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.
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.
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.”
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.
“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.
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.
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.
And dad managed to narrowly avoid plummeting to his death in Stillwater Cove.
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.
September 7, 2016
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.
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.
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:
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:
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):
And finally, the most ridiculous green either JK or I have ever seen on the par 4 “Gate” 16th:
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.
(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.
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:
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.
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
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.
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.
August 23, 2016
I started and re-started writing this post probably 6 times in total. When I finally did sit down and get moving on it, it took me 5 days of writing just to get a full draft down. Despite the abundance of words (over 7,800 at the time I am drafting this prologue), this is my best effort. LG and I had a hard time figuring out how to distill our desired information into a post that adequately captured our experiences without becoming too much of a course review or inundating the readers with information. Hopefully you won’t find these posts to be too long or cumbersome to read. However, this blog is not just a place for our readers to enjoy and share in our experiences and information; it is also a place where we record some of our experiences for our own memories, hoping to one day share with our families and friends long after the experience is over. I’m hopeful we have accomplished that goal in this post.
Without further ado, here is our first post on Scotland.
The 2016 annual LG-and-JK-play-terrible-golf-somewhere-other-than-their-home-courses meetup took us to Scotland. This was my first trip to the home of golf, and, although LG had ventured there once, he had not played any golf. It was not without a bit of drama, a bit of intrigue, and a lot fatigue, but it was certainly a life experience to add to the books.
Thinking about what it takes to get two guys across the Atlantic Ocean for a week, it’s no surprise that, after 20 years of playing golf, this is only the second time I’ve brought my clubs outside the US–and the first time outside of North America. The cost and planning involved are not to be underestimated (much thanks to LG on the planning end). With that said, even after playing hundreds of golf courses in dozens of US States and literally thousands of rounds of golf…Scotland was still very different and very much worth all the effort and cost.
LG: Many folks will compare Bandon Dunes on the Oregon Coast to the golf offerings in Scotland. After this trip, I think it’s fair to say that, in terms of the golf offered at Bandon, it’s about as close as you can get to Scotland in the US, but in terms of the experience, it’s entirely different. This post isn’t meant to be a fulsome discussion of that subject, but will certainly be the subject of a later post. Ru MacDonald and Graylyn Loomis recently released an episode of the Scottish Golf Travel Podcast that discusses this very subject. We would also be remiss in not thanking Ru and Graylyn for their podcast and answers to our emails during the planning of our own trip. Thanks, guys!
The trip, which was scheduled in late 2015, consisted of 7 days of golf and travel from July 30th, 2016 (takeoff from LAX to GLA) to August 7, 2016 (landing in LAX from GLA) (LG’s schedule was slightly different and included flying out of SFO and returning to a business location). LG networked extensively to find us desired locations of play and connections for hosting at some of the most storied courses in the game. What resulted was a dream listing of courses:
Leave LAX July 30 PM, Arrive GLA July 31 PM*
July 31 – Royal Troon*
August 1 – Glasgow Golf Club – Gailes Links*
August 2 – North Berwick AM / Gullane #1 PM
August 3 – Muirfield AM / St. Andrews – New Course PM
August 4 – The Old Course at St. Andrews
August 5 – St. Andrews – Eden Course AM / St. Andrews – Jubilee Course PM
August 6 – Kingsbarns AM / Carnoustie PM
Leave GLA August 7 AM, Arrive LAX August 7 PM*
(*LG not included)
That’s 11 courses in 7 days, including four Open rota courses, four rounds at The Home of Golf, and four different cities/towns in which we played. If that sounds like a lot of golf….it was. It’s 198 holes over 7 days. To his credit, LG stayed sharp and on his game pretty much the whole time, despite having run a half-marathon literally the day before arriving. My game was a bit more mercurial, but that’s not unexpected.
What prompted the trip?
Well, one might say that it was something that we had always wanted to do, but I think we all know that those types of vague “one day” goals never really get put on a calendar. Instead, it really was a product of circumstance, in my case. In late 2015, I came across a great deal on flights to Europe through British Airways. In an incredible lapse of judgment, I booked a flight to Scotland (the above) without even talking to my wife. The deal worked out to being an $800 round-trip business class seat. Now, whether my wife was planning my untimely demise at one point or not, we’ll never know for sure. However, we both realized that it was possible to make it actually work. LG committed to the trip and the rest is history.
In 7 days of life in Scotland, we did almost nothing but golf. And while LG and I could review the courses for ages (and will in adjacent posts that will eventually be hyperlinked herein), the purpose of this general post is to talk more about the trip. I’ll do my best to be chronological, but we might get out of order here in some of the information. Please don’t hold it against me if I’m not terribly organized–there was a lot of beer.
July 31, 2016
My plane connected through London. The first thing I would tell anyone who is traveling through London is this: do not…DO NOT…book a tight connection through London. I got off my plane with about an hour connection time and thought “let me make sure I know where I’m going.” I figured out where the appropriate connection locations were and set off…eventually finding a line that looked like this (note, this is not my picture, but it might as well have been):
Oh, and, of course, you have to go through a London security line, even though you haven’t left the airport. Bizarre. Anyway, I didn’t have much time after the customs line, so I jumped through security and literally threw my backpack into the scanner. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that the UK is apparently still on the old system that US had where ALL LIQUIDS MUST COME OUT OF YOUR BAG.
