By Charlene & Richard Mixa
From West to East a Taste of Scottish Golf
All true golfers dream of playing the great courses of Scotland, the ancestral home of golf. Scotland’s image is one of tartan, bagpipes, highlands and islands, haggis and golf. With over 400 courses golfers can easily experience the richness of Scotland today. On our self-planned six day whirlwind golf trip of Scotland we experience five amazing courses from the birthplace of The Open to newer courses in St. Andrews. The courses are spectacular and challenging surrounded by stunning scenery that is positively breathtaking. Join us on our treasured and truly memorable golf excursion.
Prestwick Golf Club –Rich in Golf History Our golfing expedition begins at Prestwick Golf Club, the birthplace of The Open Championship. Opening in 1851 with 12 holes, Old Tom Morris was wooed from St. Andrews to be the Club’s Keeper of the Green, Ball and Club Maker. Just as short drive southwest of Glasgow, Prestwick is on Ayrshire’s famous golfing coast. Although, an exclusive private men’s golf club, it graciously welcomes golfers from around the world.
As visitors, we are encouraged to use our “temporary membership” to its full capacity. Donning our rain gear under over cast skies we prepare to tackle Prestwick. A demanding, exciting and constantly challenging course! A caddie is crucial for playing this traditional links course as it winds along the coastal land with several holes crisscrossing. Having caddied for 42 years at Prestwick, our caddie has plenty of Prestwick stories. With Hole names of Himalayas, Elysian Field’s, Narrow, and Alps each live up to their names. From No. 1, a Par-4 – Railway, where an old stone wall parallels the railroad tracks to No. 5, Himalayas, a par-3 with its green barely visible above rolling terrain to No. 17, a Par-4, Alps, that’s green is totally hidden and protected by a huge bunker, we thrill at the demands and uniqueness of each hole. Greens are undulating and difficult. Huge bunkers lined with sleepers are hard to avoid and extract balls. A fantastic course and marvelous test of our golfing abilities!
Old Tom Morris won his four Open Championships at Prestwick and Young Tom Morris’ won three of his four victories here, so the Clubhouse offers an excellent selection of pictures and memorabilia. We see copies of Old Tom Morris’ original score cards from the Open Championships he won at Prestwick. A beautiful replica Belt of the first Open Championship in 1860 and the replica of the famous Claret Jug are on display. Prestwick is a course which reminds all who play it of the essence of links golf as originally conceived.
Western Gailes Golf Club is a historical course on Ayrshire’s prodigious stretch of links coastline. Dating back to 1897, the Club has hosted many prestigious tournaments. It is used for final qualifying when The Open is played at Turnberry or Royal Troon. Playing Western Gailes on a very breezy day reveals our golfing talent or lack of it. Our caddies quickly explain that wind is a constant factor. Major changes in club selection are necessary with the wind. A classical links course along the Scottish coastline it has splendid water views of Ailsa Craig and Arran. Situated on narrow stretch of land between the railway and the sea, both being very much in play as major features it is no more than two holes wide. Demands and challenges abound with undulating fairways, sand dunes, burns, bunkers, pot bunkers, and plenty of gorse and fescue to snatch balls. Finely contoured greens are cleverly located and well protected. It is target golf, with our caddies pointing to a target as we attempt to execute the shot. Thank goodness they have striped poles located on the course to use as a target.
In keeping with Scottish weather, we go through several seasons from overcast to clear skies, to rain, and back to clear skies. Our rain gear protects against the strong cool wind. The caddies give great guidance on how to play each hole, read putts, and locate balls. We had a terrific day of golf on this over one 100 year old course. Western Gailes is a “hidden gem” that should not be overlooked when playing in Scotland’s Ayeshire/Prestwick area. It is an excellent test of true links golf presenting variety and a memorable challenge. The Clubhouse with its central position has great views of the course and the bay to the Isle of Arran. We enjoy a tasty lunch, reliving our day of golf and learning more of the course’s fascinating history.
Murcar Links Golf Club – Not to be missed Beware Murcar! A course not for the faint of heart! Built in 1909 Murcar is a natural Championship links on the outskirts of Aberdeen on Scotland’s west coast. Bordering the shoreline of the North Sea it presents a real “test” in links golf and is frequently featured in the Top 100 courses in the UK and the Visit Scotland Top 40 Great Scottish Links. Golfing on a Sunday in late October we prepare for cool cloudy weather and are delighted to have a fabulous day of clear blue skies (no clouds and no showers) with temperatures in the mid 60’s. The course is super and exceeds our expectations. Initially playing as a twosome we joined two locals who give us great suggestions and guidance. This definitely made the game more fun as their course knowledge was “invaluable.” Multifaceted, demanding holes are high above the coastline with phenomenal views of the North Sea, Aberdeen and Royal Aberdeen, which abuts Murcar. Par-3’s are long and complex. Amen! Yes, Murcar has its own “Amen Corner” equivalent to Augusta’s. Additionally, be ready for blind shots, hidden greens, and the always challenging rough where balls are easily lost. To play it requires every shot in the book and if the wind is up, a few more besides! Anyone wanting to golf in the Aberdeen area will enjoy a round at Murcar. Great clubhouse for relishing a fun day of golf and admiring the stunning views!
Fairmont St Andrews Golf Courses Our last stop is the “Home of Golf” – St Andrews. With the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship underway several courses in the St Andrews area are unavailable. Staying at the Fairmont St Andrews with ranking of on of the World’s 50 Best Golf Hotels by Golf Digest Awards has us in the lap of luxury and playing two awesome and very different golf courses the Kittocks and the Torrance.
Kittocks Course –Exciting, Fun and Scenic!
