and so on...

So without so much as a practise putt, I was amazed that I would be teeing off on the first hole at St Andrews Old Course, with three great guys from Norway. 

Standing over that first tee shot was such a surreal experience. Even on just a normal day, there were Japanese and American tourists there taking photos and watching people tee off. It was like I was a pro standing over the ball waiting to get my open championship underway (in my head anyway). So imagine my slight embarrassment as I connected solidly with my three wood, looking up to see a power pull hook that went so far left, I actually managed to miss the widest fairway in golf (as it combines with the 18th), ending up on the tiny patch of semi rough that separates the 18th fairway from the road and the white fence you see on the TV.

Settling the nerves, I knocked a killer wedge across the Swilken Burn, and onto the front of the 1st green. Putt for birdy (which I missed), but definitely settling down.

It's widely said that if you hit the ball left on St Andrews, you'll be fine. Hit it right and you'll die. Fortunately, of the wide array of angles my shots can sometimes go at, I brought the pull with me. I was striking well, but always left off the tee. Therefore, I was never in too much trouble. 

Once I'd knocked the rust off, having not played for sometime and not warmed up, things started to straighten up and the great ball striking continued to put me in some great scoring positions. However, when playing in to these massive greens, and as is typical with links golf, it's not until the ball has come to rest that you know if it was a good shot, regardless of the strike and direction.

Shared green on the 4th, that's the 14th flag behind me.

More than once, I was hitting putts from 100ft or more, often in completely the wrong direction from the flag, such is the undulation of the greens at St Andrews. But the greens are so true, that a good putt hit firm and on the right line had every chance to go in and I holed a quite a few par saving putts that really held the round together.

I reached the 17th, the infamous Road Hole, at 4 over par gross. I was really pleased with the standard I'd been playing at so far, considering the lack of golf time I'd had since I went to University, a fairly competent 2 handicapper.

Over the "O" in Hotel

The Road Hole is one of THE holes in golf. It's right up there. From the drive over the old railway sheds now in the grounds of St Andrews Hotel, to the tiny little green with the path and road to the back and the famously treacherous Road Hole bunker, positioned to gobble up any stray iron (or wood!) shots to the green. 

I absolutely nailed my drive and was relieved to look up and see it soaring over the "O" in hotel with a little draw and bounding it's way up the firm fairway. I only had about 160 yards left in to the green from the semi-rough, where the ball came to rest eventually.

Not wanting to over shoot and certainly protecting against the flyer, I hit a solid 9 iron. It was right at the flag (which believe it or not, wasn't a good thing as the flag was pretty close to inline with the greenside bunker I was so desperately trying to avoid). As planned, I came up slightly short, the ball kicking to the right on first bounce and away from the bunker. Nestling on the lower tier at the front of the green I was pleased to be able to get the putter on the ball for my third shot.

Posing in the road hole bunker. I'm 6ft 2. Nuff said.

Still far from easy, I hit a solid putt up over the very steep bank at the front of the green and to within a few feet for a solid Road Hole par. Felt like a birdie to me.

The eighteenth hole was another fantastic experience. The sky had an air of foreboding - dark clouds and sunshine breaking through, as is part of the common beauty of St Andrews. I hit a solid, if slightly scoopy drive, which was flew straight and drew gently back to the left side. Landing over the path, and bounding on up the fairway, I was left with a grandstanding pleasing pitch into the 18th green. Drive up the 18th soaring into the distance

That would have to wait however, as is the norm for visiting players, to stop and take some photos of ourselves crossing the bridge over the Swilken Burn, much like those memorable pictures of Jack Nicklaus a few years ago.Like Jack Nicklaus, it felt like my swansong at St Andrews

I hit a solid pitch, taking the deep gulley known as the "Valley of Sin" out of play. One bounce forward and checked on the second.  20 ft for birdie (which again, I missed) but a pleasing and solid par for an overall score of 76.

