St Andrews & Anstruther

I guess most golfers have an ambition to play St Andrews, the home of golf.  Scheduled to play Anstruther at 13:30 we had some time to spare so we drove the extra ten miles north and spent an enjoyable hour gongoozling at St Andrews’  first tee and the eighteenth green.

Much as I would like to play the Old Course, I have some reservations.  I would feel obliged to use a caddy and I would imagine a continuous analysis of my fragile game by an old hand who has seen it all before, not least the incompetent hack.  There is also the gallery, especially at the eighteenth where a wayward finish is all too publicly on display – and always remember Doug Sanders.

This good man cleared the Valley of Sin but, his ball ran through to the rough at the back of the green and found a testing lie which he wanted the ‘gallery’ to know about.  Despite this he chipped to within feet of the pin – a fine effort in spite of the attentions of the man with a camera.

Look at this lie!

A great chip

To within feet.

The final drawback is the cost – all well and good if you are in reasonable form but a recipe for certain depression if you are having a poor day.  Nevertheless, I suppose it has its compensations – later that day when I parred the eighteenth at Anstruther, there was nobody present to admire my final putt, just my good buddy who slightly resented me adding salt to his wounds.

Anstruther’s second

 

Anstruther proved to be everything I had hoped for – a fine course with some challenging holes, not least, the three consecutive par 3s at the southern end of the course.  The first of these, the fifth – The Rockies, was deemed the toughest par 3 in Britain in 2007 by Today’s Golfer. Ian parred this on the back nine, something I feel obliged to mention 😉 And, yes, but for Covid, Anstruther would have been in the sequel.

Tomorrow we head south again – this time to Jedburgh, a course I have not played since it was extended to eighteen holes. If the sun stays out, it should be a fine finish to an excellent three days of escape.

The tee is back beyond the gorse – near the square structure

Gifford

First golf impressions are influenced by the weather and how well you play.  The skies over Gifford were an unbelievable blue and the scoring surprisingly good.  Consequently I consider Gifford to be a spectacular golf course.  A parkland layout surrounded to the northwest by Blawearie Wood and  in the lee of the Lammermuir Hills, it is well presented with large, immaculate greens.  The Speedy Burn runs across the course and comes into play at the second, seventh, eighth and ninth holes.  The small but tidy clubhouse could feature in George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces.  At not far short of 6000 yards off the yellows with just three par 3s (6000+ off the whites) good distance off the tee will help post a reasonable score.

A nine-hole course, there is some variety on the back nine: the first is a par three whereas the tenth tee is at the edge of the car park – this being some 200-yards distant from the clubhouse where the first tee is positioned; the fourteenth par 3 is significantly shorter and easier than front nine fifth; the eighteenth tee is set back some distance in a small copse and turns the front nine par 4 ninth into a par 5.  The narrow perspective from this last tee presents a challenging finish.

Had Covid not interfered with travel plans in 2020, it is almost certain that this course would have featured in the sequel – Golf in the Wild – Going Home. If asked what has been the greatest influence on writing the sequel, I would have to respond ‘Events, my dear boy, events‘ (H. Macmillan).  As I head for Anstruther with my long time golfing buddy (Ian the L Plates – see book #1), I feel certain the same will apply.

The second

The eighth

The fifth

Yester Parish Church in the centre of Gifford

Golf in the Wild and Kindle

The first print run of 1000 books has nearly sold out and so I have reached a decision point – reprint or make available online.  I have always much preferred print media to e-books and it was this that motivated the high production standards for Golf in the Wild.  It was the unknown book I wanted golfers to find on the shelf at Waterstones which would immediately inspire them to rush to the check-out.  Not that Waterstones was ever persuaded to stock the book but, therein lies another story.

The sequel, Golf in the Wild – Going Home, is due for publication in September 2021.  At the same time I will reprint the first book.  With a gap in availability of several months, this seemed an opportune time to experiment with Kindle.  After several frustrating hours with Kindle Create, I eventually decided to upload as a Print Replica which, in plain English, means that the content appears exactly as it does in the printed book format.  Retention of the original formatting and imagery means it is a large download – more megabytes for your buck.  The Kindle price is £3.49 in the UK, with equivalent pricing in other worldwide territories – Kindle Unlimited members get to read if for free.

Going Home – progress

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.

Carrbridge

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.
... Carrbridge

The Clubhouse

... proceeding down the 1st fairway, Carrbridge

The view down the first from the gong with the second fairway to the left

... and a ditch in driving distance

The view from the 4th tee with a burn in easy driving distance

... birdied at first attempt - very satisfying!

The 5th – birdied at first attempt – very satisfying!

... from the 7th with the valley between green and tee

Looking back from the 7th with the valley between green and tee

... Carrbridge - a first round at this immaculately presented Highland course.

The eighth green with the elevated tee in the background

... and a 'driveable' house!

The eighth green again – this time showing the nearby house!

... down the 9th from the elevated tee.

The view down the 9th from the elevated tee with the Carrbridge Hotel and mountains in the distance

The Route Home

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.

Reproduced with the kind permission of John Alsop

Reproduced with the kind permission of John Alsop

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.

Comrie

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 clubhouse.

The clubhouse.

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.

The clubhouse from the 4th green.

The clubhouse from the 4th green.

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:

Melville's Monument in the distance from the 5th green

Melville’s Monument in the distance from the 5th green

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.

The 9th green and the view from the clubhouse

The 9th green and the view from the clubhouse

Bon voyage …

… 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.

001-Roger-and-Cate-GITW-Version

Alnmouth Village Golf Course

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.

The view near the 4th tee

The view near the 4th tee

Approaching the 5th

Approaching the 5th

Brave walkers!

Brave walkers!

You don’t need a weatherman …

… 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.

... 2018 - heavy weather - sunshine and monsoons

The view from the 3rd tee

... 2018 - heavy weather - sunshine and monsoons

The Clubhouse – the umbrella accurately indicates that the sun was only a passing fancy.

... 2018 - heavy weather - sunshine and monsoons

Threatening weather

... 2018 - heavy weather - sunshine and monsoons

Not immediately apparent, but I am drenched

... 2018 - heavy weather - sunshine and monsoons

The view from the 2nd tee

 

... to the 2nd tee - Traigh Open 2018 - the essence of Golf in the Wild

Looking back to the 2nd tee – Traigh Open 2018 – the essence of Golf in the Wild

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.