Thursday, January 31, 2019

Prestwick Golf Club - Course Profile

*** Now on the Tee has MOVED to our own domain!!! ***


Prestwick Golf Club
Prestwick, Ayrshire, SCOTLAND

6908 YARDS (PAR 71)
COURSE ARCHITECT: Old Tom Morris (1851)
LAST PLAYED: August 13, 2017.
LOW SCORE: 77 (+6)

- Golf Club Atlas 147 Custodians of the Game 2018: #7
- Golf Magazine Top 100 Courses in the World 2017: #100
- Golf Digest World's Greatest 100 Courses (Outside USA) 2018: #95
- Britain and Ireland Top 100 2018: #35

"The best playing experience in Scotland is augmented by a superlative range of two-shotters, from Sea Headrig to Narrows. It melds unconventional with traditional features to examine brawn, finesse and mental acuity. Prestwick's impact on architecture can't be overstated."
Ran Morrissett, Golf Club Atlas, "147 Custodians of the Game 2018"

Golf had been played for years over the links at Prestwick before officially forming as a club on July 2nd, 1851. 57 prospective members purchased two cottages opposite the Red Lion Inn, with one of the cottages reserved for a clubhouse while the other would house the club's Keeper of the Green, club and ball maker, the legendary Old Tom Morris.

Old Tom would uproot his family from St. Andrews and lay out the original 12-hole "cross-routed" design, one that would eventually host the first Open Championship in 1860, making Prestwick the "Birthplace of the Open Championship".

Old Tom and his family would return to St. Andrews in 1865 but he would return once again in 1882 to help Prestwick expand to 18 holes after the club purchased more land to the north of its original layout. The cross-routing was eliminated as a result but six of the original greens are still used to this day, including those on the current 3rd (Cardinal), 13th (Sea Headrig) and 17th (Alps) holes.

The Open Championship has been contested at Prestwick 24 times, second only to The Old Course at St. Andrews, but hasn't hosted the event since 1925. The list of Open Champions at Prestwick is incredibly impressive and includes most of golf's great players from that time, including Old Tom Morris (four time Open Champion at Prestwick), his son Young Tom (four times), Willie Park Sr. (four times), Harry Vardon (three times) and James Braid (once).

While the course would likely still be a challenge for the world's best, the land upon which the course lies and the surrounding infrastructure simply isn't large enough to host an event of that magnitude any longer. Prestwick continues to regularly host major amateur championships, including the British Amateur, which has been played 11 times at the club, most recently in 2001.

Prestwick lies just off the Ayrshire coast and shares its northern boundary with Royal Troon GC. The course is well-known for its quirk, with many blind shots and some absolutely audacious features.

The course has one of the most famous first holes in the world of golf. "Railway" is a short 345 yard par four that features a brick wall running hard down the entire right hand side of the hole, with train tracks on the other side. The tee shot is very intimidating even though you only need a mid-to-long iron - anything more will run into long, thick rough, as the fairway tightens to almost walking path width about 50 yards from the green. An exhilarating start.

Your mind will officially be blown by the time you reach the third tee. This 530 yard par five, named "Cardinal", forces the better player to keep driver in the bag and layup short of large cross-bunkers about 230 yards from the tee. When I reached my ball in the fairway, I still had absolutely no idea where the hole was going! Thank goodness for caddies! The second shot needs to be hit over the massive Cardinal bunker, where about 100 yards of hidden fairway and a devilish green await. Pow Burn also runs down the entire length of the hole on the right side and is considered out of bounds. This is one of the most famous and confounding holes in golf.

The quirk continues in earnest on the par three 5th hole, the famed "Himalayas". This hole is 231 yards from the Championship tee and features a completely blind, uphill tee shot, with little coloured discs on the top of the wall indicating the line of play from each of the tee decks. The trouble continues near the green, with five pot bunkers lining the entire left hand side of the putting surface and one very-well placed pot bunker in the front right. As with many of the holes at Prestwick, you have to simply see it to believe it! Make sure you ring the bell upon completing the hole to let the group behind you know it's safe to play.

