Golf Scotland: Machrihanish Dunes, Kilmarnock Barassie Links, Prestwick St. Nicholas, Prestwick GC, and Haggs Castle

Five more rounds of golf comin in hot… 

Machrihanish Dunes

It was a real hike to get down to Campbeltown from St. Andrews – roughly 5 hours in the car – and if I’m being totally honest the drive didn’t end up being worth it. There’s two STUNNING courses in Machrihanish, the newer Dunes course, and the old Links course designed by Old Tom Morris. Both are most definitely worth the effort to go and play, and are both quite different from each other. I tried to play my first day in the area at the Dunes but had to walk off the course after 2 holes because of 75+ km/h winds and hail. The only reason I say the drive wasn’t worth it is because my first round got rained out. I drove 5 hours, and spent at least $70 on gas to get there, plus hotels, etc.. when I could have just as easily simply driven to Ardrossan which is about 2 hours from St. Andrews and caught the ferry for $10, taken a taxi for $10 to the course, played, and come back to the mainland that same afternoon if I was only playing 1 round of golf. Never mind the fact that I had a trip to the Isle of Arran planned after which ended up being cancelled because stupid me read the winter ferry schedule wrong, and I ended having to drive 4 hours again to Prestwick. Anyway, long story short, the golf in the area is 100% worth it, doing it the way I did it, 100% not worth it! Back to the course… I’ve realized that there’s a pretty drastic difference between Irish links golf, and Scottish links golf. Scottish links seem to be *flat* while Irish links are far hillier and play through much taller dunes generally. Machrihanish Dunes is likely the closest thing you’ll find to Irish links golf in Scotland. Maybe it’s because the course is only about 40 miles across the Atlantic from Ireland. There are a lot of blind shots on the course, but nothing I would consider unfair. If there’s a blind shot there is always a marker showing you the middle of the fairway, and every tee has an arrow point to the centre of the green. Between the marker and the arrow, you can easily figure out what the holes going to do (dogleg, straight, etc.). I’m not sure there’s a flat lie on this golf course if I’m being honest it’s probably geared more towards someone with a sub-20 handicap. If you regularly shoot over 100, I don’t think you’ll enjoy this place. That being sad, it’s very fun to play, and with winds in the 40-50 km/h range through the whole round it forced me to be exceptionally creative from around 130 yards and in. I’m talking 6-iron punch shots from 130 out creative. I ended shooting one of my lower scores for the trip and considering the conditions I was really pleased with that. The greens were in great shape, and had some pretty wild slopes. The toughest hole was either the par-5 3rd hole that plays at 592 yards, often into the wind, or the par-4 13th that has out of bounds and the ocean up the right side, and depending on weather, long swampy rough, or water up the left. It leaves you a tricky tee shot to heavily sloping fairway that’s only about 40 yards wide. If you manage to find the fairway you’ve got a tricky uphill approach to a semi-hidden green that’s left exposed to any wind coming off the ocean. With how the weather was that day I think this was the toughest hole I’ve played on this trip. The clubhouse staff were exceptionally friendly, grabbing me a fresh towel to dry off with when I got rained out, and giving me some free coffee to warm up. While we waited to see if the weather would turn he also explained how the course was designed by the same architect that did Bandon Dunes in Oregon, and how the only pieces of heavy equipment used in the build were for flattening out tee boxes and green areas. When you play the course, you can really see that because as a mentioned there didn’t seem to be a flat lie anywhere. One of the coolest features I saw was the sheep on the course, that they let graze to help keep the rough a reasonable level. It markets itself as the ‘most natural’ course in Scotland, and you can really feel that while you’re playing.

Machrihanish

Machrihanish

Machrihanish

Machrihanish

Machrihanish

Machrihanish

Kilmarnock Barassie Links

Well like they say, even the best laid plans can often go awry… and after my plans to visit and play on the Isle of Arran were washed away when I missed my ferry I ended up coming into the Prestwick area 3 days early. I had some rounds planned here for when I would be in Glasgow before my flight home and I decided to play them a bit earlier here and save a little time and gas in the process. I ended up playing the Barassie course at Kilmarnock Golf Club today somehow squeezing my round into a 2.5-hour slot with no rain. The course is pretty renowned in the area. Harry Vardon used to be a member here and the course has been used as a final qualifying site for the British Open, Scottish Open and Senior British Open, as well as hosting the Ladies Amateur Championship. The clubhouse has great food at really cheap prices, and I’d suggest grabbing breakfast (or lunch) before your round. The members were friendly and seem genuinely curious about who you are, where you’re from, and what’s brought you to the Barassie. They’re also very proud of their golf club and I gathered by how proudly they explained the history of its members and its championship pedigree. I managed to catch a bit of sunshine to start my round, and looking out at the first hole I really felt like I could have my best score here. Wrong. The first two holes seem pretty pedestrian but with a blind tee shot and smartly placed bunkers on 1, and a hidden stream on 2, I quickly got punished. From there you’re met with the signature hole, the 3rd, which also happen to be the toughest hole on the course. It’s long, plays dead into the wind, and the false fronted green makes sticking your approach a real challenge. Hole 5 opens up into pure links golf and you’re battered by the wind until the 13th hole. I ended +6 on the front, which is a far cry from the “low score” I had expected. The back 9 is I’d argue a fair bit easier. There’s a short par-5, and two short par-4’s that give you good chance to score. And holes 13-18 are a bit sheltered from the wind because of trees. I ended up -1 on the back, so it was really a tale of two-halves. The course was in great shape for the time of year, and the greens were relatively quick. If you’re in the area it’s well worth playing, and is really good value for money. There’s 27 holes, the Barassie Links, and a 9-hole Hillside course, all full length. At times, they mix and match 9’s creating the Barassie Links, the Traditonal Course, the Dundonald Course and the Hillhouse 9. But your standard 18+9 is the Barassie and Hillside. It sits about 10 minutes up the road from Royal Troon and is a good option in you’re looking to play a double-header in the summer months, or don’t want to pay the $475 to play a round at Troon.

