… 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.
… 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cullen Links, the shortest links course in Scotland, features in this video – Tourist Sauce (Scotland Golf): Episode 8, Cullen Golf Club – it provides a neat audio-visual explanation of why this unique and wonderful course will feature in the sequel to Golf in the Wild. The video must have been shot in high summer when the fairways were parched after that long-forgotten heatwave – when I played earlier in the year, it was all lush green:
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.
… 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
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.
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.
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.
… 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