Monday, August 29, 2011

Kiawah Island Club - Cassique

            Kiawah Island is a golf and beach resort located in South Carolina. It is home to 5 championship golf courses designed by Pete Dye, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio, Gary Player and Clyde Johnston. In addition to being home to The Ocean Course, which is ranked #45 in the world, the island also houses two additional, very exclusive golf courses. These two courses are part of the Kiawah Island Club and are the River Course, and Cassique. These two courses aren’t listed on the Kiawah Island website or in any Kiawah Island literature. The courses cannot be stumbled upon while on the island. They are set behind gates within gates and only a hard-to-get membership in the Kiawah Island Club can grant access. Tom Watson designed Cassique, which serves as his first solo design on North America. The course was ranked #85 in Golf Digest’s 2009-2010 America’s 100 Greatest Courses.
            Playing Cassique this past weekend meant that I have now played every course on Kiawah Island. Cassique is my favorite… Ocean Course included. The Kiawah Island Club golfing experience is about as high end as it gets. The course was named after a Kiawah Indian chief who hunted the lands before the British came and settled the Charleston area. The course features a massive clubhouse with one of the most impressive locker rooms that I have personally seen. Golfers from Jack Nicklaus to Tom Watson have lockers in the spacious locker room. Large flat-screen TV play SportsCenter above large couches and tables with the newest golf reading materials. There’s a small bar in one corner with another small bay with cigars and men to clean shoes in another corner. A large table with food, snacks, and drinks sit next to the exit. I only wish I had been able to take a shower in order to make a PowerShower rating!
            The golf course isn’t unreasonably challenging. Instead, Tom Watson did an excellent job of designing 18 very interesting holes that make one hell of a solid course. Watson gave the golfer a choice on the 4th tee that can change the routing of the course. Holes 4-6 can be played in two different ways, one being called Nip & Tuck and the other being called Pulpit. The Pulpit routing brings an extremely impressive par 3 into play (pictured below) with a tee perched on the highest point on Kiawah Island. Had I not been with a member and caddies, the routing options would have been a bit confusing. The par 3 5th is very high on my list of favorite par 3’s that I have played.
The pin is tucked on the left side behind the large hillside on the left.
            The 8th hole is a very challenging short par 4 due in part to a difficult and small green. A back right pin placement is a sucker pin with the back right portion of the green being only a few paces wide. The 9th hole has a massive false front, which makes for a very difficult approach. The large false front reminds me of the 11th hole at Country Club of Charleston (a Seth Raynor design), which is a difficult Redan hole par 3.  
            The 11th hole is a long 550-yard par 5. My very helpful caddie, Brian, said that he thought it was the strongest par 5 in South Carolina. I have played quite a bit of golf in South Carolina, and I would have to agree with him. The hole requires a draw off the tee and a fade for the second shot. Bunkers are placed strategically throughout the challenging hole, but none are placed in unfair positions. It is an extremely enjoyable and tough par 5. The 18th hole at Cassique is a gorgeous dogleg left par 4 that has a large lake short left of the green. I could go on about every single hole on the course. Nearly every single hole remains vivid in my memory - the sign of a great course.

            If given the chance, have a dinner in the Cassique clubhouse. The food was amazing and was served and ordered in a very Southern traditional style. Instead of individual entrees and appetizers being ordered, an assortment of menu items are ordered for the table and everything is passed around and shared by all the diners. It was an interesting take on the 5 star dining experience.

            Kiawah Island is one of my favorite places in the South. The resort golfing experience is completely different from any of the UK courses, but each has its merits, and I always take up any opportunity to visit Kiawah. 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Gullane Golf Club (Course No. 1)

*I did not have my camera during my first round at Gullane No. 1. I have since played all three courses at Gullane for University of St Andrews team matches, and I hope to return soon to write a more complete post.

Gullane Golf Club is located in East Lothian, Scotland and has three courses. Interestingly, the courses are numbered in order by age. The club was established in 1882, but golf is said to have been played on the site as early as 1650. Gullane No. 1 is the oldest course of the three and is considered my many to be the best. The course is very enjoyable, and was in great condition during my round in late July. The views on the course are stunning. The 7th tee box provides a stunning view looking at  Muirfield in one direction and the Firth of Forth in the other direction. The fact that Gullane No. 1 serves as a Final Open Qualifying venue whenever the Open Championship is at Muirfield speaks to its strength.

