The text is finalised, the route set in stone, the website partially updated and the target for publication forecast as September 2021, to coincide with the Golf in the Wild Open at Allendale (date to be confirmed). The journey is not quite as planned. World events intervened, the Scottish border closed and the trip to Anstruther abandoned. This is a major disappointment as it would sit nicely in the return journey and the setting for the course looks wonderful – see Anstruther Golf Club’s gallery. Consequently, there is a journey of 108 miles between Blair Atholl and Lauder without a golf ball being struck – needs must. Perhaps this is the basis for a trilogy – a return journey, playing all the good courses I missed the first time around: Golf in the Wild, Going Back. Will the Good Wife tolerate yet more golfing adventures, I wonder.
You don’t have to be Inspector Clouseau to realise that, while Golf in the Wild is written as one long glorious journey of golfing delights, the reality is that it is ‘researched’ over several years and many different trips north. As I progress towards completion of the sequel, there has been a longstanding gap between Cullen and Blair Atholl. Heading north on an annual visit to Traigh, I had to take the opportunity to find the missing link. It was a half remembered conversation with our greenkeeper and club secretary, Neil, that went something like “have you not played Carrbridge, it’s first class” – the implication being that any itinerant golfer worth his salt could not possibly have passed it by. I confessed that I had not.
Neil was not wrong. Immaculately presented, a sensible length with nine very different holes and each one imprinted on my memory. And here’s the thing – clubhouse door to clubhouse door, give or take an inch or two, it is exactly half way between Cullen and Blair Atholl – 56.3 miles from Cullen to Carrbridge and 56.2 miles from Carrbridge to Blair Atholl. In every sense, this course was predestined for Golf in the Wild – Going Home.
A late afternoon round was played under ever changing skies but rain did not spoil the experience. I will save a full description for the book but these are some immediate memories:
- The first would be a fine introduction to any course – blind from the tee, I guess a long hitter might find the diagonal burn about half way along the fairway but, for an average Joe, it presents no problem. A neat wooden bridge, a ‘bell’ inspired by the J. Arthur Rank gong, it is a visual delight all the way to the green.
- At the second I clipped a drive an unusually long distance, assisted by a down-slope, it ran too far left towards the first fairway and the burn. From down there and probably elsewhere, what to do next had me perplexed. Protected by tall trees left and right, heavy rough and minimal fairway, the green is nestled in a dip out of sight. I could spend a life time trying to master this hole – every course should have one.
- The third is more straightforward but the fourth is protected by another burn which looks too easily driven. From an elevated tee the fairway heads down hill and slowly but surely, the once visible pin disappears from view.
- The fifth and sixth play across the top of the course – a birdie at the fifth at first attempt and a par at the sixth made for one happy golfer – modern course designers take note.
- The seventh and eighth are both from gloriously elevated tees – there is real satisfaction in the soaring, high-flying ball that descends in slow-motion to the centre of the fairway. The seventh green is on a plateau at more or less the same elevation as the tee so there is march down into the valley and a march up again. The bank in front of the green looks deceptively close so, sad to relate, I selected a mid iron and left myself too much to do with my second – a recurring problem. The eighth, a par 3, looks straightforward except for a house encroaching on the eye-line to the left. Which tolerant soul lives there, I wonder.
- And then to the ninth – a steep climb to another elevated tee with a fine view of the Carrbridge Hotel and the mountains beyond – it’s a tough finish. A dogleg, 231 yard par 3, the green invisible from the tee. As the final act to a golf course, it takes some beating; another hole I could take a life time to master. Carrbridge has it all.
The route for the first book determined itself. The 9-hole courses on the Scottish northwest coast are limited so, it was a simple task of joining the dots from Lochcarron, northwards to Durness. Returning south, beyond Perth, has been an altogether different proposition, there were simply so many choices. In the end, it came down to expediency – I have been lingering in the north for too long and I need to get home. There are fine 9-hole courses in the Scottish Borders I have played for years so, it seemed logical to return via familiar roads. I then realised there was a direct connection between my final destinations and roads didn’t enter into it – the Lauder Light Railway, North British Railway, the Border Counties Railway and the Hexham & Allendale Branch Line. I simply needed to board an imaginary train and I would be home, where ‘home’ is the old Allendale course at Thornley Gate.
Golf in the Wild – Going Home will visit the following courses, with many a diversion along the way: Reay, Wick/Reiss Links, Lybster, Bonar Bridge, Portmahomack, Castlecraig (closed), Fortrose & Rosemarkie, Covesea, Cullen, Rothes, Blair Atholl, Lauder, Melrose, Newcastleton and Allendale (Thornley Gate).
