Apologies for the extended delay between posts here – As you can tell, JK and I made up for the fact that his father was unable to join us for the epic trip to Scotland, and naturally we had to blog about that too. (See “Sand Rocks“)

On to Fife/St.Andrews!

Summary: In this section, I’ll discuss the particulars of our visit to the New Course, the Old Course, the Eden Course, the Jubilee Course, and Kingsbarns.  Various and sundry other locations in and around Scotland will be noted and discussed accordingly.

After our whirlwind time in East Lothian with our new friends, and in particular crossing the behemoth of Muirfield off our respective bucket lists, JK and I hopped in our tiny rental car (he drove) and we made our way to Fife as quickly as possible.  One quick tip here, it is helpful to have someone in your party that can drive stick, and then drive stick completely backwards.  There is no shot we’d have made it to Fife if I were the one that were driving.  Fortunately, we were able to navigate our way to our lodging at Agnes Blackadder Hall, and then over to the St. Andrews Golf Club.  We met with our host there who took us over to the New Course.

The New Course

As with most of the humor in Scotland, the name of this course in somewhat tongue in cheek.  The New Course was built in 1895.

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In a word, I’d describe the New Course as comfortable.  Without a doubt, it truly is a links course.  The New is tucked between the Old and Jubilee Courses.  Indeed, many of the front nine holes play adjacent to the Old Course, and it is even possible to play some of the New Course holes from Old Course fairways if you hit wayward tee shots.  However, the lack of major championship history for this course or indeed, much general knowledge about any significant professional or other championship golf reduced the insane urge that we felt to perform well in storied theaters.  JK and I stepped up to the first tee here with our host and were able to just play.  We hoofed our bags, chatted with our host about golf, Scotland, the U.S., politics, food, etc., and managed to get a perfect introduction to the history and culture around golf in St. Andrews.

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The New Course essentially acts as the locals’ home course.  Naturally, when tee times are available on the Old, they will take them as we would, but when the opportunity arises to shove off work early or get in a late afternoon round, the New Course is the first option.  As you might imagine, the course gets less play than the Old, so rounds take less time.  One would think that conditions might be better with less play, but it would be doing a disservice to the Old Course to make that assertion.  Links turf is remarkably different to any turf that is commonly available in the U.S., and is very hearty.  The greens tend to run a bit slower, of course, but no less true.

The New Course also has incredible views of the surrounding area, and of its two neighboring courses.

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View from 9th tee, I believe?

Upon ranking the St. Andrews Courses and trying to decide where we would advise our readers to play during their own trips, we agreed that the New was certainly one that folks should incorporate into their rotation if they are in St. Andrews for multiple rounds.

That Night

The date is August 4, 2016.  The time is 4:15 AM.  Two lunatics arrive at the starters tent at the Old Course upon the advice of their host earlier that evening to queue up before the break of dawn to the following scene:

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Believe it or not, at 4:15 AM, JK and I are respectively 11th and 12th in line for the standby list to play the Old Course.  So we sit there for what feels like 2 days in the cold waiting for the shack to open.  We try to catch some zzz’s… Some more creatively than others:

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But eventually we are told that we should come back at 2pm and that we should have a tee time shortly thereafter.

Dutifully, we arrive at 1:30 and are told that we are to report to the first the tee at 3:50pm.  Ecstatic, sleep deprived, and hungry, we trudge over to the Dunvegan pub.  More on this amazing place later.

The Old Course

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The words that come to mind when I think about the Old Course: Timeless, Unique, and Epic.

What can I say about the Old Course at St. Andrews…. Well, I sat for about two hours pondering this exact question, and it turns out that I could say quite a bit.  However, what I’d say you could read in any number of likely much better written reviews than this one.  JK’s initial post about our trip sums up my particular experience with the Old Course, which was memorable to say the least.  (Not so humble brag… I shot 74, my career low to date).

I’ll limit my observations on the Old Course to the following two:

  1. If there were only 1 course I could play for the rest of my life, it would be the Old Course at St. Andrews.  If this were the case, I’d still play golf every single day, and twice on Saturday because it’s closed on Sunday.
  2. If you get a chance to play, on your way back in, be sure you pay attention to the town of St. Andrews on the horizon periodically.  It’s truly awe-inspiring to see this tiny little town grow and grow until it surrounds you as you walk back toward the R&A clubhouse.  This is one of the coolest unintended effects of the Old Course that I feel is an underrated part of the experience.  A very small piece of this is captured in the images below.

