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A Taste of Paradise – Zanzibar

Zipping up Zanzibar

Jambo, Jambo is the cheerful cry from children and adults alike as you come out of the airport, hot and sticky from a flight into Zanzibar.  Then the hustle from taxi drivers vying for your business to wherever you want to go.
Learning very quickly that bartering was the norm we negotiated a decent price to our first destination, Sea Cliff Golf and Spa Resort.

Despite the lack of uniform, and in many case the lack of apparent cleanliness, the people impressed us from the very beginning.  Their command of the English language was as good as any other non-English speaking country and their friendless surpasses other countries.
Zanzibar as we know it isn’t actually where we were going, despite booking flights and being told this is where we were going, Zanzibar is in fact made up of multiple islands with two main ones of Pemba, the lesser known, less populated and apparently less touristy than Unguja which is the larger, more populated.  We were visiting Unguja, Zanzibar on the west side of the Island and about a 40 minute transfer from the airport.
Having lived and worked in Papua New Guinea, I was delighted to see the similarities bringing back some fantastic memories as we bumped along the water ravaged road leaving potholes that made some of the four by fours look small as they disappeared nose first, only to emerge the other side relatively unscathed yet somewhat dustier.
No garland of flowers, parade or overpowering welcome committee came to say hello as we arrived at Sea Cliff, unassumingly setting the pace for the rest to the break at Sea Cliff, and not in a bad way.  The members of staff knew to give you some space after a long flight, they let you go about your way discovering the resort, but always present if we had any questions, which were usually met with smiles and helpful suggestions.  No show at this tropical resort, it didn’t need it, the resort simply shone through without the paraphernalia.

An all inclusive resort, and when I say all inclusive , I don’t just mean the food!  In fact packages for food were all inclusive, half board and full board, but this was resort was all inclusive, plus some.. with not only great food, but pretty much anything you’d want from your holiday, to satisfy even the fussiest of family members.
Small but tidy rooms had everything you’d want for your stay, with thoughtful additions such as a daily stocked fridge for water and fruit juice, fly wire on the doors and a romantic over bed mosquito curtains draped from the ceiling to cover the whole bed, adding a sense of drama to the room.  But the reality is, you weren’t in your room too long, even with the pull of the balcony offering sea or garden views and with the ever present bluest of blue Indian Ocean to feast your eyes upon.
Keen to get out on to the onsite golf course, the next morning after a buffet breakfast; a smorgasbord of treats to set you up for the day, with the fresh fruit being a must.  In 30 degrees of heat we walked to the golf course, in less than five minutes, slowing coming down the hill to overlook the private resort beach with golf course beyond, dhows at sail on the clear blue ocean adding drama to the view as we arrived at the golf course.
There are just nine holes on offer,  with nine unique greens and two tee positions to play as 18 if you wanted to.  The reality is, golf is one of many things on offer at Sea Cliff.  A true holiday experience meant they had golf clubs for us to use, all branded, and were certainly good enough to satisfy the holiday golfer in this tropical paradise.

Getting used to the heat was a good reason to play only nine holes, but standing on tee one with sweat, sorry gentle perspiration!! dripping down soon gave way to lush tropics as we ventured further into the golf course.  The day before we arrived, there had been rain, rain is such a polite way to say it bucketed it down, leaving in its wake washed out roads, tracks and the golf course to have standing water in play, especially on hole one where a gently stream had turned into a torrent of water ready to capture the unsuspecting golfers golf ball to go trundling downstream never to be seen again.  Applying sensible golf, we simply tee’d up the golf ball to save any mud splashes and  damaging the course and further.  The blades of grass were each thick and crept along the ground to matted together to form a green covering, easy enough to play from whilst on the fairway, but the rough was a challenge of its own, in fact if the ball went into the deep rough, even if you saw its exact entry point, finding it was another story.  Tropical golf does throw up alternative challenges of their own; greens are often baked and difficult to hit without it running for miles, so having that rain made them much more receptive.  Relatively flat greens, with the odd one being tiered or sloping welcomed us. The golf course had picture postcard qualities, of par 3’s, 4’s and 5’s with water in play, bougainvillea dotted its splash of colour amongst the varying shades of green. A clear blue sky with puff balls of cloud breaking made the postcard complete.

