Golf In Scotland: Part 4 – Driving in St. Andrews, Birdies at the Redan

My drive into Glasgow was the most circuitous on the entire trip. Between the traffic and the winding streets I was barely able to follow my mapquest directions. To make matters even more difficult, my lodging for the night was on a tiny street parallel to a major artery but not clearly marked. I finally arrived an hour late and the landlord had already left for the day. A few calls and some sweaty palms and I finally lay down in the one room on this adventure that I wished I hadn`t been in. I grabbed a Sub at a shop next door, took it up to my room and turned in for the night.

Rob and Chris arrived from Toronto the next morning. On the way to the airport I stopped in to Arnold Clark and exchanged the Micra for a much larger car “ the Vauxhall Vectra! It was nice to finally have a little extra leg room.

The boys showed up on time though the same can`t be said for Rob`s luggage. The plan had been to gather the bags and beat a hasty trail to our base camp in St. Andrews and try to get a round of golf in after the brothers took a nap. Our new plan “ wait for the next flight from Heathrow in two hours “ meant that we had time to kill so we drove to Turnburry for my one and only look at the famous lighthouse. It should be noted that moments after Rob had complimented my driving on the left side of the road, the passenger side mirror took a turn for the worse colliding with the open door of a truck at the side of the road.

Once we had all of the bags in the Vauxhall we began our two hour drive to St. Andrews. I probably would have been better off to have let Rob drive for a couple of reasons. First of all it`s tough not to be in awe of the stone buildings throughout the town. Although slightly more up to date than Dornoch, this is still a town steeped in history at every corner. My eyes darted from side to side all the while trying to find the turn to our B&B. I`m here so we clearly got there. Due to the luggage snafu we weren`t able to get that round in on the Saturday. Let`s move on.

Royal Montrose #3

On Sunday morning we got up bright and early and drove to the Royal Montrose Golf Club. We played 36 that day with a local golf architect who was also a member. Apart from imparting local knowledge, playing with a member saved us each about $40 on our greens fees.

Royal Montrose #11

Royal Montrose is one of the hundred of great courses that dot Scotland that you`ll never hear about. The opening hole is a short but tough 380 yard uphill par 4. The 16th is a crazy long par 3 at 235 yards. The undulations on the 16th green assure you of no better than bogie. And, like so many of the countries courses at this time of year, the fairways are well defined by the blossoming gorse.

One of the things I told Rob and Chris when they got off the plane on Saturday was that there were no birdies in all of Scotland. That changed on Monday in the most memorable way. On Monday morning we drove south, past Edinburgh, to North Berwick. There we began play at one of the world`s most breathtaking natural golf courses. The West Links has been shaped by wind and rain over hundreds of years. Mother Nature even gets credit as one of the course architects.

West Links #2

At 328 yards, the opening hole is short but calls on a strategic tee shot. You`ll need to get your ball no closer to the green than 130 yards so that you can use a high lofted iron on a blind shot over a hill to a side mounted green. Quirky yes, but fun nonetheless. The next two holes play along the sea and the beach is in play. A most fabulous fairway bunker if I do say so myself.

West Links #4

Like all true links courses this track sends you out for nine holes and then brings you back for nine more. At the turn prepare to change the flight of your ball as a brisk wind into your face calls for a lower trajectory. The 13th is called The Pit and for good reason. The green is placed to the left of the fairway and behind a stone wall.

#15 at The West Links at North Berwick is the most famous and most imitated par 3 in all of golf. The Redan plays 192 yards and the green falls away from the tee box. I am proud to say that this was the location of my first birdie in Scotland! A skulled four iron sent the ball under the wind, hitting the fairway 10 “ 15 yards in front of the green from which it rolled to with two feet of the flag. A shot for the ages I will not soon forget.

West Links #14

The 16th green has a valley in the middle so precarious that you might as well flop from one side to the next if your ball ends up in the wrong quadrant. Finally, the course brings you back to the parking lot. Careful with your drive off of the tee though, the cost of a new windshield will more than double your greens fee. The only thing better than playing The West Links, is playing it twice, which is exactly what we did. I am pleased to report scores of 79 and 81.

One of the reasons Rob and Chris had originally planned their trip to Scotland was to play at Muirfield (down the road from North Berwick). When making my own arrangements I tried to join them but was informed by the club secretary that the club does not allow three ball matches. Sad but true I was going to have to find an alternative course to play. Originally I was going to head across the street to play at Gullane but a fortuitous conversation with the starter at The West Links sent me further south to Dunbar.

Dunbar #6

After dropping the Brothers Thompson off at the black gates of Muirfield I headed south. The Dunbar Golf Club was established in 1856 and was originally designed by Old Tom Morris (of course). It was an overcast day but the cloud cover only added to the spirit of the course. Dunbar opens with three fair benign holes but once you get to #4 the fun really begins. If you are a slicer, stay away from Dunbar. Holes four through ten are all tightly bound on the right by a stone fence. Holes eleven through eighteen and all tightly bound on the right by the sea. To challenge you further are enough bunkers to keep you second guessing your club selections for days following your round. One bunker in particular is a small coffin sized hole placed to the left of the 13th green. One barely has room to draw back your club so be prepared to skull your shot clear over the surface.

You thought I was kidding?

Following my 36th hole, I returned to Muirfield in time to walk up the 18th with my traveling partners. We drove back to St. Andrews for a nice Vindaloo dinner, regaling each other in stories of our rounds while dowsing ourselves with cold water. Tomorrow we play St. Andrews. A good night`s sleep is in order.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

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