The 6th through 9th holes move to the north end of the property, known as the Elysian Fields. The land here is much less severe than that closer to the clubhouse but the golf remains captivating throughout, as you get gorgeous views of the sea from the 7th green while the Isle of Arran beautifully frames the long par four 10th.

The last six holes at Prestwick all carry significant interest. The 13th hole, named "Sea Headrig", is over 450 yards and has a landing area that runs tight alongside the 16th hole to the left. The heaving land will likely leave you with a sidehill lie of some sort and once you reach the putting surface, your work isn't done by a longshot, as the green is likely the most severely sloped on the golf course. Bogeys and worse are commonplace here.

You have a fighting chance to regain any lost strokes on the short par four 14th hole, which plays back to the clubhouse. You'll likely only need a mid-to-short iron approach to a green well-protected by bunkers but the putting surface is quite flat and putts can be made here.

One of my favourite holes at Prestwick is "Narrows", the 353 yard par four 15th. It might be the most demanding drive on a course filled with them, with the land tumbling in all directions and lady luck playing a major role in the final destination of your tee shot. The approach shot is hit well uphill to a green that runs hard from front left to back right. Another thrilling hole!

The 16th hole is named "Cardinals Back" for the fact that the green sits right on top of the famous Cardinal bunker first seen on the par five 3rd hole. This 290 yard par four can certainly be driven by a longer player but any wayward shot will likely result in a bogey or worse. That said, layups off the tee will need to avoid the famous "Willie Campbell's Grave" bunker perfectly located about 225 yards from the tee. The green slopes sharply from front to back and two pot bunkers await any strokes played long. Yet another strategic gem.

More greatness awaits on the mid-length par four 17th, the famed "Alps" hole. You need an exceptionally accurate drive to a narrow fairway to give you any chance of reaching the completely blind green located well uphill. The approach plays similar to the tee shot on the "Himalayas" hole but the big difference is that here, you will need to clear the perfectly named Sahara bunker that is hidden on the other side of the hill and will swallow every single shot that falls short of the green.

The 18th hole, named "Clock", is a 288 yard par four that allows you the chance to finish in style but you'll need to be accurate off the tee once again to have any chance of finishing with a birdie, as the fairway sits at an angle from the tee and four well-placed bunkers are sure to grab any shots hit offline.

Prestwick is a private club but liberal about allowing guest play most days of the week, calling it "The Prestwick Experience". It's an appropriate moniker, as you know you've taken a step back in time, so to speak, the minute you walk on the property. Every part of your day, whether it's on the course or in the clubhouse, is special.

The clubhouse is a virtual museum, with replicas of the Claret Jug and Young Tom Morris's Open Championship belt proudly displayed near the pro shop and many more precious artifacts located throughout the clubhouse and locker room areas. We played 36 holes on this day, breaking for lunch upstairs in their casual dining area and it was here where I sampled K├╝mmel, a very popular liqueur in the UK, for the first time.

That all said, the links at Prestwick are the real star. I will say that this course won't enchant those that prefer to play a course where "everything is there right in front of you" - quirk and blind shots abound and you will need a bit of a whimsical approach to playing your game at Prestwick. The course contains so many famous holes but I'd still submit that Prestwick is much greater than the sum of its parts.

It's been a year and a half since I visited and my thoughts on my experience at Prestwick grow stronger by the day. It's an experience you simply can't miss if you find yourself visiting the Ayrshire coast.

