I‚??m tasked with capturing in a few paragraphs a very special 36 hours indeed. ¬†Special for me, anyway. ¬†On the Saturday evening before our Monday morning flight to Dubai we found ourselves once more in the company of very dear family friends, The Lows. ¬†Their cottage perched up on Dunearn Hill above Burntisland is my second home; the site of many a fond childhood memory. ¬†Jaded and in need of a quiet night, there could have been no better place to spend the evening. ¬†Jock had been busy in the kitchen de-stressing (rustling up a hearty soup or two over the AGA is his favoured mode of relaxation). ¬†Auntie Phil had stoked up a roaring fire in the pot belly stove. ¬†And Young Rod (ages with Conor) was back in town. ¬†The stars ‚?? you won‚??t be surprised to hear me say ‚?? were aligned.
The day had brought a wealth of riches: my Auntie Gil‚??s famous bacon rolls, a stroll under piercing blue skies through the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens, a smashing 9 hole at Musselburgh Old Links with none other than Our Favourite Vet And Deviant Alfie Melville, and a brief catch up with old childhood pal Jurgen on Palmerston Place over a pint and an(other) All Blacks victory. ¬†But after 4 months of exhausting exploration of these British Isles, it was time for the music to stop; time to take stock of the situation and inhale a deep breath before the Middle Eastern Leg. ¬†Soup and mince and tatties in that familiar farmhouse kitchen were just what the doctor ordered. ¬†Gold star Jock.
It‚??s a miracle my eyes opened in the morning. ¬†Not because it‚??d been a hard night ‚?? quite the contrary ‚?? but because they were frozen shut by a thick veneer of frost. ¬†When at The Lows I sleep in Hamish‚??s room. ¬†Hamish used to have one of the upstairs bedrooms (above the AGA) but has now been relegated to the Far Corner of the cottage (likely on justified grounds of protracted misbehaviour). ¬†Which means I‚??ve been relegated to the very same Far Corner. ¬†Where not a hint of warmth can be found or even dreamt of. ¬†Under two duvets and a woolen blanket I still felt like Captain Scott in his final days. ¬†Ahhhh, Scotland in November...
Like bees to a honey pot we congregated around the AGA and brewed a pot of tea. ¬†And squinted as the winter rays penetrated the kitchen window with frightening success. ¬†It was a stunner outside for the second day running. ¬†I wish I‚??d taken a photo of the view from The Lows‚?? kitchen window, because it would like a firm blow under the rib cage take your breath away. ¬†Perhaps I‚??ll just keep it to myself for now.
Burntisland Golf House Club sits on a ledge down below Dunearn, to the east of the town. ¬†As a youngster I‚??d heard it was a bonnie walk, but never ventured there to see for myself. ¬†On a quite brilliant Sunday morning here was the perfect opportunity to see what all the fuss was about. ¬†Eric the enthusiastic pro with a fantastic Fife accent was in fine form and got us on our way. ¬†He was very apologetic about the sludge created on the lower lying holes by heavy overnight rain, but seeing the camera around my neck told us we‚??d be getting some good snaps from the plateau holes up above. ¬†Y‚??er man wasn‚??t wrong. ¬†Aye, The Kingdom was looking A Billion Dollars. ¬†You won‚??t often hear me admit to this, but in the moment I was proud to be a Fifer!
Rather than describe the course to you I‚??ll let the pictures do the talking. ¬†Suffice to say Burntisland on a sunny day is a delightful walk, each shot being but a short interruption between wondrous gazing across The Firth of Forth. ¬†It‚??s the 10th oldest golf course in the world too, by the way. ¬†And a few fellas by the name of Old Tom Morris, Willie Park Jnr, and James Braid have had their hand in the layout. ¬†Not bad pedigree then...¬†
Now, there was still much car cleaning and packing to do on Flight Eve. ¬†But I‚??d received instructions earlier in the morning from New Zealand that had to be seen through. ¬†Dad‚??s great friend Bobby Heaney passed away a year ago to the day and his widow (an absolute character, Auntie Janey) was putting on a lunch for 40 odd friends at her farmhouse up in Perthshire ‚?? to celebrate the life of the great man. ¬†(Dad ‚?? who was Bobby‚??s Best Man ‚?? flew back from NZ last year only to catch him an hour before he passed away). ¬†Conor and I were asked (and were only too happy) to make a surprise appearance at Janey‚??s, to drop off some flowers and a note from dad. ¬†Good bonding time for The Patton Brothers in my final few hours on Scottish soil too.
The episode was not without its nervous moments. ¬†Given our instructions had only been received first thing on a Sunday morning, our choice of florists was somewhat limited. ¬†Sainsbury‚??s at Kinross looked like it‚??d be our only option, but they only had carnations and other plastic looking weeds, so things weren‚??t looking good. ¬†No flowers would be better than crap flowers. ¬†Fate intervened though. ¬†We gunned it down Kinross High Street and spotted a van being unloaded outside the only florist. ¬†The shop was closed but the proprietor was dropping some stuff off. ¬†We seized the moment; explained the situation; and asked in the politest way imaginable whether we might be able to trouble y‚??er man for some proper flowers. ¬†God Bless Him he obliged. ¬†And once more we were on track.
What followed was a very moving couple of hours at Janey‚??s, amongst the company of mum and dad‚??s old friends (most notably Digger & Gillian Davey). ¬†These names won‚??t mean anything to you lot of course, but really I‚??m writing this blog for mum & dad ‚?? who have been so supportive this year ‚?? so they can relive the afternoon that Conor and I were so lucky to be part of. ¬†Everyone was in fine form and at the end of a magnificent lunch we raised our glasses to Bobby, one of life‚??s special people. ¬†This blog is dedicated to his memory. ¬†
Time got away on us not surprisingly. ¬†Trying to leave one of Janey‚??s parties is like trying to run through quick sand. ¬†But I had to pack my things and to mentally prepare for the manic 24 hours that was to follow. ¬†And, of course, spend some more quality time with The Lows and The Duncans (whose Tank we‚??ve had the privilege of borrowing for the past 4 months). ¬†On that note, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to Graeme and Trina ‚?? and I‚??d like to say a huge thank you for their generosity in entrusting the car to us unruly hooligans. ¬†I‚??ll forever have happy memories of driving that sky blue Merc around these ancient Isles throughout Q3 of puregolf2010.
When I was a wee lad our family would descend upon Selkirk ‚?? the bonnie Border town Of My Mother ‚?? once or twice a year. ¬†The 90 minute drive from Kirkcaldy seemed to take an eternity. ¬†Many a fight was had in the back seat of our bottle green Saab; after most I declared myself victor. ¬†I‚??m the eldest of the Patton trio, you see. ¬†The Head Menace. ¬†It might be Fiona I quarrelled with, or Conor. ¬†Either way the one safe bet was that there would be Friction. ¬†
From memory it was Conor‚??s incessant questionning that set me off. ¬†‚??Why do trees have leaves dad? ¬†How do the rocks get into the river? ¬†Is Jamie really as cool as he seems?...‚?Ě ¬†What was interesting to Conor was trivial and irritating to me, The Intoleramus. ¬†Mum shared my sentiments although wasn‚??t quite as scolding as I ‚?? so for one Christmas Santa brought Conor a gigantic volume entitled ‚??1001 Brainteasers To Keep The Mind Occupied.‚?Ě ¬†Satisfactory resolution.
This time ‚?? some 11 years after my previous visit ‚?? a different trio drove into Selkirk, from a different direction. ¬†The Tank left Si Tennant‚??s farm near Scarborough early doors; took us to Bingley St Ives for a Wet Episode Indeed; swung past Asda for a quick Fruit and Rolls and Cheese and Ham shop; and arrived at Selkirk early in the evening. ¬†Its puregolf2010 cargo was wet, jaded and hungry. ¬†But quarrel free. ¬†Who was there to greet us? ¬†Conor Patton; the one and only.
Little brother arrived back on Scottish soil after a decade in the wilderness just before we did, in mid-July. ¬†Brutus is here to play rugby and, in typical Generation Y fashion, to Find Himself (how careless to have lost oneself in the first place). ¬†Given mum grew up in Selkirk ‚?? a small town with a rich rugby heritage ‚?? it was a natural fit for him and the arrangements came together with relative ease. ¬†So here he is, making a go of it. ¬†And looking after his big brother despite all the years of oppression he has suffered. ¬†What a good character.
The town was enveloped in rain and darkness when we arrived, so it was hard to see whether much had changed. ¬†Turns out it hasn‚??t. ¬†Conor showed us around his flat (shared with and owned by family friend Mike Rutherford, who I used to kick a rugby ball around with in The Good Old Days) before he and Mike ducked off to training. ¬†We were shown to our living quarters just around the corner, being Rud‚??s parents place (they were off down the road for the night and kindly gave us the keys to the kingdom in their absence). ¬†I indulged in the guilty pleasure of reading a newspaper: something there‚??s not much time for this year. ¬†The Times is a pretty quality publication if you ask me; that snake Murdoch doesn‚??t appear to have ruined it just yet.
Conor and Rud took us out to O‚??Malley‚??s, one of the three public inns in Selkirk. ¬†Certainly the best lit, I imagine. ¬†You know that feeling when you‚??re in a club at 4am and the lights are switched on to encourage you to leave? ¬†Well, it was like that all evening. ¬†As we approached the bar a tray of sandwiches was put in front of us, and we were invited to treat ourselves. ¬†Good old fashioned hospitality (like they used to have at The Mansfield in Christchurch on Friday nights)? ¬†Nope ‚?? it was some poor lady‚??s 50th birthday. ¬†I say ‚??poor‚?Ě because all the woman‚??s friends had disappeared, leaving only her, a few ‚??Happy 50th Birthday‚?Ě pink helium balloons and a tray of dodgy looking triangular sandwiches. ¬†A group of young girls fortunately had taken the lady under their wing, and clearly had helped her to finish her sandwiches. ¬†Quite a sight.
Given the gravity of the morning‚??s Grudge Match (the ‚??locals‚?Ě put their hand up to take on puregolf2010), it was very much a case of early to bed. ¬†Damned if I was going to lose to my little brother (ugly mug below). ¬†
Brutus called one minute before my alarm clock went off ‚?? i.e. I was awoken earlier than expected. ¬†Now, you might think this wouldn‚??t make one bit of difference. ¬†But I‚??ve trained my subconscious to bring me out of REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement, for those who didn‚??t have the agony of enduring first year Psychology at university) only a moment before the alarm is set to sound. ¬†Or that‚??s my theory anyway. ¬†It‚??s as if I know I‚??m about to be awoken. ¬†Not so when my friend Conor rang though. ¬†Startled doesn‚??t quite cover it.
It didn‚??t take long for the mind games to begin. ¬†Conor invited us around the corner to his flat for a pre match Ulster Fry. ¬†Only, when we got there (admittedly a little late, thanks to Bart‚??s faffing about) there was not a scent of bacon in the air nor any sign of a frying pan. ¬†Little Brother had reneged on his offer. ¬†We‚??d be playing golf on half empty stomachs (he of course had already taken all 26 of his powders and ‚??supplements‚?Ě). ¬†Under grey skies and with a Fresh breeze blowing up the valley it wasn‚??t warm either ‚?? I‚??m not going to lie to you ‚?? so conditions were perhaps not ripe for low scoring. ¬†But they were for a good bit of craic.
Some 60 yards or so from the first tee is a rise with a marker stick perched on top. ¬†In days gone by Rud and I would pull sand wedge in an effort to get sufficient loft under the ball, to clear the hillock. ¬†This time around (granted we were playing from winter tees) it was a punch with a 3 iron, little thought being given to the Auld Foe. ¬†Conor hit a mighty mid iron only to find himself in the heather. ¬†Pity.
The visitors raced to 3 up in as many holes ‚?? despite a blinding birdie from Rud on the 3rd and thanks also to a missed tiddler on Conor‚??s part. ¬†Rud‚??s birdie deserves special mention come to think of it. ¬†From 35 feet behind the hole, putting across the slope, he was eyeing it up. ¬†‚??I fancy this one‚?Ě we heard him murmur. ¬†The ball dropped without hesitation. ¬†And we all fell about laughing with glee. ¬†Such is the wizardry of the man. ¬†Conor‚??s missed tiddler also deserves special mention because it was equally entertaining. ¬†From 2 feet above the hole, putting down hill, a very perturbed Conor (enraged at being asked to putt the little ‚??un) smashed his ball 8 feet past without so much as flirting with the cup. ¬†Confidence can be so swiftly shattered.
‚??Twas a terrible shame that winter greens and tees were in force, in that we missed one or two gems. ¬†Like the 5th, a sweeping dogleg right down towards the fields. ¬†Rather than a 3 iron and a 9 iron it was just a wedge. ¬†Still, we got the view. ¬†Conor reminded us on the 6th of the fact that the sheer slope that the hole plays up was used in days gone by by rugby players for sprint training. ¬†Dave Forrest I think it was that was renowned for gunning it up and down that cliff. ¬†I wouldn‚??t make it half way once, let alone do repeat sets. ¬†Incidentally we used to use the same hill for sledging and rolling Easter eggs Back In The Day. ¬†Far more leisurely...
Conor burned his bridges with the Patton family when he started to take mulligans on the back stretch, notably on the 8th. ¬†Instead of playing from the heather after his shanked tee shot, he preferred to throw another one down and play his second from the fairway. ¬†Cheat. ¬†We took the moral high ground and left it up to his own integrity. ¬†Which was sadly lacking. ¬†We were already giving the little sod a shot a hole...
By the 9th and final hole the visitors remained 1 up, after the pretenders pulled a couple back with some nifty play. ¬†The finishing hole at Selkirk is a striking one; the sort of hole that you don‚??t forget in a hurry. ¬†From the tee you gaze across the town and the valley, the green sitting down below you across 150 yards of heather. ¬†Knees were knocking at this point: surely the rascals wouldn‚??t pull something out of the hat? ¬†Conor‚??s ball found a heather bush some 25 yards from the tee, so that was him out of action (again he tried the mulligan trick but we took no notice). ¬†Rud however knocked one pin high left in the light rough. ¬†Goldy blocked it into the bank and took 4, leaving it up to the childhood pals to fight it out. ¬†With 10 feet for par, Rud had a putt to tie the match (with his shot) ‚?? but alas it wasn‚??t to be. ¬†4 feet was all that stood between me and Glory, and on this occasion I uncharacteristically converted. ¬†Relief rather than elation.
This however was all preparation for The Main Event. ¬†The ball roll down the path to the putting green. ¬†See below. ¬†Rud won (local knowledge); I came in second; and Goldy‚??s ball ended up in the bracken. ¬†Conor and Bart made up the numbers but never threatened. ¬†¬†All in all, tremendous fun.
Goldy and The Gaffer retired to base camp to blog and attend to other such administrative tasks. ¬†Little brother gave me The Selkirk Experience, which was quite something. ¬†It involved the following: ferreting around the garden in our Granny‚??s old house (mum‚??s childhood home; no one was there); a visit to the Rugby Club; watching the Atlantic Salmon try to leap up the cauld on the River Ettrick down at Philip Haugh; a coffee and cake in the Water Wheel Caf√©, accompanied by much pontification about life and the future and what It All Means; and a leisurely drive around the town to just Take It All In. ¬†A memorable trip down memory lane with my favourite brother.
And then we were off up the road, to Edinburgh for the weekend. ¬†Pint with Uncle David and Cousin Holly on Frederick Street ‚?? Auld Reekie alive with Friday night commotion ‚?? and a quiet evening in with Auntie Gil and Uncle Ian. ¬†What more could you ask for?
Thanks Selkirk GC for allowing me this brief foray into nostalgic days gone by. ¬†And relatives - you know who you are.
What a way to bring our 45 day Scottish leg to a close. ¬†It‚??s fair to say we‚??re leaving this bonnie land on a high note, after a tremendous 36 hours at Turnberry: the jewel in the crown of the gorgeous Ayrshire coast, and site of four Open Championships. ¬†Mike‚??s already told you about yesterday‚??s fun and games on the Kintyre course, a superb ‚??little brother‚?Ě track. ¬†He‚??ll also have mentioned that last night our accommodation options were slim pickings; that we were odds on to be kipping in The Tank. ¬†That was until Graeme Russell ‚?? chief, champ, boss, captain, skipper that he is; Macallan Whisky‚??s ambassador to the US ‚?? played Fairy God Mother and spotted us a room at The Turnberry Hotel on his points! ¬†You wouldn‚??t read about it. ¬†I‚??ve already thanked Graeme privately (several times), but would like to do so publicly now too: as our caddy Ray at Cypress would say, ‚??you‚??re the greatest.‚?Ě
A momentary blip in the fairytale though: I awoke this morning with my first illness of the year (worry not, my friends ‚?? just a common cold). ¬†Standing outside in minus 6 degrees last night having a quick chat with Radio New Zealand I joked with the producer that I‚??d catch a cold. ¬†Then I did just that. ¬†There‚??s a lesson in there for all of us. ¬†Maybe even a couple.
But a mucus clogged sinus passage couldn‚??t dampen my spirits when I opened the curtains to find that the bright sunshine we were treated to yesterday hadn‚??t yet packed it in. ¬†That big ball of gas was out in spades. ¬†Yesssssssssssssssssssssssssss! ¬†With a spring in my step I hopped into the shower (read: emptied 6 pints of snot down the plug hole) and went in search of some appropriate golfing attire. ¬†Sadly my respectable golf breeks were in the car, so I was forced to don the Argyll Loudmouths (which I would inevitably get a hard time about in these parts). ¬†Sick and looking a tad stupid; but who gives two shakes when you‚??re about to play one of the best courses in the world. ¬†On a bluebird Thursday morning, no less.