            There were very few weak holes at Gullane No. 1. The 3rd hole was recently voted one of the top 500 holes in the world by Golf Magazine. The 2nd hole is also very strong with a narrow fairway, working uphill towards a narrow, long green. The 17th hole is a downhill par 4 with a Redan hole style green complex.
            Gullane Golf Club is by no means unknown or a “hidden gem.” That being said, it most likely doesn’t appear on many golf tour company’s list of courses to play. This is most likely due to other, more famous courses being located in close proximity to Gullane. No. 1 is a gorgeous course and if you have time, play it! I played the course with a member and her son who is a very good friend of mine from St Andrews. After being beaten in a Stableford points match, we enjoyed a late lunch in the clubhouse. A great dinner at The Ship seafood restaurant in Edinburgh completed a very enjoyable day.
Gullane is a roughly 30 minute drive from Edinburgh, leaving very little for reasons not to make the drive and play. The entire East Lothian area, known as "Scotland's Golf Coast," is full of spectacular golf, and is certainly worth a visit.

On a side note, Muirfield doesn’t have a pro shop available to visitors on its grounds. Instead, Muirfield clothing and other paraphernalia can be purchased in East Lothian, sharing space with the Gullane pro shop. So, if looking to spend some extra money, pick up a Muirfield shirt and ball marker while spending time at Gullane Golf Club!  

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Other St Andrews Links Courses

            Imagine having an older brother who always gets more attention than you. You are one of seven siblings, but people always come to your house to visit him, not any of you. You are a very interesting person yourself, but you’re never given a chance. You are overlooked by nearly everyone. Every five years tens of thousands of people come to watch your older brother show off his goods. Living under his shadow is tough to deal with, but you struggle through it with the rest of your siblings.
            This is one way to imagine the relationship between the Old Course and the other six courses at the St Andrews Links. The other courses, especially the New Course and Jubilee Course, are overlooked and not given the credit they deserve. I would have added the Castle Course to that last sentence, but it has gained some limelight due to its recent construction and press. In this post I will be giving short write-ups of the other St Andrews Links Courses.

Jubilee Course:
            The Jubilee Course is considered by most locals to be the most difficult course at St Andrews. It is the closest course to West Sands Beach and is therefore the most exposed to the elements. The course has gorse lined, narrow, fairways and tough sloping greens. Dunes play a large role in the course design, which isn’t found on any of the other St Andrews Courses. The second green wraps around the side of a dune leaving very difficult approach shots depending on pin positions and angles in the fairway.
            The picturesque and very difficult ninth hole is a 225-yard par 3 from the medal tees. The green falls off steeply on the right side and has the tenth tee and OB lurking close on the left side. It is a very challenging hole leaving a difficult finish on the front 9. The short par 4 15th requires the player to think his way down the hole. The green is hidden from view off the tee by large dunes. A long iron off the tee leaves a short iron into a green with a massive false front and large dunes in the back.
            Breaking par on the Jubilee Course is very impressive. Depending on the wind, the back nine can be extremely difficult and yield some very high scores. Strangely, my lowest round in Scotland was shot on the Jubilee. If you’re in St Andrews and are looking for a good beating, play the Jub!

The New Course:
            The New Course is extremely underrated. It was built and designed by Old Tom Morris in 1895. The fact that many local St Andreans consider the New Course to be their favorite course speaks loads. Quite a few people consider it to be a better course than the Old. Its main weakness is its opening two holes. They are weak par 4’s that are nearly identical to each other apart from a few shifted bunkers.
            If the New Course was located somewhere else in Scotland, it would be considered one of the great Scottish links courses. Unfortunately, it lives under the shadow of its older brother. Similarly to the Jubilee, the 9th hole is a very difficult par 3. It is about 230 yards long and has the estuary to the left, and tall grass on the right. Luckily for the player, the green is a bowl, which can collect balls run up the center of the fairway. The 10th hole on the New Course in included on the list of the Golf Magazines 500 Best Golf Holes in the World.
            The finish to the course is very enjoyable and the 17th hole adds a challenge to the end of the round. If you are in St Andrews and you miss out on the ballot, try to play the New Course. Tee times are made on a first-come first-serve basis on the day of play. Many of the University club medals are played on the New Course. My first round in Scotland, which started my UK golf love affair, was played on the New!

