The Story of the Open Championship in Scotland

A timeline of its development

Scotland is where all Championship golf originates from. The story begins at Prestwick in 1860. Scotland has a total of seven Open Championship courses, two of which are no longer in today’s rotation. It’s also provided the tournament with the claret jug. Take a brief look at the Open Championship Story as we skim across Scotland through the ages using a map. Could you play all seven of them today in a single week? Yes (in theory) although its never easy to get them all to line up sequentially and Muirfield is never straight-forward either

Scotland’s Golf Clubhouses

We perhaps like to believe that Scotland has placed more emphasis on the quality of her golf courses, and England concentrated on her buildings. Certainly the red brick and gables of venues like Royal Lytham and Hoylake are impressive. So too is the Art Deco masterpiece of Royal Birkdale. Scotland’s Golf Clubhouses exhibit an eclectic collection of influences in their own right however. Our list is by no means exclusive, nor is it any attempt to rank them. Hopefully it serves to show you the variety that exists in Scotland, and also highlight how modern design paradigms are also being introduced


Situated on a lakeside estate that used to be home to the Colquhouns, a Highland Scottish clan, LOCH LOMOND’S clubhouse is built of local pink and yellow sandstones—some of which had been salvaged from the clan’s 18th-century Georgian-style Rossdhu Mansion. In terms of elegance, the aristocratic splendour of Loch Lomond’s Rossdhu House, probably sets the gold standard in Scotland. The medieval Rossdhu Castle was completed in 1457 for Sir John Colquhoun. The castle was ruined in a fire post 1773 and the remains can be seen behind the 18th green of the golf course. The mansion is now the clubhouse for the prestigious Loch Lomond Golf Club.

Another outstanding candidate would be Prestongrange House, the home of the ROYAL MUSSELBURGH Club about 20 miles east of Edinburgh. The Norman family, de Quincy, had the estate of Prestongrange until they supported the losing side in the run-up to Bannockburn. it then went to the Abbey of Newbattle and, in turn, to the families of Kerr, Morrison, and Grant. The house has, as its core, a Norman tower, added to and converted into a mansion. It’s distinctive pinkish sandstone and turreted roofs and towers lend it more than just hint of Glamis Castle.


MUIRFIELD’S clubhouse dates to 1891. With the passage of time, modifications were introduced along with subsequent extensions. The clubhouse with its characteristic red roof and gables now harmonises well with both the landscape and the buildings on either side. It sits behind the 18th green as one of the more iconic images in world championship golf and of the most recognisable of Scotland’s Golf Clubhouses.

ROYAL BURGESS with its white stone, black wood beams, and gabling is something of a gem. The design oozes class and heritage as is befitting for the world’s oldest golf club (1735)


NORTH BERWICK sits in the shadow of ‘Berwick Law’ (a conical hill). Houses were built at its foot, and to a large extent these have determined how the clubhouse evolved. It is perhaps one of the most human in Scotland in so much as it integrates with the surrounding built environment. It has a distinctly residential feel about it. The clubhouse was refurbished in 2008, and does actually have a genuine sense of ‘Scottishness’ about it.

PRESTWICK’S clubhouse is delightful for the glimpse it offers into golf’s past. Guided tours are actively encouraged to take-in the highlights of the early days of the Open Championship as well as the club’s rich history and its links with the Morris family. For lovers of the game, this is where golf’s myths and legends come to life at it has to rate as one of the most interesting amongst Scotland’s Golf Clubhouses.

ROYAL TROON resembles Prestwick in design. It doesn’t make a grandiose statement with extravagant exterior decor. As the game of golf evolved, gentle and subtle changes have been made to accommodate the golfer of the present generation. In the early part of 1970s the Ailsa Room was erected and extended in 2006 .

The clubhouse dates to the 1870’s. At that time it was a wooden structure, little more than 300 square feet in area, but it was an improvement on the Club’s first home which was a converted railway carriage. As the popularity game increased, it was considered fitting to erect a stone built property and in 1886 the first stage of the present Clubhouse was completed. Two major extensions were completed before 1900 incorporating the Smoke Room and the magnificent Dining Room, both of which to this day contain many of the original features.


CASTLE STUART focused on the challenge of presenting a wide panoramic view along the Moray Firth to those within the building for their maximum pleasure (banner image at top of page). The architecture would focus on bringing the surrounding panoramic beauty to the interior. The clubhouse overlooks the 18th and 9th greens whilst also offering commanding 360 degree views across the whole course. With it white stone and copious use of big bay glass windows the influence of Royal Birkdale is detectable in this most modern of Scotland’s Golf Clubhouses

The conversation about an Art Deco clubhouse dates back more than ten years to when one was considered for Kingsbarns. On that occasion however, the design team backed off and a more traditional approach sympathetic to the architecture of the surrounding estate was eventually chosen, albeit the traditional stone building was sited in the centre of the course with a top floor lounge and viewing decks. Roy Malcolm and Mark Parsinen still wanted to do an Art Deco clubhouse though you feel. At Castle Stuart they got their chance again. Subsequent discussions centred on ‘arrival’ and ‘release’ which meant a design that permitted views in the ‘circular drum’.

Traditionally there has been a tendency towards making an architectural statement with the clubhouse design. Orthodoxy dictated that a commanding building overlooked the 18th green. Like Castle Stuart, the ST ANDREWS CASTLE COURSE
ripped this up and placed the clubhouse in the centre of the course. The genius lies in the symbiosis of course and landscape, the clubhouse blends into the terrain


PANMURE’S clubhouse is possibly one of the more architecturally eccentric. The Clubhouse is one of the finest old golf buildings in Scotland. Its unique and delightful lounges are full of character. The reason it hints at something exotic is because it draws heavily from India and the days when the jute industry brought the fortunes of the Tay and Hooghly rivers together. Inside, beech panelling and carved oak fireplaces make for a time-honoured and welcoming retreat to relax in.

When it comes to white stone Art Deco buildings from the period, Royal Birkdale’s magnificent example with its big bay windows sets the standard. MUSSELBURGH’S contribution dates from 1938 and is at least authentic, even if we’d have to concede that it isn’t as grand as that of the Southport links used for the Open Championship


The watchword here is probably drama. OLD MORAY put its clubhouse on the edge of the Lossiemouth (very similar to the R&A’s headquarters at St Andrews. Like the 18th on the Old Course, a series of houses to your right lead you back into the town. There can be few better places to watch golfer’s coming home than with some suitable refreshment looking down on the closing green, than the Moray Old Course

So where is the ST ANDREWS OLD COURSE in our list of clubhouses you might be asking by now? The magnificent neo-classical building (1854) that overlooks the 18th green is perhaps the most iconic in golf. Well in truth we’re a bit conflicted about its status. It is the clubhouse of the R&A at one level, well it could certainly pass the threshold of private club anyway, but for functional purposes it tends to be the administrative headquarters. The actual clubhouse for a vast majority of players is a modern building close to the second tee

The Growth of the Scottish Open

The Next Tier of Courses on a Championship Rotation

First played in 1935, the Scottish Open had something of a chequered history until 1986 when it was given a boost and moved to the inland course of Gleneagles. It had a distinctly European flavour to it, Ian Woosnam perhaps being its highest profile winner during this period. In 1995 it spent a brief couple of years at Carnoustie ahead of the their reintegration back onto the Open roster, before finding a new home at Loch Lomond in 1997

There can be little doubt that it was suffering however due to its proximity to the Open though. Top international players preferred to use the links courses of Ireland as practise for the Open. The solution was obvious. Move it to a Scottish links. In 2011 the Highland course of Castle Stuart hosted for the first time. A year later Luke Donald won on the same track. Perhaps the biggest single boost came in 2013 when Phil Mickelson triumphed at Castle Stuart and wasted no time in suggesting that preparing in ‘the Scottish’ was critical to his subsequent success at Muirfield a week later. An even stronger field assembled for 2014 when Royal Aberdeen did the honours. Justin Rose prevailed this time, but Rory McIlroy provided further evidence that the Scottish was developing as a springboard to success when following up at Hoylake. 2015 broke the link, Zach Johnson lifted the claret jug at St Andrews, but the Lothian course of Gullane still saw Rickie Fowler edge out Matt Kuchar. The pattern was convincingly restored in 2016 however. Not only did Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson spread-eagle a field at Troon having used the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart as their launchpad to do so, but both the third and fourth placed finishers (JB Holmes and Steve Stricker) also played the week before. With supreme irony, the highest placed finisher who hadn’t played at the Scottish Open was Rory McIlroy, the same Rory McIlroy who had earlier suggested that Castle Stuart wasn’t linksy enough to act as a preparation. In 2017 the spell of the Scottish was broken slightly as Jordan Spieth prevailed at Birkdale, yet the four who finished behind him, Matt Kuchar, Haotong Li, Rory McIlroy, and Rafa Cabrero-Bello (the winner of the Scottish) all played at Dundonald, as did Braden Grace who shot a new Major record of 62 and came tied for sixth. In total seven of the top-10 finishers played the Scottish. The same total as in 2016.

What Faraway Fairways are really interested in though is the establishment of a future rota for ‘the Scottish’ as it throws all sorts of interesting things into the mixer and no small amount of politics to boot just to complicate the brew.