The commute from the Hotel carpark to the club carpark is a very short one. ¬†Roughly 36 seconds if you don‚??t run into any traffic. ¬†Downhill too. ¬†Had we not been lazy Gen-Y‚??rs we might‚??ve even walked! ¬†(But that would‚??ve left an unpalatable walk back up the hill ‚?? a solid justification to my mind). ¬†In any case we ran into our host ‚?? Alan Stevenson (whose father played in several Open Championships) ‚?? on the tarmac and were soon introduced to his pal John, host #2. ¬†John like me likes cardigans and is all the more a man for it. ¬†They‚??re both locals and quality humans in their own right. ¬†Sharp banter exchanged between the two was evocative of the Laurel-&-Hardy-like Alan Melville & Mike Macdonald, our hosts at North Berwick & Gullane. ¬†I must confess I wondered whether we‚??d be able to hold our own.
There was no mucking around with coffee or cocktails or kummel or anything of the like; straight to business. ¬†With an 0820 tee time we were ahead of the pack ‚?? alleviating any concerns of being held up behind a fourball of 29 handicap tourists (each lining up every putt as if it was for The Open, of course). ¬†PERFECT. ¬†Peter McCoy the Starter provided yardage books and light amusement, including a cracking story about Juan Quirros, whom his son had been caddying for recently on the Senior‚??s Tour. ¬†Juan‚??s apparently a hothead and on this occasion lost the plot. ¬†The nearest object towards which he could direct his anger was a sponsor‚??s billboard. ¬†After chucking his club in disgust Juan gave it a good boot; only problem was a lassie was leaning over it at the time, munching on her lunch. ¬†In the melee the sandwich got splattered all over her face, poor thing. ¬†Juan either didn‚??t notice or care to notice, so Peter‚??s son went over to apologise on his behalf. ¬†As unfortunate as it would no doubt have been for the young woman, I can‚??t help but think it would‚??ve been hilarious to be a fly on the wall. ¬†Anyway. ¬†Turnberry.
The 1st hole plays parallel to the road, perpendicular with the view from the omnipresent Hotel above. ¬†‚??Ailsa Craig‚?Ě it‚??s called, after the big (I can only assume volcanic) chunk of rock sticking up out of the deep blue Firth of Clyde. ¬†A dawdle at 354 yards you might think, but there are 9 bunkers ‚?? setting the tone for the morning. ¬†And the pin was at the front, which made it difficult to get near down wind. ¬†I tried not to smile when I saw my opponent‚??s ball had come to rest deep in a divot in the middle of the fairway ¬†(one of the peril‚??s of the heavy traffic the course gets over the summer). ¬†Whether I succeeded or not, who knows? ¬†You know what they say though: every golf shot makes someone happy. ¬†To Mick‚??s credit he got it down there, there or thereabouts, and made a 4 which was good enough for the half. ¬†
Loved the name of the 2nd: ‚??Make Sure.‚?Ě ¬†Make sure what?? ¬†The yardage book pearl of wisdom offered a clue: ‚??Poor shots will be punished with trouble lurking in almost every direction.‚?Ě ¬†The Scots don‚??t beat around the bush do they? ¬†It continued: ‚??Strategically placed fairway bunkers and a steep slope to the left of the fairway and green are just a few of the problems facing players. ¬†The green is deceptively long and will require careful club selection to avoid leaving a long, difficult putt.‚?Ě ¬†Don‚??t sugar coat it boys! ¬†
Those forking out 110 squid for a game would get their money‚??s worth out of the dry humour of the yardage book alone. ¬†Rather than make the golf course look and sound easy ‚?? as is conventional in amateur golf and sports psychology generally, I imagine ‚?? they‚??ve gone out of their way to do the opposite. ¬†The fairways on the pictures look like pieces of string. ¬†Thin ones at that. ¬†‚??Woe-be-tide‚?Ě, the 4th, is aptly described as ‚??a light hearted warning to be aware of the Firth of Clyde and other possible hazards on the left of the hole.‚?Ě ¬†Ha. ¬†It‚??s a glorious short hole in any case; the first of the Ailsa‚??s coveted set. ¬†The contours of the green and the dune to the right of it encourage you to bring the ball in from right to left, especially given the aforementioned drop off to the left is severe. ¬†However. ¬†Y‚??er man cut a nasty looking bunker into the front right of the mound upon which the green is perched. ¬†So you better dam well hit that draw out of the middle of the club (or end up in Purgatory as Michael did).
Speaking of y‚??er man. ¬†Life would be much simpler if the Ailsa Course had been designed many moons ago and not been touched since. ¬†But that‚??s not how things went friends. ¬†A brief history lesson:
In 1900 the Marquess of Ailsa (a keen golfer and former Captain at our beloved Prestwick) decided to build a course on his estate at Turnberry. ¬†So he commissioned Willie Fernie, the then pro at Royal Troon, to do the design. ¬†It opened in 1901, Turnberry GC subsequently forming the next year. ¬†Turnberry quickly became popular with the expansion of the railways and when word got around about the luxury of the Hotel. ¬†World War One then got in the way of everything as it had the tendency to do (the Hotel and courses being requisitioned as an officers‚?? mess & airfield respectively). ¬†When Zee Germans surrendered James Braid did a redesign of the Arran Course, following which it overtook the Ailsa as the course of choice. ¬†So Cecil Hutchinson God Bless Him was brought in to do a re-design (hooray!). ¬†But wait for it: the course re-opened in 1938, just a year before Hitler went mental and declared war on The World. ¬†Again Turnberry was requisitioned (who would have guessed?), this time as for RAF Coastal Command. ¬†The final chapter? ¬†MacKenzie Ross was brought in to do a(nother) redesign, creating ‚??the masterpiece that exists today.‚?Ě ¬†
Now where was I? ¬†The 5th (‚??Fin me oot‚?Ě - i.e. ‚??find me out‚?Ě - i.e. find the putting surface or give up). ¬†One of the best par 4s of the year. ¬†Graeme had warned us about it last night and The Boy wasn‚??t wrong. ¬†Take a breath and enjoy the moment sorta stuff. ¬†(In a cockney accent I ask of you) d‚??ya know what I mean? ¬†Perfectly formed but no less nasty for it greenside pot bunkers await unsuspecting 2nd (or even 3rd) shots, as does a coffin bunker to the right of the green ‚?? which I carelessly allowed myself to get stuck behind. ¬†The real treat came when we stood on the next tee and looked back at what had just come before us. ¬†Check it.
Turnberry‚??s the sort of place where you just look around in reverence and wonder how you managed to find yourself there despite your abundant lack of recent prayer (by recent I mean in the past decade). ¬†It‚??s tempting to swear to impress upon you just how moved I was by its beauty, but that would betray a linguistic laziness on my behalf. ¬†How should I say...soul nourishingly stunning? ¬†Whatever. ¬†I‚??ll let the photos do the talking.
What this photo of the 6th won‚??t capture, however, is just how bloody difficult it was. ¬†‚??Tappie Toorie‚?Ě is all of 230 yards over a ravine to a raised green DEAD INTO THE WIND. ¬†Oh, and there‚??s a bunker carved into the face of the sharp rise guarding the entrance to the green that would make Hell Bunker at St. Andrews look like a toddler‚??s sand pit. ¬†Poor John had an intimate encounter with the (unnamed) hole of death (which I took it upon myself to decree as ‚??That Bastard Bunker On The 6th‚?Ě); and the...bunker...won. ¬†Convincingly. ¬†I must‚??ve been so pleased with myself at having killed a 3 wood onto the front edge that I lost the plot and 3 jacked from 40 feet straight up the hill to lose the hole. ¬†‚??Oh dear‚?Ě I exclaimed.
Between the dry wit inherent in the hole descriptions penned in my yardage book; the incrementally ascending difficulty of each hole; and the bitterly fresh wind that was growing in strength by the second, I was starting to see the funny side of all of this. ¬†A string of opening pars and I‚??d had the naivety to at least consider that maybe Turnberry wasn‚??t so hard after all. ¬†Then reality found me wherever I‚??d been hiding as we stood on the 7th tee. ¬†Why? ¬†Because ‚??Roon the ben‚??‚?Ě is 500 yards of par 4 (stroke index 1 of course) into that dastardly wind. ¬†To a green that slopes hard from right to left and that‚??s guarded by two little sods at the front right entrance. ¬†If you make a 4 in these conditions then you should give up as that‚??s as good as your golf will EVER get. ¬†I guarantee you that. ¬†What fun though, pitting yourself against a Leviathan like the 7th.
At this point my good partner Alan and I found our way back to where we should have been: namely, with our noses in front. ¬†Just finding our stride we were. ¬†Just as we were getting within clear sight of That Lighthouse, the sight most people come here to see. ¬†Why lighthouses on golf courses are so intriguing I don‚??t know. ¬†But they are. ¬†While at The National Golf Links of America I remember second guessing myself as to why there was any merit in taking so many snaps of that red and white construction on the hill. ¬†I did the same today. ¬†Why? ¬†The angles you take photos of holes or humans would have to be adjusted to as to incorporate the lighthouse in the background. ¬†For the avoidance of doubt that one was at Turnberry. ¬†Perhaps I‚??m simple minded. ¬†
In Any Case. ¬†‚??Goat Fell‚?Ě the wonderfully named 8th hole is a mouth watering long-ish par 4 (432 yards for anyone who cares) that takes you right out near the rocks. ¬†From the green I gazed starry eyed at the beach below and the coastline stretching for miles behind it. ¬†And at the lighthouse ahead, of course. ¬†For goodness sake I‚??m only human. ¬†Mick and I scuttled off with a couple of 4s pleased to find the next tee unscathed. ¬†Goat Fell by the way is the name of the tallest peak directly across the water on Arran. ¬†Why it was called Goat Fell I have no idea. ¬†Use y‚??er imagination folks. ¬†
9 may have one of the most photographed (championship) tees in world golf. ¬†You march back down a rocky outcrop to a meticulously mown square of lawn which seems to float above the Firth of Clyde. ¬†On a day like today the scene is almost one you‚??d find in those golf calendars of imaginary holes that you can‚??t quite believe would exist. ¬†360 degree views of splendour. ¬†Looking at the golf hole in front (we didn‚??t play from the championship tees because 1. You‚??re not allowed to; and 2. The wind was blowing and the hole was hard enough) you begin to understand why pros like Tiger Woods go off the rails. ¬†If I had to make a living teeing off across mischief like that I‚??d be driven to abnormal behaviour I have no doubt. ¬†A cairn is optimistically placed in the middle of the fairway, giving the player an ‚??ideal‚?Ě line over which to tonk the ball. ¬†I found the cairn to be as optimistic as goal setting during your early years of high school (‚??When I grow up I want to: 1. Become a millionaire; 2. Find creative ways to spend my millions; 3. Marry a Victoria‚??s Secret supermodel; 4. Play off scratch consistently and with consummate ease; 5. Become a respected and cherished member of the local community; and 6. Always remain in my mother‚??s good books, etc etc). ¬†
In very un-Scots like fashion we paused for coffee after 9. ¬†By now the breeze was getting rather fresh, so the shelter of the half way house had a more settling effect than we might have thought. ¬†It‚??s like a wee standalone conservatory, with 180 degree views of The Firth of Clyde and That Lighthouse. ¬†With a coffee in hand and a good bit of craic it‚??s a tough spot to beat. ¬†Unpretentious but perfectly adequate.
Although our party could quite happily have camped out for a good hour or two, the aptly named 10th hole beckoned. ¬†‚??Dinna fouter‚?Ě translates to Don‚??t Mess About. ¬†‚??The Firth of Clyde awaits players who hit their tee shots too far left and, if that‚??s not enough, EVEN MORE TROUBLE AWAITS PLAYERS IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FAIRWAY, in the shape of two pot bunkers and a further bunker on the right hand side of the fairway...‚?Ě ¬†Over coffee I‚??d forgotten entirely what entertainment might await me in my strokesaver readings on the back side. ¬†As it happened I didnae fouter, instead choosing to chip in from the deep stuff left of the green for my opening birdie of the day (one of two ‚?? both of which came from off the green!). ¬†The opposition were spewing. ¬†Good riddance.
The views back up to the 9th and beyond from the 10th, and along the 11th, are something rather special. ¬†The deep blue sea hypnotises you like the Pied Piper did to those rats. ¬†Contrast the fresh white paint of the lighthouse and you have a postcard scene and a half. ¬†The caption might read: ‚??Stay away from Scotland: ¬†all the trouble is in the middle of the fairway...‚?Ě
13 is a glorious sweeping dogleg right with 3 left side fairway bunkers and a huge plateau green. ¬†With the wind hurling off the left; gorse along the right; and that trio of bunkers guarding the dogleg, it‚??s an improbable proposition that you‚??ll smash one down the middle. ¬†But you must. ¬†And don‚??t be shy with your approach either, because that upslope rising up to the putting surface won‚??t think twice about spitting your ball back down to the fairway below, leaving a tricky up and down. ¬†In all honesty I was just trying to get the ball near the hole but unfortunately it went in for a second lucky birdie in 4 holes. ¬†John by this stage was very animated, and even began to call me unkind names. ¬†Which I won‚??t repeat.
On the 14th you‚??re told to ‚??Risk-an-hope.‚?Ě ¬†We all did just that and it didn‚??t work for any of us. ¬†The pot bunkers on the ‚??Ca Canny‚?Ě 15th ‚?? a par 3 playing short with the wind behind ‚?? were gruesome, particularly the one over the back. ¬†John as he was prone to doing picked another fight with one, and was again forced to accept Second Prize. ¬†Luckily he has a good sense of humour (although by this point it was no doubt running thin).
Many photos must‚??ve been taken over the years of ‚??Wee Burn‚?Ě, the 16th, particularly around the green complex. ¬†It‚??s a gorgeous ‚??little hole‚?Ě (at 455 yards...) that plays shorter than it sounds, but is no less difficult for it. ¬†Not a time to thin a 9 iron Jamie...into the burn... ¬†Michael hit a smashing drive down the right as he was instructed to, then made a very good par indeed after coming perilously close to finding a watery grave over the back right of the green. ¬†It‚??s no ‚??Wee‚?Ě burn let me tell you.
Perhaps the most evil little bunker we‚??ve encountered all year is positioned sadistically just off the fairway ‚?? into the face of a rise ‚?? on the par 5 17th, ‚??Lang Whang.‚?Ě ¬†When the wind‚??s behind us as it was, assuming you get a decent drive away the little codger shouldn‚??t come into play. ¬†It‚??s 88 yards of the green, which you can hit with a driver and a 9 iron if you play your cards right. ¬†However. ¬†In less favourable conditions this thing could give you nightmares for life. ¬†I wouldn‚??t wish an adventure in there on my worst enemy, unless he deserved it. ¬†
Many of you will remember The Duel in The Sun, the showdown between Watson and Nicklaus at the 1977 Open Championship at Turnberry. ¬†Well the 18th‚??s name has since been changed in reverence to ‚??what is regarded by many as the finest Major Championship ever played.‚?Ě ¬†A nice touch. ¬†By the time we were coming in it was becoming a Duel in The Wind, and a nailbiting one at that. ¬†After having been up for most of the match, Alan and I somehow found ourselves dormy 1 down after 17, courtesy of a characteristic Goldstein par 5 birdie. ¬†So we needed some magic. ¬†I‚??d positioned myself menacingly just off the front edge with a Texas Wedge at the ready (angling for my 3rd off-the-surface birdie to pull equal). ¬†Goldy knocked it relatively close. ¬†And John appeared to be in no man‚??s land way back left somewhere. ¬†Alan was gone. ¬†Then John much to my dismay pitched in, the rascal! ¬†After he‚??d been giving me so much jip for it too... ¬†A lovely moment to finish a well fought battle. ¬†Credit where credit it due: the heathens combined well and probably deserved their victory in the end. ¬†There, I said it.
No sooner had we finished than we found ourselves in the bar with an American size bowl of chips in front of us. ¬†The clubhouse by now was buzzing as big groups were readying themselves for their day of reckoning. ¬†We inhaled the chips then realised it was time to get back up the hill to check out. ¬†And check out of Scotland altogether. ¬†Stranraer was our last port of call on what has been an incredible 45 days here in this bonnie land, my homeland. ¬†It‚??s no St. Tropez, believe me, but it softens the blow by making the next destination ‚?? Belfast ‚?? all the more enticing. ¬†
Before I knew it we were out on deck on the Stena Line ferry, pulling into Belfast Lough. ¬†The old Harland & Wolf cranes ‚?? David & Goliath ‚?? looked to have had a paint job since I last saw them a decade ago. ¬†Sadly the ferry doesn‚??t take you all the way past them anymore as it used to. ¬†Och it‚??s still a lovely introduction to Nor‚??n Ireland though, which‚??ll be our adopted home for the next week. ¬†It‚??s the land of my fathers too. ¬†Slainte.
JP ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†¬†
It may just be the bonniest place on earth to play golf. ¬†A huge call, perhaps. ¬†But Loch Lomond‚??s beauty is something to behold. ¬†Y‚??er man Burns even wrote a song about it: ‚??By yon bonnie banks, by yon bonnie braes, where the sun shines, on Loch Looooooommooonnnddd; where me and my true love will never meet again: on the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Looommmooooonddddddd...‚?Ě ¬†Those words were reverberating through my internal jukebox as we drove up the Mull of Kintyre under dusky light last evening. ¬†Yes folks, I was excited. ¬†The eery calm of the dark hills looking down on us thickened the atmosphere. ¬†This part of Scotland is as mystical as it is stunning.
[Tragically we had neither our normal camera nor my phone camera, which were defunct and out of battery respectively - so no photos to show to you other than a couple we snapped just before we left. ¬†Alas.]
Where to stay? ¬†It was 10pm and really quite dark. ¬†We hadn‚??t done our research. ¬†A Youth Hostel sign appeared from nowhere as we neared the southern end of the Loch; soon we found ourselves winding up a wooded lane. ¬†A very stately looking building lit up by electric candlelight emerged from the darkness. ¬†‚??Twood make an ideal murder mystery venue. ¬†The Australian woman behind the desk wanted 20 quid for a bed though, which I thought was a bit on the nose. ¬†Mike was happy to pay it but I was having none of it, so instead opted for the passenger seat of the car (which I parked just across the main road in one of the carparks at the rather pucker Cameron House!). ¬†We could‚??ve done with a bit of space anyway. ¬†I actually managed to sleep pretty well, despite a constant stream of car headlights rolling past intermittently (I was worried they were those of security guard vehicles; that I was going to get turfed out).