The Castle Course
            The Castle Course is located ten minutes outside of St Andrews towards the Fairmont. David Kidd, the creator of Bandon Dunes in Oregon, designed the course that was opened in 2008. The course is set high above the water and features ocean views from nearly every single hole. The course opened to quite a bit of criticism because of its extremely tough and undulating greens. The greens were later redone and some of the unnecessarily difficult undulations were flattened out. Unlike many of the St Andrews locals and others who play the courses frequently, I really enjoy the Castle Course. I have been able to play it quite a few times and thoroughly enjoy getting out of town and playing the challenging beast. The course, even after multiple revisions, is still met with quite a bit of criticism from golfers.
            The final two holes are stunning and leave a good taste in the golfer’s mouth (even if the scorecard ruins that good taste…).  The 17th hole is a picturesque par 3 over a cliff line. The picture below will describe the hole design better than I can…
            If you are travelling to St Andrews for the first time, play the Castle Course in addition to the Old, New, or Jub. I wouldn’t recommend playing it in lieu of any of the other courses.

The Eden Course
            The Eden Course is an enjoyable round of golf and is not the most challenging course at the St Andrews Links. Tourists or other golfers taking trips around Scotland do not usually play the course. If you’re looking for a quick afternoon round, hop over to the Eden Course.

The Strathtyrum and Balgove Courses
            These courses at St Andrews are easy straightforward courses. The courses are typically played by new golfers whose handicaps are not low enough to play any of the other courses. The Balgove is only 9 holes. I wouldn’t recommend playing either of these courses unless you are in St Andrews for an extended period of time. For a reference, of the 120 or so rounds of golf I played at the St Andrews courses, I only played 1 round on the Strath. 

Carnoustie Golf Links

            Plenty has been written about Carnoustie’s Championship Course. In this write-up, I focus more on our overall experience along with the great generosity of the Scottish people.

            In Tom Coyne’s book, A Course Called Ireland, he speaks about a phenomenon he encountered in Ireland, which he refers to as “Acts of Uncommon Irish Hospitality.” During our round at Carnoustie, we experienced multiple Acts of Uncommon Scottish Hospitality. The day began by getting a bus to Dundee, which was followed with a bus to Angus, which was supposed to drop us off at Panmure Golf Club. The bus driver forgot to tell us where to get off the bus. This caused us to miss our tee time at Panmure. When we finally got off the bus, we found ourselves standing in the middle of Angus, annoyed and angry at Scotland’s public transportation system. Frustrated, we started walking down the coast, figuring that we would eventually hit Carnoustie Golf Links.

            The plan had been to play Carnoustie the following day, but we decided to ask the starter if he could work us out at any point without a tee time. He told us he had an opening at 2:30PM that afternoon and asked us to come back around 2PM. So, like any respectable golfers travelling Scotland, we hit the pub at 9:15 in the morning. There’s nothing like three or four bacon rolls and an equal number of pints to wake you up in the morning! The plan was to then venture out into the town and see if there was a cheap place to spend the night, hoping to play the course again the next day without having to travel back to St Andrews. This is where the Acts of Uncommon Scottish Hospitality started.
            Our first stop was Carnoustie Men’s Golf Club directly across the street from Carnoustie Golf Hotel. We decided we would ask the lady who ran the restaurant for advice on where to spend the night. She responded to the question by saying, “I would normally let you both stay in my sons' room! But they’re both back in town since it’s spring break. Sit down, have some food, and I will call some of my friends.” After being served a nice warm meal, she said that she had called nearly all of her friends with extra rooms, and couldn’t find anyone without guest. But, she had called the local Travel Lodge and they would be willing to give us a room for nineteen pounds. We thanked her profusely and made our way back to Carnoustie Links to give a PowerShower rating to their showers. Unfortunately, the showers in the locker room were poor lacking in shower pressure and heat. This led to a very poor PowerShower rating of 2. 
            I decided to take a caddie during my round at Carnoustie and looking back it was my best choice of the entire day. My caddie was the Carnoustie Caddiemaster, Martin Roy. He had been caddying at the links for over thirty years and had been inducted by the Professional Caddie Association of America into their Hall of Fame at a ceremony at the World Golf Village in St Augustine, Florida. He was the first non-American caddie to be inducted. He had caddied for everyone from George Bush Sr. to Tiger Woods. He got me around “Carnasty” in 77 strokes on a windy March day finishing double bogey - bogey. I have never seen anyone with more knowledge of a course. It was also very impressive how after only a few holes, he had a very good grasp on my golf game. This good grasp of my game led him to make some very impressive club calls that I never would have known to make.                                                                                                                  
            After the round he asked how we would be getting back to St Andrews that night. We explained our plan to spend the night in the Travel Lodge, to which he replied, “I was a student once. I know you’re trying to save money. Let me drive you back to St Andrews tonight.” St Andrews was a 45-minute drive back down across the Firth of Tay. He lived five minutes from the course. Saying that he earned his tip for the round would be an understatement! He drove us the entire way back to St Andrews and stayed while we took him out for a meal at the Grill House. It was experiences like this that made The Gauntlet very memorable. We ended up not coming back to Carnoustie for a round the next day, but we’ll be heading back as soon as possible. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Castle Stuart Golf Links

