We met briefly on the Dublin Airport bus in 2013. We discussed the weather prospects; no more no less. He asked me for advice on where he and his wife, Diane, should rest their weary, travelers’ bones that evening and where and how they might go – to maximize their short, four-day stay in Ireland. I gave it my best shot and handed him my business card “just in case you run into any difficulty”.
From a Munich Hotel about two weeks later, my casual Australian acquaintance, Ian Noyce, dashed off a ‘thank you’ note via email, to say everything had worked out much as I had advised and that he would like to return the compliment sometime by making me as welcome in his country as I had made him in mine.
He then surprised me by telling me that ‘out of curiosity’ he had ‘googled’ my name on the web and had been taken aback that he had been talking to one of the world’s most infamous golf nuts and proceeded to invite me, if ever I found myself in Australia, to come and play over his personal 13-acre, 9-hole, par-3, golf course in the bush lands behind his home at Mount Clear, Ballarat, Victoria.
“Next April we will be celebrating the 20th-Anniversary of the opening of my little, golf course: Noycelands. I must warn you nobody has ever broken par on it. I’d love to see if you can do it. There is nothing more relaxing after a week of intensive work than enjoying a quiet game of golf behind my house, blowing off steam with a few ‘hits’ and a few beers with my mates. You’d be made very welcome.”
Typical of my infamous, golf nut behavior I wrote back immediately and said: “I’ll come!” The full truth was that my wife and I were already well advanced in planning a 3-month trip to New Zealand, beginning in the following January. Besides, as soon as I saw a photograph of the Noycelands golf course featuring a kangaroo standing on the first green, my curiosity was aroused, and I just knew I was destined to play it. Even the slightly scary notion of trampling around in the Australian bush did not deter me and making a detour to Ballarat could easily be fitted into our itinerary.
Six months later, on a scorching, autumn day Aussie-style (33C) Mrs. Golf Nut and I arrived by train at Ballarat Railway Station from Melbourne to be greeted by a brass band of one. Until that precise moment, I was not aware that Ian Noyce is just as ‘notorious’ in the music business as I am in the golfing world.
“I have spent nearly 40-years designing and developing a range of electric and acoustic guitars, basses, mandolins and other hand crafted instruments that I am happy to say have sold well all over the world and are in the hands of some very famous artists, including Ireland,” Noycey told me with a grin.
“I made my first guitar (a steel string acoustic) in 1965. I soon realized that to get a good sound the guitar should be made out of solid wood and the only way I could afford such a guitar was to make it myself. A guitar building and repair business was soon underway. I loved the music trade and got immense satisfaction out of interpreting musician’s needs whether it was a repair job or a commission.”
Suffice to say, we had an unforgettable at ‘Noycelands Golf Club’ – one of the most unusual and enjoyable in my 60-years of playing the game. Hard to believe but the natural features reminded me of photos I have seen of Amen Corner at Fruitfield Farm in Augusta before Bob Jones and Cliff Roberts rode into town and built their golf course. I am not exaggerating when I say, all Noycelands needs is another 100-acres and a ‘few million dollars’ and you could be looking at golfing gold in Mount Clear! It is that dramatic.
There are uphill and downhill shots of varying lengths from 100 to 170-yards that have to be threaded through the narrowest of gaps in the tallest and skinniest of trees. The greens are all placed on ledges presenting unresolvable problems if you happen to miss the brown, extremely fast putting surfaces.
The genius of the design is due to there being a completely different 9-holes of golf to play but only four greens. One tees off from different angles. Most importantly, at no stage are you more than 300-yards from a fridge laden with cool beers. Would I return? You bet I would! My inept effort at breaking the course record fell short but meeting and playing golf with a coterie of the Noyces’ friends made it full of fun and Aussie banter.
A music nut and a golf nut had an instinct about each other when they accidentally met on a Dublin bus. Instinct ‘hit the right note’ and it was the perfect example of what golf (and life) should be about – friendship and sharing.
Footnote: You can expect anything in golf. A stranger comes through. He’s keen for a game. He seems affable enough. By the time you reach the 9th tee you will have found a friend for life or, discovered an idiot – Alistair Cooke