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 ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†¬†
Scotland turned on a stunning day for our penultimate round at the Kintyre course at Turnberry on the South West coast of Scotland.
The township of Turnberry revolves 100% around golf.¬† As you drive in the road sign reads ‚?? ‚??Turnberry, a golfers paradise‚?? and then it is a case of blink and you‚??ll miss it.¬† But only a non-golfer would ever miss this.¬†
The massive hotel sits atop the hill to the East (the inland side) of the road with an amazing pitch and putt laid out below, and on the seaside is a large car park with signage on the front saying ‚??golf courses‚??.¬† The entrance to golf paradise.
We arrived with plenty of time so we decided to do something about our lack of accommodation for our last night in Scotland and popped up to the Turnberry Hotel to see if they‚??d put us up.¬† Worth a shot I guess. ¬†After two nights straight in the car JP was particularly keen for a decent nights sleep. And with The Tank being a much smaller beast than its American counterpart Dodgy & not being able to accommodate the both of us, I‚??d had two nights straight in a YHA which was not kind on the budget.¬†
Unfortunately the marketing chap at the Turnberry Hotel was not so receptive and we were politely asked to step outside and speak with the concierge about finding somewhere more appropriate to stay.¬†¬† Sure...¬† Problem is around these parts ‚?? the Turnberry Hotel has a bit of a monopoly ‚?? over both the accommodation and the golf courses (actually there are a couple of B&B‚??s set up to cater for the golfers).¬† The Hotel & Golf courses are very commercial‚?? they‚??re both owned by an outfit from Dubai and so it‚??s very up-market and eager to please the well-heeled golf tourist.¬†¬† Stay and play packages are the norm at a rate that could purchase a small nation. ¬†I wondered to myself what the story was with the members of Turnberry ‚?? two of which we were to play with on the Ailsa course the following day.¬† [later we would find out the gig: they negotiate their rights to the course with the owners from time to time and have access to the courses at set times during the week and play their competitions from there ‚?? it looks like a great club culture but there‚??d surely be a sense of insecurity knowing that someone more concerned with their cashflow than the club has the final say].
The Kintyre course? The second course which was once named the Arran course before it was entirely redeveloped following the second world war. ¬†If I may digress, during WW2 Turnberry was taken over by the airforce with landing strips built through the golf courses and the hotel used as lodging.¬† Supposedly the officers spent a fair bit of time playing golf around the few holes that remained on the Ailsa course‚?¶.¬†
So to the golf. Perfect weather - no wind and the ultimate big blue. ¬†A day primed for scoring we thought to ourselves as we set a birdie challenge of combined 10 for the day.¬† Ambitious stuff.¬† Of course.¬† Probably eyes too big for the stomach kind of stuff.¬†
The first tee shot was always going to set the tone.¬† A dog-leg left par five bunkers on both sides and crap far off in the nether regions where I am prone to hitting driver. ¬†Too long for the 2 iron I found myself driver in hand, eyes closed and boom ‚?? to the surprise of all down the middle. My 8th fairway in Scotland using a driver (that‚??s not great odds). ¬†Birdie resulted ‚?? 1 down 9 to go.
The front nine was straight forward provided you got it away from the tee and both Jamie and I were hitting it pretty well - I think we both hit 8 greens in regulation.¬† But there was some difficulty being had with the putter.¬† I found myself with 100 thoughts going through my head standing over the ball, none of which had anything to do with the 20 foot putt laid out before me.¬† Where are we staying tonight?¬† How are we going to fund the Irish leg?¬† How is Gretta? What‚??s happening with our final month in NZ? I think it‚??s one aspect of the golf game that has improved over the course of the year - being able to block out all kinds of stuff and instead live in a little bubble that is the golf course and the task ahead on each particular hole.
Well that‚??s what I must have done today as out in 32 I found myself freaking out in a different way on the 10th about the possibility of shooting a number that is ordinarily preserved for those who play this game for a living. ¬†Moments later I was wandering around in the knee high stuff looking unsuccessfully for my ball. ¬†¬†Double bogey / Bogey later my feet were back squarely on the ground.¬† JP and I had both started straying from the tee and now all we could see before us was the thick gorse lining both sides of every tee on this relatively tight course.¬† Supposedly the members rate it one shot harder than the more undulating, longer Ailsa course which hosts the Championships.¬† After now playing them both I do not agree with that assessment!
