Somewhat in keeping with our tradition of a “Play of the week,” we’ll call this one a “Play of a lifetime.”

On March 11, 2018, Martin Trainer shoots -14 after SUNDAY QUALIFYING for the El Bosque Mexico Championship by Innova for his first win on the WEB.COM TOUR.  He’s the first player on the TOUR to complete this feet since 2016, and went from no status at all to fully exempt on the WEB.COM TOUR through 2019.  He’s also put himself in prime position to make it all the way to the PGA TOUR next year.  Truly a life-changing weekend.

Congrats, buddy!

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How did LG’s professional golf debut begin?  As with most things, it all started with a phone call:

LG answers: “Marty! What’s up?”

MT: “LG!! I just got a call – I got an exemption into the Web Event at Stonebrae!!  You free to caddie???”

LG: “Let’s gooooo!!!!”

Specifically, the gig was to caddie for one of my good friends and a rising star on the Web.com Tour, Martin Trainer.  For anyone who doesn’t follow professional golf reading this article, the Web.com Tour is the feeder tour to the PGA TOUR that is televised every week on major networks, ESPN, and the Golf Channel.

The event was the Ellie Mae Classic held at scenic TPC Stonebrae in Hayward, California.  Since I’ve been lucky enough to play this track a few times before the event, the experience was all the more eye-opening for me.  By a fortunate turn of events, I was also invited to play in the Wednesday Pro-Am with Martin, so I managed to get involved in nearly every activity associated with the event.  (I suppose that’s two interesting/unique golf experiences!)  I can’t say enough good things about the event or the course.  Both are phenomenal and I highly recommend that everyone in the Bay Area try to make it out to play the course and watch the event next year.

The week began with caddying on Monday in the Junior pro am (which we won!) and the first sponsors pro-am.  On Wednesday, events included the pro-am I played in, followed by the competitive rounds Thursday-Sunday.  To answer the most pressing question: Martin did well to put himself at -9 and in contention through two rounds, and shooting an incredible back nine six under 29 on Sunday to finish T-16, and get himself into the Web.com Tour event the following week in Missouri.  It is further notable that this was his first Web.com made cut!

What Does A Caddie Do, Exactly?

TL;DR version: a lot.  If you saw a description Craigslist, it might read: get to the course early, know the course backward and forward, carry the bag, keep up with or in front of your player without disturbing other players, know when to talk and when not to talk, get yardages, pull clubs, rake bunkers for your player and others to keep the group moving, make sure there’s water and food in the bag, tend the pin, clean clubs and balls, and remove as many distractions as possible, shove a snickers in the player’s mouth when they’re irritable, and make sure the player isn’t going to lose any shots due to stupid mistakes like having too many clubs in the bag, teeing the ball in the wrong spot, or taking a bad drop.  If rain is involved, there’s a whole other element involving an umbrella that just looks annoying.  Amateur golfers are familiar with all of these, except for the particular Tour quirk of managing a book/pin sheet and getting yardages.  Most folks that play the game frequently make use of either a rangefinder or GPS device, but these are not allowed on the professional tours.  Instead, we’re relegated to the arcane days of black and white topological drawings and drainage heads.  Believe it or not, saying “drainage head says it’s about 150 to the middle” doesn’t cut it.

Once the basics are mastered, then the role can evolve based on the needs of the individual player.  Some guys need to talk through every single detail of every shot; some guys only want you to carry the bag and not say a word.  Without exception when a player asks a question and says “…right?” at the end, they want you to say “yeah, definitely.”

My particular role this week, as I saw it, was to make this tournament feel as much like a home game as possible for Martin.  Mostly, I just tried to stay out of his way, but I took it as my personal mission to give him as much crap as possible about his game while also bringing extra Trader Joe’s snacks that he and I both love to eat on the golf course.  I also lost several lunches to him per our standing side bet on the course.  (Bonchon fried chicken for days).  I’m happy you did well, Marty, but we need to renegotiate this bet.

