To: Thistle, Tartan & Tweed Tours
Subject: Open Championship Travel Packages
Thank you for the brochure detailing your three-day, five-day,
11-day and 33-day Scottish golf vacations. I wish I could afford
your Gleneagles from Dawn to Dusk package, including motor-coach
transportation to and from Scotland's most expensive golf
resort. Ditto your Firths of Fife excursion, which includes
rounds at St. Andrews Old Course, New Course, Jubilee Course and
Duke's Course, plus complimentary golf towel and ball marker as
well as welcoming remarks by the motor-coach driver.
As it happens, I just got back from a Scottish golf trip.
Nothing like what you folks offer, I hasten to add--no motor
coach, no guides, no 5 a.m. wake-up calls, no "cocktails with
the hotel manager." My wife and I simply rented a car and
cruised the lowlands. She visited cathedrals and crystal
factories, and I played golf. Ten courses in 10 days, none of
them famous, none of them "championship," none of them costing
more than [pound]15 to play. In fact, and this isn't meant as a
criticism of your tours, my greens fees for the whole trip came
to [pound]105. That's less than the cost of a single round and a
caddie at the Old Course. Anyway, I thought you might get a
laugh out of my self-styled travel package, which I call Town
Courses of Scotland.
First off, my wife and I saved a few quid by flying separately,
I on a full-fare ticket to Glasgow, she on a frequent-flyer
coupon to Manchester, England, via Laredo, Texas, and Kuala
Lumpur. (She missed my airline's in-flight film about Scottish
golf, narrated by a Texan.) Once settled into our downtown
Glasgow hotel, I warmed up with a quick nine at the King's Park
municipal course, a rudimentary layout with pleasing views of
the city and a pleasing price: gratis. "The Council shut it down
on April 1," a trolley-pulling Scot explained, "but they keep
mowing it, so we keep playing it." There were no flagsticks, but
there was a metal cup on every green; and I only lost four balls
in the matted rough. You might consider adding an abandoned golf
course to your tours.
July 11, 1999
Our trip began in earnest the next day, when we drove down
Scotland's west coast into the district of Ayrshire, artfully
dodging the golfing shrines of Royal Troon, Prestwick and
Turnberry. I played instead at rustic Maybole--at [pound]8.50
the cheapest of 43 courses listed by the Ayrshire and Arran
Tourist Board--and then at Girvan, where the fee was
[pound]12.50 and the view of brooding Ailsa Craig as good as
that from Turnberry. Girvan was designed around 1903 by
five-time British Open champion James Braid and consists of
eight wind-lashed seaside holes and 10 pastoral inland holes.
(To get from the 8th green to the 9th tee, players must march
through town, dodging traffic and resisting the lure of pubs and
chandleries.) The course is challenging enough, with its parade
of drivable par-4s and unreachable par-3s. Par is 64, so Girvan
is down the list of future Open sites, but as the head starter,
Marion Brown, told me, "The majority of people here are not
interested in championship courses. We're interested in having a
Girvan, like most Scottish courses, has names for its holes. The
8th, a 243-yard par-3, is called Right Scunner (something you're
fed up with). Haggerty's Loup (Scottish for leap) got its name
when a club member stepped behind his ball on the 9th tee,
backed up for a better view and fell into the River Girvan.
"Come back when the wind is blowing," said Brown. "I've seen tee
shots fly backward into the car park."
The next day, on the recommendation of an innkeeper in Ayr, I
played at Ballochmyle Golf Club, on the A76 outside Mauchline.
Ballochmyle is not as inviting as Girvan: Eight of the parking
spaces are reserved for club officials, while signs define seven
UNACCEPTABLE MODES OF DRESS. Fortunately, the arch tone was
offset by a cow grazing at the 1st tee--I like to play in close
proximity to livestock--and by the Gents Locker Room, which
features wooden lockers painted in birdhouse colors. After my
round, my wife and I sat in the lounge under a portrait of the
poet Robert Burns, who lived and farmed nearby. Also on the wall
was this poem by a lesser Scottish bard:
In ev'ry glen the mavis sang
All nature list'ning seem'd the while
Except where greenwood echoes rang,
Amang the braes o' Ballochmyle.