Prestwick St. Nicholas

The course sits right on the sea about 5 minutes down the road from the more famous Prestwick GC. It’s not really a long course, but it’s definitely challenging. Old Tom Morris was actually a founding member of the club, and took a large part in its design and you can see this in the multiple blind tee shots, and quirky twists and turns. If you play buy the course guide beforehand, I didn’t and regretted it by the 5th hole. The first three holes are pretty straight forward, from here you cross the road to where 12 of the holes are located. The 4th tee has a ladder where you have to climb up and pick out your line off the tee. The 6th plays over a huge mound which I didn’t realize dog legs, and what I thought was a perfect drive ended up lost in a gorse bush. By now the yardage book would’ve more than paid for itself. This stretch of holes for the most part plays in this hollow by the beach so you’re sheltered from the wind for a fair bit. You’re really only forced into dealing with the full force of the breeze on 3 holes, and 2 other tee boxes. The par-5’s are all reachable in 2 shots which gives you a good chance to score. The last three holes are probably the scariest holes I’ve played. 16 is this deceptively short par-4 with a road and houses maybe 15 yards right of the fairway, and the 17th tee is practically on the 16th green. 17 has the same terrifying right side, while the 18th fairway and tee box are all up the left. The 18th was probably the worst of the bunch, it’s a 230-yard par-3 with the parking lot and club house up the right side (which happened to be filled with Audi’s, BMW’s and Jaguars exclusively it seemed), while anything up the left is going to find deep rough, gorse bushes, or best case, leave you about 20 yards below to green chipping back towards the club house. The hole is fun, but it had me terrified. For the time of the year the course was in good shape. Greens were firm, but the rest of the course was a bit soft. If you’re in the area it’s worth playing, but it’s not a course I would specifically travel for to play.

Prestwick GC

This was, after the Old Course, the course I was most looking forward to playing on this trip. It is the birthplace of The Open Championship. Prestwick hosted the first 6 British Opens, and 24 in total, second only the St. Andrews. Old Tom Morris was the green-keeper here after he was fired at St. Andrews, and he designed the original 12-hole course that was used for The Open. Holes 1 and 3 are both ranked in the top 500 golf holes in the world, and it’s quite rare for one course to feature multiple holes on this list. The first plays right beside the railroad tracks up the right, and the fairway is pretty well cut in half around 220 yards by a large dune. It’s only 345 yards, but you can’t hit anything more than a 4 iron off the tee. The third is a short-ish par-5 at 477 yards, but again, two bunkers force you to play long iron or hybrid off the tee. One of those bunkers is the famous Cardinal bunker. It’s about 30 yards long, and at its deepest point about 15 yards below the fairway. A ball in here pretty much guarantees a bogey on this hole. The 5th hole is also famous for being a fully blind par-3. The ‘Himalayas’ sit between you and the green and there’s different coloured disks on the hill which help line your tee box up with the centre of the green. On the tee box a sign will let you know if the pin is left, right or centre for the day. I can’t stress how vital a yardage book is on this course. The green slopes heavily from back to front, so if you’re long, you’re left with probably the toughest putt on the entire property. In reality, it’s a 206-yard par-3 like any other. You pick your club, and you pick your line and you hit your shot. It’s literally no different than any other golf shot. But the fact that you can’t see where you’re shooting messes with your mind and makes the shot far more difficult than it is. It’s like 17 at TPC Sawgrass, straight forward, but not. There’s about 6-7 short par-4’s on the course, depending on how far you hit the ball off the tee, which makes it possible to score well if you’re putting is at a decent level. My favourite hole was the par-4 17th hole. It’s a narrow drive to a hilly fairway where you’ll have another blind approach to the green. Again, check your yardage book, the massive Sahara bunker is hiding behind the dune you’re hitting over and anything short is a death trap. I have to admit I loved this golf course. If the Old Course wasn’t the Old Course, Prestwick would have been my favourite by a mile. The history, the layout, everything is just special. The clubhouse is gorgeous and has a replica of the belt which was the original reward for winning the Open. Everyone I met in the clubhouse was extremely friendly, the man working the front desk stopped me as I was walking out for my tee time because he saw some weather on the horizon. Sure enough a 30 minute storm rolled through. He showed me upstairs where the clubhouse manager gave me a cup of coffee and breakfast roll for free while I waited, and one of the members told me a bit about the history of the course and the club. I really felt like a member for the day (membership by the way is only about $700 a year). After my round, I popped back into town for lunch at the Red Lion Inn which was where Old Tom, and 7 others met to organize the first Open championship. Beer and food was cheap which caught me by surprise simply because of how historically significant the bar is. Prestwick should be at the top of anyone’s list if they’re planning a trip to Scotland, it checks every box you could want, it’s a top course, has massive history, and is welcoming to visitors. This place is a must play!

