It's your 50th birthday. Your wife of 20-plus years wants to give you a special present. If she has an extra 7,500 euros (around $10,000 depending on the exchange rate) under your mattress that she doesn't know what to do with, I have a suggestion.
Tell her to send you to next year's Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. The only caveat is, it's very difficult to get an invitation. But at the end of this article, I will tell you where to write. Good luck!
|The Old Course Hotel looms over St. Andrews, the host course of the final round.|
My heart was racing. I couldn't wait. I was flying back to Scotland to play in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. St Andrews' Old Course, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns. Three matches in three days at three world-class courses. One hundred sixty-eight world-class golf pros. One hundred sixty-eight amateurs and celebrities each paired with a pro. The top 60 pros and the top 20 teams would make it into Sunday's final round. I was told I "didn't have a chance in hell. No chance. None," by the tournament founder and friend of mine, Johann Rupert. Unfortunately, he was right.
The tournament began Thursday, October 5. I arrived on Tuesday morning, early enough in the week to overcome jet lag. On Wednesday, I played a practice round at the St Andrews Old Course with my good friend Jean Engelbrecht. Maybe I should have quit then! I had my best round of the week, but of course it didn't count. It only gave me false hope. I shot a sweet 90 with seven pars. It doesn't get much better than that for me!
|At the Saturday night banquet, I took the opportunity to give putting advice to Els and Vijay Singh.|
The official draw took place Tuesday night. That's when you found out whom you would be playing with in the tournament. Of course, I wanted Ernie Els or Vijay Singh. Of course, I got neither. With 168 pros there for an official European PGA Tour event, everyone ended up with someone fun to play with. My pro was Jean Van de Velde, a well-known 40-year-old from France. When we met Thursday morning at the first tee, he looked me in the eye and declared, "I'm from Bordeaux. Love wine. Love cigars. We're gonna kick some ass."
The first day we played St Andrews Old Course. We teed off the back side at 10:06 a.m., and by the fourth hole we were 2-under, feeling our oats. Then our games began to unravel. We ended the round with a 73, 1-over. Not bad, but way behind many teams that were as many as 9-under. For Marvin, not one birdie! No help to Jean, and his 73 didn't help us much either.
|During a brief moment on the third day, the team of Jean Van de Velde and Marvin R. Shanken were 3-under at Kingsbarns.|
Carnoustie waited for us on day two. It is considered the toughest of the three courses, and it will be the site of the 2007 British Open. We hung tough in the wind and rain, and ended the day with a team score of 70. Again, I didn't help a lot.
On day three, we needed to make our move. We were playing Kingsbarns in a three-club wind. I had my only decent round. I shot 44 on the front nine with two net birdies. At one point, we were 3-under, which I caught on camera (see photo, page 110). Then the butchering winds took over and play was virtually impossible. We ended the round with a team score of 75 on the par-72 course. We were so far back in the pack that it was not worth counting. No play on Sunday. Johann had a winning bet. He had offered me 100-to-1 odds I wouldn't make it to Sunday. I had taken him up on a $100 bet. It was the easiest money he ever made!
Even though I didn't do well at the Dunhill, I had a great time and met many interesting, and fun, fellow golfers from around the world. And many of them were definitely cigar aficionados.
Unfortunately, Scotland had enacted an indoor no-smoking restriction, which put a big crimp in everyone's style. And there was lots of complaining, as this was the first year of the new law. In fact, when I checked into my room at the Old Course Hotel, there was a warning notice that said I would be subject to a £150 fine (about $300) to clean the room if they smelled smoke. (I took a picture of the notice because it really pissed me off.)
|The foursome of Jean Engelbrecht of Engelbrecht-Els Wines, the pro Hendrik Buhrmann of South Africa, Van de Velde from Bordeaux and me.|
There were many memorable highlights for me. One was going to a lecture to hear Mike Horn, an incredible explorer who had just gotten back from the North Pole, where it was 40 degrees below zero. His story and brilliant photographs were mesmerizing. How he survived is amazing. Google him. His ventures around the world are singular and death-defying.
Another highlight was the Saturday night banquet. After cocktails and an amazing fireworks display, we went in for dinner. And of course, after dinner we all moved to a balcony to puff away on our cigars. Laughing. Drinking the land's finest Scotches. And talking about our golf games. For Sunday's final round, most of us would be spectators.
Congratulations to Padraig Harrington, who shot a final-round 68 to win the tournament and $800,000 in prize money. The team honors went to Harrington and his amateur partner, J.P. McManus, an Irish businessman and racehorse owner.
If you want an invitation to the tournament, send your name, handicap and home club (which WILL be verified) to: Alfred Dunhill Links Championship Committee, 15 Hill Street, London W1J 5QT, England. Or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. It is a long wait list.