Rather than my first thought when I woke up being ‚??Holy hell, I‚??m about to play Loch Lomond‚?Ě, it was more a case of, ‚??God my neck is sore...‚?Ě! ¬†The Tank‚??s made for navigating country road corners at 70mph, not for sleeping in. ¬†20 quid well saved though. ¬†Some of those quid I put to good use down the road at the Co-op in Ballacher; as soon as the doors opened I was in like a flash, pulling together a breakfast fit for a king. ¬†A king who sleeps in his car. ¬†I picked up Mike from his spooky castle cum hostel ‚?? and we were On Our Way (about 4 minutes down the road).
The entrance is a very understated affair, by design I would‚??ve thought. ¬†‚??Jamie Patton here, for a 9 o‚??clock tee time,‚?Ě I piped up when the intercom asked what business we had. ¬†I think the guy on the other end could probably hear my smile. ¬†To say that the drive in is impressive is to say Everest‚??s summit is quite high. ¬†Sir James Colqhoun and his descendants had some driveway, which leads to quite a house on quite a property. ¬†You snake through trees, past a few holes and eventually get a peek of the Loch. ¬†By the time you arrive in the carpark you‚??re only a couple of hundred yards from shore. ¬†Being the amateurs that we are we parked our own car (rather than pulling up outside the clubhouse and having it parked for us valet styles). ¬†The service ethic here is world class. ¬†And the clubhouse itself, well...see for yourself.
Wallace was our first port of contact, a lovely gentleman of a gentle disposition who looked after us all day. ¬†(I thought nothing of his name until I met a few of the other staff, all of whom had more Scottish names than the next ‚?? leading me to suspect that it‚??s club policy either: 1. To make employees change their names to sound as Scottish as possible; or, more likely, 2. To only hire humans that already have very Scottish names; or, even 3. That it was all just a coincidence). ¬†Wallace, I suppose, was the master of ceremonies. ¬†He directed guests and staff alike, keeping the Loch Lomond machine ticking over like clockwork. ¬†What a tremendous job he did too. ¬†We felt instantly welcome and, to be honest, humbled.
En route to the locker room I ran into John Caven, Director of Golf, who ‚?? upon request from our pal Harry Summer, a member from South Carolina ‚?? had kindly made our visit happen. ¬†Delightful gentleman he was too, possessed of one of those soft Glaswegian accents that I would‚??ve thought does more for the women than a harsh Fife brogue. ¬†He sent us down to the locker room (certainly in the top 3 this year, knocking at Sea Island‚??s door) to see Willie. ¬†Now Willie appears to have been making members and guests feel welcome since Sir James Colqhoun‚??s day (but as it happens I know he‚??s only been there for 14 years). ¬†During that time he‚??s perfected the art of being The Nicest Locker Room Attendant Ever To Grace God‚??s Good Earth. ¬†He was the sort of chap that you couldn‚??t be angry at even if he‚??d slept with your sister, or worse, drunk all your whisky. ¬†
As hard as it was to leave the locker room we had to. ¬†To play golf. ¬†A shower reared its ugly head as we traipsed to the starter‚??s box; waterproofs were pulled on quick smart. ¬†Please understand though that rain at Loch Lomond isn‚??t like rain anywhere else. ¬†It‚??s going to be hard to explain this, but... ¬†On the shores of Loch Lomond, where bonnie Bens rise up around you and clouds float sleepily above, it almost feels Right And Proper that it should rain. ¬†And you don‚??t mind it when it does. ¬†Or I didn‚??t anyway. ¬†Maybe I‚??m mad. ¬†Anyway we had a good old chinwag with y‚??er man the silvery haired Starter whose name sadly escapes me (probably Murdoch or Fraser or Tam). ¬†Then it was game on.
He advised agin playing the blacks. ¬†7000 yards of golf course that ‚?? in the conditions ‚?? would play more like 7500. ¬†Feck it; full glory it would have to be (in keeping with our masochist ethos). ¬†Just as well that we both thumped drives straight through the chute and down the middle then, because it might‚??ve been a bit awkward with y‚??er man standing there (after his words of caution) if we‚??d snap hooked a couple into the abyss. ¬†There wasn‚??t a soul ahead of us, and we weren‚??t going to be holding anyone up. ¬†So really we had Loch Lomond GC to ourselves. ¬†A nice, even decadent feeling.
Right away the course‚??s trademark (to my mind anyway) revealed itself. ¬†Feature (deciduous) trees are positioned strategically on most holes, often just off the fairway. ¬†Be they oak, ash, sycamore, chestnut or maple ‚?? these things were quite stunning; and if you were unfortunate enough to find yourself on the wrong side of the fairway they would block your way in earnest. ¬†Sadly our camera wasn‚??t with us on this occasion (a crime, really), so I can‚??t show you an example. ¬†Use y‚??er imagination. ¬†Gawjus. ¬†
By the time you‚??ve played the 2nd hole you start to get the feeling that you‚??re playing one of the world‚??s great parkland golf courses. ¬†It‚??s a strong dogleg left par 4 with bunkers guarding the landing area, feature trees down the right, and a dyke some 60 yards short of the green (which I thought was a burn from afar). ¬†Heavy hitters like me mate Goldstein can smash driver over the left hand bunker, and over the dogleg, leaving a mid iron in; but most mortals are forced to be a bit more cute and hit two solid blows. ¬†
Our appreciation of Weiskopf & Morrish‚??s design went into overdrive on the 3rd, a dogleg left par 5 that takes you down to the water‚??s edge. ¬†The tee shot is played through a narrow chute guarded at the front right entrance to the fairway by a feature tree. ¬†Past that it opens up slightly, but a couple of huge bunkers are cut into the corner of the dogleg on the left. ¬†To fly them is dam near impossible for most (even my gorilla playing partner couldn‚??t quite manage). ¬†As you climb slightly and round the bend your view of the green opens up, but only partially. ¬†That‚??s because it‚??s guarded first by two huge trees on the right, behind which is a pond. ¬†A false front on the front right of the green no doubt sends careless approaches mercilessly into fish territory. ¬†A fair lay up area lies short left, but if you get too aggressive then a greenside bunker on the left awaits. ¬†Just a wonderfully crafted golf hole. ¬†And a stunning backdrop to boot. ¬†
While putting on the 4th an American looking chap standing by the next tee caught the corner of our eye. ¬†He was wearing a bright red waterproof jacket, khaki shorts, sneakers, and he was holding a big umbrella. ¬†It was Harry. ¬†He spends 3 months or so every year in a house down in Ballacher, then heads back home to Myrtle Beach late August. ¬†His summer‚??s spent playing golf in his adopted back yard, at Loch Lomond. ¬†Understandably he‚??s a relaxed character, who‚??s clearly done well in life. ¬†In fact he‚??s so laid back he‚??s horizontal. ¬†We‚??d met Harry through a mutual friend, the lovely Carol Kaufman, some weeks ago at her club Renaissance in East Lothian, where she hosted us all. ¬†It was on that day that Harry extended us an invitation to come here. ¬†
I set about trying to impress y‚??er man by knocking a 6 iron straight at the pin on the par 3 5th, to 10 feet. ¬†Then before long I showed my true colours: and missed. ¬†Harry didn‚??t have time to play, but he wanted to walk with us for a few holes. ¬†When you‚??re in the man‚??s company it‚??s impossible to imagine the phenomenon that is stress. ¬†A bit like the impossibility of feeling anger while looking at a penguin. ¬†His calming influence ‚?? combined with the serenity of the bonnie Loch that by this time was just a few feet away ‚?? quickly blew away any residual frustration that lingered from seeing another birdie opportunity slip cruelly by. ¬†
On the 6th tee I paused for quiet reflection. ¬†And basically said an atheist‚??s prayer. ¬†There‚??s a Beatles track called ‚??In My Life‚?Ě that in recent years has been for me a source of much inspiration, the way it‚??s harmonies and lyrics blend to make you feel as if you exist in a blissful vacuum of peace and contemplation. ¬†Gazing across the Loch I was transported to that same place (except in this case it was Rabbie Burns‚?? words bouncing around my head). ¬†You stand there and imagine who‚??s sat on these shores before, pondering the important and the not so important questions in life. ¬†I guess you could say it‚??s a place thick with atmosphere. ¬†Or you could say it‚??s breathtakingly beautiful. ¬†Or both. ¬†A place where hopeless romantics are brought to their knees. ¬†
And nervous golfers driven to drink! ¬†The par 5 6th is 600+ yards and plays right along the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond. ¬†I hit my first ball straight right probably into the path of an unsuspecting brown trout. ¬†(I‚??ve mentioned this before, about my unfortunate tendency to hit all the ‚??Don‚??t Do It‚?Ě shots, like over the wall on 1 at Prestwick or into the Road Hole Bunker at St. Andrews ‚?? well, this was no different). ¬†But was I bothered one bit? ¬†Not at all. ¬†That was until I saw the 6th is stroke index 1, meaning in practical terms that I could take a triple bogey if I didn‚??t get my act together. ¬†I don‚??t like making triples any more than the next rooster, ¬†but I particularly detest them when they‚??re par 5s ‚?? because an 8 appears on your card. ¬†6s and 7s are bad enough, but an 8...???? ¬†Fortunately the ball dropped after 7 blows, saving (some) face.
Harry instructed me in no uncertain terms on the next tee that the only successful tee shot could be a high fade with a driver (3 wood wasn‚??t an option because the hole was 450+ yards). ¬†First, I have a 7.5 degree driver with a stiff shaft; second, I hit hooks. ¬†The impetuous child within me was awoken, however, so I thought I‚??d try to follow Harry‚??s instructions. ¬†Of course it didn‚??t go to plan! ¬†In any case, by this time, you‚??re sandwiched in between the majestic clubhouse and the Loch. ¬†Much as at Cypress Point, at Pebble, at The NGLA, at Royal Dornoch ‚?? you pinch yourself and thank your lucky stars.
Somewhat unusually the 9th tee is adjacent to the clubhouse, the hole taking you away past the carpark along the line of the driveway. ¬†It‚??s a fairly straightforward affair; a hole on which they bring the tees forward for the big boys so they can have a go at the green (it‚??s a risk / reward short par 4 guarded by some clever bunkers). ¬†From there though the examination becomes a sterner one, your birdie opportunities (fundraising opportunities, in our case) become fewer and further between. ¬†Indeed some of the holes pose such a challenge that the best is subconsciously drawn out of you, out of necessity / survival. ¬†10: long downhill par 4 through a chute off the tee; over a burn at about 350; to a subtly undulating green guarded at the front and to the left by a pond, to the right by a bunker. ¬†A pure 3 wood and a shaky 4 iron it took me to get home; par was a very welcome score indeed. ¬†11: 250 yards uphill par 3 to a green with a huge bowl in the front middle (pin back left). ¬†The first 150 yards are all carry over dense scrub ‚?? not that it should come into play, but it focuses the mind on the task at hand, and quickens that swing just a little. ¬†Behind the green is a wonderfully mature forest with an ancient looking building (of whose purpose I‚??m still not sure) nestled quietly in the shade. ¬†
On 12 the feature trees lining the fairway are among the most striking on the property. ¬†In a strange way these trees look more alive than almost any tree I‚??ve come across before. ¬†I say that because they‚??re covered in lichen and, in some cases, by other trees...! ¬†You know, carpets of leaves covering the trunks. ¬†Must be the clean air and abundant moisture. ¬†What say you tree experts?
Harry had told us earlier to keep an eye out for the 13th, because (on one of the occasions) when he won here, Big Ernie Els hit driver / 6 iron to 6 feet. ¬†Now, the 13th is a long par 5. ¬†Not in a month of Sundays could I get up with driver, 6 iron. ¬†It may be downhill, and at some 320 yards there‚??s a down slope that can catapult you another 30 yards or so. ¬†But there‚??s just no way. ¬†As if I needed reminding that Those Boys play a different game... ¬†
There are some scintillating holes coming down the stretch that can be played with great enjoyment (albeit differently) by any golfer. ¬†14‚??s another risk / reward short par 4 (with a split fairway) that‚??d give some of Dr. Alistair MacKenzie‚??s creations a run for their money; 16‚??s a brute of a 500 yard dogleg left par 4 with a gushing burn 30 yards short of the green; 17‚??s an all carry long par 3 playing along the shores of the Loch, where it forms something of a bay; and 18, well 18 is a fitting crescendo to the symphony. ¬†The back tee is tucked away through a chute on a small tee offset at 30 degrees from the path of the fairway, which at the landing zone shapes right to left. ¬†You need to swing hard because the carry must be 230. ¬†A long bunker awaits at the far side of the fairway if you block or crush one. ¬†Left is dead. ¬†Once on the safety of the fairway you play over the final feature tree ‚?? perched on the left side ‚?? to a huge, 3 tiered green pitched towards you. ¬†Adding to the drama are a boathouse, the ruin of an old tower (directly behind the green), the clubhouse itself and, of course, the Loch. ¬†It‚??s a sensational vista.
Who was there to meet us as we walked off but Wallace. ¬†He‚??d arrived in one of the club‚??s custom made buggies into which your clubs are chucked then escorted back to your car, while you relax in the comfort of the clubhouse. ¬†Harry being the consummate gentleman that he is had kindly left a few quid behind the bar for us to have lunch and a jar (or silver tanker, in this case). ¬†Then we might‚??ve decided it was time to get back to The Real World. ¬†But. ¬†A group of Kiwi lads ‚?? some involved with The First Tee ‚?? were also out on the course, and had hoped to catch up with us after they finished. ¬†Wallace then took it upon himself to ask management whether we‚??d be able to use the spa facilities in the interim, while the boys were still out on the course. ¬†No problem at all.
So we were ferried across in one of the Merc taxis they have on the estate, to an old walled garden into which the spa has been built. ¬†It‚??s a very special place indeed. ¬†A lovely Glasgwegian lady showed us around the facilities, then told us to make ourselves at home (after equipping us each with a pair of loan togs). ¬†Dream Result. ¬†I won‚??t gloat, but these water jet contraptions they had in the hydro pools were fit for use by The Sultan Of Brunei himself. ¬†I didn‚??t want to leave. ¬†Then there was the Turkish crystal steam room (or whatever it‚??s called); and The Best Shower In The World. ¬†Yes folks, another superlative. ¬†It had 3 modes: tropical rain, cool mist, and side massage. ¬†Cool mist was the best.
Once cleaned up I sat in my bath robe with a bottle of cold water enveloped by a huge armchair in the men‚??s relaxation room. ¬†Outside is an immaculate garden walled in by those ancient bricks. ¬†The sun was streaming in; and the bees were floating around fetching pollen for their Queen. ¬†I admired their protestant work ethic. ¬†And reflected for a few moments about how lucky a lad I was in this moment of privilege. ¬†I suppose there are people out there who become so accustomed to such luxury that they no longer appreciate it. ¬†Don‚??t think I‚??ll have anything to worry about there...!
Golfed, lunched and pampered we were delivered back to the locker room, where our Kiwi friends-to-be pals were perched at the card table. ¬†Eric, who owns The Golf Warehouse back home in NZ, was taking the Australian MD of Srixon for a bit of a getaway to thank him for being a valued supplier. ¬†Eric‚??s right hand man ‚?? Reece, who was #1 on the NZ Order of Merit for a spell ‚?? was there too, as was his pal Lawrie. ¬†The four of ‚??em seemed to be having a famous old time. ¬†As they well should. ¬†It soon became clear that we all had plenty to talk about, so the boys kindly invited us to join them down the road at Cameron House, where they were staying (and where I‚??d slept in the car park the night before!). ¬†So we did. ¬†And a smashing time was had by all.
What a surreal day.
First impressions are everything in this world. ¬†From the way someone is dressed to the way they carry yourself to the way they speak ‚?? our brains in a millisecond compute a picture of that person and make all sorts of deductions therefrom. ¬†We do it and we can‚??t help it. ¬†It is, for better or for worse, human nature. ¬†
When we roll up to a golf club on a given day, naturally we try to make a good first impression. ¬†Most days we‚??ll pull the tidiest looking polo shirt out of the suitcase; tuck it in, of course; maybe even shave before we leave; then walk upright and tall into the clubhouse, politely asking to speak to the appropriate person. ¬†It‚??s all fairly elementary stuff. ¬†On a recent occasion, however, I got it wrong. ¬†Badly wrong.
Among the 126 polo shirts I seem to have accumulated this year is a maroon one that my mother brought back from Scotland for me some years ago. ¬†It‚??s embossed with the logo of the football team I used to support as a we‚??an (Heart of Midlothian FC). ¬†And it‚??s quite smart. ¬†I was sporting the shirt in question on Friday when we turned up at Luffness New GC, down the road from Gullane in East Lothian. ¬†I had no reason not to. ¬†What no one told me though, was that the club steward ‚?? who was the first chap I met in the clubhouse ‚?? is the biggest Hibernian FC supporter in the world. ¬†(Hibs, as they‚??re better known, are Hearts‚?? arch rivals, both teams hailing from Edinburgh). ¬†Massive mistake.
The Steward (whose name I never caught) looked shocked, almost insulted. ¬†‚??Ye cannae wear that in here lad!‚?Ě ¬†In the moment I wasn‚??t sure whether his words were hearty banter or serious proclamation. ¬†Before I knew it I was marched down to the Secretary‚??s office (much as I was often marched to the Headmaster‚??s office at school for being a little toad). ¬†The Secretary couldn‚??t believe it either. ¬†How could I have been so ignorant? ¬†‚??Nobody told him‚?Ě he assumed. ¬†No, they didn‚??t. ¬†Well, there was just one thing for it: the Steward disappeared next door only to reappear moments later with a royal blue Luffness New GC polo, the tags on which he promptly cut off (with a touch of venom in his hands). ¬†I was told to change and shown to the locker room.
