To Friends, Traveling Companions, and Golf in the Kingdom…
It started on the tee in April at the Highland Hills Golf Club in Birmingham, Alabama. We were warming up for the first round of the Southern Hickory Four Ball Championship. A couple of my playing buddies asked me what it was like playing golf in Scotland with hickory clubs. My reply was, “Why don’t you join me at the World Hickory Open in October and find out?” The seed was planted, and by summer, five of my hickory playing brethren took me up on it. This would be the largest contingent of Americans to journey to the old country to participate in the WHO.
I always look forward to a trip to Scotland, but I think I was more excited for the group in their first travel experience to play links golf. In spite of departures from different airports, no problems ensued and we all arrived at our initial destination on time at the first tee of the Glen Club in North Berwick.
With a bright sun and light breeze at our backs as we teed off, two groups from the colonies commenced on a playing adventure on grounds formed by nature over hundreds of years. The Glen Club is not the most famous of the courses in the area (North Berwick Golf Club is), but now having played both, it certainly takes no back seat to the more heralded layout. Some of the vistas along the sea are every bit as scenic as those at Pebble Beach. It was a great way o begin our stay.
With our first round in the books, we loaded the cars and headed off to Dundee, just north of St. Andrews, to check in to our base camp, the Landmark Hotel. As I was an old hand at it, driving on the left side of the highway from the right side of the car was no big deal for me.Brian, on the other hand, managed toavoid a few close calls at the famous roundabouts, and pulled into the hotel parking lot a bit frazzled at the experience. He would get better as the week went by. Now, it was time for a good night’s rest, because the fifth-oldest golf course in the world awaited us in the morning.
In the United States, when you say “So-and-so Golf Club,” that’s it, all one facility and course. In Scotland, however, there may be several golf clubs all sharing one golf course. Such is the case in the town of Montrose. The golf course, Montrose Medal, is shared by different clubs that have their own buildings along the road leading to the course itself. A banner celebrating its 450th year of operation greeted us at the first tee. The course was magnificent, as once again was the weather. Dressed in our plus-fours, we were off for another battle with the gorse bushes and pot bunkers. Needless to say, the hazards carried the day. But, with a few wooden clubs, bag over the shoulder, and a cool breeze off the sea, how bad can it be?
The next morning we drove down to a little place called Crail. It is only the seventh-oldest golf course in the world. Now, here is a golfer’s heaven. The clubhouse sits on a hill overlooking the course as it stretches out along the sea. It is probably the best clubhouse view in all of Scotland. There are two courses, the Balcomie, older of the two, and Craighead. We played the Craighead and loved every nook and cranny. The weather was just unbelievable, not a cloud in the sky. So far, the trip was a Chamber of Commerce’s dream. On our way back, we decided to stop at St. Andrews, which was hosting the Dunhill Cup Championship. As play for the day was winding down, we strolled out on the 18th fairway for a picture on the Swilcan Bridge, where Arnie and Jack made their final bows. We also went for a quick round on the putting course known as the Himalayas. What a hoot. Definitely worth checking out if you’re planning a visit.
Sunday morning we played at an inland course called Alyth, designed by James Braid. It was quite different than the links and a lot like a course you would find in New England. About this time, my traveling companions were feeling like they had died and gone to heaven. “Yes,” I said. “Been there done that!” We left Alyth and headed over to Carnoustie Country to see if we could get in a few holes on the tournament course to be used for the first round of the World Hickory Open. Monifieth Links qualifying course, is an Open and it would be our host for day one of the championship. Rick Woeckner and I were allowed to go out for nine holes before dark to get a feel for the layout. Our companions opted for the buffet at the clubhouse, which did look pretty appetizing.
Ninety players from around the world teed it up for the World Hickory Championship. The first day was a combination individual and team competition. I, Brian Schuman, and Rick Woeckner made up USA #1 while Mike Just, Rich Grula, and John Greene represented USA #2. We each failed to threaten, although Rick and I were in fifth place after the day’s play individually. At the gala dinner that evening, we took a good ribbing about the Ryder Cup from just about everyone in the room. All in good fun, though, as the wine and spirits warmed up the evening.