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The Dunvegan Pub (again)

Yeah, we got hammered after that round.  And drank more Kummel.

The end.

The Eden Course

The one memorable thing about this course was that we almost played the wrong hole at one point.  Had we not run into the only other person playing this course, we likely might have only played 11 holes and wondered where the rest of them where.

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I shot 78, JK did not.  Our thoughts as we were waiting for the shuttle back to the Old Course clubhouse after the round: “why did we just play that course?”  Guess you can’t win them all.

The Jubilee Course

The Jubilee course, like Spyglass Hill, is a wonderful example of a course that would be more well-known if were located more than 10 yards from one of the most famous courses in the world.  This course was truly fun.  The course felt a bit shorter than the other links courses that we played, but much tighter and more fraught with danger.  Nearly ever hole includes some incredibly menacing rough or bunker that a careful player must avoid or contend with.  I honestly can’t remember a single shot that allowed the player to lay back or make a small mistake.  That being said, I also don’t remember hitting a single long iron, so really, there shouldn’t be many mistakes…

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The Old Jigger Inn

JK ate Haggis.  Gross.

Kingsbarns

And finally, one of the true jewels of this trip – Kingsbarns.  This Kyle Phillips masterpiece was truly one of the finest courses I’ve had the chance to play.

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Panoramic view of 18 from the clubhouse at sunrise

To get a few non-golf things out of the way: 1) the non-golf experience at Kingsbarns is far more typical of the experience at a high-end U.S. resort than the other Scottish links.  That is to say, there are at least two sets of tees that almost no one should be allowed to play for the sake of enjoying the game, the food and drink are actually quite good, and your wallet is going to be a good bit lighter when you leave.  This is due in part to the fact that the owner of Kingsbarns is actually an American that lives in Pleasanton, CA.  2) The clubhouse was one of the best I’ve seen anywhere, ever. 3) They have their own whisky.  It’s really good.

Regarding the golf: awe-inspiring is the phrase that comes to mind for me.  Nearly every hole has an epic view of the North Sea.  The whole course was built upon a fairly flat spit of land, and apparently required over 200,000 cubic meters of dirt to be moved for its construction.  This allowed Kyle to create some truly stunning golf holes that likely wouldn’t be easy to form naturally.  It is one of the few courses we played that had any kind of a forced carry, but even those felt quite manageable.

One hole that stood out to JK and me as not really fitting with the rest was the par three 15th.  This hole required a forced carry over part of the North Sea to a tucked green.  While it was a great hole in its own right, it didn’t feel like it fit with the typical style of the area.

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View from the 15th tee at Kingsbarns

JK also took issue with driveable par four 6th hole.  I’m not sure why, honestly.  I loved it.

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View from the 6th tee at Kingsbarns.  (Hole is above the two bunkers on right side)

In my opinion, Kingsbarns could be one of the best ever.  It looked as epic as Pebble Beach on every tee shot, played like a true links, and had incredible shot value.  While some shots didn’t fit the true links style, the result is still a course I feel could be imminently playable any time of the year, and could certainly host an Open Championship any time.  The one piece of advice JK and I agreed on for this course that we wish we had followed was to take a caddy.  Oh, also, I hope you’ll agree, Kingsbarns was far and away the most photogenic course we played.

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Odds and Ends (Rapid Fire Edition)

  • If you get a chance/invite – visit either the St. Andrews Golf Club or the New Club.  Great insight into the difference between the attitude toward golf in the U.S. and Scotland
  • Agnes Blackadder Hall is the best kept secret for lodging in St. Andrews.  Your own room, good shower, and breakfast for £40 a night.  We booked using Hotels.com.
  • If you’re going to wait in line at the Old course, get there at 4am or earlier.  Bring warm clothing and sleeping bag.
  • Amazing pro tip: there are LOCKERS at New Course Club House that you can use for free (£1 refundable deposit) that hold a full size golf bag.  Store your crap here between rounds, or while you’re waiting in line to play the Old Course.  Be careful about leaving things overnight though – not sure of the policy here.
  • If you’re a stickler for having “official” gear, be careful of shopping anywhere else besides the St. Andrew’s branded pro shops at the clubhouses.  There are lots of duplicates and unofficial suppliers, but that doesn’t mean they don’t make good stuff.
  • Belhaven’s Best Beer.  Locals call it Bell’s Best.  Drink it.
  • If we were going to do it again, we’d eliminate the Eden, and wait in line to play the Old again.  If you want other recommendations in the area, we heard great things about Crail and the Castle Course.
  • Finally, if you’re lucky, you might get a view like this one before you leave:

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Thank you for reading!

