Baldry: Taking a trip down the Avon in New Zealand

Sophie Gustafson (in white) and Anna Nordqvist (in pink) takes a trip down the Avon in Christchurch, New Zealand.

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand – Anna Nordqvist bravely crawled to the back of the punt and stood on the square-tipped stern, carefully guiding the boat back toward its dock. Her brightly-colored Puma outfit and cell phone stayed dry.

“You can play in the pro-am for me this afternoon,” the Swede jokingly said to Jamie, the Edwardian punter who helped glide our boat along the Avon River before handing the reins over to Nordqvist.

Punting down the Avon is the second-most popular attraction in Christchurch behind the Red Zone bus tours, which show tourists the aftermath of a devastating earthquake that hit this city nearly two years ago. This is Nordqvist’s first trip to Christchurch, but for many players entered in this week’s ISPS Handa New Zealand Women's Open at Clearwater Golf Club, they remember well their narrow escape from the deadly quake.

Aussie Kristie Smith won the New Zealand Women’s Open in 2011. Today, the pub where she celebrated her victory and the hotel in which she stayed are gone. The quake hit Christchurch on Feb. 22, two days after the Ladies European Tour event ended, killing 185 and leaving the nation's second-largest city in shambles.

A trip down the Avon River stands in stark contrast to the chaos of Quake City, a soon-to-be exhibit at the nearby Canterbury Museum that will feature historic pieces from the rubble.

It’s easy to forget the massive changes this city has undergone on the peaceful Avon. That is, until an orange construction cone is spotted in its shallow water. The road to rebuild the South Island’s largest city will be long.

Fellow Swede Sophie Gustafson, also making her debut at the New Zealand Women’s Open, joined Nordqvist on this special for local TV. Gustafson hopped out of the boat when it was time for the TV interview, telling a reporter to say she had fallen into the river. Few on the women's tour can match Gustafson’s humor. Her plain white baseball cap has “Super Soph” embroidered on the side. Surely there’s a sponsor out there who can see the benefit of putting a logo above this veteran’s brow.

As for Nordqvist, visiting New Zealand has long been on her wish list. She’s thinking about coming back sometime for vacation and might even bring her golf clubs, high praise for a woman who travels the globe for a living carrying her sticks.

Punting along the Avon for Nordqvist was nothing like ziplining in Singapore but closer to paddle-boarding in Hawaii. Her next great adventure: Bungee jumping over water.

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