This week has been my birthday, 46 years old. An occasion that often lends itself to moments of reflection.
I’ve been playing and traveling on the European Tour for 26 years straight, playing in over 650 tournaments in that time. This week it is the BMW International Open and right now, I am writing from a Hilton hotel in Munich, from the comfort of another hotel bed. The TV is on and Hungary have just taken the lead against Germany in the Euros, which is an unexpected birthday treat, I’m sure it won’t last of course, Germany can’t possibly lose at home to Hungary.
Not that I have anything against the German football team, other than them seemingly always beating us at some point to break the hearts of England fans, anyway I digress. This is meant to be a blog about the delights of travel during these strange Covid-19 times, bubble travel we call it on tour. As it happens the German team are staying next door to us in their own bubble I’m told, they just missed a sitter by the way, good game this one, real end-to-end stuff.
I was in Oman last February when the first murmurings about this dreaded virus were being talked about on the news channels. That very week we were given temperature checks at the airport and asked to fill out a health questionnaire, how naive we were that we thought that was a little disruptive at the time.
We headed to Qatar of all places, Germany just hit the bar by the way, and then the cancellations came, Kenya was cancelled, we all headed home still unaware of what was about to come, the tragic loss of life that would swarm across the globe and the shift away from the freedoms that we had all taken for granted.
Our return to golf came some four or five months later after a heroic effort from the European Tour executives to get in place Covid-19 testing protocols that were stringent enough to convince the UK government to host 6 international golf events in a row, the ‘British Swing’ as it was named.
Bubble life was quite novel to begin with, we knew just how lucky we were to be able to compete whilst most of the UK was still on furlough or working from home, being forced to only eat with your caddy in your own mini bubble of two was nothing to complain about. Socially distanced Bananas on the first tee and tee pegs individually packed in plastic bags then handed out per player, with pots of hand sanitizer. This showed the lengths we had gone too to get tournaments onto the schedule. Buckets of balls spaced a meter or so apart and yellow dots on the tees to keep us separated all soon became commonplace.
Week two brought the first Covid-19 breach when John Catlin inexplicably went out to eat at the local pub, disqualification followed on from the cheque, embarrassed by his stupidity he self-isolated then went on to win twice in a month or so to change his life!
So here we are 11 months on from our return to travel and boy, have there been some ups and downs. The first flight I took abroad was in October, a gentle hop down to Malaga in the company of my caddy ‘Pete the Pro’.
No forms needed as I recall other than a negative PCR test. The flight was empty, twelve passengers and a friendly attentive crew, just how travel should be, other than the cramp that hit my groin on the way into landing, which was so painful I had to get into a ninja style stretch in the galley, leaving the pilot seconds from having to divert from landing. I made it into a seat with tears rolling down my cheeks, with seconds to spare.
I’m not sure why cramp is funny to those who are witnessing it rather than experiencing it, but all on board seemed to enjoy my plight a little too much. Looking back this was a period when Covid-19 travel was at its best, countries seemed to be open to business travelers with little admin required. Track and trace was barely a phrase at this point and passenger locater forms still in their infancy.
Soon enough however the second wave started to spread across the globe, countries started making lists, Red List countries started to pop up, Dubai was open to the world then very quickly into the ‘no go’ zone. Hotel quarantines started to be a thing, and day two and eight testing mandatory. Stress levels rose alarmingly, nobody wants to self-isolate in a threadbare apartment in the back streets of Qatar.
My family and I extended a holiday in Dubai from ten days to two months, the horrors of home schooling our boys took place in the conference suites of Zabeel House Hotel in the Greens in Dubai, trust me when I say we were cramping the hotels style somewhat. Whilst I’m sure they have hosted some robust meetings, nothing could compare to the hysteria that ensued when my boys were presented with math’s homework.
Perhaps my worst travel experience was our journey home from Dubai, via Moscow as all direct flights had ceased to exist, two days before hotel quarantine kicked in. From the Dubai sunshine, we landed in Moscow to blizzards of driving snow and minus twenty degree weather. Picture Moscow in winter in a movie and you get the gist, de-icing wings on planes is never the most comforting thing to hear on the tannoy. The ten days of family isolation at home wasn’t too pleasant either.
This year most countries have gotten up to speed, QR codes seemingly now more important than passports, PCR tests 48 hours before flying has become the norm, last minute plans not something that works so well all of a sudden.
Missing cuts means staying an extra night as you have to wait for your test results, and if you finish too late on Friday you can’t test until Saturday. Direct flights seem to be a thing of the past, and connection times are often terrifyingly tight.
However, the curse of track and trace is what plays havoc with my mind more than anything. Whilst initially you needed to be seated with a row for two of an infected traveler to be told to self-isolate, now if one person on the plane tests positive the whole plane goes down too, to return home or not, that is now the question.
I have been lucky so far, others not quite so. One caddy spent 22 days straight in hotel isolation, without once testing positive, many others have done ten days in far-flung corners of the globe. Spare a thought for the Aussies who have to choose to do two weeks in quarantine just too then be able to see their families. When I say it like that, it reminds me that in Europe things are not so bad.
I last returned from Sweden via Spain due to German quarantine regulations, who have just equalised I should add. I noticed myself scanning the plane trying to decide who could possibly test positive on day two in the UK. Then I realised, all those older than I would be vaccinated. The average age of a plane must be a direct correlation to the chance of being tracked after landing I realised. I spotted quite a few smiling retired people fresh faced from a few days in the Spanish sun; another bullet dodged on the roulette wheel of Covid-19 travel seemed the likely outcome.
Not sure what’s more unbelievable. That after all this travel I gladly haven’t yet caught this horrible virus, or that Hungary have just gone two one up straight after kickoff.
What a birthday this has turned out to be. A pro-am spent in the company of three very nice people, a particularly bad buffet meal on my own, the hotels do not seem to be up to speed yet I notice and the chance to write this for you whilst watching a humdinger of a football game.
Predictably Germany have just equalised, I assume this will pave their way into the last sixteen where at some point they will beat England on penalties.
Until next time I bid you farewell. Stay safe and well everyone.
Multiple European Tour and Ryder Cup winner David Howell joined private wealth management company Chase Buchanan as Global Brand Ambassador in 2021. Recognised internationally in the world of golf as a consummate professional, David proudly represents Chase Buchanan on and off the course.