It has been nearly two weeks since I returned from Scotland, and I realized I haven’t written anything about it. Maybe that’s because Ian Andrew, my companion on the trip, has written about the experience with such attention to detail at the Caddy Shack.
Regardless, I thought the trip warrants some further comment, and several stories will come from it over the next year.
First of all, the trip now brings me to 22 courses played in Scotland, including eight in the Top 100 in the world according to Golf Magazine. Every trip seems to reveal something new to me, though this trip included several new courses, like Mark Parsinen’s Castle Stuart, a new course he is developing with Gil Hanse near Inverness.
Here are some random thoughts on this most recent trip:
- Cruden Bay is every bit as good the second time around as it [photopress:crudenbay.jpg,full,alignright]was the first. The course is really a must for anyone heading over to play. Many are put off by its strange elements (including the 14th and 15th, both of which have blind shots), but I found that to be one of the facets I was looking forward to the second time round. As they say, “a hole is only blind once.” Cruden Bay is fascinating and deserves its place among the world’s best. Apparently a renovation is scheduled that would take out some of the quirky bits. For shame.
- [photopress:ianandrob.jpg,full,alignleft]Royal Troon is a bit bland. The course starts out with a series of straight forward holes before finally ramping things up over a stretch of holes from 7 through to 15. The Postage Stamp is truly wonderful though, and the 15th, with its wild, weird fairway, has clearly had a significant influence. However, there is lots of plain holes at Troon, unlike its nearby neighbour, Turnberry.
- Did you know that golf pros can’t be members at many of Scotland’s famed courses? They are still viewed as the hired help and courses like Troon won’t allow them to join. Due to its corporate nature, Turnberry is the club most pros join.
- The second tier of Scottish golf is worthy of a trip, and I wonder if it is one many might enjoy more than their tour of Carnoustie, Troon, Muirfield and the like. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVED Muirfield the times I’ve played it, but the second tier of courses (Crail, Montrose, Brora, Murcar) are less expensive, less crowded and often wonderful. However, by chosing this route you can’t go home and tell your friends about all the Open Championship courses you’ve played.
- Scotland isn’t that big. Don’t let people try to talk you out of [photopress:castlestuart.jpg,full,alignright]heading to see what you most desire to play. Ian and I drove from Loch Lomond to Inverness in the morning quite comfortably, toured Castle Stuart and then played Nairn. In fact, I wanted to play so much that I took on an additional 11 holes while Mr. Andrew wrote blogs in the clubhouse. Nothing in Scotland is more than five hours away, it would seem.
- The next group of Scottish courses (Castle Stuart, the 7th at [photopress:Thecarrick.jpg,full,alignright]St. Andrews, The Carrick) all look very strong. Certainly Castle Stuart is being watched closely, given its ties to the former owner/developer of Kingsbarns, and the 7th at St. Andrews (which doesn’t have a name, though I like the 7th at St. Andrews) is surely one of the most scrutinized courses in the world. Both courses look great, though the 7th is on an extreme hill site next to the Torrence Course at St. Andrews Bay. The sleeper could be Doug Carrick’s aptly named “The Carrick,” which has been delayed by more than a year because of environmental issues. It should be open next spring and 12 holes are currently open to members.
- While Western Gailes exceeded my expectations with its straight forward links approach, Nairn proved to not be quite as close to the first tier of courses as expected. Still it was great fun to play it. The best holes at Nairn, in my mind, were the two inland holes (13 and 14) which had a parkland feel. The most intriguing at Western Gailes was the unusual and tough 17th, named Ridge for the roll in the middle of the fairway landing area.
- The longest round we played was a foursome at Troon in rain that took four hours. The quickest, by a full five minutes, was Montrose at 2:35. Only one round exceeded three hours. This is the way the game was meant to be played.
- I’ve now played all of the Open Championship courses in Scotland. Here’s how I rate them: 1) Muirfield 2) The Old Course 3) Turnberry 4) Carnoustie 5) Royal Troon. Carnoustie is the toughest of the lot, and The Old Course is the most fun.
- I’ve now played Kingsbarns five times. It is a wonderful, fun course full of width and interesting shot options. One has to wonder how such a course would be received if it were built in a North American context.
- Prestwick is strange, amazing, wild and worth studying over and over. The most unusual holes are ones nearest the clubhouse. I suspect they are also the oldest holes. Some of the best, in my estimation, is the muscular 10th, a brute with a stream running along the right.
- I’ll be back in Scotland to see more — it is only a question of when.