Follow @thepowerfade on Instagram to get our latest pics up to the minute!  Who knows, we might even figure out how to do to the whole “Live Video” thing and post that stuff too.

POTW: Flushing It

April 27, 2017

I’m not exactly sure how to write this kind of post, but it’s a good problem to have. This week’s (year’s?) POTW goes to me. Why would someone give himself an honor? Because I’m the king, and on Monday of this week, I earned my own throne.

On Monday I played in a 4-man scramble benefiting a local elementary school. Like most scrambles, the tournament featured close-to-the-pin contests and a long-drive competition.

However, the long-drive competition was unlike any I’d ever entered before. Not to brag, but I’ve won more than my fair share of long drive prizes, including one combo long + straight drive. But I had never won–or even entered–a challenge like the one presented on Monday. A donation to the school from a contractor prompted a special type of long drive competition, likely chosen by the donor. The challenge? See how far you can hit a ball–and here’s the important part–while sitting on a throne, and you win….

a throne.

A porcelain throne.

In other words… a toilet.

Yes, you read that right.

With installation.

In a scramble golf event, my long drive won me a toilet. On the par 4 tenth hole at Shadowridge Golf Club in Vista, California, I hit–from a partial squat position with my posterior resting on a plastic toilet seat–a *flushed* (see what I did there) driver of almost 250 yards up the middle of the fairway. As I took the long drive card from its prior position and moved it to my ball, I only wished that someone had gotten it on video, because if you weren’t there, you wouldn’t have believed it.

And now, I’m curious from our readership–what weird stuff have you won at a golf tournament? Feel free to comment below. I bet it’s not as crappy as my prize =).

30 wins internationally (10 on TOUR), Players Champion, Ryder Cup legend, and now for the first time, Major winner.  These are not alternative facts, people.

It was 10 years ago, TEN YEARS, that we all watched Sergio’s par putt to win his first major title at the Open Championship at Carnoustie slide by the hole and force a playoff that no one believed for a second would be competitive.  Not this year.  This year, coming down the 18th during the playoff, Sergio stripes his drive a solid 330+, and puts his 8 iron to 10 feet for a winning birdie.  Justin Rose, we salute you for your effort, but it was just not meant to be your day.

To you, Sergio:
This entire tournament, in particular your final round, was a perfect microcosm of your career.  Ups and downs, terrible breaks, awful lies, insane recoveries, missed putts, and some of the best ball-striking anyone has seen or will see anywhere forever.

You did it.  You finally did it.  And we loved every minute of it.

Congratulations from the PowerFade Team.

Prediction: 2017 Masters

April 5, 2017

It’s Christmas! No, it’s even better! IT’S MASTERS WEEK!

This is the week that LG and I wait for every year, the best week of golf of the year. 20 years since Tiger’s record-setting performance, I can’t wait to see how it plays out on Sunday.

Updates in Bold added 4/20/2017
Top 10:
1 Sergio Garcia -9 3
2 Justin Rose -9 5
3 Charl Schwartzel -6 F
T4 Matt Kuchar -5 F
T4 Thomas Pieters -5 F
6 Paul Casey -4 F
T7 Rory McIlroy -3 F
T7 Kevin Chappell -3 F
T9 Adam Scott -2 F
T9 Ryan Moore -2 F