HOT TIP: If you’re connecting through London, (a) don’t have a tight connection, and (b) get all liquids out of your bag and put them in a small plastic bag like the good ole days
So I was selected for additional screening. With 12 minutes to go until boarding. Great. I got to wait behind an older American man who was straight up chewing out the security steward. She got so frustrated that she decided to start tooting her own horn: “safest airport in the world, sir” was followed by “we didn’t have to do this before 9/11…who was responsible for that” in a tone intimating that the US was somehow responsible for a terrorist attack on its own soil. As frustrated as I was with that, I decided not to push it since I was at 4 minutes and counting. When she finally got to my bag, I was already past initial boarding by 10 minutes and thinking my chances were probably over. So I just let her do her search, find nothing, and calmly carried my bag. I figured I would walk toward my own gate and, if there were any agents there, figure out how to get on the next flight out. As I walked down the stairs, I heard “last call for boarding British Airways flight 7492 with service to Glasgow Airport.”
It was at this point that I realized exactly how unathletically I can break into a full sprint. Regardless of my apparent exhaustion and soreness, I managed to make it to the gate in the nick of time and…shockingly…have an entire row all to myself despite an otherwise completely full plane.
Rejoicing at my good fortune, the flight touched down in Glasgow a full 45 minutes prior to my scheduled landing time. I proceeded to my baggage carousel…and found one bag. It was at this time that I learned that British Airways leaves golf bags in London about as frequently as Donald Trump embarrasses America.
HOT TIP: British Airways leaves golf bags in London ALL THE TIME
After speaking with the baggage claim personnel, I was told that the bag would arrive on the next flight from London in a little over an hour, so all was not last. And, one huge silver lining to this process was that the rental car line took about as long as the next flight took to arrive, so I likely would have been stuck at the airport anyway.
LG: My own experience was apparently not as awful as JK’s. I was fortunate enough to fly in an Airbus A380-800 on the top deck in an exit row seat (EXTRA LEG ROOM! but no window…) which was easily the most comfortable flight I’ve ever taken. I connected through London as well, and had to wait in the same ridiculous security line. I later found out that I had been directed to the wrong line and ended up having to sprint out of the airport, back in, and through domestic security. I pulled the straight up American move of jumping to the front of the line and managed to get to my gate 10 minutes before my flight to Edinburgh began boarding. I also flew British, but somehow they didn’t lose my bag. Chalk it up to the A380?
Following all of this, I immediately took to the rental car and drove to Royal Troon, site of this year’s Open Championship (won by Henrik Stenson just a few weeks prior). We will eventually post a review link somewhere below, but here are a few teaser photos:
August 1, 2016
I stayed the night near Troon and played the following morning at The Glasgow Golf Club – Gailes Links course. While the course might not necessarily be on anyone’s immediate list of “go-to” courses in Scotland, the experience there was one of the more profound I had. My host – a kind member who put up with my suffering game – discussed the happenings of the club as if he had immediate knowledge of them, telling the history in an almost first-person account.
“Well, some members were becoming fed up with the course in the city, and, with the opening of the railroads, we had some access to this area, which is more remote. So the Gailes course was opened,” the member said.
“That’s interesting. How old is the club?” I asked.
“Well, the Glasgow Golf Club is the ninth oldest golf club in the world.”
As we walked to the first tee, I briefly looked at the scorecard, on which the following is written:
Glasgow Golf Club was founded in 1787 and is the ninth oldest club in the World. We are a members’ club, and we believe we’re uniqe, as we have two top quality courses 35 miles apart, Killermont in Glasgow, and Gailes Links near Troon on the Ayrshire coast.
The links course at Gailes was acquired in 1892, and in 1912 re-designed by former Open Champion Willie Park Jnr of Musselburgh. Willie always believed Gailes to be one of his best creations.”
So when he spoke of “some members,” my host was speaking of people with whom he had had no personal interaction in any way. But it hadn’t been done in an offensive way. Instead, it was more of an assignment of how important the golf history was to them that they would recount it so vividly as if it were first person. Although Americans would never have told a story like this, his demeanor foretold of the respect and admiration this game garners in the area. Throughout our journey, people who self-identified as having no interest in playing the game (that we had traveled thousands of miles to enjoy) still expressed interest to the point of asking probing questions about our trip, which courses we were playing, which towns we were visiting, and more. My experience at Glasgow Gailes was the point where I realized just how different this place was from home.
HOT TIP: “Glasgow Gailes” refers to The Glasgow Golf Club’s “Gailes Links” course. There is a separate club known as “Western Gailes.” These are different places–do not confuse them
I thanked my host profusely for his hospitality then drove to Edinburgh to get LG, followed by another few hours trip to North Berwick (pronounced “North Bear Ehck”) and a check in at The County Hotel. LG and I walked around town for a bit, found a few pubs, and (in true-to-form experience of LG-and-JK-go-golfing) bought a small pack of beers, grabbed some food, and headed to a spot to start our roughly semi-annual catch-up. A few shots from a beach in North Berwick:
This one was from further down the beach, where the golf course is located. This is actually a view of the second hole:
It is here that I take a few moments to discuss something of great interest to me personally, but maybe not particularly of interest to everyone here. As an alumnus of Georgia Institute of Technology, I personally take notice when my fellow alums do something noteworthy. I didn’t know it at the time I took this picture, but I learned the next day of something in the picture above that would connect me.
In the distance of the picture on the left is a large home that was once owned–as our host noted to me–by a man named John Imlay. Mr. Imlay was best-known around the world as a part-owner of the Atlanta Falcons, which was why my host had brought him up to me (for the apparent connection with the city of Atlanta). However, as you might have guessed, Mr. Imlay was a fellow almnus of mine (albeit, a number of years before me). I had already known about him and his exploits as a tech tycoon who virtually founded the technology industry in the city of Atlanta, Georgia. I also knew that he was an avid golfer who had fallen in love with Scotland.