Scotland does have what we might call ‘golf playing’ regions, but unlike say the wine producing regions of France, Scotland’s golf regions are a bit looser and not really that well defined. You can pick up guidebooks and see completely different lines drawn on maps. The golf industry is important to the economy of Scotland. Recognition of this prompted the Scottish government to take a stake in the Scottish Open. The Scottish government however are keen to share the event around the country, so one of their first considerations is an equitable geographic spread

In addition to geography, there is also a tacit priority seemingly given to membership politics and public accessibility. It becomes politically difficult for the Scottish government to use public money to support a golf club that operates restrictions.

The politics of the decision is by no means restricted to the partisan though. There is a small ‘p’ political consideration to observe too. When in 2009 Barclays were looking at sponsoring the event, then CEO Bob Diamond saw Turnberry as a natural host. On approaching the course however it is reported that they turned the invitation down, for fear of jeopardising their status on the Open rotation, preferring instead to remain with the R&A. It is known that the R&A do not want the prestige of their courses undermined by hosting European Tour events so this seemingly strikes down the St Andrews Old Course, Carnoustie, Royal Troon, Trump Turnberry, and Muirfield. Barclays withdrew shortly after and were replaced by Aberdeen Asset Management. It is perhaps worth noting however that St Andrews and Carnoustie, along with Kingsbarns, host the Alfred Dunhill links challenge in October each year. It’s not like there is no precedent for this

It was widely believed that the 2017 Scottish Open was going to be held at the Trump International Links in Aberdeenshire. Well it isn’t difficult to imagine that the course made a favourable impression on the assessors. At 7400 yds it’s more than up to tour championship standard, and is stunning. Aberdeen proved in 2014 (as if it were necessary) that the city has the infrastructure to support the award. Again politics intervened. As Donald Trump discovered with Doral, sponsors are nervous. When you also throw in the mix of the Scottish Government, the whole package and its associations started to become messy. It doesn’t seem likely that the Trump International will host a Scottish Open any time soon, but the fact that it was seemingly under consideration might offer hope of a future accommodation.

One thing that everyone agrees on however is the importance of a links course in attracting a quality field. This seemingly rules out Gleneagles, Loch Lomond, and Spey Valley. So discounting the inland courses and focusing on links, Scotland probably has five clear golfing regions. The Highlands are locked down by Castle Stuart. There is no good reason not to continue going back to Gullane, so this accounts for East Lothian and Edinburgh. Aberdeenshire is covered by Royal Aberdeen, irrespective of the Trump International, which leaves Fife and Ayrshire

There is probably an argument to suggest that Fife isn’t really in need of a profile boost. Having said that, Kingsbarns would make for particularly attractive television, although it wouldn’t have the hotel facilities. Having flagged this concern, it is only 8 miles from St Andrews. In theory at least, it strikes us as tailor made.

So if we’re looking to create an inclusive roster, this leaves us with the most problematic piece in the jigsaw, Ayrshire. The two jewels in the crown, Turnberry and Troon, are caught in the clash with the R&A’s rota. Western Gailes is simply too tight to host the event hemmed in as it is by a railway and a coastline. The neighbouring Gailes course suffers similar drawbacks, as does Prestwick, which is also just a bit too quirky and too short for a tour event. Almost by default therefore, the only name that’s left standing is that of Dundonald.

Dundonald certainly had her doubters, but the course was immaculately presented, and the winning score of 13-under (albeit aided by tough conditions for the third round) suggests she was wasn’t chewed up and spat out. On balance, she probably passed the test, albeit Henrik Stenson felt the course had deterred the bump and run and despite looking linksy, needn’t be an ideal prep

In 2016 after a reasonably torrid opening day in the wind at Castle Stuart Phil Mickelson remarked that he’s played the Scottish Open in the past because it offered a gentle reacquaintance with links golf. Challenging conditions that shred confidence and drain mental energy needn’t be what the players really want. Having said that, Phil did come a superb second at Troon a week later, finishing a full 11 shots clear of third. Were it not for running into an inspired Henrik Stenson he would have been lifting his second claret jug having probably played better than he did at Muirfield in 2013. He didn’t play Dundonald in 2017 and missed the cut at Birkdale. Coincidence?

If the organisers could pick a venue from the Ayrshire coast however, we suspect they’d select Royal Troon. Troon has name recognition and you would think it would quickly emerge as the flagship venue for the Scottish Open. Could it happen? Well somewhat perversely Portrush might hold the key.

When Royal Portrush was reintroduced to the Open roster, complete with a three tournament contract it broke the “optimum” balance of eight courses with St Andrews every five years, completing a ten-year cycle. Then Muirfield voted to exclude women from full membership and was stripped of the right to host. In effect Portrush replaced it and simply slotted into Muirfield’s place. Perhaps chastened by the R&A’s decision, Muirfield moved quickly to hold a second ballot and reversed their decision. Assuming that they will be reinstated, this now means that the equilibrium is unbalanced again. Either one of the existing courses will be dropped, the cycle made eleven years, or St Andrews will be reduced to one hosting every decade.

If the R&A hold true to their assertion of using “the best available” then Hoylake would seemingly be the most vulnerable, albeit such a decision would surely leave a sour taste under the circumstances. Hoylake has always been one of the more progressive clubs, for them to be stripped of the privilege just because Muirfield eventually consented to a change in their rules looks particularly ugly however you try and dress it up. The R&A are contracted to go back to Hoylake at least once more before they can make that decision though. Despite their commitment to quality, there surely has to be a commercial consideration too? Hoylake makes good money. Then there’s politics (again). Dropping Hoylake against this backdrop awards Scotland six Opens in a ten-year cycle. England would only have three. Faraway Fairways can easily foresee a fudge whereby the R&A resolve that the respective quality differential between Hoylake and Troon is deemed close enough to consider dropping the Scottish venue instead, even if the course rating assessors regard it as superior

It needn’t even be Portrush that pulls the trigger however. There is a strengthening geo-political lobby to add Wales and Royal Porthcawl, and so complete a ‘British’ jigsaw. Those who played in the 2013 Open Championship at Hoylake, and the Seniors Open a few weeks later at Porthcawl, were pretty unanimous in their appraisal as to which was the best links. Adopting Porthcawl causes another ‘green bottle to accidentally fall’ as pressure is applied from a second direction. Who though?

Royal St Georges at Sandwich is the R&A’s window on London. They won’t surrender that. Royal Birkdale is widely regarded as England’s best links, so they’re safe. In other words, we believe that in a close-run decision Troon can probably survive Muirfield being reinstated, and probably do so to the detriment of Hoylake in the long-term if quality is used to arbitrate. We doubt Troon could see off a second addition though, (Porthcawl in our scenario). Introducing a Welsh representative would seemingly pit Troon against Royal Lytham. Whereas Faraway Fairways believe Troon to be marginally better, it needn’t be decisively so, and especially if this means England dropping down to just the two venues

Now you might say there is a name missing in all this idle speculation, and that is Trump Turnberry. You’d be right. No course has ‘politics’ more firmly cemented in its DNA than the venue that last hosted in 2009. The R&A have skirted around the issue quite adroitly so far, but tellingly perhaps, have not formally removed it from future consideration. There can be little doubt that Turnberry more than meets the quality threshold, and especially since its renovation. In early survey’s it had overtaken Muirfield as the UK’s best course. There’s always been something of a question mark over its commercial potential however, but the R&A have been able to sign off on that before.

So what do we see long-term? Well we wouldn’t be shocked to see Hoylake and Troon removed in favour of Porthcawl. This then opens up the possibility of Troon becoming the signature home of the Scottish Open, perhaps fulfilling a similar status to that which St Andrews lends to the Open Championship. There is of course an almighty problem with any such suggestion. Is there any reason to believe Troon’s members would agree to such a request? Well it would certainly be a loss of prestige, and the club is wealthy and not exactly in need of the money. Our best guess is that Troon would pass, and prefer to keep the course open for their members

For the ‘brand’ of the Scottish Open to succeed, it might have to move to a recognisable flagship course which viewers, spectators, and sponsors can begin to build a relationship with. The other courses could then be rotated around it on an eight year cycle of, one (4) + four (1’s). The obvious ‘best fit’ would be Turnberry, Bob Diamond was probably right, but for such time as the name ‘Trump’ is emblazoned on things, it seems impossible that an SNP or Labour led Scottish government could agree to this, and that’s before we reconcile other tour sponsors. It’s frustrating. The Scottish Open is probably on the cusp of something quite big, but the final obstacle looks insurmountable

Extreme golf Scotland

the most demanding course

The fishing communities of the East Neuk of Fife have experienced hard times, but even so, the controversial decision to drain Crail harbour and convert it into a golf course was considered a radical response. The result however, is one of world golf’s most truly charismatic opening holes. Played around crags the first is a tight dog-leg, par 4, which requires precision before an inviting green opens up before you. The old walls of the quayside have been retained, lending the hole an unmistakable air of St Andrews or North Berwick about it. The key to the hole is positioning for your second, a deft wedge shot played over the old harbour walls to hold the putting surface. Hit too hard however and there is always the danger of rolling through the back, down the swale, and into the sea

