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!

prestwick

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: 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!

north berwick

North Berwick West Links

north berwick links

North Berwick West Links

north berwick west

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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Roadtrip to Rouen and Normandy, France

What do you do when it’s a Tuesday, but your flight out of Paris isn’t until Friday, and your hotel has no more space? Drive up north! We rented a car and drove from Paris to Rouen. It was absolutely terrifying driving in the city, but we made it out alive. Rouen is only an hour and a half drive from Paris, and it’s the most enchanting little town.

cathedral

We spent the first night wandering around. Somehow, we always end up staying in the sketchiest part of town. Another thing that sucks about travelling mid November is that they start decorating for Christmas and setting up the markets, but they’re not actually open yet.

cathedral

this town has an abundance of fancy churches

The streets were beautiful with wood houses, cute bakeries, and tons of boutiques with nice clothes and jewelry.

I think I could live here. It’s not a far drive from Paris, and has everything you could need. It’s not too busy but also not a ghost town. It looks like the type of town fairytales were written about. We weren’t sure if it was worth the hassle of renting a car to come here, but I’m so glad we did. The vanilla tart pictured above is also one of the best things I’ve ever put in my mouth. On our last day we went back in search of the tart but the bakery was already closed. Sad was an understatement.

On the second day, we drove up to the beaches of Normandy, and that was one of the most eye opening days I’ve experienced. These beautiful beaches are where the Allies finally gained foothold in France on June 6th, 1944. The beaches are littered with museums, monuments, cemeteries, and battle remains from D-Day. This area of France is absolutely gorgeous. The beaches go on forever; these little towns surrounding them look like they thrive in the summer with carousels and ice cream stands, but nearly 20,000 people died on these beaches.

We got off to an early start and drove to Sword beach first. This was probably the shortest stop of the day.

Juno beach was next. Taking Juno was the responsibility of the Canadian Army- their WWII museum is here.

Juno Beach

Gold beach still has the remains of the artificial dock they built after taking the beach.

We kept driving and reached Omaha Beach. This is where the US memorial and cemetery is; we spent quite a bit of time here.

Omaha BeachOmaha BeachOmaha BeachUS CemeteryUS Cemetery

Between Omaha and Utah is Pointe du Hoc. It’s the highest point between the two beaches. Here, there are craters in the ground from bombs, bunkers, and the Ranger Monument. US Army Rangers scaled the 100-foot cliffs and seized the German artillery pieces that could have fired on the American landing troops at Omaha and Utah beaches.

Pointe du Hoc

The most eye opening part of this day for me was the US cemetery. All of these white crosses seemed to go on forever- and they were only US men, killed only on D-Day and the days following.

If you have extra time in Paris, you should definitely consider going here. Normandy is more than WWII history. It’s rich in French culture, art, and the region has over 30 Michelin-starred chefs. There are lots of other things to see, but exploring this area filled with history was both powerful and heartbreaking.

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rouen