SLICE OF HEAVEN
Three mates, three days, three golf courses and substantially more than three beers.
BILL WATT finds the perfect golf escape in NSW's fabulous Southern Highlands.
FOR centuries 19th hole comedians have dubbed golf "a great way to ruin a walk". And, sitting at the bar after struggling through 18 holes of hooks, slices and shanks, there are always those who encourage the said comedian with a wry smile.
But, the truth is that golf is the perfect way to supplement a walk. Once you add golf, a 12km walk can become a four-hour feast of gossip, comedy, political debate, rivalry, physical and mental challenge, TV reviews, garden tips, beer reviews and a whole lot more.
What I'm actually suggesting here is that golf is like a trip to a luxury spa ... great for your overall health and mental wellbeing. Now, let's take it a step further. A three day golf trip is actually the equivalent of three days at a luxury spa, but substantially cheaper. This is how you sell the said golf trip to your spouse or partner: "Great for my health and wellbeing at a bargain price". SOLD!
The next steps in the process are: who, when and where. Well that is easy. WHO: I have two mates I play regularly with and they are fine company (well, most of the time). WHEN: It's much cheaper out of summer and school holidays. WHERE: Close, scenic, with a selection of great golf courses and quality drinking and eating options. If you live in the Sydney area you can't go past NSW's Southern Highlands.
So, with a three bedroom townhouse booked through Airbnb just a short walk from the centre of Bowral it was off to our Southern Highlands wellness retreat ... or three days of golf, eating and drinking.
DAY ONE - BOWRAL GOLF COURSE (www.bowralgolfclub.com.au)
Following the short trip down from Sydney the first thing that struck us as we got out of our cars and unpacked the golf clubs was how bloody freezing it was, despite the sun shining bright.
Tucked into the southern edges of Bowral township, Bowral golf club is a picturesque little gem that has operated at its current site since 1917. It is a Par 69 course, so challenging enough for a trio of old journos who hadn't played golf regularly until a year or so ago.
In fact, it proved too bloody challenging on the day, but the usual fun was had. I started the round with a hook into a neighbouring property, losing a brand new ball. It improved as the weather warmed ... just.
The fairways generally are quite tight and lined with a mix of native and European tree varieties. And, those trees copped a battering from us at times.
Because of the very wet weather of a month or so earlier our biggest annoyance was how difficult it was to find balls that plugged into the soft ground and disappeared. The greatest challenge, however, came with some of the greens, which were what one of the team dubbed "inverted saucers". In other words, bloody hard to navigate for rank amateurs like ourselves.
Of course, we had some magnificent successes on this fine course but they were few and far between. Chastened, we headed back to our temporary digs for a quick ale, a glance at the TV news (compulsory for old journos) and a clean-up before the short walk to the Imperial Hotel for dinner and ... you guessed it ... a few beers.
NIGHT ONE - THE IMPERIAL HOTEL, BOWRAL (www.theimperial.com.au)
The Imperial is a great, busy, country pub. There are two kitchens, one serving pizza and pasta, the other serving a range of pub grub that included burgers, curries, steaks and fish. Two of us grabbed a pasta, and the other the kaffir lime crusted barramundi ... how posh!
The pub had an ample selection of beer so we left warmed up for the short but chilly walk back to our townhouse. The one disappointment ... when my mate Bruce got a Japanese Asahi beer with the first round it was served in a beautiful frosted glass. I'm a sucker for a nice glass, so I got an Asahi next round. Out it came in a common old schooner glass.
DAY TWO - MOUNT BROUGHTON GOLF COURSE (www.mtbroughton.com.au)
And, we thought Day One was cold. Oh, my god ... this was another level altogether. We knew Mount Broughton Golf Course, Par 72, near Moss Vale was a Scottish-like links-style course but we didn't expect icy North Sea-like wind blasts in rural NSW.
When we went to the pro-shop before teeing off - in a very nice and warm clubhouse, thank you very much - we were given cause for even more alarm. "Have you got plenty of balls?" the pro asked (a bit personal if you ask me). "It's a bit pluggy out there. You're going to lose some." He wasn't lying. I reckon we lost a world record for three players over 18 holes. But, as if to illustrate nature's love for balance, we found a half dozen or so decent balls on the edge of the creek alongside the 9th hole.