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Prestwick

Haggs Castle

I thought Prestwick would be my last round of this trip but I was bored and got a bit of nice weather in Glasgow so I decided to play one more. Haggs Castle is maybe a 10-minute drive from the centre of Glasgow in a huge park that contains 2 other golf courses, it’s a parkland course (duh) so it was vastly different than anything else I’d played on this trip. Because of this, it was also the soggiest course I had played in Scotland as well. That being said, it’s an enjoyable layout and I could easily see this being a beautiful and tricky course once the course dries out and the trees are covered in leaves. It hosted the Scottish Open in 1986 (won by David Feherty of all people) so it obviously has some championship pedigree. The entire cost had been beaten by a storm for 2 days before I played which obviously didn’t help conditions, the greens had also recently been punched which again, didn’t make for the most enjoyable round, but if you’re in the area and feel like burning 3 hours out of your day I’d recommend it, especially in the summer months. I could see that the greens had quite a bit of slope which would make for some tricky putts in summer conditions, and a good mix of dog-leg lefts and rights, along with some well-placed trees will test your shot making. Green fees are reasonable and there’s a huge discount (4 for 3 essentially) if you book a foursome. If you’re staying in the Glasgow area and want something a little different than the golf the Scottish coast offers I would definitely recommend looking into playing at Haggs Castle.

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Golf Scotland: Carnoustie and The Old Course at St. Andrews

R’s second guest post– you don’t even know how glad I am he’s finally golfed The Old Course at St. Andrews. He’s been talking about wanting to do it forever and he can now check this one off his list. 

Carnoustie

My fourth round of the trip took me to Carnoustie, widely considered the toughest test golf has to offer! Host of 8 Open Championships, 1 Women’s British Open, and 2 Senior British Opens, the golf course comes with a pretty serious pedigree. I got lucky today with the weather, it was sunny throughout my entire round, and excluding the wind which picked up for the last 3 holes, I got to play the course in ideal conditions (well, ideal for Scotland). You’re greeted very warmly when you arrive at the clubhouse with someone coming to meet you at the front door, and to take your clubs to their indoor warm up facility. The clubhouse offers 12 indoor driving range bays and someone from the pro shop is always on hand to chat with you a little bit about the course, its history, but also about you and what’s brought you to Carnoustie. I was worried I would be coming into a stuffy atmosphere like most of the private courses I’ve encountered in Canada and the United States but they make you feel like a member here, no matter your handicap or background. The course itself was in fantastic shape, especially for the time of year. Fairways were firm and fast, and lucky for me the rough was still relatively short. The greens were the quickest I’ve encountered to this point as well. It’s a fairly pedestrian start with a decently easy par-4 that features the only blind shot on the course. But don’t let yourself get too comfortable because she’ll show her teeth hard, and fast. The closing 4 holes are considered the toughest in golf with a long, and dangerous par-4, and the very long par-3 16th (245 yards, dead into the wind that day), and finally 17 and 18 with the Barry Burn snaking through both ready to ruin an otherwise strong round. Honestly the only “weak” hole I can think of the is the par-3 9th, and really that holes not all that easy, but it just kind of feels like they ran out of room and needed squeeze in another hole to make it 18. My favourite hole by-far was the par-4 6th known as Hogan’s Alley. You’re forced to fit a drive in to a roughly 150-yard-long, but 30-yard-wide landing zone with out of bounds literally bordering the fairway on the left, and two suicidal bunkers short-right, and two more long-right, and then just to top it off, a ditch runs into the fairway at the end of your landing zone. I dare any amateur golfer to stand on that tee and not get a little weak in the knees. It’s tough to describe how neat it feels to walk down the same fairways, and put out on the same greens as the world’s best were just 8 months ago. But really that’s what I love about golf. The Monday morning quarterbacks out there tearing down NHLers, NFLers, etc.. thinking they could do better will never be able to even try. But with golf you can. Think you could beat Tommy Fleetwood’s course record 63? There’s the course, it’s open 7 days a week and as long as you’ve got a registered handicap you’re free to try. Lucky for me I can hold my par on 18 over Jean van de Velde’s head until the next time I get the chance to play.

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Carnoustie

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Carnoustie

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Carnoustie

The Old Course at St. Andrews

Day 6 finally brought me to the Old Course at St. Andrews… the ‘home of golf,’ 29-time host of The Open, this place really needs no introduction. It’s next to impossible to book a tee time here in the traditional sense but that shouldn’t stop anyone from coming here. If you’re in the area you can enter the ballot 2 days before you want to play for a chance at getting on the course, and if that doesn’t work well then there’s always the singles queue. With it being March I was lucky and only had to line up at 6am to get on the course, but I’ve heard a story of an Australian guy lining up at 7:30pm… the DAY BEFORE…just to be sure he would get on. I’ve always felt like this was the one golf course I needed to play in my life, but it didn’t really hit me until I got into the parking lot at 5:45am that I would be getting on here. My face hurt by the 18th because I never stopped smiling. Not even when I took a 7 on the par-4 12th after getting into a wrestling match with a gorse bush. I got paired with a young caddy from Philadelphia, a guy from St. Louis who just happened to be in the area and decided he may as well try his luck, and a guy from Toronto whose dad asked him to spread his ashes on the old course as his dying wish. That’s the kind of emotional connection people have to this course.