Extreme Golf Scotland HOLE 1 – Crail Harbour

Extreme Golf Scotland

Extreme Golf Scotland HOLE 2 – Arthur’s Seat

Reminiscent of the 16th at Portrush, the tee shot demands you carry a deep gully whilst hugging a ridge line into the fairway. Your second requires you to flirt with trouble all the way left. If you hook, a recovery is all but impossible. The green sits on a rocky crag. A pin cut on the left is the one that golfer’s fear most. There is a safer bail out down the right. Even this however, will normally leave a horribly long putt, or tricky chip to get down in regulation. There really is little margin for error if trying to get close with the pin tucked to the rear. A club too heavy will lead to you rolling through the back and into Edinburgh. A fourth shot of about 2 miles to save your par

Extreme Golf Scotland HOLE 3 – Loch Ness

Extreme Golf Scotland

Our first par 3 is our most picturesque and has drawn favourable comparisons with Turnberry’s iconic ninth. The tee shot requires you to carry the derelict 6th century courtyard of Urquhart castle. Missing right requires you to perform a deft lob shot from well below the green, whereas over-hitting involves a visit into Loch. It pays to err slightly to the left where the green flattens out, and if you get lucky you might always bounce back off the walls of the ruined castle

Extreme Golf Scotland HOLE 4 – Dunnottar Castle

Our first par 5 has often been compared to Carnoustie’s Hoagan’s Alley for the premium it places on accuracy. Played from an elevated tee, the opening shot demands you find the narrowest of narrow fairways in a valley below. Unreasonably long rough patrols the fringes, making the second shot no less easy to negotiate as you look to lay up ahead of your tricky approach. The third is the key playing to a plinth, ‘Dornoch’ green. Loft is the secret. Come in too shallow and you’ll skip through the back and into the sea. Take too much loft and you risk coming up short and rolling a 100ft back down the slope. Notable hazards include bagpipe players.

Extreme Golf Scotland HOLE 5 – ‘The Old Man of Hoy’

Extreme Golf Scotland

This dog-leg, driveable par 4 is the course’s signature hole. It’s a classic risk and reward mission. Deadly accuracy from the tee is required if deciding to take this one on and drive it in a single shot. The price of failure is high leaving you a very tricky recovery shot that will test your ability to play a lob wedge to the full. Alternatively lay-up short at the head of the fairway and then attempt a deft little chip. This exposed hole normally adds the additional hazard of a strong wind or stricken oil tanker to its defences. A breeches buoy is used to get you to the putting surface where the contours are very deceptive (and dangerous)

Extreme Golf Scotland HOLE 6 – Culloden

Extreme Golf Scotland

This historic par 4 has the widest fairway on the course and allows you to open your shoulders and let rip. It might be a mistake to go the direct and shortest route though. The fairway has never really recovered from 1746 and is particularly soft underfoot. In addition it’s riddled with heather. The safer route is to hit down the left on the firmer ground, and although this leads to a longer second, it is played to a more open green. Use the memorial cairn to the clans to line up

Extreme Golf Scotland HOLE 7 – Edinburgh Castle

Extreme Golf Scotland

This par 4 is an uphill hole, with a particularly punitive out-of-bounds to the right should you carry the perimeter wall. You need to stay close to this though, as the price of veering to the left is even more severe and will lead to you playing your next shot from the Prince’s Street Gardens some 500ft below. If the pin is cut to the left this can be a horrible adversary to conquer. There is an alternative strategy which involves driving short into the fairway, and then hitting a long-iron to bounce back off the castle wall whilst trusting that you don’t pick a window out.

Extreme Golf Scotland HOLE 8 – ‘The Queens View’

This is the hardest of the par 5’s. The first shot is played from an elevated tee and requires that you carry an ancient forest. Alternatively, a drive down the right is safer, even if it leads to a longer second shot. The second is the key though. How close to the shoreline of Loch Tummel dare you go? Even if you manage to lay up on the water’s edge, you still need to reach for a meaty fairway wood to carry the hazard. There is simply no easy way of playing the third. The green is a big target but it could leave you a long uphill putt

Extreme Golf Scotland HOLE 9 – Stirling Castle

Extreme Golf Scotland

The par 3 ninth is the shortest hole on the course and frequently draws comparisons with Troon’s ‘Postage Stamp’. The target is insanely small and protected by deep bunkers. Indeed, hitting a bunker is probably preferable to hitting the fairway, as the latter has a reputation for being particularly firm all year round and can lead to the ball rolling all the way back to the Wallace Memorial. Missing to the right needn’t be terminal as a second from the roof of the coffee shop is usually playable once you’ve negotiated the fire escape

Extreme Golf Scotland HOLE 10 – Balmoral Castle

Control is the secret to this par 4, as the danger lies behind the green where a particularly punitive out of bounds exists. If you transgress this we advise you play another ball. Trying to retrieve your wayward shot is likely to result in you being shot! The approach is relatively straight-forward however, but requires that you execute a precise iron into the elevated plinth green. Other hazards include tourists and members of the Royal family riding horses

Extreme Golf Scotland HOLE 11 – Glencoe

Extreme Golf Scotland

This is another heinous par 5, that many commentators rate the equal of Prestwick’s notorious third hole with its riparian burn, ‘the Cardinal’. The tee is at the top of the glen and requires consecutive long and straight drives. An out of bounds road runs down the right, whilst a tricky burn flanks the left winding itself along the valley floor into Loch Achtrioahtan, which awaits to gather any shot that goes through the green. The putting surface is slightly raised but cunningly positioned on a natural meander. Other hazards include low flying military aircraft

Extreme Golf Scotland HOLE 12 – Eilean Donan Castle

This is our longest par 3, and can only be reached with a wood. The original green sat in front of the citadel and allowed players to hit a rebound shot off the walls with the wind behind. Since it was repositioned however the shot has become more challenging. A strong cross-wind often interferes with the 260yd carry and should you come up short, please resist the temptation to go paddling in order to retrieve your stricken ball. These waters are inhabited by the notorious Carcharodon Hydrohaggis, previously a piscivorous predator that has recently turned their attention to human ankles. Sadly this is the legacy of a disastrous experiment with a piranha cross-breeding programme which went horribly wrong when some of the hybrids were accidentally released

Extreme Golf Scotland HOLE 13 – Prince’s Street

Often dubbed the ‘Road Hole’, the thirteenth assignment is one of the most tricky. You can normally expect to benefit from a firm fairway, which will assist your carry, albeit the hazards are numerous. If you stray too far from the fairway you can easily find yourself playing your next shot from a hotel lobby or delicatessen counter. Whereas gorse and heather don’t interfere with your lie, people and traffic can do. We advise you wait for the lights to turn red and then attempt your shot. The green is a comparatively small target and is elevated, but can be reached with an improvised bump and run shot given the firm underfoot conditions

Extreme Golf Scotland HOLE 14 – Glenfinnan

Extreme Golf Scotland

For many years the fourteenth used to be the first but a major renovation programme was undertaken in 2016 at the insistence of Google and it became necessary to realign the holes. The fourteenth is therefore a classic hiding further out in the course then people realise. You only achieve safety on this par 4 once you gain the green. Treacherous long rough defends the fairway. In fact, there is no fairway, you basically have to hack your way through this wild savannah and even then the green is surrounded by a variety of arboreal defenders ready to have the last laugh. Other hazards include the Hogwarts express that steams over the viaduct

Extreme Golf Scotland HOLE 15 – Ben Nevis

With an SI of 1, and a precipitous slope rating, this par 4 is the both hardest hole, and highest point on the course. The target’s perched on the edge of a sheer cliff. Should you stray to the left then your next shot could easily lead to your death. The sensible line is to try and stay to the right, but even then you will eventually be faced with having to throw a pitch onto the 100mph breeze to hopefully stop on the elevated green. If you take a club too many and run through the back, then its about 4000ft to the bottom.

Extreme Golf Scotland HOLE 16 – Old Man of Storr, Skye

Another par 4, played from an elevated tee. The principal danger other than rockfall, comes down the right. If you deviate too far from the fairway your line into the green may be blocked out, forcing you to pitch back. Alternatively you could trust to hitting a blind shot and trying to carry or bend one round the needles. A well struck tee shot needn’t be the end of the story though. Your second still needs to find the narrow entrance to the green. Missing to the right is a preferable bail-out as a small pond defends the left should you get carried away on the breeze. The sixteenth really places a premium on hitting straight but remember that its better to be a club short than a club long if in doubt

Extreme Golf Scotland HOLE 17 – ‘The North Sea oil fields’

Extreme Golf Scotland

Until very recently the most feared par 3 in golf was the seventeenth hole at TPC Sawgrass, the notorious island green. Not any more. This par 3 has deliberately been assigned the same hole number in defiance of the timidity to be found in Florida. The shot from tee box to green is only 140yds played over the North Sea. Few can be more intimidating. 40ft waves, gale force winds, the risk of explosion, and a workforce that hasn’t seen a woman in four weeks all contribute to a list of challenges you’ll need to overcome. Also be aware that oil rigs will typically have a lot slip hazards so maintaining your balance on the shot itself could equally prove to be a real life-saver

Extreme Golf Scotland HOLE 18 – Scone Palace

Extreme Golf Scotland

The final hole is a par 4 and sometimes accused of being a bit anti-climatic (but then we didn’t know how far you’d read). The drive is to a wide open fairway with the only real danger coming from a cart path and bunker down the left. The second shot is a straight forward wedge into a slightly raised but otherwise flat green, which is overlooked by the magnificent clubhouse. The occasional peacock can cause you an issue, but outside of this, the principal threat comes from emotional historians. A great opportunity for a closing birdie

Hazard County

the Perils on Scotland’s golf links

The Scottish links course marshals numerous natural defenders on its ramparts, as well as few man-made creations. Faraway Fairways thought we’d compile an appraisal of Scotland’s Hazard County and the perils of links golf that you’ll encounter, ranking them in terms of their evilness.