           Being in close proximity to both Dornoch and Nairn, Castle Stuart Golf Links is definitely the “new kid on the block” being only two years old. Located in Inverness, Scotland, it is a rural course, and is worth the long drive. When I was offered the chance to go play Castle Stuart with a group of St Andrews golfers for a mere 25 pounds, with free transportation, I jumped on the opportunity.

            The day we played the course was some of the worst weather in which I have ever played golf. We saw every form of weather, short of snow, during the four-hour beating.  There was hail which felt like getting shot with BB guns, horizontal rain which stung any exposed skin, high winds which put any shot above the ground at its mercy, and sunshine which made us sweat under our Galvin Greens. The moment at which I knew Castle Stuart was a good course was while standing on the 18th fairway, having lost eight or so balls, covering my eyes for fear of having them put out by hail, and thinking, “I wish I could go around again!”
            Six of the holes on the course are bordering water. These holes are truly on the water and when the tide is high, water can be splashing up next to the tee boxes, greens, and fairways. One of the best examples of this is on the first hole with a hillside of gorse on the left, and the water splashing on the player’s right. The 10th is a spectacular hole with the player hitting from an elevated tee down to the fairway, which has the water running down the entire left side. The remaining twelve holes that are not bordering the water are no letdown. The views are spectacular and each hole poses a challenge to the player. 
            The Scottish Open was just held at Castle Stuart. The course received tons of rain before and during the week, which led to a shortened event and very low scoring. I hope that this low scoring and the poor conditions don’t taint anyone’s view of Castle Stuart and what it has to offer. I will hopefully make a trip back to the rural location within the next year!

***A more extensive blog post with more hole descriptions and pictures will be posted upon a future trip to the course. 

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Getting a Tee Time on the Old Course?

Getting a tee time on the Old Course can sometimes be a confusing or difficult process. In this post I will do my best to explain the multiple processes of getting the coveted tee time. 
-You can enter the Old Course ballot by calling the links clubhouse before 2pm two days before your desired round. The chances of getting a tee time via the ballot during high season can be quite slim. Although, tee times for locals (students such as myself qualify as locals) are reserved in the mornings typically from 8AM-10AM as well as a block of time in the afternoon. This makes it easy for locals to get tee times via the ballot. If you come to St Andrews and struggle to get into the ballot, shoot me an email ( I can enter the local ballot with guests, and am always looking for a game with interesting people.

-During the off-season, the ballot typically doesn’t fill up and playing the course is easy and straightforward.

-Singles cannot enter the ballot, but can be put on a list to join 2 and 3-balls throughout the day. A typical busy summer day only has 15 or so openings for singles, therefore a queue at the starters box starts very early in the morning to be put on this singles list. People line up in the wee hours of the morning.
Dark Times:
-“Dark times” are tee times after the tee times end during which locals can go out and play. If all else fails and you aren’t able to get a tee time, head on down to the starter after the ballot times end and if you're lucky you can get in a round. However, play quickly so that you aren't playing the final holes in the dark.

Advanced Booking:
-A small number of tee times can be booked months in advance through the Links Clubhouse. In addition to these tee times, golf tour companies also have a small number of ballot times reserved on certain days. If you are willing to pay the hefty tour company price, you can grab a tee time.

