Happy Queenstowner: Newly-minted 80-year-old Bob Tryfiatis

Over the past 45 years, surely no one’s played more golf in Queenstown than Bob Tryfiatis.  Fresh from celebrating his 80th birthday, he tells PHILIP CHANDLER how he got into the game, how he met his wife, Kathy, and recalls how he was snubbed for being a foreigner 

Many golfers, even pros, can spend a lifetime playing the game and hardly ever score a hole-in-one.

One Queenstowner, however, is well known for having bagged 10 of them.

Yet amazingly, Bob Tryfiatis, who last week celebrated another milestone, his 80th birthday, knew nothing about golf growing up in Greece.

Till ’77, there were only three courses in the whole country.

‘‘To play golf you must be some shipping tycoon and have an uncle or father in the hierarchy of the military,’’ he explains.

And he had no such background.

Tryfiatis grew up in a poor mountain village, and after his mum and dad died young, had to look after five younger siblings.

‘‘To understand how hard it was, it’s impossible.’’

He left school at 12 and helped on a farm.

Between a year of compulsory military training he worked in a brewery and then for a telecommunications company in Athens.

At night he’d dance at rest aurants, known as tavernas — while doing so at one venue he
met his wife-to-be, Kathy, who hailed from North Otago and was on a working holiday in

‘‘He’s always been flamboyant,’’ Kathy says.

After she moved to England, he joined her there, then they bought a car and travelled
around Europe and the Middle East — a precursor of many long holidays they’ve taken since.

Kathy insisted they move to New Zealand — ‘‘I said, ‘I can’t live in Greece’’’ — and they
chose Queenstown as it was more cosmopolitan than elsewhere, she says.

When they arrived in ’73, the town had only about 2000 people.

Tryfiatis taught himself to cook, and cheffed in various hotel restaurants.

As he was working huge hours, Kathy decided he needed an interest and taught him golf —
she’d learned at school.

Instantly — this was about ’76 — he got a handicap of 17 and started practising and playing obsessively.

The then-new Kelvin Heights course was ‘‘all rocks’’, he recalls — ‘‘we used to get these  tins and collect rocks for an hour before we started playing’’.

As a pairing, he and Kathy won the inaugural Skyline Classic on the course in ’79.

Tryfiatis says apart from enjoying the challenge, golf gave him an opportunity to meet people ‘‘because in the early days it was very hard for an immigrant’’.

There was certainly some xenophobia back then, he says.

He remembers at a men’s club having his name down to play snooker, but when his turn came his would-be opponent, on finding who he was, said ‘‘I don’t play with foreigners’’.

Tryfiatis admits golf took over his life but says ‘‘I was very competitive’’.

‘‘People say ‘you’re hooked’, but to improve, of course you’re hooked.’’

Ace achievement: Bob Tryfiatis’ car number plate recognises his 10 holes-in-one

For one four-year period he and a Greek partner had a fish and chips shop in Camp Street but the hours were debilitating — in summer, sometimes 4am till midnight.

He then embarked on a long stint, till he retired, running the kitchen for the popular Gourmet Express restaurant.

He puts down his 10 holes-in-one — nine at Kelvin Heights, one at Arrowtown — to pure luck, and the amount of golf he’s played.

Only four came in competition play, which raised some eyebrows, but he says he was still competing with others when he aced those other holes.

‘‘Whether [other people] recognise it or not doesn’t worry me.’’

After his ninth ace, friend Bruce Boivin promised him a number plate if he got another, which duly arrived in 2005 — the plate reads ‘10 IN 1’.

Boivin told his mate he’d not cough up for another one if he got an 11th ace — Tryfiatis is still trying, but is only playing three times a week, his handicap’s out to 13 and he uses a golf cart due to a bad back.

Despite Queenstown’s growth, he still adores his hometown.

He and Kathy have been to picturesque Canadian resorts like Lake Louise and Banff, ‘‘but when I come back I say, ‘good grief, I have all these things here’’’.

‘‘I can look at the Remarkables all day, every day.’’