It was the first time I had visited the country and whether it was the spirituality of the place or the gentle rhythm of life, I felt incredibly comfortable as soon as I got there.
When we were given a week off, someone recommended I go to Kauri Cliffs, a luxury golf resort perched on the cliffs overlooking the Bay of Islands. I hired a car and put a Nick Drake CD on for the drive north. Melancholic music has always made me feel contented and happy. Who'd have thought that Leonard Cohen and Nick drake would inspire me to occasional Golf nirvana?
The landscape became more tropical the further north I went and I could feel myself unwinding and getting into the rhythm of my swing. After four hours on the road I drove through gates to the Kauri Cliffs resort and down a winding country road until suddenly, there it was: the Pacific Ocean with Cape Brett and the offshore Cavalli Islands in the distance. The view was absolutely breathtaking and I remember thinking, ‘God really knew what he was doing when he made this particular stretch of coast’.
The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs consists of a couple of restaurants, a library, spa and the main golf clubhouse, with guests staying in eleven cottages scattered around the 6,000-acre estate. My cottage was incredible, with a log fire, a huge bathroom and a verandah looking out onto the 10th tee and, beyond that, the sea. I was already thinking this is where I wanted to spend the rest of my life when the porter told me I was the only guest in residence, so had the whole place to myself.
I had booked two rounds a day and couldn’t wait to get out onto the course which, I discovered, was a glorious combination of undulating, links-style terrain and heath land. The most spectacular hole is the 7th, a par-3 where you play from the edge of the cliff, over the Pacific Ocean 150-foot below, to a small, well-bunkered green that perches on the other side of the abyss.
The ocean, with the islands dotted against the horizon, is visible from almost every hole, but other than the jaw-dropping scenery, the thing that really struck me about the course at Kauri Cliffs is that you cannot see any other hole from the one you are playing. It is so quiet, so peaceful, that you really get a sense of being at one with yourself.
I shot a 74 in that first round, just two over par, which was almost certainly due to how good it felt to be on that golf course. Indeed, during the whole time I spent at Kauri Cliffs I didn’t really think of anything else but golf and life and why I was there.
To me, golf is synonymous with all the great things in life - you learn a lot about yourself. If you can control your emotions on the golf course it becomes a template for everything else you do: the challenges you face, being able to leave things behind, not dwelling on your mistakes, looking forward to the future and being able to enjoy the present.
I was born within sight of a golf course, at a hospital next to the Dukes Course clubhouse at St Andrews. The people of Fife understand what golf is all about, and what it means to Scottish hearts and minds. Unlike in many other places, golf in Fife is an egalitarian sport and one that everyone is encouraged to play.
Though I grew up 20 miles away from St Andrews I got to play the hallowed links, including the Old Course, many times with my father. He was a huge influence on me, nurturing my love of the game and teaching me from a very early age about how to behave on the golf course.
My father was a salesman and during school holidays I would sometimes go on the road with him. When he’d finished his work for the day we’d nip out for nine holes on the most amazing golf courses all round the north of Scotland. I have fond memories of playing the wonderful links courses at Nairn and at Machrihanish on the Mull of Kintyre, which has to be one of the amazing places to play golf anywhere in the world.
I soon learned that golf is a game about acceptance of things that are beyond your control, and understanding your own limitations. My father created a very calm, gentle atmosphere when we were on the golf course together and he taught me about just being, and appreciating the walk and the company.
Looking back, I am so grateful that he made the effort to spend that time with me when I was a boy. In terms of the pure of experience of playing a golf course, nowhere I have been tops Kauri Cliffs. I am sure my Dad would have loved it as much as I did.