ME & MY TRAVELS WITH RORY UNDERWOOD

The former Leicester, England and Lions winger loves tropical islands and chilling out with his family when he’s not hitting the fairways at Woodhall Spa and La Manga

 I first picked up a club…when I was at school at Barnard Castle in County Durham. We lived in Malaysia when I was growing up and I was sent to school in the UK. We used to swing a few clubs on the playing fields and then when we kind of knew what we were doing we were allowed to play at Barnard Castle Golf Club.
I didn’t play a lot of golf during my rugby playing days, but have always kept my hand in. I’ve recently joined England Golf’s iGolf scheme, which is designed to provide a handicap for golfers who aren’t members of a club. Although I generally just play with my mates for fun I do play in a few corporate days and charity events, and I was playing off a 13 handicap from when I was a member at Belton Woods in Lincolnshire. My current handicap through iGolf is 19, which is definitely more reflective of my ability.

La Manga’s South Course

My favourite golf resort is… La Manga in Spain. I was invited to play in the Henry Cooper Classic there many years ago and brought my wife Wendy and our two girls along with me for a holiday. We had a great time, and I really enjoyed the golf courses and the other facilities. Shortly after, they got in touch and asked if I would like to become an ambassador for the resort, which I did, and we were lucky enough to be get free holidays there for a few years as part of the deal. The courses are great holiday tracks, as you can get into trouble off the tee, but often still have a route to the green – unless you’re stuck behind a palm tree – so it’s pretty forgiving, which is what you want on holiday.

My ideal holiday fourball would include…. no-one famous. I’d just prefer to play with two or three of my best mates. It’s all about the banter, on and off the golf course, and you only really get that when you’re playing with good friends.

My earliest holiday memory… We grew up in Malaysia and lived in Kuala Lumpur, so going there was like a holiday for me and my siblings when we were coming back from school in the UK. But mum and dad would also like to get away, so they’d book us all a holiday to stay in a villa up in Port Dickson on the Malacca Straits, where it was much cooler in the summer. We used to muck around on the beach and swim every day – just very simple, fun, family times.

My most recent holiday was to…. Corfu. We had a family holiday there last year, and stayed on the southwest side of the island, away from the more touristy areas. I had never been before and didn’t know much about it, but I wasn’t prepared for the state of the roads around where we were. We rented a villa, which was fabulous, but it was quite an adventure every time we had to go out in the car! We went at the end of September, and I remember as soon it got to October virtually all the restaurants closed down for the season, so our timing wasn’t great.

My most memorable round was… at Mount Juliet in Ireland. It wasn’t long after taken up the game more seriously and I had only really ever played at your regular golf clubs in the UK, and then I turned up at Mount Juliet for a Terry Wogan charity event and the place was like a computer simulator of a golf course. There wasn’t a blade of grass out of place and the tees were like greens. I don’t remember playing very well, but I’ll never forget being blown away by the presentation of the course. It was another level to anything I’d ever experienced before.

Mount Juliet in Ireland

We used to play a few nice courses when we were touring with England or the Lions in Australia or South Africa, but I never really paid much attention to their names, so that part of my golfing life remains something of a hazy memory. It was just something to do to get away from rugby for a few hours.
My other golfing highlight would have been when I played in the Dunhill Links Pro-Am a few times. One year I was paired with Simon Yates, Scottish pro, and I remember we played alongside Colin Montgomerie and Chris Evans, and Simon and I ended up qualifying for the final round at St Andrews. I’ve never been so nervous in my life on that first tee. I carved one off to the right and only just managed to keep it play, but thankfully it got better from there and we went on to finish seventh. Seeing my name up on the leaderboard as we walked down the 18th fairway is something I’ll never forget. Dunhill very kindly gave me a framed map of the course with my shots plotted by GPS that day, which is something I treasure.

My favourite course in the UK is… ooh, that’s a tough one. I’ve been lucky enough to play a few fabulous courses. Loch Lomond, Ganton, Sunningdale, Wentworth, St Andrews are all right up there, but I’d be hard pressed to pick a favourite – for me, it’s more often about who you’re playing with than the course itself.

The best hotel I’ve stayed in…. is the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island. We went there for my wife’s 50th about 10 years ago and stayed in this amazing villa on stilts on the water. You could get up and just jump straight into the sea from our room. It was a very relaxing family holiday – snorkelling, swimming, eating and sleeping!

My favourite city in the world is… Melbourne. I’m not really a city person, but Melbourne kind of took me by surprise as it doesn’t have that big city feel and doesn’t overwhelm you like some cities can. It’s got a bit old world charm about it, while also being very modern.

My most memorable meal on holiday… is anything that involves Malaysian food – satay, fried noodles. Whenever I go back to Malaysia I always head straight for the local markets and the street food stalls, as that’s where you find the best food – and also the food that my relations cook!

My top travel tip…. is to take a phone charger with a universal adaptor and a good supply of diarrhoea tablets. You can never be too prepared!