Inside the ropes
with Tim Noonan
Journalistic integrity sure is a wonderful notion. Keep a healthy distance from your subject or any shred of credibility will be peeled away and you will be exposed as just another feckless shill. Lord knows there are enough of those in the world to start another planet or two.
So speaking strictly objectively, here is what I know: A number of the top players in the world are plying their trade this week at the Open. Some of the best young studs and some of the venerable old warhorses are whacking away.
But once again the star of the show, as it has been for over 50 years now, is the course itself.
Sprawling, bucolic and timeless, Fanling is everything Hong Kong is not. The weather this time of the year is so perfect and content that I'm debating whether to have a drink or a nap. Either would be sublime and I'm not looking for a post with the Hong Kong Tourism Board, but I have a hard time believing there are many golf courses and places more idyllic than this mid-November afternoon at Fanling. And I am certainly not alone in that sentiment.
'The last 20 to 25 years, you talk to most of the players and this is their favourite stop,' says Dominique Boulet, former Hong Kong professional.
'The weather helps of course, but there are other stops with great weather. The ambience here is unrivalled in Asian golf.'
Nobody is more qualified than Boulet to know. Currently a television broadcaster, Boulet was once a player on the Asian Tour and has been a member of Fanling for the past 25 years. 'It's the only tournament that I have been involved in as a player where guys never look at the bus schedule and try to figure out how quick they can leave,' he says. 'Players look to hang out here. I mean look around, why wouldn't you?' Why not indeed.
No matter how palatial and ornate your hotel room is, it can't have anything on this place. If this doesn't give your spirit a jump start then maybe you should start in on that second bottle of whiskey.
'I am not a big fan of some of these new courses and their palatial clubhouses; they are completely soulless,' says Boulet. 'Some of these courses you have to walk a half a mile to get to the first tee.
'But all the good colonial clubs, they always had a verandah, always had a putting green and always made sure the first tee was not that far away.'
Of all the different parts of Fanling there is nowhere as precious and unique as the verandah. According to Graeme McDowell, this is the one week when the golfers will never see the players' lounge, because they will be firmly ensconced out on the verandah.
It encircles the clubhouse and has a casual and convivial ambience that most social clubs would kill for. And it has history, some good, some not so good, but none of it boring.
You could make a long list of the who's who in and around the game of golf that have imbibed heroically over the years on the verandah. Deals have been made and deals have been broken.
Fanling is one of the most exclusive and expensive clubs in the world, and while some of the members may occasionally harrumph and moan about not being able to get their favourite table, most understand that for one week, once a year their exclusivity, and their verandah, has to be shared with the golfing world.
It's quite a gathering, sitting high and tight up here. On a sun-splashed afternoon there's the smell of good cigars and the smell of bad cigars. There is the whiff of pretence and the pretence of friendship.
To the right is the first tee box and straight ahead the putting green where some caddies lean on bags having a smoke and a few of the players puff away as well. It's not exactly St Andrews or Augusta, but it's probably the closest thing to those courses that Asia can offer.
It's a timeless design in a timeless locale and can fill even the sanest soul with missionary zeal. Again, I am not getting a share of the gate receipts, but even if you don't dig golf, you have to acknowledge that Hong Kong is not exactly awash in endearing throwbacks of any kind.
There seems to be a microclimate that possesses Fanling at this time of the year. You leave Central with a sweater on and arrive here an hour later looking for sunscreen. I don't want to tell you how to spend your money or your down time and I should mention that the beer stall and the concession stands around the course close criminally early.
If need be, grab a jug of wine and a bucket of fried chicken. Just don't blame me if they get confiscated at the main gate. It might not be the worst thing you could do to come out and enjoy the great outdoors in a way that we rarely get an opportunity to. And I say that in the most objective way.