What I did not know–that my host informed me–was that Mr. Imlay had fallen ill with a heart attack and died suddenly at age 78 in 2015. He was said by the Scots to be the only man who was allowed to break golf’s 14-club rule…because he was a member of more than 14 golf clubs in Scotland. One lasting legacy that Mr. Imlay left on Scotland was his donation of bridges all over Scotland, including bridges that LG and I used at North Berwick and Carnoustie. He also donated bridges in other places (e.g., the Atlanta Botanical Garden). Should you seek to learn more about Mr. Imlay and his admiration of Scottish golf, you can review the Scottish Golf Podcast, episode 38, of an interview Ru MacDonald took with Mr. Imlay.
Perhaps the most memorable quote: “I believe golf courses are like beautiful women; the best is the one you’re with at the time.”
Now back to our usually-scheduled programming…
August 2, 2016
The County Hotel was my first experience with the “Full Scottish” breakfast.
HOT TIP: The food sucks in Scotland.
Seriously, the best food we ate was some Kebabs in North Berwick, which is food that has nothing to do with Scotland. There seems to be a lack of focused imagination. For example, “maybe we should put a little bit of spice in this sausage” is probably a phrase that has never been uttered in the area. The food is serviceable (although LG and I both declined the black pudding), but simply will not leave you happy to have had a meal.
LG: yeah. The food really sucks in Scotland.
Anyway, the North Berwick Golf Club has two courses, but it’s a bit confusing. The course that is commonly referred to as “North Berwick” is actually “The West Links,” and the second course of the North Berwick Golf Club is “The Glen.” It is never really made apparent anywhere or explained in those terms either, so some of the interactions we had with people were confusing (“where are you playing?” “North Berwick” “Which course?” “…North Berwick” “You must mean the West Course” “I think so…Is that North Berwick?” “Are you playing The Glen?” “No, we’re not playing The Glen” “OK, you’ll be on the West Course” “Is that North Berwick?”).
In very brief terms, I have to say–North Berwick might have been the most enjoyable round of golf of the whole trip. LG and I will provide our own review, but the review at Golf Club Atlas tells most of the story. Classic challenges and unique ones are constantly interspersed, with a good sense of reassurance in your own game, but not too much. The course is, simply, a very enjoyable one. And this was probably during the height of the wind.
The afternoon round saw us at Gullane No. 1. Gullane has three courses (1, 2, and 3), but the No. 1 course is apparently the championship course. The No. 1 course is set on a hillside and plays cleverly up, down, and around it, with challenging golf holes and great vistas. While the course was a special one of its own right, it was not immediately memorable for anything other than the view. Perhaps it is a bit unfair to categorize it in this way, as we had just come off of one of the most unique and enjoyable courses I have personally ever played. It should also be noted that Gullane was in impeccable shape. In fact, in many ways, Gullane overshadowed the storied Muirfield Golf Course. I would recommend anyone visiting the area get on at Gullane, even if it wasn’t the greatest test of golf or the most memorable individual round I’ve ever played. It was still a very enjoyable one.
One thing that LG and I will ALWAYS remember, however, is being introduced to the germane drink of golfers in the town of Gullane: Kummel (pronounced “koo – mel”)(http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887324853704578587402768615418). According to our host, 70% of the world’s consumption of Kummel occurs at three golf clubs within several miles of each other near the town of Gullane. LG and I became fans.
Another thing LG and I noted during the trip – it seems like certain drinks are remarkably better in Scotland than in the states. For example, neither LG nor I care for Guiness in the US. However, in Scotland, it is far and away the best beer on tap in most of the pubs. Local whiskeys have a remarkably resilient flavor. To put it in the words of one of our hosts, “it simply doesn’t travel well.”
Despite the long and enjoyable day, LG and I went to sleep excited–the next day, we would embark to Muirfield, one of the most difficult gets in the game of golf.
LG: One of the undertones you may have picked up about this trip thus far is that our hosts were an integral part of the experience. In Scotland, golf is as much about the people you meet and the conversations you have as it is the courses you play. We were incredibly lucky in North Berwick and Gullane to be hosted by our friends TG and JTJ. Between showing us around their towns and introducing us to Kummel, these blokes really made the experience special. Thanks, gents!
August 3, 2016
Muirfield. What else can you say?
Well, a lot, apparently.
LG: one quick aside to explain the difference between Scottish clubs and American clubs. In the US, we typically have private, public, and semi-public clubs, with the first only allowing members and their invited guests, the second allowing anyone who pays the green fee, and the third being a sort of hybrid. Scotland tends to take a more egalitarian view of golf and has very few (if any) purely private clubs. Even Muirfield, which is notoriously difficult to get a game on, has guest days every week. Their view is that guest play should subsidize member play and keep costs low.
The typical experience at Muirfield is a full day. Fourball in the morning and foursomes in the afternoon. The between lunch is supposedly more amazing than the golf. The members have described themselves as an “eating club attached to a golf course.”
The course is unbelievable. It is without a doubt the pinnacle of Old Tom Morris’s designs. And it was also where I probably played my best during our trip.
I wish I could tell you more. But our 2.5-ish hour round was followed by an immediate exit from the course.
The day was not lost, though, because we had the New Course on our list as well.
After 23 years of golf, I finally stepped onto that surreal place, the one that has been around for hundreds of years. The feeling was overwhelming–like playing Pebble Beach, seeing The Masters live, or meeting a TOUR pro who you’ve followed for years: as it’s happening, you have a hard time believing it’s real, and, when it’s over, you have a hard time understanding what just happened. Thankfully, LG and I didn’t immediately walk to The Old Course and tee one up, because we probably would have played like absolute crap. However, we did get a chance to try out The New Course. Here are some views:
The New Course is anything but new, having opened in 1895. As told by our host, “they used to just call it ‘the links at St. Andrews.’ It was never ‘The Old Course.’ But, when they opened the New, they started referring to it as ‘The Old Course’ and ‘The New Course.’ Then someone decided to actually call it that.” Makes sense, I guess.
