GRANITEVILLE - Real golfers will not think it strange at all that Ashwin Krishen's tale elicits such a broad smile.
By real golfers, I mean the kind who grumble every morning when the workday alarm goes off at 7 yet bounce gleefully out of bed at 5 a.m. on weekends to be on a well-groomed tee box as the pre-dawn fog lifts.
We can safely include Krishen in the category of a real golfer. What the South African endured to spend a few days playing golf at Sage Valley Golf Club would make anyone not smitten by the game question his sanity.
Krishen, from Durban Country Club overlooking the Indian Ocean in South Africa, and his playing partner, Simon Paul Taylor, needed 51 hours to get from home to the outskirts of Aiken. They flew coach class all the way to New York, where Krishen was detained for five hours and questioned repeatedly because his name was similar to one on a security watch list. The customs officers clearly weren't real golfers willing to buy the I'm-flying-halfway-around-the-world-to-play-golf story.
The men reached Sage Valley at 3:30 a.m. Monday, but their clubs hadn't made it. For two days they practiced with borrowed sticks the club's staff cobbled together to resemble their lost sets.
Was it worth all the effort?
"Absolutely," Krishen said of his first visit to the United States and first golf journey outside of South Africa. "The hospitality we have received here is wonderful. This has got to be the highlight of my golfing career. You couldn't ask for more."
Amateur golfers from 11 countries spread across five continents representing 18 of the most prestigious golf clubs in the world have gathered this week at Sage Valley for the World Club Championship. Only club champions and accomplished guests from any of Golf magazine's Top 100 courses in the world were eligible.
The list of the 18 participating clubs would comprise a dream collection for any golfer to add to their list. The American contenders include Pine Valley, Seminole, Oakmont, Riviera and Merion. Surprisingly, many of the foreign participants have rarely played outside their home countries.
Of course, when your home club is Ballybunion, St. Andrews or Royal Portrush, why would you need to play anywhere else?
"We play so much golf at Royal Troon, we don't travel around much," said William Templeton of Scotland.
For most of the far-flung guests, this was a golfing adventure. For Spain's Felipe Ortiz-Patino, it's somewhat of a homecoming.
Ortiz-Patino's father, Jimmie, built Valderrama Golf Club into the destination it is today. But long before that he attended Aiken Prep when his family moved from Paris to America during World War II. Jimmie Ortiz-Patino still serves on the board at Aiken Prep, and Felipe comes with him annually to the area to attend the Masters Tournament and share at least one dinner at Sage Valley with club founder Weldon Wyatt.
"He has very fond memories of this place," Ortiz-Patino said of his father.
Others have come a long way to build new memories.
"As good as this is, in the middle of Southern hospitality makes it fantastic," said Nicholas Wilton of the Royal Melbourne team that came nearly 10,000 miles from their Australian home to play here.
That's the kind of testimonial Wyatt was hoping for when he accepted this event, which will be televised on The Golf Channel in December. One day Wyatt would like to see Sage Valley play host to an even larger amateur event such as the Walker Cup or Mid-Amateur Championship.
"This is a great way to highlight amateur golf," said Wyatt. "We're pleased that Sage Valley was asked to do it."
For any real golfer the experience of a round on an irresistible venue is worth any hassle.
"We were told what to expect, but we were blown away when we got here," said Ballybunion's Peter Sheehan of Sage Valley.
That it took only 20-some hours to make it from Ireland to Aiken seemed like no trouble at all.
Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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