As the season in Dornoch winds down I have had the good fortune to play some other courses. In the last week I have played three totally different golf courses that all offer a unique perspective on Scottish golf. Last Monday I played in a Senior Open at Ullapool Golf Club. Last Sunday I was on the Royal Dornoch team that played a match at Boat of Garten Golf Club. Lastly, I was a member of the Royal Dornoch Seniors who played a match at Royal Burgess Golfing Society of Edinburgh. These were three vastly different clubs and three different experiences, but all contribute to that wonderful thing that is Scottish Golf.
Ullapool Golf Club is a nine-hole course on the west coast of Scotland and is a new club, only about 15 years old. The village of Ullapool was without a golf club and the nearest club was 45 miles away. The villagers applied for a lottery grant to build a golf course. Probably a wise move to keep Scottish golfers off the road. The course was built very much as a city project, no big name designer, no elaborate clubhouse, no buggies, and no pro shop. It operates some of the time with an honesty box for your green fees. The members did and still do lots of the work on the club. It has a greens keeping staff of one. With all that being said, you would expect some cow pasture...wrong. The greens were smooth and fast and the fairways well manicured. The course had three really good holes. The 2nd hole is a beautiful par 3 of 180 yards. The tee is perched atop a hill with views up and down Loch Broom. The tee shot had to carry a finger of Loch Broom to reach the green that was protected by bunkers right and the loch on the left. The hole was also protected by a 20 mile per hour cross wind. A 3 is well earned. The 3rd hole is a fun short par 4 that has the loch down the left hand side for the entire length of the hole and a bank of gorse protecting the right. The green is set between the bank of gorse and the loch and offered great views out to the Western Isles. The 4th hole is a postcard pretty par 3 from an elevated tee playing down 160 yards to a three-tiered green with the loch protecting the left side and back of the green. The rest of the golf was challenging and good fun, just not as scenic. The golf at Ullapool will not be confused with championship golf, but there must be hundreds of these courses throughout Scotland, places that provide recreation and a sense of community to the village and I am sure I will return.
Boat of Garten Golf Club is one of the finest inland courses in Scotland. It was designed by James Braid and though not long, it will test your game. The fairways run up and down hills covered with white birch trees. If you don't drive the ball straight you will be in for a very long day. The greens offer just enough challenge to keep you on your toes without being silly. The club is located in the village and is a centerpiece for village life. I played as part of match between our two clubs. We took a coach down from Dornoch and upon arrival the club Captain greeted us. Coffee and bacon rolls were provided and friendships were made and renewed. We then played the traditional Scottish club match, better ball of partners. After the match we changed into jacket and tie for cocktail hours (the reason we took a coach) and then a proper dinner. There are hundreds of these inter-club matches throughout Scotland every year. The total cost of this full day including coach, lunch, golf, and dinner with wine the grand sum of 10 pounds. I love Scottish golf.
My next journey took me to Edinburgh and the oldest organized golf club in the world, The Royal Burgess Golfing Society of Edinburgh founded in 1735, 41 years before the United States became a country. This all-mens club is located only 10 minutes from the city center and, as the Brits might say, is quite posh. The golf course, another James Braid design, is immaculately maintained with huge, fast greens. The entire grounds was like being in an arboretum, hundreds of wonderful trees. Azaleas and rhododendrens were everywhere. The grounds were so well kept you almost did not want to ruin it by golfing...almost. The clubhouse was fantastic. The hallways were lined with golf paintings and cabinets filled with historic golf memorabelia. The locker room maybe the largest in Scotland and the showers were like standing under a car wash, delightful. This was a two-day match. When we arrived we were treated to lunch (soup and sandwiches) and then golf. After golf, showers and change into coat and tie for cocktails, dinner (soup, roast lamb, and creme brulee, cheese and coffee), and more cocktails in the members bar. We then were housed by the members. The next day we had our match and a huge carvery lunch. The total cost of this junket - 25 pounds. Rightly or wrongly, the members are quite proud of their all-male status. A member was relating to me a story about how the wives of two members were waiting on the upstairs balcony of the clubhouse for their husbands to finish golf when down below on the 18th green a member missed a short put and let forth with some unsavory language. The wives were quite offended and demanded that their husbands write a formal letter of complaint to the management committee, which they did. The management committee considered the formal complaint and issued the decision that women were furthermore banned from being on the balcony.
Golf in Scotland comes in all shapes, sizes and forms, but is a distinct and important part of their culture.