And a few more reasons why Scottish golf courses are more fun. Maybe this explains why it’s their national sport and pastime – it’s much more fun to play there, plus having access to good scotch doesn’t hurt.(remember the old saying about why a golf course has 18 holes? because that’s how long it takes to drink a bottle of Scotch for a foursome) Anyway, back to the facts.
There are no golf carts in Scotland, at least none that I’ve ever seen. You have three choices when playing; carry, get a caddy, or take a trolley – meaning a pull cart. I played at an upitty US course this summer where they told me I had to take a cart. After some arguing we got them to agree to let us walk, but we still had to pay for the cart. It’s easier to walk seaside links courses, they are relatively flat. I was no more tired walking 36 holes at Western Gales than I was walking 18 holes at my local course in Connecticut. And we all know inside that a golf course is meant to be walked. Somehow walking suits the overall tempo of the game. Most golfers I know think they play better when they walk, it gives you more time to ‘think’ about the next shot. Have you noticed how a lot of the new courses often have more than 100 yards between the last green and the next tee box. What’s with that? Plus in Scotland, walking the course is akin to walking the dunes at the beach. And what’s more fun than that?
At many courses in Scotland they don’t really have ‘club houses’. They often have a starter’s shack because the courses are public and that’s all they need. In place of club houses the have private member clubs. These are ordinarily houses along the 18th hole. And although they are private, each day one is designated to take in visitors. Now they don’t do this begrudgingly like you are invading their privacy. You get treated like you’re a member of the family. I’ve had a barman tell me that I had to have a pint after my round and even if the door was looked to knock on the window and someone would let me in. When’s the last time that happened to you?
When there is a real clubhouse in Scotland, I’ve found that the head pros couldn’t be nicer. I played Prestwick, the club where something like the first 20 British Opens were played. In other words, it’s where competitive golf began. It’s like playing at Augusta or Pebble Beach. After our round we must have spoken with the pro for 20 minutes and it was initiated by him. Where we playing next, how did we like the course, and on and on. My friend was renting clubs and when we told him we were playing Western Gales the next day he let us take the clubs because he was ‘pretty sure they didn’t have rentals there’. ‘Just drop them off on your way to Turnberry on Saturday’. My experience here is that your lucky to get a cursory hello from any head pro other than your own.
Were we talking about rental clubs? You can only rent top of the line clubs in Scotland – the likes of Callaway, Taylor Made, and Mizuno. And I mean their top-of-the-line clubs. At one course where my friend rented, the pro went around the shop and asked him what he wanted and then proceeded to take clubs off the shelf. They ‘love’ the game in Scotland, not just ‘like’ it. They want anyone who’s willing to travel thousands of miles to play in their country to have a great time.
I did digress a little, so back to the courses. How about those sandtraps, those pits, those bunkers that you could take shelter in should another war break out. There aren’t a lot of them, but those they have are not to be trifled with. How could you take a bunker casually where you have to use a ladder to get in and out of the thing. But I have to tell you honestly that they are fun. Really! Get in to one of those and a match can turn in an instant. And it makes great photos when you get a picture of your playing partner in a trap where all you can see is the top of her head. Want to hone the mental part of your game. Play in Scotland and you can’t afford to just aim straight ahead and blast it. You had better know where all the bunkers are first!
And lastly the weather. I’m convinced that golf is meant to be played outdoors in the elements. I mean all the elements, not just when it’s sunny and windless. It always blows in Scotland. A steady wind of 10-15 mph with gusts to 20-25 mph is just a nice typical day. Once you lose your fear, playing in the wind is fun. You can actually use it to your advantage when you start actually thinking. And you’re forced to learn new shots, like the knockdown. If you are like me and you are not the world’s greatest golfer, you feel like wind actually helps level the playing field for you.
Then there’s rain. On the last trip I planned to Scotland my friend from the States asked a logical question when I was confirming our plans, ‘What if a round gets rained out?’. I hadn’t considered that and it seemed a fair enough question, so I called and asked the guy who set up our trip. His reply? ‘I’ve never had a tee time rained out in 20 years.’ In other words, it’s part of the game. The courses being primarily on sand along the coast, you can see that drainage probably isn’t an issue. So what’s a little rain? Put on a slicker and take and extra nip of Scotch and get on with it.
Tomorrow we’ll look at Alister MacKenzie, one of the classic Scottish golf architects and his philosophy behind course design. Along with many of the great Scottish courses, this is the guy who did Cyprus Point in the US and co-designed Augusta National with Bobby Jones. I think most of the US architects today have forgotten the wisdom of this great man.