A Peter Matkovich design, the course was marked in metres, and having the pleasure of playing with the on site PGA golf professional, Stanley, who gave us greater insight to the course layout.  His favourite hole is no.8, a long par 4 at 407 metres, playing a decent tee shot was paramount for a shot to the elevated green.  On the day we played, we had the added challenge of a warm wind channeling itself down the fairway towards the tee box.  For me a challenging hole was hole 2, not for its length, more for the ability to manage yourself down the split fairway.  Split by a small island of long grass going for either side only gave a narrow target off the tee.  Day one I took a driver, missed the island but hit it too far right and ended up on the ‘up hill’ again in thick grass bordering the fairway.  We did find the ball on the uphill bank on the right, pst before the fairway funnelled to the green,  left with an awkward stance I hit a lob over the bank and on to the green sloping back to front.  Subsequent games I played a 3 wood or hybrid which required an accurate shot to go either left or right of the island, but took out the chance of hitting it too far, lesson learned from day one!  Hole 9/18 is Sea Cliff signature hole. A par three of 130 to 145 meters from the back, with rubbish at the front – tropical rubbish admittedly! and multiple bunkers guarding the green.  One has to be able to fly over all of this and land it softly on the green which sloped back to front.  Day one I totally overshot the ball, landing nearly on the beach  beyond but certainly playing off very uneven well trodden sand scrub to a pin position on the back of the green ie the high side fo the green and not and easy approach as I came back onto it, watching with aghast as the ball rolled all the way down and out of sight!
We managed to play three rounds of nine holes during our time at Sea Cliff, which meant we could play in various conditions, and different tee positions.  Each time was hotter than the previous but we conquered this by playing at 4pm and watching the sunset over the signature hole 9th/18th with the ocean as the backdrop in the comfortable beach fronted clubhouse enjoying a beer or two.
There were two type of local beer on offer with Kilimanjaro being the favourite for this trip.  Despite it being a resort, a captive audience and with no supermarkets, as we know them on the island, the prices were not silly, with the most expensive night being a wine bottle of around $30.
Freshly squeezed or pulped juice was always available too, and why not capitalise on the fresh mangoes, papaya (paw paw) watermelon and finger bananas in abundance.  
Evening meals were all buffets, with each night being themed, we dined Italian, Continental, Swahili and bar-be-que.  A good selection of meat, fish, vegetables were available after a tasty salad bar of more than lettuce!!  The food was mostly locally sourced and cooked to perfection, with fresh food cooked to order at the buffet as well as an a la carte menu.   During Swahili night we got to try Zanzibar Pizza, best described as a calzone but not so heavy. 

Each night dining by the poolside being waited on by a lady server who seems to have taken us under her wing, this might have been attributed to the tip she was given each night but Id prefer to say she liked us and gave us a great table by the pool; a table position.  Celebrations were done in style with birthdays being a real treat to watch the unsuspecting birthday girl or boy being serenaded by the waiting staff not giving one or two renditions of happy birthday but multiple in various languages.  We did panic one day when we were placed on a ribbon table but got away with it as all four pool fronted tables had the ‘celebration’ ribbons decorating them!
Sea Cliff has all sorts to offer the family or the active guest, even with a private beach and pools to relax by, some just can’t resist the pull of the tennis courts or games rooms.  For the super energetic there was the air conditioned gym and a squash court too, and for the less energetic person the on-site spa offered every treatment too.  Horse riding capped off this great resort in lush paradise.  Some extra facilities at Sea Cliff did carry an additional charge, some were included.  With a booking desk at the resort, excursions were available to get booked up if you wanted to see more of Zanzibar too.
We took a few excursions from Sea Cliff to beak up our golf, beach and poolside enjoyment.  Historically known as a spice island visiting a spice farm was a must for me.  Cloves are a commodity that Zanzibar still has high trading sales in, with the local’s being encouraged to grow cloves themselves to sell back to the local government who bought batches to on-sell outside outside the country.  The Spice trial took us around an area of forest identifying the various spices that grew happily without chemicals in the tropical climate.
For me, whilst the spice tour was interesting, especially trying to identify the various spices by the crush of a leaf or the dig up of a root, the commercial side of the experience became apparent with a funnelling through areas to buy the local products made from the spices; soap, chanel number zero, so called as it was the flowers as in the main ingredient of chanel no.5! creams and lotions and potions.  An experience itself to witness the cottage industry to support the locals.
Prison Island, a white fronted beach island rising out of the bright blue Indian ocean with tropical trees, typical and as you’d imagine a picture postcard. A short boat trip by water taxi to the Island with a guide in tow, we headed to Prison Island.  Never a place used for prisoners, the British assigned this tropical paradise as a prison, but maybe had second thoughts as it may be seen as a treat to be banished to such a beautiful place!. The main inhabitants are the large tortoise.  A gift from the Governor of the Seychelles these tortoise are kept in a sanctuary as a protected animal with a constant keeper on site, they looked healthy enough and certainly took large mouthful of the offered cabbage leaves.  Babies were separated until they were old enough to being stood on by the much larger adult tortoise.  Walking amongst the tortoise, stroking them as they amble along with surprising dexterity, with the oldest being near 200 year old and showing no signs of slowing down, no pun intended!  The scheme is obviously working and wow they certainly have the best place in the world to live!