One more thing: ‚??do ye have long socks lad?‚?Ě ¬†No, Sir; sorry Sir. ¬†‚??Well we‚??ll have to get ye a pair of those too then.‚?Ě ¬†Two pairs of blue woolen knee length socks were tugged from a cabinet by the bar (one for me, one for Mike) and passed to me ‚??courtesy of the club.‚?Ě ¬†A nice touch indeed. ¬†And so I was a new man. ¬†Having arrived in a maroon polo and navy shorts with invisible white ankle socks I was now a picture of blue. ¬†Ready for my first day at school. ¬†What an amazing little episode (which, I must point out, was good humoured ‚?? although at first I wasn‚??t so sure).
The golf? ¬†What a magical wee track. ¬†We‚??d driven past it a number of times in recent weeks en route to Gullane, Renaissence, North Berwick and Muirfield ‚?? wondering whether it was Luffness. ¬†It was. ¬†A point of clarification, while I‚??m on the subject. ¬†As I understand it, when people talk of ‚??Luffness‚?Ě they are talking of Luffness New GC. ¬†Luffness New and Kilspindie GC down the road used to be part of the same club but then split. ¬†Kilspindie then took the (full) name Kilspindie Luffness Golf Club, and wouldn‚??t allow Luffness New to call themselves just Luffness GC ‚?? hence the ‚??New‚?Ě. ¬†Correct me if I‚??m wrong.
Anyway all that semantics didn‚??t matter a bit to us; we were just out to enjoy the golf course and hopefully not fall on the wrong side of any other sectarian rivalries. ¬†Enjoy it we did. ¬†It‚??s deceptively difficult if you ask me. ¬†The first hole looks on paper like a gimme birdie, but Mick and I had to struggle for our pars. ¬†At about 260 is a rise punctured with a string of bunkers, the green sitting only 30 yards ahead. ¬†We both laid up prudently with long irons, leaving ourselves 60 or so to the stick. ¬†I don‚??t care what anyone says: blind pitches are tricky business, particularly if the greens are running quick as they were on this occasion (apparently they always are at Luffness). ¬†Two messy shots were played over the back then a couple of dicey up and downs made. ¬†The writing was on the wall: don‚??t underestimate this place.
The next 4 holes are played on the same side of the road (the 4th being a beautifully simple but in the wind, quite challenging par 5), before you cross over to the bulk of the links. ¬†Don‚??t expect cars to stop for you either when you cross: this is a main thoroughfare along which hoards of keen golfers zip, anxious to breathe in the East Lothian fresh air or at least make their tee time thus avoiding reprimand from the draconian secretaries of these parts. ¬†Had I still been wearing my Hearts polo no doubt any Hibernian motorists that saw me would have sped up and taken dead aim.
The lovely thing about Luffness is that the links is more or less all in front of you. ¬†A bit like Gullane No. 1 next door (with the exception of the opening and closing 2 holes). ¬†A short par 3 (the 6th) is followed by a short, uphill, blind par 4 then a short, downhill par 4. ¬†It‚??s a nice wee stretch that I‚??m sure the more youthful members could carve up with glee. ¬†The 7th tee is also a fine vantage point from which to turn your gaze back west towards Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth. ¬†My delight was dampened by the sight of a few Very Dark Clouds heading our way. ¬†Don‚??t you love that sense of inevitability, particularly when you‚??re on the golf course (the front 9, no less)? ¬†Hmmmm. ¬†The prospect of escape was a distant one too, given there were a string of fourballs ahead whose combined age in each case would‚??ve pushed 300.
Just when I was admiring the artwork of the bunkering (they‚??re perfectly formed much like those at, say, Muirfield, Carnoustie or Skibo), the phone rang (tisk tisk I hear you mutter...). ¬†It was a gorgeous sounding lassie called Rebecca, calling from a radio station in Dublin for an interview. ¬†I could‚??ve listened to her talk all day. ¬†Irish women have something quite special don‚??t they? ¬†But I digress. ¬†Sadly Rebecca‚??s voice was replaced with that of the interviewer ‚?? a sound chap by the name of Anton ‚?? and over a few minutes we had a good chinwag about all things puregolf2010. ¬†One of the more pleasant radio chats I‚??ve done.
Along the back 9 we got wet. ¬†Very wet. ¬†Those clouds I mentioned before held a quite miraculous carriage of H2O, which they in their infinite wisdom decided to drop on Luffness New. ¬†Och well, can‚??t win ‚??em all can you? ¬†As is often the case however, no sooner had the scoundrel clouds passed over us had the sun reared its bright head with equator-like intensity. ¬†Layers were peeled off laboriously but I still couldn‚??t avoid that itchy-wet sensation (the one you got when your school blazer got wet and gave off that funny smell).
A mediocre round looked like being rescued when I knocked it stiff on the 15th, then did the same on the par 3 16th ‚?? that is, until I missed the 2 and a half foot down wind putt!! ¬†There‚??s no fairness in this game. ¬†Two very frustrated double bogeys inevitably followed to finish. ¬†Such is the way. ¬†To rub it in Goldy closed with a fine birdie.
A kind member whose name now escapes me had got wind of our tale and very generously left a tenner behind the bar for us to have a post-match refreshment. ¬†To your good self, if you‚??re reading: thank you. ¬†I hope by now though you‚??ve got your money back from that Hibernian-supporting-miscreant, because all we could stomach was water (on the back of a sociable week in the midst of Edinburgh‚??s Fringe Festival). ¬†Perhaps ‚?? as I suggest to y‚??er man ‚?? you could donate the money instead through our website (by clicking the button above) to The First Tee?
Luffness New was a place we had few preconceptions about. ¬†It was a very pleasant surprise indeed. ¬†The staff (once they put aside their prejudices against my heathen football sympathies) were delightful; and the course was a pure and simple links treat. ¬†It might not have the notoriety of Muirfield or even Gullane, but Luffness New stands up there with the big boys as a top drawer golf club. ¬†Traditional and unassuming it may be, but under the radar is probably how the members like it. ¬†Do go there but don‚??t wear a maroon polo!
Few places in this amazing world that is golf are as steeped in wonder. ¬†The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers professes ‚?? as far as I understand ‚?? to be the oldest golf club in the world. ¬†I‚??ve heard other superlatives used in conjunction with The Company too. ¬†Muirfield, ‚??Hon Co, ‚??HCEG‚?Ě, is as polarising as it is revered. ¬†Throughout this odyssey tales of affection have passed our ears, as have tales of disgust. ¬†Very seldom if ever is a storyteller‚??s reaction indifferent. ¬†It‚??s the sort of place, then, that I was wholeheartedly looking forward to visiting. ¬†(The fact that the Honourable Company plays their golf on one of the best courses in the world had something to do with my anticipation too). ¬†
Our host Roddy McDonald was a dear old friend of my Uncle Nigel‚??s. ¬†In fact Nigel was his Best Man. ¬†They studied medicine together at Edinburgh, a few years behind my dad (who, as Roddy pointed out, was one of ‚??the big boys‚?Ě - in that he only talked to you if he felt like it, not because he was physically imposing). ¬†Hearing about the escapades of The Brothers Patton was one of the most amusing aspects of Roddy‚??s good company ‚?? but more on that later. ¬†Roddy‚??s lovely wife Wendy brokered the outing, because Roddy‚??s not much fussed about email for various reasons that would become apparent. ¬†If I had a Secretary as delightful as Wendy I might give up email correspondence too. ¬†Sadly when I offered at the end of last year Jean ‚?? my eminently obliging secretary at Chapman Tripp ‚?? opted for the safety of employment by a large law firm instead of puregolf2010. ¬†We couldn‚??t pay her much anyway. ¬†There‚??d be a bit of travel involved too.
Roddy graciously allowed us to bring Jimenez in tow. ¬†Or Ed, as he‚??s known to most of you. ¬†The one that can‚??t putt. ¬†Upon receipt of this happy news Jimenez seemed rather more underwhelmed than expected ‚?? not for a lack of gratitude, but rather a complete lack of perception of what he was about to experience. ¬†Neither Mike nor I had ventured to Muirfield before either, but our experiences to date had been informative; we had a fair idea of what we were in for. ¬†As forecasted, Jimenez would be overwhelmed with what he saw. ¬†He wasn‚??t the only one either. ¬†
You need to know where you‚??re going. ¬†Driving through Gullane you take the last street on the left (I forget the name), alongside a field, heading towards the Forth. ¬†On the right at the end is a carpark marked discreetly for the use of Muirfield members and guests. ¬†3 or 4 rows of parking sheds were lined with the type of cars you might at a UBS annual conference in the Swiss Alps; then an overflow carpark extends into a field behind the last one. ¬†Into the overflow field we went. ¬†It was busy. ¬†Standing by the boot of the most recently parked car was a dashing gentleman in a sports jacket that HRH Prince William himself would be pleased to wear on a day excursion from Balmoral. ¬†The dashing gentleman turned out to be Roddy. ¬†
While I was wrestling with the gearbox we sent out Jimenez to greet him. ¬†Roddy looked frightened, alarmed even. ¬†Soon though order prevailed as Michael and I ‚?? who have poor hair cuts no doubt, but not El Savadorean underworld ones ‚?? fumbled out of The Tank gracefully. ¬†The 3 lads from Nu Zillin (well, counting me as an adopted Kiwi for the moment) were in their number 1s and ready for action. ¬†Our 4 marched around the corner to the right, through the cast iron gate and across in front of what appeared to be a packed hive. ¬†Tuesdays and Thursdays are visitor days, when mostly Americans turn up with their 225 quid (having booked well in advance) for The Muirfield Experience. ¬†The members don‚??t much bother turning up, instead choosing to take their gin at home. ¬†This however was a Wednesday and it was...lunchtime. ¬†Feeding time at the zoo. ¬†(The lunch at Muirfield plays about as important a part in the day as golf ‚?? but I‚??ll get to that in a second, bare with me). ¬†2 and a half; 2 and a half; 2 and a half, is the mantra - for the morning round, lunch and the afternoon round respectively. ¬†
Into the clubhouse we paced ‚?? almost nervously ‚?? past The Secretary‚??s Office and into the locker room. ¬†If naked old men is your thing then Muirfield‚??s locker room at 1 o‚??clock would float your boat. ¬†We dumped our gear then were led through the hallway, past a secret locker housing an electricity meter, into The Dining Room. ¬†Our very presence lowered the average age by a score and ten. ¬†What must‚??ve been a hundred gentleman were lunching before our eyes ‚?? only a handful being on the younger side of 60. ¬†Sir Alex Ferguson‚??s red face appeared at a small table nearest to the bar. ¬†The rest were either doctors, lawyers or businessmen. ¬†Maybe a vet or a dentist or even a hygienist. ¬†This be the professionals‚?? domain. ¬†And it has been for centuries.
Demand being what is is here, the queue for a gin was a long one (the huge old tanker, for those of you that knew it and drunk lustily from it, appears to have been retired, no doubt due to exhaustion). ¬†Us youngsters felt a little uncomfortable hovering around in the doorway, so we excused ourselves to inspect the silverware housed in a cabinet in the hallway. ¬†A silver golf club impressed itself most upon me: largely because it had dozens of silver balls chained onto it ‚?? one for each past Captain (when new members finally make their way into the Company they are reputedly invited to kiss the Captain‚??s balls). ¬†Before we knew it Roddy appeared with a tray of aperitifs and we were led into the smoking room. ¬†Someone asked whether he might have a coffee, but apparently it‚??s tea that‚??s taken before play, coffee after. ¬†A gin and tonic it was then. ¬†To say The Honourable Company‚??s habits are idiosyncratic is to say Stalin was a bit naughty. ¬†But then that‚??s their prerogative and who am I to argue. ¬†Truth be told such traditions don‚??t bother me one bit; on the contrary I enjoy learning about and partaking in them.
On the walls were mightily impressive paintings of past Captains and dinners and shindigs of all sorts. ¬†In the painting above the doorway ‚?? from memory, of a Recorder‚??s Dinner (the Recorder fixes and documents all the club‚??s matches ‚?? a very distinguished position indeed) ‚?? were a few gentlemen in red jackets laughing and joking with a dozen or so others in a smoke filled dining room (there were no anti smoking laws in these days and even if they were I don‚??t suppose The Honourable Company would take much notice). ¬†It looked like a fun dinner to attend ‚?? especially if you had a red jacket. ¬†One gentleman I spoke to was proud as punch because his mug appeared in the background, before his father (whom had been a member for years before him) had received the distinction of appearing on the same walls.
Fast forwarding to the present. ¬†We perched at a table near the west window amongst a packed gallery of old boys. ¬†Everyone was very pleasant. ¬†Matches were being fixed and other plans hatched; sexist banter was never far from earshot; and there was enough gin and tonic in the air and on men‚??s breath to intoxicate Keith Richard. ¬†A more surreal atmosphere you will struggle to find. ¬†Before long we were called to lunch, and joined one of the long tables running nearly the length of the dining room.
Like at Prestwick, the protocol is to introduce yourself to whomever is unlucky enough to find themselves at your side. ¬†Arthur drew the short straw. ¬†Poor Arthur hadn‚??t even been down to play golf but, rather, just for some lunch with his pals (a group of gents from Atlanta Athletic Club in Georgia over for a break). ¬†Without a hint of pretense or smugness Arthur proceeded to fill me in on what the next week or two held in store for him: among other (to most people, other worldly) things, a weekend down at Royal St Georges for a match. ¬†Salmon like Arthur swim in different currents to most of us. ¬†That said he was great craic and a pleasure to spend half an hour or so with. ¬†
The food? ¬†5 star. ¬†Like a very posh school dinner. ¬†Roddy led us up to right hand side of the canteen, to fetch our starter. ¬†I had cream of tomato soup with garlic croutons and lashings of parmesan. ¬†Then we were led up in due course to the left hand side of the canteen, to the carvery, where myriad options lay spread in front of us. ¬†My eyes were hungrier than my stomach, so my plate was piled high with roast lamb and curry and vegetables and every kind of sweetness imaginable under the sun. ¬†A modern day Oliver Twist, except I was too full to ask for more. ¬†I did however find space for a few biccies and cheese. ¬†As at Prestwick a few hazy weeks ago, the cheese selection looked like it had been lifted straight out of the delicatessen at Harrods. ¬†The brie and blue had labels more French than my muddled tongue can pronounce; they were rich too, taking me from a fullsome state into a near comatose one. ¬†For a weaker stomach it might all get a bit much. ¬†
Just when we thought it might be time for golf ‚?? a proposition that was becoming less and less likely as the clock hands continued to make their way around the dial ‚?? I found myself back in the smoking room with a digestif in front of me. ¬†Kummel. ¬†Of course. ¬†(I can hear you Prestwick & Royal Aberdeen boys snigger). ¬†Yes, a Kummel before golf. ¬†Everything in moderation, mind you. ¬†Half of the old boys ‚??round ‚??ere are doctors, so they must know what they‚??re doing. ¬†A bit like Laphroiag malt getting its way into the US during Prohibition under the pretense of being medicinal. ¬†Ha. ¬†By this time only a couple of die hards remained in the room, by the window ‚?? Arthur my lunch companion and his friend Gilmour (who was sporting the most fantastic red breeks you might ever lay eyes on). ¬†But they weren‚??t golfing. ¬†It was time.
Roddy in his wisdom had decided that he and Michael would take on Jiminez and Yours Truly. ¬†That way Roddy and I would be teeing off together and have a proper chance to swap notes on The Brothers Patton between blows. ¬†(In the afternoon at Muirfield, as many of you no doubt know, the format is foursomes). ¬†The offshoot being that Jimenez would be getting me into all sorts of trouble and me, on occasions, he. ¬†I‚??m pleased to report we remain friends.
What confronts you on the first tee is a sign of things to come. ¬†A lot of hay. ¬†(Not heather, Jimenez, that‚??s quite different). ¬†Somewhere down there is a fairway, although at first I couldn‚??t make it out. ¬†As good fortune would have it the ball that met my 2 iron found its way in the right direction, leaving Jimmy with a ¬†straightforward 3 iron onto the dance floor (which he duly played to perfection). ¬†This game is easy. ¬†The rest is a bit of a blur, though I remember at one point having to give The Baddies a shot a hole until they got from 3 down back to 1 down (a local rule named after a past member/Captain who conjured it). ¬†Some good shots were hit, but in honesty these were outnumbered by the bad ones. ¬†That however is the beauty of matchplay foursomes ‚?? you just need to defeat the other two rascals. ¬†Which we didn‚??t.
It‚??s hard to gain a full appreciation of the course having only really played half of it ‚?? foursomes and all ‚?? but I think I got the general gist. ¬†Under the early evening sun the famous sand filled holes where level ground used to be revealed themselves more honourably than they might otherwise do. ¬†Nasty buggers they are though, and thank you to Jimenez for putting me in a couple for practice. ¬†The layout of the course, which is relatively flat, is nothing short of ingenious: the way it winds around the perimeter in a clockwise fashion before turning in on itself but this time in the other direction. ¬†This way the wind plays different tricks on more or less every hole. ¬†Favourite holes for me were the 7th and the 12th. ¬†Walking up 18 was something to be savoured too; that magnificent clubhouse gazing nonchalantly down at you as you remove your caps and shake hands.
I can‚??t move on without mentioning the showers, which are well positioned to make this year‚??s Top 10, among very fine company indeed. ¬†A jumbo jet could‚??ve landed in my cubicle. ¬†Good pressure too.