Eating & Drinking in St Andrews, Scotland

             As a general rule, any restaurant with “House” on the end of the name is a good place to eat a nice dinner. Glass House (14-25 pound entrees), Grill House (10-18 pound entrees), Doll's House (14-25 pound entrees), Pitcher House (7-15 pound entrees) etc. The "House" restaurants typically also have very good low priced lunch deals. Zizi’s is a good Italian restaurant that is fairly consistent with good food and service. Bella Italia is a restaurant that can be found all around the UK. Unfortunately the Bella Italia in St Andrews is pretty hit or miss. I have had very good meals there and also very bad meals.
            The Dunvegan, Golf Place and Ma Bells, are all nice pubs to have a pint and some pub food. For a more “British feeling” pub, both the Central and the Criterion fill the niche. The Blue Stane replaced a pub known as The Raisin and advertises itself as a whiskey pub. For a dose of locals and history, a golfer can go to The Keys on Market St. The Keys has tons of history and has served drinks to everyone from R&A Captains to famous golfing names such as Old and Young Tom Morris. The Jigger Inn is a nice pub right off the 17th hole of the Old and is a great place for a pint after the round. Their burgers are also very solid. For nice, but pricier drinks, the Number 40 is the St Andrews Golf hotel bar. It is a nice place for a cocktail or whisky, but not the best for beer. Along the same pricey guidelines, the Old Course Hotel bar has a view that is hard to beat. The selection of single malts that can be found at the Old Course bar is impressive and unmatched elsewhere in St Andrews.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Royal Aberdeen

           The drive down to Royal Aberdeen from Cruden Bay was quick, beautiful, and seamless as we proceeded to our afternoon tee time. Work was being done in the main hallway of the clubhouse, so we proceeded to the gorgeous member’s locker room filled with old wooden lockers and threw on our shoes. We went from the locker room right out the back door, directly onto the first tee, which looks out to the sea. We were heavily anticipating what is rumored to be one of the best outward nines in the world of golf.
            The entire front side is full of solid holes that are cut deeply between large dunes covered in thick grass. An errant tee shot into the thick grass had little hope of being found. This required a reliance on the StrokeSaver and the advice we had received from the extremely helpful Pro who had checked us in at the pro shop. The front side didn’t possess a single weak hole. This led all the way up to the signature hole, the par 3 8th. It isn’t long, but is heavily bunked on either side of the very deep, but narrow, green. At first it seemed to be an easy par or birdie as we hit pitching wedges and 9 irons in, but after the hole didn’t yield a single par, we realized you can’t judge a book by its cover. The 9th hole is a dogleg right with bunkers down the left and dunes down the right. It is a challenging end to the front before heading back towards city of Aberdeen.
            With so much attention directed towards the front nine of Royal Aberdeen, I was actually expecting a disappointment on the inward nine. This wasn’t the case. I thought the back nine was a solid test of golf as well. It wasn’t the ironclad lineup of great golfing holes on the front, but it wasn’t the disappointment we were expecting. As we stood on the 18th tee we calculated that we were playing the 252nd hole of our “2011 Spring Break Golfing Gauntlet” as we had come to call it. Hugs and handshakes were exchanged on the 18th green as we headed into the clubhouse for our final PowerShower and pint of the Gauntlet.
            Royal Aberdeen scored a respectable 4 on the PowerShower rating scale. The final shower was enjoyable and served as a fitting end to an enjoyable and very memorable eight days of golf. As we sat in the clubhouse having a pint, we reflected on how much work and planning had gone into the golf trip, which had knocked out 7 courses on the Top 100 Courses in the World list. A great final day left a good taste in our mouth and a thirst for another insane golfing trip.

Cruden Bay

            Our trip up to Aberdeen began late Monday afternoon after an enjoyable round on the St. Andrews Jubilee Course. We hopped on the train and met our friend Charlie in the Aberdeen train station. We were able to spend the night with some of Matt’s distant family, and after a few pints of excellent homebrew and a night of sleep, we were ready to play some golf.
            We arrived at Cruden Bay bright and early eager to play another course ranked in the top 100 in the world. The elevated clubhouse overlooks the course and ocean in the background. A raised clubhouse overlooking the golf course is rare in links golf and can only be found a number of other places such as Castle Stuart and Kingsbarns (to a degree). We paid the 30 quid winter rate, changed shoes in the spacious locker room, and headed to the first tee. The first hole sets the tone with a demanding tee shot having gorse on the right and bunkers on the left. The 4th hole is a beautiful and difficult par 3 that requires a roughly 210 yard shot to a bunkered green with a large false front.