It’s a place of pilgrimage for 99% of golfers. This course has no weak holes. Call me biased because I’ve watched the course guide video’s probably 25 times, and pretty much exclusively played this place on my x-box with Tiger Woods, but every golf hole is a challenge/treat. It’s beautiful chaos, but playable for everyone. If you’re a high handicapper you’ll love the fact that the first fairway is 126 yards wide, and that half the holes on the course are double fairways. If you’re a low handicapper you’re basically playing a chess match trying to plot your way around to have any hope at shooting a decent number. I would not hesitate to bring my girlfriend here because I know she’d be fine playing it, but at the same time it’s a challenge for me. You don’t see this in North America. Golf courses are either one or the other. Friendly or challenging, but never both. Marshall’s are quick to help throughout with someone it seemed always on hand to offer the correct driving line on a blind tee shot, or some sound advice about where to land your approach shot to make sure you had any hope of scoring on a particular hole. There’s a point where the 7th, 8th, 11th and 12th holes are all within spitting distance of each other and you can have as many as 32 people golfing in the same 100-yard radius. It’s beautiful chaos. Once you hit 12 you’re turning back towards the town of St. Andrews and it’s really wild choosing church steeples in the distance to aim your drive at. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a swell of emotion at that point.

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St. Andrews

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St. Andrews

Hole 17, the Road Hole, is the greatest hole in golf. Period. You’re forced to hit your tee shot over the old railway shed, and you’re essentially picking a line based on the “Old Course Hotel” sign painted onto this shed. They say aim for the “O’s” depending on how aggressive you want to get, with the shot getting more difficult from left to right. I chose the ‘O’ in hotel and got rewarded for a well hit drive. Once you’ve maneuvered the shed, and the hotel, you still have the road, and the road bunker to contend with. I was both thrilled, and terrified to see they had the Sunday pin placement right behind the bunker. Consider yourself lucky to get out of there with a par (I did not). The walk up 18 is surreal and after you get the necessary photo of yourself on the Swilcan Bridge, I can only suggest taking your sweet time walking up to the green and soaking in everything around you. This course will always hold a special place in my heart and if my trip ended tomorrow I would still be beyond satisfied.

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Golf Scotland: Musselburgh, North Berwick, and Panmure

I’m back in Vancouver with a puppy, and someone ran off to Scotland to do a bucket list golf trip by himself. I’ve heard so much in the past couple years about R wanting to golf in Scotland, and he’s finally doing it and has been writing about each course. This post is going to be on the first three courses he played. Did I mention he planned a two week trip and included ten rounds of golf? This little ‘Golf Scotland’ series will all be written by him and include his photos from his trip.

Musselburgh Links Old Course

My first full day in Edinburgh I decided a good place to start would be at Musselburgh Links. It’s a 9-hole layout about 20 minutes east of downtown Edinburgh. Don’t let the hole count fool you, this course isn’t your average municipal 9-hole back home. Musselburgh hosted 6 British Open’s (one of only 13 courses to have hosted The Open) and is littered with everything you’d expect from a proper links course including blind tee shots, deep pot bunkers and severely undulating greens. The course itself is located inside of the 2nd busiest horse racing track in Scotland which makes for some interesting shots while horses are practicing on the track. You’re greeted by a long par-3 to start which plays over the track itself, while many of the holes play adjacent to the track making for some nervy tee-shots. The par-4 4th hole features Mrs. Foreman’s Pub roughly 20 feet from the green. The story goes that during a match Old Tom Morris simply walked off the course here, sat down at Mrs. Foreman’s, order a pint and refused to continue the match leading to it being cancelled. For anyone looking to dip their toe into links golf I would highly suggest Musselburgh as it gives you everything it’s more famous neighbors at Muirfield and North Berwick offer, in a friendlier package. This is a place I wouldn’t hesitate to bring my girlfriend… no one is pushy, and the course is very beginner friendly. The place oozes history and is the oldest continually played golf course in the world with evidence suggesting it was first played here in 1672! You can even rent old hickory shafted clubs and play it the way they did back in the 1800’s. It’s not one of those pristinely manicured country club courses, and is instead one of the few courses left in the world that lets you experience golf the way it was played 200 years ago. Check your ego at the door and you’ll have an experience you won’t soon forget.

