Category: Scotland

July 16, 2013

Muirfield for the Masses: Royal Links and The Tribute

Posted at 8:19 PM by Joe Passov

The 9th hole at Royal Links in Las Vegas (right) mirrors the 5th hole at Muirfield. Credits: Getty (left), Walters Golf 

The obstacles to playing Muirfield are daunting.

Start with a flight to Scotland and finish with the club's notorious exclusivity. Visitor times are available on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but they're quite limited. You'll likely have to book a year out, and you may have to play foursomes as well, an alternate-shot format that's seen in the Ryder Cup, but not much at U.S. courses.

For those seeking a more feasible taste of Muirfield, two courses will satisfy, Royal Links ( and The Tribute. Dozens of replica, homage and faux-links courses are scattered across the U.S., but by my count, only these two deliver Muirfield holes.

Royal Links, a Walters Golf facility in Las Vegas, is a favorite of mine. Sure, you can roll your eyes about the entire concept of "Scotland in the Desert," but at many times of year, it works perfectly. Just ask David Feherty, who once told me, "Royal Links -- you go out there and if you close your eyes and forget that you really came here for the slot machines -- you can really believe that on a cool day, maybe that you're floating around in Scotland. I mean, hell, they've got pirates, they've got the Eiffel Tower, they've got the pyramids. Why the hell shouldn't you be in Scotland, and if you're in Scotland, you should be on a golf course."

True, the softer, more lush conditions and the high heat that defines summer in Sin City make the experience slightly less authentic, and the pine trees are more Rocky Mountains than Scottish links, but so what. The Royal Links experience is superb -- great fun in every way -- especially when you start with the only-in-Vegas, castle-like clubhouse. They pour Guinness and Newcastle at Stymie's Pub, to accompany the fish and chips, bangers and other across-the-pond favorites (though truth be told, they feature the best hot dog in the business, with awesome home-made chips -- crisps for those of you from the U.K.).

Still, you came to experience Muirfield and that's what you'll do at No. 9. Inspired by the par-5 5th at Muirfield, Royal Links' 9th is beautifully rendered. The back tee distance of 567 yards is nearly identical to Muirfield's 559, and the bunker strategies, shapes and placement compare favorably. Humps and hollows check out, as does the two-tier green.

My most recent Royal Links visit was in late March, on a cool, breezy, overcast day with a hint of raindrops. The ninth hole couldn't have looked any more Scottish. Muirfield's 5th is actually the least celebrated of its three par 5s, so it was an interesting pick for owner Bill Walters and designer Perry Dye, but it's a spirited risk/reward hole -- on both sides of the pond.

The second U.S. public course that serves up a plate full of Muirfield is The Tribute (, a Tripp Davis design in the northern suburbs of Dallas. As with Las Vegas, the wind is a frequent, if nearly constant factor here, so it's easy to envision playing links-style golf if ground conditions permit it. For the most part, The Tribute lives up to its billing.

The first hole mirrors the opener at St. Andrews' Old Course and does a great job as impressions go. So do a slew of other holes. As with Vegas, The Tribute can lack Old World authenticity when it's too hot and soft, but overall, especially with the vast and very visible Lake Lewisville factoring in, this is faux-links fun at its finest.

The Tribute dishes out a double dose of Muirfield. Its 9th hole mirrors Muirfield's 9th, both outstanding par 5s, replete with a long, low stone wall down the fairway's left side, exquisitely placed bunkers and native fescue grasses awaiting the errant shot. One difference: Muirfield built a new back tee for 2013, so the hole now plays 554 yards. The Tribute's is 505.

Hole No. 14 at The Tribute mimics one of the world's great par 3s, Muirfield's 13th. Yardage is similar, 201 yards, to Muirfield's 190, and so is the long, narrow green. Most impactful are the gaping bunkers that frame either side of the green.

If a round at Muirfield isn't in the cards anytime soon, don't despair. Royal Links and The Tribute are worthy alternatives.

October 16, 2012

Deal of the Month: Fairmont St. Andrews

Posted at 2:59 PM by Joe Passov

Behold the ultimate good news/bad news deal. The good news: the Fairmont St. Andrews Winter Golf Package guarantees tee times on the Old Course at St. Andrews, an iconic track that's sky-high on any golfer's list of Must Plays.

