Second-Class Single to Woking

Better scribes than I have written about Woking, infinitely better golfers have walked its fairways. Richard wins on both counts, but I made a promise – Mike and Jeff, on a golf tour from the U.S. requested some words and pictures to celebrate our annual get-together, so here it is …

Nothing in my early education prepared me for what came next. An all-boys prep school taught me that the world was a safe and welcoming place. An all-boys grammar taught me the reverse. No encouragement and too often an unkind word, I retreated and became the outsider. As if to taunt, and against all odds, Altrincham Grammar School for Boys retains its single sex, grammar status which, in defiance of its description, proudly boasts its equality and diversity credentials. The green blazer also survives, no less unattractive than the Augusta equivalent. Despite the sartorial similarities, golf never appeared on the curriculum. Might this have saved me? Might I have found myself at an earlier age? Might I have avoided life’s many pitfalls by diversion? – no temptations to avoid, I would simply have been on the golf course.

Some clubhouses share the atmosphere of an all-boys grammar but not so Woking. The green and white exterior echoes the sports pavilions of my youth – bay windows with arched tops, the porticoed veranda, the modest clock tower, counting down the minutes of this too short life.  Inside it is hushed tones, historical hallways, gentle laughter and Bernard Darwin, forever surveying the dining room.

Despite the architectural associations and some aspects reminiscent of an academic institution, this is a welcoming place – in the words of Darwin, ‘…the best and pleasantest place to play golf that I have ever known.’   The full car park and the brimming fairways suggest that others agree.  It is an oasis in a suburban jungle.

I am here at the invitation of two golfing friends from the U.S. – Mike and Jeff – and in the company of fellow golf writer, Richard.  Inevitably this becomes a U.K. versus U.S. match, although those from this scepter’d isle are probably less committed to the competition than their American cousins.  We gathered at the flagpole to make our preparations – others stretched and practised swings, I fiddled with my camera.

Woking is primarily a 2-ball course, and the proposal to play foursomes comes with some relief, the prospect of a lone challenge would have been daunting. Partnered with Richard, who is not only capable but knows this heathland well, I hid my incompetence in his shadow. We played to Sunningdale Rules as opposed to Colonel Dallmeyer’s as preferred at Muirfield, another 2-ball course – This is how all golf should be played. ‘And, if it be retorted that a player plays twice as many shots in a fourball game as in a Foursome, the Muirfield man would reply – “Play 36 holes in 4 ½ hours and you will get the same number of shots, twice the exercise, far more fun, and you won’t have to wait between shots. Furthermore, you will learn to play better golf.” ‘ – Foreword to G Pottinger’s Muirfield and the Honourable Company. Nicknamed ‘Gorgeous George’ on account of his fondness for “expensive tailoring”, Pottinger was at the Muirfield club when the Fraud Squad arrested him on 22nd June 1973 for his part in the John Poulson corruption case. Some were honourable in name only.

Results at the first few holes were promising for the UK and a premature sense of superiority crept in at the fourth as Jeff pulled his drive into the deep rough. His attention may have been distracted by the commemorative stone – On a rainy day in 1902, John Low and Stuart Paton installed two central fairway bunkers at the 4th hole – hazards that are widely regarded as being the birthplace of strategic course architecture as they ‘punish not just poor shots, but poor risk assessment’. Should you fly the bunkers or play short? Risk the railway line or play left and navigate the green side bunker? A modest driver, I had no such decisions to contemplate and ‘faded’ my shot to the middle of the fairway as a Class 220 Voyager headed north towards Waterloo. This intrusion is no cause for complaint, for without the railway the golf course would not exist.