Let me quickly rewind though to a hole which cannot go unmentioned. The par four 8th hole is a little beauty. ¬†It's a blind par four and at 290 odd yards it is very much reachable. Even more so because of the sharp undulations short of the green. The green sits in a sheltered nook between the ocean and some rocky outcrops. ¬†It's a hole that takes your breath away, and with the green sloping subtly away from you it's by no means a gimme birdie either! ¬†The photograph below is of the 8th green. Gorgeous.
Amidst a few bad swings there really wasn‚??t much to worry ourselves over whilst out on the course as we‚??d caught Turnberry on a perfect night with the Aisla Craig glowing offshore, the famous lighthouse shining in the evening sun and not a cloud in the sky. ¬†Looking around I just had to pinch myself.
Then as the holes started traversing back towards the clubhouse the cup started to get wider and wider and a few long putts snuck in.¬† Unfortunately all of them were after poor iron shots and poor chips had left me 20 feet away for par.¬†¬† Then to the last hole, a par five which plays back towards the clubhouse and with heavy bunkering it requires two solid shots to maneuver around / through / over the bunkers to the green and give yourself a chance at eagle 3. ¬†Down a slight breeze both of us managed this and a cheeky two putt later I‚??d signed for a career golfing low of 2 under 69.¬† I was thrilled.
Keen to celebrate with a beer or 3 this plan was stalled after JP hit the practice putting green to work on his stroke.¬†¬† An hour and some later we left the course, myself with spirits still (relatively) high and JP with a new putting stroke (cack-handed no less).
We got some tucker from the local supermarket (end of day rolls & salami as you do) and then headed back to the course to suss out sleeping options.¬† Just as we‚??d agreed on the hut / car combination and were having a beer and a few (more) practice putts, we got a call from our man Graeme Russell from Macallan who saved our bacon and jacked us up a room in the Hotel.¬† So up we drove where we met up with the kiwi lads, Erik, Laurie, Rhys and their latest recruit ‚?? Peter Fowler (the Aussie pro) and had a couple of drinks hearing all about their day at Western Gailes [which is a wonderful course and when you can still remember each hole 40 days on this is a great sign].¬†¬†¬† A radio interview with National Radio back in NZ followed & then it was bed time to prepare for the final day, the ultimate challenge and what would be my favourite golf course in Scotland ‚?? the Ailsa course at Turnberry.¬†
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.
Last week we had 24 hours on Islay for what was a stunning mini break from the mainland of Scotland. ¬†We were invited out here by the Machrie Hotel & Golf Club. ¬†Here are a few tid bits from our stay!
6¬†hours of sleep I got in this wee hotel ‚?? the Machrie after staying up late writing stories, playing with photographs on our CMS and posting some blogs.
14¬†¬†Years that big Ian has been running this joint.¬† And he is some host. The type of guy who has found his calling in life.¬† I‚??d say he runs a pretty tight ship too.
17¬†blind shots awaiting us on the Machrie links course.¬† Blind, but generally very fair.¬† If a green was blind, it was flat (or had a bowl to it).¬† And if you took a quick walk up you‚??d see where to go.¬† Similar story with the tee shots ‚?? blind but fair.
22: the rating of Machrie in the list of top Scottish golf courses according to www.top100golfcourses.co.uk.¬† Good website although some rankings are bizarre (eg Skibo as 60 odd in Scotland?).
1 ¬†the hole where the first birdie of the day came courtesy of JP‚??s pinpoint second. One of 6 birdies on the day.¬†
5¬†ridiculous putts I‚??ve missed for eagle during the Scottish leg ‚?? each would have resulted in a 30 pound donation to The First Tee.¬† Today‚??s blow out was a 8 footer for eagle on the second.¬† Ali Asher & Gents you know what I‚??m talking about.¬†¬† Sorry Pip and co back in NZ! I‚??ll make up for it in Ireland. ¬†At least the second green was flanked by this calming outlook:
11:¬† The number of bunkers scattered around the course.¬† It was a good feeling seeing four of the blighters on the par three 5th hole and knowing there would only be another 7.¬†¬† Who needs bunkers though when there is heather, long rough and blind shots everywhere. ¬†The heather is not bad looking stuff either‚?¶ (bad for the score mind you).