The (possibly) bad news: You'll have to play the Old Course from rubber mats, in order to protect the fragile turf.

And the weather could be dicey for an offer that runs from November 6 through March. But I look at it this way: You get to play the famed Old Course — encountering every burn, bunker and green you've seen on TV — as well as stay in a terrific cliff-top hotel. And who knows — fickle Mother Nature might just give you a November day that feels like an afternoon in June.

The package includes two nights' lodging, a full Scottish breakfast in the Squire Restaurant, and 18 holes each on the Old, New and Jubilee courses. November rates start at 239 pounds ($379) per person, per night, based on double occupancy with a minumum of a two-night stay.

011 44 1334 837000,

(Photo: Eric Hepworth)

July 10, 2012

Trump's long-awaited Scotland links is almost as impressive as the Donald says it is

Posted at 5:30 PM by Joe Passov

Trump International Golf Links Scotland is the "world's greatest golf course." It must be. It says so on Trump's website. In reality, Trump Scotland won't soon unseat Pine Valley from the top spot on our world list, but it has a solid head start.

Related Photos: More stunning pictures of Trump's course

Begin with a lush seaside site boasting the tallest dunes of any course in Scotland. Add the formidable design skills of Martin Hawtree, the venerable Brit who has reworked dozens of classic links, including five Open rota layouts. And don't underestimate Trump's passion for this project — his pockets are deeper than a pot bunker, and he has a special affection for Scotland, his mother's birthplace.

The course and conditions will deliver a stern test — the northeast Aberdeenshire coast is among the country's windiest, and the fairways are far from Castle Stuart–wide. Still, there's enough room to maneuver, even from the way-back tees, many perched atop massive, marram grass–covered sandhills. Visit the tips for views of the North Sea and the rugged coastline, then play shorter tees to better appreciate holes 3, 6 and 13, a trio of gorgeous par 3s. For all the hyperbole, Trump Scotland may eventually turn out to be almost as good as advertised.

Trump International Golf Links Scotland
Aberdeenshire, Scotland
7,423 yards, par 72
Green fees: $240-$322

(Photo: Brian Morgan)

October 07, 2011

10 Courses Worth Arguing About

Posted at 6:13 PM by Joe Passov

Diamond Travelin' Joe has played more than 1,500 courses and has an opinion on each of them. Here are five that deserve more love, and five high-profilers that puzzle me.


1. Black Diamond (Quarry), Lecanto, Fla.
After years of high rankings, some have found flaws in this Diamond (pictured). Outside of homes encroaching on the front nine and perhaps some hit-and-miss conditioning, I can't see them, even with a jeweler's glass.

2. Blackwolf Run (River), Kohler, Wisc.
The River has suffered from three factors: a brief closure for renovation in '09, the splintering from its original 1988 layout and inevitable comparisons to its sibling, Whistling Straits. When the U.S. Women's Open visits in 2012, competitors will rediscover one of Pete Dye's greatest strategy-laced creations.

3. Desert Forest, Carefree, Ariz.
This favorite of Tom Weiskopf is the closest thing the Arizona desert has to a classic course. While narrow and framed with mostly trees and unplayable underbrush, it does put supreme emphasis on thoughtful ball placement. This low-profile 1962 design was ahead of its time.

4. The Country Club, Pepper Pike, Ohio
No designer in history built better gooseneck green complexes than William Flynn, the kind where only properly placed drives would reap the benefit on the approach. He did brilliant work on this suburban Cleveland layout, where a recent renovation makes it worth a look.

5. Prestwick, Ayrshire, Scotland
The quirkiest "championship" course violates every rule of modern course design, yet succeeds in the "fun" department better than most highly-ranked courses. Long, blind par 3s, oncoming trains in the line of play, the freakishly deep, hidden bunker guarding the "Alps" 17th green—it all adds up to greatness in my book.