All development in Woking after 1850 can be attributed to the presence of the railway and, like elsewhere, establishment of golf in an out-of-the-way place was entirely dependent on the proximity of a convenient station.  It was the way most golfers travelled … Bernard Darwin 1933 – Country Life … what fun it used to be, in dim ages past, going down to Woking in a slow early train from Waterloo, stampeding down the platform at the other end for a good place on the wagonette, stampeding again up the path to get a good place on the tee.  The journey back, too, had its charms, even though the day was a very long one, and it was then that matches were made for the next weekend.  Golf was a very sociable game then, or was it only that we were all rather younger and keener and pleasanter people?

Conversations with Mike and Jeff, on and off the course, are always wide ranging – golf, music, Trump, Biden, mortality. Mike has a mature approach to end of life, acutely aware of the numbered days that remain, whereas, I firmly believe, against all prevailing evidence, that life goes on forever. As if to highlight the frailty of this stance, I discover it was not just the living who rode the train to Woking.

During the 1840s, churchyards in London were becoming full. The Burials Act of 1850 prevented creation of further graves in the capital resulting in a significant acreage of the countryside being handed over to the dead. In 1854, 400 acres of land was bought by the London Necropolis Company (LNC), at Brookwood to the west of the golf course, for use as a national cemetery. Coffins were loaded onto a train at the London Necropolis railway station, next to Waterloo and unloaded at Woking where a branch line and two stations were built within the cemetery grounds – the North Station for non-conformists and the South Station for Anglicans. The LNC offered three classes of funeral – first, second and third, but regardless of status or religion, no return tickets were issued to the dead.


Playing foursomes, we had no difficulty keeping up with the two-ball and buggy in front.  They did not move quickly.  One was wearing a salmon pink polo shirt which, from a distance, created the impression he was playing topless.  Being well endowed, this was disconcerting and a little confusing.  There should be a specific dress code to cover this situation and not just on the golf course.

Nevertheless, this unsightly intrusion cannot be attributed to the fragility of my game. I held things together until around the 12th but thereafter, the mask slipped.  In a final act of incompetence, my drive off the last headed out of bounds to the right but was saved from ignominy by a drainage puddle.  Richard relished the prospect of a testing iron to the green – I suspect I have shown him parts of the course he has never visited before.  He duly delivered just short of the bunkers, and then I scuffed my wedge into the sand.  Never apologise in foursomes but there are no rules regarding a head hanging in shame.  By contrast, the U.S. missed their birdie putt by a fraction.  The 4&2 result was a fair reflection of our combined talents – Richard being dragged down to my level.

Golf is not a funeral, though both can be very sad affairs – Bernard Darwin. I was sad that the round had ended but not saddened by the result and I know Richard was of the same mindset. We were there for the occasion, the joy of hitting golf balls between the tall pines, the conversation and the company. I meet my American friends but once a year. I intend to do this forever, even when issued my second-class single to Woking.

66 Degrees, 33 Minutes North

It is a year since I followed the roads to the far north and Lofoten Links.  To celebrate, and by way of coincidence, the Golf Quarterly 2024 Summer Edition includes the story of this 5000+ mile adventure.  A re-working of an earlier post, I was delighted that Tim Dickson saw fit to allocate four pages to the story – “Is this the most beautiful golf course in the world“.  I have no complaints about the professional editing applied to my original text, only that the top left hand image portrays a dramatic cloudscape – a fine image at odds with my very fortunate experience of crystal clear, blue skies from horizon to horizon.  Next stop, the Isle of Harris Golf Course in early September – again on the BMW.

Norway 2023 – The Road to Lofoten – Parts 3 and 4

Part 3 – from Vinjeora to Mosjoen to Ulvsvag to Kabelvag and finally, to Lofoten Links 24th – 27th June 2023.

Part 4 – Going Home – from Lofoten to Rognan to Vinjeora to Olden to Eidfjord to Morgedal to Kristiansand to Emden to IJmuiden to Newcastle.
28th June – 7th July 2023.

