Get to know Vice Captain Steve Cullen

Being a member of Marbella Golf CC since 2013, Steve Cullen, doesn’t need much of an introduction. Very soon after joining the club, he became involved with the Committee, served as Club Captain from 2016-2018 and is the current Vice Captain & Committee Secretary. With the whole country in lockdown and the club closed for at least 4 weeks due to the Covid-19 virus emergency, members are stuck at home with no golf and no socializing, so we thought this would be a good moment to ask Steve a few questions – remotely, of course – and share some thoughts.

Q: How long have you – and your wife, Anita – been playing golf?

Steve: I started playing golf in my mid-teens. I was playing a lot of football back then and only played golf when there was no football – so that was during the school summer holidays. I didn’t have any coaching but I did read Ben Hogan’s famous book “5 Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf” – still one of the best golf instruction manuals around – and from this I learned how to swing a club reasonably well, or so I (mistakenly) thought!

At 17, I had to concentrate on studying to get into University and once at University I had no friends who played golf – and I couldn’t afford it anyway. So, from then until I was 36, I didn’t play any golf at all.

That brings me to Anita. We met at a European Chamber of Commerce seminar a few months after I arrived in Taiwan. Whilst we were chatting, she asked me if I played golf. I told her that I love the game but hadn’t played for nearly 20 years; also that I would love to play again but, apart from having very little time, I had heard that it was very difficult to get a tee time anywhere on weekends – and that it was very expensive.

Anita told me she had been playing on-and-off for 8 years and that, if I wanted a game, she had contacts who could get a Saturday tee time. Anita tells the longer story better but suffice to say that our first date was on the Kuo Hua golf course, just outside Taipei city.

I remember, as if it was yesterday, the great feeling walking down the first fairway and as the round progressed, I was asking myself why, oh why, had I left this game alone for nearly 20 years. When we finished the round, we went back into town and straight to a golf store where I bought a whole new set of clubs and I have played regularly ever since. Oh yes, and 2 years after that that day at Kuo Hua, I married Anita!

Q: What made you join Marbella Golf CC?

Steve: Before we moved to Spain, we came for holidays 5 years in a row. After our first visit, we decided Marbella would be the ideal place for retirement; great climate, golf all year round and, after more than 20 years in Asia, not too far from my family. During those holidays, we played at numerous courses along the Costa del Sol, looking for the ‘right one’ to join when we moved here. There were a few contenders but the combination of the interesting challenge of the course, the clubhouse, facilities, service and spectacular views, MGCC started to emerge as our favorite. We visited numerous times and spent more time around the clubhouse and witnessed the good spirit and sense of fun among the members on the terrace. That sealed it for us.

Q: What is your preferred format for golf competitions?

Steve: I like all the different formats but I love Medal (Stroke Play). I believe it is the purest test of player versus course; it demands total concentration from start to finish as every shot counts. A close second is match play; when you are playing your opponent as much, if not more, than the course.

Q: What is the best course you have played?

Steve: That’s a tough question, a bit like asking what is my favorite song. There are too many that are so good, it is impossible to say which one is the best and, of course, there are many great golf courses that I have never even seen in real life. Of the famous courses I have played, I would rate Royal Birkdale and Valderrama as two of the best. A less well known little gem is St Enedoc in Cornwall.

I would add that Indonesia is one of the best kept secrets in the world of golf. There are at least 10 courses in the Jakarta area alone that I would call world-class and a few other superb courses in other parts of the country, in particular Nirwana in Bali and Ria Bintan on the island of Bintan. They are stunning – just check them out on the internet and you will see what I mean.

There are many courses I would love to play but, like most keen golfers, I can only dream of ever being able to play Augusta National.

Q: Who is your favorite golfer?

Steve: That’s almost as tough as the last question! I can name my top 3: Arnie Palmer, Seve Ballesteros and Tiger Woods. Apart from being brilliant, naturally gifted players, they have all thrilled golfers around the world and made the game more popular than it would have been without them.

Q: What is the funniest thing that has happened to you on the golf course?

Steve: You mean apart from seeing Sloop (John Bryan) and Bruce Hurley driving a golf cart?

How long have you got?! With the cast of characters, we have at MGCC, every single round has funny moments. Pranks, sarcastic remarks and general banter are ever present. And it is all given and taken in very good spirit. Single, silly moments have resulted in an ever increasing turns of phrase amongst our members but I won’t embarrass anyone by naming names and incidents. Most of us know who they are anyway.

If I had inherited my mother’s sense of humor – weirdly, she can’t help laughing at other people’s misfortunes – the funniest moments would have been me being hit in the face by a tee shot from Jess Meakin, or being hit on the head by a wedge shot from Ray Norris, or seeing Paul Dunford and Lee Twyman jump out of a buggy just before it hurtled backwards, out of control, off the cart path and down a steep bank into the bushes. As long as such moments don’t have serious consequences, I guess they end up being funny.

The funniest thing for me at MGCC was during a Federated competition day and we were about to tee off at the 6th hole. The occasional ball seller (the unwelcome one) had set up his bags of balls right next to the daily tees. However, we were playing from the competition plate, further back. The ‘bolero’ stood aside and one of our members (who I won’t name) stepped up to play and hit his drive right off the bottom of the club face. The ball shot hard from the tee just a few inches off the ground and smashed into the bags of balls, bursting them and scattering about 40 balls in all directions but mostly forward towards the ladies’ tee and some, of course, into the bushes. Our playing partner was not at all amused and, being the empathetic kind of guys we are, this made it funnier. But funnier still was the realization that among the many balls strewn around an area of about 100 sq. meters was the ball of our playing partner. The frantic search for the ball was conducted amidst stifled laughter – and unsuccessful.

Q: What message would you give to anyone thinking about playing golf at Marbella Golf CC?

Steve: To those who are just coming for a one-time visit, I would tell them that the front 9 can wreck your score if not played carefully. Most players would score better if they left the driver in the bag and played for position off the tee. Good course management can make a big difference and scoring well will allow them to enjoy the great views from the high points on the course. The back 9 is more “what you see is what you get” but keeping the ball in the fairway is still better than going for distance all the time.  

Also, apart from wishing them a good round, I would ask them to kindly observe the rules and etiquette of the game and to treat the course as if it was their own. Sadly, some players drive buggies wherever they please, even onto tee boxes and the aprons of greens. Some do not respect pace of play etiquette, don’t rake bunkers or repair divots and pitch marks.  

For those who are considering joining the club, I would say exactly the same but also suggest they spend some time on the terrace on a Monday, Wednesday or Friday afternoon and to ask if they can try out in a members’ competition. This would give them a feel for the place and I am sure most would see – just as Anita and I did more than 10 years ago see – that we have a group of members who know how to have a good time together.