The eagle-eyed will spot a few 18-hole courses among this selection. In the case of the far north, this is simply because there are no 9-hole courses to play – and anyway, Reay and Reiss Links are suitably wild and simply superb.
The old course at Thornley Gate was only a half mile walk from the station, a good deal closer than the centre of Allendale after which the station was named (Catton would be more appropriate). This was a problem repeated along many stretches of these old lines – stations sited too far from the communities they served. When bus services were introduced, rail passenger numbers inevitably went into steep decline.
I have just returned from the annual pilgrimage to Traigh for their Open on 27th July. It is a long way to go for a strokeplay competition and then come to grief at the second, so I was delighted that the club agreed to run a parallel Stableford competition. I supplied the ‘silverware’ and the inaugural Golf in the Wild competition was won by local player, Peter Fleming. My middle-order performance of net 72 and 33 points at least had the merit of not being a ‘no return’. It is always a delight to play at Traigh and this year was no exception, despite the drizzle and threatening clouds. Eigg, Muck and Rum remained out of sight for much of the day.
The weather at Killin on the way up was glorious by comparison and it was good to be back playing this splendid course, the original inspiration for Golf in the Wild. That was Friday, the Traigh Open was on the Saturday, so it was inevitable that we should find somewhere to play on Sunday’s return leg. With time running short, we pitched up at Comrie Golf Club for nine holes and what a splendid nine holes they were. This small course announces itself like no other I know. The New England style clubhouse squats among tall trees and the finely presented 9th green – it is picture-perfect. I had called in once before but, busy competition tees prevented me from turning out and it was this sight of the clubhouse and its surroundings which made me want to return. Would the course disappoint after the excellent first impressions – it did not.
The course is approached by a single track off the A85, adjacent to the village cricket ground with a suitably aged pavilion – the cricket club was founded in 1908, seven years after the golf club. On the day we arrived. a fair was in full swing with children bouncing on ‘Sammy the Snake’ while a Tannoy system was in full flow, broadcasting indecipherable announcements to the assembled masses. It would provide the soundtrack to our round.
The first, Betty’s Knowe, is a middle-distance, blind par 4 at 320 yards off the yellows, from a tee adjacent to the clubhouse. The second shot is also potentially blind into a tight green protected by trees on the left at the lowest level of the course. From here, the fairways tack their path diagonally up the slope towards Laggan Wood, the high point of the course being 160 feet above the first green. The easiest hole, Cauldron, the second, is a par 4 and while relatively short at 238 yards, the front bunkers are likely to catch the unwary. Quarry, the third and a par 3 would be straightforward but for the mountainous rough in front of the tee. Clear this and the elevated green runs straight and true. The fourth, The Pines, would be a no-nonsense 355 yard par 4, were it not for the aforementioned pines which stand too close and to the right of the tee box – negotiate these and it is an uphill drive to another elevated green. I managed a two-putt from off the back of the green so they must be of excellent quality. From the front of the green, there is an excellent view back to the clubhouse, a visual confirmation of just how far you have already climbed.
Above the 4th green is the tee for the par 3 5th, Happy Valley. An uphill drive into another elevated green protected by bunkers left and right, the degree of happiness to be derived from this hole being dependent on missing the sand traps. Another wonderful vista opens out once the 2-putt successfully finds the dark recesses of the hole. My golfing buddies were mightily impressed to see Lord Melville’s Monument on the distant tree covered horizon. Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville was the first Secretary of State for War and became the last person impeached for misappropriation of public money while in office. The monument is unique in its commemoration of a convicted felon – many a 21st century banker will take heart:
The appropriately named 6th, Monument, takes you, in three drives if you are good – two if exceptional, to the top corner of the course. A par 5 with a tight approach, anything right is blocked about by trees although one of our party proved it possible with a high pitch and two putt for a solid par. The seventh, Pulpit, is one fine drive to a sloping fairway, 120 feet below – left there is rough and trees but right, if you are long enough, is the relative safety of the 8th fairway. My natural tendency to ‘fade’ the ball found me on said fairway in the company of four ladies from North Berwick – my pin high shot to the 7th green, leaving a birdie putt from five feet would have impressed, had they bothered to look. My inevitable two-putt was less impressive. Two par fours, Johnnie’s Corner and Coney Hill complete a thoroughly enjoyable round. The test of a good course is ‘can I remember all the holes‘ and on this course the answer is a definite ‘yes‘ – every drive, every putt, every moment taken to admire the view leaves an enduring impression. I will be back.
