Scotland 2016

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.

The Trip:
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 shit

What’s infuriating about these customs lines in Europe is the fact that there is a very small line for UK citizens with two agents working it and a very large line for everyone else with one agent working it. All this just to ask me where I was going and who I was going with seemed a bit ridiculous.

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:
Samsung Galaxy S7 download (Including Scotland) 259

Samsung Galaxy S7 download (Including Scotland) 274

Samsung Galaxy S7 download (Including Scotland) 277

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:
Scotland (38)
This one was from further down the beach, where the golf course is located. This is actually a view of the second hole:
Scotland (42)

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.

LG: NB offers a few golf holes you’ll not find elsewhere.  In particular the Pit hole, Perfection, and the Redan were some of the most memorable of the trip.  More to come on this later.
Scotland (45)

Scotland (52)

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.

Scotland (61)

Scotland (57)

Scotland (64)

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”)( 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.

Scotland (88)

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.”

Scotland (90)

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.

Scotland (67)

Scotland (68)

The day was not lost, though, because we had the New Course on our list as well.

First, simply walking up to St. Andrews was a surreal experience. LG and I don’t often post pictures of ourselves on this blog, but it’s needed in this circumstance because of what it signifies:
Scotland (73)

Scotland (72)
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:

Scotland (76)

Scotland (80)

Scotland (84)

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:

Scotland (85)


Yes, crazy Americans who were waiting to play since 8:30pm the day before…


JK builds a fort to shelter himself from the wind.  Anything for golf! 

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 ). 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.

is this even real?

is this even real?

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:IMG_8359.PNG

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:


And, somehow, it doesn’t hit the wall.

Coming up 18, the only thing left was not to screw it up. What happened?

LG looks thrilled to have won his prize.

LG looks thrilled to have won his prize.

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.

Here’s a few parting shots of what turned out to be a most memorable round:
Scotland (114)

Scotland (126)

Scotland (127)

Scotland (120)

And the obligatory celebratory drink:

Scotland (130)

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…, 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,, (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:

Scotland (132)

JK in front of the 8th hole at Jubilee

JK in front of the 8th hole at Jubilee

Scotland (139)

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:

Scotland (148)

Scotland (146)

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:

Scotland (158)

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:

Scotland (160)

I wish I could provide some type of a summary of exactly how incredible Kingsbarns was, but I find it virtually impossible. So I’ll let some pictures tell the story. Here’s the third hole:
Scotland (163)

And the 12th:

Scotland (168)

And the 15th:
Scotland (171)

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.

when you see it, you'll know

when you see it, you’ll know

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:

Scotland (182)

The spectacle bunkers on 15 (which is a RIDICULOUSLY difficult hole)
Scotland (183)

The clubhouse as seen from the 16th tee
Scotland (188)

And a few reminders of why this place is legendary
Scotland (196)

Scotland (197)

Scotland (198)

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).

Scotland (201)

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:

Scotland (204)

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.

Scotland (208)

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.
Scotland (207)

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.