The classy and modest entry sign at Prestwick Golf Club
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The smooth-swinging Dan G pipes one down the middle of the 1st fairway at Prestwick
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

Anything more than a mid-iron off the 1st tee will have to deal with a fairway that narrows considerably beyond 200 yards
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

From fairway to railway; a brick wall runs down the entire right hand side of the tight 1st hole at historic Prestwick GC
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

A look back towards the 1st green from the 2nd tee, with the rail line and a hillside cemetery providing the backdrop
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

Our fearless leader Chris strikes his tee shot on the lovely par three 2nd hole
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

Matt S takes on the tee shot at the famous "Cardinal" hole at Prestwick
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

The Cardinal bunker looms in the distance on the par five 3rd hole
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

Figuring out the correct line on this blind second shot on Cardinal is imperative...the best line is just left of the cart path in the distance!
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

Looking back toward the tee from the Cardinal bunker
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

Ed M, who just so happens to be Matt Kuchar's doppelganger, takes on the Himalayas, the famous par three 5th at Prestwick
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

The bell behind the green on Himalayas, signifying to the group on the tee that the coast is clear for their blind tee shot
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

Pow Burn weaves its way throughout the property at Prestwick GC
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

Looking back down the 7th hole, called "Monkton Miln", from behind the green
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The approach to the rollicking par four 13th hole, "Sea Hedrig"
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

The second shot on the short par four 14th, with the clubhouse in the background
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

Yet another standout at Prestwick is the par four 15th hole, "Narrows"
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

Chris looks on as Dan hits his tee shot on the short par four 16th hole, "Cardinals Back"
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

The group hits off the tee on the notorious "Alps" hole at Prestwick, a 394 yard par four
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

A good look at the challenge that awaits off the tee on the "Alps" hole
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

Matt S and Stephen are dwarfed by the immense Alps bunker, completely hidden from view from the approach area
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

Another great shot of the massive Alps bunker
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

The home hole, appropriately titled "Clock", is on the left while the "Narrows" comes back the other way on the right
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The entire gang in front of the clubhouse at Prestwick
(from left: Dan G, Stephen S, Andrew L, yours truly, Matt S, Ed M, Howard R, Chris H)

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Western Gailes Golf Club - Course Profile

*** Now on the Tee has MOVED to our own domain!!! ***


Western Gailes Golf Club
Irvine, Ayrshire, SCOTLAND

7014 YARDS (PAR 71)
COURSE ARCHITECT: Fred Morris (1897)
LAST PLAYED: August 12, 2017.
LOW SCORE: 89 (+18)

- Golf Digest World's 100 Greatest Golf Courses (Outside USA) 2018: #100
- Britain and Ireland Top 100 2018: #34

"I had heard so much praise about Western Gailes over the years that it was high on my list of must play courses. It didn’t disappoint. Beautiful holes, on great land make it endlessly interesting and challenging. I look forward to my next chance to play."
Geoff Ogilvy, 2006 U.S. Open Champion

Western Gailes Golf Club will always hold a special place in my memories of the game, as it was the first stop on our epic 2017 Scottish adventure and perhaps more significantly, my first-ever round of golf outside North America.

The history at Western Gailes dates back to the late 1800's, when four prominent members of golf clubs in the city of Glasgow had a vision to create a course on the Ayrshire coast, a getaway far from their workplaces where they would be free from the winter frost that allowed the game to be played year-round.

They were able to come to a lease agreement with the Sixth Duke of Portland, William Cavendish-Bentinck, for a parcel of land near Irvine hard on the coast and as a result, the club was officially formed in 1897. The parcel of land is a long but narrow strip that sits near the Firth of Clyde, between the sea and a railway line. That railway has been a significant part of the history at Western Gailes, as it provided members and guests who lived in Glasgow easy access to the Ayrshire coast. A train station would be built right at the club and was in use from the early days right through the 1950's, with the last train leaving the Gailes station in 1966.

The first nine holes were ready for play early in 1898 and the second nine was opened in May the same year. Golf Digest is of the belief that Willie Fernie, the 1883 Open Champion and golf course architect who designed the famous "Postage Stamp" hole at Royal Troon also designed Western Gailes. However, the club insists that their first greenskeeper, Fred Morris, routed and designed the golf course.

The course regularly hosts Open Championship qualifying events, was the site of the 1972 Curtis Cup matches and has also hosted the Scottish Amateur nine times, most recently in 2011. Western Gailes tips out at just over 7000 yards and it's a supreme test of golf, especially when the wind blows, as it did when we played.

