Hailing from Port Macquarie Golf Club where he completed his PGA Traineeship, Steven Jeffress has become a prolific Pro-Am winner with more than 30 victories to his name. Starting this month, he will be providing a behind-the-scenes look at ‘life of tour’, both here in Australia and abroad. Jeffress’ maiden victory came in the 2006 Victorian PGA Championship and after a stint on the Japanese Tour Jeffress has qualified for the British Open Championship at Muirfield Golf Club where he will contest in his first major championship.
Last month the QLD Sunshine Tour returned to Papua New Guinea and it always presents some interesting challenges.
The trip started poorly for one of our travelling partners, former NSW Order of Merit Champion Martin Dive. After making the trip from NSW he went to check in at Brisbane airport where he was told in no uncertain terms that he couldn’t fly due to his passport only having 5 months left before it expired. As any good mate would do, we left him to fight his own battles (but don’t worry: at 6 foot 5 he can handle himself, and ended up making the trip.)
The first leg of the tour was the $100,000 Coca Cola Morobe Open in Lae where I was lucky enough to win in 2008. If anyone has ever been to the domestic terminal in Port Moresby, you would know it’s not the best place to be stuck on a two-hour delay, especially when you’re looking for some dinner. After sitting down to two packets of Chicken Twisties and a can of Coke, dinner was done.
Getting to Lae is one thing, and after being greeted by an amazing reception upon our arrival with locals hanging off the fences and wanting to talk to you, you face a drive from the airport into town, which can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a hour. The road is unbelievable in places, with potholes so deep that you have to put your headlights on just to get out the other side. With our journey complete, we were greeted with a couple of SP Lagers (or ‘Green Cans’) and essentially our day was done.
You always expect a few hiccups in PNG. On Friday afternoon, I was at the snack bar buying my caddy a pie at halfway when several gun shots went off approx 120 metres from where I was standing. I turn around to see a police car chasing a stolen car down the road adjacent to the course. They were firing at the stolen car and the thieves were firing back with a machine gun. The first tee at Lae Golf Club is tight enough let along the heart getting started by automatic weapons! Nothing like a little action after a day on the course and luckily nobody was hurt.
After finishing in 6th position in Lae, the following week we headed to the recently-crowned ‘Royal’ Port Moresby Golf Club for the $137,500 PNG Open. There were no shootings this week but I did have a difficult position with the caddies.
When we arrived for the practice round on Tuesday I saw the local caddy who normally bags for former Danish Open winner Ed Stedman and asked him to find me the caddy I had the past couple of years. I was told he is no longer around, so I asked Ed’s caddy to organize me a good caddy for the week. When I arrived at the 1st tee, the new caddy turned up…as well as my old caddy! Both wanted my bag for the week. These caddies really depend on this tournament week as the money can keep their families in a position where they can eat for several months. So now I feel really bad: two pairs of children’s eyes looking at me. In the end I went with my old caddy, but I gave the new guy a day’s pay to help out during the practice round. 20 Kenya a day is about $10.00AUD, though the difficult part is knowing if it is going to get to where it is meant, or is one of the bigger caddies going to chase him down the street as he leaves the course to ‘get his share’
I may have painted a drama-filled trip, but the truth is that we get treated like kings in PNG. Staying in extremely secure billets houses and with some of the most genuine people you could ever meet. They really make you feel welcome and given you play for almost a quarter of a million dollars in the two weeks, it is a trip worth taking. On a personal note I have made some life-long friends in the 7 times I have been up to PNG and although it is a long but enjoyable two weeks I must admit, I really enjoy arriving back on home soil being thankful for what we have here in Australia.