Sadly the time came to leave The Honourable Company; we thanked and farewelled Roddy for what had been for all of us a tremendous afternoon (and a particularly eye opening one in Jimenez‚??s case). ¬†To put the icing on the cake Roddy reached into his boot and furnished us each with a sleeve of HCEG embossed pro-v1s! ¬†What a gentleman. ¬†Rest assured they won‚??t be making it out of their packet this year; but instead will be auctioned off for The First Tee at one of our events in December ‚?? buyers take note. ¬†Thanks again Roddy!
No sooner had we pulled out of the driveway than we found ourselves round the corner at The Old Clubhouse in Gullane, to catch up with Graeme Russell, a charming chap who appears to have the best job in the world. ¬†He‚??s Macallan Whisky‚??s ambassador to the US. ¬†So he saunters around doing demonstrations and dinners and generally spreading cheer with a case or two of Macallan‚??s finest tonic. ¬†But try as I might I couldn‚??t hold it against the guy, because he was a very good soul indeed. ¬†To our American friends: if anyone is interested in a whisky tasting evening with Graeme, drop him a line and make it happen. ¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†
It really was a day for ‚??catching up‚?Ě: before we‚??d even got to The Honourable Company I‚??d spent an hour or so with an old pal ‚?? Stevie Dick ‚?? whom I played hockey with growing up. ¬†He now plays for Scotland and Great Britain. ¬†And he‚??s still as affable a character as he was when we were 10. ¬†We just picked up where we left off. ¬†Over an espresso in downtown Musselborough we put the world to rest, then parted company probably for another 10 years. ¬†Then we‚??ll pick up again where we left off. ¬†Such is the way.
All in all, one of the most action packed and awe inspiring days of the year. ¬†I‚??ve done my best to encapsulate it in just a few paragraphs...no easy task.
Our day out at Gullane Numero uno (#1) or ‚??Gillan‚?? if you‚??re a local was one of those cracking days that makes an innocuous round of golf seem like it is the tonic that makes the world go around.¬† But who would have known such a day was to be forthcoming as waking up in the early hours of the morning Jamie and I were both more than a tad hazy after a night out at the Edinburgh festival the night before.¬†¬† Self esteem levels were low and golf was looking as appetizing as a sweaty day old tuna sandwich.
But as we do, we managed our way out to Gullane with a sense of humour ‚?? the kind of humour which happens after a late night ‚?? the kind of mood we were in when this crazy project was conceived almost a year ago to the day.
Upon arrival we were to do a photo shoot for Today‚??s Golfer ‚?? a UK magazine running a feature on us ‚?? which was, as you can imagine, the last thing I felt like doing.¬† I tried to banter with the photographer, Mark, who probably just thought I was a neb.¬† We‚??ll look like two tired boys in those pictures.¬† But Mark was a top chap and, as a freelance journalist who gets paid to effectively do what we‚??re doing, we had a wee bit in common.¬† Although it is fair to say that Mark‚??s camera was a shade more impressive than ours (particularly more impressive than the iphone camera which has now taken on full duties whilst Sony keep trying to fix the dysfunctional one they sold to us which has grown tied of taking photographs of golf courses and packed it in).
We got through the photo shoot unscathed partly due to the timely arrival of our hosts Alan Melville and Mike Macdonald who turned up and whisked us off for some lunch.¬† Our plans to eat in the members clubhouse were scattered due to the (increasingly pasty) flesh on our bare knees showing ‚?? our shorts were not welcome here [nor would we be allowed in the ordinary bar later on and had to resort to having a beer in the ‚??ladies bar‚?Ě afterwards?? How bizarre are some of the rules here‚?¶.]¬†
I‚??m not painting a rosy picture so far.¬† It gets better‚?¶ To the visitors clubhouse we went ‚?? the clubhouse which acts as a central port for the three golf courses at Gullane so it‚??s busy.¬† Today there were a group of juniors buzzing around about to start a tournament and there were a few tourists getting their bearings and being introduced to their caddies who would show them the way around Gullane 1 (again formidable groups of 8: 4 golfers and their accompanying caddies, were to be seen all afternoon dominating the fairways). ¬†After a rather manic interview with a friendly sounding Irish woman for a local paper in Dublin organised courtesy of my wee gem of a girlfriend back in NZ, we sat down to a hearty and much needed meal of pie, beans and chips.¬† Good Scottish tucker.¬† The barman ‚?? whose name I forget but he was a Good Man - well he was some craic indeed and before we knew it he‚??d taken a fancy to his boy from Kirkaldy (pronounced in a sharp Scottish twang as ‚??Ki-koddy‚??) JP and there were more than a few photographs of JP in his hearts top holding a rival football teams mug.¬† They‚??re a proud lot over here when it comes to football!
So now I am going to come to the two reasons why today was the kind of day that is just about impossible to beat. ¬†¬†The first, but by no means the main reason, is the golf course at Gullane (Number 1).¬†¬† The precurser being that this golf course is one that I‚??d heard very little about so had low expectations for.¬† You unsuspectingly play the first hole away from the road and towards a great big hill that in Florida they‚??d call a mountain and then are faced with a par four second which actually winds its way straight up the hill ‚?? sounds innocuous at 395 yards, but when you look at the incline, the fierce wind in our faces, and the hay that surrounds the barely 20 yard wide fairway ‚?? it‚??s some test.¬† Mark was still in tow at this stage so we were playing for an audience and he was getting some good frustrated faces as the best we could muster amongst the group was two bogey fives‚?¶
Then as you walk to the 3rd tee a magnificent view is laid out below ‚?? some 14 holes of pure golf. ¬†Holes laid out on an amazing piece of golfing terrain that enjoys spectacular view across the Firth and towards Fife.¬† These holes are some of my favourite that we‚??ve played in Scotland and more than once during the walk I thought they reminded me of NSW GC ‚?? one of my Very Favourite courses this year.¬† Like NSW the holes run in all directions (although not mathematically laid out to each point of the compass) and so the wind is always presenting a different challenge.¬† Some times you need to cut it into the wind, other times a wee draw is the play.¬† It requires real shot-making to simply keep your ball going straight.¬†¬† These 14 holes sit high above the cliffs but still are blessed with rolling undulations and the odd dune.¬† There aren‚??t any trees and the wide expanse waves in the wind as the long fescue grasses blow from side to side.¬† The greenies tried to put a spanner in the works out here when the course was developing a new hole ‚?? the par four 8th hole - because of the odd beautiful little purple orchid which are supposedly endangered but after seeing acres and acres of them around the property I think the club told the bureaucrats where to jump.¬† The 8th has turned out a treat ‚?? it‚??s an example of a newly developed hole where a visitor like myself would have no idea of it's age but for the information of our tour guides.¬† The green is flat and subtle. The bunkers fit in with the rest of the course. ¬†The hole is a strong par four but remains entirely in character. Take note M Clayton when you‚??re next (if ever) asked to tinker with another of Aussie‚??s gems.
The back nine winds its way back up to the crest of the hill where the 16th green is perched ‚?? a par five which plays downwind but uphill making yardages very difficult to calculate!¬†¬† I think it was around this point that the final nail in the coffin was placed in the fourball match by our opponents Jamie and Mike Macdonald when JP made birdie thus raising another few pounds for The First Tee. ¬†The golf snakes by the names of Patton and Macdonald who had last time out at North Berwick contrived some 9 birdies over the closing stretch to hold out Alan Melville and I had done it again. ¬†Although this time the onus was equally on the ineptitude of Alan and I.¬† Alan took a putting lesson the day after our match.. I could do with the same.
Anyway Gullane is a great track and I can see why it's made its way slowly onto the tourist roster. If you're coming out this way it's definitely worth a hit.¬† And now I come to the number one most important factor in making today the sparkling day which it was. ¬†And that, as clich√©d as it sounds, is the company that we kept.¬† Last time we played golf with Messers Melville and Macdonald out at North Berwick I left the words to your imagination as I whipped up a wee video blog.¬† This may have been because I had nothing good to say. But it wasn‚??t. Quite the opposite. These lads are two guys that could quite happily join us for every single round of golf for the year and fit in a dream.¬† Asides from both loving their golf and being handy (and competitive) players they‚??re full of life and good craic and make the round of golf seem like it‚??s taken about 2 hours (when actually we‚??ve dragged our sorry excuse for a fit healthy 25 year olds body up and down hills for 4 hours).¬† Alan, my dear partner, informed me later in the round as we were both struggling along that he‚??d managed a 75 in the monthly medal here last month. ¬†That's good golf. ¬† And Mike, well he just hits it straight sinks putts and probably was a pro a few years back but we didn‚??t go into that as life is too short to talk golf all day long. ¬†These boys are full of all kinds of interesting stories and that‚??s what makes them superb ‚?? we‚??re on the same wavelength regardless of age, occupation (Alan is a vet Mike runs a golf shop) and all that carry on. ¬†We often get asked by journalists about some of the famous or notable characters we‚??ve played with over the course of our 235 rounds to date.¬† Alan and Mike probably don‚??t fit into the famous camp but they are the epitomy of good natured golfers that make the game what it is and the kind of guys we try to explain to the journo's that make our trip and the journey what it is.¬† So boys if you‚??ve bothered to read this far down this rambled blog post I hope we can have another game or 7 in the future ‚?? Read: stop making excuses and get yourselves down to NZ where we can have some home course advantage and by that stage Alan, our putting lessons would have come to fruition and we‚??ll show the pretenders a thing or two.
[Alan (left), Mike (centre) and Jamie on the last hole at North Berwick - photographs for Gullane are courtesy of Alan's camera cheers mate!]
Dunbar is a bonnie wee village on the East Lothian coast, about 45 minutes from Edinburgh (our base camp for this week). ¬†Like more or less every other village along this stretch of coastline, Dunbar has a gorgeous¬†links¬†that‚??s been around since biblical times. ¬†The reason I know that is because the walls around and within the bounds of the course look like they were laid down by the Romans; one, because of their ancient appearance, two, because of the skilled craftsmanship apparent in their construction. ¬†I like old walls as you might have gathered. ¬†The other defining characteristic of the links at Dunbar is the very pungent nasal cavity violating aroma of seaweed that grips you for most of the journey. ¬†Its permeating quality might be matched only by the ability of cigarette smoke to find shelter in clothes and hair, and under finger nails (not that I‚??d know anything about that, being the keen athlete that I am).
I had hoped my Uncle Digger (who‚??s not a real Uncle but rather one of dad‚??s oldest and dearest pals from their days studying and generally creating mischief at Edinburgh University) would be able to join us for a game at the time I‚??d arranged with the club ‚?? he‚??s a member ‚?? but alas he was in the depths of a month long celebration of his 60th birthday. ¬†The fact that he‚??d rather be gallivanting around Scotland in a jet black vintage Morgan with his wife (Auntie Jillian), rather than play golf with me and my pal, tells us that Digger clearly has his priorities all wrong. ¬†Or not. ¬†Anyway as a result it was just Us Two On Our Todd on the links on a rather dour Monday morning. ¬†Shame, because Digger‚??s banter is sharper than a pencil sharpened carefully by a certain former school boy of the initials JDP who should have paid more attention in class instead of daydreaming while sharpening his pencil.
The start of the round was somewhat rushed, because I was trying to juggle several of many thousand commitments. ¬†The most pressing one being communications with one Kit Alexander, a gentleman who has been kind enough to do a feature on us in Today‚??s Golfer (watch this space). ¬†He was sending down a photographer to meet us the next day at Gullane for a shoot (who turned out to be a smashing lad by the name of Mark Alexander). ¬†Eventually the ‚??off‚?Ě button on the phone was held down and my attention turned as it tends to do every day to golf.
1 and 2 are short par 5s with acres of space to be errant, so young fit humans like us who can get on in two without too much bother should be at least 1 if not 2 under by the 3rd tee. ¬†That was a normative statement. ¬†Now for the reality. ¬†JP: +1, MG: Level. ¬†The ineptitude scares me even now. ¬†I drove it on the 1st into one of a couple fairway bunkers; pitched out to 150 yards; hit a very big wedge by accident onto the back edge; then proceeded to 3 putt. ¬†Mike made a mediocre par. ¬†How crap are we? ¬†Anyway as we know it‚??s not all about scoring but rather the enjoyment of the game. ¬†It was at this point that I started my love affair with Dunbar‚??s walls ‚?? having gazed across at the magnetic sandy coloured one separating the 4th from the 18th. ¬†Don‚??t hit it over that, I thought to myself, presuming it was O.B. In each case. ¬†The seed was planted.
On the 3rd tee you stand elevated some 20 feet above sea level, the clubhouse, pro shop and first 3 holes sitting below you. ¬†On a clearer day it would be a quite magnificent view. ¬†Even on this grey Monday it was enough to distract me for a few moments. ¬†The hole itself is a bonnie one; a 185 yard or so par 3 with a green guarded jealously by more of those awful sand traps (whose cousins I‚??d visited on both the 1st and 2nd). ¬†Thankfully we both escaped the bogey dust and made quite competent pars.
On the 4th tee I got an intimate view of that sandy coloured wall I mentioned. ¬†It was as impressive up close as it was from afar, if not more so. ¬†The hole ahead was more or less a straightforward one, requiring only a 2 iron and pitch. ¬†The putting ineptitude continued however and no birdies were carded. ¬†Apologies to The First Tee, who should have had a few more pounds coming their way by this stage. ¬†Pip ‚?? we‚??ll be doing some practice on the putting green over the coming days, rest assured.
The 7th hole is a magnificent spectacle. ¬†My favourite on the course without shadow of a doubt. ¬†It‚??s unusual for me to be so passionate about a dogleg right ‚?? given my natural hockey swing that‚??s conducive more to a ‚??strong draw‚?Ě (read: hook) than a gentle fade ‚?? but y‚??er man laid out a beauty in this one, making quite brilliant use of (you guessed it) a very attractive wall. ¬†The wall frames the dogleg; in the conditions you could try cutting the corner if you were reckless enough. ¬†A well struck 2 iron to the corner was a more prudent plan, although I managed to roll mine over and leave about 200 yards for my (blind) approach. ¬†As you round the corner ‚?? you can‚??t see over it because the wall is a good 8 feet high ‚?? the top of a flag flirts with the horizon, being a rise 30 yards short of the putting surface. ¬†On the line to the flag is a bastard bunker cut into the face of the rise. ¬†And to the left is a very ancient looking shelter. ¬†It‚??s a gorgeous wee vista. ¬†(Little did I know that behind the bunker visible on the horizon was another sod of a pot on the front right of the green, directly in front of where the pin was cut). ¬†My purely struck 5 iron sailing over the first bunker went straight into the second. ¬†Dam it all. ¬†Justice my friends you will be pleased to know prevailed and a par was made. ¬†Mike hit two block cut 2 irons over the wall and ended his encounter with the hole there and then. ¬†Walls thus weren‚??t as high in his opinion as they were in mine.
On the 10th green you find yourself at the furthest point from the clubhouse, looking south east towards a Soviet-like factory of some sort (steelworks?). ¬†Not one of the bonniest sights we‚??ve seen of late by any stretch of the imagination. ¬†But then again you‚??ve got to put these monstrosities somewhere. ¬†More striking ‚?? in a positive light ‚?? was another little construction between 10 tee and 11 green, perhaps once a greenkeepers shed or even a house. ¬†(It was more or less a ruin).
Along the back nine are some lovely views of the coastline. ¬†I imagine. ¬†I couldn‚??t see a thing because my eyes were watering from the all consuming smell of seaweed. ¬†Much as the Koreans ferment cabbage to create ¬†the delicacy kimchi I suspect a menacing Dunbaronian (correct proper noun?) was putting his high school chemistry expertise to potent effect. ¬†Even breathing only through my mouth for several holes on end the seaweed had its horrible way with me. ¬†I never liked the stuff as a kid ‚?? the fear being struck into me the moment a tentacle grabbed my feet as I swam innocently in the harbour at Portnoo ‚?? and our relationship has never improved since. ¬†But never before has its smell been impressed upon me so acutely. ¬†Right up there in my delicate nostrils. ¬†People eat this stuff???
Remember that seed I planted earlier, about not hitting it over That Wall. ¬†Well. ¬†On 18 the bugger germinated. ¬†Yes, I hit it over the wall. ¬†On the bounce! ¬†How you can bounce over an 8 foot high wall I have no idea ‚?? especially with the penetrating ball flight of my 7.5 degree driver ‚?? but there you go. ¬†Och. ¬†It should have come as no surprise. ¬†Because at all the iconic holes I‚??ve done the thing you‚??re not supposed to do. ¬†At Prestwick I hit it over the wall on the 1st (with my approach!); at St. Andrews I hit it in the road hole bunker (but got up and down!); at Cypress I hit it on the beach on the 16th (before going into the ice plant!); and so on and so forth. ¬†It still remains to be answered whether this is all fate, or whether I‚??m just a fool. ¬†‚??The latter!‚?Ě I hear you all chorus...
Anyway. ¬†I think in part due to my gallus character this all amuses me. ¬†Seeing my ball bouncing over that lovely sandy wall was not a tragic occasion but a funny one, ¬†If you can‚??t laugh about your misfortune in golf then you‚??re doomed. ¬†I sort of got my own back anyway on the 18th, by thrashing a driver straight down the middle Matt Cleary styles for my 3rd, then drained a 25 footer for a second ball birdie, and a 73 in total. ¬†I hold no grudge against the wall and wish it all the very best of health for the next thousand years.
Dunbar like Billy Connolly has character. ¬†It‚??s a place you won‚??t forget playing in a hurry. ¬†And a place you should go if you like old walls or the smell of seaweed. ¬†
Whilst JP was off performing his duties as an usher and celebrating the wedding of his old mate Hamish to his bride Gillian, Ed and I were chilling out in Burntisland and guarding the homestead of Dunerne ‚?? Hamish' family digs.¬† Waking up and looking out the window across the Firth of Forth visibility was limited.¬† Panic overcame me (briefly) as I‚??d seen the delays simultaneously playing out across the pond at Whistling Straits for the PGA Championship.¬† But as the day progressed and we packed our belongings the fog burnt off and we were treated to possibly the finest day yet of the Scottish summer. ¬†Public had flocked to the water below and folk were out sunbathing left right and centre.¬† It was 25 degrees Celsius.