North Berwick West Links

Day 2 brought me east on what’s known as the Scotland’s Golf Coast. Leave early because there’s so much to see on this short drive that a 30-minute trip easily turned into an hour and a half for myself. You pass golf course, after golf course, and famous one’s at that like Scottish Open venue Gullane, and Muirfield which hosted the British Open 16 times. I decided to stop at Muirfield to snap a photo of the historic clubhouse home the Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, as well as walk to historic grounds where Woods, Nicklaus and Palmer have all walked. From there it was onto North Berwick where I was greeted at the clubhouse as if I had been a member for past 30 years. The friendliness I’ve experienced in my short time here has really astounded me, and this is coming from a Canadian. Again, I would suggest showing up that little bit early so you have a chance to enjoy a proper cuppa tea, and soak in the history of their stunning clubhouse. The course hugs the sea the entire way around and you’re never further than 100 meters from the beach. This makes for some unique situations where the beach acts as one giants bunker, this is especially true on 2nd hole where you’re forced to hit your drive over the beach while biting off as much as you’re willing to chew! There’s lots of blind shots as well that force you to find a line, trust it, and hit your shot – it’s very rare for you to get away with a poorly executed shot on this golf course. A 12th century wall snakes through much of the course and is very much in play throughout. There’s a saying here, “don’t argue with the wall – it’s older than you” and I have to admit it’s pretty accurate. The 13th hole is probably the best example where your approach shot must navigate over the wall (there is literally no other option) as the green is tucked right in behind of the 4-foot-tall wall. Hole 16 also forces you to carry the wall which is roughly 20 feet in front of the tee boxes, surprisingly this isn’t even the most difficult feature on this hole as the green is split in the middle by a roughly 5-foot-deep swale, if you’re shot ends up on the wrong side of this green, good luck getting away anything less than a 2 putt. Still to come however is probably the nerviest tee shot I’ve hit in my life (so far), with the 18th hole coming back towards the clubhouse, but also being bordered by the parking lot up the entire right-hand side of the green… I hadn’t hit anything other than a cut this entire round, yet, managed to hook my tee shot and (almost) put a nice dent into a new Jaguar, luckily my ball caught a fence post and missed. Golf Digest called North Berwick the most underrated golf course in the world, and it’s ranked #63 in the world’s top 100, and I can’t say they’re wrong. There is not one weak hole on this golf course, and as challenging as it is, it’s an absolute treat to play!

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North Berwick West Links

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North Berwick West Links

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North Berwick West Links

Panmure Golf Club

After taking a day off to head down to Glasgow for the Celtic-Aberdeen match, crossing another item off my bucket list, it was back to the golf. I’m up further north in Dundee now, and my first stop was Panmure Golf Club. Founded in 1845 the course is only about 5 minutes from its noisy neighbour Carnoustie. It will host the British Women’s Amateur Championship later this summer. Panmure gains its fame from being the course Ben Hogan used to prepare in solitude for the 1953 British Open (his only time competing – and winning the event) while staying away from the busier Carnoustie. Membership is limited to just 500 and you’ll notice when you arrive that the majority of those members are, well, old. This seems like the kind of club where once you’re in they have to pry your membership card out of your cold, dead fingers. Don’t let that scare you though, visitors are warmly welcomed and the clubhouse is quite friendly. If you’d like to dine in the Hogan Room be sure to bring a pair of nicer shoes because runners and golf shoes are not allowed. The course itself however neither fussy, nor pretentious. There are no sprinkler heads every 25 yards telling you how far your next shot will be, there’s only very subtle 150 yard poles on the edge of the holes, so subtle in fact that I didn’t realize they existed until the 13th hole. You really feel like you’re just out in nature hitting a ball towards a flag in the distance. The thing I’ve noticed most so far on this trip is how undefined these links courses are. It’s not like North America where every hole is neatly framed by trees and rough, over here it’s so easy to get lost trying to figure out where your next shot will be played. My favourite hole was the par-4 6th, Ben Hogan described it as the “perfect golf hole,” and the bunker fronting the green hidden behind a large dune is named ‘Hogan’s bunker’ after he suggested placing one here would indeed make the hole “perfect.” I managed to avoid it while playing the 6th, but felt the need to see if I could get out of it on my way back around before teeing off at 14 (which is maybe 10 yards from the 6th green). This is the first course I’ve played where I really felt the need to think my way around, it’s easy to simply pull out driver on most holes but even a well hit drive can easily leave you in a bad position for your next shot. Panmure feels like a chess match and the course forces you to think two or three shots ahead. The greens are like nothing I’ve seen before, and the undulations made Musselburgh and North Berwick look a dance floor. I managed to hold my tee shot on the par-3 9th only to realize I had no chance at getting my putt inside 15 feet of the hole, never mind sinking my birdie putt! Don’t let that scare you though, I’ve had few rounds more enjoyable than this one. If you’re considering coming to the area to play Carnoustie you’d be making a huge mistake by not stopping at Panmure for a round while you’re in the area. It’s a can’t miss!

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Just some photos: Salzburg, Berchtesgaden, Hallstatt, Bled, and Ljubljana

We went on a quick little road trip in February, putting 1700kms on the rental car in four days. I was sick. I have no great recommendations, but I do have photos, and a photo’s worth a thousand words, right?

Salzburg

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Berchtesgaden

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Hallstatt

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Bled

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Ljubljana

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The end. I do not have as many photos or as much information as I could have, but if you ever have a chance to drive through the Bavarian Alps, do it! It is unbelievably gorgeous and reminded me a bit of home.

Vienna for a day: dog friendly things to see and do

One of the best things about European cities is that they are all dog friendly. With the exception of grocery stores and some restaurants, dogs are allowed pretty much everywhere. On Sunday, we took the train to Vienna and spent the day wandering the streets.

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Trains allow dogs; the rules seem a bit confusing because it says that you need to get permission of everyone in your car, and they need a muzzle. My puppy was okay without a muzzle but she’s also 12 weeks old and harmless, I bought tickets the night before and double checked with the lady about that. I had to pay for a ticket for her, which would have been half price if she was going to ride in a crate. Since she’s an absolute nightmare in her crate, I opted against that.

Upon arrival to Vienna, we bought metro tickets and went to Cafe Central. Dog friendly, of course. She just slept on the floor in my jacket as I drank my cappuccino and had my apple strudel. The line here will go quickly, and I thought it was worth it.