Keen to learn more about what there is to see in Zanzibar, our trip to Jozani Forest was a must to see the red and blue monkeys which reside in that one 50km square location on the island.   The red monkey cannily be found in this one place in the world.  Where monkey and human live side by side, with the locals job now being the guides for tourists.  A walk around the forest didn’t reveal monkey until we came out the other side to see them scampering across the road which dissected this designated park area.  The Red monkey is easily identified as the four fingered monkey and the blue monkey similar in size and not too dissimilar in colour has four fingers and a thumb and therefore climbing the trees with greater agility.   Back off the road and we looped around back into the ‘depths of the forest’ never too far from the roadside.
One final excursion took us on a sunset dhow cruise.  Taking one of the smaller less commercial boats we were just two with two crew as we set sail out of the harbour into the wide expanse of the Indian Ocean waiting for the sun to set.  Given a bottle of water and some crips to munch on whilst waiting the quiet was deafening, as the camera was poised.  It has to be said the boat rolling was as relaxing as anything else you might experience in the late evening heat.  The sunset wasn’t as punchy as we would have liked but the overall experience was a lovely end to a perfect day.
Back at the resort  we had one final treat the night before we left. Chef Alex from Sea Cliff gave us a beach cookery demonstration, this not only gave me chance to eat yet more delicious food but of course the opportunity to see how it was made not to mention an opportunity to hone my interview skills as the willing volunteer for anything going.  Zanzibar, as the spice Island conjures up images of spice on everything, but the surprising things about Zanzibar cooking is the spice is a compliment to the taste of the meat.  The red chicken adorned with spice, similar too, but not entirely the same, to Indian spices wasn’t over powering but a simple unaltered taste of fresh meat plus something extra special.  Given the opportunity to see how Zanzibar pizza as made was also a treat.  The elasticity of the dough was more than I expected as it sprang back with each stretch to eventually give in a little and take the form of a rough circle to be loaded with minced cooked chicken, cheese, peppers and pretty much anything you might have left over, before being lightly ‘fried’ on a flat plate and a little oil.  These tasty pizza aren’t as heavy as a calzone, but in some respect resemble their shape and concept.
Eating food on the beach you have just seen being cooked with fresh ingredients was quite special as the sun set over the sea, before we enjoyed the comfort of the Sea Cliff for one final night.

As we said good bye to Sea Cliff we departed for Stone Town, the historic capital of Zanzibar to check into Jafferji House and Spa located right in the centre of the bustling town.  Jafferji reminded me of a traditional moorish hotel with its vibrant colours, incredibly comfortable bed and thought provoking rooms of different silts and sizes.  Our room overlook the main street, and thinking it might be noisy or busy at night, we were in for a pleasant surprise, it wasn’t at all.  Breakfast at Jafferji was from the menu and was plentiful and tasty, but the restaurant location, right at the top of the building surpassed everything else as the vista view overlooked the town towards the Indian Ocean.  Jafferji proved to be the perfect location to get out and explore Stone Town
Taking a sight seeing tour of Stone Town, yielded surprising results.  We visited the House of Wonder, a huge imposing building on the sea front who through time has had every addition the period style dictated, of the time now looking slightly disheveled in the glistening sunshine.  The area where the slaves were kept was an eye opener as we were squeezed into tiny over bearing hot rooms under the buildings where many slaves were packed in awaiting their fate, and now weirdly upon which a church now stands.  Many stalls sold multi coloured clothing of light weight material and we got lost too, so being forever resourceful asked a policeman and it turned out we weren’t far from where we wanted to be anyway, but just demonstrates the helpfulness of the local people.  We never felt threatened or uncomfortable but you do need to be able to haggle and to walk away if you were not happy with the price.  This was quite apparent at the night market.  Nothing but food was on sale at the night market, with stalls set around a big square you just ambled along and picked what you wanted before retiring to a seat to enjoy.  Our Zanzibar pizza wasn’t as good as the one at Sea Cliff, but watching him load the thin stretchy dough was a challenge as he wanted to give us so much.  We drank freshly squeezed sugar cane and had a go at pretty much everything, without a thought that we we on a long haul flight the next day!

