Monday, November 2, 2015

North Coast 500 - A Scottish Golfing Tour. Day 12 Wick to John O Groats

The par three 9th at Wick.
Someone once told me that you can tell what kind of man you are by your reaction to walking through a cobweb. Real men, apparently, carry on as if nothing has happened; the rest of us lurch backwards and claw at our faces as if a tarantula has leapt on board.

I fall firmly into that second category.

Wick Golf Club, on November 2nd, was
basking under a cloudless sky in 15 degrees Celsius. Maybe the spiders were taken unawares by the remarkable temperatures because they had been busy during the night. Huge strands of web filament, some as much as ten feet long, floated across the links wrapping around golf bags, trouser legs… and faces.

Andy shows how to play around the greens. Note the t-shirt!

The golf club is no more than a five minute drive out of town, heading north. I call it a town because it has a Lidl. That seems to be the essential criterion up here. And two curry houses (I highly recommend the Caithness Balti House).

Andy, my playing partner, at both Brora and Wick, told me that there had been a third curry house but they got closed down for using illegal immigrant workers. That’s big town trouble if ever there was.

The 1st hole, a short par four.
The original designer of Wick is unknown as the course dates back to the 18th century (1790). A new layout was implemented in 1906, by John Sutherland (secretary at Royal Dornoch), and it has changed only slightly since then – mostly following recommendations by Ireland’s own Ronan Rafferty, back in 2000. Andy – a member here for 30 years – talked me through the evolution of the (minimal) changes that have taken place and also offered advice on where to hit… although somehow he always managed to omit telling me where the bunkers were hiding until after my ball was heading straight at them. The man has talent if he ever wants to be a hustler.
The most entertaining green at Wick comes late in the round.
Wick is a mostly flat links. The front nine slide out to the farthest point, using the inland stretch of ground. The par three 9th hits across the bottom of the course before you return for home, under the long line of dunes. There’s nothing big or fancy about the place although a couple of holes have greens of thrilling shapes and a few watery ditches prove challenging. Bunkering is often well hidden and, given its level terrain, it is hard to gauge just what sort of hollows may or may not exist around the greens. Having a guide like Andy made all the difference… despite the occasional omission about the hazards ahead! It was an extremely calm, sunny and pleasant round. I did mention 15 degrees, didn't I!

Wick is honest links graft but, realistically, it is just too far north and lacks the dramatic punch to be included on the stretch that joins Tain to Brora. It will, however, appeal to plenty of golfers who aren’t ‘trophy’ hunters... as reflected by the £30 green fee.

John O Groats

To the north lies John O Groats, proudly boasting it is the most northerly point of mainland Britain. It isn’t (that’s Dunnet Head, nearby), but John O Groats has the marketing spiel and all of the shops and tourist facilities to reinforce the claim… never mind the walkers, cyclists, runners, jugglers, dancers and who knows what else who do the Land’s End to John O Groats for charity. Andy seems pretty fed up with them as they slow down traffic.

As the narrow road rises between the fields on the final stretch before the village comes in to sight, you get the impression that you are coming to the top of the world. It’s an eerie sensation before the road drops away, the village appears, and the Orkney islands spin off into the distance. They look like they have just drifted away from the mainland as if by accident.  
The sea stacks at Duncansby Head
I skirted the main epicentre and drove east, out to Duncansby Head and its famous sea stacks. There’s a walk along the headland that takes you to these two shard like rock formations. It’s three quarters of a mile but you can keep going, striding ever onwards along the cliff tops, the stacks to your left and more cliffs reaching into the distance. I didn’t pay much attention to the time as I headed along the walk, keen to get the photograph that would best use the angle of the sun. I was out there for over three hours and by the time I returned to the lighthouse car park, every other car had gone. Well, all two of them.

And, since I was here, it wouldn’t have been right to continue on to my B&B without first experiencing John O Groats.
The harbour at John O Groats. Here's where you catch ferries to the Orkneys
In other exciting news, today I passed 1,000 kilometres on this trip. I’m not even halfway, having only left Sutherland and entered Caithness on the eastern coast. Here’s a statistic for you: Sutherland is so vast and has such a small population that there are just two people to every square mile. It would make barbecues difficult.

1 comment:

  1. Dam, the video doesn't show it leave a tap in! Golf was played in Wick from 1870 but moved to the current location in 1873, John Sutherland the secretary at Royal Dornoch was the designer who came up with the layout in 1906. The Green kevin points out is the 13th and 15C in November with NO wind was a bit special.