I have waited a long time to summarize our two golfing trips to Scotland. The first one was back in the summer of 2001. The second was in late June of 2003. My memory of some of the details is a bit clouded, but the most outstanding bits are as clear as if they happened yesterday.Our first trip was the result of a house swap I did with an acquaintance who lived in Linlithgow — roughly halfway between Glasgow and Edinburgh. I had registered our Florida house (which we have since sold — just before the hurricane in Aug 2004) for swaps on holswap.com and was getting a fair number of inquiries from people from England and Scotland.
The Linlithgow trade sounded perfect. I had done a fair bit of research and had already decided I wanted to be near enough to St. Andrews to visit, but was more interested in seeing a few of the more obscure, remote courses. Linlithgow is roughly 50 miles from St. Andrews.
I was not counting on playing The Old Course this time around because Judy would not be able to play with me (official handicaps required), and you have to book too far in advance. I was more interested in just seeing the town of St. Andrews and walking a bit on the course.
My real objective was to visit Royal Dornoch three or so hours north of Edinburgh, and Machrihanish over on the Mull of Kintyre about as close to Ireland as you can get on mainland Scotland. So I had booked a two night stay at the Dornoch Castle in the first week, and another two night stay at a beautiful B&B; in Campbelltown about ten miles from Macrahanish.
We spent the first couple days at Linlithgow seeing the local sites. The first night there just happened to be a jousting match on the grounds of the Linlithgow Palace — an historic ruin that was once the home of Mary Queen of Scots.
Before leaving for Dornoch on Wednesday I wanted to play at least one round in the south. The father in law of our host recommended we go over to North Berwick just south of Muirfield on the east coast (the St. Andrews side). This gave us the opportunity to scout out the terrain along the East Lothian coast between Edinburgh and Gullane — the home of Muirfield.
We played our first round in Scotland at North Berwick. This is considered a “primitive” links course with quirky features such as blind shots and walls you have to shoot over. It is the home of the original “Redan” par three — which at the time I thought was fairly unremarkable — a hole which has been copied more than any other in the world. My most memorable shot was the approach at #13, “The Pit”. I hit what I thought was a beautiful iron just over the wall onto the green. When we got there it was down in the “pit” behind the green and required a massive uphill putt. I think it took about four more strokes to get it near the hole. Judy got her first par in Scotland on #17!
The next day we visited St. Andrews. Having played at North Berwick I was accustomed to the “public” nature of these courses. People were perfectly free to walk across the fairway to and from the beach. So this gave us the opportunity to walk parts of The Old Course. We walked out a couple holes along the beach side, then came back along the famous “Road Hole” (17) and along the road to the even more famous Swilcan Bridge over the “burn” on 18.
On Tuesay we played the local course at Linlithgow as a guest of our host. This offered an interesting taste of the other kind of course in Scotland — an inland or parkland course — more like what we Canadians are used to, but a bit more rugged.
Then on Wednesday we headed north to Dornoch for what was to be perhaps the most memorable part of our trip. Dornoch is a beautiful little town on the Dornoch Firth about 30 miles north of Inverness. The town itself is historically significant as one of the focal points for “the clearances” that took place in the 1840s. This was when the 1st Duke of Sutherland sent the peasant farmers packing and replaced them with sheep. It is also the site of the last witch burning that took place in the Great Britan.
The golf course at Royal Dornoch is one of the most famous in the world. Its isolation makes it even more appealing for golf romantics like me. On Wednesday night we walked the course as darkness settled in (at around 11pm).
Then on Thursday I played my first round on the hallowed links. It was not one of my best rounds. I was a single sandwiched between two foursomes, playing an unknown course. Two Ball Barcelona had not yet been invented, and it is arguably against the rules to play it in this situation anyway.
It was a memorable round nonetheless. Even if the shots were not particularly good, and the golfer was confused and somewhat at loose ends, the day was warm and pleasant, the course was strikingly beautiful, and I had played one of the world’s best courses.
Later that day Judy and I played the Struie Course which is the 2nd course on the Dornoch links. It was then under development and not particularly outstanding. On our second visit in 2003 the Struie Course had been much improved and was well worth playing.
The next day we had the opportunity to explore some of the local points of interest. A trip up the coast to Dunrobin Castle at Golspie was well worth it. The falconry exhibition was outstanding.
In the afternoon we played the golf course at Brora, further up the coast another 15 miles or so. It was perfect Scottish golfing weather. The gusty wind was blowing in off the Firth bringing short burst of light rain punctuated by sunny breaks.
This was one of those rounds you never forget. Brora is the only course I’ve played where neighbouring sheep and cattle are free to roam the links and the greens are fenced off with electrical wire. The course features lots of interesting shots over rugged grazing terrain. A fairly decent round can easily be ruined by a miscalculation at 18. It’s a longish par 3 (190) with a huge catchment area in front of the elevated green sitting right up beside the club house. I’ve been short every time I’ve played it.
After a thoroughly enjoyable round we visited the dining room in the club house for an early dinner. Then we headed back to Linlithgow to prepare for the next leg of our trip — our trip out past Loch Lomond and down the Kintyre peninsula that juts out into the Irish Sea.
In the next segment I will describe our three day side trip to Campbeltown on the Mull of Kintyre where we had the privilege of playing the world famous links at Machrihanish several times.