Some people have a bucket list of countries to visit but my bucket list consists of golf courses, and my aim is to play a golf course in ANY and EVERY country I visit. One of the courses that has been on the list for almost ten years now is in Birmingham, Alabama. Birmingham has some of the most beautiful courses I’ve seen and the 26 Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail courses stretch the entire length of the state. Inverness and I have a small history, so it was fitting that I start my ‘Bama’ golf journey with it.
In my very short stay in Birmingham over ten years ago, I never got to play any golf at all; because it was expensive, the clubs near me were private, and I was pregnant half the time while also juggling a sporty and busy 15 year old daughter and 4 year old son who had a better social life than I did. Not forgetting that this is America, the country where the majority of people pour their own petrol, clean their own houses, mow their own lawns, and watch their own kids, golf was no longer in the books for me. As soon as we arrived here, we found out we were expecting and I knew there would be no golf any time in the near future and that’s when my 5 year hiatus from golf started. I had just left Zimbabwe where I had played two solid years at least three or four times a week. I was the runner up for Mashonalands most improved golfer, missing the title by 1. I played in my club, Borrowdale Brook Country Clubs silver division, and my handicap was 17 and coming down fast. Needless to say, this was not a voluntary hiatus.
Right before we left America to come back home to South Africa, we stayed at a place by a lake that separated Inverness Country Club from me. Looking across the lake, one could see some parts of the golf course. To my surprise, I had not really thought too much about playing, and I think it’s because I had a wonderful time living in Alabama, spending time with family, friends and getting to know the new little guy in our lives. But staying across from that golf course made me realise how much I missed playing, missed home and missed the accessibility of our courses. When we finally left, my heart was sad that I never got to play, and I resigned myself to never playing there, but I was excited to getting back on the golf courses in South Africa.
Fast forward nine and a half years later to my second trip back to Alabama to see family and friends. The stars are aligned, the Universe has agreed and the elements are all there…
It’s summer, and I did come slightly prepared to play some golf. Inverness was not on the list of my maybe courses to play this time. I was more than happy to explore the other golf courses, but my dearest friends, Jeff and Melanie Jeffcoat, had hatched a plan to introduce me to Jeff’s mom, Ann, who is an avid golfer, with the hopes that she would invite me to a game. Jeff and Melanie were nervous that Ann and I might not get along. Little did they know that when you put two women who are passionate about golf in one room, regardless of their ages and backgrounds, they are bound to get along. Ann and I hit it off and it turns out one of her favourite golfers is Ernie, and she just happened to be a member at Inverness Country Club. Dinner was fantastic; Ann and I had wine and watched golf while I cooked pap, peanut butter spinach, and curried mince with the Robertsons spices I brought for Melanie. Everyone loved the dinner, the kids made s’mores and we played board games. It was a winning night!
Imagine my excitement when I received an email from Ann the next day asking me if I was available in the week because she was inviting me to play with her and a friend at her club. Now, I type very slowly, but the speed in which I responded must have been a record time. I had only a couple of days to prepare! I had not played in 6 weeks which is sometimes a good thing, but most times not, and I had not even brought my clubs. My wonderful sister in-law, Susan, took me to the PGA Tour Store, similar to The Pro Shop only much smaller, to hit some balls for practice. She didn’t want me to embarrass her out there. I was like a kid in a candy store in the tour store but I did focus and get some practice shots in.
The reception and warm welcome I received was definitely typical Southern style – yes ma’am! I met Ann and Donna at the incredibly beautiful reception with a glass water fountain smack bang in the middle of the foyer that led to what I’ve heard is one of the best clubhouses in Birmingham. Ann was kind enough to loan me her late husband’s golf clubs, which turned out to be just perfect. I must definitely take my fitting advice from Andrew McLardy about changing to senior men’s clubs seriously. It’s blistering 30 degrees and its only 9:30am. I’m shook. I have plastered on the sunscreen, with sleeves on and enough water packed for several days. Not even this Alabama humid heat is going to mess this day up…and we were off.
Inverness Country Club is a private, 18-hole championship, par-71 golf course. It has quite narrow fairways, small greens, plenty of trees lining the fairways and more than a few times I felt like I was playing in a beautiful forest with rolling hills. There is an underlying serenity to it that just makes the game so much more enjoyable – even if you are playing a suspect game. Luckily, I played a decent game! The club had cut the grass the day before so the greens were fast and I struggled with my putting for a while. I have gotten so much better at reading my own lines and I’m really chuffed about that. These ladies read their own lines and their putting was really impressive. There was a good amount of note taking on my part. The lakes certainly do come into play at some of the holes and I’m happy to say I managed to not lose any of my Tiger balls. A few of the holes slant from left to right in a big way and the advice I got from Ann and Donna was to aim it slightly right so it rolls to the middle because all the trees were positioned to the far right and left and getting out of there is a “challenge” to put it mildly. Playing with these two ladies has been the most enjoyable golf I’ve played in a long while. They keep it on the fairway, something I need to learn to do. Inverness Country Club is beautiful and is everything I had imagined and hoped it would be.
Ann treated us to a lovely lunch at the clubhouse and my girl, Melanie joined us. As I expected it to be, the menu was packed with all Southern favourites. I finally settled on the Fish Tacos and Sweet Tea -always a favourite! We were joined by some of Ann’s golfer friends from Zimbabwe who now live in Birmingham and we had some great conversations about Royal Harare, Chapman Golf club and Leopard Rock. It turned out we had a similar friend in the late Tim Price. Without a doubt, this has been the highlight of my golf so far this year. Thank you, Ann Jeffcoat, for making a girls dream come true.
See you on the fairways.
– Written by Felicity Shiba.