The truth is, the food is so fresh, we had no problems what so ever.
The final day we were able to wander around at our own pace before being treated for one final thing before jumping on our flight back home.  Organised through Jafferji House and Spa we went along to Cinnamon Spa and had a back and head massage.  Playing golf, carrying luggage, camera equipment and all the totally unnecessary things I carry in my bag does take its toll after a while, so it was fantastic to get the knots beaten out in readiness for our return home.  The ladies did a great job on my back and even attempted to tame the hair, without success, I might add!  Jafferji staff were amazing and so helpful with organising the spa treatment
Back to Jafferji for a quick shower before departing for the airport and back home relaxed yet weirdly exhausted.
What I thought:
With the hectic world we live in, with limited time to take multiple holidays Sea Cliff could have the answer for the whole family.  The golfers in the family could go to play 9 holes before breakfast or early evening before dinner as we did, without missing out on the family fun.  Or take a few extra nights and spend some time in Stone Town for the cultural experience to give the holiday extra depth.  Ether way, I would recommend Zanzibar as a golf plus destination.
Check out my You Tube channel – ‘travelling lady golfer’ to re live the sights and sounds of Zanzibar, this beautiful tropical paradise just off the East coast of Tanzania.
Note – this trip was taken in November 2019, prior to Covid -19 and lockdown


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Kicking around in Kansai – Japan

Kansai Region – Mie, Hyogo and Shiga

Despite the cool autumnal feel about December, the warm welcome is ever present from the people of Japan as I landed into Kansai Osaka airport.

The quick and ever efficient train journey with my final destination being Shiga Prefecture.

This is my third time to Japan, and I’m delighted to be seeing more on offer from this beautiful unassuming country located in the Pacific Ocean to the East of South Korea sitting just 587 miles away.   Landing in the morning gives me time to play 9 holes, and that exactly what I did at Ryuo (pronounced R-euro).  Playing with the humble card marker of the club, now I say card marker, but I get the impression he’s a bit more than that and pretty much helps the club tick along with ease and is certainly part of the furniture.  He was a delight as we played the front nine of this 6600 yard (5076 off the front tees) parkland course.

Ryuo golf course is part of the Prince Chain of hotels and golf courses, and is the sister to the better known Seta Golf Club.  With easy access to the main highway it is a great stop off point or to be incorporated as part of trip around Japan.  Beguiling its relative early establishment of 1982, the course has water and trees aplenty, the condition of the course was brilliant, especially as the season was late Autumn/early winter and the fact that the course had been played all summer long.  I particularly liked the two greens.  It makes sense when weather is a contributing factor as it is with most golf courses to have two greens, one in play and one ‘resting’  As a visitor it isn’t always obvious which one to play especially when the yardage is needed, so a simply yet effective solution at Ryuo golf course is to have two sets of yardage markers on the course too, one on the left for the left green and one on the right for the right green.   Japan never ceases to amaze me with its simple ideas that just make ones life better, whether on the golf course or off.  Greens weren’t as pitted as I expected and have experienced previously, in fact they were pretty good, and rolled well too.  Being part of the Prince group, it is also easy to get on here to play. 

A 40 minute transfer takes me to the hotel for a few days, the Biwako Otsu Prince Hotel.

Situated on the Biwa Lake, the largest fresh water lake in Japan, and the view from this imposing tower was extraordinary across the water to mountains as you scan the landscape laid out in front of you.

Thinking an early night was in order I was easily talked out of that silly idea and tantalised out for the night to the Matsukiya Omi beef restaurant.  Now we’ve all heard about the beef from japan, the lavish attention adorned on the precious commodity in the form of a cow.  The piece of beef on offer on tonights menu was valued at $2,000, so savour it I did.

