Making friends in Orlando

Miles Bossom, Publisher of GOLF RETAILING (Handicap 9.6), talks about why golf is the best game in the world. 

I was lucky enough to visit The PGA Merchandising Show in Orlando again this year. I spent a few days walking the ten miles of aisles meeting existing customers and introducing Europe’s number one golf trade publication to businesses new to us. It was fantastic.

This article though is not about the show, it is more about how great the game of golf is for meeting a diverse range of people. On the Friday of the show I decided I had done enough and it was time for a game of golf so I went online and booked a tee time at Grand Cypress, which is about thirteen miles from International Drive.

Grand Cypress is a wonderful facility, perfectly manicured with onsite accommodation in the form of luxury villas and boasting forty five holes of Jack Nicklaus designed golf. As stated on their website, ‘the 27 hole North/South/East course provides the ultimate test of accuracy while the eighteen hole New Course provides a Scottish links masterpiece.’

I played the New Course last year and enjoyed it, with the first and last holes being modelled on The Old Course St Andrews. It is a fairly open course on which an errant drive would rarely be harshly punished. This time around I booked to play the North and the South.

On arriving my clubs were taken and I was encouraged to sign in and have breakfast in the bar before heading to the range. In the well-stocked pro shop I was given the usual friendly American greeting and signed in paying my $135 green fee. As time was not on my side I ordered a breakfast roll to go and it was massive; a full two egg omelette with bacon and cheese squeezed into a bun.

On the range there were pyramids of balls provided gratis and numerous golfers warming up in earnest.  After hitting a thirty or so balls – including a few less than desirables – I drove to the first tee. I was greeted by a starter, an older gent who had a friendly demeanour and a big smile. I gave my name and he informed me I was being joined by three other players. The first two were hitting putts so I introduced myself. They were Dave Thompson, Head Pro at Eagle Vale, Colorado and Ben Welsh, Head Pro at Frost creek Colorado.  They were joined by Ben’s father on the buggy although he wasn’t playing due to injury, just enjoying the day out and a few beers.

Dave and Ben had worked together for years and were now at separate clubs but they travelled down to Florida to attend the show and get some golf in as due to snow they had not played since October! I asked what they did during the off season and they both answered that they teach snowboarding! How the other half live.

They were great fun to play with and great golfers. We talked as we played and it was interesting to learn of the numerous American sports starts and celebrities that they had encountered through teaching golf and snowboarding.  In fact they had taught Jack Nicklaus’s family to board and visited the family home in Jupiter.

The third player in our four ball rocked up in a buggy in bright yellow trousers and a Callaway cowboy style hat. He was certainly making a statement. The starter asked him to transfer his bag to my buggy which he didn’t like and when the starter looked away he drove his buggy to the first tee. I followed, only to be pursued by the starter who once againrequested the gentleman to do as he had been asked. Our new player did so reluctantly.

He was a French gentleman in his sixties and played off a twelve handicap.  As Dave and Ben had teed off on the Championship tees and we were playing off the blues he decided that he would take the honour and hit his tee shot!

Philippe De Nicolay Rothschild

Philippe De Nicolay Rothschild

I teed off and then proceeded down the first fairway.  I asked, “What business are you in or are you retired?”  He replied, “I am in the wine business and was in banking, I am certainly not retired”. He told me that he manufactured his wine in Bordeaux and as I drove him to his ball and got off the buggy I noticed his golf bag.  It was a very nice tour bag with World Amateur Tour or similar and his name embroiled on it …Philippe de Nicolay Rothschild!

He was a member of The Rothschild dynasty, once the richest family in the World and still with major wealth and influence. His wife is Princess Sophie de Ligne, the daughter of Belgium’s Antoine, Prince of Ligne! Now that I realised who I was playing with the round got interesting.  I would ask him about when he started playing the game and he replied that at seven years old his father (who I’m sure he said had won the Open de France but I could find no reference) introduced him to the game.  I asked if he had been taught by his father and he replied, “No I was taught by Henry Cotton!”

He talked of the pleasure he took from playing with Seve and his dislike of Nick Faldo.  He smoked pretty much a packet of Marlboro on the way round and joked at times whilst being serious (and a bit grumpy) at others. I was often instructed to move the buggy as if I was on his staff – I was wearing a cap but it was not typical of a chauffeur!

As a four ball goes it was good fun. There was some good, some bad and some ugly and in my game with Philippe I lost two and one. He mentioned that his handicap had got as low as two and I have a hunch he was probably lower than twelve, but who cares.

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What I really loved about it was the fact that when you book a tee time prepared to join with other golfers you just don’t know who you are going to end up playing with. On this occasion it was two awesome Pros and a billionaire! This is why golf is such a great game; it is a common ground and frankly you can play with anyone and have a good day out. The handicap system ensures you can compete fairly and whilst there is often talk away from golf, golf is the glue that cements us.