Back on Day 95 we took a trip down Goldy‚??s memory lane by stopping in at Bowral Golf Club, where he hit his first few shots as a wee nipper. ¬†100 days later it was my turn to step back in time. ¬†Kirkcaldy Golf Club ‚?? or Balwearie, as it‚??s known to the locals ‚?? is a picturesque wee parkland course on the outskirts of the town I grew up in of the same name. ¬†I used to play the 4 hole tournament on a Saturday morning as an 8-year-old with my pals before heading round the corner to short tennis, then returning in the afternoon to hunt for golf balls. ¬†Many fond memories.
Happily the pro that was in office before I left for New Zealand ‚?? a well natured gentleman by the name of Anthony Caira ‚?? is still there today. ¬†I may have attended his junior clinics as a young fella back in the day, although if I did they didn‚??t do me any good (some of us have swings that are beyond help...)! ¬†Anthony and his assistant greeted us warmly inside the pro shop that remains more or less as I remember it; kindly equipped us with yardage books, snack packs and umbrellas; and wished us luck in battling the elements. ¬†It was quite wet.
My brother Conor joined us, which added to the weight of the experience. ¬†He‚??s just moved across to the Homeland this past week to pursue a career in rugby, and seems to have landed on his feet. ¬†Because he had a few days before his first training session (for Selkirk Rugby Club, with which my mum‚??s side of the family has strong ties), Conor decided to tag along with Mike and me for a few days. ¬†We‚??ve had a famous time catching up with family and old friends and generally retracing our heritage. ¬†Kirkcaldy Golf Club is a place to which I have more of a pull than he, but The Big Man was happy to come out for a walk and enjoy the fresh Scottish air (not a hint of linoleum Billy!).
On the 1st tee I was confronted with a very familiar sight. ¬†At about 160 yards is a burn running across from left to right, splitting the lower part of the fairway from the upper. ¬†As a 10-year-old it‚??s a daunting carry. ¬†I remember trying desperately to knock the cover off it with a 3 wood and coming up achingly short when my ball pitched in the bank and sucked back in, or caught the big old tree guarding the right hand side and dropped doon. ¬†These days ‚?? now that I can hit the ball a wee bit further ‚?? the burn‚??s not so much in play, but some Freudian phenomenon gripped me nonetheless as I stood over my ball. ¬†
The fact that Old Tom Morris designed the course would‚??ve meant nothing to me as a junior. ¬†But now that I‚??ve been fortunate to experience many great course designs over the past 194 days, it‚??s a little different. ¬†Not only was it a nostalgic treat walking the course and allowing buried memories to resurface; it was interesting to look at each hole through the lens of someone with a newfound passion for golf course architecture. ¬†I appreciated the course as I never had before. ¬†
Holes on the front like the 6th, 7th and 9th were wee crackers. ¬†They were among my favourite holes Back Then and remain so to this day. ¬†On 6 ‚?? a downhill short par 4 with a fairway sloping sharply left to right ‚?? The Brave can drive the green, but to do so they have to take a dicey line flirting with the thick stuff up on the hill. ¬†If you pull it you‚??re Gone; if you block it there‚??s a hazard down the end of the fairway that will happily gobble you up; and if you really block it there‚??s a forest that‚??s no more hospitable. ¬†A mid- to long iron sets you up with a straightforward pitch to a well guarded green and a good chance at birdie. ¬†A pulled pitch however and you will find yourself in the wee bunker as I did requiring a delicate little flip. ¬†Over the back it falls away down to the fence. ¬†Great little hole.
The 7th is only a wedge but from the back tees the shot is blind and there‚??s plenty mischief around. ¬†A burn runs the whole way along the right; pot bunkers guard the front left and right, and back of the green; and left is a gorse forest. ¬†With a bit of local knowledge you can use the contours to your advantage, but the consequences of being too cute are pretty dire. ¬†The green is long, thin and straightforward; and it probably yields a good few birdies on Saturdays. ¬†If you‚??re swinging the club confidently and know where you‚??re going, it‚??s a scoring hole. ¬†If there‚??s any lack of conviction however the 7th can wreak havoc. ¬†I nearly had a few hole in one‚??s here as a young ‚??un, but couldn‚??t reproduce the magic and tapped in for a disappointing 3.