15 yards to the left of the stake is where you should hit the ball on the blind 7th hole.¬† JP went for the route just to the right of the stake (with a draw of course) only for his ball to bound right off the fairway over the dune into the long stuff.¬†¬†
16¬†paces wide is the 9th fairway was at its widest point.¬† Cracking hole played along the water to a green protected by a stunning dune short right.¬† One of those holes that make you stop in your tracks and say ‚??blimey that‚??s a great hole‚??.¬†¬† The sign of a classy golf course.
0¬†¬†The marketing budget for the Machrie Golf Course.¬† But none is needed as I‚??d say 99% of people leave Islay and tell their friends it‚??s worth a visit.¬† I know Jamie and I will be traveling advertisements for the place. ¬†The Cut were onto something as well when they did a feature here during 2009. ¬†
3¬†photographs sent to me by Ian after our journey which he has taken recently. Ian is quite the photographer as you‚??ll see below.¬† This place is stunning. Wow.
8¬†minutes that we camped out for in the hut before the par three 12th hole waiting for the rain to subside.
423 yards long is the stroke one hole playing uphill and inland towards a firm and fast green surrounded by bunkers.¬† Straightforward and laid out before you but by no means an easy hole.
45¬†centimetres further I needed to hit my 9 iron on the blind 17th for it to kick down onto the green.¬† What a zany green complex over a huge mound ‚?? check it out.
70¬†shots to knock it around this track beating it‚??s par by one for it to become the third golf course defeated during the year.¬† Credit must go to the greens ‚?? they were sublime.¬†
8¬†distilleries on Islay producing some of the best Single Malt Whiskeys in the world.¬† Peaty stuff mind you.¬† We managed to visit three of them: Ardbeg, Lagavullin and Laphroaig.¬† ¬†I checked out the visitors book at Ardbeg and we were the first visitors from New Zealand since... Jonah Lomu.¬†
52.5¬†the alcohol percentage in the triple distilled Lagavulin single malt that can only be purchased from the distillery and that we tasted during our fleeting visit there.¬† The best tasting experience I‚??ve ever experienced. Laid back, hospitable, and some fine produce.
863¬†times we thanked Ian for the magical 24 hours on Islay as he dropped us at Port Ellen.¬† We had enjoyed the ferry trip,¬† our accommodation at The Machrie, being ferried around the Island courtesy of the rickety rackety Machrie van and of course playing on the sensational world class golf course.¬†¬† This is one place that every whiskey and golf lover must visit.¬†
Guys, team, readers.
We've now completed our Scottish leg - and what a 45 days it was! Thanks to everyone involved from the MacKenzies up in the far north to Pooky in Gleneagles and the various aunties and uncles of Jamie in and around Edinburgh and Fife!
Over the course of our Scottish leg we had 3 kind folk donating 1 pound for every birdie we made and 10 pounds for every eagle. ¬†The outcome through 45 days? ¬†After numerous missed putts and 'what-could-have-been' opportunities was 152 Birdies and 4 Eagles! ¬†
Irish Fundraising - Get involved!!
We're now one day through our Irish leg. ¬†Over the next 24 days we will play through Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland driving a fair few miles in ¬†the process! ¬†
So far we have 2 people who have kindly agreed to take part in the Ireland Birdie / Eagle challenge - including Jamie's father Mike who hails from these parts. ¬† Trust me when I say it's hugely motivating when we're standing over a birdie putt to know that when it rolls in the side door some benefit will come from it to the great folk at The First Tee.
For those who are new to our charity - The First Tee - it's a cause worth supporting. ¬†They give kids the opportunity to get into golf and learn some of the amazing life lessons we've been fortunate to pick up over the years (and this year in particular!). ¬†All of the donations are going straight to the program and we hope that over the course of the year we'll raise enough for them to expand into the town where Jamie and I went to school and university back in NZ, Christchurch. ¬†Have a read¬†here¬†for more information about TFT.
