DJ Spoony: A day on the fairways, a night on the tiles
As the US Open tees off this week, DJ Spoony explains how his love of golf has given him a passion for travelling.
Sunday 08 June 2008
I started playing golf in 2001, and though it has only been a few years, the game has enhanced my life in ways I would never have imagined. It's given me the chance to travel to places I wouldn't have visited and meet some really inspirational people. I'm generally a sports addict and when I was young I used to watch golf on TV, but it was only when Tiger Woods appeared that I thought, wow, I've got to try a bit of this.
I still love watching sports but now I get to see things live. I'm going to the Ryder Cup in Louisville, Kentucky, this year, which I'm really excited about. I've travelled a fair bit to see golf in South Africa. They love their golf down there and the country has produced some of the world's highest-ranking golfers: Ernie Eels, Gary Player, Bobby Locke.
The pedigree runs deep and the courses are some of the best and most beautiful in the world. Pearl Valley is one of the newer ones near Cape Town, which had only just opened when I first played there but this year it hosted the national championships. There are lots of bunkers if you hit a wayward shot – I seem to remember I spent a lot of time in them.
There are also very good caddies in South Africa and the country offers brilliant value for money, even considering the cost of the flight. Because of South Africa's climate, the courses tend to be in great condition, which really inspires a better game. As a destination, it's nice to see black people empowered in a way they weren't 30 years ago.
When I visited Cape Town, I stayed at Camps Bay. I rented an apartment overlooking the sea and spent a lot of time on Ocean Front, the main dining strip, eating the freshest seafood I've ever tasted – it's caught right there in the bay. South Africa is home to some stunning beautiful people; it's a great setting for people-watching and golf, two of my favourite sports.
I've also played Stellenbosch, right in the heart of Cape Town's wine region. I'm a non-drinker so I didn't visit the vineyards but the scenery from the course – vast, towering mountains – was enough to make you heady. We also went to Cape Point where the Atlantic meets the Indian Ocean. That's one of the world's truly spectacular places.
South Africa is probably one of the most exotic places I've played golf. I grew up in Hackney in east London and went to school in Islington. I had my first go at the game at the old King's Cross driving range, with a friend from school. There's always been a bit of a stigma about coming from Hackney, but a few of us have done quite well for ourselves and several have taken up golf. The term "golf punk" refers to this new breed of golfer: anyone who's not the archetypal player you'd expect to see on a golf course – from taxi drivers to footballers, DJs to musicians.
Characters in the sport such as Ian Poulter have really brought about this change. He's flamboyant; he's a fantastic golfer and young people want to be like him. But Tiger Woods has been the single greatest attraction. He has eradicated so many different stereotypes and throws up so many contradictions in himself. Tiger may be the greatest golf punk because he is everything that golf wasn't. Now cool sportswear brands such as Nike, Adidas and Taylor Made are getting in on the game. However, there's a lot to be said for golf's traditions. The rules and regulations, what you have to wear, are very much part of the game. Living within those parameters to a certain extent and making it individual are what I find fun.
But I suppose the thing I love most about the game is the challenge. Every shot is a challenge in golf. Just because you've hit a good shot it doesn't mean the next one will be the same. It's a constant battle. If you like personal challenges, then golf is the game for you. And it's very meditative. You're outside on the grass with the birds, walking, at one with nature. As challenging as it is, there's always room for banter in the heat of battle, and four hours on the course gives you a great way to catch up with friends.
As a DJ, I mainly fly in and out of places on a red-eye and don't see much more than the airport and a club, but I still know if it's somewhere I want to return to. That was instantly the case with Miami. South Beach has become probably my favourite place in the world. I went originally for the Winter Music Conference and there was no question that I wasn't coming back. Now I go every year for my two-week annual holiday. It just has the best combination of things I love: city life but on the beach and the food is excellent. And, of course, there's the golf. I bought my first set of clubs in Miami – taking advantage of the weak dollar against the pound. There are so many superb courses in Florida, and many of them public access, which is rare.
Thanks to golf I'm about to put down roots in Miami and buy a place there. There is an argument that if you buy a holiday home you miss out on visiting other places, but as I travel so much for work, I feel justified. The up-and-coming area to buy is south of 5th Street. That's where I stayed the last two times. It's really residential and tree-lined but it's only a few blocks from the action – places such as Big Pinks diner, the Opium Garden and Joe's Stone Crab.
I feel right at home in Miami, maybe because it's not such a straight-up American destination as some. It's very diverse with people from Cuba, Dominica, Haiti, Colombia and Mexico. So much so that I'm learning Spanish. I'm always at Puerto Sagua, a Cuban restaurant on Collins Avenue, which does a great grilled chicken, rice, black beans and maduros (fried plantain). Great food, great people, good weather and with all the golf, plus training at South Florida Boxing – run by the same people who trained Muhammad Ali – and my sessions at a bikram yoga centre on South Beach. After two weeks in Miami, I feel pretty close to perfect.
I also love playing in Scotland. If I wasn't heading for the sunshine then there's only one place I'd go and it's there. Even in the winter. You get your woolly hat and thermals on and it's a whole different thing.
I mainly play two courses in Scotland: Kingsbarns and St Andrews. Kingsbarns, where the Links is played, has to be one of the most spectacular courses in the world. Some of the holes you play are right over the shoreline. To be invited to that championship is "the" one, the golfing equivalent of a personal invite over to Buckingham Palace to have tea with the Queen.
If you've got pots of money you can get helicopter transfers and jump around Scotland's premier courses in minutes. But if you're like me, you'll be driving yourself across the Forth Bridge, which is actually no hardship. I love this part of the world, its history and elegance. The architecture in St Andrews is incredible and the ruins are well worth a stop-off.
I have my own annual tournament now: the 125-player, 350-guest, gala dinner Spoony Classic Golf Day. We've raised quite a bit of money for Golf Roots, a Golf Foundation programme which gets young people from inner cities to play golf. As one of those inner-city kids, I know that you don't have easy access to things like that. The Golf Foundation got 700,000 children involved with golf last year alone. It's all about giving people opportunities they wouldn't have had. Without golf I certainly wouldn't have travelled to see half as much of the world.
Your Golf Travel.com is offering readers of 'The Independent on Sunday' who book a holiday through its website a £25 voucher and a free YGT golf travel bag for the lead booker on overseas holidays. Also, one golfer will go free when booking for groups of 12 or more in the UK and 16 or more overseas. Just quote "Independent on Sunday" when you book. Your Golf Travel.com is a one-stop shop intended to make golfing holidays more accessible and affordable to more golfers. Check out the website at yourgolftravel.com
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