Tuesday, July 12, 2016

2017 Scotland Trip

Twelve of us are taking a Scotland trip in June of 2017. Below is a collection of write-ups for each course. Our itinerary:

Sun, June 11 - Depart USA
Mon, June 12 - Land in Scotland - Overnight in Glasgow
Tue, June 13 - Royal Troon - Overnight in Turnberry
Wed, June 14 - Turnberry - Overnight in Gullane
Thu, June 15 - Murifield - Overnight in St. Andrews
Fri, June 16 - [St. Andrews*] - Overnight in St. Andrews
Sat, June 17 - Kingsbarns - Overnight in St. Andrews
Sun, June 18 - Carnoustie - Overnight in St. Andrews
Mon, June 19 - [St. Andrews*] - Overnight in St. Andrews
Tue, June 20 - [St. Andrews*] - Overnight in St. Andrews
Wed, June 21 - Depart Scotland, Land in USA

*Rounds in St. Andrews are up in the air. Old Course daily ballot each day and potential overnight singles queue.

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Royal Troon

Royal Troon was founded in 1878 and had only 5 holes. It took about 10 years for it to be expanded to an 18 hole layout, and a 2nd course on property (Portland Course) was added in 1895. At least six different architects have altered The Old Course at Royal Troon, with the most recent changes taking place in 2014.

Overall, Troon gets mediocre reviews as a course. Most of the holes blend together, and the layout is the traditional out-and-back links design. The most famous hole is "The Postage Stamp" 8th, a 123 yard par 3 from the tips. Herman Tissies made a 15 on this hole in the 1950 Open... and Gene Sarazen made a hole-in-one with a 5 iron (at age 71!) in 1973. Just today, Rory McIlroy took 6 shots to get out of the right-side bunker in a practice round.

The 11th hole, named "Railway", is one of the toughest in Open Championship golf. It's a completely blind tee-shot from the tips, requiring a 240 yard carry over gorse. And it usually plays into the wind.

So while not the most memorable course in the rota, it's one of the most fair. Keep shots out of the wind and avoid the bunkers. Simple as that. Past Open winners at Troon: Arthur Havers (1923), Bobby Locke (1950), Arnold Palmer (1962), Tom Weiskopf (1973), Tom Watson (1982), Mark Calcavecchia (1989), Justin Leonard (1997) and Todd Hamilton (2004). Notes about the club: The handicap ceiling at Troon is 20.0 (but we're going to all be much lower than that). Shorts are not permitted inside the clubhouse. Phones must be silent on the property, and can't be used to make calls on the course or inside the clubhouse. Standard greens fees are £220 and guests can only play Monday, Tuesday and Thursdays with various restrictions on times and dates.

Final thoughts: I think Troon is going to be great for our initial exposure to Scottish golf. The first 4 holes are fairly easy, depending on weather conditions. The length is either 6,650 or 6,200. We will be requesting a forecaddie for this round, meaning one caddie helps each foursome and we pull our own carts. Watch the flyovers for each hole if you'd like a better feel for the course.

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Turnberry

Our 2nd course on the trip is Turnberry, considered by many to be the greatest Open venue. In 1977, Tom Watson beat Jack Nicklaus on the final hole in what is now called the "Duel in the Sun." Greg Norman won his first Major in 1986. Nick Price won in 1994. And Stewart Cink had the most disappointing Major victory ever, beating a 59 year old Tom Watson in 2009 (in a playoff).

The course opened in 1901, with the hotel opening in 1906. The layout was changed multiple times, due in part to it being converted into an airfield for both WWI and WWII. Many of those changes were quite drastic, so the course legacy didn't take hold until 1977. There really weren't any famous individual holes like "The Road Hole" (St. Andrews) or "The Postage Stamp" (Royal Troon). And in 2014 it was up for sale and in dire need of new investment.

