Saturday, October 31, 2015

North Coast 500 - A Scottish Golfing Tour. Day 10 Brora

A few years ago I spent a few days in the Golf Hotel in Nairn. It’s a town in the Scottish Highlands, an hour to the east of Inverness. The hotel sits right beside the highly rated Nairn Golf Club. Not surprisingly, given its name and location, tasteful photographs of golf holes adorned the hotel walls. I counted maybe a dozen or so clubs from the region.
The 17th is a long 440 yard par four, with a split fairway.
Now, sitting in the bar of the Royal Marine Hotel in Brora, I am surrounded by paintings of three-masted ships dashing through the waves. And in much the same way that my non-golfing friends look at a photo of a golf course and say ‘yea, it’s another golf hole’, all these ships look the same to me.

Different strokes for different folks.

The hotel has that old school feel to it. It was once a private residence so it avoids those sharp cut lines and ubiquitous hotel lobbies. What it does have is a lot of what I like in a hotel. It’s dark, but not gloomy; it’s peaceful but not quiet; and it’s friendly but not intrusive. And the food is very good. Far better than you’d expect. There's also the 'James Braid' room, full of memorabilia, and a wood-panelled room next door with a snooker table. I’ll be sorry to leave, but today was my last day in Brora, and that meant playing at Brora Golf Club, which is less than a minute’s walk from the hotel. (The hotel does special golf packages and even has dedicated golf apartments.)
Views back down the 10th... the par three 9th green in the distance.
Brora will celebrate its 125th anniversary next year. The full 18 holes were designed by James Braid in 1923… and very little has changed since he took a train trip north in the morning, 124 years ago, walked the land, and then took the return train home that evening. Two weeks later a set of plans arrived in Brora, detailing the course layout… see photo below.
A copy of the original James Braid plan.
And that is pretty much how it has remained for well over a century. It is often discussed as one of the top UK golf courses and a foil to the mighty Royal Dornoch down the road. What it is, is natural, flowing, enigmatic at times, always fun and constantly entertaining. And then there are the greens. Everywhere I have been so far, golfers whisper about the quality of the greens at Brora. They did not lie. These are as perfect a putting surface as I have ever played on. They may have made a fool of me today, but that doesn’t detract from their brilliance.

My partners for the day were Tony Gill (the club Secretary) and Andy Simpson, from up the way in Wick. Andy is a member of the Golf Club Atlas forum, which is how we ended up chatting. He has provided a lot of advice on where to go on this trip, and the Royal Marine was one of his suggestions.
The par three 9th.
Brora rolls over medium sized dunes, with the opening 9 holes mostly hugging the coastline. The sea is visible from everywhere and even when you drop down into the countless dips and hollows, the sounds of the waves are always there. Blindish shots appear frequently, with market posts pointing the way… and if you don’t pay attention to those posts, you may well end up with another blind shot to the green.

As Tony pointed out, with sheep and cattle grazing the land (low electric fences protect greens) the rough is kept low.

“You’re very unlikely to lose a golf ball,” he assured me. I didn’t, although I did try.

The par three 13th... see how it's played, below.
Balls will slide off greens if you don’t appreciate the types of shots to play, the best side of the fairway to be on, and the pin position. On the par three 6th, named ‘Witch’, I was off the green to the right. I chipped up to the flag, in the middle of the green, only to see it catch the slope and take a sharp turn left. I ended up 15 yards off the front of the green.

It was only after my double bogey was written on the card that I remembered Alec’s words from Golspie yesterday. ‘It’s called Witch, but that's not what I call it… although it does rhyme with witch.’

Tony puts it inside 10 feet at the par three 13th, called Snake.

There is constant movement to the fairways. Perhaps only the 15th has a flat fairway, because elsewhere you may find the ball on any angle of slope. And if you don’t use GPS/Laser thingies then you’re in for a treat as there are no fairway markers or posts whatsoever. You have to do it all by eye.

I did manage one feat that Tony had never seen before: I drove the green on the 500 yard par five 8th. The wind was coming down the hole which was quite a help but even so it was some shot. Especially since I was teeing off on the 10th at the time.
The dogleg 16th, with the green up on the ridge.
Would I go back to Brora? In a heartbeat. There is something about the very spirit of the game running through this course, through the dunes and fairways, and through the magnificent greens. You may hit far longer than the golfers of yesteryear but, even so, you suspect that some of the shots you will play are very much of the style and purpose of those who played here for decades before you.

My thanks to Tony and Andy for the company. And to Simon who made up the imaginary fourth. A huge thanks also to the four greenkeepers who can produce this kind of quality in late October.