We'd be stoked for readers from across the world to get involved!!! - please email me if you're in to be part of the challenge. ¬†And to Mike and Carol - on behalf of Jamie, myself and the folk at The First Tee - Thank you!
I hope y‚??all enjoyed Mike‚??s Machrihanish video as much as I did. ¬†Certainly it encapsulated for me what was a very special 24 hours on the Mull of Kintyre. ¬†It‚??s a stunning part of Scotland and the course is really something to behold. ¬†Pooky‚??s company was sparkling as ever ‚?? we got a few more juicy stories on the course than we had bargained for! - as was that of Belle Robertson who is quite an amazing lady indeed. ¬†And so it was with much anticipation that our party set off on Sunday morning to the neighbouring Machrihanish Dunes: a fledgling course designed by David Mclay Kidd (or DMK as his company is creatively called). ¬†The views from Belle's rented cottage whetted the appetite: first, looking across the coastline past the old course to the site of the Dunes; second, looking next door to the starter's hut / pro shop at the old course.
‚??Built‚?Ě on (leased) farmland adjacent to Machrihanish GC (now sometimes referred to as ‚??old Machrihanish‚?Ě), it‚??s drawn a mixed response from the punters in the year or so since it opened. ¬†With respect, I can see why. ¬†DMK‚??s mantra is ‚??pursuing purist golf‚?Ě; and on the MD website you‚??ll find the slogan ‚??This is the way golf began...this is Machrihanish Dunes.‚?Ě ¬†The point of difference (if there needs to be one) is that the course is the first to have been built on a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSi) since the days of Old Tom Morris. ¬†Now let me first make clear that the site is a stunning one. ¬†From the website you‚??ll no doubt gather that the views are knock-your-socks-off-good, and the air as pure as can be. ¬†
However. ¬†I do question the wisdom of ‚??building‚?Ě a golf course atop an SSSi when the restrictions on what dirt can be moved are so tight. ¬†At one end of the spectrum you have the Kingsbarns, Castle Stuarts and Whistling Straits of this world ‚?? where megatons of earth have been moved to create the appearance of a natural links. ¬†The ethics (for want of a better word) involved in these projects is for some a thorny issue ‚?? to be honest I‚??m not bothered as long as the golf course is a good one, with a few minor caveats ‚?? but at least the designer is in complete control of what the golfer will experience. ¬†With projects like MD that‚??s not the case, because the developers weren‚??t allowed to move any dirt (save to cut the tees). ¬†Thus the golf course really does follow the lie of the land, quite literally ‚?? which in many cases will cause the average golfer a headache or three. ¬†
The folks at MD were very hospitable and greeted us warmly as soon as we‚??d stepped out of our cars (the fact that we were the only people there perhaps meant we were easy to spot!). ¬†They clearly believe in their project and spoke openly about the challenges they faced. ¬†I hope for their sake that those hurdles can be overcome. ¬†The background information we heard about the concept, the process and the course‚??s reception since opening was a useful introduction ‚?? but ultimately we just needed to play golf and see what it was all about for ourselves. ¬†So we did. ¬†(Please note the evaluative undertones here refer more to Pooky‚??s need to form an impression, rather than ours, given he runs a golf tour business and needs to feel comfortable about a place before sending paying clients along; we were just privileged to be along for the ride, and to enjoy Pooky‚??s and Belle‚??s good company in the fresh air).
Peter a mature chap whose background lies in hospitality rather than golf kindly gave of his time to come and be a forecaddie. ¬†Pleasant though he was, I must confess Peter didn‚??t inspire me with confidence with his pearls of wisdom on line and length. ¬†At the Dunes there are more blind shots than you can shake a stick at, so local knowledge is of paramount importance. ¬†Absolutely key. ¬†Number 1 tee sets the tone. ¬†From where we were standing (us boys played from the backs) we couldn‚??t see a hint of a fairway, or a green for that matter. ¬†There are little arrows dropped at the front of every tee block pointing you in the right direction, but you still need to know how far to hit it and where the trouble lies. ¬†Enter Peter. ¬†
Y‚??er man was doing his best to keep us on the straight and narrow, but it‚??s an unenviable task for the most experienced of caddies ‚?? because the course is something of a labyrinth. ¬†Peter (wearing a little backpack with those rope straps; more like a sack really) would toddle off to the apex of the dune ahead, then edge one way or another to show us the ideal line down to the mythical fairway. ¬†Once we‚??d all pinged one in roughly his direction we‚??d march on, hopeful that our ball supply would last us the day. ¬†Belle‚??s tees were in most cases a hundred yards ahead, as they should be for 99% of ladies. ¬†But Belle plays off 1 and still ‚?? at the ripe old age of 74 (I hope she won‚??t mind me saying so) ‚?? hits the ball 220 yards or so. ¬†What timing... ¬†She would take counsel; take aim; and nearly drive half the par 4s. ¬†It was a pleasure to watch.