Well... some rich American who was desperate to get his name attached to a Major Championship bought the course. Over $100 million was spent renovating the course and hotel, re-opening 5 months ago to rave reviews (even by those who hate the owner). Bottom line... the changes were excellent.

Renown course architect firm Mackenzie & Ebert probably deserve all the credit. Here's an excellent video of what they changed (check out holes 9 through 11).

As long as the weather isn't completely terrible, I expect this to be one of the best courses we play.

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Muirfield

After our round at Turnberry, we drive across the country to Gullane. There we will get our first experience of rural-ish Scotland, staying overnight in a small inn near various pubs. We can't get too crazy, because the next morning we're playing Muirfield.

Muirfield is home to The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, which is the oldest verifiable organized golf club in the world. Their records go back to 1744 when they produced the original thirteen "Rules of Golf." It took about 100 years for the HCEG to pass over all authority for rules and decisions to the R&A at St. Andrews.

Eventually the Company commissioned Old Tom Morris to design a new course, which was finished in 1891. Muirfield immediately hosted The Open in 1892, which was the first ever tournament contested over four rounds and 72 holes (the standard today). Recently, the club was in the news for getting kicked out of The Open ROTA after they failed to vote in women members. But fear not... Muirfield is re-voting in early 2017 and will allow women members as soon as March. Upon doing so, they'll immediately be reinstated and will not miss any future Open events.

Speaking of The Open, Muirfield has hosted it 16 times. Notable winners are: Walter Hagen (1929), Gary Player (1959), Jack Nicklaus (1966), Lee Trevino (1972), Tom Watson (1980), Nick Faldo (1987, 1992), Ernie Els (2002) and most recently Phil Mickelson (2013). That's a pretty solid list of Hall of Fame golfers. Take a moment to look at highlights from the BBC broadcast in 2013. You'll get a sense of how tight and fast the course is, how deep the bunkers are, and how much better golf commentary is in the UK.

Reviews of the course are all over the map, with the prevailing theme being that the collection of holes is more memorable than any specific hole. The rough is allegedly the thickest of any Open venue, and the bunkers are to be avoided at all cost.

The club itself is to some extent like Augusta National... extremely old-school and difficult to join. However, almost all Scottish clubs embrace visitor play and Muirfield is no different. There are limited guest rounds on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which sell out a year in advance. Luckily, we were able to secure tee times. But there are a ton of quirks and rules we need to be cognizant of:
  • You must have your handicap card with you at all times, and it must say a number lower than 18. For the purpose of our trip, you really need to be down in the 16s to avoid any issue with index vs. course handicap. So keep practicing!
  • Groups are only allowed to be booked in multiples of four players, with a max of 12.
  • Fourball (stroke play) is allowed in the morning, but Foursomes (alternate shot) is the game of the club. If you tee off in the afternoon, you must play alternate shot. While it's tradition to play a morning round, eat lunch in the club, and then play an afternoon alternate shot round... we won't be going back out since we need to get on the road to St. Andrews. I've also read that as guests playing fourball, we'll probably be going off #10 in the morning.
  • We have a 9am tee time, and are allowed to show up no earlier than 7:30am. We definitely want to get there at that time to check in, warm up, and see the club.
Got everything so far? Because we aren't done yet:
  • You must wear a jacket and tie at all times in the clubhouse. And no shorts (sorry, John)! This means we show up in jacket and tie, change in the locker room to our golfing attire before our round, and then change back before lunch. We are eating lunch at the club which is considered one of the top experiences in Scotland. Their signature drink is kummel, some sort of liquor that will probably taste terrible.
  • Only white socks can be worn on the golf course.
  • Cell phones are not allowed to be used for communication anywhere on club property. You can use your phone to take pictures on the course if it's in "airplane mode." However, NO photos are allowed to be taken inside the clubhouse. They will kick everyone out, so don't even bother pulling out your phone when we're inside.
  • Pace of play is a very strict 4 hours and 10 minutes during our fourball (stroke play) round. Members playing alternate shot usually play 18 holes in 2.5 hours!
  • There is no pro shop, and you can only buy Muirfield merchandise at the pro shop of a course over a mile down the road.
It's hard to tell how over-exaggerated the stories of Muirfield have become. Tom Watson and Ben Crenshaw were once scolded for playing extra holes on a random Sunday evening. Vijay Singh's entire group was kicked off the course when he refused to hang up his cell phone during a round. The walk from the front iron gate to the club is over 200 yards, with basically no signs or indication where visitors should check in. It's almost as if the HCEG wants to seem imposing just to deter people. But by all accounts, that has drastically changed in the past 10 years, and they're making a point to be overly friendly now. I basically have no idea what to expect, which should make the unique and rare experience that much better.