Feeling pretty pleased with my game, the company I kept and the overall delight and privilege of playing this magnificent course, we retreated to the Jigger for a wee dram (alright a pint of guiness).

Honeymoon Fantastic - Meeru Island, Maldives

So I just arrived back from my honeymoon in the Maldives and I must say, I am frickin' freezing! I couldn't get my head around how, when I got back, it wasn't going to be anywhere near the solid 32 degree sunshine we were enjoying every single day out there. More so, I couldn't believe anything would stop me wearing my shorts and T-shirt and showing off my newly acquired tan. I was very wrong!

Anyway, the honeymoon was absolutely amazing. It began with a nice relaxing complimentary glass of champers in the lounge at Gatwick airport followed by a tortuous 9.5 hr flight direct to Male on Monarch. Cattle class and long legs do not mix.

the Trans Maldivian Taxi service

Arriving in Male, we were ushered through the melee and onto the Trans Maldivian Air Taxi company for our short hop flight to Meeru. It was so bizarre being picked up by some laid back chaps in their shorts, t-shirt and sandals and delivered to a floating jetty in the middle of a lagoon around our island home. But was it awesome? Absolutely.

The Maldives is made up of 1192 islands, which are grouped into Atolls. Of those islands, 200 are inhabited - 100 resorts and 100 local inhabitants. Our island, Meerufenfushi (or Meeru) is the fourth largest resort island and was one of the earliest resorts to be formed in the 70's. That said, we could tell straight away that the island felt far from crowded, was incredibly welcoming and beautiful. At no point whatsoever, would we have said that we were anything other than completely satisfied with the size, level of activity and privacy on the island.

View from the air

The only thing, which is very common in the Maldives, is that they have a policy of overbooking. We had read much about it on Tripadvisor before leaving and on arrival, we were informed that we would be upgraded to a Jacuzzi Beach villa for one night, then moved to our normal beach villa the next day. We were offered a three day cruise for free instead, which (to my disappointment and Mrs S's delight) we declined. Largely because our luggage hadn't yet arrived and the boat was due to depart in 30 minutes! The next day, we were in our accommodation and were able to unpack and settle properly. No problem at all.

When I went to Meeru, I had no intention of scuba diving. I hadn't dived for about 6 years, and it had been about 10 years since I did my PADI Open Water. Since Dad died (he used to be my dive buddy) diving just fell off the radar. But, one look at the crystal clear waters and who was I kidding. I signed up to do a refresher dive, but then thought, screw that! I went straight out on the boat for a nice drift dive at a place called Long Reef. It all came flooding back after a while. 

Next dive was a place called Palm Reef, where, not wanting to do anything by halves, I did an adventure deep dive down beyond 30m and saw manta rays, napolean wrasse, and moray eels.

As much of what I do now is all about generating content - video, photos, editorial - I took the decision to do the PADI Digital Underwater Photography course, with the Ocean Pro Dive team on Meeru, specifically with their photography and videography expert Thorsten. This was covered in two separate dives, the first; a nice dive site at Kuda Thila. Following this dive, we had a photo review, critique, discussion and feedback, before putting the learnings into place on the second dive; a glorious coral garden dive site called Coral Reef. As you ascend up the side wall of the reef, you are greeted with the most stunning unbroken coral bed you could ever imagine. The only problem here was that the reef fish seemed extremely timid and particularly camera shy! 

Along with the practical element, there was also reading to do for both the deep dive and the DUP course. Shucks, that meant I just had to sit out on the beach in the hammock with my iced tea, reading over my materials. Never been such an arduous study scenario. I also got through "Googled - the end of the world as we know it" and the audible book of "Accidental Billionaires" about the founding of Facebook.