JK:
Winner: Rory McIlroy T7 at -3. Correct was Sergio Garcia, happy to say
Winning Score: -9 correct
Runner Up: Jordan Spieth T11 at -1
“Unknown” in the Top 10: Matthew Fitzpatrick Solo 32nd at +4. Closest to “unknown” in the Top 10 was Kevin Chappell
Last Year’s Winner (Danny Willett) will … (Win, Top10, Make the Cut, or Miss the Cut): Make the Cut MC
The US Open Champion (Dustin Johnson) will …: Top 10 WD – back injury
The Champion Golfer of 2016 (Henrik Stenson) will …: Make the Cut MC
PGA Champion (Jimmy Walker) will …: Miss the Cut T18 at +1. Not bad
How many prior Masters winners will be in the Top 10: 4 2
The Low Amateur will be…: Curtis Luck T46 at +9, but not LA. Low Am was Stewart Hagestad, T36 at +6
Does the Low Amateur make the cut?: No Yes he did, and so did the second best
Jordan Spieth will … Top10, second place close, T11 at -1
Jason Day will … Withdraw T22 at +2. Not bad
Rory McIlroy will … Win not exactly
Hideki Matsuyama will … Top 10 T11 at -1. Good showing
Justin Thomas will … Make the Cut T22 at +2
Rickie Fowler will .. Make the Cut T11 at -1
Adam Scott will … Top 10 Correct, T9 at -2
Bubba Watson will … Top 10 MC
Sergio Garcia will … Make the Cut WIN IT
Phil Mickeslon will … Top 10 T22 at +2
Bernhard Langer will … Make the cut MC, 75-78
Ian Woosnam, Mark O’Meara, Sandy Lyle, or Larry Mize–who is lowest?: All MC, I’ll go with O’Meara Larry Mize made the cut with 74-76 then took down solo-52nd at 17 over par. Yikes
Will there be a hole in one? Yes of course, 16 most likely CONGRATULATIONS MATT KUCHAR!!!
What will be the major storyline of the tournament? Tiger Woods / Rory McIlroy comparisons Definitely Sergio dropping the monkey
What is your Bold prediction? McIlroy makes 4 eagles over the weekend yea, not exactly

LG:
Winner: Bubba Watson MC
Winning Score: – 8 Close
Runner Up: Rory T7
“Unknown” in the Top 10: Adam Hadwin T36 at +6
Last Year’s Winner (Danny Willett) will … (Win, Top10, Make the Cut, or Miss the Cut): MC correct
The US Open Champion (Dustin Johnson) will …: Top 10 Best player not in the field
The Champion Golfer of 2016 (Henrik Stenson) will …: Top 10 not exactly
PGA Champion (Jimmy Walker) will …: MC not exactly
How many prior Masters winners will be in the Top 10: 2 Correct
The Low Amateur will be…: No idea who they are. learn some golf, LG
Does the Low Amateur make the cut?: Don’t care. wasted talent
Jordan Spieth will … Top 10 close, T11
Jason Day will … Make Cut Correct, T22
Rory McIlroy will … Top 10 Correct, T7
Hideki Matsuyama will … take forever to swing, look like he hate the shot, then make an ace on 12.  Make cut. Correct, T11
Justin Thomas will … MC made cut
Rickie Fowler will .. Make cut correct
Adam Scott will … Make cut Top 10
Bubba Watson will … WIN! MC
Sergio Garcia will … Miss cut WIN!
Phil Mickeslon will … Top 10 Closure, T22
Bernhard Langer will … be old. yep
Ian Woosnam, Mark O’Meara, Sandy Lyle, or Larry Mize–who is lowest?: Woosie will be the shortest, for sure. winner
Will there be a hole in one? YES good
What will be the major storyline of the tournament? The rain, sadly. not at all
What is your Bold prediction? Jim Nantz says the word “shit” live on the air. he was fighting it back all week

Sand Rocks

February 9, 2017

As you grow older, influences of people and events on your life–and the meanings associated therewith–grow with you. Something that you experience one day may have a completely different meaning when you’ve grown 10, 15, 25, 50 years older. Perspective gives you patience and understanding of the deeper significance of events in your life…at least for me.

With that context in mind, I’ll give you some background on the story I’m about to tell.

Like so many, I was introduced to the game of golf by my father, who in turn was introduced to the game by his dad (my grandfather). My father was one of 7 kids in his family (6 boys); golf became one thing that kept them together. My grandfather was not an easy person to get along with, so the game was a chance for some in my dad’s family to spend the kind of time with their dad that they wanted to remember. Even in my own experience, some of the fond memories I had of my grandfather before his death were either playing or talking about golf. Growing up, my fondness for the game was built as much out of nostalgia as it was my own interest in the game itself. Playing the local muni with my dad was something we could bond over; having my uncle (dad’s brother) take me to The Masters remains one of the greatest golf experiences of my life, some 20 years later.

