By Michael Vlismas
It usually begins with a letter. ’Hi. I’d like to play your golf course.’ And with that, 1 089 golf courses worldwide have gladly opened their doors to Robert McCoy.
There is a lot more involved of course. For a start, McCoy is no ordinary golfer. He is a panelist for GOLF Magazine in the United States. He is the first person to have played GOLF Magazine’s Top 100 courses in the world and Golf Digest’s Top 100 in the United States.
He’s a member of Pine Valley Golf Club, Baltusrol Golf Club, and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews.
McCoy may well be a 12-handicap, but he is a professional when it comes to rating courses worldwide and writing his famous Odyssey about his experiences, and which will soon be a book.
He’s been accosted by angry policeman while trying to find golf courses around the world, and almost detained by Mexican customs officials when he was doing his Top 100 Courses in the World in 100 days and they wanted to know why he was in and out of Mexico within 15 hours.
And there was the time he lost the keys to his rental car while playing Muirfield and phoned Avis to tell them, ‘The car is in Gullane and the keys are in the rough on the 12th hole’.
Last year he made another trip to South Africa.
‘I picked South Africa because so many highly regarded courses have been built there in the past 20 years and I had only played Durban CC (1988 and 1997), the Gary Player Country Club at Sun City (1988), and the Wild Coast Sun Country Club (1988),’ says McCoy.
It was the great golf writer Herb Warren Wind who referred to McCoy as the last of the great global travellers. And McCoy admits it was probably a love for travel which started his Odyssey.
‘Today there are dozens of guys racing all over the globe to play the best courses. But when I was 11 years old in Buffalo, New York, my Aunt Ruth had a National Geographic magazine collection in her back room. For some unknown reason I was attracted to the travel articles and even clipped out the ads for travel brochures. That experience must have subconsciously instilled the desire to actually do the travel.
‘When I first started in the 1970s my focus was on the courses and checking them off like notches on a belt. Early in the process I realised that the equal benefit was meeting really neat people. A memorable trip would be a combination of playing high quality golf courses and being with old friends.
‘I’m lucky enough to have contacts in many countries and they can be very helpful. An example is South Africa. One full year before the trip started I created a preliminary itinerary. Then I sent it to good friend John Terry-Lloyd (member of Durban CC). He offered to grab it and make all the contacts. There must have been at least 10 major revisions to the itinerary over the next few months, including turning the whole trip upside down because of the European Tour changed the date for the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek.’
McCoy has visited South Africa before in 1988 and 1997 and says while he didn’t know what to expect in terms of the wealth of new courses on offer, he was certain of one thing.
‘I knew I was going to be with very friendly people. This time my wife Elaine came along and at the end of the trip we both agreed there are no friendlier people in the world than South Africans – both white and black (what beautiful smiles).
‘As for the golf courses, there was not a weak one in the group. All passed the test of wanting to play them again. Despite the severe drought, all the courses were in above average condition.
‘Driving around the country was fun, and lodging and food were excellent. The totally new experience was a safari and that proved to be one of our all-time highlights. We recommend South Africa to everyone in the travelling public.
‘The total package of golf, scenery, safari and other tourist features, food, wine, road system and of course the people compares very favourably with most golf-oriented countries in the world. My ranking is: USA, the UK & Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand. SA comes next so you are in my Top 5 in the world.’
McCoy played 14 courses in South Africa.
‘All 14 courses contacted were very welcoming and let me play on the day and time that best fit my schedule. One noticeable aspect of golf in SA is the mandatory halfway stop. At one course I was playing by myself with no-one in front. Coming off the ninth green I was forced to return to the clubhouse even though I wanted to continue playing.
‘Another minor annoyance was people starting their round on other than the first hole, even if there was just one group on the first tee. Then they would slow down so you had to wait or play through. I never found out if these people did not bother playing all 18 holes or somehow squeezed in at the first tee after coming off the 18th green.’
McCoy will soon have a full write-up of his South African trip on his website, www.thegolfodyssey.com.
But he had plenty of highlights on his trip.
‘At Durban Country Club, club CEO Pascale van Maris must be the most beautiful golf club manager in the world. I played with club captain David Swanson. The course has several world-class holes. My favourite hole is the short par-three 12th. It reminds me of the 12th at Augusta National and eighth at Royal Troon. Do not miss this green as your ball will roll down a very steep and slippery slope so that you cannot see the flag on your next shot. Your lie will also be in some gnarly or on bare ground so it is more than possible to go from one side of the green and back again. This can be a card wrecker. Maybe the best way to play the hole is to put your tee shot in the front bunker and settle for a probable four.
‘I loved Humewood Golf Club. The course even has gorse bushes, fresh air and strong wind. The Links at Fancourt is a totally peaceful environment with no housing – just you and nature with the beautiful Quteniqua Mountains as a backdrop. Pinnacle Point has spectacular views overlooking Mossel Bay and the Indian Ocean. If there was ever a Jekyll and Hyde course this is it. Pinnacle Point is a combination of some really steeply sloping holes combined with some of the most scenic and challenging holes in the world.
‘Arabella Golf Club’s par-five 8th hole is one of the most scenic in the world. As you walk down the fairway you come closer to the peninsula green with the lagoon on three sides and the mountain backdrop. The view is spectacular and peaceful.
‘Leopard Creek’s raised 13th green is in a spectacular setting with the Kruger Park clearly visible on the other side of the river. The whole course is quiet with birds chirping. The overall ambience is excellent. I really liked the ninth and 18th holes as a combination. The view of the ninth and 18th greens plus the handsome clubhouse is my favourite part of the course, both from the course and then looking at the same view from the open-air upper floor of the clubhouse.
‘Douw Steyn’s Tuscan villa at The Club at Steyn City is the largest owner’s mansion as part of a golf course property that I have ever seen. The clubhouse is also unique with a two-level underground parking garage along with grass and scrubs growing on the roof.
‘Glendower is a suburban parkland course on nicely rolling terrain. You definitely cannot just blast away and must really concentrate on your shots.
‘The River Club is a compact suburban parkland course. There is a quiet environment in the clubhouse and out on the course, which is well conditioned. The course is certainly not a pushover from the tips, but there is a soft, calm feeling about the place. Sort of the feeling one gets at Cypress Point.’