For us mortals the blind tee shot would be followed by a blind approach ‚?? again, Peter would trot off into the distance and give us a line. ¬†With variables like strong wind, different shot shapes and greens with more undulation than the Himalayas putting green at St. Andrews, it was something of a lottery to be fair. ¬†The offshoot of this, however, was the acute delight you‚??d feel for a moment if you trudged over a dune and saw your pill lying on the dance floor. ¬†In some cases though, the delight would turn to despair when you realised that the prospects of a 2 putt (let alone a 1 putt) were at best 50/50. ¬†
On holes like the 2nd you forget about the golf and marvel at the scenery around you. ¬†Perhaps ponder the more important things in life. ¬†
The front 9 is a bit of a blur because it seemed to take an eternity. ¬†Taking into account the walks between greens and tees the pedometer will read something like 3.6 miles by the time you walk off the 9th green, if you‚??ve played from the blacks. ¬†That‚??s a long way. ¬†Especially when you take into account the energy expended wrestling with the abundant tussock in the hope of finding a dozen wayward golf balls. ¬†It‚??s the most washed I‚??ve been after 9 holes this year. ¬†How your average 65 year old could walk the course I do not know.
Things improved on the back, I must say. ¬†The blind shots became fairer and fewer. ¬†Greens on the whole were more puttable. ¬†And there were actually some very nice golf holes. ¬†What we couldn‚??t understand though was why Mr DMK didn‚??t make use of the numerous flat(ter) areas left vacant between the existing holes. ¬†Belle in particular was at a loss. ¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†
Amongst the frustration were a few lovely moments. ¬†Pooky the wee sod that he is made back-to-back 2s on the 13th and 14th to bring the match back to all square. ¬†The second one dam nearly went in. ¬†Still life in the old bugger yet. ¬†Belle‚??s competitive spirit clearly hasn‚??t left her either; on the 17th and 18th as things were starting to go down to the wire the tone of the match changed ever so slightly. ¬†Belle wanted to win, and was very disappointed in Michael and me for taking our stroke (us playing off 2; Pooky off scratch and her off 1) on the Stroke Index 2 17th to win the hole, going dormy 1 up. ¬†Justice prevailed when that wee fella chipped in on 18 for birdie, prompting widespread applause, laughter and the odd wry smile. ¬†We had a lot of fun.
But we were glad to be in the comfort of the clubhouse after 5 hours of battle. ¬†Again the staff couldn‚??t have been more obliging, and passed around complimentary coffees. ¬†Just the ticket as the air had crispened throughout the morning. ¬†Belle‚??s good humoured husband Ian joined us too, as we reflected on what was a fun but trying morning on the links. ¬†Ian looked fresh as a daisy; all he‚??d done was read the paper. ¬†But then I guess we can excuse him given he‚??s 85!