Dad never had much growing up (probably on account of being one of seven children, amongst other things). As my dad told me many a time, the only thing my grandfather ever bought for my father was a set of MacGregor Jack Nicklaus Signature blades as a high school graduation gift (which he still has in his basement somewhere). Visiting a special golf course was very much an exception rather than a norm for us during my childhood. In listing some of the “great” courses we’ve played, the top of my dad’s list included East Lake (which we got on after I joined a law firm that had a membership there for a short period of time), followed by Glen Abbey (which he got me on as part of a fundraiser while working in Canada), and then… NCR in Kettering, OH, which hosted the 1969 PGA Championship. Despite nearly 50 years golfing, my father had known little more than muni tracks across the US. He always played them like they were the best he could have had, and he had a real knack for finding the best day of the month to play on. One of my best memories was–most years, at least–finding a day somewhere between Christmas and New Year’s Day to go out and play a round (I grew up in Georgia, and the weather oscillates a lot at this time of year). He earned the nickname “fair weather Fred” over the years for his uncanny ability to pick the best day there was.

In truly divergent fashion, readers on this blog will know that LG leaves no stone unturned when searching for a great golf experience. It’s been mostly tagging along with him that I’ve had opportunities to play Spyglass and Spanish Bay (our first golf trip together), Shadow Creek, Wolf Creek, St. Andrews, Royal Troon, Carnoustie, Olympic Club, the California Golf Club of San Francisco, and so many more that I simply couldn’t list them all. I’ve also had opportunities to play Peachtree Golf Club, Torrey Pines, Piedmont Driving Club, Reynolds Plantation, and several other truly great courses through some very fortunate circumstances.

My dad is also one of the types of people for which there’s always “someday.” If I had a nickle for every time my dad said “someday we’ll do ________” or “someday, when we get a little money, I think it would be neat to ________” then I’d probably not be willing to spend my time examining the finer points of what golf means to me for a blog.

Devoted readers of this blog will also know that LG and I went to Scotland on a Trip-Of-A-Lifetime type of golf getaway in August of 2016. Nevermind LG’s exceptional play that made it even more memorable, the trip featured visits to some of golf’s greatest and most historic courses. At 66 years old, my dad declined the chance to go, I’m sure for one of the many reasons that only a father can know. LG and I had an incredible experience.

In my conversations with my dad afterwards, he sounded disappointed.

For himself.

And I was too. He should have been there, if we’re being honest about it.

Life and time have brought me good fortune and some wisdom (I hope, at least). It was shortly after that time that I decided dad needed his own mini-experience to make up for missing Scotland. I plotted out with LG when we could make our way to San Francisco to visit him and play some courses in the area, including LG’s home track. It was a rather small idea that grew into a rather big one.

LG: “let’s pick some dates in January.”
JK: “sounds good. How about the weekend of 1/15-16? We’re going to go to Las Vegas first but then head up your way”
LG: “that works. Oh, wait, my course is closed on Monday. Could you switch your trip?”
JK: “can’t. Could we play somewhere else on Monday?”
LG: “no, most of the courses here are closed on Mondays.”

LG: “Wait….how about Pebble?”
JK: “Pebble Beach?”
LG: “Is there another course named Pebble around here?”

While it had certainly occurred to me on many occasions to take my father–the man who introduced me to the game–to a place like Pebble Beach, I have to admit that I never actually planned to do it. Frankly, planning a trip is hard; it requires coordinating people’s schedules and figuring out dates and commitments. In some ways, I certainly fall into my father’s “some day” mentality.

But that wasn’t happening today. LG signed us up for a tee time on January 16, 2017. When Christmas came, I told my dad we were going to go play some golf with LG in San Francisco.

Only I didn’t tell him everything. Here’s roughly how the conversation went down:

JK: “So we’ll get there on Sunday, January 15, and play LG’s course. Then, I think his course is closed on Monday so we’re going somewhere else.”
dad: “Do you know what it’s called?”
JK: “eh, you’ll have to ask LG that.”

Over the course of the next few days, I mentioned to LG that we were going to make this a surprise (as much as a round of golf can be). Then, the light bulb went on, and I said “if he asks you where we’re going, just tell him Sand Rocks.”

“Sand Rocks” was, of course, a pseudonym for Pebble Beach, what with pebbles being a subset of rocks and beaches being made from sand. LG chuckled, “you really think he isn’t going to figure that one out?”

As the time grew closer, it turned out that San Francisco–and most of the northern California area–experienced some ridiculous storms (http://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/weekend-storm-to-unload-widespread-heavy-rain-in-western-us/70000459). Many trees at LG’s course were felled during the rain and after. LG’s course was in unusually damp condition, with branches downed all over. With the bad weather, it easily could have rained out our plans for the following day. But what were we going to do? The trip had been scheduled. We packed up and prayed for good days.