Weather Report
Dull start, but the sun came out after nine, which meant we had the sun in our eyes almost all the way back. Wind picked up a head of steam, too. Had to hit my driver on the 200 yard closing hole
Golf Report

Mostly rubbish and would have been so much worse without two willing guides... if only I could have done as directed. Definitely a course to be played a second time... and maybe by the fifth time you'll begin to understand its intricacies. 

The Scottish Highlands and the North Coast 500 take me on a wilder adventure from tomorrow, as I head farther north to Helmsdale and Lybster.

Friday, October 30, 2015

North Coast 500 - A Scottish Golfing Tour. Day 9 Golspie

The road to Dunrobin Castle
I drove down the lane to Dunrobin Castle, a half mile to the north of Golspie. It was closed for the season – something I had been told in fairly bald terms when I’d phoned up a week ago – but the gates were open and that’s as good as an invitation, right!

The drive descends through tall trees, the sunlight slicing the road into shreds

Thursday, October 29, 2015

North Coast 500 - A Scottish Golfing Tour. Day 8 Skibo Castle

Swans in residence behind the 11th green
What is it about rain? You walk out of the house (B&B in this case), you start packing the car and when you close the boot it starts to rain. It’s like the Gary Larson cartoon of the bird on the telegraph wire, hovering over the car being washed so meticulously. ‘You are mine, all mine.’

Rain seems to wait in that same way, and by the time I had arrived at The Carnegie

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

North Coast 500 - A Scottish Golfing Tour. Day 7 (hic)

Your own personal bottle.
Today was a non-golfing day to catch up with a bit of culture and history in this part of the world. And when I say ‘culture’ I actually mean ‘whisky’.

The Balblair Distillery came highly recommended by someone who knows the area… and whisky, evidently. This is the oldest distillery in the country. True, there are four distilleries that all claim to be the oldest, but Balblair is the one that has proof of distilling in 1790. They also have paperwork from 1715 for an order of copper used in the distilling

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

North Coast 500 - A Scottish Golfing Tour. Day 6

Views of the Royal Dornoch from the 3rd tee.
How often have you been told something is ‘amazing’, only to experience it for yourself and be left disappointed? Happens all the time, right, whether it’s a restaurant, a movie or a golf course.

Not today. Royal Dornoch, my friends, is the experience of a

Monday, October 26, 2015

North Coast 500 - A Scottish Golfing Tour. Day 5

Tain's 12th hole is sponsored by the local (and highly acclaimed)
Glenmorangie Distillery
Today, things ramped up a gear on the Scottish golfing front. Two gears, actually. Tain Golf Club is in a different class to what has come before. Before today, the emphasis of the courses was on fun, without any pretensions.

Tain is a Top 100 contender and it takes no time at all to see why… on the drive in

Sunday, October 25, 2015

North Coast 500 - A Scottish Golfing Tour. Day 4

OK, so somebody’s having a laugh. On Friday I took a few photographs over the Moray Firth towards the northern mountains of the Scottish Highlands. Stark and brown, the mountainsides looked burned and bruised with the heather that splashes its colour over the slopes. Today, as I left Inverness, those same mountains had been painted with a dusting of white.

Twice today I have seen warnings for ‘icy

Saturday, October 24, 2015

North Coast 500 - A Scottish Golfing Tour. (wet) Day 3

Scotland Day 3 is a wash-out. Not entirely unpredictable, but very disappointing nonetheless. The rain was pounding down long before breakfast and, despite being indoors, I got a sample of it when Hector, the owner’s brown lab, came in for a morning ‘hello’. It mattered little, I’d be soaked soon enough.

Or not, as the case may be. Torvean Golf Club, on the south west suburbs of

Friday, October 23, 2015

North Coast 500 - A Scottish Golfing Tour. Day 2

Inverness Castle
And so the golf begins. After, that is, a 70 mile drive through the stunningly scenic Cairngorms National Park. Call it the gateway to the Scottish Highlands if you like, for this is some introduction, with wave after wave of mountains disappearing into the distance.

Mountains are ever present, too, from the first golf course on the list of 26. Loch

Thursday, October 22, 2015

North Coast 500 - A Scottish Golfing Tour. Day 1

Shortly after this photo, the banana moved to the front seat.
Day one is hardly a thrilling adventure to make it worthy of a blog. Not a golf ball struck. In fact, not even a golf course seen. I passed Turnberry on the route north from Cairnryan but, even with the size of Donald Trump’s ego floating about, I couldn’t see the course in the dark.