1. Colonial Country Club, Ft. Worth, Tex.
Storied Colonial has slipped in the respect department over the years, and I can see why. I love the Hogan aura and mystique, but this flat, cramped layout doesn't really inspire architecturally, nor does it sufficiently test the pros. Even par used to contend. Now, it won't even make the cut.

2. Sutton Bay, Agar, S.D.
Blame nature for the demise of one of the most acclaimed new courses of the past 10 years. Tragically, this 2003 Graham Marsh bluff-top prairie design is literally breaking apart due to fissures in fairways and greens caused by shifting landforms and will likely soon be abandoned.

3. Royal County Down, Newcastle, Northern Ireland
One of my personal favorites combines unmatched beauty and brawn, but wow—when the wind blows, the many blind, narrow, gorse-guarded valley fairways and infamous eyebrow bunkers make for a march of holes that are relentlessly penal.

4. Carnoustie (Championship), Carnoustie, Scotland
I have friends, all better players than I, who place Carnoustie on the top rung. Yes, it's great, but its lack of sea views, the overly punishing, artificial looking bunkers, and the strangely placed water features menacing the final two holes all leave me cold.

5. World Woods (Pine Barrens), Brooksville, Fla.
This is one of the nation's best values, but I'm surprised it hangs on to its lofty rankings since so many superior public and private courses have emerged in the past 18 years. The solitude, risk/reward options and Pine Valley-esque features remain appealing, but their novelty has long since faded for me.

(Photo: John and Jeaninne Henebry)

September 22, 2011

Ask Travelin' Joe: Scotland, Columbus, London and Santa Barbara

Posted at 5:13 PM by Joe Passov


Hi Joe,

I'm planning a trip to the UK with my wife, who grew up in England. After a lot of pleading on my part, she's agreed to head up to Scotland for a few days. Outside of the British Open courses, I'm lost. Any recommendations on two, maybe three rounds of golf on this once-in-a-lifetime trip?
Jess D. Brown, via e-mail

Hold your head high, fella—you're going to St. Andrews! Now, I still say the region's two Open sites are mandatory. If you can't snare a tee time on the Old Course, at least soak up the experience by walking much of the course, or all of it on Sundays when it is closed to play. Carnoustie (£135/$220; 01144-1241-802270,, the seven-time Open venue 45 minutes up the coast, is your must-play blast of brutish links golf.

Closer to town, Kingsbarns (£185/$302; 01144-1334-460860, offers an arresting blend of old-fashioned, contour-heavy holes and modern spectacular seaside tests, such as the par-5 12th and the all-or-nothing, practically in-the-sea par-3 15th.

A dozen other enticing options await in the area, including the 116-year-old "New" course at St. Andrews (£35-£70/$57-$114; 01144-1334-466666, For a taste of pure quirky charm, I'm partial to Crail's Balcomie Links (£57-£72/$93-$118; 01144-1333-450686,, which amuses with blind shots, holes that cross each other and Firth of Forth panoramas at every turn.

Dear Joe,
I'm heading to Columbus, Ohio for a wedding. A buddy of mine is getting married to a member at Muirfield Village, so we get to play there one day. Any other courses you'd recommend?
Matt Garretson, via e-mail

Pfffffft. That's the air seeping out of your bubble, because any public course in the region will be a colossal letdown after teeing it up at Jack's Place. The only track that comes close is Longaberger ($64-$99; 740-763-1100, in Nashport, a 45-mile drive east that's worth the journey. At 7,243 yards, with Tour-level (if not Muirfield-level) conditioning, this Arthur Hills design succeeds on every level, from price to shot values. Most memorable are the 563-yard, par-5 4th that plummets 15 stories from tee to green, and the watery 444-yard, par-4 8th.

Columbus's second-tier publics are pretty strong, but I'm partial to the Donald Ross-designed Granville ($28-$55; 740-587-4653,, a layout that comes with both Old World charm and bargain basement prices.

Dear Joe,
I'll be traveling to London this summer. I'm looking to play a seaside links course at a reasonable price that's also within reasonable driving distance. I've looked into Prince's Golf Club in Sandwich and it seems to be a good course at a good price. Do you agree with that? What other courses would you suggest?
Sam Dostaler, Plainville, Conn.

