Update: After my trip to New Zealand, I wrote this article for Bloomberg Markets magazine: Julian Robertson’s New Course
… and here’s a brief synopsis of the trip.
Saturday night is a night out on the town of Kerikeri, a sleepy little village that Julian says reminds him of growing up N.C. as a kid 60 years ago. “People are very casual and little kids run around barefoot all over the place. I just love it,” he says.
Me, Julian, Josie, their son Julian III, Jason (the club’s Kiwi-born pro) and his leggy, blonde wife Diana head to Re-Co, a local Tapas Bar. (As predicted, barefoot children are wandering about the property.) As we enter, many local stare in Julian’s direction, but I suspect they are more interested in Diana, who is wearing 4-inch heels that make her over 6-feet-tall. Julian mingles with friends, as we find a table under a Ponga tree. “I need a beer,” Julian says. Gotta love the guy!
The man dubbed in the local papers simply as the “Rich American” marvels at the fact that we all can eat a hearty dinner for less than $100 U.S. Yes, he’s truly a value investor.
After dinner, during which Julian comments about the “fantastic figure” of our waitress, we head to the new Centre at Kerikeri (Which was built with the help of about $2 million of Julian’s cash) to see Mass Ensemble, a Malibu, California-based performance troupe that was on the second night of a two-day gig.
The two-hour show, which featured an earth harp (whatever that is), yoga dancers, a three-armed guitar, and drums mounted on the wall made to resemble clouds, was one of the more interesting performances I’ve ever seen. Julian seems to enjoy it and comments on the “incredible flexibility” of the tattooed, blonde yoga dancer. Gotta love the guy!
Sunday, I wake to a stunning sunrise coming up over the 10th fairway.
Cows moo in the pasture below my porch, as I grab a fresh mango from the fruit bowl. (Note to self, tell Debra to ask for more mango in the weekly office food orders. I think we can all agree on that!)
At 8:30 a.m., I have the practice range to myself as Julian and family attend mass at the VERY quaint St. James Anglican Church in Kerikeri (one of the oldest churches in NZ, I’m told by Diana, who said “I do” to Jason in the church.)
Oddly, It’s Sunday morning, sun is shining, wind is calm, the course is one of the world’s best, and I note the fact that me and another single are the only one’s on the course. (I was informed of this by the pro shop staff when I stop to leak after 9 holes, and I have to take their word for it because I never physically see the alleged chap.) Clearly Julian isn’t making money off the course.
My new mate “Photographer John” and I corral Julian after he returns from church and usher him to the 17th green where we have scouted out a spot for his cover portrait. It’s a lovely location, with the Cavalli Islands in the background. Stunning, really.
Julian is a good sport, as the shoot takes about 30 minutes due to the constantly changing light. While John’s trigger finger fires away — “Julian, you look magnificent,” he says. “Oh, you’re a natural! Brilliant mate!” — Julian casually greets the stunned guests as they arrive on the green.
“I’m so glad y’all like it,” the owner says in a southern drawl before I usher him back to his mark (two tees stuck into the green) for a few more pictures.
After helping packing up his gear, John and I tag along with Julian and Josie for another nine holes. This is when the big man is at his finest. He loves to compliment himself on well-struck shots, while loudly wishing against his wife’s efforts. The bogey-filled banter is classic stuff.
As Julian hits a pitch from a drastic sidehill lie, over a ridge onto sloping green, I tell him that is was a “great shot.” He grins, quickly turns to me and replies “It was WONDERFUL shot, just a fantastic golf shot!”
Wiped out after a long day, Julian goes to bed at 7 p.m. John, Jason, Diana and I go into town for some grub at Café Jerusalem. Very tasty, actually. After, we then head to a nearby Island to go Kiwi spotting. Kiwis, the flightless treasure of all of NZ, are an endangered species mostly due to the 80,000 possums that hunt and kill the helpless nocturnal birds.
About 90 percent of all NZ natives have never seen a Kiwi in the wild, Jason tells me. If so, how can it be that I might actually see one? We wander through the bush for about 90 minutes with our guide, flashlights at the ready.
We all stop, flashlights go dark. Our guide hears one in the bush about 5 meters away. We stand still waiting for the little bugger to pop onto the path. Alas, he never appears. I’m beginning to feel like the dumb American tourist, only to be reassured by Photographer John that, as a NZ native himself, he though it was “cool mate.”
At least we get to see the Southern Cross and the Milky Way in the clear New Zealand sky.
We drive back, and with thoughts of the long-billed Kiwi dancing in my head, I doze off to bed.
Morning light brings about a helicopter ride with John in Julian’s personal helicopter for some aerial shots. We cruise up the coast with the door of the chopper removed. It’s “Apocalypse Now” in Kiwi-land!
“I love the smell of golf course fertilizer in the morning, it smells like birdies.”
As we hover 300 feet above the 8th tee, the pilot steadies the stick, John works his wide-angle lens, and I just chill in my front seat uttering “Roger, That” into the headset at random times.
We set the bird back down. I take Julian into the lodge’s Tiger Room for a 20-minute sit down interview. After that, John takes the Robertsons onto the course for a few last candid shots.
Sure that we have everything we need, John and I take yet another helicopter ride (at Julian’s insistence) with a French-Canadian waitress from the lodge, her boyfriend and
Landon Nordeman – a photog in town from NYC that went to Duke with Julian’s son.
After a 45-minute flight, Andrew (the pilot) gently sets the bird down on a beech in a remote bay. “Roger that,” I proclaim.
Joe, a local Maori who will be taking us via bus through a forest to see Tane Mahuta, the world’s largest Kauri tree, greets us. The 2,100-year-old behemoth is so big they’ve given it a name. The English translation for the Maori name of Tane Mahuta is “BIG ASS TREE!”
At 169 feet high and about 45 feet around, it’s an unbelievable site, but not nearly as fascinating as Landon’s insistence of taking pictures of complete strangers eating ice cream in front of the tree. “It’s just classic,” he says. “This tree is HUGE, I’m halfway around the world, and these people are just eating vanilla ice cream. Classic!”
At this point, I realize that I admire Landon’s outlook. Funny what happens when you stare at the world all day through a camera lens, I figure.
The tree, legend has it, was discovered in the 1930s by some local road builders who had wandered into the bush to take a leak. True story, sadly.
The trip back to the lodge features some low-level flying at 125 knots over the crashing waves of 90-mile beach. We also scale some mountaintops and dive down the other side, giving me a taste of how B.A. felt on the A-Team!
A two-minute drive to the airport, five minutes to check my bags and return the car, a 30-minute wait for my delayed flight and I’m off. When I land in Auckland, I have 40 minutes to get over to the International terminal and make my connection. I get there just as they are boarding. “Roger that!”
After I reach LAX and wait an hour for my bags, I become aware that they didn’t make the flight. Then I discover that my flight to The ATL is delayed for an hour, at the least. And there’s no Hot Spots in the Delta terminal! Heck, I might as well be in NZ with the lack of technology here. Oh well. I still manage to post this using my cell card.
Another 5 hours or so, and I’m home. Roger that!