I mention the poetry because your tours seem heavy on golf and
light on culture. My golf courses offered a Pictish burial site
(St. Michael's Golf Club, outside Leuchars), a Stonehenge-like
ruin (in the 2nd fairway at the Lundin Ladies Golf Club in Lower
Largo) and an active lawn-bowling club (Maybole). At the
Glencorse Golf Club, south of Edinburgh, I even got an art
lesson. It came on the 16th tee, atop a high bluff, when a club
member introduced me to a new way to take in the landscape, what
he called the picture frame. "Just bend over and look backward
through your legs," he said. Warily--and only because he did it
first--I bent over and got rewarded with a significantly more
sublime view, though inverted, of the lovely Pentland Hills.
Speaking of poetry, the 12th at Ballochmyle is called Aft Agley.
This allusion to Burns's "best laid plans" came to mind on day
5, when I scaled the legendary Braid Hills in central Edinburgh.
Bliss! Blue sky, rocky crags, great golden swatches of whin and
a view of the city so vast that dark Edinburgh Castle, on its
citadel rock, looked as small as a toy.
Every Scot we'd talked to about affordable golf had said, "Ye
have to play the Braids!" Three holes into my solitary round I
was winded and dubious. The layout did not correspond to my
scorecard map and seemed to have been constructed as an alpine
mystery. Nine of the first 10 holes required a blind tee shot.
The greens, too, were hidden from me and from the two other
golfers I spied staggering among the rocks. It was only when I
neared the end of my round that I looked downhill and noticed a
slew of more attractive holes. The truth dawned: I was on the
A young clerk at the clubhouse confirmed that I had played the
par-65 Braids 2 course and not the par-70 Braids 1. "There's not
much difference between the two," he said. "One is a bit longer
and a bit flatter and a bit better maintained, and there aren't
as many blind shots." You might want to hire this fellow.
By this time we were happily ensconced at the Dalmahoy Hotel and
Country Club in Edinburgh, site of the 1992 Solheim Cup. I
didn't play either of the 18-hole layouts, of course. Not at up
to [pound]50 a round. The day after I played Braids, I drove to
nearby Penicuik to explore Glencorse, the home club of two-time
Walker Cup captain George MacGregor. "I daresay someday they
will name a hole for George," the head pro, Cliffe Jones, told
me. "Probably when he's dead."
Glencorse is a par-64 with no par-5s, but it has some of the
best par-3s in Scotland. The 5th hole, Forrester's Rest, made me
gasp. From the medal tee, on a pinnacle above the rooftops of
town, the hole tumbles down a wooded slope to a meandering brook
and a shady green. Two hundred thirty-seven yards, pretty as a
postcard and strong as any hole in Europe.
After playing, I spoke with 75-year-old Jim Stewart, a former
club captain who was a finalist in the 1939 British Boys
Championship. I asked if he knew the origin of any of the
Glencorse hole names, such as Auchindinny or Hills O' Home.
Stewart cleared his throat and began, "Robert Louis Stevenson
lay dying in Samoa.... " We were off on a historical and
literary ramble that wrapped up, a minute or so later, with the
old golfer quoting the writer's expiring words: "No more will I
see my beloved hills o' home and the Glencorse Burn." I wiped
away a tear and mentally scratched theater off my list of things
to do in Edinburgh.
Day 7. We crossed the Forth River Bridge and drove east into
Fife, checking into the Lundin Links Hotel, 30 minutes south of
St. Andrews. To this point, the weather had been splendid, but
isobars were piling up in the Irish Sea, and I only got in nine
holes over the next 48 hours. (I can imagine the stress you
fellows feel when a force four gale blows in on the day your
tourists are supposed to play the Old Course. Having no schedule
to follow, we experienced no such disappointment. My wife and I
simply retired to our room, turned on the telly and drank tea
and hot chocolate while watching Dunstun Checks In.)
