For the Love of the Links

I haven’t posted for a while. I got married at the beginning of May and my attention was elsewhere. But I return from my honeymoon in the U.K. with a golf story to tell.

A few years ago, RT, Ian Andrew and Ian’s dad spent a week playing some of the great courses of ireland. Our last round was at Royal County Down. The weather was miserable. The club house was being renovated. And I was exhausted from a week of travel and fescue. As a result, my game was sub par and I couldn’t truly appreciate the golf course.

This is my second stab at writing this because the first go round led to some flowery language that made me sound a little too much like an “I’ve been there and you haven’t” elitist. So, I’ll try this again.

I paid 155 pounds for my greens fee and another 35 pounds to rent a brand new set of Taylormade r7 irons with a Burner driver and Rossi blade putter. That’s four hundred bucks for a round of golf. Was it worth it? Damn right it was.

When I originally booked my tee time back in March I was paired with two other people but when I showed up to check in I found out I’d be playing on my own. The last time I was here the club house was going through some renovations so we checked in at a trailer. This time I took a tour of the beautiful clubhouse filled with history and historic photos. The putting green is massive but doesn’t run true at all but the chipping green is in perfect condition and is exceptional for finding your stroke.

The starter came over to fetch me 10 minutes before my tee time and we spent the next few minutes exchanging friendly banter. He let me know that there was a group off about 45 minutes before me and the next group wasn’t going off for another hour so I could take all of the time that I need. For the opening drive on the par 5 first, he lined me up with a gorse bush about 300 yards ahead of me. My drive started just to the right of the target and fell gently to the middle of the fairway. A perfect drive. I was thankful that I struck the ball so well since this was the only shot anyone was going to see me hit all day.

The weather was beautiful. 16 degrees Celsius, not a cloud in the sky and barely any wind. Because we’re still in mid-Spring, the gorse was in full bloom as opposed to the gray mangles mess you see on Open courses in July. With nary a care in the world, I played the slowest solo round of my life playing a single ball (3 1/2 hours). I shot an 83 but the score wasn’t important.

When you play true links it’s hard not to be struck by how bold and muscular the landscape looks. Having played a round here once before, I knew that I had to look for tiny tell tale white stones as aiming points for blind tee shots. The fairways are sand based and on dry days like this one, your tee shots land with a puff of smoke when they hit the fairway. The fairways are mowed short but they could not be call manicured in any sense of the word with nubs of weeds all around you. Bunkers hide around corners and you can think about a first putt even when you’re 10 or 20 feet off the green.

But once you land on the green you are transported to another world. The grass is perfect. Every blade is in its place. The slope is fast (probably about a 10) but the ball runs true and doesn’t hit any bumpy patches. I didn’t have one three putt in my round because I knew that even when I hit the ball 4 or 5 feet beyond the cup I could putt back on a slightly corrected line to make the comebacker.

There are no yardages indicated on sprinkler heads so you either have to eyeball your second and third shots, get a caddie (35 pounds plus a tip) or, as in my case, run up to the green and march off the distance. By the back nine I was eyeballing every shot and ended up doing better than knowing exact distances.

There is no way to accurately relate the feeling one has on a seaside course laid out by Old Tom Morris. If you’re in the least bit inclined towards the history of the game you have to make the pilgrimage. To walk the same paths to the green as Morris, Vardon, Jones et al is magical. As I said to my step son a few days later, I not only feel fortunate to be in a position to be able to afford to play such golf courses but I feel equally fortunate to know the history and to be a good enough player to appreciate the opportunity that has been afforded to me.

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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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