You can read a brief review of the course and clubhouse from 2012 here, and another decent review here.

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Kingsgbarns

When our lunch at Murifield is complete, we'll rush off to St. Andrews and check in Thursday evening. For the remainder of the trip we'll be staying at the Craigmore Guest House, just blocks from The Old Course (about 0.3 miles).

Depending on what time we check in, we should head to The Old Course starter shack and talk to the guy about walking on. As mentioned in my last email, the tour company will be entering us every eligible day for the ballot, which is selected two days in advance.

Since my last email, I did a lot of research on the St. Andrews walk-on process, also known as the "singles queue." The line starts forming at the starter shack every night, on average around 4am. However, there are plenty of stories of guys camping out at midnight. Everyone who wants their name on the list has to be present... so we can't hold spots. The starter shack opens at 6am, at which time they'll write down names in order of the line. After about 30 names, there's basically zero chance of walking on the Old Course. Once you're on the list, the starter will give you an estimated idea of when you'll be paired with a group of 2 or 3 golfers. Very rarely is there a cancellation where 3+ walk-ons can go out together. If you aren't around when your name is called, you get taken off the list.

But the Old Course aside, our first round in St. Andrews is Kingsbarns Golf Links, located about 20 minutes southeast of town. While it's not an official Open course, I fully expect it to be added to the ROTA eventually. It's already used alongside The Old Course and Carnoustie in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on the European Tour. And it will host to the Women's British Open this year in August!

The course was constructed in 2000, and is ranked as one of the best in the world. A friend who played many of the same courses on our itinerary told me Kingsbarns was his favorite, and his group replayed it on their off-day (it's half-price to replay it during our trip).

Check out their website, the course looks amazing.

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Carnoustie

On Father's Day (Sunday) we'll be playing Carnousite, arguably one of the toughest courses in the world. Its most famous moment in history... Jean van De Velde ejecting on 18 when he only needed a double-bogey 6 to win the 1999 British Open. Even today it's difficult to watch.

Designed by Old Tom Morris in 1842, he also expanded it to the now standard 18 holes in 1867. Since then it has hosted seven Open Championships, one Women's British Open and one Senior British Open. The Open winners are a decent list: Tommy Armour, Henry Cotton, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Tom Watson, Paul Lawrie and Padraig Harrington. They'll also host the Open in 2018, so it should be fresh in our minds while watching.

Reviews of the course all say the same thing: "difficult but fair." I kind of think that's a worthless assessment, and actually just means you're going to dislike it in good weather... and really hate it in crap weather. It definitely won't be as visually pleasing as Turnberry and Kingsbarns, and it seems people who love the course play it multiple times before finally appreciating the design.

However, it should be the best example of old Scottish links on the trip. St. Andrews Old Course was the original... but Carnousite was built after the R&A and Muirfield regulated the game. So this layout is what Scotland considered "golfing excellence."

Bottom line... this is not a round that anyone should care about their score. It's going to be horrendous, even in perfect weather. Just have fun and enjoy the walk.

