England and Scotland June 3-5
OK, after flight from Cork Ireland to Birmingham England, a drive of about one hour to my hotel. Facing the tough part of the trip from June 3-8, with schedule to play 36 on 6/3, 18 on 6/4, and then 36 on both 6/5 and 6/6. This will be the test.
Notts Golf Club Morning June 3
Played Notts GC (also known as Hollinwell) early (7:45 or so) on June 3. They arranged to get me out before an outing sponsored by Bentley. Hoping to get a hole in one and perhaps win a new Bentley!! This is a heathland course near Nottingham, and of course very close to Sherwood Forest…Robin Hood and all that stuff (strange juxtaposition with a Bentley outing but who am I to ???). Club founded in 1894 and moved to this location in 1901 on a course designed by Willie Park, Jr. and revised by Tom Williamson in 1912. It is astounding how much land this club owns…the land could easily hold 27 holes. While it’s opening hole is a somewhat ordinary par 5, things quickly get much better with #2 and #3, and from about #6 on, the course is excellent. Secret here is the old one…great land that naturally provides definition (no big earthmoving projects here) with the pitches and rolls that makes golf in GB&I so good. While there are lots of trees on the entire property, they generally do not affect play and the turf is superb. Hit ball well (41-43=84) and really do like these new clubs. Course was on GM World 100 as #87 in 1985 but has not appeared on any other World 100. An example of how there are now so many great tracks around the world (either with some of the new courses or renovations of classics), it is so tough to make a World 100.
Silloth on Solway Afternoon June 3
After the round, spent a few minutes with the Secretary and then headed north on a long drive to Silloth on Solway in the northwest corner of England, just below the Scotland line. Drive took longer than planned as horse drawn carriages were making their way to the equivalent of a county fair about 30 miles south of Silloth. Play I had to stop once for a 15 minute nap as the schedule was getting to me. Good news is those naps work!! Arrived around 3:15 after a 4 hour journey, and was able to get off on #1 just before a whole bunch of locals were planning to play.
Put simply, this is one of the World’s great fun courses!! It is (as least to me) a true Hidden Gem. Like many other greats, this one is not easy to get to, but absolutely worth the journey. It is courses like this one that makes exploring in GB&I, as well as playing all the Top 100 lists worthwhile. Originally opened in 1892, the course was later revised by Willie Park Jr. and Alastair MacKenzie…a pretty sound pedigreed. Plays firm and fast, sitting right on the Irish Sea, it is perfectly and so very naturally positioned on fantastic land. Greens are both turtleback and bowl-like in shape, it also has several blind shots which I love (and I know others hate…but what do they know). It reminded me of the brilliance of Royal Dornoch in many ways. Very simple and low key club…absolutely worth the visit. Best holes are #3, 5, 9, 10, 13 and 16. It is about a 2 hour drive south of the Glasgow airport and simply terrific. As far as I am concerned, as true Top 100.
After finishing the round, drove the 2 hours to Glasgow airport where I was staying that evening. Certainly a long day...but a fabulous one. Few things in golf are more fun and rewarding than finding a hidden gem!!
Machrie Golf Club June 4
Up early to catch a 45 minute flight (25 minute fly time) from Glasgow to Islay Airport in the Isle of Arran (Arran, not Iran) SW of Glasgow and directly west of Troon/Prestwick (but since Machrie and the airport are on the western coast of the Isle, Troon, Prestwick and Turnberry are not visible from Machrie). Rated #89 in the world by Darius Oliver in Planet Golf, this place is like a museum, at least it still is but not for long. The club and property were purchased in 2011 by Gavyn Davies, a former BBC Chairman, and his wife Baroness Sue Nye. They are in the midst of renovating the course. At least as of June 3, it was fairly much like the old Machrie and was like playing in a museum. Blind shots galore, incredible land and views, firm firm links land..what more can one ask? The bulldozers are in the process of changing it, so you better hurry (especially if you love places like Prestwick, West Berwick, etc etc etc) and love the old game…and are a little crazy. Yes, I know…those comments are joyously redundant.
I fully understand why the changes are being made but fear something very precious is being lost forever. So happy I got my chance at it before the bulldozers had done much damage.
Getting back to the real world (if there is such a thing), flight back was 2 hours late. So I got in my car at GLA at9:30pm, facing a 1:40 drive to near St. Andrews to stay in a B&B. Was able to email the owners who stayed up for me as I arrived at 11:15pm…with the plan to play The New Course at St. Andrews at 7:15 or so Friday. Who planned this trip anyhow?
New Course at St. Andrews and Royal Aberdeen June 5
My internal alarm clock beat my iphone and was at The New Course first tee by 6:50am. Not busy at all, so was able to go off alone a few minutes after 7am. Strange that I have never played it, but with it rated #56 on the recent survey of Golf Course Architects, I had to get it done. Through the years, many have said they thought The New Course was a better course than The Old, but frankly, I did not see that. Yes, it has wonderful exposure to the River Eden estuary at the turn, #9 is a wonderful par 3, #10 a very tough par 4, and being and playing in St. Andrews is always something special, but frankly, I do not understand how it can be put in the Top 100. Perhaps the hectic schedule of the previous 48 hours affected my vision. Who knows? In any case, after the round, I was able to take a short walk around which, as always, was a real pleasure. Of course, the grandstands are just about all up in preparation for The Open Championship next month.
Drive to Royal Aberdeen too another 1:40. While, Pat and I played it in May 2013, that round featured the worst weather I have ever experienced on a golf course. I wanted to get back and hopefully see the course instead of trudging head down through sideways rain, sleet, and cold northerly winds gusting to 50mph. We had a beautiful if windy day (20mph which felt still by comparison), and I love the course. This time the wind was from the south, so it played downwind going out and dead into it coming back. Strangely, I fired a 44-40=84 under those conditions, which was very satisfying. Very much like Lahinch…both a great championship test, exciting to the senses, and lots of fun. Really happy I came back to see it.
Stayed near the airport…as the busy pace continued with a flight from Aberdeen to Amsterdam The Netherlands scheduled for the next morning at 6:00am (ugh!!)