Scotland: The Eden of Golf
The Birthplace of Golf For Avid Golfers, Playing the Windswept Links of St. Andrews and Scotland's Other Courses Is Like Returning Home
From the Print Edition:
Matt Dillon, Spring 96
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The clever European Tour player David Feherty has his own take on links golf. "It's target golf, all right," says Feherty. "But the target moves."
A target for those in the know about Scottish golf is the Royal Dornoch course, a six-hour drive from St. Andrews through the remote Highlands to the north. In this hauntingly beautiful place set along Dornoch Firth and Embo Bay, the links of Royal Dornoch are wild and untamed, with magnificent dune hills and tiny windswept seaside prairies of blond fescue grasses. Playing with an old friend, Sandy Tatum, Watson once stood on a tee at Royal Dornoch with the wind and the rain battering his face. "This is golf," he told Tatum. "This is fun."
On the west coast of Scotland, about two hours drive south of Glasgow, is the grand Turnberry Hotel and its two wonderful courses, the Ailsa and the Arran. Turnberry's Ailsa Course is the Pebble Beach of Scotland. It's not truly a links course, located primarily on bluffs that overlook the Firth of Clyde and the Irish Sea. The big dune hills that define several of the holes on the Ailsa Course, as well as on the Arran, aren't dunes at all. During the Second World War, the Royal Air Force commandeered the courses for use as a training base; afterward, both courses were rebuilt. The base runways were torn up and much of the rip-rap was heaped to form the faux dunes that are so impressive today.
The ninth tee of the Ailsa Course sits on a rock promontory high above the firth, near a lighthouse. The view from there to the ninth fairway over the crashing sea would be enough, but the view of the white Turnberry Hotel with its red roof couldn't be any better, and seaward there is the starkly awesome sight of the Ailsa Craig, a huge dome of granite about a mile offshore where curling stones are quarried.
The Turnberry Hotel is one of the world's finest, with large, recently renovated rooms that look out over the courses, the sea and the Ailsa Craig. The dining room serves good to excellent Scottish contemporary food. Near sundown a lone bagpiper plays while walking the length of the immense front terrace, his melancholy chords hitting just the right note after a day's golf and a glass of 12-year-old single malt Scotch.
About halfway between Turnberry and Glasgow are Prestwick Golf Club and Royal Troon, adjacent to each other and across from the Prestwick Airport. Prestwick was the host of the first British Open Championship in 1860, and Royal Troon remains part of the Open rota, or rotation, today. Both clubs allow some outside play; your best shot is to write the club secretary well in advance or go through a travel agency that specializes in golf, like Perry Golf Travel of Atlanta.
Prestwick has its famous Alps Hole, where the tee shot has to be played over a large dune hill. As a result, you never know exactly where your ball will end up, which is why a caddie is so necessary. Troon has its Postage Stamp hole, a short par-3 with a tiny green. Gene Sarazen made a hole-in-one here during the 1973 British Open, his last appearance in a major championship. Both courses exude the history of the game. The clubhouses are filled with pictures and memorabilia from a century and a half of play, with long-dead club captains staring down from dark wood walls.
Inland, roughly halfway between Glasgow and St. Andrews is the Gleneagles Hotel. Gleneagles has three golf courses, the most recent designed by Jack Nicklaus and opened two years ago. Though these aren't links courses, they are wonderful examples of parkland layouts. The Kings Course has been host to the Scottish Open and the hotel itself has been host to kings. Just wandering the grounds of the hotel is a delight, and for the truly adventurous a Jackie Stewart off-road racing school is based here.
On the coast south of Edinburgh are three other Scottish greats: Royal Muirfield Golf Club, Gullane and North Berwick. Muirfeld, whose members are known as the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, is a delightful and difficult course that is also part of the British Open rota. Muirfield is the snootiest of Scotch golfing clubs, but it is worth the effort to try to play. The excellent Greywalls Hotel is adjacent to Muirfield, a swell place for a cigar and Scotch while telling lies after
North Berwick is the home of the Redan Hole, a classic par-3 much imitated around the world. The hole, the 15th, has an elevated shallow green that runs on a diagonal to the tee from right to left. At its front is a deep, deep bunker. The Redan hole is named after a fortress used in the Crimean War that was guarded by deep pits in front of its walls, maybe almost as deep as the bunker at North Berwick.
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