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

carnoustie

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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San Diego on a budget: one week itinerary

What do you do in San Diego if you don’t want to go to The Zoo, Seaworld, or Legoland??? Let me tell you.

Day one: Monday

Drop off your things at your unreal Airbnb (that has dogs) (this one). Seriously, I can’t say enough good things about this place, it was lovely. After dropping off all your things, go to Einstein Bagels, get an avocado bagel and a coffee, and then make your way over to the Spruce Street Suspension Bridge for a walk. After that, rent bikes in Balboa Park and go for a bike ride. When you’re tired of riding bikes, go for beers. This city can’t get enough craft beer, apparently. For dinner, go to In n Out, and then to another brewery. This will be a trend, just wait.

 

Day two: Tuesday

Get picked up by the rental car company, we used Hertz. Pick up the car and then go to Vons to buy some groceries for the week and a breakfast burrito. Go to Mission Beach and walk along the boardwalk, go on the Belmont Park roller coaster, get a beer, and start to drive home. If you’re into golf, I recommend going to the golf superstore because they had a huge used golf club selection. On the way home, stop at El Zarape for .99 cent fish tacos. Just do it. Next up is Coronado Island. It’s super cute there so go explore, and then, go to the Coronado Golf Course. They have an amazing happy hour, and I adored this golf course.

 

Day three: Wednesday

Carlsbad. Carlsbad outlets. You need to buy things. The flower fields are here, but we were far too cheap to pay for that, so we drove around the back and tried to catch a glimpse. You’re probably not as cheap as us, though, so if it’s the right season, frolic in the flowers. Go to Senior Grubby’s for lunch and eat your burritos on the beach. On the way home, stop at the Oceanside Pier and the Del Mar race tracks, but unfortunately, there are no horse races in April, so we just walked around. In the evening, go to Soda and Swine for board games and appies and then check out Fall Brewing because they have great sour beers (my fav).

 

Day four: Thursday

Thursday is the day you make your way up to La Jolla and go to Torrey Pines. I realize this post says “on a budget,” and Torrey Pines isn’t cheap. R was over the moon excited about this, and it was most definitely not on his budget. After his round, we ate lunch on the beach in La Jolla and went shopping at Marshalls and Nordstrom. We were supposed to return our rental car, but we decided to extend it because San Diego is really tough without a car. Everything’s so spread out; Uber’s add up, and public transit is not really for me.

 

Day five: Friday

Go to Balboa Park and see the sculpture garden (it’s free). I had my heart set on going here, and we searched for parking for what seemed like forever. It was closed due to an event. I was not impressed. Then, go to Old Town and walk around, go to the carriage museum (it’s free) and get ice cream. If there’s a home game, buy last minute tickets to a Padres game.

 

Day six: Saturday

First, go to the farmers market in Little Italy. It’s so nice to just walk around, find some kombucha on tap, and try free samples. Since you’re in Little Italy, you need to go to the Crack Shack for lunch, it’s right there. Then, go to Mission Beach after stuffing your face with fried chicken sandwiches (no judgement here), and since you’ve already given up on health for the day, check out Baked Bear and get bomb ice cream sandwiches.

 

Day seven: Sunday

Sundays are basically a synonym for a bagel. Nomad’s Donut’s had great bagels. You can obviously do whatever you want, but we went to Golf Mart, drove to Sunset Cliffs Park, walked around the SDSU campus, went to Trader Joe’s, and played a little par three golf course. We had time, no direction, and drove around a bit aimlessly. I guess if you’re someone who likes The Zoo, Seaworld, or Lego Land, that’s something you could do.

Sunset Cliffs Park

Sunset Cliffs Park

Day eight: Monday

If you’re smart like us, you booked an evening flight so in the morning you can go to the USS Midway Museum. It’s so cool!!!! Go! Then you must get In n Out for the last time, look through Nordstrom Rack, and return your rental car and make it to the airport on time.

 

That’s it! We liked finding good food, laying on the beach, shopping, and golf courses. San Diego is such a fun city and there’s so much to do, even when you don’t want to spend a lot on activities.

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7 great golf courses near Vancouver, BC

It’s been a hot second since posting and I have gone to no places lately with no desire to write, just busy. Life, school, work, trying to get better at hitting golf balls, ya know, just things. I’ve had way too much school work to do to be able to keep up with this silly blog. Taking five courses plus an extra half-semester course, attempting to work three days a week, and workout five? I have had no time, except the nice (ish) weather we’ve had here in Vancouver has gotten me out to the driving range and a couple local golf courses a few times. I’m dreaming of nicer weather, golf courses that are in good condition, and not starting my round crying like I did last weekend (pressured from the random men put in our group, and my third shot straight into the trees…. Not my finest moment). If you’re looking for some great golf courses near Vancouver, these are my top picks in no particular order. Just promise to not be like me, and don’t cry. Golf is hard, it’s fine.