Using this number one Wagu beef, the matsukiya style of dining is similar to that of a fondue, the beef is finely sliced and added to vegetables to be cooked as you like in a wide pot over an open flame, adding soy sauce, sugar beet and water as needed to savour, (not flavour !) this delicious meat.

After a day of meetings and discussions, the following day I was back on the golf course.  This time playing the better known course of the area and also a Prince Resort, Seta.  A 36 hole complex I had the opportunity to play the West course.  Despite its better known cousins the West course still offered a good test for the golfer.  A relatively flat field the 12 lakes came into play at every opportunity with 9 and 18 both having a lake in the way of the shot to the green.  Playing late autumn is a nice time the day, in fact the weather was cold but perfect playing conditions especially with the mirror blue ponds perfectly reflecting the changing colour trees.  Weirdly the fairways are green surrounded by yellow rough.  Due to the grass used in the rough it goes dormant during the winter months but remains in play and also remains thick and challenging too!  Couple these contrasting colours with the blue sky and the mountainous backdrop, and you’ve got a picture postcard to bash a little white ball around.  I hope to return one day and play the North and East courses for a true comparison.

Before leaving Shiga prefecture, another first for me in Japan was just around the corner in the shape of a tram, not just any tram but the longest cable railway in the country called the Sakamoto cable railway which first opened in 1927.  Taking 11 mins to complete this wonder journey through the hillside under the hillside, surrounded by tall imposing trees to the top where Mount Hiei awaits to show the vista views and offer the UNESCO Enryakuji Temple, a ‘training ‘ temple for other Buddhists and the place of many influential visitors enjoying the elevated views overlooking beautiful Lake Biwa.

Moving away from Shiga and into Hyogo (he-yo-go) prefecture via the incredibly interesting Takenaka tool museum and home to some of the worlds best and most intricate wood screens I have ever seen.  The museum takes you through the historical tasks the carpenters performed in an attempt to preserve the history of this unique wooden metropolis in Japan.

Basing ourselves at the ANA Park Hotel for a few nights meant we were within easy reach of Kobe, a dinner cruise on the Lake on board Concerto, a large commercial boat cruising the lake offering a luxury experience with live music and great food and with the sake flowing, it was a great night to experience.

Whilst not entirely unfamiliar with auctions a live fish auction is another experience altogether. Managed by the cooperative the fish is sold fresh off the boat without a catalogue as per other auctions. From slippery octopus making a bid for freedom, escaping the plastic bucket prison to fish of all sorts of sizes and colours was one thing, but trying to identify who bought the fish and for how much was beyond my novice auction experiences.

What better thing to do after a live fish auction that to visit one the of best sushi restaurants in the region. Freshly prepared in front of your eyes, you can but marvel at the dexterity of these chef craftsmen at work producing the coloured sushi whose taste blows anything else out of the water.

Another day of sightseeing takes me to Himeji Castle a World Cultural Heritage Site and an imposing white 6 floor building atop a hill.  Hime means princess and ji means street. The original layout of the castle, where original walls are now streets now carry sways of visitors, is that of a series of walls spiralling around the castle, but as you get closer to the Castle this become more obvious and remains just as dominating as yesteryear.

Moats and strategic ponds were dug for protection during battle but once penetrated the building simply shines with architectural designs from the various gates and doors to the roof tiles themselves being mini pieces of art.  With one large supporting column, a tree, with as wide a girth are ever, dissects each floor with its imposing strength and strategic placement.

After a few hours wandering around this unique piece of history, an easy ride by Shinkansen back to Kobe bought another experience not to missed whilst in Japan.  Japan is always on time, not the trains, people or buses, simply Japan, there is enormous respect for time and time keeping without it being rigid and unfriendly .  The Shinkansen is no different quietly gliding into the station to quickly whisk us back to Kobe and dinner at the Plasir Kobe restaurant.  Kobe beef, the marbled beef simply cooked enhancing its flavour and intensifying the taste delivered in true Japanese style was the icing on the cake for this amazing day.  This is some of the best beef I have had whilst visiting Japan.

Nine holes of golf the next day bought me to Hanayashiki (hannah-ya-she-key) playing the Yokawa golf course.  What a treat it was to play a members club, the fairways meander their way around the course again providing reflective ponds in the early winter sky.  A good test for all golfers the course is a lovely mix of gentle fairways swaying around the natural landscape, large receptive greens and the ever present yellow tough rough.  I really enjoyed playing this course and especially so as it is home of the Studio Alice Open, on the LPGA circuit.  The clubhouse is a futuristic looking ‘war of the worlds’ style over various floors giving the best views of the course and surrounding countryside as you went about your leisurely lunch in this relaxed atmosphere.