With a 6 o‚??clock ferry booked (over to Islay) the time soon came to farewell our new friends and get on the road up to Kennacraig. ¬†We‚??d had a famous time in the company of Pooky, Belle, Ian and Jane ‚?? so it was with heavy hearts that we pulled away. ¬†The Mull of Kintyre had been good to us. ¬†
Our ferry trip across to Port Ellen was a nourishing one under the evening sun. ¬†Deck 4B was packed with folks of all shapes and sizes and accents, giving a holiday-like atmosphere. ¬†It felt like we were off on an adventure. ¬†To somewhere far off and unchartered. ¬†I stood on the deck for an hour or so, listening to the ‚??Soul Food‚?Ě playlist on my iPod, and absorbed the mystic beauty of the confluence of sea and coast. ¬†I was in another world. ¬†As we pulled closer to Islay those famous white buildings (the distilleries Laphroiag, Lagavulin and Ardbeg) glowed luminously on the shore, emitting a magnetic pull. ¬†I felt at once relaxed and excited. ¬†Enchanting stuff.¬†
Unfortunately however the 2 taxis on the island had been commissioned before we could flag one down. ¬†The 5 mile walk to our hotel ‚?? The Machrie ‚?? wasn‚??t an enticing one with all of our gear, so we headed to the nearest pub for a pint to ponder our options. ¬†Eventually Ian the hotel manager was kind enough to pop down in the van to collect us, thank God for that. ¬†Very interesting chap that he is. ¬†After his wonderfully welcoming email appeared in my inbox a few weeks ago (‚??The Machrie Hotel would be delighted to be involved and we will certainly be prepared to put you up in the hotel on a dinner bed and breakfast basis at no charge to yourselves and of course golf too, regards aye‚?Ě) I was looking forward to meeting the man himself. ¬†With a shaved head and hybrid accent he filled us in on the Hotel‚??s place past and present on Islay, and of course on the delights of the golf course we would discover the next morning. ¬†14 years Ian‚??s been there; he just loves the place. ¬†Over the next 24 hours we‚??d see why.
JP ¬† ¬†
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!
Our third golfing destination in the city of Edinburgh was Bruntsfield Golf Club.¬† One of the four original golfing clubs which originally all played over Bruntsfield Links under the shadow of the Edinburgh Castle and then as congestion became a factor out at Musselburgh.¬† When they decided that the four clubs ought to each get their own course, the chaps from Bruntsfield bought a nice piece of rolling parkland land not too far from town where the course sits today and where on this higher ground the water sparkles in the distance below.¬† They also built a grand clubhouse in position A1.¬† Today was earmarked as a day for rest and catching up and so we had hoped to nick around the links in a few hours and head back to base camp with Gillian and Ian. Alas, it was not to be.
We arrived for our 10am tee time and saw a gaggle of golfers hovering around the first tee.¬† Joining the queue we watched as some of the less talented golfers managed to move the ball in a direction barely towards the hole and looked at each other as if to acknowledge that our plans of a quick round were shattered.
Two young chaps had taken their place to tee off next and, being 0950 hours and anticipating a slow round we thought it would be best to join up with Bruce and Ben two young chaps from Jamies old school ‚?? Stewarts Melville.¬† Bruce was a member at Bruntsfield and Ben was on the waiting list.¬†
The first hole was a stern test uphill and into the wind ‚?? probably the toughest hole on the course.¬† The first tee shot was also one of those shots where you‚??ve got a dozen or so guys standing very close and watching intently which is one way to focus the attention after feeling a bit shaky from the night before.¬† We both pulled out our 2 irons and had the old fullas wondering ‚??‚??an iron from th tee??‚?? ‚?? but a couple snaked down the middle drew the odd gasp.¬† This must be put in context as they‚??d just watched a number of groups from the Irish and Scottish lawyers golf day out tee off with what I can only describe as varied success.
[We just passed underneath an overhead message which I thought I‚??d share with you ‚?? ‚??drive efficiently‚?? ‚?? what does that mean? Perhaps gives you an insight into the Scottish Government.] ¬†¬†
Back to Bruntsfield and ‚??that moment‚?? where I realized we were in for a long one.¬† Standing over my birdie putt on the first ‚?? we were adjacent to the second tee.¬† A well dressed chap looking a tad confused like an 18 year old as they walk into a busy pub for the first time had taken to the tee.¬† His clubs were placed to the right of him and below was a huge and inviting downhill fairway.¬† He drew the club back and made a pass at the ball and the next minute it was soaring off the clubface like no ball I‚??ve ever seen.¬† His drive flew to a maximum height of 2 metres, a maximum distance of 2 metres and at an angle of 90 degrees right, barely evading his bag.¬† A similar shot followed but multiplying the distances 10 fold.¬† Ouch.¬† After this, these lawyerly chaps stopped for a chat as they put their knitted head covers onto their drivers before strolling off down the fairway ‚?? the aforementioned chap walking off on an awkward angle right all day until they pulled pin after 12 holes.¬† To be fair to these boys the field of corporate players ahead all looked like they were on a similar wave length and pace of play this morning.