Next, we just walked around. It was a Sunday so many stores were closed but that’s okay. After looking at St. Stephen’s Cathedral and walking around the museums, we went to Schönbrunn Palace. Obviously, dogs aren’t welcome in the actual palace, but they are in the gardens. It was cold and the flowers were not in bloom but it was still pretty.

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For dinner, we just went to one of the first restaurants we could find. They brought water for the dog and didn’t mind that she was laying on the booth. She was so tired at this point that she just fell asleep.

If you’re hoping to go into a lot of museums, horse carriages, Opera, or go inside the church, maybe leave your dog in the hotel or get someone to take of them. Otherwise, there is a lot to do while bringing your dog, and everyone is very nice about it.

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One night in Prague: making the most of a short trip

One of the great things about Budapest is the ability to hop on a train, bus, or rent a car and be in a different city quite quickly. We hopped on a night bus and headed to Prague just for a couple days. You know those cities that you walk around and say to yourself fairly quickly that you think you could live there? Yeah, Prague was one of those. It was clean, walkable, but transit seemed great. There were lots of things to see in the short amount of time we were there, and the vibe of the city was overall great.

First of all, the night bus was no where near as bad as I expected. I slept most of the way which was quite impressive for me considering I’m one of those weirdos that struggles sleeping in cars or on planes. It went much faster than I thought, and I fell asleep to a Joe Rogan podcast. Am I the only one who finds those weirdly relaxing? Upon arrival at around 6am, we grabbed a coffee at Starbucks and sat there for a few to figure out our next move and charge our phones. Our check in wasn’t till later so we had lots of time.

Tip: instead of buying transit tickets through the machine that require change, just download the PID Litacka app, and buy them through there

Because it was so early, we got to cross Charles Bridge before the hoards of tourists were there, and caught the sunrise. As we were walking through the streets, we found a bagel place for breakfast so we ate there. After, we made our way to the Prague Castle, looked at the St. Vitus Cathedral, and walked around up there.

Tip: wear sensible footwear, I didn’t and almost broke my ankle approximately 12 times

We checked into our hotel and then had a nap because we were exhausted, and at this time, the Christmas Market was still up so we went there. We also went to the mall, and just walked, a lot. For dinner, I got the Czech version of my fav Hungarian dish, Svíčková, and R got a pork knuckle. Typical. We then went to an Irish bar, also very typical, and got chips from the market after, bought champagne and orange juice, and made mimosa’s in the hotel room.

The next morning we went for breakfast at a cute little cafe and got bagels, again, and carrot cake to go to eat on the bus. We went on a search for Buchty, but it was the Czech Independence Day and everywhere was closed so we didn’t luck out there.

By then, we had to go back to the bus station to get home. This time felt 10x longer than the night bus to me but we returned to Budapest in the evening.

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Ten things you might be forgetting before you move abroad

Leaving the country is always stressful, especially if you have a one way ticket. There are so many things you have to think about, packing is arguably the least of your worries. Here are some things that I can offer some insight on, whether you’re going to study abroad, moving for work, or just travelling for fun.

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ONE: Visa

Okay so this one probably isn’t something you forgot if you’re leaving for over three months. If you’re moving for work your employer will likely figure this out for you, but if you’re going for vacation or to study you will most likely be on your own. My number one piece of advice here is to apply early. Figure your shit out sooner rather than later.

TWO: travel insurance

Very important because getting injured or sick in a foreign country is a lot scarier than it is at home. For me, if I’m taking full time courses I’m still covered under my parents medical (score), so I’m not really sure what the best options are, but I’m sure there are endless resources.

THREE: unexpected costs

Save!!! Your!!! Money!!! Things are often more expensive than you think they will be and who wants to rack up their credit card when they’re just trying to have a good time? Costs like your return flight if you buy a one way, travel insurance costs, transit, taxis, or unexpected events (theft, lost luggage, etc.), should be at the back of your mind.

FOUR: your vehicle at home

Depending on how long you’re going for, you might want to cancel your insurance, or even sell your vehicle. If your vehicle is old and kind of shitty I would sell it, because there’s some extra cash in your pocket. If it’s not too long or you’re personally in love with your car, cancel the insurance and park it somewhere to save money.

FIVE: gym membership/phone

Lots of gyms allow you do stop your account for a period of time, and then they’ll start it again when you return. I would also look into gyms in your area before you arrive. Lots of phone companies do the same thing, or you can just switch to the lowest possible plan while you’re away and then return to your normal one when you return.

SIX: phones, again

Speaking of phones, what are you doing upon arrival? Make sure your phone is unlocked before you leave and get a sim card with data. It’s so very helpful to not have to rely on wifi to be able to look at a map or get a transit schedule.

SEVEN: passport

Make sure it has at least three months before expiry, and if you’re going for a long time, renew it. Also it’s not a bad idea to keep a photocopy both with someone at home, and with you.

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EIGHT: prescriptions

Visit your doctor and get a copy of any prescriptions you need, and also refill as much as you can before you go.

NINE: cash/credit card

Make sure you have some cash for when you arrive so you’re not stuck searching for a currency exchange right away. Also, make sure you notify your credit card company that you are travelling so it works.

TEN: place to stay/ job search

Make sure you have a place to stay, whether it be temporary or where you’ll be staying the whole time. And, if you’ll be working, start hunting for jobs and making connections as well, because it’s difficult to find work in some countries as a foreigner (Norway).

It’s a lot to move, I know. Don’t panic. It will all be okay, and all of the stress and preparation will be worth it. I hope this helps you think about things before you leave, and don’t forget that any travel experience is good travel experience.