The continuing “research” trip for the third Golf in the Wild book – Golf in the Wilderness, which will combine journeys through time and place for two unlikely groups of enthusiasts. If you believe the stereotypes, they are two tribes who never meet – those clad in greasy leathers and those in pressed check pants. Except, many motorcyclists wear textiles and, dare I admit, I have been known to play golf in jeans. I have my feet planted in both camps and the two endeavours are not as dissimilar as you might imagine. They require different skill sets but the mental approach is the same – staying in the moment, extended periods of deep concentration. Let your mind drift with club or bars in hand and, you will be visiting the rough. They both make you better drivers.

Golf in the Wild has sold out of its limited edition 1000 print run. A road trip from Northumberland to Durness, long before the NC500 came into being and the far north roads remained mostly deserted. I am currently considering a reprint. For the time being, it is only available on Kindle:
The sequel, Golf in the Wild – Going Home, brings the reader back to Northumberland through more wild places – it is available to purchase here and on Amazon:

A story about playing Lofoten Links is available here:…

The 2022 BMW R1250 GS Triple Black (TE, Touring Edition) was supplied by Lloyd BMW Motorrad Carlisle, my third GS. Extras include: headlight guard from Lone Rider –; BMW Vario panniers which came with my first 850 GS; SW-Motech Day Pro Tank Bag; Kriega US-30 tail bag and GS straps; BMW LED Auxiliary Lights; Weiser EXTREME EVO Multifunction LED Driving Lights/Indicator Front Kit, HEX ezCAN II, DENALI 2.0 D2 LED Lights, DENALI Split SoundBomb 120dB – expertly fitted by Steve and Tom at; SW-Motech crashbars and a variety of crash bungs/sliders.


Norway 2023 – The Road to Lofoten – Part 2

From Ulvik to Geiranger, Finnoy and Vinjeora
21st – 23rd June 2023

The continuing “research” trip for the third Golf in the Wild book – Golf in the Wilderness, which will combine journeys through time and place for two unlikely groups of enthusiasts. If you believe the stereotypes, they are two tribes who never meet – those clad in greasy leathers and those in pressed check pants. Except, many motorcyclists wear textiles and, dare I admit, I have been known to play golf in jeans. I have my feet planted in both camps and the two endeavours are not as dissimilar as you might imagine. They require different skill sets but the mental approach is the same – staying in the moment, extended periods of deep concentration. Let your mind drift with club or bars in hand and, you will be visiting the rough. They both make you better drivers.

Norway 2023 – The Road to Lofoten …

…  3000+ miles on a BMW R1250 GS, to play Golf in the Wilderness.

If you are looking for an alternative to The Great Escape this Christmas, Part 1 of my Norway tour to the Lofoten Islands is now available on YouTube:

This is days 1-4 of a 20 day adventure. Most of the footage is taken with an Insta360 – I have hours to edit, so parts 2-4 could be some time coming. In the meantime, please “like and subscribe” on YouTube to ensure you don’t miss the next exciting episode 😉

Golf in the Wild – Going Home – the final chapter

Chapter 12 – Newcastleton and Allendale (the old course)

The last is a downhill par 4, with the road to Carrshield and out-of-bounds to the right. It is reachable in one by those of a certain skill level and physical disposition. So, allow me this final luxury. A long drive, straight down the middle, leaving a short pitch to the green. In the dim light I lose sight of the ball, but you always know when you have struck one sweet and true. I cannot spin the ball by design, so my pitch lands short and runs on a few yards to within feet of the pin. Standing over the birdie-putt, the twilight is enhanced by the yellow light shining through the clubhouse windows. I am distracted by the shadowy outline of three figures gathered in the centre of the room and miss the simple putt. A man in his late twenties, wearing a heavy tweed suit, an elbow on the table, a cigarette raised to his face. Smoke obscures their features.

The woman, in a utility dress, is deep in conversation, forever breaking the silence, while a small girl with a serious expression looks on earnestly. I should cross over and join them, but not just yet. I am going home. I have no idea what happens next.

… It’s not far, just close by, through an open door. I am going home.