So Bouden and I went sight seeing on the way to pick up the Patton clan from the pleasant wee village of Bridge of Allan where the after match of the wedding was taking place.¬† On the way we visited the William Wallace monument [2 below] and took in some views across the ‚??bonnie‚?? Scottish countryside out across Stirling, Bridge of Allan and right out across the country to Loch Lomond in the distance.
At Bridge of Allan we picked up Jamie and Connor and crammed in to the wee mercedes aka the tank en route to Gleneagles for take two ‚?? the Queens course.¬† Connor took the front seat as it‚??s just not practical any other way ‚?? monster of a man.
At Gleneagles we FINALLY met the famous Mr Graeme Pook who had dug us out of trouble on a couple of occasions during our Scottish leg to date. A banterous chap from these parts who has plied his trade a golfing professional growing up in Sterling and then living in Gleneagles as he took on the European tour for some 6 years or so.¬† But now, as you may have read if paying any attention in prior blog posts, Mr Pook runs a golf touring company called Executive Golf & Leisure.¬† Pooky as we quickly knew him as is one of those guys who it‚??s bloody hard not to get on with.¬† Quality chap, great humour and is very much on the wave length of us two traveling golfers.¬† Knows his stuff as well ‚?? as he has helped golfing enthusiasts travel the globe playing some special tracks.
So the three of us set out at to tackle the Queens layout which is much more feminine the than the neighbouring Kings track.¬† At par 67 and measuring barely 6000 yards it is a different type of golf to the lengthy layout that beat us up yesterday. Needless to say after losing a swag of golf balls on the Kings (and subsequently being low on our collection) ¬†it was a case of ‚??keep the driver in the bag‚?? and knock it around with 2 iron keeping the ball in play.
[the par four 12th cracking hole to a blind green protected by bunkers / hills AND trees!!]
[looking back down the sole par five on the front nine - check out that conditioning]
Keeping it in play was the the least of our worries on the Queens as the defense of the course primarily lay around the greens and surrounds.¬† Holes like 3 and 9 had some gnarly greens with slopes (often away from you) that made a birdie a fine feat indeed. ¬†More than a few par threes also made life tough as more than a few of them required a 6 iron + off the tee. ¬†JP had the added bonus of having a caddy as younger bro Connor did a fine job carrying his sticks.¬† Reminded me of that caddy from Happy Gilmore at times as he peacefully wandered around the course looking a little worse for wear after a blinder at the wedding.¬† Wouldn‚??t dare say that to Connor though. He‚??s bigger than me ‚?? heard he had a good debut for his new rugby side Celkirk this weekend so hopefully we see him at higher honours at some stage soon.¬† Speaking of caddies ‚?? Ed ‚?? well he did not carry any bags - simply enjoyed the walk and asked the odd inquisitive question of the type that could be expected of a lawyer intrigued by a smart and affable man like Pooky who makes a living out of something as extraordinary as running golf tours.¬† Brilliant.
[the rolling hills in the background behind this drivable par four 15th which all of us birdied]
So as you can imagine the 5 of us lads had a fair bit of fun out on the course and in my instance it was helped by the skins match that happened to be falling in my favour.¬† Perhaps the quiet night in (as opposed to the other two) had something to do with it.¬† Also, I there were no excuses with the course ‚?? lush conditioning, greens as pure as they come and some sparkling local knowledge from Mr Pook. ¬†The kind of high standards that are associated with a place like Gleneagles. You're not going be disappointed by the simple things out here at this high end establishment. ¬†
[looking back down the par three 14th - one of three short holes on the back nine, and this one has a huge tier in the green. A cheeky 2 helped the fundraising efforts too]
On the last we learnt a trick shot - a first for puregolf2010.¬† Pooky said to us in his Scottish brogue, ‚??when it‚??s really windy boys, you need to lower your centre of gravity‚?? and with that his 5 foot 4 frame shrunk to merely 3 feet high as down on his knees he swing his driver with all his might 230 yards straight down the middle of the fairway. From his knees!!!¬†¬† We both tried thie trick ‚?? JP put his back out, and I had a gin shot. ¬†All class. ¬† Respect for our man Graeme.
We finished the last with three pars and crammed our gear into The Tank and nicked up to Graeme‚??s place on the hillside overlooking Gleneagles and Anstruther for a quick beer in his conservatory which enjoyed a magestic view across 60 miles of countryside. ¬†You can see why this area of Scotland attracts the rich and famous. It's pristine and best of all peaceful. And only a short trip from the main belt of population in Scotland between Edinburgh and Glasgow. ¬† Chatting in the conservatory we rang an old mutual friend - Brian Dorn from the Bay Hill Club in Florida and bantered about golf and his impending trip to Gleneagles. ¬†A fitting way to end a great day.¬† Thanks Graeme for helping us out with a couple of days of golf, thanks to Gleneagles for having us and congratulations Hamish on the wedding and the whanau for having both Ed and I to stay during this hectic time ¬†¬†Another great weekend completed although here golf was not always the top priority - but I guess that‚??s a good thing for a change!!!¬† Now off to Edinburgh to enjoy the festival and some golf down on the East Lothian coast.
We seem to have packed in all sorts of extra-curricular activities this year. ¬†Like sight seeing. ¬†Or even milking cows. ¬†It wasn‚??t until today that I‚??d also squeezed in a wedding. ¬†Not just any wedding either ‚?? this was the day my oldest friend, Hamish (whom I‚??ve known really since birth) tied the knot. ¬†And I was one of his ushers. ¬†So I had lots to do before, during and after the Main Event! ¬†Plus, of course, there had to be some golf in there too.
As fate would have it, one of the nearest golf spots to the wedding venue was a place called Gleneagles. ¬†It‚??s quite good. ¬†Pooky kindly organised for us to play The Kings Course at 7.50am, giving me 4 hours and 10 minutes to get round; get cleaned up; and get myself 20 minutes down the road to Dunblane where everyone was to congregate before the wedding. ¬†That didn‚??t sound like enough time for me, so we set off at a shade before 6 from Hamish‚??s parents place in Fife, to arrive at Gleneagles before 7 (the thinking being that we might be able to swap our tee time for an earlier one). ¬†Luck was on our side: someone had cancelled their 7am tee time, so Michael, myself and Big Ed got off first thing with no one ahead of us. ¬†Perfect.
We met with the Starter; got our little goody bags, yardage books and the like; then teed off on that familiar first hole. ¬†I‚??d been here once before as a 9 year old to watch the Bell‚??s Scottish Open, and remember being quite impressed with the whole thing. ¬†In those days it was Monty & Woosy doing battle ‚?? now those boys will soon be on the Seniors Tour if they aren‚??t already (I don‚??t watch much golf...). ¬†
It wasn‚??t a bluebird day, but the sun was certainly threatening to reveal itself. ¬†Once you reach the elevated 2nd tee you get the first of many stunning views across the Perthshire region; Gleneagles seems to sit in the middle of a huge basin which reminded me at times of New Zealand. ¬†On the estate were beautifully mature trees, red deer and a bunch of birds that wouldn‚??t shut up while I was putting. ¬†So I had them shot.
Walking down (or up, rather) the first fairway I remember thinking to myself how surreal the whole experience was, playing The Kings Course at Gleneagles early in the morning on the day when your oldest pal is getting married. ¬†The excitement combined with my mild exhaustion (Hamish and I had sat up the night before with a bottle of whisky to have a proper catch up on life) was an unusual one ‚?? almost like Christmas morning as a kid when you‚??d woken up at 4am to open your presents.
The exhaustion side of things however appeared to be causing problems with my putting (at least that‚??s my excuse anyway) - right from the outset. ¬†On the 1st I had 10 feet for birdie across a rather severe slope, and missed my 6 footer coming back to card a frustrating opening bogey. ¬†Then I 3 putted the 3rd. ¬†And the 4th. ¬†And so on and so forth. ¬†Good ball striking doesn‚??t help much when you can‚??t tap the wee thing in the hole with a respectable number of strokes (1 or 2). ¬†My putter might‚??ve got confused and thought Ed was using it. ¬†Ah well ‚?? I just enjoyed the company of my cursing friends (Ed having seemed to pull hook his first tee shot off every tee then snap cut the next) and the bonnie scenery all around me. ¬†Gleneagles as I said before is quite beautiful.
The Kings Course isn‚??t a forgiving creature. ¬†James Braid laid out a very varied course with undulations aplenty and trouble even more so. ¬†The bracken is omnipresent and trees in play every now and then. ¬†Not a course for driving it like Big Ed did. ¬†It was almost a surprise when after hitting a shot he didn‚??t have a yelp. ¬†I think the amusement softened the blow of all the 3 putting...
Pooky names The Kings as his favourite course in the world, just ahead of Pine Valley. ¬†While I wouldn‚??t tend to agree with him on that one, I do think it‚??s something of a masterpiece. ¬†It‚??s the sort of course that ankle taps you (something I‚??ve talked before in posts on clever layouts), and because it‚??s reasonably short it can be played by most golfers. ¬†You‚??ve just gotta be a bit straight. ¬†And not 3 putt every green! ¬†
Our skins match was honours even between Goldy and me going down the 18th, Goldy snatching a bunch of skins down the stretch with back-to-back birdies after doing nothing spectacular for the first 14 holes or so. ¬†(We played that annoying format where the first 6 are worth 1 skin each, the second 6 worth 2 and the final 6 worth 3). ¬†Then the icing was laid on the cake. ¬†He pulled his drive 30 yards over the bracken on the huge hill at 270 yards, into what looked Hell. ¬†I hit a sensible 3 wood down the middle then another one down near the green. ¬†The bracken however stopped at the crest of the hill and Mike found himself in good shape. ¬†He knocked a long iron into the greenside bunker then flopped it out to 25 feet. ¬†I had an easy pitch but it checked up early on the front edge. ¬†Then I 3 putted one final time to hand him the match. ¬†To be fair the writing was on the wall from the start. ¬†Bah humbug.
But I had a wedding to go to. ¬†And some plush facilities to make the most of beforehand. ¬†So off to the amazing showers I went, then into the sauna (I passed on the Turkish Baths). ¬†To keep up appearances I even had a shave! ¬†While all the other chaps in the locker room were chucking on their spikes and Titleist caps, I was strapping my kilt on and doing my best to look like an authentic Scot. ¬†These boys must‚??ve wondered what the hell was going on. ¬†
With plenty time to burn we jumped into the car and found ourselves at Dunblane hyrdo, where I was duly dropped. ¬†Then all hell broke loose and in the midst of it all Hamish got married. ¬†But I won‚??t bore you with all of that. ¬†Here's a photo of Hamish & his gorgeous bride Gillian though, in the red Morgan he hired for the weekend. ¬†Doesn't the lad look happy.
Not that you read the blog Hamish, but if you are - congraulations my friend. ¬†I can't believe you managed to find a girl crazy enough to marry you, but fair play to you and commiserations to Gillian all the same...
At last: The Old Course blog. ¬†(It's been a manic few days, sorry).
We'd been looking forward to this day all year. ¬†Well, that‚??s not entirely accurate. ¬†In recent weeks it was looking like we wouldn‚??t get a chance to play The Old Course; in fact we‚??d almost resigned ourselves to the fact that it wasn‚??t going to happen. ¬†As most of you will know it‚??s not the easiest ticket in golf to get. ¬†The uncertainty of the ballot doesn‚??t sit comfortably with our imperative of having to play golf every day. ¬†And so it was a very welcome surprise indeed (very welcome doesn‚??t quite cover it) when one Graeme Pook fired through an email that went something like this:
‚??Chaps are you fixed up to play either of the below? ¬†I can help if you‚??re interested... ¬†
10th August: ¬†St. Andrews (Jubilee) - 7.36am
11th August: ¬†St. Andrews (Old) - 7.30am...‚?Ě
Well blow me down. ¬†Graeme‚??s a champion among men who runs Executive Golf & Leisure, and he‚??s been good natured enough to help tee up a few of our fixtures in Scotland (The Carnegie Club, Gleneagles King & Queen, Machrihanish & Machrihanish Dunes). ¬†Then came Possibly The Most Exciting Email Ever Sent. ¬†I replied that sorry, but I was planning on having a lie on the 11th. ¬†7.30 is a terribly anti-social time to be walking some old links where the greenkeepers have always been too lazy to cut 18 individual greens. ¬†Then good sense prevailed and I took him up on his kind offer.
I remember back to The Early Days of puregolf2010, when Mike would always answer the ‚??what course are you looking forward to the most‚?Ě question with St. Andrews. ¬†(My answer was and continues to be Royal County Down). ¬†Well fair enough: it‚??s The Home of Golf; the site of many a historic moment and one or two rounds of golf across the centuries. ¬†I won‚??t delve into the history of the place because 1. It would take too long; and 2. ¬†There‚??s too great a risk that I‚??d fudge a detail or two, thus being condemned to wearing the dunce hat by the 6 billion golf afficionados Out There. ¬†Suffice to stay it‚??s steeped in history and something of a golf Mecca. ¬†Golfers talk about their pilgrimages here for years, even decades. ¬†Pooky helps make those pilgrimages possibile, which must give him a buzz.
[Mike and me by the Starter's Hut]
[Mike, Ed and me in front of the R&A clubhouse]
On Old Course Eve, I must confess, I hardly gave a thought to the fact that we would be on that famed first tee in the morning. ¬†Because I was playing Carnoustie. ¬†Which was Brilliant. ¬†But when the alarm went off at some unGodly hour, I knew. ¬†I knew that I was about to tee it up in front of the widest fairway in Open golf; play over the Swilken Burn; do my best to dodge Hell and Shell bunkers; hit a few 100 feet putts; tee off blind over what looks like an endless stretch of gorse and tussock; blast one over The Old Course Hotel; dig myself out of The Road Hole Bunker; try to drive the 18th green; pitch over The Valley of Sin; then finish out in front of some of the most recognisable buildings in the game.
[Swilken Burn in foreground; 1 and 18 behind]
Yes The Old Course lived up to the hype. ¬†It was an equally unique and magnificent experience, something we‚??ll both remember until we stop breathing. ¬†Our playing partners were a lovely Swiss couple ‚?? Duri and Elizabeth ‚?? over on one of Pooky‚??s tours. ¬†They too had played a few of the courses that we‚??ve been fortunate enough to visit in recent weeks; and they had plenty of chat to boot. ¬†Among the better humoured Swiss that I‚??ve met. ¬†So we had a famous time. ¬†Big Ed walked around with us too, taking a snap or three along the way (but not unfortunately carrying my bag). ¬†Lazy blighter. ¬†
The South African (?) gentleman who might be described either as The Starter or as a maitre de was a gentleman, putting us at ease as much as he could. ¬†Scores of photos were taking of us on the first tee, in front of the R&A clubhouse ‚?? in a myriad number of poses. ¬†They know what it means to stand on the 1st at St Andrews with a 2 iron in your hand, about to get under way. ¬†With 2 iron in hand I then took a few deep breaths and tried not to sh*nk one into the still standing grandstands. ¬†Much to my delight ‚?? or relief, rather ‚?? the wee white thing disappeared somewhere off to the left onto the 18th. ¬†Not a vintage golf shot but In Play and that was all that counted at that moment. ¬†Mike took a much more dicey line down the right but ended up safely within bounds. ¬†17 and a half holes to go; this game is easy.
The way the fringes are mown at The Old Course, it can be hard to make out the border between fairway and green. ¬†So you find yourself opting without much thought for the putter from quite significant distances. ¬†Most people that have played the course would‚??ve hit a 30 or 40 yard putt I‚??m sure. ¬†I struck my first on the first, after a punch 7 iron caught the wind and only just flew the Swilken Burn. ¬†At this point you still can‚??t quite believe you‚??re playing The Old Course. ¬†You‚??re looking around; the holes look like the holes you‚??ve seen on TV or even at The Open; everything is familiar ‚?? yet you still have that This Must Be Happening To Someone Else feeling. ¬†At times you wish it was someone else standing over your putts.
[A nasty pot bunker]
We didn‚??t take a caddie, but Elizabeth did. ¬†Chris was an Edinburgh lad of few words ‚?? in fact the first time I think I heard him speak was on the 3rd when he told Duri to stop looking for his ball in the rough because we had to keep up with the group in front! ¬†Duri wasn‚??t best pleased; Chris was quite insistent, to the point of being stern. ¬†I wondered whether Chris would be getting a gratuity at the end. ¬†He had a point though.
On the 2nd hole you walk past that big mustard building with the words ‚??The Old Course Hotel‚?Ě scribbled across it. ¬†A very impressive sight let me tell you. ¬†You‚??re also gazing across to the 17th, wondering what it‚??s going to have in store for you in a couple of hours time. ¬†In the back of your mind are a few less than optimistic scenarios. ¬†But you focus on the task at hand and try to avoid the myriad pot bunkers ‚?? some of which face ‚??the wrong way‚?Ě (because the course used to be played the other way around). ¬†Ed utters a word or two of encouragement but still shows no aspirations to carry a bag. ¬†I tell him what I think of his laziness but our friendship remains intact for the moment.
The blind tee shots you hit along the front are intimidating to say the least. ¬†You soon realise though that the fairways behind the gorse ‚?? being double fairways ‚?? are as generous as Bill Gates. ¬†Gents‚?? advice to stay left proved useful, and thankfully the driver was behaving relatively well. ¬†From the fairway all you need to do is knock it onto the gargantuan greens and sink the odd putt. ¬†Easy enough. ¬†Ha!
Come the 6th hole I had my first Old Course moment. ¬†By that I mean I couldn‚??t have been playing anywhere else. ¬†After one of my better tee shots I had lob wedge in hand and birdie in my head. ¬†The uphill lie under my eyes must‚??ve made me overcompensate because I thinned the ball 50 yards long left of the pin. ¬†It was still on the edge of the green! ¬†It‚??s a weird bringing your putter head back more or less parallel with your waist but that‚??s what was needed. ¬†Got it within 10 feet but left the par putt in the jaws. ¬†Sod it.