I had forgotten how small the greens were here. ¬†It‚??s a short course, so pint size surfaces really are an integral element of it‚??s defences. ¬†As is the rough, which is more vicious than I remember it. ¬†If only I had a spare few hours to go ball hunting after we played today, I‚??m confident I would‚??ve uncovered 10 times the average yield I‚??d take home Back Then! ¬†I wonder whether it‚??s still the same ritual it was in those days? ¬†Ball hunting was as much fun as the actual golf... ¬†The utter glee at turning up a brand new (or ‚??split new‚?Ě as we said) Maxfli or, better still, Titleist was life changing. ¬†Incidentally Old Tam ‚?? a mad old snake who used to walk through the gorse in full tweed regalia while we played on Saturday mornings, looking for balls ‚?? was nowhere to be seen. ¬†Hope he‚??s still with us. ¬†We used to do swaps with Tam, who no doubt by virtue of his enduring experience had a knack for finding the best balls.
Mike hit the ball well and managed to roll in a good few birdies, clocking up the pounds for The First Tee. ¬†I on the other hand couldn‚??t buy a putt but was much too absorbed in the experience to give two shakes. ¬†Conor provided insightful commentary and sharp banter too. ¬†He also did a good job on the camera ‚?? almost as good as our mate Jirv back on Day 72 at The National near Melbourne! ¬†
Down the back 9 the rain abated and the soft beauty of the surrounding fields was revealed. ¬†As was Starks Park, the stomping ground of the local football team ‚?? Raith Rovers ‚?? who I used to watch (but not support) when dad held office as the Crowd Doctor for a couple of seasons. ¬†Like the front, the 9 finishes with some fantastic wee holes. ¬†15‚??s a short par 4 with a plateau green raised up above several menacing bunkers. ¬†Again you can drive it, but the target‚??s a tiny one and most mortals would be well advised to hit a 2 iron down there and a flip on. ¬†Then on 16 you drive blind up to a raised fairway that then tapers away down hill to the left; the green being raised up through the valley to the right hand side. ¬†Also a small target, and one that‚??s easier to hit with a bit of local knowledge (approach shots landing on the left kick down to the right ‚?? something I neglected to tell Mike but took into account myself!). ¬†17‚??s a short par 5 that you can take apart if you‚??re long off the tee, but if anything goes awry severe contours make it nigh on impossible to find a flat lie for your approach. ¬†
18‚??s about 140 yards through a chute to a green guarded on both sides by bunkers, and on the left by a steep bank. ¬†Like the 7th it‚??s a birdie chance if you‚??re hitting it well but a double bogey chance if you‚??re not. ¬†Good clean fun.
Anthony generously treated us to lunch up in the lounge. ¬†The privilege of sitting in the big boys‚?? area was one I only got to experience on special occasions like medal presentations and the like. ¬†Us wee fellas had our own wee corner off to the left, where we‚??d have a chip butty and pint of coke in between playing and ball hunting. ¬†Today it was a real treat to sit up on the top deck ‚?? which overlooks the putting green, the 1st and the 18th ‚?? with my little brother, Michael and Uncle Graeme (a dear family friend who has kindly put us up for a couple of nights and lent us his late mother-in-law‚??s old Merc for our UK leg), and reflect on what a great experience it‚??s been over the past day or two coming home and rekindling old ties. ¬†
Anthony was a very gracious host and good craic; the course was a huge amount of fun to play; and the weather was as it should be ‚?? cold and wet!
All in all, a memorable day. ¬†Thanks to Anthony and Kirkcaldy GC. ¬†And thanks to Graeme and Trina for the kind loan of The Tank!
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