For all the lore the Old Course gets (and, rightfully so), the New Course is probably as much if not more a true test of pure golf. It proved to be a great precursor to our next day.
LG: We had the pleasure of being conducted around the New Course by a member of the St. Andrew’s Golf Club, which is is one of two historic clubs associated with the St. Andrew’s links. The other is called the New Club. Both are located off of the 18th fairway at the Old Course, and both have long, storied histories. The experience of playing the New Course with a member of one of these clubs who plays it as his home course was marvelous. We were treated to a discussion of the development of the links, and an insiders view into the maintenance of the 7 courses by the St. Andrew’s Links Trust. For anyone interested in the politics and history surrounding the development of the Links, there can be no better host. Also, we highly recommend dinner at the St. Andrews Golf Club, if you are lucky enough to be treated to it. Likely the best meal we had in Scotland during our time there.
In St. Andrews, LG had the bright idea of staying at Agnes Blackadder Hall, which is a dormitory that is part of the University of St. Andrews. The rooms were under $40/night, but rooms have only one king bed, so we each got our own (which turned out to be great). Agnes Blackadder Hall is about a 7 minute walk from The Links at St. Andrews and was as close and reasonably priced as we could have imagined.
HOT TIP: Check Agnes Blackadder Hall for your stay–you will be pleasantly surprised by how great it is
August 4, 2016
Now, for some of the process of getting on at St. Andrews, LG will describe the balloting system in greater detail in his review. For our trip, our balloting failed and we instead had to go set up a tent at 4:30 in the morning to stake our claim on whatever tee times we could get. So, we did. And we were 10th and 11th. Some crazy Americans had actually waited in line since 8:30 the night before: a full two hours before LG and I had finished eating dinner. Have you ever wondered what the R&A building looks like at 4:15 in the morning? Well, wait no longer:
Only 8 spots were guaranteed, so LG and I were left waiting. I told him “I have a good feeling about this” when we were told to come back at 3:30 PM. The tee sheet had a twosome open at 3:30, but the other half of the tee sheet was filled by St. Andrews members, who are allowed to decline to play with others if they choose. So, I went back to the Hall and took a nap, then we meandered around the town a bit.
LG and I were all ready to play the Jubilee Course at our scheduled time of 10:08 AM. We showed up at the starter shack of the New Course/Jubilee about 15 minutes prior to our round….and were informed that our tee time had been 7:15 and we had missed it. Oops. However, this probably turned out for the better–who knows what would have happened differently if we had played Jubilee that day. Also–and this is very important–the staff at the St. Andrews golf course does an absolutely unequivocally great job reorganizing tee times. They know that many golfers show up wanting to play The Old Course but with tee times at other courses in case The Old doesn’t work out. As such, they are well versed in rearranging trips.
HOT TIP: The St. Andrews staff is amazing and incredibly helpful. Do not be afraid to ask them for their thoughts on reorganizing your trip.
LG and I rebooked our Jubilee round for the following afternoon. The starter gave us this helpful reminder, written on the Jubilee scorecard…with extra underlining.After our interesting missed tee time, LG and I continued our tour of St. Andrews. Here are some thoughts that might be helpful if you go.
First, there is a clubhouse at The New Course that has lockers available for a £1 deposit. When I say a deposit, I mean they make you put a £1 coin into the slot to be able to turn the key, but they will return the coin to you when you open the locker. As such, you can effectively rent the locker for day use for no fee. Further, they have lockers that are large enough to put a standard-sized carry bag in. And–we asked, but never got the chance to use–it’s possible to rent these lockers overnight for just £2. If LG and I had known about this earlier, we certainly wouldn’t have schlepped our clubs all over St. Andrews–back and forth to AB Hall, to the Dunvegan, etc–and instead would have just left them at The New Course Clubhouse while we tooled around the city.
HOT TIP: The New Course Clubhouse has lockers big enough to fit your golf clubs that can be rented for a refundable £1 deposit during the day and a £2 fee overnight. Use this if you have multiple rounds back-to-back at the courses at St. Andrews so you don’t end up hauling your clubs everywhere.
Another interesting tidbit that we learned has little related to golf but a bit related to money, which is probably way more important. In the interim between our 9:30-ish breakfast at the New Course clubhouse (which was pretty serviceable) and our 3:30 PM potential tee time, LG and I killed time touring St. Andrews. For example, we took the photo below
Obviously some time and brain cells wasted there. And, on the ambit of burning brain cells, we also visited the Dunvegan Inn and Pub, which probably had the best food in St. Andrews and was a tremendous spot to have a few drinks.
However, we also spent a good bit of time (and money) grabbing souvenirs. St. Andrews has 4 or 5 shops that sell memorabilia that is branded for “The Old Course” and “St. Andrews Links,” which are the official trademarks. There are plenty of other shops as well that sell arguably trademark-diluting memorabilia bearing, for example, a picture of a golf club and “St. Andrews Golf” on the front. Nonetheless, some of this memorabilia was pretty neat as well, and LG and I both purchased a cross-section of it.
Well, at one store, LG was informed by a clerk about VAT refunds, which can be a fairly sizable amount of money. For those that don’t know, VAT stands for “Value Added Tax” and constitutes a consumption tax in many European countries, including the UK. The standard VAT rate is…and, I’m not kidding here…20%. That’s right, they literally take 1/5 of whatever you are buying and tack it on as a consumption tax (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Value-added_tax_(United_Kingdom) ). Talk about regressive…
Anyway, the clerk at one store told LG that it’s actually possible to have the tax refunded on certain souvenir purchases. All you have to do is, as you’re checking out, ask the clerk for a VAT refund form. The clerk will sign the form and give it to you along with your receipt and an envelope. You simply fill out the form, put it in the envelope, and drop it off at a VAT refund office at the airport (I suppose it’s also possible to mail it in). After that, the form is processed and the 20% is returned to your credit card.
