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Posts from the ‘Scotland’ Category

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.

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

Eventually …

all things merge into one, and a road runs through it.  With apologies to Norman Maclean.

At the northern end of Fortrose, turn right down Ness Road, signposted Chanonry Point and a single-track leads to the lighthouse and a shoreline dotted with optimists, staring intently out to sea, searching for dolphins.  This is the road that cuts through the Fortrose & Rosemarkie golf course, hallowed undulating turf that has played host to golf since 1793.  It is a fine stretch of links with arresting views from tee to green on every hole. For the casual visitor, it is difficult to pick out one special hole; they all are.

It is a reassuring coincidence that while the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror was in full swing, the British were building golf courses.  As the French honed their guillotines to slice the gentry, we were commandeering the links to slice golf balls.  This significant date is carved into the bank of the 18th tee, fully visible from the clubhouse, and styled in the manner of the Fovant Badges.  The club proudly claims to be the fifteenth oldest golf course in the world; it is surprising there are so many which are even older.

Established 1793

Established 1793

From the road, the course appears to occupy a narrow strip of land between the town and the lighthouse but there is ample space on both sides and only the wildest of drives is likely to make contact with passing traffic.  The exceptions are the 5th, a short par three at the top of the course that crosses the road, and the slightly daunting 12th & 13th where the narrow fairway is bordered by heavy gorse on the right and the road on the left.  At the 13th, my drive crossed the road for a subsequent blind 9-iron over gorse in full bloom, onto the edge of the green.  It was one of the few holes I parred on the back nine – my game is much improved by blind faith.  The back of the 14th green is denoted by large white painted boulders – a strong hint not to go too long otherwise vehicular contact is more than likely.

The daunting 13th

The daunting 13th

For all its remarkable vistas, it is the 4th and 5th the top end of the course, nearest the lighthouse, that leave the most enduring impression; a shame, in some respects, that they come so early in the round. The signature hole, the fourth, Lighthouse  looks innocuous from the tee to the uninitiated (stroke index 1,  par 5 off the whites and a par 4 off the yellows).  Those of us, middling golfers, who reach for the driver, seeking distance under all circumstances, will be in for a sad surprise. The marker post may offer an idealised line for the competent but it also coincides with a deep dip in the fairway and some unpleasant rough to the right. I got lucky, landed on an elevated path, took a drop from knee-height, of course, and then found myself with an inviting long pitch to the green. Anything long into the green and you are faced with a knee-trembling downhill putt while anything short is likely to roll off the front and into a severe dip. I threatened the pin, briefly, and then watched in despair as the ball rolled some distance off the green into the aforementioned dip.  I was moderately happy to walk off with a six – I am not an ambitious golfer.  The lighthouse provides the perfect backdrop throughout – designed by Alan Stevenson, it first came into service in 1846 and adjoins a collection of Egyptian styled keepers cottages.

The Fourth

The Fourth

To the right of the 4th green can be seen the tees for the 5th, a short par 3, Icehouse, which crosses the road and any traffic entering or leaving the Chanonry Point car park.  The hardest hole on the course is followed by one of the ‘easiest’ at stroke index 17.  There is rough almost all the way to the green which cosies up to the road and, at the back, there is the beautiful briny sea.  To the left are a collection of buildings which include the Ferry House, once an Inn and home to the ferryman who plied the waters between Chanonry Point and Fort George.  A passenger ferry operated until 1953.

The 5th, Icehouse

The 5th, Icehouse

I found the 5th green in one with a ‘perfectly’ executed pitching wedge – the subsequent 3-putt was not so cleverly executed. Worse things happen – as if to emphasise this point, Undiscovered Scotland tells this salutary tale:  In about 1675 the point was where Kenneth Mackenzie or Coinneach Odhar, better known as the Brahan Seer, is said to have met his end.  The Brahan Seer is often thought of as a Highland Nostradamus. When asked by Isabella, 3rd Countess of Seaforth, why her husband was late returning home he first prevaricated, but when pressed simply told her that her husband was dallying in Paris with a lady who was more attractive than the Countess herself.  Coinneach Odhar’s reward was to be hauled off to Chanonry Point where he was burned to death in a barrel of tar.  He overlooked the golden rule of seers, or consultants of any sort: first find out what the client wants to hear.  It is difficult to think of a worse outcome – the 4-putt perhaps.