The Experience of Caddying on a Professional Tour

The experience was very different from playing golf.  It felt like much more work than actually playing golf.  There was no personal enjoyment to be realized because I wasn’t hitting shots, but I took an enormous amount of pleasure in watching my friend realize a career goal he has worked very hard to achieve.  When someone in the group was playing badly, the mood seemed to hang over the entire group – certainly more so than in a regular weekend game.  Nerves seemed to get frayed more easily and little things like the sound of bugs buzzing nearby or someone talking on the tee behind us that would normally not annoy me on the golf course seemed exaggerated.  At other times, the quiet was deafening.

The biggest difference from what you see on TV is that (unless you’re one of a select number of people) there are rarely people following your group, and a lot of professional golf is just a horribly boring wait with people who are not very interesting to talk with.  I’ve never spoken so little with people during 6 hour rounds of golf.  It isn’t a very glamorous job, or constantly hobnobbing with Tour stars.  Even in this slow environment, if a caddie is doing the job right, he or she will almost forget that there are other players in the group…almost.

Finally, the experience of watching a player shoot 29 live was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in golf.  It honestly felt like the bag got lighter as we sprinted around the back nine on Sunday.  The moment was made even more spectacular because several of Martin’s buddies from high school were around to watch this feat and cheer him on for every birdie.  11 putts, one chip in, and three 2s on the scorecard in 9 holes!  how do you not get excited about that?

Selected Items I Learned

With respect to the golf itself, I learned that professional golfers are MUCH better than we think they are with the long clubs, and make the same mistakes we do with the short clubs.  Looking at stats or watching a golf telecast doesn’t really tell the whole story because these are necessarily summaries of the round, or at best cherry-picked examples of great or awful play.  It’s not the “320 yard” 3 wood from the juicy lie in the fairway that was impressive.  Instead, watching these guys hit driving irons or fairway metals from, at best, questionable lies in the rough to within yards of their targets 260-290 yards away is what blew my mind.  At the same time, watching these guys hit chip shots 15 yards from the green that don’t hit the surface or run 10 feet by were mind blowing for other reasons.  These guys also take much less time from tee to green than most amateurs, but SIGNIFICANTLY more time around the green and on the green itself.  I’m not sure there’s a lesson in there, but it was notable.

My biggest takeaway was that amateurs make golf too hard.  We fixate on perfecting our swings to a professional ideal or making sure our clubs are exactly to the right specifications, but beyond a certain point, none of that really helps getting the ball in the hole.  Yes, these guys have any number of training aids out on the putting green/driving range and they’re taking video/trackman data, but all of that goes out the window when they step up to the tee.  On the course, I saw driver swings and putting strokes that would make most swing coaches blush.  But they worked.  They got the ball where it needed to be and they made birdies.  These guys got the most out of the swings they brought to the course that day because they’re hustlers.  It didn’t always look pretty, but somehow always had a low number next to it at the end of 18 holes.

As a footnote to this section, I must note that caddying is a thankless job.  Every bogey is the caddie’s fault, and every birdie is because the player is amazing.  It’s just that kind of job.  You occasionally see a Bones, Stevie, Fluff, or Michael Greller who get some credit, but even on the PGA Tour, for every one of them, you have at least 30 guys who might as well not bother.  It’s not a job that allows for an ego or thin skin.  This was certainly not the case with Martin and me, but it was clearly apparent from other player/caddie pairings.

Rapid Fire Questions from No Gimmes

In preparing for this post, I asked friend-of-the-blog and host of the No Gimmes Podcast Chris Derr if he had any questions regarding the experience that he thought folks would like answered.  Like the champion that he is, Derrz fired off the following questions that I have presented below in interview format:

CD: What shoes/hat did you wear?
LG: As far as shoes, I wore a pair of Nike sneakers.  They were absolutely destroyed after this tournament because Stonebrae is one of those courses that NO ONE should ever walk – much less with a bag on their back.  Also, I’d probably consider something slightly more waterproof next time for those early AM tee times.  As far as hat, clearly the bucket hat was the play for the magical back nine Sunday.  I was coerced into wearing a baseball cap the middle two days and sincerely regret caving to the pressure.