At $122 midweek, a price that includes coffee, a bacon roll and a gift bag, Prince's (£75-£85/$122-$139; 01144-1304-611118, is certainly worth the 100-mile drive from London's Gatwick Airport. However, I'm not going to crown Prince's as the value king of England's southeast coast just yet. This 27-holer is a sturdy test and dishes out memorable views of Pegwell Bay, but it's not the same layout that witnessed Gene Sarazen's 1932 British Open win. That course was obliterated in World War II. While Prince's is separated only by a boundary fence from 2011 Open venue Royal St. George's, it's a low-profile, flattish layout without the giant sand hills and memorable holes of its neighbor.

If you can't swing Royal St. George's $245 green fee, then consider Royal Cinque Ports (£125-£150/$204-$245; 01144-1304-374007,, 15 minutes south, in Deal. This two-time Open venue (1909 and 1920) serves up links delights in abundance, with topsy-turvy terrain, plateau and punchbowl greens and an ancient Roman road that parallels the par-4 12th.

Dear Joe,
I have a friend who lives in San Francisco, and I'm in San Diego. We're thinking of planning a three-day, five-round weekend golf trip somewhere in the middle. Do you have any suggestions on courses between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara? We're looking for value on all parts of the trip.
Michael Lilien, San Diego, Calif.

Anchor your trip around Monarch Dunes in Nipomo ($35-$95; 805-343-9459,, 70 miles north of Santa Barbara. Sandy soil, coastal dunes, artfully positioned bunkers and eucalyptus trees that swat away stray shots spice the proceedings. Don't neglect the resort's par-3 course ($19-$30), a 12-hole layout with superb one-shotters and a set of wild greens.

Also check out La Purisima ($40-$110; 805-735-8395, in Lompoc, a brute (75.6/143) from the 7,105-yard tips that can be walked for $40 after 2 p.m.; and the River Course at Alisal ($45-$72; 805-688-6042,, where Miles and Jack from the wine-buddy movie Sideways struck their crooked shots and cursed Merlots.


July 24, 2011

Scotland Golf Trip, Part IV: North Berwick Golf Club

Posted at 8:52 AM by

The view from No. 6 tee, with the island of Fidra in the distance.

By Charlie Hanger

After a two-hour drive from St. Andrews, we squeezed into the last parking spot on the road that borders the 18th fairway at the North Berwick Golf Club at 11:45 a.m. We were fairly confident that any sliced shots from 18 would clear the car, and that any passing cars would likewise be able to clear our rear bumper, but we were definitely vulnerable on both sides.

As we stretched our legs and put on golf shoes, a local man walking his dog struck up a conversation, asking where we were from and where we’d played, and telling us about his dog. The dog, it turns out, used to have drug-sniffing duty at a prison. On one occasion, after his retirement, he fixed himself next to a North Berwick laborer who was out for a smoke. The worker asked: “What’s wrong with your dog?” Our friend replied: “What are you smoking?” The conversation ended quickly.

The difference between North Berwick (pronounced BEAR-ick) and St. Andrews was pretty much summed up in the details of our arrival. The Old Course and the town of St. Andrews have managed to remain charming, but they are undeniably tourist attractions for golfers and non-golfers alike. In St. Andrews, you’re more likely to strike up a conversation with another American than an avuncular local walking past your car as you change shoes.

The North Berwick Golf Club, founded in 1832, is a central feature of and source of pride for the prosperous town, which has many residents who commute to Edinburgh, but the historic club is not a draw for the casual traveler looking to snap a picture of someplace famous. It’s about the golf.

Despite its rich history and stunning links course, the club is utterly without pretense, and the people couldn’t be more welcoming. If you get a caddie, it’s likely to be a member looking to pick up some exercise and a couple of extra quid. Visitor tee times are available Monday to Friday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.; Saturdays from 3 to 6 p.m.; and Sundays from noon to 6. Greens fees April through October are £85-115, or about $140-190. For more information, visit

After a sandwich with Chris Spencer, the club’s managing secretary, in the upstairs bar and grill, which offers grand views of the course and the Firth of Forth, we headed to the first tee of the West Links, where Dr. Peter Keeling, the club’s captain, met us. Both of our hosts played off a 5 handicap, so we paired up for a friendly, no-stakes match — Chris and I vs. Brad and Peter.