HOT TIP: save 20% on your memorabilia by asking clerks at souvenir shops for VAT refund forms
This process also worked at Carnoustie. All of the clerks were very familiar with the process–all we had to say was “can I please have a VAT refund form,” and within a few seconds they had given out what we needed. A few minutes filling out the forms at the last hotel we stayed at, and…well, I think LG probably spent close to £500 on stuff, so that’s pretty substantial (exchange rate at $1.33/£ and 20% of $500 = $133 saved). Also, in Europe, prices tend to have tax included in the stickered price (unlike the US, where tax is added at the point of sale), so it was basically like getting a 20% discount on whatever we were buying. That makes it a lot more attractive to purchase some of the items, which can seem a bit pricey at times.
Anyway, time passed…. So, we played The Himalayas…
The Himalayas is an 18-hole putting course close to the New Course clubhouse, on the right side of the first hole of The Old Course. It is actually one of two putting courses located on the same property, with the other belonging to the Ladies’ putting club of St. Andrews. It’s….interesting, but it won’t help your game much. The “green” is nowhere near the speed of the real courses there…more like putting from a fairway. But it was a nice way to kill time.
LG: These putting courses are also a microcosm of what makes Scottish golf so different from US golf. There were families playing as 7-somes in front of us who also had their dogs along for the walk. There were children playing through our group and sprinting after errant “tee shots.” It was glorious and not at all the way a top 100 course in the US would allow play to be conducted.
By now you might have forgotten that the whole point was to play The Old Course. Well, after ALL of this…it was about time.
We went to the starter shack and were told that we would get on. And rejoicing commenced.
It’s at this point that I have to point out how this trip review pivots. Most of the morning and early afternoon was spent fooling around, wasting time, and simply enjoying being tourists. But at the moment when it became fully apparent that we would get to play The Old Course, something changed. We were about to step onto one of the oldest, most important golf courses in the entire world. Not only that, but the moment presented a culmination of a journey–for me, one of 23 years–from the first moment I officially “played” golf to standing at the doorway if its inception. What I think that neither LG or I could have guessed was what would come next.
HOT TIP: Bring a copy of your handicap card if you want to play the Old Course. The starters will ask for it when you check in. This can be a screenshot on a smart phone
Teeing off at The Old Course is an unnerving experience. As a spectator, you might look out and see a huge–and I do mean HUGE–flat field of grass. You might think “how on earth could someone miss that!” You might even declare it out loud. Many spectators do. In fact, as a player walking up to the tee box, you might even hear one of the 75 or so people standing around the area say something of this nature.
But when you play it….it looks like a tiny sliver. You see the burn. You see the fence (that’s on the other side of the 18th fairway). You see terrible result after terrible result just one bad swing away.
When you tee it up, you have to swing with confidence. I know this because I didn’t. I took probably the shortest swing of my entire life. But somehow I pure’d it right down the middle.I will not attempt to review The Old Course for several reasons–first, if you don’t already know what it’s about, you’re not a golfer. Second, even if I were going to review it, this post is already far too long to do it here. But, most importantly, after all the hype…the course wasn’t even the best thing that happened.
My round was rather abruptly turned into an “oh, well, I guess we’re just walking in a field now” kind of round on the second hole, and the remainder of the day (for me) was simply additional reminders that I needed to work on my swing.
However, it became apparent on about the sixth hole that my friend–the co-author of this blog, LG–was doing something very, very special. Now, backing up, LG is about a 7 handicap; JK is about a 2. Remember all the walking through memorabilia shops? At one of them, St. Andrews offered a framed picture and scorecard holder to commemorate your round. I proposed “let’s make a bet–if I (JK) break 70 or you (LG) break 75, then we can earn one of those from the other.” We agreed.
LG went out in 37
It wasn’t just that he went out in 37, it was that he didn’t hit a bad shot the whole day…well, other than the opening tee shot on the first hole, which landed a few yards short of the OB fence on the 18th. When your good friend plays an other-worldly brand of golf on what may be the most storied course on the planet, it is truly a special thing. For all the readers here who have seen LG’s and my struggle with the game of golf over the years, you know what it means to show up in that moment.
Would he hold it together? What of the inward 9?
Well, I can tell you that LG had this putt for eagle (yes, eagle) on the 12th:
missed by less than an inch
and I can tell you that he tiptoed the OB line on 16, but didn’t flinch a bit when it stayed in-bounds. And I can tell you that he hit it over the hotel on The Road Hole, which is something that I didn’t manage (although I hit probably the coolest shot of the bunch, don’t you think, LG?).
LG: Without a doubt. This is actually a view of the ball after it has already reached maximum height:
Coming up 18, the only thing left was not to screw it up. What happened?In in 37.
For all the stories that could be told about the greatness of the Old Course and what it means to golf, it was truly a special thing to watch someone shoot his career round on that course on that day.
And the obligatory celebratory drink:
Back at the Dunvegan, we sat down with another American named “Michael” and discussed how great of a day we’d just had. Hands down, this is one of the 4 or 5 top experiences in the history of LG/JK golf, if not the very top. Included in this list would be (a) “hit it in the hole, LG…..no, I mean, hit it in the hole” (15th at Wolf Creek, after which LG rolled it past the hole twice–shot in and spin back–and ended up at 2 feet in front of the pin for birdie), (b) “ball in a cup” (12th at TPC Las Vegas – Canyons, where LG and I both made birdie, LG rolling the ball in and singing the ball-in-a-cup song from Family Guy, https://youtu.be/P4tfL_oCUPA?t=33), (c) LG and JK both making birdie at #4 at Pebble Beach, among others. And it’s a story I’ll tell others for years. Yeah, I would have liked to have personally played better. But I also used to think how much I wished I had hit a hole-in-one when I saw three other guys do it. Then I had one, and I realized that the stories I tell about others are as much a part of the story of this great game as my own. I didn’t have to play the round of my life to enjoy it. I got to live it just watching LG do it. That was as awesome as anything I’ve seen in the game in awhile.