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Norway working holiday for Canadians: application process

So, you want to work in Norway….. 

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For young adults from Canada, there is a working holiday agreement. This is for people between the ages 18 and 36, and it will be valid for a year, and then it can be renewed, but you can only have this permit for two years total. I found there was very minimal information outside of the UDI website for the working holiday application process for Canadians, so if you’re thinking of working in Norway, my first piece of advice is to really think about it. Starting life in this country is not easy; my second piece of advice is to apply early.

One of the downfalls of the working holiday permit is that you will only be able to work for the same employer for six months. This is an issue because who wants to hire someone knowing they’re training them for only six months? On that note, try your absolute best to have work lined up before you arrive. It’s quite difficult to find work, and with the cost of living in Norway, it’s more than stressful to be without work for an extended period of time. Seasonal jobs, such as hotels, might be your best shot if you don’t speak Norwegian and aren’t trained in a specific profession (i.e. a trade or something in the healthcare field).

If you are not a skilled worker, you must apply from abroad. You cannot apply for this permit while you are in Norway. A skilled worker is someone who has a completed vocational training program of at least three years (carpenter/health worker), or completed a degree from a university (bachelors degree in engineering or nursing). If you are one of these, you can apply for the permit if you have a concrete job offer doing what you are trained for, and it must be a full time position, or at least 80%. I did not qualify as a skilled worker, so I had to apply from Canada.

The only Norwegian embassy in Canada is in Ottawa, so the Danish embassy represents Norway in Vancouver. You must make an appointment through them, and bring the signed application front page, the checklist, the application itself, and all supporting documents. If there is a page you do not need within the application forms, that must be brought with you. I didn’t fill out the “applicant is a child or minor” page, so I didn’t include it, and I was charged a fee to print it. The application fee itself came to around $350 if I remember correctly.

Along with the application, there is a checklist of things you must bring with you.

Number one: Your passport, and a copy of all used pages of the passport (including the page with your photo).

They will send your actual passport to the closest embassy. They sent mine to Ottawa, and my flight was leaving three weeks from this day. They told me I would have it back within two or three weeks; talk about stressful. If you have travel plans, be aware of this. I’m not sure what happens if you’re able to apply to a Norwegian embassy.

Number two: Two recent/new passport sized photos.

This is straight forward. Go to London Drugs and ask for passport photos. They don’t need to be stamped or signed by anyone.

Number three: Proof that you have sufficient funds to stay in Norway for three months.

31902 NOK = more or less $5000 CAN

I printed out the page from my online banking, and then took it to the bank, and got them to stamp it. Make sure your full name is shown somewhere on this page. The statement didn’t print out with my name the first time, and I had to email a document that made sure my name was by the account. I should have realized, but the online banking just didn’t show it on the page and I didn’t even think of it.

Another thing- you have to have $5000 PLUS enough to buy a flight home. I already had my return flight, so I again had to email them proof of this. I didn’t see this anywhere on the website. Because it was for over three months away, I also sent them a copy of my credit card statement showing my credit limit and that could buy a new flight if I was not approved for the permit. I don’t know if this was necessary, but you can’t be too careful.

Number four: Consent to signing medical upon entering Norway.

Just type out a letter, “To whomever it may concern,” saying that you will purchase medical insurance before you enter the country. Easy.

Number five: Documentation which shows you have somewhere to live.

My boyfriend wrote a letter similar to the medical insurance one saying that I would be staying with him and the address. He was going to be there before me, but we also included a copy of his Hungarian passport and residence card proving that he was an EU citizen and allowed to be there for longer than ninety days. This can be as simple as a hotel booking or an email from someone you know there saying you will be staying with them.

Number six: Information of your intentions of staying in Norway.

Another letter. Mine just said I was studying through online courses from my university in Canada, and I want to travel in Norway and want to be able to work to fund my stay.

More tips…

  • Sign all of these letters and make sure your name is on them (duh).
  • If you’re unsure about whether you should bring a document to the appointment, do it anyway. If it’s not needed they will tell you.
  • Apply early. It took my application just over four weeks to come back approved, and by this time I was already in Norway. After this, you have to make an appointment with the police to actually get your residence card and to be able to work, but the soonest appointment for the area I lived in was six weeks away. If I had applied earlier, I could have made the appointment, and gone to it earlier upon arriving. From what I’ve heard, appointments with the police are always a long wait because there are so many people immigrating to Norway.
  • You’re supposed to go to the police within seven days, but if there are no available appointments, it’s just whenever you can get one. This stressed me out because I had been there for a month and thought I had to go to the police station within the first week. And I tried to…. lol. They just sent me on my way. To get an appointment, find the police station in the district you live in and email to ask for one. I think for some of the stations you can book online too.
  • Getting answers from anyone on the phone is extremely difficult in my experience. I had better luck emailing UDI because the people who answer their phone do not seem very helpful. It takes a while for them to reply to emails though. Also, calling the Norwegian embassy or the Canadian embassy (in Oslo), is useless. I was desperate for answers, because I was leaving so soon and was rather stressed out, but only UDI can really help you.
  • Even if your application is in process, you can still be in Norway for three months. This was what I was worried about. I thought I was going to be sent back at customs because my flight home was over three months away, and I had not yet been approved for the permit. It was fine, I just told customs I would be there for 90 days unless I was approved for the visa I applied for.
  • Do your research on moving to Norway. Are you expecting to drop around $5000 as a deposit for your apartment? Because most places want five or six months deposit plus your first month’s rent right off the bat. Are you prepared for the insane cost of living, to go on a wild goose chase finding work, and to dive into this strange (but beautiful) country?