… to Roger and Cate! I have met a number of people determined to complete the Golf in the Wild Tour over a period of time and several journeys but this fine couple intend doing the lot in one trip. Their first project/holiday since retiring, the journey started in fine conditions under the bluest of skies – it is always like that at Allendale 🙂 The journey to Durness is scheduled to take three weeks with various detours and the possibility of returning in time for the Golf in the Wild Open on 12th June. Having seen Roger in action (playing off 11), he would be a serious contender! Many thanks to Neil, Ian, Malcolm and Mike C for making them feel so welcome – Allendale at its best.
The course, squeezed between Alnmouth’s main thoroughfare and the beach is a fine place to play the game and claims to be the oldest 9-hole links in England. Established in 1869, it was designed by the famous Scottish golfer Mungo Park, winner of the 1874 Open Championship at Musselburgh. The first five holes follow the shoreline before climbing up to the dogleg 6th – it is here, the course runs parallel with the Foxton’s par 5 16th, close enough to say hello to fellow golfers. The proximity of the courses is more than an accident of geography. The story is told on the Foxton’s website:
In 1905 the course (Alnmouth Village) was extended to 18 holes to obviate a certain amount of undesirable overlapping which occurred on the nine hole course. The extension completed under the direction of Willie Park went northward towards Foxton with the distances between holes on the new course constructed very considerably and requiring sterling golf. The opening ceremony of the new course was performed by the Duke of Northumberland and was followed by a challenge match between the international champions Harry Vardon and J H Taylor.
In the late 1920’s the Duke of Northumberland was approached and consented to lease a further piece of land in order to make a new 18 hole course. A survey of the land was made by Mr HS Colt the famous golf architect and his report was published in the Newcastle Journal on the 4th July 1929. The land surrounded Foxton Hall, one of the historic residences of the Percy family, which was to be used as the clubhouse. The adoption of the Foxton Hall scheme was reported on the 10th December 1929 with the new club to come into being on the 1st January 1930. The new course where we are today, was opened on the 9 May 1931, but sadly the 8th Duke of Northumberland died suddenly in August and was therefore not present to witness his vision.
In 1936 Alnmouth Village Golf Club was formed and took over the running of the old links. Since that time the clubs have maintained their historical links and still play a number of special combined competitions.
From a magnificent high-level tee, with a view that encompasses the full length of Alnmouth Bay, Coquet Island and beyond, the 7th returns the golfer to the sea-bound links, a descent of some 50+ feet. The ball stays air-bound for an eternity as it eventually plunges earthwards adjacent to the third green bunkers or beyond – an immensely satisfying drive!
A nine-hole course with such a fine location and history, it seems inconceivable that it will not find its way into the pages of Golf in the Wild, Going Home. It is just a matter of a small diversion as the reader is led back to Allendale.
… to know which way the wind blows – Subterranean Homesick Blues, Bob Dylan, recorded on January 14, 1965.
According to english.stackexchange.com, the lyric was the inspiration for the name of the American radical left group the Weathermen, a breakaway from the Students for a Democratic Society. In a 2007 study of legal opinions and briefs that found Bob Dylan was quoted by judges and lawyer more than any other songwriter, “you don’t need a weatherman…” was distinguished as the line most often cited.
I mention this apropos of nothing other than I was at Traigh for their Open over the weekend and, as always, from the high points on the course, you don’t need a weatherman, you can see the weather coming for miles and there was plenty of it.
While I am going off at tangents, I will make this not particularly original observation – to fully appreciate any music you must hear it in the context of its own time. This track and everything else on Bringing It All Back Home was a shining beacon of originality which inevitably fades with time and the production of more than 50 years worth of subsequent music. Nevertheless, I can still remember the excitement felt by that introverted 14 year-old as this album first emerged from the single speaker of the family Dansette. All the words are still in my head.
… to Traigh. The yearly pilgrimage to Arisaig is nearly upon us – the Traigh Open, 28th July 2018. One of the most spectacular golf courses in the UK – the absolute epitome of Golf in the Wild.
… to Tobermory
Overdoing it (after LIFE by Dorothy Parker)
Oh golf’s one long round of pure pleasure and fun –
A feast of profound satisfaction.
I bet twenty quid I could outdrive my son,
Now I’m spending a fortnight in traction.
From Summoned by Balls – Christopher Matthew
… to Inveraray.
I’ve got a smelly Labrador. I call him Old Plum Duff.
He can’t keep up for toffee, but he’s brilliant in the rough.
While others slash through thorns and gorse and curse their wayward shots,
He finds my ball in seconds in the most unlikely spots.
Amateur – 3rd verse – Christopher Matthew, Summoned by Balls