Hashi and Masu might not mean a lot to us, but to the Japanese these are essential with Hashi being the chop sticks and Masu being the wood bowl for Sake.  I got to have a go at making the Masu – it has to be said that the glue of sticky rice wasn’t enough to help my poor workmanship to contain the precious liquid, so I may revert back to the ornate glass option!

A new hotel that night was the NESTA Resort in Kobe a large family orientated resort with everything the family might want from hotel rooms to time-share type apartments on offer but that night was another first and special treat for dinner.   Irori restaurant, seated on low stools up to a special long table this bbq style of dining is a lovely way to socialise.  In the middle of the table, small whole fish were unceremoniously staked on wooden skewers tilting towards the white hot sticks for cooking and a mesh grid to place the raw food upon to cook for yourself. Dressed in western clothing but being given wooded clogs with no toe posts was interesting to walk on as you rock back and forth to propel forward.  Just collect your shoes on your way back out – easy, simple and such a lovely experience.  A great atmosphere and of course great food as my friend took up the challenge of being chef for the two of us.

One final game of golf awaited before my departure and this time at Tokyu Grand Oak Golf Club, a great 18 holes where I got the chance to play with two Japanese business men and my playing partner, a fellow Brit.  A friendly game and good time followed as our last chance to play in Hyogo prefecture as a stunning day evolved and the sun shone to give us 15 degrees heat. Perfect weather, but this was about the only time I could use the word perfect as my game was quite off.  Gently undulating winding fairways with the, again, yellow thick rough offsetting the vibrant green fairways and greens and bright blue sky.  The whole course was in good condition and I once again marvelled at the time of the year, having had a whole year of golfers go through, this and all the other golf course I played we in amazing condition.  Tokyu Grand Oak is another must play for golfing visitors.

Finals night bought traditional celebrations of great food and a traditional martial arts Kendo demonstration using swords followed by a lively display from high school children playing the taiko drums.  A fantastic night to end a fantastic trip.

This trip was focussed on the Hyogo and Shiga prefectures, but it would be remiss of me to not mention Mie prefecture which I visited the month before.  All three prefectures, Hyogo, Shiga and Mie are in the Kansai region of Japan

Mie is the traditional place of food production for the Japanese Emperor it became known as the ‘miketsukuni’ (land of imperial repasts) this is the possibly the best way to describe Mie, a rich fertile prefecture with history of its own.

Take the Ama, female divers who still dive daily for their fish to sell at market.  Fresh fish is caught daily and now served in the Ama hut cooked over the open fires you can get anything from lobster to abalone to various fish served with sticky rice and other accompaniments for a true authentic experience.  The Ama ladies are a dying breed, with some still diving well into their 80’s but as it stands today they are tight knit community of caring and sharing women, just wanting to please you as they serve their catch of the day with a smile.

Golf in Mie offers another dimension to golf in Japan.  Tsu (Sue) Country Club being 18 holes of golf set amidst the most beautiful backdrops of the hills, as it meanders around the countryside bringing into play the deep bunkers and narrow entrances to the greens to large target greens and thought provoking holes.  I love the thought taken when building this course, the surrounding country side is not flat by any means and you can find yourself playing fairways with nothing else around you. The on site Katada Lodge accommodation is a mix of a few simple hotel room styles to the two bedroom villa which seamlessly and gently blends into the background yet having a foreground view to die for down the 18th hole.  A members club the clubhouse and restaurant are welcoming and offer the most amazing food as you take a break from your golf after nine holes of golf.  If you have time the display of cooking over the hot Teppan metal plates where the food is grilled, boiled or panfried a process called Yaki, culminate in the whole experience of Teppan-yaki. Providing endless entertainment with honest earthy tasting food, is a welcome addition to your visit to Tsu.  Be mindful the food is so good it is difficult to get up and play the back nine after that feast.  But getting onto the back nine at Tsu is definitely worth it as the course sets off down the 10th with a slightly elevated tee taking you right then left to a well guarded green before sweeping you off away from the clubhouse to reemerge on the 18th.