The course has an "out and back" routing, something that is relatively standard with links golf but Western Gailes is very unique in comparison due to where its clubhouse is situated. The first four holes run inland away from the clubhouse to the northeast before turning around for a thrilling jaunt along the coast. The next eight holes, from #5 through #13, head southwest with the sea hard on the right side the whole way. It's a magnificent stretch of holes but the golf remains compelling as you make the "turn" once again on the long par five 14th, heading northeast for the last five holes before hitting the centrally-located clubhouse.

The first hole, a 310 yard par four named "Station", is a gentle handshake of an opener but I quickly would find out how much wind affects ball flight over in Scotland, as my wedge approach from about 90 yards climbed in the air and then started coming back towards me!

The fun truly begins on the second, named "Railway", as it features a very unique green set below fairway grade in a bit of a hollow. Strategy off the par four 3rd hole, named "Arran", is paramount. You need a tee shot that hugs the left side of the fairway in order to have a full view of the green, which is completely blind if you are over near the three pot bunkers on the right hand side, situated behind a large dune.

You make the turn after the 4th and the 5th hole is an absolute stunner - named "Bunker's Hill", this massive par four stimulates all your senses, with the sea and sand hard to your right and rollicking dunes to your left. This hole, along with the following seven along the sea, play into the prevailing wind so at 500 yards from the tips, you'll often need three well-struck shots just to reach the putting surface.

This is just an appetizer though, as the 6th and 7th holes, in this author's humble opinion, are world-class in every respect.

The 6th, named "Lappock", is a 498 yard par five with a forced carry required off the tee to a slightly diagonal fairway. You can elect to layup short of the well-placed fairway bunker cut into a dune on the left side or hit a hybrid or metal wood and give it a go. The punchbowl shaped green is set in behind that dune and a shot that is played well out to the right can hit a large slope and funnel to the left and onto the putting surface if struck well. The green is very long and quite narrow so despite the fact that the slopes seem to help, it's incredibly difficult to place your ball close to the hole, even with a wedge. The design and the setting is tremendous and most will walk off this green, take a look back at the incredible landscape and know they've played one of the best holes in golf.

You can only shake your head in delight as you make your way to the elevated 7th tee. The first par three at Western Gailes, named "Sea", is another standout. Measuring 198 yards from the back tees, this hole plays downhill slightly but is all carry to a very well-protected green nestled in the dunes and with bunkers short right and long left. Anything but the most precise shot will likely mean a best. Simply gorgeous!

The mid-length par four 8th hole and the shorter par four 10th holes feature burns that wind directly in front of the greens, making distance control vital with your approach on both holes. I also enjoyed the very difficult test presented at the long par four 11th, named "Plateau", which presents an angled fairway that is slightly offset from the green, which is tucked off to the right and requires a big fade approach or the more risky shot on a direct line over the deep rough and dunes to the right.

The short par three 13th hole is at the far southwest end of the property and the final hole at Western Gailes with the sea on your right. Named "Barassie", it's only 154 yards from the back tees but is almost completely surrounded by seven bunkers, while any shots that come up short will fall back down the slope and into another burn. Play for the middle of the generous green here and be happy with a two-putt par!

The last five holes play inland and back toward the clubhouse, with the railway running down the right hand side the whole way. At 592 yards, the par five 14th is the longest hole at Western Gailes but the prevailing wind should help somewhat. Birdies and pars are possible but you need to hit a long and accurate drive to give yourself any chance at a good score here.

The 15th hole, called "Heather", is the last of the one shotters at Western Gailes and it's another stunner both visually and from a design perspective. A long iron or fairway metal will likely be required, as you have a long forced carry over the long rough and then two very well-placed pot bunkers about twenty yards short of the green. If you clear those particular traps, you have some room to run the ball up to a green surrounded by two bunkers left and three more to the right. Anything offline will likely result in a bogey or worse.

