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Posts from the ‘Scotland’ Category

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:

The journey continues – Chapter 3 …

… to Bishopshire and Strathtay

Kümmel and old wives

I have drunk kümmel in the members’ lounge at Muirfield – there I have said it – not exactly Golf in the Wild but a rare and fine experience nonetheless.  The full story is told here – Fairway and Tarmac.  This extract explains the significance of the liquer:

Lunch is taken in the lounge, jacket and tie being mandatory. I have brought a tie from the funerals drawer for the occasion – I am a guest and I must honour club traditions, no matter that such attire is at complete odds with my late hippy demeanour. A generous tray of sandwiches is accompanied by a gunner (ginger beer, ginger ale, dash of lime and a measure of angostura bitters), followed by coffee and the traditional Muirfield and Prestwick liqueur – kümmel, a sweet, colourless drink flavoured with caraway seed, cumin, and fennel. First impressions are mixed but I warm to it as the glass empties. I am unsure of the effect it may have on the back nine.

Here’s the thing – I played out of my skin that day which helped influence my opinion of Muirfield as a rare and wonderful place.  I cannot argue with the members’ claim that it is the finest golf course in the world.  Perhaps the kümmel had a part to play – according to Herbert Warren Wind, the American sports writer, writing in 1972, “kümmel has long been a favourite of English golfers, because there is an old wives tale to the effect that it is the best antidote in the world for shaky putting” – Golf Quarterly Issue 4, Winter 2011.  The reference to the English should probably be Scottish or maybe the Scots don’t suffer from “shaky putting”.

I will be recommending we stock a bottle at Allendale Golf Club.

Muirfield's 18th green

Muirfield’s 18th green