Saturday afternoon of the long weekend I was down in London visiting family, and decided to play Tarandowah in the afternoon, a rarity for me since I don’t play many weekends and certainly not late in the day. I was glad I did.
My fondness for Tarandowah, a links-style course designed by Martin Hawtree (who is the man behind Trump’s new venture in Scotland) is well known. I love its rugged nature, the notion that at least two holes typically play a half shot above par and that it is easily walked for an affordable price. In this instance I was playing with head pro Dave Schweyer, a strong player recovering from a recent injury. As the temperature hit the upper 20s, we set out. Golfers were relatively sparse by this late in the day, though they still dotted the landscape here and there.
From the opening tee shot, over a ravine to a fairway that runs away and to the left, it was clear this wasn’t an ordinary day at Tarandowah. My opening drive bounded into the air after hitting the short grass and rolled down the fairway. As I walked up to the drive, I noticed just how firm the fairways were — hard under foot though recently punched. They were also a mix of colours — super Dan Lavis certainly wasn’t going for the uniform green brought about by over-watering.
Now we’ve had a dry spring — with rainfall exceptionally sparse. But when my second shot came up short and in the swale in front of the first green, but still rolled out onto the putting surface, I knew the course was playing like the links it emulated. It reminded me of a round I played three years ago at Aberdovey, a neat links on the Welsh coast. That day one had to become accustomed to playing shots that landed short — because those that hit the green would roll off the back.
Some don’t like this style of golf — they feel greens should be soft, full of pitch marks and receptive to any shot. That isn’t how a links plays and it wasn’t how Tarandowah played on the weekend. Many courses have firm greens, but over water the surrounds, making it difficult to pitch-and-run a ball into them. Not at Tarandowah. As for the approaches, you learned early on to adjust — hitting one less club into greens. On the other hand, tee shots rolled out an extra 20 yards and the fescue was thin, allowing one to track down wayward shots.
It was as much fun as I’ve had playing golf in North America in some time.
I’m sure the conditions aren’t for everyone, but I they reminded me of the true links golf I’ve played in the U.K. Firm, fast, and fun. Golf as it should be.