The day came down to the banana and

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Scotland Calling - Touring the North Coast 500

The North Coast 500 is a coastline route wrapped around the Scottish Highlands. Stretching from Inverness, on the Moray Firth, up to John O’ Groats, then west to Durness and finally south to Applecross, this is Scotland’s equivalent of Route 66… and, quite probably, the Wild Atlantic Way. It is called the North Coast 500 route and, surprise, surprise, it is 500 miles long.

Wildly scenic and forever battered by the Atlantic Ocean, this is as far north as the mainland goes. Sea stacks rise from the ocean, beaches slice into the coastline and history is built on the inhospitable environment that leads to a hard way of

Friday, October 16, 2015

Greystones - New Buggies

Given that Greystones GC is my home course, it's great to report that the club has acquired a fleet of eight new buggies. This goes with significant upgrades to signage in recent years and a more professional feel to the course and clubhouse. As a club established in 1895, it is only fitting that we embrace our history and our reputation.

Monday, October 12, 2015

St Margarets - the Winner

Apologies, after Ireland's victory over France I rather forgot I was supposed to pick a winner for the St Margarets 4ball. Then again, I'm sure you'll understand!

Thank you for all the entries... the winner is Daire Mullan.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Arklow... Just Golf... A No Brainer

Rhythmic Fairways on the 5th hole
Yes, as if the offer of €19 for a 2 ball at Corballis wasn't good enough... now Just Golf is offering a 2 ball with 2 steak dinners for €50 at Arklow Golf Club.

Having been there only a week ago, this is a no brainer. It's a gem of a links course with superb and devious greens, magnetic bunkering and wonderfully rhythmic fairways.

It'll be €50 very well spent! A few photos below.

Views down the 1st
Over the 3rd green and back to the clubhouse
The glorious bunkering on the 2nd

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

St. Margaret's Golf Club - a Re-evaluation (and a free 4ball)

Views to the clubhouse over the 1st green.
When I contacted St Margaret's Golf Club in September last year, ahead of the 3rd edition of Hooked going to print, I was informed that the course was not in great shape. In the preceding years the course had been 'let go' and its lustre had been dulled.

Here was a course widely regarded as one of the best around Dublin, so the county's golfers must have been

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Druid's Glen The Winter Series

It’s great to see some winter golfing events doing the rounds. Golf courses can often be too quiet as the fair-weather golfers pack up for the cooler months. So it’s very welcome to see clubs coming out with fresh/interesting ideas. 

The exquisite Druid’s Glen has decided to give golfers something rather special to aim for… four qualifying events, four big prizes and one bigger prize… in the Audi

Friday, October 2, 2015

Gimme Gimme Gimme - the Psychology of Calling a Penalty in Golf

Last Sunday, it was the semi-final of our golf club's annual Father & Son tournament. Dad and I were up against a pairing we lost to three years ago. Playing off 9 and 4 they were a formidable and knowledgeable team. So, when the father started brushing away a few grains of sand with his putter on the 3rd green I was surprised. Penalty, right!

But, as we well know, some of the rules of

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Arklow Golf Links - September Sunshine

Views over the 7th, 6th and on to the distant 8th
at Arklow Golf Club.
Yesterday was the last day of September, and the sun was out to show us what a late burst of Indian Summer sunshine feels like... once again proving the beauty of Irish weather late in the golfing season.

I was at Arklow Golf Club, playing with Dermot Synnott, of Destination Golf and Top Golfer acclaim, and at 3.10pm we had the course pretty much to ourselves. This is a sweet links course and one of only three on the east coast, south of Dublin (The European and Rosslare being the other two).  It is well worth the trip down from Dublin, as it now takes little more than 30 minutes following the opening of the new section of the M11.

As you can see from yesterday's photos, it is well worth a visit and the course was in wonderful condition. Over-seeding has been completed so the greens (with all their big swings and interesting shapes) are a touch slower than you might expect on a links - although they are not slow and the roll is perfect.

I'll let the pics do the talking but if you're interested in joining a club, Arklow have an annual membership offer of €599, and, if you're prepared to commit for three years, they may even give it to you for less than that.

As for the golf, well, nothing says commitment like this image. All square on the 18th, €2 on the line...
copyright Kevin Markham
Bunker shot from one of the notorious bunkers on Arklow's 18th.
And here's a video of how you play a bunker shot... watch where it ends up... and, yes, he still made par.

Tee shot on the par four 8th at Arklow Golf Club
Late sun on the 8th green, Irish Sea beyond.
The opening hole at Arklow Golf Links, hitting towards the sea
and the Arklow Bank of wind turbines. 
Views from the 12th fairway towards the 17th green and the clubhouse.