The long par four 17th hole, named "Ridge", is yet another standout. Measuring 470 yards from the back tees, your drive needs to avoid a bunker on the left side and the railroad to the right but enhancing the difficulty is the fact that the fairway narrows considerably the further you hit it off the tee. The second shot is unique, as the fairway splits and you need to hit over the ridge to a green set behind a series of bumps and hollows, with a small, deep pot bunker cut into the front right of the putting surface.

The "Home" hole, a 407 yard par four, is reasonably straightforward but hitting into the widest portion of the fairway will leave an approach of approximately 200 yards, which isn't ideal. The approach shot is tested by a series of three bunkers that are between 30 and 50 yards short of the green on the left, ready to thwart any shot not well struck.

Make no mistake about it - Western Gailes is a very demanding test of golf. The fairways are pretty narrow and the targets seem even smaller due to the dunes lining most of the holes, the very long and challenging rough and 106 bunkers that are dotted throughout the design. The course certainly prevailed on this day, as I shot an unsightly 89 (+18) overall, with zero birdies and quite a few round crushing double bogeys!

That all said, I think this was the perfect course for us to begin our journey and a great choice for anyone who is looking for a proper introduction to true links golf. It's not called Western Gailes for nothing - the wind out here is always a factor and your shotmaking skills will be supremely tested throughout the day.

The course was in fantastic condition, with very firm and fast fairways and greens despite a wetter than average season back in 2017. We were also very fortunate to experience perfect weather on our first day in Scotland, with mild temperatures and glorious sunshine throughout the day, as seen in the photos below.

Western Gailes has always been considered to be somewhat of a hidden gem, perhaps due to the fact that it isn't part of the Open rota. However, Golf Digest recently named it as one of the 100 best golf courses in the world outside of the United States and I was told it's a popular choice of tourists coming to the Ayrshire coast. Based on the incredibly warm hospitality we were shown by the club's staff and members, I can definitely see why that's the case.

We finished our day with a couple of drinks in the clubhouse, which overlooks the 18th green and offers long views of the course and sea.

It was a perfect way to conclude our first day in Scotland.

The tee shot on "Station", the opening hole at Western Gailes Golf Club
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

That's me hitting my second shot on the par four 4th hole
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

There are sod-walled bunkers aplenty at Western Gailes, including the front left of the 4th green
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

Yours truly ripping one off the 5th tee at Western Gailes
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

A look from the fairway on "Bunker's Hill", the 5th hole at Western Gailes
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The gorgeous surroundings beyond the 5th green at Western Gailes
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

Looking back down the 5th fairway from the 6th tee
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

Stephen paces off the yardage on the par five 6th hole
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The wonderful par five 6th hole at Western Gailes, named "Lappock"
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The rollicking 6th fairway, with the green in the distance set in a punchbowl behind a dune on the left
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

Looking back up the fairway from just behind the pin on the 6th green at Western Gailes
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

Another look back down the thrilling par five 6th, as seen from the 7th tee
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The glorious par three 7th, appropriately named "Sea"
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

Chris deftly handles an almost impossible pitch from the dunes left of the 7th green
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

That's me attempting to navigate the difficult tee shot on the par four 8th hole, named "Burn"
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

The beautiful but difficult par three 15th, called "Heather"
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

A split fairway awaits on the very cool 17th hole, named "Ridge"
(Both Photos by Now on the Tee)

The approach shot into the "Home" hole at Western Gailes
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

A look at the locker room at Western Gailes Golf Club
(Original Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Scotland 2017 Trip Recap - Preface

Our itinerant group at the famous Dunvegan Hotel in August 2017 (from left: Chris H, Matt S, Andrew L, Dan G, Howard R, Ed M, yours truly and Stephen S)
(Photo Courtesy of Howard Riefs)

Over the next nine weeks, I will be posting detailed profiles of all nine golf courses I visited in Scotland in August 2017.