The trip happened. I showed my dad around Las Vegas, a place he hadn’t really experienced in detail prior. Then we got on our flight to SFO. Now, at this point, he knew:
(1) we were not playing LG’s course on Monday
(2) we were getting up at 5:00 am to go play a course at an 8:10 tee time
(3) we were planning to fly out of San Jose that night, not SFO.
(4) the course was called “Sand Rocks”

We landed in SFO and took the legally-mandated Uber ride to LG’s course. Then we teed off and walked around the track. Dad quit after nine holes from being tired (and, of course, the bar at LG’s course didn’t hurt either). We had a quick dinner in the city then got to bed. Then we got up at 5:00 and started.

FK at LG's Course

Many thanks to LG for driving us all the way down. SF is not close to Carmel, and the drive certainly wasn’t easy at 5:00. At one point, it was 37 degrees F outside. It was still dark. But as we approached the course, things started to warm up.

LG began asking my dad what his favorite golf experiences were; he asked what the best courses played were; he asked if my dad had ever been out to Pebble Beach before. My dad answered all his questions honestly and earnestly…

…and he had no clue where we were going.

We passed road sign after road sign saying “PEBBLE BEACH GOLF LINKS, NEXT RIGHT”–still nothing. We stopped at the guard gate at 17-Mile Drive, the well-known entrance to Pebble Beach Golf Links, and said “we’re playing the course today.” Still nothing. As we drove in, my dad told his story of walking out on the 18th hole at Pebble Beach–“it’s a really neat place,” he said. “You see all these houses and you go, ‘My God, how fortunate do you have to be to live in a place like this.'” He also threw in a gold nugget: “ya know, it would be wonderful to play it some day, but not at the price they’re charging for it. It’s too expensive.”

Sand Rocks Signs

did you read the signs?

LG pulled the car into a parking space in front of the course. We took all the bags out and set them behind the car, gathering our items for the round. It was there, standing at the precipice of one of the most historic courses in the world, that I decided to let him in on the secret.

JK: “dad, did you put in your contacts today?”
dad: “I only put one in, my eye hurts a bit”
LG: “you need to get your stuff out of your travel bag, right?”
JK: “well, yeah, I guess…….

Hey dad, did you read the sign?”

After about 15 seconds of reading and pondering what had been right in front of him all along, my dad turned around with a puzzled look on his face.

“I thought you said we were playing this other place?”

and then it hit him. He broke into a full grin. He chuckled at himself, trying to figure out what he should say. He fumbled over his words, not realizing if we were serious or just playing a joke of some sort.

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“I told you this place is too expensive,” he managed to get out with a huge grin.

He finally knew where we were, what we were doing. 50 years of golfing, he finally got to be a part of it, not just to watch it on a screen or walk from the sidelines–he got a chance to do it. At one point during the round he remarked “I wouldn’t have chosen to come here with the way I’m playing now.” I couldn’t help but wonder if, when, and how he would ever be better than he was that day. And that’s when I understood–somewhere along the way, I learned that the game isn’t about the way you play it, it’s about the experience you get from it. It’s about getting things out of it that you never knew were there. It’s about finding things within you that you needed to know about yourself to fully understand who you are.

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Our caddie mentioned that we had picked the perfect day to play. It seemed only fitting. “It rained all last week,” he said, “and it’s supposed to get overcast and cold tomorrow.” We walked the course at 65 degrees F in full sunshine. Fair-weather Fred did his part.

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Highlight of the Day: dad hits a 40-foot putt to save par on the second

In a moment I’ll personally never forget, dad and I both hit the green on the 17th. It was probably the only one all day.
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We took picture after picture, then finished our round, had a putting competition on the practice green (which LG won, of course), had a drink at the bar, then sat out by the 18th green for awhile just contemplating what had just happened. In a lifetime on the golf course, I don’t think I’d ever seen my dad seem so much in-the-moment as I did that day. We both played pretty good rounds of golf, all things considered. 20170116_092112

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And dad managed to narrowly avoid plummeting to his death in Stillwater Cove.

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Then we went home.

Pride, hope, achievement, reflection.

As ephemeral as those feelings can be, they are the reason we do this. Even when it’s expensive, even when it’s not perfect, even when we know we could play better, there really isn’t much that compares to experiencing the pinnacle of a lifetime’s devotion. My dad never asked for much and never needed to have that experience. He could have gone his whole life never setting foot on the hallowed ground of the game–at least, not as a player–and probably would have never noticed a thing. But having been one to have that experience gives him something he will never let go of for the rest of his life. And, frankly, the same went for me. Just watching him live out something he could have only dreamt of a few years earlier showed me just how far we had come. And, starting tomorrow, he’ll be able to watch the best in the world take on the course he now knows just a small part about. Even if he could have done without it, it is priceless in its own right.

