St. Andrews, Scotland
Playing golf is part of ordinary life in Scotland, where 550 courses tantalize even the most tepid players from the United States. If you are drawn to Scotland's links, be aware that the game here is more serious and more strenuous than the typically casual American Saturday morning jaunt around the country club on a motorized cart.
Any traveler who has heard folks from Scotland describe a difficult uphill trek, with scree, as a "wee stroll," knows that the locals tend to underplay the amount of effort required for outdoor recreation. Golfers from the United States need to bring stamina, a sense of adventure -- and rain gear.
The public game of golf here began in the 16th century, and golf still is played in concert with the capricious elements of nature: Golfers walk, carrying or pulling their own clubs across hilly and potted pastures. Often, they compete in swirling winds mixed with rain drifting off the North Sea. Golfers trudge on, grateful for the privilege of hitting the ball with their well worn sticks, counting every stroke in the battle. This style of play fits the attitude of many of the folks who live in Scotland.
That might explain, at least in part, the story of Mary Queen of Scots (1542-1587), a golfer who was chastised by the Church for teeing off on the links only a few days after the murder of her second husband, the scheming Lord Darnley. She was supposed to be in mourning. Perhaps she found solace on the golf course.
At right is the Swilcan Bridge on the 18th hole of the Old Course at St. Andrews. (Photo by Ed Stone/GoGolfandTravel.com)
Using St. Andrews as a hub
Some 20 courses lie within 30 minutes of downtown St. Andrews, where the famed Old Course begins. It is one of seven courses owned by the people of St. Andrews. (The Royal and Ancient Golf Club, founded here in 1754, exercises legislative authority over the rules of golf worldwide, except in the United States.)
On a Sunday, I joined Gary Slatter, director of golf at the Fairmont Resort, and his wife Carolyn for a game on the Fairmont's Torrance links course that sits on a hill within sight of the medieval town of St. Andrews.
The 18th green of the Torrance course and the Fairmont clubhouse. Carnoustie is across the bay. (Photo by Molyneaux)
Slatter, who once played on the professional tour, carried his clubs. Carolyn and I used pull carts. The Torrance is an easy walk, though a difficult play around roughs thick with tall grass. Most holes have views of Tay Estuary that leads to the North Sea and some spy on St. Andrews' new Castle Course.
On Fairmont's adjacent Devlon course, quietly equipped with motorized buggies for the American market, fairways are wider than the Torrence but the roughs are rougher.
Local golfers say that 90 percent of the putts go straight. Slatter says 80 percent, but it's a good guide.
You could play 54 holes a day
"Some people come to Scotland to play all the name courses," said Slatter. "It can be more fun -- and economical -- to play each course twice. Most courses have a second play for 5-10 pounds, so you can play 36 holes for about 100 pounds (or about $200)," he said. "If you wanted, you could play 54 holes a day."
The Fairmont offers top resort accommodations, restaurants and fine views of the sea and town of St. Andrews (best from rooms on the second floor). The hotel bar is a gathering place for golfers and other travelers. The resort offers easy access to hiking paths and back roads for bicycling.
Be prepared, too, for the matter-of-factness that drives the Scottish wit.
When I was playing Gleneagles, a championship course in Scotland's central Perthshire countryside, I hired a caddy for an 18-hole walk over and around some serious hills. My caddy, a wiry, ruddy faced man of few words, said he was 75 years old. After several strenuous climbs, I made the mistake of saying that I felt a little odd as a younger man hiring an older man to carry my clubs, I suggested lightheartedly that the roles might naturally be reversed, that I should be carrying his clubs.
The caddy was having none of it.
"I'll be carrying clubs long after you're dead," he said.
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