            All three golfers in our group struggled with Cruden Bay’s quirky and creative layout because we had never seen the course before. Even with the stroke saver, playing the course blind was incredibly difficult. Blind tee shots and large grassy dunes lining many of the fairways led to unnecessary bogies and doubles. A second visit to Cruden Bay will happen soon and the slight local knowledge gained will shave off at least 5 or 6 strokes. The design is extremely fun and quite a few drive-able holes can lead to plenty of birdies. Experience on the course would pay great dividends.
            The 8th hole is a short par 4 of about 285 yards that has its elevated green nestled into a hill surrounded on all sides by steep hills covered in gorse. Even being a long hitting group, we only had one birdie and Charlie managed to get it halfway up a hillside and then hit it back down onto the green. His climbing expedition up the hillside added some comic relief to the already enjoyable round. The view looking back down the hole from the green is of the ocean and Slains Castle which can be seen in the distance.
            Incredible sea views are presented on the tenth tee. Raised high above much of the back nine, the tee is the peak (literally) of the entire course. The beach and bay that can be seen on much of the back nine are visually impressive and for some reason it personally reminded of Kingsbarns Bay. A small burn snakes its way through the beginning holes of the back 9 and depending on the wind it can come into play quite often.
            On a negative note, many of the greens had been affected with snow mould over the harsh and snowy winter. This left nearly all the greens slow and bumpy. It also meant that the 2nd green and the famous 15th green were closed. The blind 16th par 3 was completely closed as well. Fortunately the 16th was replaced on the card with an absolutely stunning downhill par 3 with a backdrop of ocean and beach. We quickly realized that we would just have to suffer through to poor putting surfaces and enjoy the overall course experience.

            The design is so interesting and fun that you can almost picture Old Tom Morris sitting back and chuckling when he set out the original design for the course. The same can be said for Tom Simpson and Herbert Fowler who redesigned the course in 1926 to its current layout. We will be looking for any possible opportunity to play Cruden Bay again. The showers were a very respectable PowerShower rating of 6 and the towels were excellent. Playing it again with greens that are running better and a little local knowledge of where the holes go will make an even more enjoyable time. It would be very hard to find a more fun layout anywhere else in the world let alone the UK.  

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Gleneagles (Centenary & King's Courses)

   My first trip to Gleneagles began with a sour note on the train. We arrived at the Gleneagles train station and the train door would not open. We frustratingly proceeded to the next station 30 minutes down the tracks at Dunblane. The conductor then got off the train and asked why we had missed our stop. Upon explaining the situation, he said that he had forgotten to tell us only the first two cars opened at Gleneagles due to a shorter platform. (Word to the wise: Be in those first few cars if going to Gleneagles.) We took an expensive and time costly taxi back to the Gleneagles clubhouse. After such a hassle getting to the course, Matt and I had the same thought, “These courses better be pretty damn good.”

            The clubhouse is a very impressive building with open fires, great food, and an even more impressive locker room. The men’s locker room had a shower and sauna available in addition to great seating and views. The starter was very knowledgeable and told us that we would enjoy the morning round on the Centenary Course, which will hold the Ryder Cup.

            The course was in horrendous condition. The first fairway had been verticut and sanded, which left the fairway very uneven and almost impossible to find a patch of grass to place your ball. The first green was in horrific shape. It appeared to have been badly infected with poana and then been killed off. This left thousands of small dead spots with no grass. The green had also been aerated and seemed to have never healed properly. This combination of aeration holes and dead spots created a terribly uneven putting surface rolling about a 4 on the Stimpmeter. To our dismay every single subsequent fairway and green were the exact same on the Centenary course.
One of the better greens on the front nine
     It was a golfer’s nightmare. Fairways were so poor that it was impossible to draw a good lie. Greens were so poor that it was difficult to find footing let along putt. Grounds crews were adding irrigation piping on many of the fairways. The constant presence of people in the fairways became annoying after a few holes.

            A few enjoyable holes were able to lighten our mood and relieve the slowly building anger. The 9th was a visually impressive par 5. If the view hadn’t been obstructed by two massive New Holland tractors sanding the fairway with a small army of men brushing in the sand, it would have been better. The design of the Jack Nicklaus course left much to be desired. The course has had to be redesigned and “touched up” multiple times in recent years. The sub-air system, similar to ones used at Augusta National Golf Club, were added to the greens of the Centenary course to help with drainage. The system is a set of pipes under greens that suck out excess moisture. Hopefully it will help. Very few holes stand out on the course and I am afraid that it will be a disappointing Ryder Cup venue. What the course lacks, the hotel and facilities will make up for with luxury.