Although, I probably wouldn’t have made that bet if I had known he was going to do it…
Off to bed, exhausted. Just one more day at St. Andrews in the morning.
LG: The Old Course. Pretty good.
August 5, 2016
On our final day playing St. Andrews, LG and I embarked on two of the lesser-known courses, Eden and Jubilee.
As I look back at our experience of the Eden Course, it probably wasn’t as bad as LG and I originally thought. A number of holes play along the Eden estuary that are picturesque. However, in both of our opinions, the course lacked character. Now–keep in mind–we had just stepped off of The Old Course the day prior, so it’s a bit like when you go to the bar and there’s the smoke show–all the other girls look terrible by comparison. Alas, I don’t really think that was the case.
The Eden had a few neat holes–including one set of crossing par 3s that each had strange green complexes (including a 20-foot elevation false front that LG played beautifully). But even the holes along the estuary lacked defining features that would make you think of the course again. Many of the holes–even those that were poised for beauty–were simply long and straight or with a small dogleg but no real features. The characteristic dunes and mounds that make up so much of The Old Course, The New Course, and The Jubilee Course are strangely absent from a course that is mere matter of yards away from the others. The back 9 could easily be a set of golf holes taken from a muni course in central Ohio. There is an oddly placed lake around the 14-15th holes–which doesn’t really make sense for a links course.
Honestly, you should probably skip it. If we had known, we probably would’ve played somewhere else.
LG: Pro tip – skip the Eden Course. During the planning of this trip, I rejected the Castle Course from our lineup because a number of folks said it was not worth playing and that it was poorly designed for the conditions it typically plays in. We drove by on our way to Kingsbarns the following morning, and it seemed pretty nice. Consider playing this course in the early AM if you need to fill a gap in your rotation to avoid the severe hilltop winds.
The afternoon was the Jubilee Course. For all the hype that is given to the Old Course and The New Course, I personally found the Jubilee Course to be everything the others were, and perhaps even better.
For one thing, the Jubilee Course sits on a piece of land that is between the New Course and the coastline of the North Sea. In this way, the course is much more exposed to the elements than The Old Course (although, how much so might be debatable since they’re not far from each other at all). What the Eden course lacked in character the Jubilee course took the mantle. For example, even the Old Course did not have dramatic dunes the way that the Jubilee course did, as seen on the second hole below:
The collection of finishing holes on Jubilee is also much stronger than many of the courses we played. Although the 16th was a bit odd–and I would have played it differently if I had known where we were going–it was undoubtedly difficult, and the 17th and 18th are strong finishing par 3 and 4, respectively.
Following our round, we embarked to the Jigger Inn for a post-round pint (or 4). That’s when St. Andrews left us with one last, incredible surprise:
The Jigger Inn (which is right next to The Road Hole) actually has some great food, excellent drinks, and–like anywhere in Scotland–tremendous atmosphere. It was here that we finally tried haggis, which was underwhelming in that it was basically the same as ground beef with a slightly different taste to it. LG didn’t care for it, I didn’t find it to be bad. Probably would try more on a future trip.
Our final day of golf was just ahead, though, and we had a daunting last one. Get up early, play Kingsbarns; drive an hour or so to Carnoustie and play the course there; then, drive a couple hours back to Glasgow for our flight home. This was about when I was hit with the realization that this dream trip was coming to an end. Although I wished I could have done more, our packed final day left very little in the way of future accomplishments. One more in the books, and we got ready for the early out the next morning.
August 6, 2016
The town of Kingsbarns is about 15 minutes from the middle of St. Andrews, driving through some country roads, some city streets, and some odd intersections, we turned into an unassuming drive. In some ways, this was like being transitioned back into the US. A large driving range lay outside the left (passenger) window of the car; this might’ve been the first true driving range LG and I saw on the trip. As we drove up, we were greeted with this:
When you see a view like that, you know it’s going to be amazing. Here’s slightly later, after breakfast, a view of the 18th green:
And the 12th:
As I understand, this course is as much like Pebble Beach as anything in Scotland, with one notable exception: the staff isn’t directly and obviously trying to take your money at every possible opportunity. Sure–it’s a golf resort of sorts, and that breeds the “spend money here” type of mentality. However, it’s not obtuse like it is at Pebble.
What was interesting, however, is that–to a person–100% of the patrons were American. The two guys that LG and I got paired up with were Americans from Las Vegas. In the clubhouse, other than the staff, all we heard was American accents. I postulated to LG that, at £270 or so, it’s outside of the price range that the typical Scot will pay to play golf, and, thus, Americans at Kingsbarns are like the Asian tourists at Pebble Beach, overrunning the place with 100% touristy reactions. That doesn’t change that the course was beautiful and perhaps the best-kept course that we played during our trip. And while I personally didn’t care for some of the design elements, we probably could have avoided some confusion simply by taking a caddie, but we failed to book one. Regardless, you have to tip your hat to some very clever golf holes on that course.
HOT TIP: play Kingsbarns. Seriously. And have the meat pie at the turn stand. The whisky isn’t bad either!