Tsu Country Club was where I was based for my few days in Mie, sleeping in the villa with its own hot bath overlooking the 18th fairway, knowing that despite your nudity, you were completely secluded.  The morning bought a special treat as I pulled back the paper shutters with light wood frame and wandered out of the villa down to the 18th green barefoot just enjoying the grass between my toes waiting for another exciting day ahead and knowing I would be coming back to the comfort of the villa.

Forgiving the name of the next course, OGG Excellent Club is another one to visit whilst in Mie, a large cafe style clubhouse overlooks a golf course which is simply stunning.  It always struck me that the facilities don’t match the course as you play round this thoughtfully designed course crossing over wooded bridges to reach your green over a large expanse of water giving the illusion of the club house floating.  Some interesting holes take in the afternoon reflections as I played on my arrival day, slightly jaded but ready for some fresh air.  Always a great start to one of my trips to Mie and really set the bar high

Mikimoto Pearl island is also worth noting when visiting Mie prefecture.  In 1893 Kokichi Mikimoto devised a way to ‘grow’ pearls or the cultured pearl as we now know it.  You can shuck for oysters or watch the female divers demonstrate their prowess as they dive for oyster to open for food and maybe, just maybe a pearl will be inside.  Whilst their unique whistle lets you understand their refined breathing technique whilst diving.  Bring your wallet as the pearls are displayed in large glass shops to purchase on your way out in a no pressure sell environment, but a lovely way to take home an authentic piece of Japan

Another great golf course of note in Mie is Nemu. 18 holes of golf that takes in recently redesigned undulations and as you go about your business of playing golf.  Some redesigns have been deliberate yet with consideration for its original layout, so you must take a moment to look around as you approach the half way hut which has the best views from any toilet I have ever witnessed!  Overlooking the Ago Bay into the Aegean Sea it is simply breathtaking with the blue green sea and the dotted lush green islands sprouting up.  You don’t need to go to the bathroom to experience these views of course, you can see them from a few holes on the golf course as the holes nip and tuck around this beautiful natural part of Japan.   Despite it being on the coast, it plays more like a parkland than a links course, just with amazing views of the sea.

Moving onto Oyado The Earth, a hotel set on the peninsular totally out of the way, I wasn’t really too sure what to expect.  As I arrived at the hotel, check in wasn’t as you would normally experience; leave your shoes at the lower step and you are whisked away to your room wearing nothing but your slippers.  I’ve got to honest, I think I had the best room in the house, and what a room it was!!  Overlooking the ocean, the peace and tranquility I felt as I entered the room was nothing compared to the ‘back garden’ in which was private Onsen and pleasant seated area with views over the garden to the sea in the not too far distance.  Oyodo The Earth even has an observatory where you can star gaze or just enjoy the vast ocean views from the raised platform.  Get up early enough and you may just catch the Ama ladies of the region fishing.  Breakfast and dinner were in the main restaurant, a big display of everything colourful, carefully matched yet bizarrely unmatched gave its appeal as each dish was deliberately placed in front of you.  And if you were still hungry after a huge dinner you’re given a bowl of rice to take to your room after dinner.  Eating dinner was done wearing a yukata, provided by the hotel, a simple unlined gown with a belt making for a comfortable dinner and expanding enough to take infall that delicious food!

An afternoon cruise around Toba Bay is an interesting experience as you pass the far and wide flung fishing nets dotted along the coast line in symmetrical lines with only the boards to walk as the fishermen check their catch.   Cruising around the bay to Meoto Iwa, a pair of rocks connected by a thick ornamental straw rope that represent Japan’s creation deities, Izanami and Izanagi.  The meaning of these two rocks bound together with rope ‘wedded rocks’ and long regarded as husband and wife.  The couples rock is regarded as a torii  (an entrance gate or shrine) for worshipping the Japanese goddess of the sun.  It would be something to see these natural stones at sunset as they are bound to each other weathering all the odds, as in marriage.

Golf in Japan is more than just golf, when visiting a country with such diverse cultural differences, one has to make time to do many things more than golf, that said with in excess of 2300 golf courses, you will also be spoilt for choice in this regard too!

I’m looking forward to visiting Japan, getting to know this beautiful understated country and sharing with you more golf, gastronomy and lifestyle experiences.  But if you want to experience them for yourself, just drop me an email and I will point you in the right direction.

