A TO Z OF SCOTTISH GOLF
USE THE POD SYSTEM TO CREATE THE RIGHT ITINERARY FOR YOUR TRIP.
From the famous to the lesser known, advice about courses to play. By Stuart McLean
You’re going on your first golf trip to Scotland, but you’re undecided about where to play and how much to pay in the way of green fees.Even if the prospect of R4 000 to R6 000 a round playing all your bucket-list courses in one go doesn’t distress you,you might still want to reconsider whether a week of slowpaced championship golf on a restrictive schedule is the ideal golfing holiday.
The prospect of a week playing Turnberry,Troon, Carnoustie, Kingsbarns, the Old Course and Muirfield sounds outrageously attractive, and will have your golfing buddies green with envy, yet as an experienced Scottish traveller I would never plan something so ambitious. Never mind the credit card bill, that itinerary to me is golfing purgatory.
You will be playing six of the toughest links in the world in weather conditions that may very likely be unfavourable, as your tee times are booked and cannot be changed. If you’re there in the high season (May to October) the courses will be packed tight with fourballs and their caddies, many of them containing golfers who are high-handicaps and haven’t a clue about how to deal with the vagaries of links golf. If you’re spending five hours out there, the odds on experiencing a rain squall increases.
Once you’ve failed to break 90, or even 100, on the first day, your confidence has been eroded. You’re steering every shot. Deep bunkers with high faces scare the living daylights out of you. Searching for balls in thick rough and gorse on virtually every hole is frustrating and tiring. How do you stop the ball on these firm greens? Does the wind never stop blowing? When you wake up on day two your anxiety levels increase as you realise another day of the same stuff lies ahead. On your return home you might never want to play again, certainly not in Scotland.
The secret to an enjoyable Scottish golfing holiday is to organise your own itinerary, one which includes a varied selection of different courses, some challenging, others flattering, and having the flexibility to change your tee times after studying the forecast.At most golf clubs you don’t have to book far in advance to secure a tee time.You can even phone up on the day you want to play.
Yes, include two or three bucket-list venues, but make them the centrepiece of your holiday, so playing them takes on extra significance. Don’t commit the rookie mistake of having your first game in Scotland at Turnberry and ruin the experience with poor golf and a dozen lost balls because you’re rusty and nervous. Rather acclimatise yourself first on simpler, fun layouts, mixing with the locals, and get to Turnberry brimming with confidence about your game.
Scotland has the greatest collection of golf courses in the world for such a small country.There are hundreds of layouts you haven’t heard of that will fascinate you with their original design features.You will spot something unique at virtually every course you play. Scotland is where golf course architecture as we know it began, and its various features have been copied all over the world.
My recommendation for anyone planning a golf trip to Scotland is to explore the “other” courses, the ones where you can play 18 holes in 2-3 hours and make more pars and birdies than you ever experience back home. Where you play in a freewheeling style of blissful relaxation that afterwards makes you wonder why you don’t play like this all the time.
To be so independent you would have to rely on your own transport. If you’re a big group of eight or more golfers this might not be sensible, but then get yourself a coach and driver to take you around. It goes where you tell it.
The European Champions League soccer draw provided me with an idea of how to approach a Scottish golfing itinerary.All the clubs competing in the Champions League are placed into four different pods before the draw, so that the top clubs don’t get paired in the group stages.
I’ve divided 50 of my favourite Scottish courses into five pods.These are all quality layouts, although some names might be unfamiliar.The top two pods contain what I believe are Scotland’s best 20 courses.The idea then is to choose one course from each pod for five days of golf. If your trip is seven rounds, what I would then suggest is to either visit a course from my list of “fun gems,” treat yourself to an extra round at one of the big-name destinations, or simply stop at the first course you see and tee up.