Wind – Hazard County rating 10

In truth you might feel a bit short-changed were you to encounter benign conditions? Somehow it just wouldn’t be very Scottish. Who really wants to play a becalmed course on the Fife coast after all? Well perhaps in the autumn you can fall in love with the solitude, beauty, and the tapestry of colour that’s unfurling before you. Yes, autumn we’ll grant an honorary exception for, but otherwise you need a little bit of the blowy stuff to keep you honest.

Scotland sits on a relatively northerly latitude. The prevailing wind in the UK is a westerly off the Atlantic, but the most severe tempest is the one that comes in from the North Sea. Carnoustie is particularly savage when the wind decides to take a hand in proceedings, as can be the Lothian coast. It’s early days, but we suspect the giant sands dunes at the Trump International are going to provide some interesting wind shift challenges as you drive from a sheltered tee box only to see your ball dancing wildly as it breaks cover and soars into the exposed yonder.

One of the early shots that the pioneers invented of course was the ‘bump and run’. As the wise old pro would say, “keep the ball under the wind”. It’s why the elevated green as epitomised at somewhere like Royal Dornoch becomes the ying to the wind’s yang. Neither functions without the other. The target of course sits on a plinth, and so the traditional bump and run becomes so much harder to execute with a severe upslope to factor into your calculation. Chuck in a few bunkers to catch the person attempting it, and the risk tariff rises further. The answer to this challenge is to throw the ball up a bit and ride the breeze, like a surfer does a wave. Get it right and you feel an immense sense of satisfaction. Get it wrong and….. oh well… you won’t be the first

Gorse – Hazard County 9

The Scottish word for this yellow flowering plant is ‘whins’. It flourishes on some courses. Notably Royal Dornoch, Castle Stuart, and Royal Troon, but it’s pretty well a perennial headache for any golfer attempting to negotiate safe passage round a links course. We’ve long suspected that this shrub is a dastardly collusion between golf course and golf ball manufacturer. Even if you do succeed in locating the errant shot, more often than not you’ll wish you hadn’t, as the recovery is normally borderline unplayable

A gorse ambush awaits the wayward at Dornoch. Whole banks of the yellow peril abound

The Rivet Bunker – Hazard County rating 9

This is a real Scottish invention, and should be put in the same bracket as the Fair Isle sweater for the suffering and torment its caused. The Old Course at St Andrews has 112 bunkers in total but unlike the giant American bunkers that offer you a chance of a clean shot more often than not, the Scottish variant is designed to penalise. They’re smaller in size, but their heinous depravity is depth, combined with a steep face. The rivet bunker is built up by layered sods of earth and as such presents a vertical wall. They’re probably more akin to giant potholes. Come to rest against the riveted face and there really is little prospect of an escape. Playing laterally is often your only way out.

The most notorious can be found at St Andrews. The Road Hole bunker, the 17th, was where Tommy Nakajima’s Open challenge ended in 1978 when he took four attempts to liberate himself for a quintuple bogey. Naturally, this led the British newspapers to christen that bunker, “the Sands of Nakajima”. In 2005 Costantino Rocca perished in the snare during a play off with John Daly. During regular play Daly had pulled off a remarkable forward escape shot when he found this small but devilish sink hole. This proved crucial. A few hours later it was Rocca’s turn. He needed three attempts, and with this failure the American claimed the claret jug. The most formidable however is the rather unimaginatively named Hells Bunker, at the 14th

The Burn – Hazard County rating 8

We’ve written about why we like burns previously, [Click for article on burns] but just to recap, it’s because they have personalities and character that lakes, or even worse, ‘water hazards’ can never match. They’re also natural and therefore conform with the traditions of the landscape and game colliding in a perfect symphony.

A burn is basically a stream, and proves that you don’t need a large mass of water to present a hazard. The burns of a Scottish links course flow into the sea, which usually means they intercept the course at ninety degrees and form a fairway barrier that devours the bouncing ball with glee. The snaking variety are probably the most feared as these monsters reach out of the fairway to snap at you from all sorts of angles and distances. A lake lacks subtlety. You can see it, and evaluate it, and then make a decision. A burn is a little bit more concealed, even if you know it’s out there. It’s relatively modest width invites you, nah, it teases and taunts you, to take-it-on, as even a bouncing ball can still skip it and land safely. Get it wrong though, and you’re dropping shots.

The Swlican Burn at St Andrews might be the most famous (or photographed), but the most notorious is the Barry Burn at Carnoustie. It was here in 1999 that Jean van de Velde snatched defeat from the jaws of victory at the 72nd hole as he was introduced to the perils of this water serpent.

Long rough – Hazard County rating 6

This wouldn’t be uniquely Scottish, and there is an element of discretionary growth at play here, but it still rates a formidable opponent if you have the misfortune to get tangled up in it. The grass is normally pretty hardy and not easily parted by an aggressive carve

The undulating fairway – Hazard County rating 5

Think of an up turned egg box, crossed with a pin ball machine. In truth the undulating fairway isn’t actually the score wrecker that popular myth would have you believe. Its bigger contribution is possibly psychological, as victims of an unlucky bounce are frequently seduced into bemoaning their luck which can quickly consume them in a maelstrom of negative paranoia. The bigger danger posed by the fickle fairway bounce is probably from the stance it presents the following shot rather than any perceived sense of lost yardage. You’re just as likely to be the beneficiary of a forward bounce and an extra 50yds.

The railway line – Hazard County rating 4

Again we’ve written about why railway lines border so many Scottish courses, particularly so in Ayrshire. Naturally it’s an out-of-bounds, but few players actually bring them into play. Perhaps there’s something overwhelmingly formidable about a train that deters us on this one.

The dry stone wall – Hazard County 3

Although of anthropogenic origin the dry stone wall has a sort authenticity that almost makes it semi natural given the age of some of these things. They were incorporated into designs as courses evolved around what they encountered in the landscape.

The most famous is the 17th , St Andrews, and largely because it offers you one of the classic shots in golf. Coming to rest close against the wall cuts off your backswing and leaves you little shot. The enterprising quickly realised that the best way to gain the green was to cannon a ricochet into the wall and bounce the ball across the road and onto the putting surface. This isn’t a fantasy shot as such, in so far as its been done enough times to make it a conventional response. It’s also true that a few sneaky spare balls have occasionally been accidentally dropped to allow the player to attempt it.

We only ranked this hazard a 3 because of its rarity but anyone who has perished at North Berwick would almost certainly want us to accord it greater recognition. This old-fashioned links (and that’s a badge of honour in this case) has two holes where a wall comes into play. On the third it presents a barrier that runs across the fairway on a drive of about 275 yds. The 13th, ‘the Pitt’, is even more enterprising as the wall runs parallel to the fairway and ultimately in front of the green requiring you to clear it in order to gain the putting surface.

Where else in the world would you encounter a stonewall defending a green? Well on the 13th at North Berwick you do

Bagpipes – Hazard County rating 2

This creation is an alleged musical instrument that makes an ear splitting shrill reminiscent of a banshee. OK, it’s tempting to be rude about this particular contribution to melody making that the Scots have visited on civilisation, (because it’s easy) but under certain conditions lamenting bagpipes can actually be hauntingly atmospheric. To encounter them on a golf course though would be unlucky, and invoking them as an excuse for a poor shot not a particularly convincing explanation

The lesser spotted fairway dwelling wild haggis – Hazard County rating 1

Since the explosion in social media, a number of new species of haggis have seemingly come to light. This particular one is a mischievous individual prone to scuttling across fairways and lifting up a golf ball which the player swears blind was an otherwise perfect shot. We do however counsel caution about over using this excuse. You might get away with it once, try something like, “some damned haggis nicked my ball” and roar with affectionate laughter so as not to look unappreciative of the local wildlife and traditions, but we advise that this explanation isn’t likely to survive scrutiny for very long if you come to over-rely on it.

The wild haggis population has exploded with the advent of the internet

Third Degree Burns

The Scottish burn v’s The American ‘water hazard’

“It’s out there somewhere”

So said Robert Shaw’s salty old-sea-dog character, Quintz, from the film Jaws, as he surveyed the expanse of ocean in the knowledge that somewhere, lurking hidden beneath the waves, was the shark. It’s a sentiment many a golfer might relate to as they stand on a Scottish tee knowing that the fairway is patrolled by a ‘Burn’.

So what is a burn? Well put simply, it’s a Scottish word for a stream. Well at face value it’s no big deal then? but as any golfer will tell you, Scottish golf course burns are much more subtle.

A burn is narrow and comparatively camouflaged in the contours. It isn’t as visible as a glistening lake. You peer down a fairway looking for a subtle hint in the topography. A broken shadow, or undulation perhaps. You survey the terrain for clues as to just where it lurks. You know it’s out there, and waiting to strike, but where? It’s like flirting with a cobra. One snap, and it’s all over

We’d argue that the burn is even more cunning for being so narrow though. It introduces an added element of risk and reward. You can always play aggressively towards one. A lucky bounce on a firm fairway and you can still ‘fly it’. You can’t do that to a lake. A rolling ball however becomes vulnerable, and you have that final few seconds of agony to watch. Will you fall victim, or will you hang on for a narrow escape and stop just short?