Berwick starts with a bang. Like St. Andrews, No. 1 and No. 18 share a fairway, so there’s plenty of room to miss left. To the right are the ocean and the beach, which is in play everywhere at North Berwick. After a tee shot down the left side, we needed short irons into a very elevated green sitting on a cliff. All four of us were on in regulation and made two-putt pars.

Berwick-no10 The most striking views are out to sea, where rocky islands come into view. Bass Rock, white with the tens of thousands of gannets and other sea birds that live there, is to the east; Craigleith is directly north of the first hole; and Fidra, which is said to be one of the inspirations for Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, is to the west. (At right, the view from 10 tee, with Bass Rock in the distance. Click to enlarge.)

The beach also runs the length of the right side on No. 2, a 414-yard par 4, but it was the third where we first encountered the course’s most distinctive design element, an old stone boundary wall, about three feet high. (Golf has been played on this land for hundreds of years, but not always in the present layout.) The stone wall runs the width of the fairway on No. 3, a 444-yard par 4. A good drive will land within 20 yards of it, leaving an approach shot that must clear the wall on its way to the green. It’s not a particularly difficult shot, but hitting over a wall on purpose is a new and somewhat exciting proposition.

On No. 4, a par 3 that shares a tee box with the 15th, things started to go wrong for me. I hit an ugly pull off the tee and skulled my second into deep grass. It was gone, putting me out of the hole as far as our match was concerned. I picked up and was granted a “double” on my card that should’ve been even worse. I was basically along for the ride for the rest of the nine, making bogeys and others as Chris carried me in our match.

After going out in 43, a number that would’ve been higher if not for the charity of the scorekeeper, I strung together some pars, but Brad and Peter took the lead in our match.

Berwick-no13-combo On No. 13, a 362-yard par 4, the wall comes into play again in a most interesting way. It runs parallel to the left side of the fairway, but the green is on the other side of it. You have to land your approach just over the wall to hit the green, and mis-hits or weak fades could end up snookered against the stones. I got my shot onto the green and managed a long two-putt. (At right top is the view from the fairway, with the flag barely visible to the right of the players. Below is a view of the green. Click to enlarge.)

No. 15, a par 3, is the original Redan hole, copied many times around the world. Course architect Charles B. Macdonald, who is famous for his Redans, described the style this way: “Take a narrow tableland, tilt it a little from right to left, dig a deep bunker on the front side, approach it diagonally and you have a Redan.”

The 15th at North Berwick is well bunkered and usually demands a carry to the front right of the green. My shot was left of the flag but managed to stop in good position for a two-putt par.

Berwick-no18-clubhouse The 16th and 17th are both challenging par 4s, and the 18th is a drivable par 4 that is reminiscent of the 18th at St. Andrews, only shorter. Directly behind the green is the grand old clubhouse, not quite as imposing as the R&A, but still a striking building to come home to. (That's it at right. Click to enlarge.) My drive was just short and left of the green, and I putted from the fairway, leaving myself about eight feet for birdie. I pushed it and settled for par, giving me 38 on the back. Quite a way to finish, and Chris and I won the match.

We had a great time on another charming and playable links, but I knew that we’d only seen one side of North Berwick. We had challenging winds but not the 60 mph gusts that sometime buffet the place. We had intriguing pin positions, but there were many more to choose from. We had played most of the length, but not the championship tees, which are only for members on their competition days.

"You could play this course five days a week for the rest of your days," Spencer said as we walked up the 18th fairway, "and never get bored."

He was right, and as we headed for the Edinburgh airport Novotel to finish packing for our Friday morning flights, I envied North Berwick’s members and their access to the ever-changing, quirky old links.

Final notes on North Berwick: The club also has a nine-hole par-3 course for juniors. Adults are only allowed if accompanied by a junior, and the greens fee is only £2. The course is lined with grand Scottish mansions, some of which have been partitioned into flats, as well as the imposing Macdonald Marine Hotel and Spa, a beauty with excellent views of the course and the water. For more information and photos of the course, check out this excellent review on For maps and satellite images, see Google maps.