Northview

The PGA Tour used to be held at Northview on The Ridge course. It’s in Surrey, and always very well maintained and in excellent shape. There are two courses, The Ridge and The Canal. The Ridge has an amazing layout and The Canal is more of a links style course.

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Northview- Surrey

Mayfair Lakes

Mayfair Lakes is probably a good reason to go to Richmond, I guess unless you’re going to the airport to go somewhere better. This golf course is kept in great shape, and it drains really, really well. Another thing to note is the pace of play is usually good, so you don’t find yourself waiting at every hole.

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Mayfair Lakes- Richmond

Meadow Gardens

This golf course is by far the best out of the choices in the Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows area. It is again, well maintained. The layout is challenging, and keep in mind the club selection is very important here.

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Meadow Gardens- Pitt Meadows

Kings Links

This is the only recognized links golf course in Western Canada, the closest would be Bandon, Oregon. Kings Links is in Delta and is really good drainage wise, and the wind makes this course a challenge.

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Kings Links- Delta

Redwoods

This course is in Langley and does not drain well at all, so make sure you go when it’s been dry for a few days. The price of this course is really good for the quality of it; the layout is really nice.

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Redwoods- Langley

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North Bellingham

This is a links style course in Bellingham. The price for the quality you get, but like Redwoods, doesn’t drain well at all.

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Chateau Whistler

One of the most beautiful courses I’ve ever seen is the Chateau Whistler. It is the only true mountain golf course in Whistler, is absolutely stunning, challenging, and there’s a good chance you’ll see bears. It’s very expensive, but it’s Whistler so most things are, and as expected it’s taken care of really well.

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Chateau Whistler

Let me know if you try any of these courses out, or if you’re from the area, let me know what your favourite courses are! Because most of my trips I can see myself going on in the near (and far) future revolve around golf, I’m going to switch gears a bit and incorporate posts about this. Next stop is San Diego, and yes, the golf clubs are coming.  Stay tuned.

mission golf course

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Oregon roadtrip: Canon Beach, Seaside, Portland

Since this is still a fairly new blog, I’m going to do some throwback posts about my favourite places I’ve been before I started this. Last year for Easter, we drove from Vancouver to Portland, stopping in Seaside for a few days. I love Oregon. It’s not too far from home, it’s gorgeous, and there are so many outlet malls.

Astoria

Astoria

First stop was (obviously) the Seattle outlets, and next was the best barbecue place ever just off the highway in Olympia. The Ranch House BBQ and Steakhouse– go here. Also, something to note is that R doesn’t usually share food, but we shared food here because you get so much!! I will choose not to go into detail about the place we stayed at in Seaside. It wasn’t great, and I don’t remember what it was called. It was a short walk from the town and of course- a little bit of a sketchy area.

The purpose of this little road trip was mainly to golf… At this point, I was nowhere near good enough to golf on a course like this (or any at all, really), so I drove around in the golf cart drinking fireball and hot chocolate with Baileys to stay warm. Gearhart Golf Links is absolutely gorgeous though. Maybe, this year we’ll go and I’ll be able to actually play. We lucked out a bit with the weather, only getting a bit of rain.

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Gearhart Golf Links

Gearhart Golf Links

Gearhart Golf Links

Gearhart Golf Links

Gearhart Golf Links

As well as golf, we did a lot of shopping. We went to every Nike outlet we could find, and most of the Marshall’s. It should be noted that the Lebanese food we ate in Seaside at McBani was phenomenal. The roasted cauliflower is a must. Please go here to branch out from regular American food.

We drove down to Canon Beach, one of my favourite places ever. We didn’t do much here except walk around and get coffee.

 

After a few days in Seaside, it was off to Portland. We OBVIOUSLY went to Voodoo Doughnut. Despite Robi’s complaining about waiting in line, after he tried his Portland Cream doughnut, he shut up real quick. It’s worth it.

We went to a Portland Timbers game as well. It was a good time, and a much better atmosphere than a Vancouver Whitecaps game. We didn’t realize how actually obstructed the obstructed seats were and ended up sneaking in with the Timbers Army for the second half. After the game, we had to walk all the way back to the doughnut store because *someone* wanted another doughnut but then decided the line was too long, even though it was 11pm.

Portland Timbers

Portland Timbers

Canon Beach

If we find our way back here this year, I’ll be able to actually participate in the golf; things have improved drastically. Stay tuned for some photos of me frolicking around the greens, probably still full of fireball to stay warm.

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