|Not all the worthy courses in Scotland are 100 years old, like the Duke's course in St. Andrews. (Brandon Tucker/TravelGolf)|
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland - So you think you've got an idea what Scottish links golf is all about because you've seen the British Open on TV?
As a laddie raised on the parkland golf courses of the American Midwest, I had to see these places to really discover why they are so special.
Here are a few common misconceptions you may have about golf in Scotland, Mr. American Parkland Golfer, you.
Conditions are great - Sometimes the cameras at the Open don't do justice to how good the condition of these links courses is. You won't find better greens than here, and they're fast, firm and consistent. Fairways are also firm and rolling. For the number of rounds these courses get (many of them all year long), it's a testament to the course superintendents here and justifies the £60-150 greens fees.
Bunkers can be avoided - The Old Course at St. Andrews is littered with 112 bunkers. Carnoustie has six million, it seems.
Before I went to Scotland, I remembered hearing from one fellow that many holes would have pot bunkers in the middle of the fairway you couldn't see so many perfect drives were spoiled by "unfair" bunkering. It's not "unfair," it's called "strategic."
When I played the Old Course, I didn't find myself in a single bunker. How did I do it? Well, I played with two veterans to the course who knew it like the back of their hand, and I was so freaked out by names like "Strath" and "Hell" bunker I would have rather blasted a ball over the fence on the right (and I did, three times).
If you want to stay out of bunkers, take a stroke saver, caddie or play with some locals and leave the driver in the bag on some par 4s and 5s, even if it pains you. Tiger Woods based his entire game plan around not finding bunkers in 2006 at Liverpool. It worked.
You don't need to be a great golfer to play on the great courses - While many places won't let you on without a handicap certificate, that doesn't mean you need to be a single-digit handicapper, either. On most of the big-time courses, it's 24-28 for men and up to 38 for ladies. Even the Old Course allows players this bad.
They don't all look the same - When you watch the British Opens on TV, venues seem to blend together. Balls scoot across hard, rolling fairways for 100 yards, greens are huge and bunkers are deep with sod and there isn't a shady Oak in sight. But once you play a few rounds on different coasts you realize how different the land and scenery are - not to mention the designs of the course.
Turnberry plays on rocks shores overlooking the ocean. Courses on the North Sea such as Royal Aberdeen, Cruden Bay and Murcar have very high, rugged dunes. Royal Dornoch looks totally different from its Highland neighbor Nairn.
In Fife, the Links Trust facility has rather tame land with no views of the sea and Carnoustie's flat land shielded from the coastline is a photographer's nightmare. But Kingsbarns just seven miles from the Old Course has a totally different look and even a few tall trees. You owe it to yourself on your trip to check out a few different regions and see how different land was affected by millions of years of waves and wind.
You aren't hitting over a hotel, you're hitting over a shed - The Road Hole is famous for its tiny and deadly greenside bunker and the fact you have to hit your tee shot "over a hotel." That's what I thought. I even had a PGA European Tour video game for Sega Genesis that showed a little hotel you had to blast it over. But it's an old railway shed now connected to the hotel which was built in the 60s you are hitting over, not the hotel itself.
This isn't to say you can't give the hotel a good whack, hopefully waking a sleeping couple taking a nap as you bang a Titleist off their bullet-proof window.
Courses are expensive - This isn't a myth buster, it's more of a confirmation. For you American golfers out there, basically double any greens fee you see when planning your trip, thanks to the strength of the pound or weakness of the U.S. dollar (about 1.5 €=1£). To give you an idea of your plastic's punishment, here are some high season rates: £135 Ailsa, Turnberry, £150 Kingsbarns, £125 Old Course, St. Andrews, £75 Royal Dornoch. Caddies range from £30-55 per 18 plus £5-10 standard gratuity.
All these courses are not 100 years old - A new wave of modern golf courses have given Scotland some variety in its offerings. Century-old courses are still the popular draw, but next door to these are modern newbies like Kingsbarns (2001), Fairmont St. Andrews (originally St. Andrews Bay) 2002, Spey Valley at Aviemore in the Highlands (2006), The Carrick in Loch Lomond (2007) and more are on the way.
These courses are more playable the first time with less trickery, and are friendlier to women golfers, whose tee boxes were actually planned by most of these modern designers and not simply placed at the front of the men's tee like Morris and Braid often did.
The staff and members at the clubs aren't stuck up - Sure, it's a good idea to remove your cap and waterproofs when you go inside the clubhouse. But aside from that, staff and members at these clubs are usually nothing but friendly to outsiders.
After all, it's your £100 fee that's helping to keep their yearly dues low. Guests are more than welcome to use changing rooms (some clubs have separate but equal changing facilities for guests). You might be treated at some of the clubs better here than at your club back home. And if you ask a caddy or member a question about the course or history, prepare to get an earful of wisdom and history. They're quite proud of it.
Don't just play links courses - You might find it necessary to play a links course every single round on your vacation. After all, the Open Championship is always on a links course, but no itinerary should be without one or two parklands.
Links courses can be demanding mentally if you're not used to the new challenges they present. On the other hand, inland courses like the King's Course at Gleneagles, the Carrick at Loch Lomond and the Duke's Course in St. Andrews are all a good challenge and great fun.
June 4, 2007
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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