CD: How talkative where you to other players in your group?
LG: One guy, Bobby Gates, was an absolute pleasure to talk to.  We talked about everything from coffee and BBQ to generally living in SF and the South.  He also has one of the most badass wedges I’ve ever seen.  Check it out here.  Most of the other guys were not terribly talkative, or interesting to talk to.

CD: Did you ever feel like an idiot?
LG: Pretty much only the first hole of the tournament.  I put the bag down in the visual line of one of the players in the group and he asked me to move it.  I think I got the hang of it pretty quick.

CD: Best shot you saw?
LG: This one is easy – Thursday, Marty hit a 3W 289 yards into the par five 9th hole after an ENORMOUS drive to about 8″.  Kick-in eagle.  Didn’t even need to take the head cover off the putter.

CD: Worst shot you saw?
LG: The worst shot due to poor execution was probably a chip on the par four 5th hole.  The worst shot due to poor course management and being angry was a 3W on the par five 9th that ended up way short in the crap that resulted in a bogey that should have been no worse than par.

CD: Most uncomfortable you were out there?
LG: Walking the 5th hole.  Stonebrae is one of the worst walks from the perspective of caddying or playing on the professional tours, but hey, I took it in stride.  The course is great, but man those hills can be nasty on a hot day.

CD: What was the most underwhelming part of the experience?
LG: How little some players think of their caddies.  This was truly disappointing.  At one point, I offered one of the guys in our group some advice about where to eat in San Francisco (since I was the only person in the group that actually lives in San Francisco), and the player immediately turns to Martin to ask him whether that’s good advice.  Dick.

CD: What part of the experience surprised you the most?
LG: How the players dealt with the rules.  In any instance where there was even the smallest question related to a drop or possible rules issue, the players almost reflexively called for a rules official.  I get that this is reasonable in questionable situations, but at one point, a player called an official to pretty clearly just get a better lie on the apron after missing the green on a short par 3.  Come on, guy.

CD: How did you combat caddie syndrome (wanting to play golf instead of watching it)?
LG: I’m not sure one week of caddying was enough to induce the syndrome!  I felt like I learned a lot about how the professional game is played, which was fascinating.  I could see how this would develop, especially if the course was one that I’d like to play, so I think I’d probably either try to gamble on the tournament, or play a game in my head to see if could guess the shot shape/landing point of my player’s shots.

CD: How much different was caddying in the Ellie Mae for Martin than caddying for me in the U.S. Open Qualifier at Yocha De He this year?
LG: Both were actually pretty intense!  I definitely read fewer putts and had fewer conversations with Martin than with you, but had a great time doing both!  Despite Stonebrae being the tougher track to walk, I think I was the most exhausted after our round because it was my first experience doing it.  In any event, getting to play meaningful rounds of golf with good players is always a good time.

Be sure to also check out LG’s interview on No Gimmes!

End Notes

First, I would be remiss in failing to mention that the Ellie Mae Classic was also the professional golf debut of Golden State Warriors Guard Stephen Curry.  Curry’s presence at the tournament turned the event into a spectacle that drew thousands of fans who had likely never set foot on a golf course.  The feeling was electric around every tee box, and as only Steph Curry can do, he delivered.  Back-to-back rounds of +4 74 on a 7,100 yard layout to beat 3 touring professionals is no joke.  I followed Curry for his Friday round and was shocked by his composure and how well his game held up in TOUR conditions.  Not only was he keeping up with his playing partners Stephan Jaeger and Sam Ryder, he was actually hitting it PAST them.  Ironically, it was his iron play and putting that seemed to keep him from making more birdies.  Based on my interviews of our playing partners, folks on the range, and the tournament staff, the overwhelming consensus is that Curry’s involvement in the event was positive.  For myself, I sincerely hope he continues to play in the event and draw crowds to this spectacular event.

 

For more Curry-related golf content, check out the coverage on the Web.com Tour Official Site.

Second, no piece about caddying is complete without citing to THE original story about caddying:

Note the bucket hat.  Essential caddie garb.

Any questions I didn’t answer?  Please comment below and I’ll answer them all!

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.

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.