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St. Andrews

Let's start with the Old Course. It's the home of golf. Most people say they only appreciate it after multiple rounds. It looks like crap. And the 17th hole is one of the most tricked-up in the world. And yet, it's the most important course in golf. Here are a few other interesting notes:
  • Golf allegedly started there in 1552.
  • 45,000 rounds are played each year on the Old Course alone.
  • There have been 29 Opens played there. Notable winners are: Tiger Woods (x2), John Daly, Nick Faldo (x2), Seve Ballesteros (x2), Jack Nicklaus (x3), Sam Snead, and Bobby Jones (x2).
  • Old Tom Morris opened, and worked in, the golf shop in 1866. It's the oldest golf shop in the world.
  • Play on the course was actually reversed every week, and is still played "backwards" once a year today. Some of the bunkers make a lot more sense when you play it in reverse.
  • The Road Hole tee shot (#17) hits over large railway sheds next to a hotel. The sheds are replicas, and were added back to the course in 1984 to re-create the original blind tee shot.
  • The road behind the 17th green is in play, and you do not get relief from it or the stone wall.
  • The course is closed on Sundays.
To play the course we either need to win the daily ballot, or sit outside overnight and go out as singles. The following foursomes will be entered into the daily ballots for the Old Course: [Chandler, Gary, Scott, Dean], [Darren, Art, John, JW], [Mike, Darryl, Reid, Dave]. There are three days of ballots while we are in St. Andrews. 

Six other courses are also on the property. Here is a list and what I've read about them (cost to play in pounds):
  • New Course (75) - Built by Old Tom Morris in 1895, it's the second most popular course on property... but also not very difficult to walk on later in the day. There's a large portion of locals who will admit that this course is "better" than the Old Course. By all accounts, reviews say it's not "memorable," but very enjoyable.
  • Jubilee Course (75) - A favorite of the University of St. Andrews, this track was built in 1897 as a course for beginners and lady golfers. I'm sure it was a lot of fun, but due to it's prime water-side location, it was completely re-designed in 1988 and is now long and extremely difficult. If you want to be humbled, the locals recommend playing this course on a windy day.
  • Eden Course (45) - Opened in 1914 and considered one of the easier on property. It's not heavily played, so a good walk-on opportunity.
  • Castle Course (120) - About an 8-minute drive from St. Andrews, it opened in 2008 to mixed reviews. The views on the water are supposed to be excellent. The sea is visible from every hole, with some sections running along steep cliffs. But since it's opening the greens have been flattened 4 separate times. Apparently it was just too difficult and pin locations were impossible during high winds. Apparently this is still the case despite the renovations. If you want to shoot a big number and can get some local transportation... we might check this out.
  • Strathtyrum Course (30) - Built in 1993, it's fairly short, easy and not highly recommended.
  • Balgove Course (15) - Nine hole short course. I've read that instead of hitting the range, you should warm up here if you have the time. It'll better prepare you for the greens of the Old Course.

5 comments:

Mike Gorecki said...

Good job (finally) updating this page. A couple more requests:

1. Can you post the schedule of where we will be playing each day. And more importantly (for Darryl) what days we will be resting.

2. Can you post a "draft" of what pairings you're thinking on doing. this will of course need to be approved by a majority vote.

Only 5 short moths months away! Hmm maybe a countdown clock needs to be added to REALLY put the pressure on to those needing to get their handicaps down.

Chandler said...

First of all, you have all this information. Second, there is no majority vote in anything I do.

You see, the problem with a parings schedule, is that you have an obsession of playing with your dad every day. And nobody is going to vote for being in that group on these 7 majestic courses for a week. It also doesn't help that your handicap is too high and you can be very slow sometimes.

So stop making requests... and go practice.

J.W. said...

BURN NOTICE!!!!!

Gary said...

http://www.pga.com/news/golf-buzz/muirfield-admit-women-back-in-open-championship-rotation
I guess that Reki won't be playing Muirfield now...

Chandler said...

He's actually excited about the ruling, since there might be some more forward tees added...