Finally retracing grandfather's last footsteps

QUIET CONTEMPLATION: Chris Hyde takes a moment to contemplate his grandfather’s death near the cliffs of the Rangitikei.
QUIET CONTEMPLATION: Chris Hyde takes a moment to contemplate his grandfather’s death near the cliffs of the Rangitikei.

On a hot day 33 years ago, the grandfather I never knew died under a tree in the middle of a round of golf at the Rangatira Golf Club.

I know far too little about Francis William Hyde, but the story of his death is a family legend.

Frank, as he was better known, was born in 1924 near the Rangitikei River just out of Hunterville.

A World War II veteran, he used to sink back two jugs of beer every night at the Palmerston North Returned Services Association.

It was 1979 and Frank and his drinking buddies were in the middle of a round of golf at Rangatira.

Frank putted out the ninth hole and sat under a nearby tree.

He was having the heart attack that would take his life.

He told the others he would meet them at the clubhouse and they carried on with their round.

Frank died under that tree looking towards the cliffs of the Rangitikei River at the house where he was born 55 years earlier.

I have no doubt that, over the years, the story of Frank's death has become littered with inaccuracy and sprinkled with puffery.

That is the way legends work.

But it is the only story about my grandfather I have ever been interested in. I've never taken the time to research about him.

I never met him, but if I had I would have liked to play golf with him.

So I decided I would. I decided to play the Rangatira.

I'm 22 and have only just moved to Manawatu.

I have only seen the course once before. I know it is scenic with three steep levels and I know there is a cable car to take you back up to the top level once you are finished.

But I am not here to promote Rangatira. I am here for Granddad.

I start the round thinking about what I will do when I reach the ninth hole.

As a result, my putting is dreadful.

For a 23-handicapper I am striking it well. I have four birdie chances on the first four holes. I three-putt all four.

At start of the seventh hole the greenkeeper Gordon ushers me over to check I've paid my green fees. I have.

I tell him why I'm here. We share an awkward exchange.

He does not know of anyone carking it mid-round but he offers to show me some of the club's history.

As he talks me through the pictures on the clubhouse wall I can't listen. I'm searching for Frank's name - a mention on the honours board, a newspaper clipping - any form of tangible proof.

There is nothing. Fair enough, too. I doubt Granddad was a member.

He was a bit of a drinker - a guy whose flaw just happened to be fatal on this course.

He is not the kind of person clubs would, or should, immortalise.

At the beginning of the eighth hole the sun pierces the clouds and I notice the heat rising.

The hole is a short par three. There is a tree halfway down, blocking the right edge of the green.

It has an odd looking sign on its trunk, too far away to read.

The tree looks out over the cliffs. I can't help but think this is the tree where it happened.

But my eyes can't see what the sign says.

I hit my tee shot. It clips that very tree and falls woefully short of the green.

Bugger you, Granddad!

As I get close to the sign I laugh at my overactive imagination.

As the sign states, this is "Murray's Tree".

On the ninth tee I am pumped up. You can see buildings on top of the cliffs here.

I convince myself the legend is correct. This is the hole.

The hole doglegs to the left and I cannot see the green to begin with.

As I reach my drive, my heart sinks. There are no trees close to the green. There is no sign, no plaque, nothing to mark that anyone died here.

Did it happen anything like the legend? How would I even know?

I finish out the next few holes badly and take a rest under a tree near the massively-elevated 13th tee.

The one thing I love about golf courses is there is nothing to tell you how you should be feeling. I notice it now more than ever.

All I can hear are birds and the river flowing below. If I turn my head to the left I can see the dramatic Rangitikei River cliffs.

It's as good a place as any.

I rip a bit of bark off, put it in my pocket and launch my drive.

It sails, unimpeded by gravity, right down the middle.

Manawatu Standard