WE WERE in Scot­land – 12 of us – to cel­e­brate the 40th birth­day of a good friend, Cameron Fer­gu­son. Cameron had cad­died for me when I won both the Aus­tralian Open and PGA ti­tles. And, much more im­pres­sively, he once spent nine months or so on the bag of Seve Balles­teros, a time that in­cluded a Mas­ters Tour­na­ment at Au­gusta Na­tional.

Any­way, the plan was for us all to take a golf trip to the home of golf – six from Aus­tralia, six from the US, where Cameron now lives. So we met at Ed­in­burgh Air­port and drove to St. An­drews, where we played the New Course. That was per­fect for me. Ev­ery time I go to Scot­land I have to play golf straight off the plane, jet lag or no jet lag, which makes sense to me. That’s why I’m there.

I’d played the New a few times be­fore as an ama­teur in the St. An­drews Links Tro­phy. I’m al­ways blown away by how good it is and by how much I en­joy it. It’s a won­der­ful lay­out, one of my favourite cour­ses in the St. An­drews area. It helps that you can see the Old Course to the left as you play the open­ing holes, but it is a ter­rific test in its own right.

From there, we made our way in our two eight-seater vans to the house we had rented in Elie. It is a great wee place, as are so many of the small towns on the Fife coast. They all feel like what I call “old school Scot­land.” Sit­ting in the lo­cal pub that night, it oc­curred to me that ev­ery­thing there is just dif­fer­ent and bet­ter when it comes to golf. Of course, it also helps that I don’t get to live that life all the time.

Ev­ery day we played a Pres­i­dents/Ry­der Cup style match be­tween the two “na­tions” in our party, one that ended up in an hon­ourable tie. My hand­i­cap was, as you might ex­pect, a source of some de­bate and con­tro­versy. A fair es­ti­mate, one even­tu­ally ac­cept­able to all, was plus-four. But that was ad­justed to plus-three be­cause I was car­ry­ing only a half-set of clubs.

On day two we played Carnoustie, which one week ear­lier had hosted the Dun­hill Links Cham­pi­onship on the Eu­ro­pean Tour. Then it was Kings­barns. Then the Cas­tle Course at St. An­drews. Then Lundin Links. Then, fi­nally, Elie. We en­tered the daily bal­lot to get onto the Old Course but none of us were suc­cess­ful on any of the three days we tried.

That was dis­ap­point­ing. The Old Course is my favourite place in the world to play golf. Maybe next time.

The high­light of the trip – for me at least – turned out to be Elie. I’ve been lucky enough to play a lot of golf in Scot­land over the years. And I’ve played a broad cross-sec­tion of cour­ses. But I had never been to Elie. I’d done Mus­sel­burgh, Prest­wick and North Ber­wick and most of the older cour­ses. But not Elie, which was founded in 1832.

The club­house and the 1st hole has to be the most Scot­tish thing there is. At some point you think that you have seen all of the “quirk” Scot­tish golf has to of­fer. But I’m not sure you ever re­ally do. The open­ing shot at Elie has to be fired blind over a mas­sive hill. It’s like hit­ting over a house, it’s so steep. Back in the day the club would em­ploy a young lad to stand on top of the hill and sig­nal when the fair­way was clear. Now, how­ever, there is a periscope next to the starter’s hut to do that job. Yes, a periscope, one that ap­par­ently came from a ship, the HMS Ex­cal­ibur.

It’s bril­liant, es­pe­cially for an ar­chi­tec­ture geek like me who loves all the “crazy” stuff you can’t build any more. You can even swing the periscope round and look across the Firth of Forth to Muir­field, Gul­lane and North Ber­wick. It re­ally is the most Scot­tish-links thing pos­si­ble. The hill was there. The hole had to go over the top. And they just worked some­thing out. It’s so unique and fun on a course that has some re­ally dra­matic and en­joy­able ocean holes.

An­other strik­ing as­pect of our trip was how wel­com­ing and kind the lo­cals were at each of our stops. Lundin and Elie – both mem­bers’ cour­ses – were bril­liant in that re­gard. They were just happy that we were happy play­ing their cour­ses. That is what it felt like. There was no sense that we were in­vad­ing their space. It was such a great vibe.

Some­times it is easy to for­get that golf is the na­tional sport in Scot­land. But there are con­stant re­minders when you go into the towns dur­ing the day. You see kids walk­ing down the street to the cour­ses car­ry­ing their clubs. In the pubs at night we saw guys stand­ing at the bar wear­ing golf shoes and talk­ing about their rounds. Bril­liant.

The favourite course for the Amer­i­cans in our group was Kings­barns, which is no sur­prise. For some­one go­ing to Scot­land for the first time, Kings­barns is a bril­liant in­ter­me­di­ate step be­tween US-style cour­ses and clas­sic links. It’s an ap­pe­tiser. It is a lovely course on a great piece of land. And it has all the com­forts Amer­i­can trav­ellers de­mand when they play golf. So it feels “nor­mal” to Amer­i­cans be­fore they move on to the older, more tra­di­tional venues. Start­ing on those is just too big a leap for most, I think.

Which brings me to the Cas­tle Course. We had a good time there and we were well looked af­ter on a course that gave me a view of St. An­drews I had never seen be­fore. But the holes were pretty dis­ap­point­ing. The greens are par­tic­u­larly ec­cen­tric (I’m be­ing kind). It is so dif­fer­ent from the other six cour­ses con­trolled by the St. An­drews Links Trust.

That ac­tu­ally got me think­ing. When peo­ple talk about “links golf” they tend to sug­gest that ev­ery sea­side course can be thrown into the same bas­ket. Not so. We played six cour­ses on this trip and they were all very dif­fer­ent. Links golf is ac­tu­ally more var­ied than park­land golf. Be­cause there are no rules. You can have 600-yard par-5s and 230-yard par-4s. You can have stone walls cross­ing holes. And you can have any num­ber of blind shots. Al­most any­thing is pos­si­ble. And that is the fun of it.

“Fun” is the word that sums up my time in Scot­land. I had never been on what you might call a “boys’ trip,” one where con­ver­sa­tions are dom­i­nated by tales of shots and putts. But it is one of the best things you can ever do. It doesn’t get any bet­ter than trav­el­ling, eat­ing and play­ing golf with your mates. In Scot­land, a coun­try that has re­tained so much of its green space. The towns and the vil­lages are so un­der­stated and charm­ing. They get the bal­ance be­tween qual­ity of life and stan­dard of liv­ing just right. I’ll def­i­nitely do it again.


One of the world’s most un­der-rated cour­ses – the New Course at St An­drews.

Carnoustie should be on ev­ery vis­it­ing golfer’s itin­er­ary.

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