Much of the golf that I have played over the years has been as a single. Rather than calling around and trying to lasso four guys into a game and then finding a course to play, I have woken up on Saturday and Sunday mornings, flipped open the Toronto Star golf map and headed in whatever direction the sun was shining. Driving distance only mattered off the tee. In my car, I`d drive as far as necessary.
In 2004 I traveled as far as I`d ever traveled before for a round of golf. In April of that year I flew to Scotland for two weeks of playing some of the finest links courses in the world. My first week over there was as a single. In week two, Rob Thompson and his brother Chris joined me. As it is British Open week, I thought that now would be an appropriate time to share my story.
My trip to Scotland had actually started the previous November. After a late Fall round at Angus Glen, Rob asked me if I wanted to think about coming over to Scotland with him and his brother for a week of golf. I didn`t hesitate. Of course I`d go. But I quickly decided that I wouldn`t go all that way for one week of golf, I wanted to head over a week earlier on my own for a second week.
Not only was this going to be my first golf trip to Scotland, it was going to be my first trip to the UK, period. I was going to research to make the most of my time. Two books that were key to my planning were To The Linksland by Michael Bamburger and Golf In Scotland by Alan Ferguson. The first is a magical account of a sports writer taking a year long sabbatical to caddie on the European Tour and finding his game by traveling throughout the land that claims the home of golf. Alan Ferguson`s book on the other hand is a handy guide that will help you plan every aspect of your trip. He gives suggested itineraries based on location and cost, he explains how to get the best rates on rental cars, he suggests accommodations of all types and sizes and he even lets you know what else there is to do in each town in case, god forbid, you need to take a break from golfing. Both books have colorful descriptions of many of the fine courses that will become a must see on your trip.
Here are a couple of tips right off the bat.
1) The Scottish Tourism Board will, for a nominal fee, help you find appropriate accommodations at bed & breakfasts in any part of the country. You tell them where you want to go and how much you`re willing to spend and they send you a number of options to choose from.
2) Arnold Clark is the best and biggest car rental service in the country. There are a wide variety of cars to choose from (all of which you`ll have to drive from the right side of the car).
I arrived in Glasgow after an hour flight from Heathrow (following a restless seven hour trip from Toronto to London). As advertised, Arnold Clark has a courtesy phone conveniently located beside the luggage carousel and before long a van has picked me up for the drive over to their lot. Less than an hour after getting off the plane I was in my Nissan Micro (a car so tiny that once my clubs are fitted into the back seat and my duffle is placed on the front, I have no room for a passenger) driving the M8 towards Edinburgh.
My first night was spent at Mackenzie House, a bed & breakfast located on the grounds of Leith Links, the golf club at which the original rules of the game were laid out.
After a quick nap to get acclimatized to the new time zone, I headed over to Edinburgh Castle for a little sightseeing. I didn`t know it then, but I was going to see as many castles as golf courses over the next two weeks. Every where you go in this country, you are walking in the footsteps of history. Blood has been spilt on the streets, over castle turrets and on the greens of the world`s most famous courses.
I had originally planned on spending two days in Edinburgh but when I woke up on Sunday morning I was itching to begin play and, after having spent the afternoon at the historic castle the day before, I had no other sites I yearned to see. So, after a traditional Scottish breakfast (which would be the death of me if I gave it half a chance), I headed north towards Cruden Bay.
My first stop was Stonehaven. Rob had been to Scotland the year before and insisted that, if I had the chance, playing Stonehaven would be a treat I wouldn`t soon forget. He was right.
Where should I start? You pay your greens fee at the bar. The massive bunker in the first fairway was actually made by a German shell in WWII. The first green sits on a cliff over looking the black sea. Tee shots play over perpendicular fairways or deep crevices.
I played my round in a cold driving rain. While drying off in the washroom after my round, I fell into a conversation with a local.
Å“Are you the fella out there playing in that weather, he asked.
Å“Yes, I said. Å“I`ve just come over from Canada and I wanted to play some real Scottish golf.
Å“Scotsmen won`t play in this weather, he laughed lifting his beer. Å“We head to the pub on days like this.
Lesson learned. I folded myself back into my car and drove the rest of the way to themy accommodations in Cruden Bay.
I woke up early on Monday excited to play an Old Tom Morris course for the first time. I was relieved to not see any signs of rain in the sky though the wind was whipping in off the sea.
Standing on the first tee I was struck by the immaculate condition of the Cruden Bay Golf Club. Even though it was over 120 years old it looked as though it could have been opened just a few years before. The layout of the course is amazing but it was the wind that provided the biggest challenge. I played two rounds at Cruden Bay.
The first time through I played a driver to the 185 yard par 3 fourth but it only took a four iron to reach the green when I played it in the afternoon. The par 3 15th was a blind shot over the side of a hill but once again the wind was what caused the most havoc on the hole. The tee box is located right on the sea and the wind was so string that it was impossible to keep the ball on the tee.
Making the shot all the more distracting was the Black Sea itself as well as a clear view of Slaines Castle off in the distance.
After my second round I drove over to Slaine`s Castle which was the pattern that was to be repeated every day. Each morning I would head out to the course for 36 holes. In the late afternoon I would do some local sightseeing and then by 7:00pm I`d be on the road to my next location. Luckily the sun stays up past 9:30 at this time of year so finding my accommodations proved to not be a problem.