Tuesday, August 08, 2017

#AuldSod2017 - Scotland Beckons

AUTHOR'S NOTE
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.


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