That…is why we love this game.

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As JK mentioned in his earlier post (Scotland 2016), his aim was to provide merely a taste of our experience in Scotland.  An amuse-bouche of our adventure, if you will.  In the remaining posts, we will endeavor to provide more complete reviews for each of the regions we visited:  Glasgow, East Lothian, St. Andrew’s/Fife, and Carnoustie.  For the more OCD readers, unfortunately these reviews will not appear in chronological order.  We would apologize, but once they’re all written, you can just open different browser tabs and put them in order if you really need to.  Another brief aside: for these reviews, we had to borrow more photos from the internet than we would typically like to, but the conditions were relatively poor for photography purposes during our visit.  Thank you in advance, Google Images.

First up, East Lothian!  (A map of our travels in East Lothian)

During our visit to East Lothian, JK and I stayed at a property called the County Hotel located just off the main drag in the town of North Berwick.  We found the rooms using a combination of Google Maps, TripAdvisor, and Hotels.com.  Mostly, we just wanted to find a place where we could do as little driving as possible, and the County Hotel fit the bill.  Before I get into the course reviews,  I want to mention that this place was a perfect place to start a golf trip not only because it was a good “golf” bnb, but also because it captured the feeling of golf in North Berwick.  The rooms are basic, the beds comfortable, and the showers hot.  There’s a fantastic pub downstairs that’s as likely to have a group of golfers visiting as locals from town.  In fact, we met a group that was traveling from Wales on their own buddies golf trip.  There was a distinct small town vibe and quirkiness that was absent in our other destinations that made North Berwick very special to us both.

North Berwick – The West Links

In a word, the West Links at North Berwick should be described as fun.  It very well might have been the most fun course that JK and I played in Scotland together.  At just over 6,100 yards from the tips, this par 71 layout does not require the player to hit extremely long drives to have scoring opportunities.

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Panoramic view from the second hole at dusk

The course plays directly along the northernmost point of a peninsula that juts into the North Sea.  This leads to some phenomenal views of island-like features and geological formations such as Bass Rock that border this area as captured above and below.

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Bass Rock

While the front nine felt more like the typical links style golf we played in Scotland, the back nine took on a life of its own.  The course had a number of features that were unique to the West links including a series of stone walls that run through the course:

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These walls play as true hazards on at least two holes, with the most memorable being the par 4 13th “Pit” hole.  This hole requires a well-placed drive up the right side of a narrow landing area, and then a cleanly nipped short iron or pitch over a 3-4 foot stone wall to a small green.  Birdies must come at the price of one’s first child:

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Photo borrowed from a Google Image search – it was raining when we played this hole, so cameras did not make an appearance.

Other memorable features included the original Redan par three that features an off-axis green that tilts away from the player (Read more about Redan holes here):

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Also borrowed.

And finally, the most ridiculous green either JK or I have ever seen on the par 4 “Gate” 16th:

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Also borrowed.

yes, that’s about a 6 foot drop right in the middle of the green, which effectively makes this a hole with alternate greens.  JK made a nice birdie on this hole in some pretty questionable conditions.

Other memorable shots included the drive on 2 and the drive on 18.  2 felt very much like an inverse of 18 at pebble beach (slightly different scenery, but way better for a hook), while 18 felt almost like a copy of 18 from the Old Course.

JK and I agreed that if we were to do this trip again, we would try to schedule multiple rounds at the West Links not only to have another crack at some of these crazy holes, but also because the entire course seemed to have very high replay value.  Even from morning to afternoon, these links must play very differently, and even a slight change in wind would impact club selection on some of the shorter holes.

Gullane #1

(Disclaimer: My review of Gullane #1 likely won’t do the course justice, but our round there had us chasing the sun and rushing in to drink a couple of beverages to warm up.  I couldn’t imagine a more fun way to see a course quickly than the round we played there, but it doesn’t make for good review fodder.  Clearly, a return trip is in order to fill out this review.)

During the afternoon of our first day in East Lothian, we were treated to a game at Gullane #1.  This property actually has 3 courses, with number 1 being the most well known and the one we’d recommend playing if you only have time for one round at the facility.