I've already written about the genesis of this particular trip so instead of rehashing all of that, I'll just direct you to this post, entitled How Quickly Things Can Change. I was lucky enough to join seven others for #AuldSod2017, better known as the Trip of a Lifetime, with twelve rounds on nine different Scottish golf courses, spread across an eight day period.

I will be uploading new course profiles from this trip every second Thursday at 10:00am for the next few months, as I continue to keep my promise of providing fresh content on a weekly basis throughout 2019 here at Now on the Tee. The course write-ups will come in the same order that we played them on our trip.

So, without further ado, here is a look at our itinerary from our 2017 trip:


Day 1: Western Gailes Golf Club - Click to read course profile
Day 2: Prestwick Golf Club X 2 - Click to read course profile
Day 3: Trump Turnberry - Ailsa Course - Click to read course profile
Day 4: Muirfield - The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers X 2 - Click to read course profile
Day 5: North Berwick Golf Club - West Links X 2 - to be posted March 14th
Day 6: Carnoustie Golf Club - Championship Course - to be posted March 28th
Day 7: The Old Course at St. Andrews - to be posted April 11th
            Elie - The Golf House Club - to be posted April 25th
Day 8: Kingsbarns Golf Links - to be posted May 9th

I'll also write a Postscript and upload that on May 16th, with some discussion on the hotels we stayed in during the trip and any "off course" stuff like restaurants, bars, tourist attractions, etc. I'll conclude the postscript by sharing details of our follow-up trip, #auldsod2019, which will be taking place in early August 2019 and may prove to be even more exhaustive than our 2017 adventure!

As these profiles are updated to the site, I'll be sure to link them up above so feel free to use this post as a reference if you'd like.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

2018 Year in Review Part Three - Looking Ahead

The thrilling tee shot on the opening hole at Lookout Point Country Club in Fonthill, Ontario
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

For the first time in three years, I actually have a golf trip planned well in advance and it's looking like it will be something special.

There is quite a lot to look forward to in 2019. Lets get to it!

Looking Ahead

I've alluded to this in previous posts but after over 30 years of membership at St. Catharines Golf and Country Club, I resigned in October 2018 and decided to join Lookout Point Country Club (shown above) in nearby Fonthill for the 2019 season and beyond.

This Walter Travis designed gem opened for play in 1922 and features stunning vistas of neighbouring Niagara Falls, excellent rolling topography and phenomenal green complexes, a Travis trademark. I couldn't be more excited about this big change in my life and I'm looking forward to playing in a ton of club events and getting integrated into the membership at Lookout.

If any of my readers find themselves in Niagara and want to see what Lookout Point is all about, reach out to me and I'll be happy to host if the timing works.

As far as golf trips go, I have one planned and it looks like it will be absolutely epic.

In early August, I'll be heading back to Scotland for the second time in three years, with an incredible 15 rounds of golf scheduled over a ten day period.

My trip begins with a red-eye out of Toronto and an early, next morning arrival in Glasgow. I'll meet up with three friends for the "Pre-Trip" portion of the trip and we'll immediately depart for Royal Troon Golf Club on the Ayrshire coast.

A shot of the clubhouse and 18th green at Royal Troon Golf Club
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

In 2017, our group stayed at the Marine Hotel in Troon right alongside the 18th fairway but we did not play the course on that trip. The Old Course at Troon has hosted The Open Championship nine times, most recently in 2016 when Henrik Stenson came out on top in a thrilling final round shootout over Phil Mickelson. The par three eighth hole, known as "The Postage Stamp", is one of the most famous and notorious holes in the game.

From there, our foursome will head north into the Scottish Highlands, where 36 holes await us at Royal Dornoch Golf Club.

Old Tom Morris is given credit for overhauling the original nine hole design and converting it into the 18 hole Championship Course in the late 1880s. It is known as one of the greatest golf courses in the world, currently sitting 15th on Golf Magazine's 2017 list of the world's best and I've been desperately hoping to experience the course and the town of Dornoch ever since reading Lorne Rubenstein's wonderful book, "A Season in Dornoch", which gets my highest recommendation.

