We arrived in Shanghai on a Tuesday and went flat out to see the city because the weather was sunny and warm and we wanted to see as much as we could in case things changed. By Saturday, we were a little tired and after eating our wonderful bowl of noodles for breakfast we headed back to the hotel to lie around and decide what we would do for the day. Anil switched on the television while David and Audrey and I discussed options. Suddenly Anil called our attention to the television; they were broadcasting the 2008 BMW Asian Open being played here in Shanghai. Anil and Audrey are both avid golfers and they were hooked. Fortunately, even though David and I aren’t golfers, we both enjoy watching it and so the afternoon was spent relaxing in Audrey’s room taking in the third day of the four-day tournament.
Sometime during the game Anil got it in his head that he would like to go to watch the action the next day. By chance, David had purchased a China Daily newspaper that morning and it had an insert about the Asian Open inside. Anil found a phone number for the Tompson Golf Course and called to see how much they were charging non-members to watch the tournament. The man who answered the phone was a little surprised when Anil asked him ‘what is the entrance fee for spectators’ and didn’t seem to understand. To use more simple English, Anil said ‘how much do you charge for watching’ and he said ‘No charge, it’s free, just come’. Anil hung up the phone and I could see from his face that we would all be going to the Asian Open the next day.
Luckily for us, the Tompson Golf Course was in the Pudong district, across the river from where we were staying on Dalian Road. It was a reasonable taxi ride to the entrance gate and then we boarded buses to the member’s parking lot. We got off the bus and entered the course on at the 10th tee box. We stopped to watch the action and then I turned as I saw some golfers coming towards the green. I noticed the caddy nearest me was wearing a sign with ‘NORMAN’ written in bold letters. I’ve watched enough golf in my life to know that Greg Norman (newly engaged to Chris Evert of tennis fame) was right behind the caddy. I called out to Audrey and she turned just in time as he brushed past her on this way to the 10th tee. She told me later, she had goose bumps.
That was an auspicious beginning to a great day of watching golf played in China. The access to the course and the players was unbelievable. There were very few spectators and we were often able to stand quite near the tee boxes and the putting greens. As added bonus was that BMW was displaying several of their vehicles on site and were unveiling their newest model, the X6 inside the clubhouse. Audrey is thinking of buying a new SUV and the BMW was under consideration. She was happy that she wouldn’t have to buy it in China, the model X5 is priced at over $200,000 US.
It was a great afternoon of golf out in the Shanghai spring air and we were delighted to be at the green when the leader, Darren Clarke, came to tee off on the 18th hole. Anil had left us there earlier because he wanted to watch some of the action on the other holes. Just before Darren Clarke came into view on the 18th fairway, Anil arrived back all excited. He had been watching an Indian player, Digvijay Singh on the 17th hole. When Singh hit his ball off the tee it rolled off the fairway into the rough. Anil followed the players hoping to see their second shot, but when arrived he found everyone frantically looking for Singh’s ball. There is a very limited time allowed to look for a lost ball, and if it isn’t found there is a penalty applied. There were only four or five spectators following Singh’s group and Anil was one of them so he joined in the search. Time was running out and the pressure was on. A cameraman who was filming the tee shot directed the searchers to look in a different area. Singh was starting to get really anxious and Anil heard him curse loudly. Just then, a woman who was standing at least twenty yards back towards the tee spotted the lost ball in the deep rough. Phew. Anil stayed to watch Singh’s next shot and then left to join us at the 18th green. Anil recounted his story with great delight, after all how often does one get to help a pro golfer look for his lost ball at a major tournament. I pointed out that it was one Indian helping another.
Editor’s note: I have great experience in looking for lost balls, thanks to my friend Suresh Gurjar. Not quite in the same league as Digvijay Singh, Suresh has trouble tracking his ball off the tee box and we are often left scrambling looking for his errant ball.
Singh managed to finish in the top twenty but we were on hand to watch Darren Clarke sink a forty-foot put to win the game. If he hadn’t made that critical putt, there would have been a playoff. We were thrilled for Clarke; his wife had died of cancer in 2006 and he had not been playing for some time. He has two young sons and I’m sure the prize money will go a long way towards their education. He was quite emotional during the presentation ceremonies and we were right there to share in his happiness.