Time for some superlatives: Mount Broughton is one of the most picturesque golf courses I have played on. All three of us were thrilled to just get on there for a game. It is surrounded by starkly empty and beautifully green rolling hills, with marshy rough running alongside creeks and ponds. Wow.
My mate Simmo is a man of discerning tastes and not one to waste praise on the undeserving. He lost countless golf balls this day but you couldn't take the smile off his face. "I'd play this course any time. If I lived here, I'd be playing it as often as I could," he said, and could later be spotted looking up local real estate.
Once again, if you hadn't guessed, the golf course was the winner, with us three weary travellers ending the day more chump than champ. But we did triumph with three decent results at a wild and windy Hole 2 where we decided to "wear our big boys' pants" (as Bruce put it) and tee off from the nose bleed level of the members' tee. In a way, however, the best was saved for last. Beside the 18th hole, a mob of wallabies sat in the bushes watching us look for a ball. It was quintessential Australia!
NIGHT TWO - THE SCOTTISH ARMS HOTEL, BOWRAL
We'd been to the Scottish Arms on an earlier visit to Bowral, when I famously nearly lopped a few heads while swinging the replica of Scottish hero William Wallace's massive sword. No such shenanigans this time, but the food and beer was fabulous. There was a slight disappointment ... Bruce was determined to have the Traditional Guinness Pot Pie, only to be told the last one had just been ordered. He wasn't happy as the waiter carried the crispy concoction passed us to deliver it to the lucky-last owner. Seriously, though, this pub is a beauty. I enjoyed a few Scottish beers, topped off with a pint of Guinness. Awesome.
DAY THREE - MOSS VALE GOLF COURSE (www.mossvalegolfclub,com,au)
On the third day we rose again miraculously ready for another round of golf. This time our course of choice was the immaculately manicured Moss Vale Golf Course, Par 71, and another great day was had by all three of us.
Firstly, a confession. My golf was bloody appalling this day, despite warmer weather. I'm the youngest of the three but I reckon I tired most dramatically. Maybe it was that Guinness!
Anyway, Moss Vale Golf Course is magnificent and you don't need to play great golf to admire it. Most of the fairways are tree-lined avenues, they are in beautiful nick considering the wild weather this year, and the undulating hills give you plenty of exercise.
Lost balls were again a problem, but more because of poor golf rather than soggy fairways. Eventually it got too much for me, and I decided I was recovering my newish ball with green Irish clovers on it from a creek, down a ravine alongside the 11th green. I did get it, but it came with an embarrassing slide down a hill on my arse. Then next hole I smashed the bloody ball into a tree and it ricocheted God knows where. All my efforts were wasted.
My favourite hole was the second. A Par 3 which sits below a hill on the left and above a hill on the right. Very pretty and very tricky!
At one stage we also had some roos watching our efforts nonchalantly on the edge of the fairway.
Anyway, despite our golfing inadequacies, we left the course that day having completed on foot 54 holes of golf in three days (like all the big professional tournaments). Not a bad effort for us three old bastards! So, off to celebrate.
NIGHT THREE - SOUTHERN HIGHLAND TAPHOUSE, MOSS VALE (www.southernhighlandsbrewing.com.au)
I really like this place in the heart of the town of Moss Vale. They brew their own beer, have very pleasant staff, fabulous food and the vibe is incredibly relaxed. It's certainly worth a visit if you are in Moss Vale by yourself, with a partner or in a group.
We tried a number of their beers but the one voted champion by all of us was their Goodfather Stout. A rich, creamy stout with coffee/chocolate flavours, it is the perfect winter beer.
I also really liked their Celtic Red Ale, which is delivered by hand pump, just like it would be served in a traditional pub in the UK. I loved how the flavours took me back to those pubs I had visited in my sojourns in Britain over the years.
We had done it! Three mates, three days, three golf courses and three great evenings of food and beer. And, we couldn't have done it without the Southern Highlands - the perfect location for a golf getaway!