Course architect, Gene Sarazen created a championship course around the cliff tops just outside St Andrews. With unbelievable seaside setting and the most stunning views of the Firth of Tay, built in 2001, Kittocks may be a youngster in Scottish golf courses yet it is a remarkable creation of modern golf architecture. One of the few Courses allowing buggies (golf carts to Americans) we take a buggy for our afternoon round. Hurrah! It’s our second day in a row of perfectly clear blue skies and no rain. Challenges of Kittocks are constant winds, high rough and devilish bunkers. Open fairways are a welcome sight as are the large over-sized greens. The greens appear gentle but are subtly sculpted making them difficult to read. Unparalleled vistas and illusions have greens floating against the sea and sky. To us Kittocks is a fabulous course and we see why Golf Weekly ranked it #37 in 2012. We face demands of flying the ball to the green to avoid the thick rough, avoiding stone walls that cross fairways, and staying away from thick rough and bunkers. After our sensational afternoon of we’re off to stroll the streets of St Andrews, rub shoulders with the many professionals in town for the Dunhill Championship, and enjoy some great Scottish food and hospitality.
Torrance Course – Demanding and Stunning
The Resort offers a fabulous view of Torrance with the wind waving the tall fescue and the spires of St Andrews as a backdrop. Originally designed by Sam Torrance it is now re-designed with 8 new holes and classic Scottish revetted bunkering throughout. A Scottish style links design it ranks #25 in Golf Weekly 2012 ratings and is a Qualifying Course for the 2010 Open Championship. A walking only course, we head out for an early morning tee time under clear skies. Our luck on perfect days doesn’t continue as clouds roll in on the back nine and a heavy rain shower that luckily lasts just one hole. We finish under sunny skies. Challenges of intimidating rough, checkered with ancient stone walls, stone bridges spanning the burn running through it, and bunkers await us on the front nine. The back nine brings a new dimension with even more challenges but rewards us with fabulous ocean views. Errant shots are quickly lost in the tall fescue. Found balls are impossible to extract from the thick rough. While Torrance looks like a course that has been around for over 100 years it offers sea views that old traditional courses don’t have. It has no dull holes! An exciting highlight to our final round of golf in Scotland is Charlene putting in from off the green on the top-handicapped seventeenth hole (par-4) for her par. On the eighteenth hole, a long uphill par-5 that breaks sharply left on the third shot to a seaside green, Richard gets his par and Charlene makes an amazing putt for birdie. A fabulous finale for our Scottish golf vacation!
The Accommodations: We experienced a variety of accommodations on our whirlwind trip. Each property offered great amenities and people renowned for their hospitality, sense of enjoyment and welcome.
Gailes Hotel: The Gailes is a great location for golfing or visiting in the Troon, Ayr, Irvine, and Prestwick. Our room was done in a modern décor with warm boutique yet homey feel. It definitely meets its four-star rating on our visit. We appreciate the extra touches of comfy chairs, tables and chairs, as well as a desk. The plasma screen TV’s and internet access are welcome touches. Each morning we enjoy a complimentary hearty Scottish breakfast. The staff is extremely helpful with directions, suggestions and recommendations. We golf at Prestwick Golf Club and Western Gailes Golf Club with the Gailes Hotel convenient to each. Very good hotel and good location!
Fairmont St Andrews Resort: A luxury Scottish resort set on a 520 acre estate it has a unique coastal setting in the Home of Golf. The views overlooking the medieval St Andrews and the North Sea are spectacular. We are thrilled with its ultimate comfort in our spacious and lavish King room. The golf theme décor and appointments are extremely well done from the desk to the comfy chair to the super linens. We love the thick plush towels and the roomy bathroom. The hotel staff is excellent! The morning breakfast is terrific with a full “Scottish” breakfast and more. It was easy to see why the Fairmont St Andrews won the European Golf Resort of the Year 2012 from IAGTO and the Golf Resort of the Year 2011 from Golf Tourism Scotland.
The Marcliffe Hotel & Spa –Aberdeen: An Intimate Scottish Refuge the Marcliffe Hotel & Spa, this small luxurious hotel brings a family-friendly charm, gracious hospitality, and an easy-going ambience. Situated on an 11-acre estate, the Marcliffe’s white mansion is wonderfully away from the hustle and bustle of Aberdeen. Our King Suite (The Floors) was beautifully appointed with elegant furnishings and fine touches. The comfy sitting area was great, the linens and towels extra plush. We especially are thrilled to have the satellite TV to watch the final rounds of The Ryder Cup. We have a delicious dinner in the beautifully Conservatory Restaurant, with views of the grounds. Known for fabulous steaks, Charlene savors a filet done to perfection, while Richard enjoys a sumptuous seafood dinner. The staff is warm, efficient, friendly and conscientious. The breakfast the next morning is excellent. Truly more than just the traditional Scottish breakfast with a wide variety of cold and hot items as well as made to order items.
If you go:
Fairmont St Andrews Resort, St Andrews, Scotland KY16 8PN, United Kingdom +44 1334 837000, www.fairmont.com/StAndrews (resort and golf courses)
Gailes Hotel, Marine Dr Irvine, Ayrshire KA11 5AE, United Kingdom +44 1294 204040, www.gaileshotel.com
Murcar Links Golf Club, Bridge of Don, Aberdeen, Scotland, +44 1224 704354 www.murcarlinks.com
Marcliff Hotel and Spa, North Deeside Road, Pitfodels, Aberdeen, AB15 9YA, Scotland, United Kingdom, +44 (0)1224 861000, marcliffe.com
Prestwick Golf Club, 2 Links Road, Prestwick, Ayrshire, KA9 1QG, Scotland United Kingdom +44 1292 671020, prestwickgc.co.uk/
Western Gailes Golf Club, Gailes Rd, Irvine KA11 5AE, United Kingdom, +44 1294 311649, www.westerngailes.com