Tuesday, August 08, 2017

#AuldSod2017 - Scotland Beckons

This post was written a few days prior to my first-ever overseas golf trip but for some reason, I forgot to upload it to the blog. To avoid confusion, I'm backdating this post to the day it was intended to be published but please note that the actual publication date ended up being a good five months later, on January 21, 2018! I do plan on writing extensive reviews of every course played during this most incredible trip at some point soon...

In 96 hours, I will be boarding a plane in Toronto, destined for Glasgow, Scotland, where I'll meet up with seven other like-minded individuals as we embark on what will likely be the most epic of golf trips.

It's finally starting to hit me...

I'm heading to the home of golf!

As detailed in my post last week, some friends from the States have been planning this trip for well over a year and when one of the eight was forced to bow out a couple weeks ago, I was the lucky one who gets to take his place.

We will be visiting three of Scotland's key golf regions, starting in Ayrshire, then heading to East Lothian before finishing the trip in Fife. The itinerary is remarkable - historic courses, famous Open Championship venues, hidden gems and modern marvels.

First up is Western Gailes Golf Club in Irvine on the northern Ayrshire coast.

Western Gailes Golf Club

I've been told that Western Gailes is a wonderful introduction to links golf, with appropriately wild terrain and where wind is always a factor due to the exposed nature of the course near the Firth of Clyde.

Next up is a 36 hole day at historic Prestwick Golf Club, the birthplace of the Open Championship.

Prestwick Golf Club on the Southern Ayrshire coast

Originally a 12 hole golf course designed by Old Tom Morris, Prestwick was home to the very first Open Championship in 1860 and would eventually host an incredible 24 Opens, the last of which was back in 1925. Despite the fact that it has been over 90 years since the club has hosted the world's best, only The Old Course in St. Andrews has hosted more Open Championships, a remarkable fact.

From the oldest Open Championship venue to the newest, we head further south to the exquisite Ailsa Course at Turnberry.

The iconic lighthouse on the Ailsa Course at Trump Turnberry

The history of the Ailsa Course at Turnberry is incredibly interesting, as the site was used as an airstrip during both World Wars and required extensive renovations in the late 40's and early 50's before getting the honour of being the newest Open Championship venue in 1977. The famous "Duel in the Sun" between Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson took place on these links and has been followed with stirring championships in 1986 (Greg Norman), 1994 (Nick Price) and 2009 (Stewart Cink taking the title over a then 59 year old Tom Watson).

In 2014, current American President Donald Trump purchased Turnberry for a bargain price and his surname now precedes the Turnberry name like every other course in his portfolio. The ever-controversial President has made many derogatory and inflammatory comments since buying the resort and its spot on the Open rotation is now in question but I'm very much looking forward to seeing what many feel is the most visually spectacular and scenic links in Scotland.

From there, we head to the other side of Scotland and East Lothian region, where a 36 hole day awaits us at The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, perhaps better known as Muirfield Golf Club.

The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers - Muirfield Golf Club

Muirfield has hosted 16 Open Championships and most recently, it was Phil Mickelson finally lifting the Claret Jug on these historic links back in 2013.

The club is unique for many reasons, one of which is due to the fact that the game most commonly played by members is foursomes, more commonly known as alternate shot. The club also was in the news for the wrong reasons in recent years due to the fact that it had a male-only membership policy, one that was finally abolished last year so that the club could maintain its spot in the Open rotation.

Muirfield is commonly ranked among the top five or ten courses in the world, with its distinctive routing and excellent bunkering being celebrated. A full day at Muirfield is one of the great experiences in golf and we are lucky enough to be playing our own ball in the morning, having the famous Muirfield lunch (jacket and tie absolutely mandatory!) and then heading back out for an alternate shot match in the afternoon.

At this point, if you ask me what I'm looking forward to most on this trip, it just might be my day at esteemed Muirfield!

And not far behind is North Berwick Golf Club's West Links, a true "hidden gem" and a favourite of all who visit.

The famous "Pit" hole on the West Links at North Berwick Golf Club

North Berwick has long been a "hidden gem" on Scottish golf itineraries and is a favourite of pretty much anyone who visits, with great template holes in a spectacular, seaside setting. I'm very anxious to see the course up close for the first time and we have a 36 hole day planned at North Berwick. Should be great fun!

From there, we head north and visit one of the most notoriously difficult tests in the game, the championship course at Carnoustie Golf Links.

An overhead view of Carnoustie's opening tee shot (on the left) and 18th green (on the right)

Carnoustie has hosted seven Open Championships, with the most famous being Jean Van de Velde's epic final hole meltdown in 1999 that allowed journeyman Paul Lawrie to win in a four-hole playoff. The Open will be returning to Carnoustie in 2018 and I'm really looking forward to this great test.

Tentatively on our agenda for later that day is the possibility of playing at the Ladies Putting Club of St. Andrews, perhaps better known as The Himalayas. It's just a few pounds to play and is supposedly a blast so I'm hoping we have time to give it a go!

The next day is currently up in the air but if all goes well, I'll be teeing it up at the Home of Golf, the historic Old Course at St. Andrews!

The "Road Hole" at The Old Course in St. Andrews

This is obviously a course that needs no introduction - host of the Open Championship an incredible 29 times and one that every single great player in the game has walked at some point in their lives.