¬†Shell Bunker is a terrifying creature of sadism that I‚??d glared at in disbelief during The Open. ¬†It sits on the short 7th hole at about 295 yards from the (blind) tee. ¬†After 3 putting the 6th there was no doubt that the big stick was coming out ‚?? Shell Bunker or No Shell Bunker. ¬†Wind slightly at my back I killed one more or less on the line I had intended (which rarely happens after a 3 putt) and expected to be in the sand or near it. ¬†Marching over the hill my ball was nowhere to be seen so my fears heightened. ¬†A 50 yard bunker shot out of That ‚?? to a green as undulating as the 7th, especially at the back where the pin was tucked ‚?? could be tormenting. ¬†But. ¬†5 yards long and left of Shell was a wee swail. ¬†In that swail was my pill ‚?? HOORAY! ¬†Not that I managed to get up and down for birdie through the Alps but never mind that. ¬†
By the end of the front 9 the clouds were starting to roll in from the south west. ¬†Not nice clouds either. ¬†Our spirits unlike our clothes couldn‚??t be dampened though, no Sir. ¬†We were hacking it ‚??round the most famous course in the world. ¬†There were even some good shots being played too. ¬†
[Approach to 10]
[11 tee - Shell Bunker visible on right of picture, guarding 7 green (and very errant shots on 11 for that matter)]
[Zoomed in shot of 11, a gnarly par 3]
Part of the thrill of playing St. Andrews is the anticipation of what exactly is going to happen to your ball once you hit it. ¬†On shots where you can see it land there‚??s invariably enough undulation to keep it running in one way or another for as long as it flew. ¬†Hidden trouble ‚?? like the bunkers in the middle of the 12th fairway ‚?? also adds to the tension. ¬†Then there‚??s the totally blind shots where you have no idea what‚??s going on until you march over gorse or dune. ¬†Never a dull moment.
[Goldy on 13 tee]
[Hell Bunker on 14]
Elizabeth God Bless Her was doing wonderfully well for someone who doesn‚??t hit it as far as others. ¬†Thanks to some very deft short game she ground out a few pars and bogeys when phone number scores could‚??ve been possible. ¬†
[16 green; Old Course Hotel in background]
Eventually we arrived at The Road Hole. ¬†There‚??s no other tee shot like it. ¬†I was standing one over par thinking ‚??if I birdie 17 and 18 I card Under Par Round #1 for the year...at The Home of Golf.‚?Ě ¬†Then I got real. ¬†And pulled it into the thickest rough on the course! ¬†My provisional sailed handsomely over the apex of the Hotel, probably landing somewhere in the garden of The Jigger. ¬†Mike hit a memorable Phil Mickelson like power fade down the middle ‚?? a very impressive blow indeed. ¬†Whether sadly or otherwise, I found my first and tried to hack out with an 8 iron. ¬†Some grass I pulled up went further than the ball, then I hacked out again into the road bunker. ¬†I was almost willing it into the bunker as I saw it fly left. ¬†Such things you must do at least once.
[17 tee - the most thrilling in golf?]
[Elizabeth on 17 tee - dressed for the occasion like a Navy Seal...]
To add to the comedy, my ball was up against the lip, requiring an almost vertical flip to get out onto the putting surface. ¬†It wasn‚??t even any easier to come out the wrong way. ¬†My heels were dug into the revetted face (the pin being front right); then I closed my eyes and hoped for the best. ¬†Gracious it flew up and out, to about 20 feet. ¬†A left to right putt isn‚??t usually my strength, but this one ducked mercifully into the middle of the cup, giving me an agricultural 5. ¬†Poor Mike 3 putted from off the front for the same score. ¬†What a great hole though.
[Looking back down 17 from behind the green]
It‚??s quite a sensation standing on 18 where you‚??ve seen Watson and Woods and Nicklaus and the like standing. ¬†A huge fairway lies ahead; it almost seems too big to miss. ¬†Almost. ¬†My miss in recent times has been the block, which could‚??ve been destructive. ¬†I aimed at the right edge of the R&A clubhouse and swung for dear life. ¬†Close but no cigar ‚?? I came up about 50 short. ¬†Mike hit a good one too and was a few yards away from me. ¬†Could we finish with a memorable birdie to round off a special special day? ¬†
[Ed and me on the Swilken Bridge]
The march over the Swilken bridge was, well, like walking over a bridge. ¬†I‚??d walked over it before on past visits to St Andrews, but I suspect Goldy had a few more hairs on the neck given it was his first time here. ¬†Being good Japanese tourists we took a good few obligatory snaps then hurried along as the rain was falling harder by the minute. ¬†Rusacks Hotel and the famous club rooms were on our right, as was the Old Tom Morris shop. ¬†The grandstands were still to our left. ¬†And the R&A clubhouse was ahead, next to that big sandstone building whose name escapes me. ¬†A real stadium feel.
50 yards over the Valley of Sin to a back left pin. ¬†Thin lob wedge anyone? ¬†Things could go wrong. ¬†But they didn‚??t and I managed a memorable birdie for a 73. ¬†Mike missed out but had a respectable 77 nonetheless. ¬†More importantly we had a phenomenal time and can now say we‚??ve played at The Home of Golf. ¬†For this we owe a huge thank you to Pooky and The Golfing Gods. ¬†And to our new Swiss friends for a lovely lunch in the New Clubhouse afterwards, once we‚??d got dried off. ¬†
To All Yous Golfers: ¬†if you love the game, do your level best to get here at some point. ¬†It‚??s a hallowed place and a tremendously fun golf course to play. ¬†Take photos by all means, but the memories will be etched vividly in your psyche for years to come. ¬†I can remember every second. ¬†Fond memories indeed.
After a great nights sleep in the highland tourist town of Braemar we took to the roads to make it to Blairgowrie where a 1042am tee time on the Alister Mackenzie designed Rosemount course awaited us.
After scooting through the highland roads in the merc, through a couple of Scottish ski areas such as Glenshee and Cairngorm we emerged in Blairgowrie ¬†a township situated in the northern part of the Perthshire district.
Greeting us was the familiar face of Marc Gentles ‚?? our pal from St Andrews, and his colleague who also keeps occupied by keeping the Old Course in tip top shape - Gavin.¬†¬† After a steady steam of rain all morning, the skies lightened some time between going in to change my shoes in the locker room and making it to the first tee.¬† Perfect.
The first hole was a rude awakening. After playing a couple of short tracks yesterday our ‚??warm up‚?? hole was a 438 yard dog leg left to a green surrounded by bunkers.¬† No time to loosen up and definitely no practice balls but we‚??re used to that now in Scotland.¬† The second hole said ‚??welcome to a MacKenzie course‚??. If the brown sand was turned a shade of white and the heather around the bunker edges turned into fescue, we could have been back at the Meadow Club on day 131‚?¶ Although even compared to San Francisco (the worst winter I ever had was that summer in San Francisco‚?¶) the temperature was cool and the jerseys were firmly still on.
The haggle? Gents and I against the pretenders.¬† Gents, coming off a 65 at the new course last week (read: this boy should stop messing around and become a pro golfer as he sure can play) was always going to be the trump card so when the balls came down I was safe in the knowledge that my partner had strong shoulders need I be carried for a few holes...¬†
The course reeked Mackenzie.¬† Most of the holes had widish fairways with half the bunkers guiding the way and the other half acting mainly as a visual deterrent. ¬†If I got a pound for every time someone said one of the cross bunkers that were often 30-40 yards short of the green ma de the hole look deceptively short, I would have left the course a rich man.¬† A few of the green complexes reminded us of Pasatiempo ‚?? for me the par three 17th sat back up at the tee almost like the famous 16th green at Pasatiempo.¬† The only issue was that the greens were rolling at about a 7 on the stint meter and therefore did not play as A. Mac. probably would have liked ‚?? navigating the slopes on and around the greens required far less skill to conquer than they ordinarily would.¬†
Some excitement happened early in the round after a string of a few pars had Gents and I out of the box running.¬† From about 100 yards out on the par five 5th ¬†hole, after pitching out of the heather, I managed to hole out with my trusty gap wedge and thereby break my Scotland Eagle Drought.¬† Finally!¬† It‚??s a crazy game ‚?? I‚??ve had all kinds of putts for eagle over the last month and missed them all but then this!¬† 30 pounds for The First Tee (10 from each of our donors ‚?? we‚??re currently looking for donors to take part in the Irish Birdie Challenge starting at Royal Belfast on 27 August!!!).
Another unusual feature of MacKenzie courses that popped up at Rosemount is back to back par fives ‚?? here on holes 10 and 11.¬† Back to back long holes is a great way to make or break your round particularly when each hole weaves through the trees and heather meaning that there is a premium placed on hitting the fairway.¬† Gents ate up the par fives hitting short irons into many of them and if he could putt would have been about 6 under through the stretch of four of them between the 5th and 14th holes.
Another cool hole followed the set of par fives ‚?? the 290 yard par four 12th.¬† MacKenzie at his best with bunkering everywhere and a huge element of risk reward if you try to drive the green. Gents went with the reward option missing his 4th eagle putt of the round whilst JP and I went for the ‚??risk‚?? option and managed to scrap out pars from all kinds of places you‚??re not supposed to visit.
Turning for the last four we were warned by the local lads that we were in for a treat of a finish.¬† I was hoping they wouldn‚??t be too difficult as after choking yesterday on going under par I was hoping to crack the nut again today by coming in with a birdie and a few pars.¬† The 15th didn‚??t disappoint - a short wedge to a tiered green sunk below a front bunker that blocked out the bottom of the pin and thus impacted our perception of distance.¬† We all flew it over the pin but Gavin and I were lucky enough to sneak our putts in ‚?? to half the first hole of the double or quits match (the main affair had been completed courtesy of another of Gents two putt birdies on the par five 14th).
16 was another gem of a par five snaking around a bonnie loch to a bowl green some 470 yards away.¬†¬† It‚??s really probably a par four-and-a-half (like many of the par fives here).¬† 17 again has a spectacular green and then 18 snakes down to the right although I missed that completely after playing down the first fairway‚?¶. Missing it big is key.¬† A putt for -1 on the last hole lipped out and so for a second day it wasn‚??t to be.¬† Gents on the other hand bottled a three footer to miss out on an under par round, but it was some display of golf after his horrendous start had him 4 over through 4.
As we finished out on the last and went in for a shower the rain begun.¬† Wet rain. People were fleeing the course and it looked unpleasant.¬† Again, it was perfect timing as we sat in the pristine clubhouse and had a spot of lunch before our drive through to Dundee in the afternoon.¬† Carnoustie tomorrow ‚?? better get a good nights sleep!
Royal Dornoch though revered and legendary and brilliant and gorgeous and all of the above, is actually quite a down to earth place. ¬†Many of the Great Clubs of the World are. ¬†If I‚??m not speaking out of turn, the club‚??s modest website gives little indication that visitors and members alike have the privilege of experiencing one of golf‚??s true pleasures. ¬†That‚??s part of Dornoch‚??s charm. ¬†It doesn‚??t blow its own trumpet or tell you that it‚??s one of the best clubs in the world ‚?? it just is. ¬†There‚??s a lot to be said for modesty.
The club is steeped in history (aptly paraphrased on the website), its roots being traced back to The Year Of Our Lord 1616 ‚?? making it the 3rd oldest club in Scotland, after St. Andrews and Leith. ¬†In 1877 it was formed as The Royal Dornoch Golf Club (its previous incarnation being the The Sutherland Golfing Society, which played on the links at Dornoch and down the road at Golspie); in 1906 the club received the Royal Decree. ¬†Despite being titled it can rightly claim ‚?? as it does ‚?? ‚??to exceed the expectations of [their] frequent visitors and loyal members...in a relaxed, informal environment, with an emphasis on traditional highland hospitality.‚?Ě ¬†The first member of staff we met was George, the Starter ‚?? an aged gentleman who‚??s been in Dornoch ‚??all [his] life‚?Ě. ¬†Because ours was the first tee time on a fine Saturday morning (7.30am), George was out raising the flags and getting ready for the day ahead. ¬†We got chatting and were it not for the golf we mightn‚??t have stopped until lunch. ¬†A lovely old guy, proud of Royal Dornoch and to be associated with it. ¬†
Speaking of nice Highland chaps, I must mention John. ¬†The Royal Marine Hotel ‚?? which kindly put us up last night at the eleventh hour in a lovely suite ‚?? allowed us to sneak an early breakfast before hitting the road. ¬†(I trust Michael has told you in yesterday‚??s blog about the kindness of Joan, the General Manager; the wonderfully traditional sitting room and lobby with walls covered in golf memorabilia and photos of Royal Visits; the awesome leisure facilities; and the generally welcoming ambience of the RMH ‚?? a wonderful example of Highland Hospitality). ¬†John took care of us while we shovelled in as many calories as we could in 15 minutes or so. ¬†He couldn‚??t help us enough ‚?? and tried to fill our pockets with as much as we could take away, to last us the day! ¬†Just the sort of boost you need when you‚??re low on energy. ¬†John could teach most people in the hospitality industry a thing or two...
The words of wisdom from the pro, and from George, were to keep it on the fairway and aim for the middle of the greens. ¬†Pretty standard stuff, you might say, but their words really resonated once we‚??d had a chance to see a few of the greens... (a bit like how Kenny Thompson told me at Prestwick, ‚??you‚??ll either find [your ball] or you won‚??t‚?Ě when it crashed into the heather). ¬†Call them up turned saucers; describe them as crowned ‚?? whatever. ¬†In plain English: they tend to fall away from nearly every angle. ¬†The landing areas then are much smaller than you think ‚?? and Texas Wedging is particularly tricky because your uphill putt often goes downhill before it reaches the hole, making speed Key. ¬†This is where Donald Ross plied his trade as Professional and Head Greenkeeper before making his name over The Pond. ¬†It‚??s easy to see where he drew his inspiration (though there is a school of thought that claims Ross‚?? Pinehurst No.2 greens were originally bowl shaped ‚?? quite the opposite to their current state ‚?? and so his signature design mark is really a fallacy). ¬†
Anyway enough on that. ¬†The beauty of this place is what I most want to impress upon you Dear Reader. ¬†First I want to say that there‚??s no better time to play than at 7.30am as the first group out. ¬†The air had a gentle bite to it, but the sun peering through the clouds over the North Sea would soon make its glow felt. ¬†Wind as it generally is was tame during this first stanza of day (take note Tim Borren!). ¬†I felt like the town and the golf course, like me, was just waking up. ¬†Even the gorse managed to look graceful in this soft light (though it soon revealed its true character). ¬†We teed off with scarcely a soul in sight, at once excited and contented. ¬†It‚??s in this euphoric state that I enjoy my golf most.
Holes 1 and 2 warm you up before the golf course famously opens up before you on the walk to the 3rd tee. ¬†On 2 I had my first encounter with a Dornoch pot bunker, my ball nestling in a spot from which even Seve couldn‚??t have made par. ¬†Mike on the other hand hit a glorious towering short iron to a couple of feet and knocked in his first of 3 impressive birdies on the par 3s. ¬†
[View from behind the 3rd tee]
5 is a great little par 4, one of the best we‚??ve played in Scotland. ¬†You hike up to the tee and find yourself presiding over a view that‚??s hard to describe as anything other than stunning. ¬†When you steady yourself you have options. ¬†From the yellows (which we were forced to play since they were keeping the whites pristine for a tournament commencing the next day), it‚??s only 350 or so ‚?? and with the drop in elevation you could get on with a good 3 wood or mellow driver. ¬†But. ¬†The green is plateau‚??d (one of those terms that I‚??ve never been sure about ‚?? is it a proper word?) and guarded at the front by a smattering of pots covering every angle. ¬†Mike hit a 2 iron that danced around the lip of one of ‚??em; I laid back with a 5 iron to leave a full lob wedge. ¬†No birdies for either of us ‚?? but, I guess, no doubles either... ¬†In the wind this could be torturous. ¬†The fairway slopes towards 3 pots on right hand side in the lay up zone too, which you want to avoid at all costs ‚?? a beautifully designed hole. ¬†Well done Tam. ¬†As the website notes, ‚??Position of flag dictates best line from tee.‚?Ě
I love the description of the very Scottish sounding 6th hole (‚??Whinny Brae‚?Ě - pictured below): ¬†Par 3, 163 yards. Plateau green built into hillside. Thick whins on hillside on left, also 3 bunkers on left edge of green. Large bunker at right of slope at entrance to green. Steep fall of 12ft. at rear and right of green.‚?Ě ¬†Only in Scotland can they make a 9 iron sound so difficult... ¬†In fact if you have the inclination, read the website‚??s hole-by-hole description for a good laugh. ¬†It‚??s a no nonsense, bare bones description of nothing but hazards! ¬†I wouldn‚??t be surprised if it was written by a Scots caddy, who I‚??ve heard don‚??t sugar coat things unlike their American counterparts. ¬†¬†
On 8 you hit your first blind tee shot of the day ‚?? ideally over the top of the raccoon tail stick in the middle of the fairway. ¬†As your ball soars off into the horizon you have to trust that no one‚??s shifted the stick overnight...because you don‚??t have a clue what‚??s going on down below. ¬†Fortunately we both found ourselves sitting pretty on the sunken fairway, but still had to leave it all to fate for the approach, which is (semi-)blind too. ¬†I took my instructions from Mike ‚?? who as he tends to do marched up ahead to the green for a gander. ¬†‚??Land it 25 feet short online or just left of the pin, and it‚??ll run down nicely.‚?Ě ¬†With a lob wedge I did as I was told, but my ball ended up on the false front that was in fact farther away than Mike described ‚?? eroding all trust in any future instructions from my travel companion. ¬†A 3 putt ensued, marking the first of Many in a frustrating day on and around the greens! ¬†But that‚??s golf, and that‚??s Dornoch, and I was too busy enjoying myself to give a rat‚??s proverbial.