After two restful days, we drove to St. Andrews and checked into
Rufflets Country House, renowned for its food and formal
gardens. (No motor coaches in the parking lot.) In a light rain
we drove back down to the Firth of Forth so I could play
Kinghorn, designed in 1887 by Old Tom Morris. "Points of view
unsurpassed among the golfing grounds of Scotland," raved an old
book about golf in Fife. I can't confirm that. As I teed off on
No. 1, clouds and rain covered the treeless hills and the estuary.
But what holes! The 3rd, Loup Ower, is a picturesque par-3 from
a highland tee to a valley green, guarded in front by an old
stone wall. ("You don't want to be leavin' it short," a helpful
Scot told me.) The 18th, Cryin' Hill, is the longest 196-yard
hole in the world. The blind tee shot is straight over a
vertical cliff face and can be lofted sufficiently only because
the tee is canted upward like a ski jump.
When I finished, I found my wife, who had gone off to explore
indoor activities, waiting in the car in the rain in an
otherwise empty car park. She couldn't reconcile my drowned-rat
state with my broad grin.
For my last day of golf I wanted something special. On the
advice of David Joy, the playwright-actor who plays Old Tom
Morris in videos, I set out for Cupar (pronounced with three r's
at the end) to play another of Fife's venerable layouts, a
nine-holer built on the side of a big hill. "Oh, it's torture,"
Joy said. "You wind up with one leg longer than the other."
I parked outside the Cupar Cemetery and walked uphill past stone
walls and headstones to the clubhouse, where I gave [pound]12 to
a lonely barmaid. She looked out the window and said, "Are you
sure?" The great hill was shrouded in clouds and mist.
The 1st hole is a flat par-3. Then the climb begins: a 259-yard
uphill par-4, three more par-4s back and forth like ramps on the
sidehill, a wooded par-3, still climbing, and then the final
scamper up to the 7th tee. How can I describe the view? The rain
had fled on a freshening breeze, leaving deep blue holes in the
clouds. Far below, sunlight fell on the rooftops and steeples of
the Eden River valley.
After my round I shared my satisfaction with the greenkeeper,
Trevor Harris, who was cleaning equipment in his shed behind the
9th green. I told him I had played nine courses in 10 days with
no itinerary, no tee times, no pulling of strings and no asking
of favors. I told him I had never waited to tee off. I told him
I had mingled with hospitable Scots and tasted the fruit of
poets. I told him I had enjoyed wondrous scenery and saved
enough money to start a college fund for my grandchildren.
Harris smiled knowingly. "It's our wee secret," he said.
So there you have it. Granted, only a head case like me could
enjoy 10 unhurried days of golf on quaint layouts like these.
You folks know what sells, and it's not Town Courses of Scotland.
Funny thing, though. After my round at Cupar, I drove back to
St. Andrews, made a U-turn by the Old Course Hotel and pulled
into the golf parking lot. The sun was still high in the sky and
the wind was starting to whistle. I fancied a few more holes
The Old Course was out, and the New, Jubilee and Eden Courses
didn't suit my mood. I grabbed my bag and walked instead to the
par-30 Balgove Course, a flat piece of grassland enclosed by an
old stone wall. "This course," my guidebook told me, "appeals to
the beginner, the schoolboy, the happy family and the golfer
when in a lazy mood."
I plunked down [pound]7--"You can go 'round twice for that," the
cheerful clerk told me--and went out to play a short,
featureless track with nothing to recommend it but golden
sunshine, a bracing wind and the feel of genuine linksland
underfoot. Even so, I barely looked up when a motor coach full
of tourists rumbled by on its way out of town.
P.S. Almost forgot why I wrote! Please take me off your mailing
"People here are not interested in championship courses," the
starter told me. "We're interested in having a good time."
I told him I had enjoyed wondrous scenery and saved enough money
to start a college fund for my grandchildren.