But here's the kicker - we do NOT have a tee time on the Old Course as of this writing. The guys tried to book a time a year in advance but were not successful so we're going to Plan B to gain access, which is to sign up via the daily ballot. Essentially, a large percentage of tee times on the Old Course are held for the daily ballot, kind of a lottery format held a couple days before you want to play. We'll try to get on through the ballot and if that fails, Plan C will be to show up around midnight and wait in line to get on as a single.

This may be the only time I get to Scotland in my life and if I have to wait all night to get the chance to play the Old Course, I'm prepared to do so!

We have a backup plan for the afternoon as well, with a late afternoon tee time set at Elie, also known as the Golf House Club.

The Golf House Club at Elie, with their famous periscope near the first tee

I don't know an awful lot about Elie, to be honest, but those who play it say it's quite the hidden gem. The club is famous for having a submarine periscope attached to the starter's hut that is used to look over a hill on the first hole to determine when it's safe to tee off.

Hopefully all goes well and we're able to play both the Old Course and Elie on the same day!

Our last day will be spent just outside of St. Andrews at one of the most decorated modern links in Scotland, Kingsbarns Golf Links!

The gorgeous Kingsbarns Golf Links, just outside of St. Andrews

This Kyle Phillips masterpiece opened in 2000 to rave reviews and now is part of the Dunhill Cup rotation along with the Old Course and Carnoustie. After our round at Kingsbarns, we'll be shuttled to Edinburgh for the night and will fly back to North America the next morning.

I simply can't believe how quickly this has all come together. It truly looks like it will be a trip of a lifetime for yours truly and I can't wait to tell you all about it upon my return.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

How Quickly Things Can Change...

In my last post just five short weeks ago, I sadly wrote the following passage:

Most years, I'm lucky enough to get away one or two times (or more) on golf trips yet it isn't looking like I'll be heading anywhere in 2017, barring a late-season surprise. I'd have to look through the archives to see the last time I didn't go away on a golf trip but I'm guessing it's been at least a decade, if not longer.

Woe is me.

Well, as the blog title indicates, it's amazing how quickly things can change in one's favour...

Just last week, I was given word that a spot opened up for the ultimate "Golf Trip of a Lifetime" - plans had been in place for over a year for a group of eight guys from the States and one of them was forced to bow out only three short weeks before the trip.

I've met and played with two of the guys on multiple occasions in the past and exchanged emails and other correspondence with one of the other guys so there was some comfort and familiarity there - this is a good group of guys, without question.

I got some of the details via email and the guys actually seemed excited about my interest, another good omen - they would be happy to welcome a rogue Canadian to their group.

First thing I checked on was work and it immediately looked like a no-go, as one of my fellow staffers had already blocked that week off for vacation. I casually asked about her plans for the week and she immediately said "well, I don't really have anything going on so I was actually considering moving my vacation up a week instead".

"Yeah, I'm sure that's fine", I replied.

I walked back to my desk shaking my head in disbelief - getting the time off work wouldn't be an issue.

Of course, now I'm thinking about my family and most specifically, my better half. There was no way she was going to be okay with this on such short notice, I was sure.

My wife and son were actually up north at a family cottage when this opportunity presented itself so I started chatting with her via text, just casually dropping a reference to the opportunity presented to me.

Me: House was very quiet last night LOL

Wifey: LOL! How R U?

Me: I'm fine. Had a dentist appointment this afternoon then got a ridiculous golf trip offer today so that's kept me busy daydreaming.

Wifey: What trip babe?

Me: XXXXXXXX (trip destination) - some friends are going in three weeks and had a cancellation. Everything is booked and paid for so they are looking for someone to take the spot on short notice...sent the itinerary to me. Makes me cry it's so good LOL.

Wifey: I bet *kiss emoji* You can't go?


Oh my goodness...she seems OPEN to this!

We continued the conversation via text and I was even more surprised that she asked what was on the itinerary. But I should have known better - at the cottage were some family members who had been to this place before and they wanted to know the courses I'd be playing. Of course, they all were unanimous that this was an amazing itinerary and it was clear that my wife would be okay with me going as long as I was comfortable with the expense.

So I started looking at flight costs.

Trying to find flights for a trip less than three weeks away is not ideal - first of all, using points was not an option on the flight out of Toronto but I would be able to use points on the return trip. However, any return trip using points would see a very convoluted flight route OR would contain a exceptionally long layover somewhere.

Things were also slightly complicated by the fact that my destination airport was going to be different from the departure airport.

It took me close to 48 hours to make my final decision. Work was going to be okay and in fact, it was the PERFECT week for me to be away, as there would be no one else at the company taking vacation that week. My wife knows how hard I've been working for the past six months and the fact that I haven't been able to get away for ANY golf excursions all year perhaps made her sympathetic to my plight.

Even with a number of factors in my favour (trip already completely planned, booked and for the most part, paid for in advance), it was still going to be a pricey trip but there is no question in my mind that it will never be as INEXPENSIVE as it would be right now, especially with the British pound being weak against our dollar at the moment.

So I bit the bullet, booked my flights and sent the email to the others, saying I was "IN".

I'm still numb by how quickly this has come together and in the next couple of days, I'll go over my itinerary in detail here. This trip will unquestionably renew my love for great architecture and golf history and as such, I am already re-energized about this blog and want to write about this incredible trip that I'll soon experience.

So, where am I going, you ask? Here's a hint:

The "Road Hole" at The Old Course in St. Andrews

If I'm dreaming, don't wake me up!