Check out my You Tube channel for more visuals on Japan and much more:

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In the evolving world of golf, new destinations are popping up all over the world, new countries are marketing themselves as golf friendly, whether they are or not, but one trip last year stands out in my mind above all the rest – my golf trip to Japan.
Flights are direct from the UK to Tokyo, but my final destination airport was Nagoya via Hong Kong.  Arriving at Nagoya was like arriving into a shopping mall with exceptional cleanliness, shops and restaurants to divert the weary travellers eye, but my eye was firmly set on my bed for that night!

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Somewhere on mainland Europe- but where and why?

The Travelling Lady Golfer
Where am I?

  • Formerly the land was designated as a Formula 1 track
  • Unimaginatively originally called the Green and Red Courses
  • Built with the vision for the venue of the 1997 Ryder Cup
  • Gallardo – “one of the finest golf venues in the World’
  • Situated on mainland Europe
If you haven’t guessed by now it is of course PGA Catalunya, Spain and one of the finest examples of an all inclusive resort I have seen.

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What do women want from their golf travel?

I am frequently asked what can hotels and golf courses do to attract this evolving audience of golfers.    Asked to write for the IGTMarket website run by Reed Exhibitions, this is what I had to say:

Whilst women’s equality on the golf course and equal playing rights remains a priority for most progressive businesses wishing to embrace this focussed audience, women’s golf travel still remains a bit of an untapped marketplace, but growing in popularity with golf tour operators now seeing this as a worth while and lucrative focus.
As a former golf tour operator, safety and security whilst traveling was and should be an uncompromising given.  
Speaking to industry experts and ladies who travel this is what else needs to be factored in to please this discerning group of emerging golfers:

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Sanremo – The Travelling Lady Golfer reveals the best of golf and more in this part of Italy

The Travelling Lady Golfer – San Remo

Just as the F1 Monaco Grand Prix flashes by, so did my short golf break in San Remo, Italy. An easy flight into Nice, France and a short 25km drive East is a gentle reminder as to how close the European countries are, as the the French Riveria blends into the Italian Rivera with a blink of the eye.
My final destination – The five star Royal Hotel San Remo, deeply rooted in this majestic place perched on the hillside overlooking the Liguria coastline towards the Mediterranean sea.
Arriving late, the shutters were down in my hotel room, so I awake with a slightly weird feeling that I had no idea where I was, with just chinks of sun shining through the small gaps in the shutters bought me back to my sense as I lept out of bed like a child, eager to open the shutters. Only then did I appreciate the beauty of not only the hotel room itself shrouded in Italian opulence, but the room framing the distance view towards a picture postcard blue sea. 

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6 top tips on how to bag some cheap, if not free golf!

By thinking outside the box, you can play golf for free or cheaply anywhere, here’s how:

1. Reciprocal – if you are a member of a golf club it is likely that your home golf club will have reciprocal arrangements with other golf clubs.  Surprisingly, these partner clubs are not necessarily local to you, so you can take a few days away and play some great golf courses.  Some clubs even have overseas reciprocal courses, so build you next holiday around that and really maximise your next trip.

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Please don’t just look at me and make assumptions? Golf club fitting; then and now

A free 7 iron and a selection of hand me down clubs from neighbours and friends got me out playing the game of golf many moons ago.  They were perfect, they were mine and they got me going in the sport I still love to play today. In those days my handicap was dropping at a considerable rate so progression from this eclectic mix of golf clubs was rapid.
I didn’t really know where to start to get new clubs, someone suggested American Golf, so off I toddle, credit card in hand.  The bonus was the Callaway rep was there, Callaway were one of the brands I was told were good, so I was delighted to see him there.  One look up and down and he handed me a ladies 7 iron.  I walked out.

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PGA Merchandise Show – my top picks for 2019

As always it is a pleasure to attend the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, and this year was especially exciting with the offerings on the table from established suppliers and also the new innovative products.

Salted Smart Shoes

There are so many training aids on the market, but this one struck me as particularly useful, why?  because it’s the shoes you wear.  Golf shoes are a fundamental part of the game but have you ever considered wearing a shoe that gives you stats back to an app on your phone?  With sensors embedded into the soles to track feet pressure and distribution of your weight transfer and balance, there is no getting away from the stats which are fed back to an app!  Instructions provided to analyse the stats which are visual to determine not only your weight balance and transfer but also left to right and front to back balance readings are given too.

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