July 22, 2011

Scotland Golf Trip, Part III: The Old Course at St. Andrews

Posted at 10:24 AM by

Hell-Bunker By Charlie Hanger

My caddie, Nelson, was right, but I shouldn't have listened to him.

Standing on the first tee with Brad and the Chicago couple we'd been paired with, as well as the other three caddies, Nelson was worried that my driver could reach the Swilcan Burn on the first hole at the Old Course (£140, roughly $228.). He wanted me to take an easy 3-wood down the middle. (Brad and I had asked about playing the back tees, but the starter said only single digits were allowed. Brad is a nine and could have played them, but he stuck with me, an 11, on the yellow tees.)

Deep down, I longed for the comfort of my gigantic new driver, but his logic was spot on, so I went with the 3-wood. I was up first, with an audience, on the most famous course in the world. I took a nervous swing and hit it off the hosel, a dead-left shank (yes, I invented a new shot) that went skitting across the first and 18th fairways and stopped a few yards short of the road and out of bounds. The starter, in what my caddie told me was an unprecedented moment of generosity, offered me a breakfast ball. I declined.

Going for the green with my second was out of the question because of the burn, so I took out my 6-iron. I hit it flush, into perfect position, then wedged on and two-putted for bogey. Disaster averted, we moved ahead to No. 2.

A light mist was falling, it was 50 degrees and the sky was socked in with thick gray clouds -- exactly the conditions I wanted for my round on the Old Course. I still hadn't bought a rain jacket, so I was hoping the mist wouldn't get any heavier. It stopped during the first few holes, and we played in nearly perfect links conditions -- overcast, cool, and only slightly windy.

Road-Hole-Bunker My second through sixth holes were steady but mediocre -- five more bogeys, so I was six over through six. I rallied with pars on the par-4 seventh and par-3 eighth, and I drove the 289-yard, par-4 ninth and made a two-putt birdie for a 41 on the front nine.

After nine holes, I was surprised at how playable the Old Course was. It's tough, and has nasty hazards, but our group sailed around without any major disasters. The wind was mild when we played, and the rough was not at Open Championship length, so we didn't see the Old Course at its meanest. Still, it was a surprisingly accessible place, especially if you hit the ball right to left. Brad's caddie, a Euro tour veteran named John, called it a "hooker's paradise," and he was right -- we missed several shots left that didn't really hurt us at all.

I started the back nine par-bogey-double bogey-bogey, four over for Nos. 10-13. Then came the par-5 14th, home of the Hell Bunker. I pulled my drive into some tall grass, and Nelson told me to take a hybrid. I striped it right at the flag, but it came up short and nestled into the thick grass on the good side of the Hell Bunker (pictured above). I hit a 56-degree wedge shot from there that miraculously checked up about 15 feet from the hole. I rolled it in for birdie, my second of the day on the Old Course. I could've quit happy right there.

Swilcan-Bridge A par and a bogey later, I was on the tee of the Road Hole, No. 17. Nelson told me to take a conservative line, over the left edge of the old railway sheds that are now part of the Old Course Hotel. The more aggressive play was right over the middle of the sheds, but that would bring out of bounds into play on the right side. I had a little more draw than I wanted but still had a relatively easy shot into the green. I hit it fat, however, leaving myself well short of the green. My putt from off the green was short as well, and I two-putted for another bogey. With that, we headed to the 18th.

I hit a low screamer of a drive on 18 into good position and, after taking our obligatory photos on the Swilcan Bridge, we walked to our balls. I had just a 9-iron left. With an audience of tourists watching behind the green, I hit it fat (of course), so I chipped on and two-putted for a back-nine 42 and a total of 83. It was a disappointing end to a nearly perfect day on the most famous, and fun, course I'd ever played.

Haggis One final note: On Thursday afternoon, I finally bought a rain jacket at one of the many golf shops in town, virtually guaranteeing that it wouldn't rain again on this trip. I also tried haggis for the first time at the The Dunvegan, the world-famous bar and grill (and hotel) in St. Andrews. Served with neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes), it was delicious. Inspired by Darren Clarke, I had a Guinness as well.