The next day, we will head about a half hour north to Brora Golf Club.

James Braid laid out the links at Brora in 1891 and I'm a big fan of his after our round in 2017 at Elie, another charming Braid design just outside of St. Andrews. Brora is known for the sheep that roam and graze on the property and the electric fences that surround many of the putting surfaces to keep them off the greens. The club is a bit off the beaten path, so to speak but I'm a big fan of hidden gems and I'm guessing that our day at Brora will be one of the highlights of the trip.

We plan on doing a distillery tour after our round at Brora and we will then wrap up our time in the Highlands with a round on the modern masterpiece, Castle Stuart Golf Club.

The brainchild of developer Mark Parsinen, who also brought Kingsbarns Golf Links to life, Castle Stuart overlooks the Moray Firth and was co-designed by Gil Hanse, a noted American architect, with the course opening for play in 2009. Castle Stuart already sits within the top 100 courses in the world and has hosted the Scottish Open an incredible four times.

From there, we will head four hours south and meet up with the other four members of our group in East Lothian. Their trip begins with a round at Gullane #1 but us "Pre-Trippers" will miss out on that while making the trek from the Highlands. The eight of us will all meet up for the first time after their round and the next day, we'll be playing 36 holes at the phenomenal North Berwick Golf Club's West Links.

The Children's Course runs alongside the famous West Links at North Berwick Golf Club in Scotland, as seen from the Macdonald Marine Hotel & Spa
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

We enjoyed a 36 hole day at North Berwick back in 2017 so this is the first course that we felt compelled to see again on this trip - simply put, it's that good!

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. It's awesome, it's on great land in a great location, it's a charming, quaint town and it's fun personified. I absolutely loved North Berwick and can't wait to see it again this year.

We have our second and final repeat viewing the next day, as the group once again heads back to one of the greatest clubs in the world, the famed Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, perhaps better known as Muirfield Golf Club.

The gorgeous clubhouse at Muirfield provides the backdrop as you approach the 18th green
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

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. 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 once again, we will be lucky enough to play our own ball in the morning, have the famous Muirfield lunch (jacket and tie absolutely mandatory!) and then head back out for a boozy alternate shot match in the afternoon.

I'm especially excited to get back to Muirfield due to the fact I played one of my finest rounds of golf ever there in my first trip, making an eagle and four birdies, including the 17th and 18th holes, to shoot an incredible 72. A day I'll never forget...

Our final day in East Lothian sees us visit Tom Doak's only Scottish design, The Renaissance Club.

Jerry Sarvadi, an American businessman, played a lead role in developing the course and would eventually move to North Berwick with his family to run the day-to-day operations of the club, which opened for play in 2008. We will be playing Renaissance only three days after the conclusion of the Ladies Scottish Open, one of the premier events on the LPGA Tour so I'm guessing the course will be in magnificent shape. The 2019 Mens Scottish Open is also taking place at Renaissance in early July so it's a big year for the club - two major world tour events and hosting our itinerant group of eight golf fanatics. Not bad!

After our round, we head north for the final leg of our amazing trip, setting our anchor in the city of Aberdeen. Our first round the next morning is at Murcar Golf Club, another hidden gem from what I'm told.

Murcar was originally designed by Archie Simpson in 1909 and revised by James Braid in the 1930s. The course is located on a classic stretch of links land with massive sand dunes, undulating fairways and is covered in whins and heather with some magnificent views across the North Sea.

Later that afternoon, we will head a few miles south for a game at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club's Balgownie Course.

Founded in 1780, Royal Aberdeen is considered to be the 6th oldest club in the world. The club relocated in the late 1800s and the Balgownie Course, designed by Archie and Robert Simpson, opened for play in 1888. The club has hosted many great events over the years and is well known for their immense dunes, among the largest in the country, that must be navigated during the round.

I'm also very excited about the following day, where we will play two rounds at Cruden Bay Golf Club.