Four holes down and a few fundraising chances missed ‚?? including a straight eagle putt from 20 foot which I managed to 3 putt ‚?? we spent a good 10 minutes sitting on the 5th tee.¬† Jamie went for the lying down option drawing¬† the query from the group behind (also waiting) whether he was ok.¬†¬† And then, after an hour 20 minutes four holes into our daily endeavor the story of the day, the story of the blog happened.¬† After I‚??d knocked it to the middle of the green, JP stepped up 6 iron in hand and lazily dropped the club on the ball careering it with his signature right to left sling down the hill towards the green.¬† Great shot we said as it zero‚??d in on the flagstick and it kept going and going.¬† Then we saw in the distance the white ball bound up from short of the green and career straight into the middle of the flagstick only to bounce off it two feet to the right!!! I wont go into whether it was lucky or unlucky as it was traveling but what I do know is that I‚??ve seen those go in before (on TV).¬† It was, without a doubt the closest to a hole in one all year and I tell you it‚??s going to happen.¬†¬†
The round continued at a leisurely pace despite our disoriented chap ahead pulling pin after 12 holes.¬† The odd sparkling shot kept us going and a few birdies were made to help the fundraising tally.¬† Bruntsfield was lush and a really nice walk with mature trees and gentle undulations leading you around the property.¬† From what Bruce said it‚??s normally a very leisurely place where you can knock it around in 2 ¬Ĺ hours no worries and I‚??d suggest it would be a great place to knock it about for locals at the end of a long day at work in the city.¬† Unfortunately that wasn‚??t the case this morning and over 4 and a half hours later we arrived at the 18th frustrations aided by another three putt from JP, thanked the boys for their company and jumped in the car to head back to Ian and Gillians for some rest.¬†
This is the last blog I‚??ll write during our Edinburgh stint so I‚??d like to thank Gillian and Ian for having me this last week ‚?? you‚??ve been amazingly kind to me and welcomed me into your place so thank you very much!
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...
This post is going back a few days as we‚??ve been busy lads entertaining our mate Ed Bayley who has been spending the last 10 days with us.¬†¬† I‚??m pleased to report that Ed is currently on the train back to his haunt in Oxford, where he is recovering from his puregolf2010 stint with ‚??four days on the couch playing playstation‚??.¬†¬†
Last Friday we dragged Ed kicking and screaming out to the St Andrews Castle Course.¬† Arranged by Gents and courtesy of the Links Trust this day was our swansong of golf in the golf-mecca that is the St Andrews region. ¬†And the weather gods again did not disappoint. Here is the four-ball and we're loud mouthing it.¬†
The Castle Course sits high on the cliffs overlooking the ocean and the views are nothing short of spectacular.¬†¬† It kind of reminded me of Castle Stuart although here the views swept across the St Andrews township and the Firth of Forth and across to East Lothian.¬†
Before the fun and games began out on the course we were given our goodie bags filled with Castle Course tees, markers, pitch repairers and crucially a detailed course guide. ¬†Golf balls are belted out on the range whilst the array of starters politely suggest you should have a few putts on the practice putting green so you can brace yourself for the fun ahead.¬† Probably the only thing I got from this brief warm up was that, no matter how hard I tried it was going to be difficult to hit a left to right shot shape playing back towards the township with the wind whipping in from the ocean on the right.¬†
Unlike the other courses in the Links Trust portfolio, the Castle course is a modern design and has received mixed reactions throughout the year from folk we‚??ve come across. ¬†The main reason for this is the greens that are at best entertaining and at worst like a sick and twisted mini golf course.¬† I‚??m not the best of putters on a good day so the triple breaking putts out here were as mouth watering as 8 day old haggis.¬† At least we had the local knowledge of Gents who gave us an idea of where to hit the ball into the greens ‚?? using the slopes to our favour so we could (at times) actually get it quite close to the pins. ¬†¬†¬†Despite these ‚??tricked up‚?? greens (to use an ‚??ocker Aussie phrase) I thought the course was an awesome test of golf.