JK and I were already both quite tired due to jet lag at this point, but did not want to miss out on the opportunity to play.  Luckily, we were playing with two gents from the area and were able to settle on teams for a foursomes game.  For those unfamiliar, foursomes is a team game where partners alternate shots on the same ball; four players will play two balls.  Teams alternate tee shots regardless of who holes the last putt as well.  If you are tired, but still want to see a course, or have limited daylight, or just want to play a fun new format, we highly recommend foursomes/alternate shot.

A quick look at the map (located here) will show the difference in the shape of overall layouts of Gullane and North Berwick.  While NB is a more traditional out-and-back style links, Gullane is a sprawling property that has spectacular views of many holes and several prominences that offer spectacular views of the North Sea.
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If North Berwick should be described as fun, Gullane #1 should be described as breathtaking.

The view of the second hole from the first tee was unlike anything else we saw in our 9 rounds:

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Borrowed from golfnook.com/gullane.htm

The second hole itself might have been one of the hardest holes we played during our trip as well.  In any event, the course continually offered wonderful challenges, long driving holes, and the need for a solid short game.  More than almost any course during our trip, elevation change played a significant role in the course routing.  The exception maybe Kingsbarns.  It is not surprising that this course has hosted numerous championships in Scotland and is on the Scottish Open rota.

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A view from the blue tee on the 13th hole – Hole Across (178 yards)

Kümmel

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No.  It’s not a golf course.  Kümmel is the local drink in North Berwick/Muirfield.  From what I can tell, it’s actually a German liquor, but 1/3 of the world’s supply is consumed in East Lothian.  No one ever poured a single of this marvelous beverage, and we never questioned it.  We highly recommend you drink the kümmel

Muirfield

Much ink has been spilled about Muirfield’s wonderful lunch, tradition of playing fourball in the morning and foursomes in the afternoon, and its recent vote not to allow female members, so I will focus on my opinions of the course and experience.

Let’s see.  If North Berwick = Fun… and Gullane = Breathtaking … then it must be true that Muirfield = Prestigious.

Even walking up to the clubhouse (which one must do in coat and tie) inspires the distinct feeling of arriving at an exclusive private club which I have only experienced in the United States.  As with all of the courses of that ilk that I have been lucky enough to play, Muirfield was in nearly perfect condition.  The week after our visit the club was set to host the R&A’s Boys Amateur Championship.  Accordingly, the course was being prepared and the rough was grown to a height that we did not experience anywhere else in Scotland.  I don’t recall what happened with JK, but my bag left considerably lighter due to the lack of golf balls after our round.

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View from the 3rd Fairway at Muirfield

As with most very private clubs, we limited the number of pictures we took and just enjoyed the experience.  Muirfield is also known for playing rounds very quickly, so we didn’t want to spend a lot of time pulling phones out and being tourists.

The course was one of the finest we had an opportunity to play.  Particular highlights included the par 4 3rd (pictured above) due to the fantastic second shot and the fact that I made birdie, the par 4 6th due to the incredibly difficult approach after a very tight drive, the par 5 9th (also made birdie), the par 4 11th due to the blind drive, the par 5 17th with its fantastic second shot and green complex (and my third birdie), and of course, the iconic par 4 18th where Phil won his Open Championship.

Odds and Ends

Other places we visited and liked in North Berwick included a wonderful pub called The Golfers Rest, the Turkish Kebab House three doors down from The Golfers Rest (second best meal we had in Scotland), and a San Francisco-style coffee shop called Steampunk Coffee from which I’m now regretting not buying a mug.  There was also a beautiful cemetery behind the County Hotel that surrounds the ruin of an old church that JK and I had a chance to walk through one morning.  It was quite an experience to see families have 6 or 7 generations buried in the same plot, with some predating the American Revolution.

Additionally, what we would call a “semi-golf” experience: right next to the West Links is a putting course that costs £2 per person.  While neither of us would recommend playing this course directly prior to playing a round at the course due to the fact that it runs at roughly the speed of Congress deciding where to eat lunch, we would suggest it as a great place to settle wagers or enjoy a brew after a good day on the links.  Also, thanks for the putter cover, JK!

Finally, if we had a chance to play more rounds in East Lothian, we would have considered Archerfield, Gullane #2, The Glen, and Craigielaw in that order.  The order comes from no other rationale than the number of times we were told by others where we should play, and where the group of travelers from Wales I encountered at the County Hotel said they were playing.