Up Next: Thursday

Leaving St. Andrews for a final round at the North Berwick Golf Club.

Part I: Kingsbarns | Part II: The Duke's and The New Course

(Photos: Charlie Hanger)


July 21, 2011

Scotland Golf Trip, Part II: The Duke's and The New Course

Posted at 3:03 PM by


By Charlie Hanger

Before heading to St. Andrews, it's important to know the distinction between the Old Course Hotel and the Old Course. The hotel, a Kohler property, is as close to the 17th hole as physically possible but is not able to guarantee tee times at the Old Course or the other links tracks, which are public and controlled by the St. Andrews Links Trust.

The hotel's official course is The Duke's (£115, roughly $185), an inland or "heathland" layout about 15 minutes away. It's an interesting change of pace, and possibly the most challenging course in the area. Originally designed by five-time Open champ Peter Thomson, and revamped by Tim Liddy for a 2006 reopening, The Duke's (pictured above) features sweeping views of the town of St. Andrews and the coastline.

We were the first group out a little before 8, and we thought we were playing fast until the sixth hole, when two 60-something women and their dog, Gatsby, caught us. We were searching for my ball, which was nestled in tall grass on the lip of one of the course's many bunkers, when they appeared on the tee. We waved them through and didn't see them again the rest of the day.

Bunker-Failure_298x216 It was good they went ahead because our round involved a lot of searching. In addition to all the defenses the links courses have -- deep bunkers, wind, tall grass, gorse -- The Duke's has trees and relatively fast greens to contend with.

We finished our round exhausted from our many swings and vowed to play better in our afternoon round at the New Course. After lunch of steak pie and Scotch broth at The Duke's bar and grill, we headed back to the Old Course Hotel to talk to the golf stewards. These indispensable members of the hotel staff are dedicated to helping guests navigate the local courses. After assuring us that we had been entered in the ballot for Wednesday's tee times at the Old Course, they arranged our 2 p.m. tee time at the New Course and shuttled us there in a hotel van.

The New Course (£70, roughly $113) is relatively easy to get on, and in many people's opinions, just as good if not better than the Old. A classic links layout from 1895 that was "set out" by Old Tom Morris himself, the New's first hole is right next to the Old's second, and the two courses run parallel for much of their layouts.

The course is mostly straight and flat and slightly scruffier than the more manicured Old Course, but its pot bunkers, gorse, heather, wild flowers, and shared greens and fairways made for a true links experience. (As you can see from the shot above, the pot bunkers were too much for me. This shot nearly hit me on the ricochet off the bunker face, but the next one got out.)

Umbrella_298x173 As we neared the end of the front nine, we saw a huge storm brewing in the distance. It seemed frozen in place but troubling, seeing as I had yet to get that rain jacket. We hoped for the best and we headed to the back nine.

At No. 14, the rain caught us. Walking in wasn't an option, so we put on whatever gear we had and soldiered on in a downpour. I would've paid anything for a good rain jacket at that moment.

The rest of the round was a blur as we hurried to finish and get out of the weather. Afterward, we trudged back to the hotel across the Old Course, where several other groups of pilgrims were finishing their rounds come Hell Bunker or high water.

Back at our room, we were soaked and exhausted, but we found an envelope that had been slipped under our door by the hotel staff: we'd won the ballot, and we had a 7:30 a.m. tee time for the Old Course. Our week was made.

Up Next: Wednesday
A near whiff on the first tee of the Old Course, a nearly perfect day on the links and a first taste of haggis.

Part I: Kingsbarns

(Photos: Charlie Hanger)

July 20, 2011

Scotland Golf Trip, Part I: Kingsbarns

Posted at 5:32 PM by


By Charlie Hanger

On Monday after the British Open, I drove to Heathrow with three colleagues. As they took flights back to the States, I headed to Edinburgh on a noon flight. My friend Brad Reagan, who had flown in earlier to play North Berwick and watch the Open with the locals, met me at the airport, and from there it was an easy and scenic drive to St. Andrews for the start of a four-day golf trip. Here is the first of a four-part diary.

