MY DRINK WITH
LEE WESTWOOD

It was a day of golf you couldn’t put a price on — a round in the 84 degree Florida sunshine at the exclusive Old Palm club and a chat and a beer with Lee Westwood afterwards. Oh, and a cheery wave from the legendary Raymond Floyd as he swept past in his buggy.

It was all thanks to Chubby Chandler, founder and managing director of International Sports Management who look after the interests of many sports stars including Westwood, Darren Clark and South Africans Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosterhuizen.

Chubby invited son James and myself and Derek Lawrenson of the Daily Mail to Old Palm and the hospitality was incredible. Old Palm is an excellent course — designed by Floyd — which winds its way through a vast gated housing complex.

It is now home to the Westwood family who moved to the States from Worksop two months ago. They were renting a house on the complex until Monday when they moved into the one they’ve had built on the edge of the 14th fairway.

Painters were still putting finishing touches to it as we played past on Tuesday and to say it looks magnificent is putting it mildly. With the kids happy with their school, the Westwoods have settled in quickly and you wouldn’t be surprised at that if you saw the place.

The golf club is the social centre of the complex and the luxury hits you as you drive up to the ornate clubhouse and hand your car over for valet parking. We were directed to the carpeted, oak-lined locker room where we found lockers with our names on and a complimentary golf shirt inside.

After lunch in the swankiest spikes bar I’ve ever seen, overlooking a spectacular waterfall, we went to the course and that’s when reality hit us.

Chubby, who used to be a pro on the European Tour and actually won a Tour event, suggested that he played with Derek against the Corrigans. Seldom has there been a worse miss-match.

James used to play off 11 but hasn’t played more than a handful of games in the past three years or so . My game doesn’t need explanation to readers. Chubby said they’d give me a shot a hole and James ten shots.

What followed was an embarrassment and James’ major achievement of the first few holes was to make me look a half-decent player.

He couldn’t get it off the tee and I certainly couldn’t cope with the opposition. Chubby claimed they were seven up by the fifth and what added to our discomfort was that each pair had a caddy who rode on the back of the buggy, handed us our clubs, gave advice and helped us look for wayward balls.

They are both in their early 20s and excellent golfers. There are 18 full-time caddies at Old Palm and ten of them are off scratch or better. One is called The Animal and when he was caddying for Lee the other week he challenged him to a driving duel.

A small wager was transacted and Lee’s drive was 60 yards short of the Animal’s. It was only afterwards that the Animal confessed to having been the 2010 World Driving champion and regularly hits it around 440 yards.

Needless to say, we lost the match by a massive score and the only consolation was that James won the last. But it didn’t convince us we should ask to go around again. What a day.

Basking in the
Arizona snow

Serves me right for bragging about flying away for three weeks in the sun watching top golf. Here I am at Dove Mountain, Arizona, surrounded by snow, hardly any warm clothes in my luggage and no golf going on.

Mind you, the mountain and desert scenery is even more spectacular in the snow than it is in the sunshine but it was frustrating having to wait so long to see the heroes in action.

I didn’t venture out for any of yesterday’s first round of the World Match Play because of the conditions but I did spend Monday and Tuesday walking the course and realising that a hacker like me would probably have to give up the game if every course was like this.

Apart from being 7,800 yards long, the longest on the PGA Tour, its fairways curve through the wilderness with the desert threatening on either side and, on most holes, in front of you as well.

Some of the carries from tee to fairways are massive and, all in all, it demands a standard of length and accuracy players like me can’t even dream of possessing. You’d soon get pissed off rummaging around amid the cacti.

I played a few courses in Arizona ten years or so ago. They were further north, around Phoenix, and were of a similar vein but nowhere near as intimidating.

If you hit your ball into the desert they advised you to drop another on the edge of the grass under penalty because the rattlesnakes and some nasty variety of cactus make it imprudent to go looking for it. I’m not strong enough to carry all the balls I’d need

Thankfully, when we fixed up a golf writers game on Tuesday we went to a far more conventional course –the Catalyana at the Omni complex.

They held the Tucson Open here before they started invading the desert for courses and it was far more suitable for someone like me — wide fairways lined with rough that is by no means severe in winter, a hacker’s paradise.

Ironically, I drove so well that I hardly missed a fairway all round. The weather was beautiful, sunny but not too hot and with no hint of the snow-storm to come next day.

I played with my son, James, who is golf correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, Derek Lawrenson, of the Daily Mail, and Peter Dixon of The Times.

James did try to off-load me onto one of the others but they weren’t enthusiastic and he was stuck with me. We don’t have a great history as a golf partnership.

We took up the game at same time. He was 10 and I was 44. Within three years he was too embarrassed to play with me in the Father and Son competitions.

He used to play off 11 but no longer plays regularly. Like me he has encountered the paradox that being a golf writer means spending most of your time at the greatest courses in the world with hardly any chance to play.

Being in America is a help because, although the time difference makes coverage difficult, you’re finished in time to get a game in yourself.

After arriving at the Omni, we were getting our clubs out of the car when a gent asked us if we knew where the pro’s shop was. We couldn’t help him and as he walked away we said to each other what a remarkable resemblance he had to Fluff, Tiger Woods old caddie.

It turned out that it was Fluff, who now caddies for Jim Furyk. He played just ahead of us.

I thoroughly enjoyed being on a dry course with the sun on my back, an almost forgotten experience. It certainly helped my game and, apart from some chipping fluffs, I was pleased with my game.

Unfortunately, James proved to be a bit rusty and we were beaten six and five thanks mainly to Peter’s performance which, for an 18 handicapper, was very good.

We have a couple of other games planned when we get to Florida next week when we trust the sunshine will be uninterrupted.