Manta Ray at Bodu Hithi Thila

I passed the course and got some cracking photos, but it didn't end there. My final dive expedition was to a place named Bodu Hithi Thila, which is renowned at this time of year for it's cleaning stations - where giant manta rays, white tip reef sharks and nurse sharks gather to be cleaned. It's a couple of hours boat ride across the North Male Atoll, and proved the pinnacle of my diving experience. Dive 1, we made our way down to the coral block at about 24m, settled in and got comfortable as 3 friendly Manta Rays made their way over and performed a graceful, awe inspiring dance for us onlooking strangers. It was majestic and captivating.

Following that delight, we made our way up for lunch. The boat anchored nearer to the reef and we spotted some more Manta's in the shallows close by. Donning snorkel, mask and fins, we were soon back in the water getting up close and personal to 4 or 5 extremely friendly Manta Rays. One took such a shine to me, I literally had to hold one of it's wings as it passed so closely, mouth wide open, taking in gallons of water and krill as it passed. Tearing ourselves away from this truly mind blowing experience was a bind, but food and a second dive was calling.

The second dive, in terms of logistics, was the same as the first - back down to around 22m and sit and watch the dance of the Mantas. A large stingray showed up, not to be outdone and made it's presence known along with a lonesome white tip reef shark of around 2m in length. It felt like everyone was vying for attention over the hypnotic Manta Rays. I took a look down to the rock I was holding, and again, not wanting to be overlooked, a small school of Oriental Sweetlips we floating around a foot from me, just looking and hoping to be given a moment of limelight. This was amazing, after the elusiveness of the Coral Reef inhabitants.

Oriental Sweetlips

When swimming closely with one of the Mantas, I noticed some extraordinary markings on its back. I felt a connection with this creature and it's markings made me consider some higher level consciousness I never thought I possessed. When I got back to the villa, I looked more closely and saw what I thought I had seen. The markings, two parallel diagonal lines of different lengths and a third line, crossing the two lines at an opposing angle. It reminded my straight away of a hunter using a spear to fish - poised and ready to strike. It was almost like this beast was telling a story it couldn't verbalise but could, on some level, get across visually. Captivated and fascinated, I've decided to get the marking tattooed on my foot as a constant reminder of the occasion, the experience and the bond I felt with this giant creature.

dolphins frolicking in the sunset

The rest if the holiday was a relaxing, stress free, all you can eat, all you can drink amazing quality time with my beautiful, interesting, funny and fantastic wife. We enjoyed lounging in the sun, in the hammocks in the shade, making up names for the herons, geckos, bats, reef fish, sharks and rays that were on or around the island. We played ping pong, pitch and putt (on the only 9 hole pitch and putt course in the Maldives) and basically just enjoyed our time alone together. 

Mrs S

We took the sunset cruise and watched dolphins playing in the light of the setting sun. Cas even came and watched me play two football matches - guests versus staff, on their amazing $500,000 artificial full size football pitch, in the middle of the island. The pitch was laced with water, so you can actually slide and fall over without burning your legs off. As the continued heat evaporated the water on the pitch, it became like playing footy in a sauna - which I'm sure they did on purpose!

The Maldivians take their football extremely seriously. So much so, they even drafted in a couple of professional national team players for the game. It was surprisingly close fought, and the speed, skill and fitness of the Maldivians proved triumphant in a classic 10-8 win for the home side. My two (modestly) stunning goals weren't enough to secure vistory on this occasion.

We met some fantastic people, including all the dive team from Ocean Pro, Helen & Howard from Manchester, Colin and his wife from Inverness, Ibrahim our waiter. I hope to keep in touch with them all in some way or another (Ibrahim by visiting the island again next year!).

Anyone who is thinking of visiting Meeru will not be dissapointed with their choice. it is a truly fabulous island, with lots to do if you want, but certainly no pressure, and your privacy is respected and encouraged.

Now we're back home, I can't wait for my next visit to the Maldives - but it has also tickled my interest for wider travel - maybe Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand or similar... Maybe now I should complete my Master Scuba Diver award? Anyway, back to work - I wonder how long the tan will last??