            The Gleneagles King’s course was in better condition, but had very slow greens. The par 68 course layout is genuinely fun. The James Braid layout features interesting green complexes and tests many different shots. The King’s course left a decent taste in our mouths after such a horrendous time on the Centenary course. The final holes of the King’s course had views of the visually impressive five star hotel. If only the golf had been similarly impressive.

Nearly a year after my initial visit to Gleaneagles, I went back to play the Queen's course. It is another short, but fun design with small greens and some tough approach shots. Golfers have to think there way around the Queen’s course. Few holes stand out in my memory weeks after playing the Queen’s course.
King's Course

I do not have many positive things to say about the golf at Gleneagles. None of the courses won me over and, with so many great options in Scotland, I would go elsewhere to play my golf. That being said, the hotel is of the highest quality and luxury, so if you have a weekend getaway at Gleaneagles, go play the King’s or Queen’s courses.


My round at Turnberry was early during my time in Scotland and this review needs more detail and photos. I will hopefully visit Turnberry again soon for another round.

My good golfing buddy Matt and I travelled down to the west coast of Scotland by train the night before our round at Turnberry. Due to ignorance and a strong will, we had decided to avoid taxis and walked four miles the previous night from the train station to our accommodation at the Ayr Travelodge. We ended up entering the Travelodge about midnight very tired and ready for a good night’s sleep. We were eager to get down to Turnberry to play the first of what would be a number of good rounds on the west coast.
Upon arriving at Turnberry, a visitor’s eyes are drawn to the impressive hotel on the hill overlooking the course and ocean. The locker room is massive and can accommodate the large number of visitors and members alike that play the course. The place exudes a resort feeling, which, while nice, stands in contrast to the small Scottish clubs in the area. Despite the well-equipped locker room, the PowerShower rating is a disappointing 3. We had a few very good bacon rolls overlooking the golf courses at Turnberry and settled into our great day.
The golf course begins with a fairly straightforward par four, easing the golfer into the impressive and difficult golf course. The second is another well-bunkered fairway that moves to the player’s left with views of the famous Ailsa Craig and the ocean to framing the hole. Good drives are required throughout the front nine in order to set up angles into the greens. It was difficult to score well at Turnberry having never seen the course. We were constantly referring to our Strokesaver, and I would recommend hiring a caddie. The famous 9th hole lived up to its legendary beauty with the recognizable lighthouse to the player’s left off the tee.
The 10th was one of my favorite holes. A downhill tee shot provides a great view down the dogleg left hole. The view looking back from the green is one of the best on the course.

The final stretch of holes is very enjoyable and the par 5 17th allows for a birdie chance before the round comes to a close. The 18th hole is named “Duel in the Sun” referring to the famous finish during 1977 Open Championship between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus. I channeled my inner Tom Watson and hit a pitching wedge tight for a final birdie on the 18th hole. sealed victory for myself and left a good taste in my mouth for the entire Turnberry experience.  

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Prestwick Golf Club

My rounds at Prestwick were early during my time in Scotland, and I hope to make it back to the course soon to write a more extensive hole-by-hole review.

Prestwick Golf Club is one of my favorite courses in Scotland. The club exudes golfing history and the course embodies the meaning of quirky Scottish links. The course was bred in its infancy by one of my heroes, Old Tom Morris. Prestwick hosted the first eleven Open Championships and its members were responsible for creation of the championship belt and claret jug. There are few courses with more early golfing history. Prestwick hosted its last Open in 1914.

I have been to Prestwick twice for a total of three rounds. My first visit was during a University of St Andrews Men’s Golf Club match against Prestwick Golf Club. The traditional match began with tea and coffee before a morning foursomes round. After the morning round, players put their coat and tie on for a large traditional lunch followed by kummel. After lunch it is back to the course for a second afternoon foursomes round. The traditional Scottish golf club match is a great full day experience. After many drinks, two rounds, and a great lunch, you have made friends at another club that can last a lifetime.
My second visit to Prestwick was three weeks later and I expected to be treated as an average anonymous visitor. Instead, upon arriving at the course, the club secretary immediately came out to personally greet Matt and myself. Recognizing my name from the starter sheet he said, “You just had to come back for more!?” We were served coffee in the members’ smoking room and then allowed to use the members’ locker room during our stay. It is this personal touch, matched with great golf, which makes Prestwick one of my favorite courses in Scotland.
I did not manage to take many photos during any of my rounds at Prestwick. The course gets mixed reviews from guests who come expecting great views and a modern championship track. This is the wrong attitude to adopt when playing Prestwick. Instead, embrace the history and quirkiness of the great place, and prepare yourself for plenty of blind shots.
I remember nearly every hole at Prestwick very well, but certain holes stand out in my memory. A stonewall runs down the entire right side of the first hole, making for a challenging opening tee shot. The 5th hole is a truly blind par 3 with a large hill standing between tee and green. Golfers know which section of hill to hit over using stone markers on the horizon line and a box on the tee marking pin positions. The 17th hole is another blind approach to a well bunkered and sloping green. These quirky holes add to the experience and the whole club has an ambience harkening back to the days of Old Tom Morris. The 18th hole is short and can be driven depending on the wind. It’s not the most challenging finish, but it leaves a great taste in your mouth to finish with a birdie! 