The burn has long been a natural hazard that the early pioneers who took to the links land recognised the value of as they plotted their own courses out and started to compare notes as to what particular challenges they’d weaved into their personal tapestries. The early courses were individual creations, but without the assistance of mechanical diggers they observed a golden rule. They were built round the landscape, not the landscape round the course. This is how golf evolved and this is why the burn became an integral part of it. They might not have the mass of a lake but they present every bit the same barrier. Land in one and the result is the same.

Perhaps above all else though, a burn has character, a lake after all, is a lake, or even worse, a “water hazard”. The burn by contrast comes in different shapes and can take on numerous different personalities dependent on the path it charts to the ocean beyond.

The most famous of all is St Andrews’s, Swilcan Burn. In truth it’s more of a challenge on the first hole than it is the last, but the 18th does require that you cross the most famous bridge in golf. If the burn isn’t really in play on ‘Tom Morris’ it has at least given us memorable photographs. We aren’t so sure ourselves that the bridge at Cruden Bay isn’t the more aesthetically, and their burn keeps cropping up all over the course

The absence of a burn on a links course is like an orchestra without a woodwind section. So imagine their delight when excavating Kingsbarns to have unearthed an underground burn. Understandably they wasted no time incorporating their discovery into the design. It now sits behind the 6th green waiting to snare anyone who over-hits.

The more traditional use of a burn is of course at the front of a green. Since re-profiling the 16th, Turnberry’s ‘Wilson Burn’ is very much more in play than it had previously been, and fits the description of a forward sentinel. Having said that, this particular little monster sits in a mini ravine and anyone visiting it is already in serious trouble.

Perhaps the best example of this type of ‘green’ defence comes on Carnoustie’s second course; ‘the Burnside’, and the Highland course of Tain. A natural meander in the watery weave permits the fifth green to sit almost as a quasi island. The 17th at Sawgrass often gets acclaimed thus, but let’s be honest, it’s about as authentic as ‘moon cheese’.

All Scottish burns flow out to sea eventually. On a links course this invariably means they cut fairways at ninety degrees given the traditional out-and-back lay-out. These are probably the burns we fear most. It’s the positioning of the tee that sends us into convulsions of paranoia however. Some ensure that the burn plays on the long side. These are the lurkers that seduce you into length and trying to bite off those precious extra yards, knowing that everyone one you can buy from the tee, is one less you need to pay back on your second shot. How far, dare you push it though? Hitting too hard can have an unavoidable inevitability about it. You might think of them as operating a bit like the ‘trap-door spider’. Get in too close and that’s it. Bounce, bounce, bounce, splash. A burn only needs to be 6ft wide, but if it’s on a devious yardage it’s formidable.

Then there is the burn that is set on the shorter side. This one really does play havoc with the mental side of your game. You know your own yardage, and you know that if you hit a clean drive you can carry it by 20yds say. This is the key though. Only if you strike it clean, will you prevail. Anything under hit will bounce down the fairway and be gratefully accepted. Now what do you do?

Lundin’s burn is something of an archetypal fairway residing creature that looks pretty innocuous at first glance. Cunningly positioned on a diagonal, the length of this one varies depending on the angle you choose to adopt.

Not all burns operate on a horizontal plain to the fairway or green though. Scotland has some lateral opponents for you to grapple with too. These aren’t the sort that have you nervously scouring the terrain for clues to their location however. These are much less subtle. These are the burns that sit on your shoulder, omni-present in the corner of your eye, whispering “you had better keep it straight, keep it straight I tell you. If you don’t, then I’ll have ye”. Prestwick’s ‘Pow Burn’ at the notorious third is an example. Dundonald also has a lateral burn on their third that crosses the fairway. It starts on your right, and finishes on your left. Carnoustie’s famous sixth hole, Hogan’s Alley, is already made difficult enough by an out-of-bounds fence down the left. A lateral burn, ‘Jocky’s’, runs down the right just for sadistic symmetry.

The Trump International makes full use of the Blairton Burn. Not only does it perform the role of lateral menace on the fourth, there is a touch of genius about the way it’s deployed on the third. Here it bursts through the sand dunes, washes out onto the beach, and empties into the North Sea beyond. Martin Hawtree ensured that the green was built ‘on the swirl’ and you’re presented not only with a great target at this seminal par 3, but also the surreal site of watching grass turn to sand

The Blairton Burn weaves its way up the right-hand-side of the fourth fairway at the Trump Interntaional Links

We’ve reserved our nomination for the ‘mother of all burns’ to last however. The ‘Barry Burn’ at Carnoustie is a serpent that snakes its way through the fairway (ask Jean van de Velde). The twists and turns is what make it such an unpredictable and formidable nemesis. The aerial view shows the burn at its vicious best. It looks more like a first-world-war trench system. You can drive short of it and still end up in the drink as it reaches out to collect your shot. Similarly, you can hit a perfectly good drive that would clear most of it, and yet still be gathered up if encountering it at one of its longer reaches

So what are we saying? well perhaps with a hint of mischief, but having given it full consideration now, we’d like to suggest that the authentic Scottish burn is the superior water hazard to any man made lake. Is the job of a water hazard to look pretty, or to challenge your golf? If you believe its the latter, then surely you too would come down on the side of the burn?

Finally, we resolved to try and write this without using a picture of Jean van de Velde even if we had to reference him earlier. It was said that someone rather cruelly used a picture of the hapless Frenchman paddling about in the burn and mailed it to him a week later with nothing more than the words “that’s him” by way of explanation. Just for the record (contrary to popular myth) Van de Velde didn’t actually try playing out of the Barry Burn in 1999. He might very well have gone paddling, but he did elect to take the drop having had time to consider his options. What he did say however, (a lesser appreciated bit of insight) is that the ball had originally come to rest on some water shrub type of thing, or piece of debris. It was half in, and half out the water, and in his view sitting up slightly. As he weighed up his options however, the weight of the ball started to take its toll on the plant and it slowly began to sink. By the time he was ready to wade in having treated the world to a theatrical socks and shoes routine, too much of the ball had become submerged. This is where Van de Velde was wrong however. The Barry Burn is tidal. The ball didn’t sink. The tide was coming in. Had he seized his chance there and then, and leapt in? Well he was on the 18th, surely wet shoes and socks was a price he could pay? Who knows, he might have been back in the clubhouse as Open Champion within 5 minutes if he had

One final thought. Should you stick a golf ball into a burn, don’t be too down yourself. Some of the best players in the games history have done likewise. That’s what the burn was incorporated into the course for after all

Is Carnoustie sexy?

Is Carnoustie sexy? Is Carnoustie what!!!???

In preparing for the 2020 US Open at Winged Foot, Tiger Woods was giving an interview and duly paid the New York course respect. He ranked Winged Foot as one of the three hardest courses in the world. as he prepares for this week’s US Open.

“It’s up there next to Oakmont and Carnoustie as far as sheer difficulty without doing anything to it,” said Woods, a three-time US Open champion.

In sport, and in life, we often find that things can crudely divide into two camps in the pursuit of the same objective. On the one hand we have the elegant technicians, the craftsmen that are all style and panache. On the other side we have the raw and less flashy artisan who through belligerence and determination is able to establish parity. It’s normally the case that the easy-on-the-eye former, are the first to come to our attention, whilst we gain an understanding of the latter over time as our knowledge grows and we come to fully appreciate their more under-stated virtues equally. A free scoring offense that comes up against a brutal defence is one obvious example. They talk of course about ‘boxers’ and ‘fighters’.

This crude distinction needn’t be restricted to sport though. Places are often felt to exhibit the same traits as we subject them to anthropomorphisms. Aristocratic Edinburgh, and gritty Glasgow are probably cases in point. Music and art are equally capable of falling into either camp. All of which leaves us with the question of why isn’t Carnoustie that sexy? In the first case we wondered if the proximity of St Andrews had something to do with it. St Andrews is a fine champagne, whereas Carnoustie might be a vintage port. An altogether darker and more formidable opponent?

What has St Andrews got that Carnoustie hasn’t? We’re struggling to accept that it’s a question of golf. Mention the word ‘Carnoustie’ and watch seasoned professionals respond by developing a mysterious, and immediate injury at the very hint of its name. Not without good reason did American commentators dub the monster on the Tay, “Car-Nasty”. Put simply, the course is an arresting brute that doesn’t do sentiment. Ask Sergio Garcia. As a rising star of the game, the then 19-year old Spaniard who had been weaned on manicured and relatively windless courses playing target golf, was destroyed by the unexpected difficulties of the Carnoustie links, and its spiteful weather in 1999. Completing rounds of 89 and 83 he went straight to his mother’s arms crying.

The hurt of the 2007 was altogether different. Garcia had a three shot lead going into the final round from Steve Stricker, the rest of the field were seemingly adrift, and the Championship threatened to fizzle out into an anti-climatic coronation. The twists and turns were complex that day though, but then this is Carnoustie. From six shots back Padraig Harrington had overhauled the crumbling Garcia. Harrington held a one-shot lead as he approached the final hole in the fourth round, but proceeded to put not one, but two shots into the notorious Barry Burn, on his way to a double-bogey. García, playing in the final pairing of the day, reached the 18th with a one-shot lead over Harrington therefore. It had been a traumatic round, but par would see him home. He bogeyed the hole after missing a putt from just under ten feet away, setting up the playoff. In the four-hole shoot-out, which ended on the 18th, Harrington took no chances with a two-shot lead at the last; his bogey was enough to defeat García by one shot.

The 18th is of course most remembered for the spectacular meltdown of Jean van de Velde in 1999. The site of the Frenchman adrift in the Barry Burn and standing forlornly over his stricken ball is etched on the consciousness of all golfers. However, to set the context we draw on Sports Illustrated, who noting that this was Carnoustie’s first open since the 1975 triumph of Tom Watson described the course as “a nasty antique that was brought down from the attic after 24 years. Last week the holes were longer than they were when Watson won there; the rough was deeper; and the R&A made the fairways as narrow as an eel’s appendix scar.

“I don’t think there’s an individual in the R&A who could break 100 on this course,” said Phil Mickelson, who shot 79-76 and missed the cut. Surely this can’t be the same Phil Mickelson who appears on Carnoustie’s website quoted as saying;

“I didn’t realise what a wonderful golf course this is. It’s terrific”

In 1999 the first-round leader failed to survive the 36-hole cut. Australia’s Rodney Pampling, shot 71, the only par round on the Thursday, before bowing out with a more sobering 86 on Friday. America’s leading money winner finished a mere 22 over par. David Duval, carded 24 bogeys and four double-bogeys on his way to a 62nd-place finish. “You can’t judge your game on this golf course,” Duval said. “Good shots end up in the hay, bad shots end up on the green”. Duval is alleged to have sworn that he wouldn’t play links golf again.

Some blamed the wind, but the wind was normal for Tayside, a persistent 15 to 25 mph with an occasional gust. “Christ, they don’t know what a low ball is,” lamented Carnoustie’s greenkeeper, as he surveyed the world’s best players collapse on the sacrificial altar of links-style golf. “We used to call them daisy cutters. This is the old style, the natural style.”

It’s a familiar story. Target golfers have been bemoaning Scottish links for years, before conquering them in later life as wiser and more experienced players who come to love them as they grow to understand how to play them. But back to Van de Velde;

As he stood on the 72nd tee Van de Velde had a three stroke lead. The engraver was literally carving his name on the claret jug. Amazingly he produced a driver instead of a long iron and pushed his shot into the right rough. It was a silly risk given the way the Barry Burn snakes its way through the fairway, but perhaps he’d got lucky in narrowly missing it. His second shot landed in an area of knee-deep rough after his ball bounced backward 50 yards off the grandstand. Carnoustie’s long grass joined the assault and got involved now. His third shot snagged the grass and shanked, it went straight into the burn.

Luck was on Van de Velde’s side, the ball hadn’t actually submerged. It had come to rest on a plant and was playable, something that the golfer admits persuaded him to consider the shot. Journalist Norman Dabell probably sums it up best “If he had just got straight into the Barry Burn, he could have actually played the shot. It was nothing more than like playing from a bunker. But he took his time taking his shoes and socks off. It’s a tidal burn, so the ball went from just above water to being totally submerged. It would have been far better holding the Claret Jug in wet shoes and socks than how it all transpired. To me, that was his worse decision. Because I think he could have won by a shot.”

Van de Velde is French of course, we half share this sentiment. He sedately removed socks and shoes with an almost sense of protracted regal theatre. Somehow we suspect that were this Colin Montgomerie spotting that his ball was temporarily playable he’d have been leaping in there before it sank (albeit in Colin’s case, the act of leaping would probably bring about a tidal surge and an unfortunate sinking). Anyway, after an animated inspection, and paddle, Van de Velde decided against it, and instead took a drop (fourth stroke). His fifth was played in front of his chuckling watery nemesis, and scuttled through the putting surface and into one of the deep greenside bunkers. He pitched out safely and buried an eight footer on his seventh shot for a triple-bogey. This forced him into play-off with a trio who’d managed a six-over-par 290 – the highest winning total at any major since Jack Nicklaus’s 290 in the 1972 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

What’s less well known is that a few months later a putter company offered him the chance to make an advert. Well you needn’t be a genius to work out what dastardly story-board they had in mind. Play the 18th with a putter? Yep. On his third attempt Van de Velde made a six, a score that a few months earlier wouldn’t have left a red faced engraver repairing his premature handiwork.

Carnoustie is so much more than a single hole though. The 16th, ‘Barry Burn’, is a heinous par 3 often played into an unforgiving wind. In 1968 Jack Nicklaus was the only player to get past the pin on the final round, whereas in 1975 Tom Watson tried, and failed, on no less than five attempts to manage a par here

The hardest hole with an SI of 1 is a strange one. For tournament play, the 14th, ‘the Spectacles’, the name deriving from the pair of giant bunkers that guard the approach, is played as a compassionate par 5, in fact it’s about the most generous hole in the entire Open Championship rotation. For regular play however, it reverts to a brutal par 4! Hardly seems fair does it? Let’s get this right then – the Pro’s play it as a five, and we play it as a four … urm

The drive is tough enough with out-of-bounds left and bunkers well in play. However the hole is made by the 2nd shot, where the player must decide whether he is going to carry the massive Spectacle bunkers or not. If a player goes for the green and lands in the Spectacles he can expect to be there for some time as these intimidating bunkers are huge. Further bunkers closer to the green provide additional protection

Normally played into the prevailing wind the par 5, sixth, is another notorious beast; Hogan’s Alley. Our split shot diagram illustrates the challenge of the two assignments. An out-of-bounds fence runs the duration of the hole down the left. Threading an alley between this perimeter and the fairway bunkers (indicated by the yellow arrow) is the brave route pioneered by Ben Hogan. The 2nd shot is no less perilous with a ditch angling across the fairway and the out-of-bounds continuing to be a threat.

Had you played to the right instead, then it would only be when you came to address your second that you’d realise what you’d done. Not only are you short with a restricted line, and needing to carry a jungle of veritable long-range vegetation, but Jockey’s burn bites deeply into the right side of the fairway.

Carnoustie is perhaps never going to have the majestic splendour of a St Andrews. You get the impression it wouldn’t welcome the label anyway. This is about golf first and foremost. There is perhaps something unashamedly raw about Carnoustie. This isn’t a sexy aesthetic offering, this is purely and simply about whether or not you can play, and this is the biggest allure of the whole tease. Most golfers harbour the question ‘how good am I really?’, or, ‘what would it be like if?’ It’s that different type of chemistry that’s at play here. At superficial first inspection the forbidden fruit might not be the most eye-catching, but the more you look at it, the appeal grows. Remember that its not always the prettiest person who gets the verdict, people start to see different things in different people the more they dwell on it.

Would it be too crass to suggest that Carnoustie is a ‘real mans course’. Well it probably would, but might we suggest with apologies to John Gray, that Carnoustie is from Mars, St Andrews is from Venus

Carnoustie is played on the east coast tour as well as at a special rate in the Fall. The existence of a handicap threshold prevents us building a full match around this links for our ‘Ryder Cup’, but should we be able to assemble a qualified team we would be able to slip it in. As it stands we introduce it as a bonus. To find out more about the ‘Ryder Cup’ match played in ‘Carnoustie country’, click on the image below

Carnoustie is usually played in conjunction with St Andrews. If you fancy beating Van de Velde then you can also play Carnoustie on Faraway Fairways ‘best golf in the world’ suite.

Haunted Golf Courses

Castle Stuart

There must be plenty? Or so we thought, but for our opening contribution, we turn to the Highland course of Castle Stuart. For the unacquainted, Castle Stuart isn’t a place name, it is a genuine castle, albeit Scottish castles tend to be fortified stately homes unlike their Welsh counter-parts which are much more in the citadel tradition. The golf course is also a decent par 5 from one of Scotland’s most blood curdling locations, the battlefield of Culloden. This is real ghost story territory. We draw from the account of Frances Abbot now as she tells the story better than we can.

In 1798 a great storm rampaged up the Moray Firth tearing off the roof of the East Tower. Never repaired, that part of the castle remained sealed for 200 years. Eventually restoration work began and one evening the intrepid owner climbed a ladder to look at roof beams after his workmen had left for the night. On the wall he noticed a difference in the plaster work and, curious to find out if this was the sealed doorway, he fetched a lamp from his car, a hammer and chisel, and set to.

His efforts uncovered a stone step, likely part of a broken stairwell, and beyond that a wall of solid stone. Using his chisel he patiently prised away at this wall until he had made a small hole, and at this point probably wished he had left well alone for, from the hole he created, there came forth a shriek to shatter the ear drums, followed by the sound of wailing, and finally a voice, low but forceful. The voice said NO!

Whatever escaped from the hole hadn’t finished yet. He reports that air turned foul and a feeling of hostility surrounded him. He tried to return from the beam to the ladder but was thrown back by a blow to the chest. As soon as he recovered his balance, he made a hasty exit, sped on his way by another piercing scream.

The castle belonged to the Royal House of Stuart, gifted by the Stuart King James V in the early seventeenth century. It was the home of the Earls of Moray and the tale begins when, a hundred years later, the young Earl on inheriting came up from London with his household to occupy his new home, servants and all, after living there only a week, he fled. Two subsequent attempts to rent out the castle had the same result. No one ever lasted longer than a week.

The Earl consulted his factor on how to get rid of the ghosts he was sure inhabited the place, for his servants had reported footsteps on the stairs at midnight, screams, and a sighting of a headless highlander in full highland dress. The factor scoffed. Though living in an age when superstition was rife, he had no belief in ghosts. He in turn consulted the minister of the parish who came up with a plan.

The minister would engage four men to stay one night each in the room where the sightings took place. At the end of the period the four would meet and relate their experiences. He would be the first of the four and the others would be encouraged by a reward of £20.

By bribery, trickery and guile he got three more, the church elder, the local shoemaker and a giant of a man called Rob Angus who, despite being a poacher and a maker of illicit whisky, was a good-natured, friendly fellow afraid of no man or beast.

The minister was the first to be locked in the room near the top of the castle, where he found a peat fire, two easy chairs, a table with a brass lamp, a mirror and a bookcase. All very civilised, and with the heat from the fire he fell asleep. Next morning he told the curious that he had dreamt that at midnight the door opened. A man in highland dress stepped in. He sat in the chair opposite, sighed and questioned the minister as to why he was there. The minister was quite satisfied that, apart from his strange dream, nothing untoward happened that night.

The church elder was next to spend the night in the locked room. He was awake and reading his bible when the highlander sat down. What set him saying his prayers was the reflection in the mirror of a human skull grinning at him. When the skull vanished, the highlander rose, drew his dirk (Scottish dagger) and came towards the trembling elder, who promptly fainted. So ended the second night.

The shoemaker didn’t see the highlander. Oh no. At midnight it was a tall man with cloven hooves that caused him to fall unconscious to the floor to be discovered there next morning by the officer of the tower. And so we come to the last night.

It was now the turn of Rob Angus, who sat with his illicit whisky convivially drinking and blethering with the officer until the man left to lock him in. When the officer returned next morning, he was astonished to see there was no sign of Rob. Not only that, the room was wrecked, furniture overturned and broken as if a violent fight had taken place. Most strange of all was the missing window. There was no glass, there was no window frame. The broken body of Rob Angus was found in the courtyard below, a look of unblanched horror frozen to his visage

Ah, but there was a witness to add an appropriately horrific end to the tale, an independent witness, who, because he was a stranger to the area, had not heard anything about the vigils over the past four nights. This was a passing drover given permission for his sheep to spend the night in the field around the castle. Checking on his flock by the light of a full moon he spied a light in the window of the castle, heard the noise of a struggle and screams, then the sight of a man being thrown with force from the window, and the face that appeared in that empty space was the hideous face of the Devil himself……..

Now, if anyone is really interested, we can arrange for you to spend the night in Castle Stuart? It is an 8 bedroom, luxury conversion, but demand, as you might expect, is high. At the time of writing, its undergoing further restoration, but last time we checked their website, they weren’t making any attempt to hide the ghost story. Quite the opposite, they seemed to be revelling in it, and even advertising the three turret bedroom as a separate attraction! (so we don’t feel like we’re betraying any confidences here).

We must conclude however that thousands have stayed there since without meeting the fate of Rob Angus, and it’s not as if the internet is clogged with stories of ghostly goings on, albeit Tripadvisor have accorded it, it’s own page…. And before anyone asks, no we haven’t, and no we wouldn’t! In any case, we’ve Americans to do this kind of thing for us!

Leaving its ghosts aside, Castle Stuart is a world top-100 course. It has recently been hosting the prestigious Scottish Open, won in 2013 by Phil Mickelson en-route to success a few weeks later at Muirfield. If you fancy following in the footsteps of Phil, then Castle Stuart appears in three of our schedules.


Home of the Open

Image by Mark Alexander, permission of Ken Goodwin, Prestwick GC.
To view some of Mark’s work [CLICK]

Once upon a time circa 1860, a group of golfers sat down and discussed organising a tournament to establish who the best player was. Prior to this date, Alan Robertson of St Andrews was widely acknowledged to be the champion, but upon his death in 1859 it was decided that some other mechanism was needed to arbitrate. Ultimately they would decide to do so, and agreed to host an event to settle the matter. The event would be open to anyone to contest, and location would be the Prestwick Golf Club. Suffice to say the claim is legitimate. Prestwick home of the Open and with it is the genesis of all tournament golf. The multi billion dollar industry that championship golf would become has its roots on Scotland’s Ayrshire coast and should be considered something of a pilgrimage for any visitor with a keen sense of the game’s history

Before we go onto to explore the first ever Open Championship however, it might be worth visiting the naming of it first, as this continually raises its head every July. Put yourselves in the position of these pioneers for a minute. What are you going to call your tournament?

Well the word ‘golf’ would probably help! so that’s a given. ‘Championship’? Well this doesn’t seem unreasonable given that you’re trying to establish who is the champion. So who can play in it? becomes the next question. Well in the days before corporate sponsorship and television deals you needed to attract paying entries to help fund the prize (a red Moroccan leather belt with silver buckle in this case).

The equation was simple. More players equals more money, equals greater popularity, equals more gate receipts. The sensible thing to do would be to make this ‘Open’ to anyone prepared to enter. So was born ‘The Open Championship of Golf’ and Prestwick Home of the Open. Not a difficult concept we’d suggest? The omission of the word “British” suddenly seems a whole lot more understandable. Do we call ‘the Masters’ , the ‘American Masters’ then?

Now promoting this event wouldn’t be easy. No internet, nor television. The telephone would be patented seven years later. In other words, this whole venture would be exploratory and borderline viable. Could the organisers reasonably have been expected to have foreseen back in 1860, what they had started? Is it reasonable to have expected that a dissenting hand should have been raised, and that someone should have suggested that perhaps the prefix ‘British’ be inserted into the name, just in case decades later, other countries might wish to run their own championships? Anyone even raising the issue would have been laughed down? In 1871 the event didn’t take place remember, as the sponsoring clubs struggled to assemble the money to purchase a new trophy (a claret jug)

So in 1860, just eight golfers lined up at Prestwick golf club on October 17th, to contest the inaugural Open Championship. With this, the names ‘Prestwick’ and ‘Willie Park’, from Musselburgh, are cemented in golf’s history. The event remained at Prestwick throughout the 1860’s, with Park and ‘Old Tom Morris sharing the prize

The Morris name again appeared as the winner in 1868, but this time it was Old Tom’s son, ‘Young’ Tom, who won the Belt. He did so again in 1869 and 1870, earning the belt outright for three consecutive wins.

In 1869, he achieved the Championship’s first hole-in-one, holing out at the 166-yard eighth. The following year, he went one better by starting his first round with a three at the 578-yard opening hole: a modern-day albatross given the hole would have been a par six back then. The original scorecards feature among the most treasured items displayed in Prestwick’s own archive.

When Young Tom won again in 1872 at Prestwick, the Ayrshire course had been joined by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, and the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers (Musselburgh) in agreeing to host the event. Musselburgh would eventually leave the roster when the honourable company relocated to Muirfield. In the 1894 the English made their first foray into the championship when Royal St Georges performed the honours

Prestwick golf club hosted the Open a total of 24 times, and did so for the last time in 1925. The size (and enthusiasm) of the crowd, estimated at 15,000, overshadowed the final round. Local favourite Macdonald Smith (an expatriate Scot based in the USA) started out knowing that a 78 would be good enough to win. However, he slumped to an 82 to finish fourth, losing out to the eventual winner Jim Barnes, himself resident in the USA, but a Cornishman by birth. Bernard Darwin described how the crowd influenced the occasion:

“They wanted the Scotsman to win and all that was wrong was that too many of them wanted it too much.”

The London press was less forgiving and called for Prestwick to be stripped of the honour. In truth, the event had probably started to outgrow the course by now, but whereas Musselburgh went into decline upon losing the Open, Prestwick didn’t. It remained the same, and today it’s remarkably faithful to the layout of yesteryear.

Six of the original greens used back in 1860 are still in use today. Some of the blind shots that would send modern pros into cardiac arrest, notably the par 3 fifth, the Himalayas, have also stood firm against the onslaught of so-called progress. This particular ‘gem’ involves playing over the top of a hill, and requires the departing match to ring a greenside bell, to inform the following group that its clear

The signature hole, the par 5, ‘Cardinal’, is practically identical to the configuration used in 1860. It embraces so many terrific features, that it is the archetypal ancient links hole. A burn, heinous bunkers, and an undulating fairway which is a cross between an up-turned egg box, and a pinball machine.

The 13th hole, Sea Headrig, is another that is still in use, whereas today’s 17th, is actually the second on the original course.

Prestwick golf club accepted its annexation gracefully, and resisted the temptation to court redemption by over-modernising. The decision to ‘stay as we were’, allows you to inherit today. It would be wrong to say that it’s like playing golf in a time-capsule, but it’s pretty damned close in places. If you’ve ever wondered what challenges the games modern pioneers faced, then there are probably no better preserved examples on the planet than Prestwick Home of the Open

It would be remiss of us not to mention the clubhouse. It’s definitely worth arriving early and spending some time soaking up the atmosphere. It serves as a mini museum. Another thing that might surprise you to learn is the courses popularity amongst American visitors given that is so idiosyncratic. Prestwick is like no other course you’ll have played and a long way removed from urban parkland tracks. American’s however seem to embrace this eccentricity particularly well

Faraway Fairways play Prestwick Home of the Open as part of your West Coast tour

Customer Review from Connecticut.

The following was written by a group leader from Connecticut. The only edits Faraway Fairways have performed is to protect identities of individuals or specific named companies. Enjoy

Reflections on a Spectacular Golf Trip to Scotland and Ireland

Before I get into my chronological recollections of the trip, I think all eight of us would agree that Alun at Faraway Fairways did an absolutely wonderful job of putting this “golf vacation of a lifetime” together for us. His focus on the details was extraordinary from the choice of courses and the timing of the tee times, the amazingly beautiful accommodations along with some excellent meal selections, and the transportation options he provided to get us from place to place. It was truly a wonderful experience and even though I initially viewed the trip as a bucket list “once in a lifetime” experience” I am already trying to figure out how to return for a second helping of Scotland golf in coming summers.

Day 1: The Arrival Unfortunately, there is no way to make the trip across the Atlantic a quick one but (named airline) made it as palatable as possible despite a little trouble checking in online as a group which cost us a bit in extra baggage fees which I am still hoping to retrieve from the airline. The stopover in Dublin was quick enough however a non-stop flight to Edinburgh would have been preferable but probably a lot more money. The van rental turned out to be a great choice in the end however, as Alun anticipated, our friends at (named company) really need to …. have enough staff on site to avoid a long wait. The one giveback is that two of their employees really went out of their way to get us on the road to Carnoustie for which they should be commended.

We would have loved to stop at Stirling Castle, etc. on the way to Carnoustie but with the clock and jet lag looming, we made the first of several executive decisions to head straight to Carnoustie. Once we arrived, the hotel and golf course and the history of the place was all we could have hoped for. The weather, maybe not so much. Our hardy group attacked the course regardless and it was still set up for the Open Championship. We used two fore caddies and they were helpful and fun to have along. When I return, I personally hope for another crack at Carnoustie because I never really got my game going due to the wet weather and like some of the group because of lingering exhaustion. Dinner in the hotel was nice although I think most of us were thinking of bed at that point.

Day Two: Royal Aberdeen Again, Alun had gone out of his way to set us up with train tickets to Aberdeen from Dundee but with two vans at our disposal we decided for simplicity and drove ourselves. We all loved Royal Aberdeen starting with the little gift bags they gave us. The course was amazing although somewhat difficult particularly given the wind gusts of about 40 MPH and some more Scottish rain. However the beauty of the coastline with the ships at anchor off shore was just spectacular. We had a great light dinner in the clubhouse after the round which included some delicious chicken wings which led one of our group to proclaim that he was going to move to Aberdeen for the golf and chicken wings. (one note is that the club does not allow shorts which was fine because we had rain pants ready to go anyway)

Day Three: St. Andrews The day started very early because half our group got a 6:50am tee time through the ballot for the Old Course. I drove them to St. Andrews while the others slept to make sure there were no problems or handicap issues They had a great time and played well partly because they utilized four caddies. Young David, shot even par on the Front 9 and finished with a 75 which I believe was the best round of the trip. The failure to get the other four of us on the Old Course will naturally provide impetus for a later return to Scotland *. Anyway, the eight of us met up at the amazing Fairmont Hotel which we were very pleased with. We played the Castle Course in the afternoon which was spectacular both for its golf and its views of St. Andrews. I think I speak for the group when I say this was our favorite of the St. Andrews courses. We had dinner at a great, trendy restaurant (Tailend Restaurant and Fish Bar) in downtown St. Andrews chosen by my cousins who had come to meet up with us.

* Faraway Fairways note: The group played in a particularly high-demand window, (first week of August) and in the shadow of the Seniors Open as well as the Open Championship which having closed Carnoustie for six weeks can have a knock-on-effect. Two possible windows for playing the Old Course were declined. One successful ballot and one unsuccessful was in line with expectation all things considered

Day Four: St. Andrews This was the first 36-hole day for those who had not done the Old Course Double. Both the Jubilee and the New Course were wonderful, historic golf venues even if they lacked the visual appeal of the Castle Course. I particularly liked the Jubilee Course because the 85 I threw up was my best round of the trip. We would have liked to tackle the Himalayas/Ladies Putting Course while in downtown but time became a factor. We had another great dinner at a restaurant chosen by my cousins (Forgans) although the young fellows on the trip took off for adventures of their own in St. Andrews.

Day Five: St. Andrews We played the Eden Course in the morning which we quite liked partly because the weather was beautiful and some of our golf ability started showing signs of life. For the afternoon and evening we took the train to Edinburgh for an adventure. The city was hopping because of the Festival which unfortunately limited access to the Castle. Nonetheless, the group had a great time eating Thai food (we had sampled haggis and black pudding sufficiently) and exploring the local culture. On the train trip back, we met some interesting locals and the young guys stayed on the train to Dundee to have some late night adventures of their own.

Day Six: Kingsbarns to Gleneagles Again we made an executive decision to bypass Lundin Links (next time) partly because we didn’t want to be pressed for time getting to the essential Kingsbarns and partly because we wanted to enjoy a little of the Fairmont facilities before we left. As a side note, I don’t know the quality of the Fairmont in-house courses but their carts/buggies were appealing to my sore feet. Anyway, we loved Kingsbarns for much the same reason as the Castle Course, the venue itself and the views of the water. Unfortunately, their machine for personalizing their bag tags broke down the day we were there but they have since mailed them to me for distribution which I find very decent of them. On the way to Gleneagles we stopped for dinner at the Anstruther Fish Bar. Everyone loved the town and the restaurant and the service staff was great to us. The drive to Gleneagles was a bit of a slog but we knew we had arrived somewhere special when the hotel lobby had a display of Rolex watches upon check-in!

Day Seven: Gleneagles We started the day on the Kings Course which was spectacular but very physically challenging. Again, we made an executive decision to forego the round on the Queens Course which apparently is somewhat less demanding. Perhaps we should have played that first? We would have loved to get on the Centenary Course which apparently allowed carts/buggies but it was being set up for a European Tour event. At this point, we really wanted to enjoy the hospitality (and spa) of the hotel plus one of our group had injured his back which sidelined his golf for the last few rounds of the trip. We had a very, very delicious dinner in the less formal Gleneagles Restaurant.

Day Eight: Off to Ireland and the Island Course The trip back to Edinburgh and the van return was uneventful thankfully and we got to Dublin unscathed where we were met by Wayne. He was quite the character and we enjoyed our trip to the Island Club with him. The Island Club is a nice venue but again fatigue I think was setting in after an early wakeup and plane trip. The hotel at Portmarnock was very nice but after Gleneagles it had a lot to live up to. After debating where to take our tired bodies for dinner and missing our rental vans, we decided to have a casual but very nice dinner in the on-site pub/restaurant.

Day Nine: Portmarnock After some initial confusion about which Portmarnock course was which, we got to the Langer Links Course on time which was basically attached to the hotel. Thankfully, they had carts/buggies for hire and we hired them given that we had a double planned that day. The course was very nice and we had a nice lunch at the clubhouse before heading to the Portmarnock Golf Club via taxi. When we got there, we thought we were back at the stately Royal Aberdeen and we were pleasantly surprised to hear we had a subsidized dinner in their very fancy clubhouse restaurant which under normal circumstances would have been off limits to a bunch of shorts-wearing Americans. We had a great but tiring round and a very good dinner. Thankfully, we just beat the rain and taxied back to the hotel for another trip to the pub for dessert and drinks.

Day Ten: Heading Home Wayne arrived on-time to deposit us back in Dublin In fact he was much earlier than expected because he knew the trip through the airport would be a long one. He was right because we had to actually go through American customs and much security, etc. in Dublin. Again, the flight was nice enough and we all made our connections home in one piece. Everyone agreed it was a spectacular time in a spectacular place with a spectacular group of guys!

Final Thoughts: The proper British breakfasts each morning were delicious and they were a great time for us to get together to plan our golf for the day. The buffet aspect of them did not do much for some of our waistlines however. When we do this again, I would like to take into account our fatigue factor. Perhaps a rest day or two or finding some of the few courses that offer carts/buggies when we want to pull a double. A couple of the courses gently (or not) implied that our group could be playing a little faster which was absolutely true. If you do not have guys hitting the ball straight you are going to spend some time searching the fescue grass which will slow you down considerably. By the end of the week, we had sped up our game considerably. (For the record, I personally took eighteen golf balls on the trip and brought nine of them back home!)

Even though we paid a fair bit of money up front for this experience, I was surprised at two things. First, for what we paid, we got the very best courses, hotels, transportation, and extras. I’m not sure exactly how Alun pulled this off but cheers to him for doing so.

Second, I was a little surprised at how little money I spent over there. (mainly souvenirs) The meals not pre-paid were quite reasonable compared to the northeast United States and we expended very little on caddies foregoing them except at Carnoustie and the Old Course. Three-wheeled trolleys were available everywhere and fairly inexpensive. Electric versions were nice on occasion but I tended to fight with them a little too much.

An impressive haul of souvenirs

All in all, a great time was had by all and as I stated earlier, I think some of us are destined to return to close our account with the Old Course and to make some new adventures. Multiple people who did not make this trip are already asking when the next adventure will happen? In my mind, summer of 2020 but we shall see!

Thanks again to Alun and Faraway Fairways.