On Chester Hill

The section on Lauder Golf Club in Golf in the Wild – Going Home, was written under lockdown and based on memory; from a time when business meetings in Edinburgh gave rise to drives up the A68, a hasty rush through the agenda and, with luck, time to call in at Lauder Golf Club on the return leg.  Surreptitious rounds, sneaked in during company time, were the sweetest of forbidden fruit.

With the aid of Google Earth, I resurrected the shape of the golfing landscape on Chester Hill, but certain features remained elusive, not least the clubhouse – how closely did it resemble the building opened on 20 July 1911 by Mrs Rankin of Allanbank. The original intention had been that Lady Lauderdale would be the guest of honour and declare the opening, but in a letter to the club secretary, she regretted her inability to attend due to the damp day and my not feeling very well. She continued in the manner of Violet Crawly, Dowager Countess of Grantham: I much hope that the clubhouse will be a great comfort to the community at large, and that it will be the means of bringing many visitors to enjoy the beautiful air and restful quiet of our pretty town and neighbourhood. I may be ambitious, but I hope in time to see a flourishing hydropathic, for I am sure that Lauder is an ideal place for invalids. Wishing you all success this afternoon.

The description of the building in the Berwickshire News & General Advertiser of 1911 seemed consistent with a hazy memory: The pavilion, a handsome erection, is quite an ornament to the course and will provide a great boon to all who are likely to use it. It comprises two spacious rooms (under twin elevations) … and there is a covered verandah running the whole length of the building. In early November, with the opportunities for two-wheeled excitement and golfing adventures diminishing, this demanded a ride north to investigate.

There are two approaches to the course – signposted from the south it takes you through a too-uniform, modern housing estate or, carry on a little further and turn left into Mill Wynd at the cruciform church with its 1830 watchhouse, built to guard against bodysnatchers.  This ‘invalid’ delights in the macabre, so I always choose the latter.  The entrance to the course is a just over a half mile up Chester Hill, with its surprisingly large car park, perhaps a legacy of the occupation by a Polish tank regiment during the Second World War.  The course was closed and occupied for the duration of hostilities, but it was a further sixteen years beyond the end of the war before golf was played again on Chester Hill.

The original twin elevations and veranda have survived fully intact, while the extension is in keeping with the original design, but for the squinting changing room windows. It is a fine building, entirely consistent with the scale of the golf course and its surroundings. The white clubhouse glowed under a low autumnal sun and I regretted the two-wheeled transport which did not allow the carriage of clubs – the view of the last, a glorious downhill drive was the source of my anguish.

Instead, I once again pondered the unlikely similarities of experience between the two tribes – those clad in leather and those in checked pants.  On the ride home, it became all too apparent – we do not like riding/driving into a low sun.  Deep shadows hide obstacles – bunkers/potholes; bright light in the eyes plays havoc with distance estimation whether braking or pitching into a green. Facing a low sun diminishes the experience for us all – the joy of intimate exposure to the landscape we are playing in or riding through.

The full story of Lauder and its golf course is told in Golf in the Wild – Going Home

Golf in the Wild – Going Home – The Borders

Chapter 11 – Earlston, Melrose and Lauder:

The Lauder Golf Club was formed in 1896, initially based on land near the Stow Road and then moving to Chester Hill, where Willie Park Junior (1864–1925), Open champion 1887 and 1889, supervised the layout of the new course. As it matured, and to celebrate his involvement, he was invited to give a demonstration match with his friend Iain Christie, and it was at this event, on 5 August 1905, that he set the professional course record of 70—out in 36, back in 34.

