My past few weeks on the road to Kenya, Zambia and Zimbabwe have been life-changing.
It all started in Nairobi at the KCB Masters, played at the exquisite Karen Country Club, where the committee put together a brilliant tournament.
I had a sluggish start from the 10th tee at Karen and I made the turn at even par. Holes 1 through 3 on my back nine were not too inspiring either, although I had started to hit a couple of decent approach shots.
This game is a great leveller and just as I was getting into a groove with my iron game, the 4th-hole highlights were a blocked 4-iron off the tee and a chunked 8-iron short of the green, before a fairly neat pitch to inside three feet and a putt which lipped out on the low side, for a bogey. I was one over for the tournament and in desperate need of some momentum to get back inside the dreaded ‘projected cut-line’.
The walk to the 5th tee box was just over 100m, which I needed to gather my thoughts so that I could finish strong and wouldn’t have to spend the second round fighting for survival for a weekend spot. ‘Cut-line fever’ is a journeyman pro’s gritty reality, the outcome of which may determine whether they can afford to travel to the next tournament, or pay their household bills.
Playing the KCB Masters in Nairobi costs the average Sunshine Tour player R15 000 in airfares, a shared hotel room, caddie fees and food.
After climbing the wooden stairs up to the par-three 5th’s tee box, I checked where the pin was, as there is a downslope in the middle of the green which hides the bottom half of the flag, making it difficult to judge the distance. At one over par and near the end of my first round, it was not the time to compound errors.
As we waited for the green to clear, our attention turned to the boards displaying images of a 2018 Toyota Prado as the hole-in-one prize. The car was parked behind the green on a red carpet. The friendly banter quietened as each player took dead aim at the flagstick on a downslope.
Last on the tee, after my recent calamities on the previous hole, I drew my 6-iron from the bag and went through my pre-shot routine. I managed to make solid contact and then watched as the ball took off slightly left of the hole. Riding the wind, it fell to the right and we all watched as it took its first bounce a few metres short of the pin. Then another bounce. As I looked at my caddie, Mary (in confusion, thinking we were over the green again), the crowd behind the green erupted.
The ball had found the bottom of the cup. Some members of the crowd ran on to the green and pointed at the flag, signalling it was a hole-in-one as we all high-fived in disbelief. The insurance company has a witness for such moments and, still unsure if the car was a prize in all four rounds, or on the weekend only, which is more common, we saw a man approach us in a golf buggy.
As he got closer, I nervously repeated out loud, eyes closed as I walked towards the green, ‘Please let the car be available today.’ He walked over to shake hands, ‘Congratulations, it’s a hole-in-one.’ I thanked him and then asked if the prize was available, hoping for the best. He replied with a warm smile, ‘The car is available all four rounds and you’ve just won it!’
The list of reasons I love this game often extends outside a round of golf, as I’ve often mentioned the incredible people and places I’ve encountered throughout my career as a journeyman professional.
This moment was a combination of confusion, nerves and euphoria. It not only changed the direction of my round and tournament, but it also made me realise once again that you never know what’s waiting for you up the wooden stairs of any tee box – and reminded me
to always take them one step at a time.
– Every month Ryan Cairns shares his experience of golf on the road
– Email [email protected] or follow @CairnzyGolf on Twitter. Cairns is driven by Group 1 Nissan and has been a fully exempt member on The Sunshine Tour since 2007.