Long known as one of the great hidden gems in Scotland, wide acclaim over recent years has propelled Cruden Bay on to many World Top 100 lists and as a result, the course is a preferred stop on most Scottish itineraries. A few guys in the group played Cruden Bay in 2017 but I wasn't one of them so I'm greatly looking forward to the day. Old Tom Morris and Archie Simpson designed the course in 1899 and like Royal Aberdeen, Cruden Bay features massive dunes and a glorious seaside setting. This is one of the most anticipated days of the trip for yours truly.

We conclude this epic adventure with a round at the controversial Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeen.

The course was designed by Martin Hawtree and opened for play in 2012 but the development was heavily scrutinized by many conservationists throughout the process and that scrutiny continues to this day, with the fires fanned even more due to Trump's time in the White House. As a result, I will admit this is the course I'm least looking forward to on our trip but perhaps that's not entirely fair - I've heard plenty of accolades from people I greatly respect about the experience and even those who aren't effusive in their praise say they respect the course quite a bit. The landscape is supposed to be as dramatic as any in the world of golf so I will give it a fair chance. That said, it's the last course we see on our trip and for the sake of comparison, I came away feeling lukewarm about Kingsbarns in 2017 when it was the last course on that vacation so perhaps there will be some parallels in 2019.

15 rounds in 10 days...I may not be able to walk when I get back to Canada! I literally can't wait for this trip.

I don't have any other trips planned but hope to take some days off work here and there to see some courses in Ontario and in Western New York.

On my radar in Ontario would be hopeful first time visits to Redtail Golf Course near St. Thomas, Toronto Golf Club, the nine holes at Toronto Hunt Club, Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club and Summit Golf Club, among many others.

As far as Western New York, I've long wanted to play Country Club of Buffalo and also hope to visit Park Country Club and Crag Burn Golf Club.

The great thing about golf is that surprises seem to come every year. There is absolutely no chance I get to see all of those courses this year but I guarantee there will be other places I get the chance to visit that will surprise and delight. Hopefully I get the chance to play with some of my readers next year.

As for Now on the Tee, you can expect to see much more content in 2019, with my goal being an article every week.

That's right - I plan on writing 52 different pieces in 2019!

Despite my lack of output in 2018, pageviews were up almost 10% over 2017, our first increase since 2013. That said, we used to drive much more traffic to the site between 2007 and 2015, back when I posted more frequently.

The bulk of the content I have planned in 2019 will come in the form of golf course profiles. I have thousands of golf course photos in my archives that haven't seen the light of day and it's time to share them with my readers. I haven't profiled any of the Scottish courses I visited in 2017 so I'm going to start there, writing about my first-ever overseas round that took place at Western Gailes Golf Club on the Ayrshire coast.

From there, I plan on going to my readers to ask what you want to see - I'll likely put up polls on the Now on the Tee Twitter page so keep your eye out for that in the coming days.

I recently bought Luminar 3, the new photo editing software from Skylum that was on sale over Christmas. It's a very sophisticated program but pretty "newb" friendly, which is why I went in that direction over the seemingly more complex and robust Affinity Photo. The picture at the top of the page of Lookout Point was one of my first efforts using the new software and I think that photo came out looking pretty damn good! I'm really looking forward to going through my extensive library of photos and touching them all up before uploading them here for my course profiles.

I'm also planning to put a lot more work into my personal fitness, diet and my golf game in 2019. I'm turning 46 in April so improving flexibility, strength and endurance is going to be vital going forward. My handicap index is sitting at 4.8 right now and I want to start working on that - I'm thinking of signing up for lessons at my new club and taking advantage of the great practice facility at Lookout Point as well. I'm going to be getting fit for a new driver this year (special thanks to my old crew at St. Catharines G&CC for the amazing going away gift!) and may look into some other clubs, specifically a driving iron.

Thanks to all my readers for sticking with me. As indicated, you can look forward to seeing new content weekly here at Now on the Tee and I hope you come back often to read about my exploits.

I can't wait to see what 2019 brings!