Firstly, it was a test off the tee ‚?? many of the landing areas appeared tiny but were actually generous, provided you hit the right club off the tee!!¬† If you carelessly bomb driver all day you‚??ll probably end up in at least one or two patches of rough that are found in the middle of the fairways. Not to mention the fairway bunkers.¬† Check out one such cheeky spot of rough below.
Secondly there were great contours throughout the course.¬† And it didn‚??t feel like they‚??d move 875 million tonnes of soil in the creation of the course.¬† Holes like the 6th ‚?? seen below play significantly downhill to the ocean meaning you could bunt it out of the rough and end up quite close to the green.¬† Or if you‚??re Gents you can bomb it most of the way to the green 430 yards away from the tee!!
Thirdly, the routing of the course is like Castle Stuart as it maximises the panoramic views below.¬† Holes 6 through 9 play sensationally along the cliff tops and made me go wow.¬† The par three 8th is very exposed ‚?? you can‚??t just stand up on this tee and hit a smooth iron ‚?? a bunt or punch under the wind is always going to be the play!¬† On the 9th tee we heard a kiwi twang from across the tee block and were introduced to a greenkeeper mate of Gents‚?? called Joe.¬† Top man.¬† Got a good gig as well and soon heading off to keep Royal Melbourne in decent nick.¬† The back nine plays up higher on the hill where the views extend to the St Andrews Bay courses along the coast (which we‚??re not playing‚?¶. not on this trip anyway!).¬†¬† Then the final two holes are again along the coast with the signature par three 17th across a huge ravine to the gravelly beach below and then (another) par five closing hole around the cliffs to the right.¬†
And fourthly, the greens for all their sins were rolling nicely and more than a few of the complexes were great and a good fair test.¬† For example the severe false fronts on the 2nd (below) 6th¬†and 16th holes with a relatively flat green beyond (it‚??s all relative here..)¬†¬† And what I did like was that they gave you a chance if you knew where to go.¬† According to Gents it‚??s a course which gets better and better the more you play it and his guidance helped immeasurably ‚?? for example when we used the bowl on the 11th hole or had we followed his advice to play left of the par five 5th hole and let the ball roll back to the pin in the centre of the green.
[the 11th hole with a bowl green]
We were engrossed in another four-ball match ‚?? as are the ways for us competitive kiwi lads.¬† Jamie and Ed were paired up against Gents and I and after some considerable horse trading on the first tee (and over a pint the night before) the shots were dished out and the match ended up a closely fought affair.¬† It was a shame that at times we all lost interest and concentration as the round took no fewer than 5 hours 15 minutes to complete which is simply far too long.¬† Aside from losing out on revenue from fewer people being about to get around per day, having a very slow pace of play is not a great reputation to have. I should say that the opposite can be said about The Old Course where we breezed around in four hours even whilst every man and his dog soaks in the atmosphere, takes photos left right and centre and has to work out where exactly to go!¬† This is probably due to the excellent caddy program at The Old, and whilst there were caddies marching down the fairways alongside their players (it is rather intimidating when you see 8 guys striding down the fairway at you) they were a bit prickly when Gents hit a drive about 330 yards on the 12th which got close to them & was subsequently trodden on and embedded into the soil.
The round slowed when we got to 17 because of the stunning views.¬†
No-one is too phased at this point ‚?? it‚??s like the 15th & 16th at Cypress Point where camera‚??s are almost compulsory and facebook posts and photographs are being flicked up to tell the world about the grand cliff tops that we find ourselves on.¬† Down the last the match was still in the balance but finally I strung a couple of shots together and should have knocked in my 5 footer for eagle ‚?? but for a small issue called LOFT.
[the closing hole a par five with a double green adjoining the 9th]
We made a speedy exit as JP was due at a wedding rehearsal but we thanked the friendly crowd, jumped in the tank and were off to Burntisland.
Thanks again to the Links Trust for having us, for Gents and Jamie having us to stay with them and Ed for making the trip up to see us. Oh, by the way mate ‚?? get a haircut.¬†