[View from top of the hill on 8, out over the bay]
[Looking back from behind the par 5 9th green]
Something remarkable happened on the short par 3 10th: Michael failed to make a birdie, instead carding a careless par. ¬†Dornoch‚??s collection of (four) par 3s is quite something ‚?? they‚??re all quite short, but well contoured nonetheless, so birdies aren‚??t easy to come by. ¬†Mike had 3 of ‚??em ‚?? a testament to his fine short iron abilities. ¬†I had another 3 putt from the wrong side of a nasty tier!
By this time the locals were out in force on the dunes and on the beach, their dogs taking them for a walk. ¬†I‚??d shed my cardigan it was so balmy. ¬†There were still a few Berghaus Gore Tex numbers about though ‚?? God knows why; they must‚??ve known something I didn‚??t (like our good fortune was about to come to an end). ¬†That‚??s one of my favourite things about playing Scottish links, actually, now that I think about it. ¬†Whereas in the US at the best clubs it‚??s only golfers and caddies in sight (the outside world being excluded by Fort Knox like perimeters in many cases), here you can people watch while your playing partners are hacking away. ¬†Old couples in their parkas with ancient looking West Highland Terriers in tow; young families tearing around with lusty abandon and spaniels or chocolate labs in pursuit; a guy out for a walk to clear the head after The Night Before. ¬†In this way the golf courses are much more part of the fabric of the community ‚?? places that mean different things to different people, but in any case ‚?? at least in summer ‚?? are alive with activity. ¬†And so it was with Royal Dornoch on the fine Saturday morning we played.
[The 12th isn't as hard as it looks]
[Looking across from the 12th tee to the sharp undulations surrounding the 5th green, and bonnie house above]
Down the back 9 there are birdie holes if you‚??ve got your short game shoes on. ¬†But like Brora yesterday it was a fine art stopping the ball down wind ‚?? a fine art that I as yet have still to get a remote grasp of let alone master. ¬†If I was to describe Dornoch‚??s green complexes in one word it‚??d be ‚??humbling.‚?Ě ¬†The second word I would use is ‚??fun‚?Ě - because it‚??s genuinely a buzz trying to get your wee white thing close even if time after time you‚??re being humbled. ¬†To be sure it‚??d be a boring game if you had it perfected.
As we walked up and down the last few holes it was still not 10am, leaving us the rest of the day ahead to use as we pleased. ¬†It dawned on me that I might not be back here for a while, so made a point of pausing to take in the views and grab a snap or two for posterity. ¬†This one below is of the 17th from the top of the hill, looking down to the fairway and back up again to the green. ¬†In spring when the gorse is in bloom this ‚?? like the rest of the course ‚?? would no doubt look yet more magnificent. ¬†
Not far from the 18th green was George, ushering Americans to the tee and making sure they got away on time. ¬†We stopped to thank him and to share a few thoughts. ¬†He must surely be one of the reasons why people love this place so much, in that he epitomises the humility and warmth this place exudes. ¬†If you stop in at Dornoch make sure you introduce yourself to George (if you‚??re playing you won‚??t miss him, of course).
I did a quick rec‚??y of the clubhouse and it‚??s impressive collection of artifacts. ¬†Among them is the very impressive Carnegie Shield, which is played for every year. ¬†It was donated to the club in 1901 by Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Carnegie, whom I mentioned in the Skibo blog. ¬†In other cabinets were medals from decades and centuries gone by, no doubt played for in good spirits by modest, good natured highlanders.
Golf‚??s pretty accessible in Scotland. ¬†Even the Open venues like Carnoustie, St. Andrews, Troon and Turnberry are happy to take green fees off willing visitors. ¬†There aren‚??t many places your average punter just can‚??t play. ¬†The Carnegie Club, however, is one of them. ¬†To play it you have to be a member, or a member‚??s guest. ¬†To stay at Skibo Castle, you have to be a member too. ¬†It‚??s no stretch to say that The Carnegie Club is among the most exclusive clubs in Scotland (the website proclaims it as ‚??One of the world‚??s most exclusive private clubs‚?Ě). ¬†But is it any good? ¬†The answer is a resounding ‚??yes‚?Ě ‚?? our experience was an enchanting blend of beautiful scenery and a well designed golf course in near perfect condition. ¬†A true privilege.
Before heading to Carnegie we had a magic morning with our host Rob, which is worth sharing. ¬†Rob hails from this part of the world, but came out to our school in Christchurch for a gap year back in 2000/2001, where he befriended a few of our mates (like Pete, who was down in Ayrshire with us). ¬†We caught up with him in Edinburgh a couple of weeks back, where he (still) works as a corporate lawyer much as we did before this year. ¬†He happened to have taken a week off to come home (his family have a farm ‚?? well, 3 farms ‚?? up on the Tarbat Peninsula, just outside of Tain) coinciding with our time in these parts, so he invited us to stay for a night or two. ¬†Naturally we accepted. ¬†
On a fine Thursday morning Rob took us on a tour of the properties, to see his Empire. ¬†By far the most impressive attraction to my mind was one of the paddocks they have on the 500+ acre 3rd farm that‚??s set up on the cliffs overlooking, well, everything. ¬†‚??Nine Counties Paddock‚?Ě is so named because you can see nine counties from it. ¬†Obviously. ¬†During our tour we learnt a bit about soil and barley and the like ‚?? all the barley the MacKenzies grow goes to Glenmorangie and into their whiskies. ¬†They get over 460 litres of raw alcohol per tonne of barley (one of the highest yields of all Glenmorangie‚??s suppliers)! ¬†Anyway Rob also took us down to the beach to let the dogs have a good run, and let us in on a few projects he‚??s got in the pipeline ‚?? clearly an ideas man. ¬†Then we fed the calves, who were very suspicious of us Kiwis. ¬†It‚??s only the sheep that have any cause to worry...
[Corrie, the MacKenzie's springer spaniel, sleeping awkwardly at base camp...didn't get a photo of the even more lively Gillie, a cocker spaniel]
[Corrie eagerly anticipating his visit to the beach - notice the gentlemanly pose with right paw on the arm rest]
[Corrie at the beach]
[Worried looking sheep]
But back to the golf. ¬†When we left base camp it was bucketing down; things weren‚??t looking good. ¬†By the time we reached the Dornoch Firth ‚?? only 10 miles down the road ‚?? the skies were clearer and the rain behind us ‚?? phew... ¬†To get to The Carnegie Club (named incidentally after the infamous steel magnate from Dunfermline, Andrew Carnegie, who owned Skibo) you cross the bridge over the Firth then take your first left onto a small, non-descript side road that has no sign posts or any other indication that it leads to Nirvana. ¬†You pass holes 7, 8 and 9 and see The Struie up ahead, glowing under the afternoon sun. ¬†You know you‚??re in for something quite special. ¬†A low key gate-with-intercom is the last obstacle. ¬†Thankfully our name had been put on the list, and we were in. ¬†The anticipation was killing me.
As we pulled down the driveway past the empty driving range, rustic dykes and the understated clubhouse a couple of souls were mosying around in their tweeds. ¬†A family was being whisked off in a dark green Land Rover, probably up the road to the Castle (no private vehicles allowed apparently ‚?? you‚??re chauffeured by a dandy looking driver). ¬†We felt less out of place in our old Merc ‚?? The Tank ‚?? than we might have in Dodgy. ¬†But then again Dodgy would look out of place anywhere in Scotland. ¬†And he came to be accepted by the private golf club community in the US, so there‚??s no reason why he wouldn‚??t here. ¬†Anyway. ¬†We introduced ourselves and were soon on our way. ¬†
Right away you know you‚??re at no resort course. ¬†Proper, narrow, hard fairways bordered on both sides by Long Stuff. ¬†Perfectly cut, beautifully proportioned pot bunkers. ¬†Tricky green complexes. ¬†And back tees that we were allowed to play! ¬†(The Scots have been uncooperative in letting us play the tips ‚?? a privilege only reserved for medals, Open Championships and the like). ¬†Did I mention the Long Stuff? ¬†David Thomson the pro has been making a number of improvements to the course over the past 5 years, with the help of his Head Greenkeeper. ¬†Those in the know have been impressed. ¬†We were too (he talked us through them afterwards).
The 2nd hole demands one of the most intimidating tee shots I‚??ve had to hit for a while. ¬†A huge dune sits on the corner of a dogleg right; into it is cut a swathe of pot bunkers. ¬†There are bunkers on the left too, of course. ¬†Down wind the play is probably to smash driver over the top, but it‚??s not a prudent play first time around... ¬†If you end up in one of the pots you can forget about par and probably bogey. ¬†A seriously striking hole.
On the 3rd, a short par 5, I was fortunate enough to pitch in (semi-blind) from 80 yards for an eagle 3. ¬†30 quid for The First Tee, thank you very much. ¬†After a birdie on the par 3 4th I was sitting 3 under with only 14 holes left to screw it up (which proved to be more than enough...). ¬†The back 9, which plays almost entirely into the wind, is much more difficult than the front; and there's an Amen Corner-like stretch from 9 thru 11. ¬†
After 5 holes we came across one of the highlights of the day: The Greatest Half Way House In The World (suggestions for rivals welcome). ¬†There are many things that make this little cottage (formerly Gypsy Caravan) Great. ¬†First, you are led to it from about 4 or 5 holes. ¬†Second, there‚??s no one in there to take your order and make you feel uncomfortable or harassed ‚?? you have it all to yourself (assuming there‚??s no one else on the course, which would be very seldom indeed). ¬†Third, there is a perfectly adequate espresso machine and several fridges well stocked with goodies like fruit and beer and energy drinks and chocolate bars and spring water and beer. ¬†Help yersel‚??. ¬†Fourth, the leather sofas and stately wooden table provide agreeable seating options ‚?? not to mention the tables and chairs out on the deck. ¬†Fifth, the view from said table up the property to The Struie is breathtaking, particularly on a day like Thursday. ¬†On a gorgeous day it‚??s an enriching place to pause and reflect, to take in the views; on a miserable day it‚??d be a comforting place to find shelter, to recharge the batteries for a final dash. ¬†An amazing little place.
I also liked the inscription on this wee rock sitting just outside the cottage:
If you‚??ve been foolish enough to opt for the beer option after just 5 holes (I didn‚??t), the 6th hole will frighten you. ¬†A short par 3 over a gully to a small green guarded front left by a big dune that obscures the putting surface. ¬†The sky above you feels huge at this point ‚?? wide open spaces are abound. ¬†Chances of hitting even a wedge straight, in this wind, are minimal. ¬†But who cares?! ¬†Just enjoy the view...!!!!
7 and 8 are a couple of glorious little par 4s over the road that demand a bit of careful thought. ¬†Not crash and bash jobs. ¬†On 7 there are a string of pots running from the end of the fairway to the raised green, offset at 60 degrees. ¬†Don‚??t go in them. ¬†They look about as friendly as the English (I don‚??t mean that...they look friendlier...no I‚??m joking, I‚??m a quarter English). ¬†On 8 the loch sits there deviously off to the right; and the fairway tilts towards it. ¬†Goldy‚??s probably the only person reckless enough to have ever hit a driver here. ¬†
Things change on 9. ¬†But before you get there you‚??re distracted, momentarily, by The Most Impressive Bed Of Moss Ever To Have Existed. ¬†Moss and lichen, rather. ¬†A wee information board tells you all you need to know about the 3 types of ecosystem that occur at Carnegie, and about all the types of lichen you can find if you have a magnifying glass and are patient enough. ¬†Sounds boring, ¬†I know ‚?? but the visible ones were very intricate and impressive and I wanted to touch them. ¬†But of course I wasn‚??t allowed, like all good things in life.
So the 9th. ¬†A 215 yard par 3 over a gully; dunes to the left and a fence to the right. ¬†A nasty looking pot guards the front of the narrow and undulating green. ¬†Gorse is behind it. ¬†Down wind only a 5 iron or so, but good luck stopping it somewhere remotely safe. ¬†The landing area must be about 15 feet long by 10 feet wide. ¬†A hum dinger of a ‚??short‚?Ě hole. ¬†And the beginning of the end. ¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†
Just as you‚??re wondering what hit you, you get to the 10th... ¬†504 yards of par 4 from the tips. ¬†With a blind tee shot over a hill perforated with a pot bunker (‚??only‚?Ě 230 to carry). ¬†And gorse and heather on both sides. ¬†The road being further right, delineating the Out of Bounds. ¬†Wind from the left. ¬†Just go ahead and stroke one down the middle then son... Ha! ¬†In fairness the shot is less demanding than it looks, because the fairway opens up once you get over the hill. ¬†But we didn‚??t know that. ¬†And I must impress upon you just how daunting your task looks from that little tee box cut into the bracken. ¬†A triple bogey 7 ended my hopes of channelling US$100 of Liam Doust‚??s money towards The First Tee in recognition of an Under Par Round. ¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†
After 10 you turn around and look back West towards The Struie. ¬†Magnificent hillsides of brown punctuated with the pink and purples of heather roll around you ‚?? the sun shining on a slope here or a forest there. ¬†The Dornoch Firth is behind you. ¬†And the rest of the back 9 is in front of you. ¬†Regardless of how you‚??re playing you can‚??t help but breathe deeply and thank your lucky stars that you made it here even if only for a day.
Reality cruelly grips you again as you check the yardage book. ¬†471 yards of dogleg right par 4 ahead; into the teeth of the wind; a huge hazard (loch) on your right. ¬†The course staff then demonstrated why they are probably among the best at their trade. ¬†Because the wind was dead into, the markers had been brought forward 25 yards to another little tee, making the hole playable as a par 4 (just!). ¬†At other courses we‚??ve been the tips have been put out as far back as possible, regardless of the conditions. ¬†A thoughtful display lads. ¬†12 is a similar but shorter dogleg right, and had a bit of Kiawah Ocean about it ‚?? water all the way along the right; wind howling into from the left; a green perched just above the loch. ¬†Tough stuff...
Thank God for a second visit to the Half Way House! ¬†This time we licked our wounds for a little longer. ¬†And admired the view, which you‚??d never get sick of. ¬†Then Mike took his shoes & socks off for the walk to the next tee ‚?? because the grass paths are so perfectly mown that it‚??d be a shame not to experience them au natural. ¬†We were really in our element by the point, as you can imagine. ¬†
The golf course didn‚??t get any easier either, with anything remotely short of standard making up in trickery what it lacked in length. ¬†The innocuous enough looking 13th cost me a double bogey, but I didn‚??t care because I knew that after I sank my putt I could walk barefoot, again, to the next tee. ¬†On those Amazing paths.
A little grey gatehouse is tucked discreetly by a tree to the right of the 14th. ¬†I can‚??t put my finger on why, but the wee house had a magnetic pull so I took a photo of it. ¬†The photo is below.
The last 3 holes are on the other side of the clubhouse, so we stopped for a quick chinwag with David en route to the 16th tee. ¬†A tremendously affable character and good golfer in his own right (used to have the course record, 63, at Cruden Bay). ¬†He chatted through with us the changes he‚??d made and the changes he‚??s planning to make. ¬†We also got a good feel for how the club runs, and what it‚??s like as a member. ¬†Sounds alright. ¬†On a more serious note, it was a buzz to hear David talk about something he had invested so much of his time and energy into, and of which he could rightly be very proud of. ¬†Something of a masterpiece, really. ¬†(I also enjoyed hearing about how a couple of members got booted out because they complained too much...no nonsense here - the owner got the cheque book out and told them to take a hike after David finally lost his patience with them).
17 may just be one of the most scenic holes in Scotland. ¬†At this point you‚??re as close to the Struie as you get. ¬†The walk back to a wee tee perched on a mound is an exhilerating one, with the wind blowing hard off your right and the loch gleaming below you. ¬†I could‚??ve sat there and thought about life for an hour. ¬†Or three. ¬†Instead I struck a 2 iron down to the fairway, heaved a fat sand wedge onto the front edge and wandered off with an innocuous par. ¬†Goldy found himself in one of the striking fairway bunkers, which must rate a mention again for how beautifully they are cut. ¬†They almost don‚??t look real.
On 18 you can open the shoulders and swing hard as it‚??s a short down wind par 5. ¬†You can also glance across the loch to your left and spy the famed Skibo Castle, looking discreet and stately in the trees. ¬†Not a bad place to lay your head to rest if 1. You are a member, and 2. You don‚??t mind forking out over a thousand pounds for the privilege. ¬†Before you ask, no we didn‚??t stay there.
The conservatory bar at the end of the clubhouse looked like a tempting place for a refreshment and nostalgic chat, but we had a dinner date down the road with Rob & friends. ¬†It was no hardship though I must report to have a shower in the locker room. ¬†4 shower heads: one orthodox, above your head; one above your head but offset to one side, with a different jet; one at bum height; and one at lower thigh height. ¬†You can have different temperatures on each, and thus do ‚??Hot / Colds‚?Ě if you so wish to rid your legs of lactic acid. ¬†Then you can don an Egyptian cotton robe for a brief moment, splash yourself with expensive looking after shave then get into your car ready for the 200 yard drive back into to the real world. ¬†(After thanking your hosts, of course).
What a day. ¬†Thanks David & The Carnegie Club for allowing us the privilege of experiencing such a special place. ¬†Top 100 raters / players ‚?? watch this space.
Thanks also to Rob & The MacKenzie family for kindly putting us up at Cullisse Farm ‚?? your home cooked meals and farm tours made us feel at home and recharged the batteries. ¬†Cheers!
Postsript: ¬†Our camera died tragically on the 5th hole. ¬†It's been a loyal and trusted friend for 220 days or so, and we're hoping he's revived in due course. ¬†The offshoot of this tragedy is that photos from the 5th onwards - and on subsequent days - have been taken with the less competent iPhone camera, which doesn't quite capture the scenes as well as our Sony. ¬†Please accept our apologies.