There are 118 players in the field at Nanshan International Golf Club in China’s northerly Shandong province for this week’s Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship. But no one has travelled as far – rather, for as long – to get here as Kirk Tuaiti of the Cook Islands.
Tuaiti left his home on Aituataki, an atoll located in the outer reaches of the South Pacific islands, on Friday, flew to the main island of Rarotonga where he spent the night before catching his flight – and crossing the international date line in the process – to Auckland. A 13-hour transit in New Zealand’s most populous city was followed by a 12-hour connection to Guangzhou in southern China, where he waited another three hours before boarding one final flight for Qingdao. He was collected three hours later and journeyed the remaining 230km by car, arriving at the course on Monday afternoon after approximately 50 hours of travel.
One would think Tuaiti might be somewhat jaded following his epic adventure, but he was having none of it. “It’s great to be here; there’s no way I was going to miss playing here,” he beamed following a practice round on Wednesday.
Tuaiti is joined at Nanshan by his compatriot, New Zealand-based Ned Howard, and was matter-of-fact about the golfing facilities in his homeland.
“The course I play – Aituataki Golf Club – only has nine holes and is about the size of the driving range here,” he said in reference to Nanshan’s state-of-the-art training centre. “Our greens are cut to the same height as the tee boxes here, so it’s taking a bit of time to adjust.”
Tuaiti, a well-built 25-year-old who grew up in Australia before returning to the Cook Islands to help out with his family’s fishing charter business, is his nation’s top player and was nominated to represent the archipelago at the AAC following his win at the Rarotonga Championship earlier this year. A three-handicapper with a powerful swing, Tuaiti is realistic about his chances of winning, but says getting his hands on the trophy isn’t the reason why he has travelled so far.
“For us to be represented at this tournament is a huge deal for the Cook Islands,” said Tuaiti. “Raising awareness and competing at an event of this stature can only be positive for the growth of golf back home.”
On being reminded about the effort it took to get to Nanshan, Tuaiti smiled: “It’s just as well I like travelling,” he said.