The after a beating at Kingsbarns, LG and I got in the car and headed for Carnoustie. We saw some interesting things along the way.We made it to Carnoustie in time to visit the shop. The clubhouse at Carnoustie was the most modern of the ones we visited on our trip. It certainly wasn’t out of taste, but it did feel a bit stark as compared with, say, the traditional feel of the clubhouse at Kingsbarns.
I have to take a moment to thank LG for fitting this one in. It was my personal goal to visit Carnoustie. I’ve always considered it to be the purest of the links courses there. It has all the features of a true links golf experience but without the quirkiness of some of the holes at other Open rota locations.
The course did not disappoint.
First, it was the course that we experienced probably the greatest change in weather during our trip. Although LG and I were thankful at how great the weather was for most of our vacation, it was a bit of a letdown to visit Scotland without having a round where we truly battled the elements. Carnoustie turned out to be that round. At about the 6th hole, LG and I had to break out the rain gear (for me, it was the first time all trip) and the rain gloves, which made playing the par 5 with OB left just a BIT more challenging. Here’s a few looks at the course, including the third:
Interestingly enough, in that last photo, there is a bridge that did not exist when Van de Velde had his historic meltdown in 1999. Circling back to earlier in the trip, this was one of the bridges donated by John Imlay.
And, in a very fitting end of LG’s and my golf experience, the first time the sun peeked out at us since before we teed off was as we walked off the 18th (with par, I’m proud to say).
It might be important to note here: caddie fees are pretty reasonable in Scotland, all things considered. I ended up taking caddies for only two rounds: St. Andrews Old Course and Carnoustie. LG took a caddie at North Berwick as well (I would have, but only one was avilable). However, the fees were similar at all locations (£50-£55 base rate + ~£10-£20 tip) and, compared to some US rounds I’ve had, very reasonable.
HOT TIP: caddies are not expensive in Scotland. Take one if you need a break or if you play a course where you really need help navigating
And that was it. Over two weeks later now, I still can’t believe I was there, and I almost can’t believe how quickly 11 rounds went by.
LG and I had our signature meal for the trip:
We stayed at a Holiday Inn at GLA airport that was beyond convenient, even returning the rental car the night before our flights.
HOT TIP: If you’re flying out of GLA early in the morning, the Holiday Inn right next to the airport is extremely convenient
Although this doesn’t capture everything, it is mildly indicative of just what you can expect if you plan a trip similar to ours.
At Glasgow, LG and I meandered around a bit to find breakfast, drop off our VAT refund forms (see above) and head out. And, of course, LG was intentionally selected for random selection for additional airport screening.
After it all, I got on the plane and absolutely passed out. Some 15 hours later, I arrived in LAX, grabbed my bags, cleared customs, and was back at home shortly after. Even though I had timed it out, it took my two full days of going to bed at the same time as my kids (8:00-ish) just to get back near normal–I was EXHAUSTED coming home. Also, my feet and legs are still somewhat stiff from the beating they took. Most courses in Scotland don’t have carts (buggies, as they call them)–although, thankfully, pushcarts are abundant. I could not have made it through if I had to carry my own bag.
It’s hard to imagine that this trip could have been any better than it was. In the space of one week, I played 11 courses, four of them sites of multiple major championships, and the most impressive courses we played were arguably not even amongst the rota. That said, I know there is more that we simply didn’t have time for. For example, we played no highlands golf–Castle Stuart, Royal Dornoch, Inverness, Cruden Bay, and Nairn are all renowned courses that we didn’t even consider or approach geographically. We missed Turnberry, which many people regard as “the Pebble Beach of Scotland,” and most of the West coast was a mystery, which could have included Prestwick and other courses in Troon and Glasgow. Even in the places we did go–such as East Lothian–we didn’t have time for The Glen, Renaissance, or even Archfield, much less the other courses at Gullane. It’s incredible to think how much we missed given how much we did.
Will there be another trip in the future? I certainly hope so. Although these are not the kinds of trips one can take all the time–and, clearly, it took me 20+ years to finally figure it out enough to make it–when it does happen, it opens your eyes to special kinds of places exist in this game. Many thanks to LG for accompanying me on this journey of a lifetime. On to the next one.
August 10, 2016
While this year marks the return of golf to the summer Olympics in Rio, this event has been met with, at best, a lukewarm response from the golf community.
The professional ranks have given little attention to this event, with notables such as Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson, Jason Day, Adam Scott, Dustin Johnson, and Graeme McDowell refusing to compete for their respective countries. Indeed, Rory has gone so far as to say that:
“I didn’t get into golf to try and grow the game. I got into golf to win championships and win major championships. I’ll probably watch the Olympics, but I’m not sure golf will be one of the events I watch.’’
While I appreciate Rory’s candor, part of me feels as though this attitude marks a departure with the beautiful amateur tradition of golf. The days of Bobby Jones and Francis Ouimet appear to be well behind us. I find it hard to believe that if Bobby Jones were around today with an opportunity to compete for love of country and the pure love of golf that he would shy away because of the overblown threat of Zika. Yes, golf in the Olympics does not have the history or tradition of a U.S. Amateur or British Amateur, but don’t we have to start somewhere? Even if we hold the IOC in such low regard as to think that they would add the Olympics to get a few more viewers, shouldn’t golf be happy to take advantage of the opportunity to grow the game to countries that have no significant exposure?
In any event, I think the IOC (or whoever oversaw the competition) did the game a disservice by sticking with a monumentally boring 72-hole medal play format and not including a team component and/or a component where men and women compete in the same event. How great would it be to have a mixed best ball event? an alternate shot event? I understand that the committee is just dipping a toe in the water, but come on! Let’s make this something people want to watch! To the format’s credit, there will be playoffs in the event of any ties, so there will not be 4-5 bronze medals given out for T-3s.
