It was a mixed blessing. Although I had finally sold my elderly parents on the joys of river cruising, they wanted a cruise where they didn’t have to go on any excursions – far too stressful – but rather wanted to watch the world go by.
I am a sporty soul and, while I love river cruising because I don’t have to pack and unpack, I soon get itchy feet. So what to do? Investigating, I found that, since last year, several companies have offered golf-themed river cruises to the continent’s most prestigious clubs. What better way to up my rusty game?
The Rhine has equally enticing courses, but I opted for a golfing cruise up the Danube. So we joined the Amadeus Brilliant in Budapest, where, after a post-dinner performance by folk dancers in the ship’s lounge, the captain took us past the magnificent houses of parliament towards Bratislava, where I would play my first game.
I play at public courses, so I did feel out of my depth when asked at the swish Penata resort which club I belonged to – none – and my handicap (long forgotten).
I was braced for many snooty looks, but everyone was very friendly – from the umpires who waved at me from their carts, to the two semi-pros who stopped to help when I was thrashing around in the rough looking for lost balls. Indeed, one couple even suggested I play with them, but feeling shy I let them overtake.
For company, I had a series of ladybirds which attached themselves to my short-decked legs, it being unusually warm for early November. After the fifth hole, I turned to face down the sunlit yellow and orange hillside, where several long drives led to the water features of this course designed by Jack Niklaus and sons.
By midday it was silent, but for the woodpeckers who found unexpected competition when my balls ricocheted from pine to pine. And I startled three deer who sprang across the fairway, silhouetted against the haze of the Myjava valley, whose waters flow into the Danube.
Buoyed by such an idyllic day, I returned to the ship to celebrate over another delicious dinner of riverfish and local wine with my husband and parents, who had spent the day on a tour of Bratislava.
Had I been lulled into a false sense of security? I awoke the next day to find I had been signed up to a tournament at Vienna’s most expensive club, the Fontana. The receptionist in the 19th-century-style clubhouse was reassuring. My team-mates, Robert and Peter, spoke good English and we would be playing Texas scramble, where all three of us would play from where the best ball landed, so my duff shots wouldn’t slow us down.
Today the sun was struggling to make an appearance in the milky sky, but out of the corner of my eye I saw something else rising – a puff of smoke, followed by a bang. This was the “cannon start” setting off each team from a different hole in the course – nestled in the foothills of the eastern Alps.
I was clearly the weakest link, as Robert and Peter had handicaps in the mid-teens, with Robert studying each flag through a rangefinder. At the first stroke I missed the ball entirely and pretended it was my practice swing. “That was 500 yards you said?” I asked disingenuously.
But on a few occasions we did play off my ball, and both men high-fived me when I managed a long-distance putt.
My biggest challenge lay ahead. The Fontana was designed 20 years ago around a large lake. And to my surprise, I very nearly cleared the near-100-yard expanse of water at the 17th hole, only to hear a plop as my ball fell just short of the green.
In all, our team finished five under par. And with Peter in line for a prize for the best drive, I wanted to stay for dinner. Instead I had my aching shoulders treated by the onboard masseuse and was reunited with my family after their tour of Vienna and Schönbrunn Palace, my husband having coaxed my parents out of their “no excursion” rule.
The two of us even managed the after-dinner concert in Vienna’s Kursalon.
A big plus of these cruises is that they allow golfers to travel guilt-free, with partners well catered for by excursions such as a visit to a winery in Dürnstein – the tiny town where Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned.
Even as we crossed into Germany, stopping at Passau, which sits like an island on the Danube, and visiting medieval Regensburg, I was still buzzing from my golfing exploits. Though if I am to achieve another legendary putt I will have to spend more time on the putting green on the sundeck… making sure my ball doesn’t end up in the water again.
Colin travelled as a guest of Amadeus River Cruises (0808 115 8312; amadeus-rivercruises.co.uk). Golf cruises start from £2,959pp based on two sharing for a week’s full board, including wine and beer at meals and four golf excursions.