This grand event was enthusiastically covered by the Berwickshire News & General Advertiser, an extensive piece which included reference to second sight and psychic research. The Kirk Elders should have been informed:

It is a well-known fact, especially to such as are gifted with second sight and whose facilities are clarified by psychical research, that it is possible, under certain conditions, to hold communication with the shades of the departed. Quite recently, the shade of Thomas the Rhymer, which still haunts the Valley of the Leader, visited the Tower near Earlston and communicated prediction regarding Lauder and its golf course. The prediction was given in the Latin tongue, of which the following is a fair translation:

As sure as one and two make three,
Lauder will deserted be
By visitors,
Unless some local interest be
Aroused, and that right speedily
In golf.

There is no ambiguity about the Rhymer’s predictions, such as was attendant upon those of the Delphic oracle, and therefore it is most desirable that the inhabitants of Lauder, with something like the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads, in the form of this prediction, should at once awaken their interests.9

A colourful piece, no doubt influenced by time, too long spent in the beer tent. A little less alcohol, and the journalist may have reported the correct score—the Berwickshire News declaring a score of 71, out in 36, back in 35.

Grass Routes

I am occasionally asked why I wrote Golf in the Wild.  I will mumble something about putting Allendale Golf Club on the map and the desire to promote golf in wild, spectacular places; to encourage the golfer to take the road less travelled.  I forget one of the primary inspirations – the desire to write the type of golf book I wanted to read.  There are “how to” guides aplenty and biographies about individuals who have spent their entire lives hitting golf balls, fill the sports section at Waterstones – I am beyond hope with the former and little interested in the latter.  Andrew Greig’s Preferred Lies was a personal turning point – he demonstrated how writing about golf can be much enhanced by digression. The book opened a door to the possible.

As any amateur writer will attest, we do not publish for monetary gain, the reward is in the creation and sharing. Golf in the Wild has made connections with a group of like-minded strangers, many of whom have since become firm friends and golfing buddies.  A chance, social media encounter earlier this year, led me to Richard Pennell, author of the recently published Grass Routes.  We have shared fairways and thoughts at Warkworth and Hayling Island and on each occasion there was the sense of kindred spirits.  There is a significant age difference and our histories are poles apart and yet, we have arrived at very similar places, drawn like-minded conclusions.  To quote Richard: Golf. It’s like life, only more so.  To quote Golf in the Wild: We play the game as we play life and we cannot help ourselves.  Similarly, Richard runs out of examples where golf isn’t Masochistic, and I suddenly realise, as if struck – at long last – by a bolt of common sense, that golf is inherently so.  This echoes my own thoughts while navigating the course around the chapel at Lochcarron: Playing golf on Sunday in parts of Scotland is still considered a sinful pastime, but this doctrine is fundamentally flawed, assuming that golf is somehow a pleasurable activity rather than a parallel and complementary religion. We suffer for our sins at pulpit and pin.

Take my word for it – read Grass Routes, it is a delight.  Like John Betjeman’s Seaside Golf and a well-judged final approach to the 18th on a warm summer’s evening, resting “two paces from the pin” – it is pitch perfect.


Golf in the Wild – Going Home – Moray Coast

Chapter 9: In the early summer of 1914, Lieutenant Fred Ricketts, a member of the 2nd Battalion of the Argylls, and its army band were stationed at Fort George. An occasional golfer, Fred was playing Ardersier one bright morning when a sharp two-note whistle rang out across the course, swiftly followed by a wayward golf ball. The tuneful hacker had whistled B flat and G instead of shouting “Fore!”. According to Fred’s wife Annie, writing in 1958, the two-note warning with impish spontaneity was answered by my husband with the next few notes. There was little sauntering—Moray Firth’s stiff breezes encouraged a good crisp stride. These little scraps of whistling appeared to ‘catch on’ with the golfers, and from that beginning, the ‘Quick March’ was built up. Frederick Joseph Ricketts was better known by his publishing name, Kenneth J. Alford, the renowned composer of marching-band music. The short refrain that began on the banks of the Moray Firth in the days immediately preceding the Great War would become one of the most instantly recognisable pieces of band music ever written—the appropriately named ‘Colonel Bogey March’. The connection with the golf scoring term is not coincidental.