At minimum, we get some really great stories like Ben An, who’s parents were Olympians in their own right in table tennis. When they met during the Olympics, Ben’s South Korean father told a young lady on the Chinese team that he loved her at first site. Despite the diplomatic disaster that relationship could have caused, the two were married and had Ben. While the parents were able to collectively capture a silver and a pair of bronze medals, neither was able to obtain the gold. Because golf is now back in the Olympics, Ben has a chance to add to the family collection.
I understand the wider golf community’s immediate lack of interest in golf’s return to the Olympics, but I find it slightly disheartening. I personally doubt it will ever hold the same weight as a major, but I would hope it takes on significance comparable to the Ryder cup. I find any event where nations compete for the love the game exciting, and hope that golf can assign the same gravity to the Olympics as most other sports have in time.
*This opinion, in no way, shape, or form, is shared by JK.
August 7, 2016
While we’ve recently written about the antics of Mr. 85, Jim Furyk showed us all exactly how to play the game on Sunday at the 2106 Travelers Championship by carding a ridiculous -12 par 58!!
July 27, 2016
Apparently, there’s another major this week?
Glory’s last shot at Baltusrol… yada yada yada…
Win: Jordan Spieth
Winning score: -6
Runner-up: Phil Mickelson
“Unknown” in the Top 10: Jason Kokrak
Low PGA Professional: Rod Perry
The US Open Winner (Dustin Johnson) will: Top 10, probably T2
The Masters Winner (Danny Willett) will: Make the cut
The Open Champion (Henrik) will: Top 10
The 2015 PGA Championship Winner (Jason Day) will: Top 10
Sergio Garcia will: Miss cut
Hideki Matsuyama will: Make Cut
Adam Scott will: Top 10
Bubba Watson will: Get caught in his jetpack
Will someone win it, or everyone else lose it: Tough rounds in the middle of the week, but Spieth lights it up on the weekend to take his third major
What will be the biggest storyline of the tournament: Jordan coming back after not showing up for most of the year
Will you watch on Sunday: Hell no…I’ll be flying somewhere golfy
Winning score: -15
“Unknown” in the Top 10: Kevin Chappell
Low PGA Professional: Mitch Lowe (GO MITCH!)
The US Open Winner (Dustin Johnson) will: 2nd!
The Masters Winner (Danny Willett) will: MC
The Open Champion (Henrik) will: Make Cut
The 2015 PGA Championship Winner (Jason Day) will: Make Cut
Sergio Garcia will: Top 10 (sorry, Sergio)
Hideki Matsuyama will: Make Cut
Adam Scott will: Make Cut
Bubba Watson will: Miss Cut
Will someone win it, or everyone else lose it: Rory takes it down.
What will be the biggest storyline of the tournament: Classic Rory/Tigeresque win. He’s Back!
Will you watch on Sunday: Nope – on a plane to Scotland!
July 12, 2016
Hot off the press, the PF releases its predictions for the 2016 Open Championship at Royal Troon. The 7,175 yard course in Glasgow (which JK might maybe possibly get to play in a few weeks) is one of the classic tracks in all of the old country. This will be its 9th hosting of the Open, with notable winners Bobby Locke, Arnold Palmer, Tom Weiskopf, Tom Watson, and Justin Leonard. The most recent was 2004 when Todd Hamilton edged out Ernie Els in one of the biggest upsets in major golf history. We’d be remiss to fail to mention The Postage Stamp green on at the 8th at Royal Troon, one of the most iconic shots in all of golf (http://www.royaltroon.co.uk/courses/old-course/8). Will this hole be the one to decide the Champion Golfer of the Year? We will soon find out.
Win: Jordan Spieth
Winning score: -8
Runner-up: Graeme McDowell
“Unknown” in the Top 10: Alexander Noren
The US Open Winner (Dustin Johnson) will: Top 10
The Masters Winner (Danny Willett) will: MC
The 2015 PGA Championship Winner (Jason Day) will: Make the cut
Last year’s Open Champion (Zach Johson) will: Top 10
The 2014 Open Champion (Rory McIlroy) will: Top 10
The 2013 Open Champion (Phil Mickelson) will: Make the cut
Sergio Garcia will: bounce it off a flagstick OB. MC
Hideki Matsuyama will: swing out of his shoes, which doesn’t work at Troon. MC
Adam Scott will: have a nice week. Make the cut
Henrik Stenson will: Make the cut
Bubba Watson will: post a stupid video. MC.
Will someone win it, or everyone else lose it: Combination of both–one shining star plays just well enough to outlast an embattled field
What will be the biggest storyline of the tournament: Spieth goes wire-to-wire
Will you watch on Sunday: as long as it looks something like what I’ve outlined above and not a garbage can fire of players, then yes.
Win: Jim Furyk
Winning score: -2
Runner-up: Tony Finau
Unknown in the Top 10: Tony Finau…
The US Open Winner (Dustin Johnson) will: Miss Cut
The Masters Winner (Danny Willett) will: Make Cut…possibly top 10
The 2015 PGA Championship Winner (Jason Day) will: Make cut
Last year’s Open Champion (Zach Johson) will: Make cut
The 2014 Open Champion (Rory McIlroy) will: Make Cut
The 2013 Open Champion (Phil Mickelson) will: Miss Cut
Sergio Garcia will: Top 10 – possibly playoff with Tony Finau and Jim Furyk
Hideki Matsuyama will: Miss Cut
Adam Scott will: Make cut
Henrik Stenson will: Make Cut
Bubba Watson will: Hopefully miss his flight
Will someone win it, or everyone else lose it: Furyk grinds out a huge win
What will be the biggest storyline of the tournament: the weather
Will you watch on Sunday: I’ll be playing Old MacDonald 😀