Dundonald is a  Kyle Phillips design on the Ayrshire coast. The course has a distinctly American feel, while also featuring the burns, dunes, and firm turf of a links course. It stands in stark contrast to Prestwick both in design and history, having only been built in 2003. It is owned by, and is a designated sister course of, Loch Lomond Golf Club. If in the Ayrshire area and looking for a very challenging and long course, check out Dundonald. We played the course on a very windy day, and we were beaten into submission on the back nine.

The picture posted below is a bunker behind a par 3 green on Dundonald. It was one of the deepest and smallest bunkers I have ever seen.

The Gauntlet

            What became known as “The Gauntlet”, was a golf trip taken by myself and one of my good golfing friends, Matt “The Collector” Birchall. The idea for the trip started during a round on the Old Course when I asked Matt if he’d join me for a round or two over Spring Break. The initial plan was to possibly take a trip to Carnoustie or even Turnberry for a single round. After weeks of phone calls, emails, and time spent planning, it grew. We ended up staring at an itinerary including 13 rounds of golf in 8 days without repeating a course. This in itself isn’t unheard of, but we didn’t have a car or a large budget, and the courses were spread hundreds of miles apart around Scotland.
            The Gauntlet included rounds at Turnberry, Prestwick, Brunston Castle, Dundonald, Carnoustie, North Berwick, Jubilee, Old Course, Muirfield, Gleneagles (King’s and Centenary), Royal Aberdeen, and Cruden Bay. We played 6 of the Top 100 Courses in the World during the tour. We learned countless things about travelling, golfing, and golf history in the process. We encountered interesting people and ended up playing and walking to the point of exhaustion. The act of playing that much golf isn’t incredible, but after every round we would call a taxi, walk to the next course if under a few miles, or walk to the nearest train/bus station. This exhausting marathon of post-round travel drained us, but didn’t deflate our extreme love for golf and great golf courses. After reading Tom Coyne’s book, A Course Called Ireland, in which he walks thousands of miles playing golf in Ireland, our weak little trip seems like nothing. That being said, we have 3 more years to chase that dream!
The 252nd and final hole of the Gauntlet at Royal Aberdeen

My Daily Life

            As a student of the University of St Andrews I am able to get a St Andrews Links Pass for 170 pounds. This allows me to play any of the seven St Andrews Links courses as frequently as I want, whenever I want. In the course of my freshman year, I played the Old Course 55 times and the other six courses roughly 40 times. With class only three days a week, I was also able to fit in numerous rounds on other great UK courses.
            I play for the University of St Andrews’ third golf team in addition to playing club matches. During club matches ten players are sent from the University of St Andrews Men’s Golf Club to play other golf clubs. These range from small local clubs all the way up to the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews and Prestwick. Club matches typically include a morning round on the course, a feast lunch, followed by an afternoon round. These club matches are a great way to play lots of UK golf and meet members at great courses.
            Combined with good academics at the University, there aren’t many other places that an avid golfer would rather have as a hometown!

Purpose of this Blog

              I am a 19-year-old sophomore at The University of St Andrews in St Andrews, Scotland. In this blog I will discuss many of my golfing experiences in both the US and UK. I will also offer guidance to anyone planning on taking a golf trip to the UK. I will critique golf courses, clubs, and towns in an effort to help fellow golfers in their pursuit of the addicting game of golf. I offer a different perspective on golf trips and courses from those of tour guides and even older golfers. During my first year in Scotland I played courses ranging from Muirfield and Turnberry to the grittiest nine-hole hidden links. I did all of this on a student budget and learned much about golf trips in the process. I aim to offer readers some of my knowledge.