Blair Atholl

Laid out between the railway line and the River Garry, Blair Atholl has all the ingredients of a Golf in the Wild course – surrounded by high hills, 9-holes, an honesty box and, on the day I played, empty but for one other distant golfer. The course was effectively my own.

It is mostly flat – the elevated first tee is the high point of the course. The adjacent combined 3rd and 9th green are on the same level as the first tee, as is the clubhouse. The elevated fourth tee also plays down to what I would guess is their signature hole – a short par 3 with the castellated railway bridge behind the green.

Well maintained, tidy fairways and some very tricky undulating greens, it is a credit to the greens staff.  My favourite hole was the stroke index 1, 7th – to the uninitiated it looks tight from the tee with hints of water hazards in the distance – a pond to the left and a stream in front of the green.  It turned out they are too distant to be an issue for the average golfer.  My unnecessary lay-up resulted in a double bogey.  By contrast the 8th looks straightforward until you approach the green and realise there is an over-sized pond about thirty yards out.  My best drive of the day came about six inches short of the hazard – after a long hot summer, completely dry.

The course finishes with a testing but very enjoyable par 5 to the elevated green adjacent to the 1st tee and clubhouse – a green shared with the third.

All in all, a very enjoyable experience which is almost certain to appear in Golf in the Wild II.

... tee box, Blair Atholl.

The fourth tee box.

... Blair Atholl.

The clubhouse

... the view from the elevated first tee, Blair Atholl.

The elevated first tee

... short par 3, Blair Atholl, with the castellated railway bridge over the River Garry in the background.

The short fourth

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.

The journey continues – Chapter 7 …

… 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.

The Stage is Empty – Cullen 2018

I was last here in 1958 or 1959 but let’s just assume it was ’58 for the neatness of a sixty year symmetry.  If I am to return again, I will not have the option of leaving it so long; time is running out.

I have vague memories of the golf course behind the beach; I remember the gasometer dominating the eastern end of the town, now demolished; I remember the string of viaducts that create a theatrical  backdrop to the bay; I remember mithering for a pen-knife emblazoned with a kilted Scot and bagpipes and almost immediately slicing my thumb, blood everywhere; I remember gurning in the holiday photographs, a different pose and face for every occasion; I remember a determination to go in the sea everyday, regardless of the weather and, throughout everything, I remember my teenage sister as unconvincingly grown-up and immensely irritating.  Most of all, I remember the stinging slap to the back of an unprotected leg, my mother the executioner, never my dad.

On the bridge at Cullen House

On the bridge at Cullen House, 1958

All this time gone by and here I am again, standing outside the Bay View Hotel, now a private house, my thoughts no longer centred on pen-knifes and the multifarious ways to irritate an irritating sister. These many years later I am here to play golf but how different it might all have been.  Dad was accomplished at cricket, football and tennis, so why not golf.  If we had walked Cullen’s fairways in the 1950s what memories might we have shared, how often might we have returned.  No first nor final rounds – dad, I hardly knew you:

Two world wars, economic depressions, genocidal dictators, material privations, the ominpresence of death … enduring such stuff is not propitious for the embrace of affective ostentation, for the desire to get in touch with our inner entitlements,  for the infantile need to share our pain,  for the comfy validation of our self-pity,  for the slovenly annihilating of our restraint,  for the quashing of our shame.

Jonathon Meades – An Encyclopaedia of Myself 

Sixty years on, the stage is empty, my audience gone.

On the bridge at Cullen House -2018

On the bridge at Cullen House, 2018

Nothing quite prepares you for the joy of playing Cullen Links.  It may be the shortest of the 84 true links courses in Scotland but the lack of distance does not diminish the test nor the enjoyment.  There are ten par threes, some blind, some long, some protected by rock and some a combination of all three – this is crazy golf on the grand scale and I love it.

 

... at Cullen. The view from the 4th tee.

yard, par 3, 12th - spot the marker post between the rocks.

Golf in the Wild ...

The journey continues – Chapter 5 …

… 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

The journey continues – Chapter 4 …

… to Killin:

Gervaise strode off the seventeenth green
And cursed like Attila the hun –
‘Oh how could I have been three holes up
And lost by two and one?’

Gervaise was not a man for words
When he had lost his rag;
He threw his putter in a bush,
And then he grabbed his bag.

He marched across the clubhouse lawn –
‘It’s more than I can take!’
He hoisted up his bag of clubs
And threw them in the lake

Extract from Second Thoughts – Christopher Matthew – Summoned by Balls

For Gervaise, Killin is conveniently sited on the banks of the fast-flowing River Lochay: