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.
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.