If I’m being honest, I didn’t do enough research before moving to Norway. It was actually quite a difficult experience, but that’s okay- learn from me. I hope this post can be useful to someone. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask!

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A really really long list of things to do in Hungary

Another post about Hungary.. Are you surprised? This is basically a recap of every other post, but combined. In no particular order, here is a list of absolutely everything I can think of doing in Budapest and other areas of Hungary.

Thermal baths- Hungary is famous for these. I went in the winter, and don’t think I would enjoy going in the summer. The Szechenyi Thermal Baths are pictured here. It’s the largest one and I’d recommend it for your first time. You can make a day out of it and get a massage or other spa treatments.

Fisherman’s Bastion- Exploring around here is a must! You’ll get a gorgeous view of the city, and there are some nice cafes and restaurants up here. You can go up the funicular, but I prefer just walking up the stairs.

St. Stephens Basilica- You can go inside for a small price, I don’t remember how much but it wasn’t a lot. Then you can go to the top and get a beautiful view of the city.

Walk around fashion street- This is where to go if you want to shop. It’s also good to find souvenir shops and people watch.

Fashion Street

Fashion Street at Christmas

Eat a chimney cake– The walnut covered ones are the best. Hungarians love walnuts. (They are really cheap at the subway stations.)chimney cake

Eat goulash (at Balvaros Lugas)- This restaurant has such good traditional Hungarian food, and it’s fairly cheap.

Go to the ruin bars (Szimpla Kert)- Go to all of them, but Szimpla is my favourite.

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this was taken upstairs looking down

Walk around the Jewish District

Visit the Dohány Street Synagogue- The largest Synagogue in Europe, and the second largest in the world. There’s a museum attached to it.

Go to the Holocaust Memorial Centre and the House of Terror Museum

Run around Margaret Island– There is running track around the island. There’s also the water polo stadium, a small zoo, a hotel, and a couple bars on the island.

Go to a hockey game (HK Budapest, Ujpest, MAC)

Go to the Great Market Hall- Many locals grocery shop here, it’s busy and a great places to take in the culture.

Eat lángos- fried dough, garlic, sour cream. Buy this at the Great Market Hall.

Go to all the bridges

Go to the Citadella Sétány at night (or during the day I guess)

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The view from the Citadella

Hummus bar, Parasz Thai, Iguana– For more about restaurants, see my favourite restaurants in Budapest post.

Cake and pastry at Gerbaud or/and Ruzzwurm– These cafes are the best in the city. (Try Kremes, Dobostorta, the and cheese danish).

Cheap wine spritzers from Froccskocsma– This place is the best. They usually speak English here, just ask for a wine spritzer and it will be about 60 cents Canadian.

Have a beer at the High Note Sky Bar– It’s a bit fancy but they don’t care if you’re underdressed.

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(underdressed) at the High Note

Ride the Budapest Eye

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The Budapest Eye

Go to Lake Balaton– It’s not a far train ride  from Budapest and a really nice place to spend a day in the summer.

Lake Balaton

Lake Balaton

Go to some thrift stores

Have rose shaped gelato (Gelarto Rosa)

Gelarto Rose

Go to the zoo– I’m not a huge fan of zoos, but you can play with goats at this zoo, and it seems really nice.

Go to Boldogkőváralja– This isn’t close to Budapest, but if you have rented a car then why not?

Boldogkőváralja

Boldogkőváralja

Explore the Buda side– There isn’t as much going on as the Pest side, but it’s worth walking around.

Go to Hero’s Square

Hero's Square

Hero’s Square

Go to Vajdahunyad Castle in the city park

Vajdahunyad Castle

Vajdahunyad Castle

Go skating or rent peddle boats right next to the city park– Depending on the season, it will be ice or a lake.

Get bagels at Budapest Bagel- The area this little bagel store is in is really nice, so make sure you explore.

Go to Szentendre and walk around and have a picnic– Such a cute little town, the streets were magical.

 

Visit Esztergom Basillica (the largest church in Hungary)

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Get a chocolate bar filled with cheese (Turo Rudi)– A Hungarian thing- surprisingly good.

Eat chicken paprikash and stock up on paprika and erős pista.

Gundel Crepes (at Gundels)– Or any other restaurant. They light them on fire.

Get burgers at street bistro

Eat túrós táska for breakfast– My favourite pastry- a cheese filled danish.

Coffee at the New York Café– Or be like me, and just go in to take a photo.

See the shoes on the Danube- A memorial along the river for the Jewish people killed in 1944.

Walk around the Hungarian Parliament building– The number 2 tram on the Pest side is a gorgeous tram ride that will take you along the Danube. You’ll see the castle on the other side of the river, the chain bridge, and the parliament.

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Go on either a dinner cruise, or a party cruise down the Danube- Some party cruises are all you can drink for about fifty dollars Canadian.

Budapest

That’s everything I can think of, and what’s bothering me is that I know I’m missing some things. I hope when you visit this country you can take in everything it has to offer. If you can think of anything I’m missing in this post- let me know! For more specific details of some things listed here, there are more detailed posts in my “Hungary” category.

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