We checked in at the Old Course Hotel, so close to No. 17, the Road Hole, that sliced drives bang onto the metal roof on the first floor and guests enjoying the view from their balconies are wise to keep an eye out for incoming shots. This is the place made famous by, among other things, years of British Open broadcasts in which pros use the hotel's sign as an aiming point for their tee shots, which carry a corner of the structure.

After dropping our bags, we headed to Kingsbarns for a 5 p.m. tee time and our first round of the trip.

It stays light until about 10 p.m. here this time of year, so we had plenty of daylight. On the way to the course, about 20 minutes southeast of St. Andrews, we considered stopping at one of the many golf shops in town to pick up a rain jacket. I'd failed to get one before leaving the states and had balked at the prices for the British Open-logoed models at Royal St. George's. The forecast was good, and the tee time was fast approaching, so we drove on. (We would regret that decision 24 hours later, but we'll get to that in Tuesday's post.)

Kingsbarns, a Kyle Phillips design that opened in July 2000, is a truly spectacular place, with prices to prove it. At £185 (about $300), it’s a splurge, but the views alone are worth the price. With five oceanfront holes and countless stunning views of the North Sea, it's a rolling links that's challenging without being punitive. My favorite holes were No. 3, a par 5 with the ocean running the length of the right side; No. 12, another oceanfront beauty that's reminiscent of the 18th at Pebble Beach; No. 15, a 185-yard par 3 that requires a shot over beach and water; and No. 18, a par 4 fronted by a severe slope that feeds any short shots back into the "cundie," a stream that was originally built to drain water from the surrounding fields. (After steeling my nerves and getting a 6-iron on the green, I three-putted for bogey, choking a short putt. This would become a theme of the week.)

Rainbow_298x224 The weather was spectacular, low 60s with skies that fluctuated between bright sunshine and ominous clouds, but we stayed dry and even got to see a rainbow right out of a Scottish golf brochure (photo right). We were back at the hotel in time to have a late dinner and beer in the Road Hole Bar, which provides sweeping views of No. 17 and the Old Course. That helped ease our disappointment about failing to win Monday's ballot, the daily lottery-style drawing for open tee times on the Old Course. We'd have to try our luck again on Tuesday for a Wednesday time.

Up Next: Tuesday
A round at The Duke's, an inland course, in which we were passed by two fast-playing 60-something women and their dog, Gatsby; an afternoon round at the New Course, which borders the Old Course; and a massive downpour.

(Photos: Charlie Hanger)

May 13, 2011

Castle Stuart Golf Links stands ready to welcome the professionals

Posted at 3:27 PM by Joe Passov

Stuart Castle Stuart Golf Links
Inverness, Scotland
7,009 yards, par 72
Green fees: £160 ($260)
011 44 1463 796111

Finicky Tour pros rarely enjoy playing a new venue for the first time. But that sentiment may very well change next month at the Barclays Scottish Open, to be played at Castle Stuart near Inverness, three hours north of Glasgow and Edinburgh.

There's more than enough to like, if not love, at this two-year-old links, including a highly enjoyable routing created by Mark Parsinen (of Kingsbarns fame) and Gil Hanse. The opening three holes on each side sit at the property's lowest point, sandwiched between a gorse-filled hillside and the water, while the remaining holes climb up, down and around multiple plateaus. Drivable par 4s, like the third, 14th and 16th offer eagle chances, and most fairways are easily wider than the wingspan of the planes flying directly overhead to nearby Inverness Airport.

Still, you must choose your angles wisely into the smallish greens, which are surrounded by miniature mounding that can easily devour strokes. The course namesake is now a B&B but dates back to 1625, its distinctive turret and Scottish flag visible in the distance behind the par-3 4th.

A clubhouse that looks more South Beach than Scottish Highlands stands out amid the fescue, and with other quality venues like Nairn (five minutes to the east) and Royal Dornoch (45 miles north) within easy driving distance, what's not to love? Even the pros should find that to be the case here at Castle Stuart.

(Photo: Castle Stuart Golf Club)

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