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Golfing in the dark at Murcar Links, a course review

ABERDEEN, Scotland - They were the two best shots I hit all day. And I had absolutely no idea where I was going as darkness set in at Murcar Links.

With the remnants of a Hurricane moving across Scotland -- bringing high winds, rain, and the blackest clouds I've ever seen -- I was determined to finish my second round of the day, the Monday after the 2011 Walker Cup.

Reality set in on the 15th tee, as I tried to make my way back to a little white clubhouse that seemed miles away in the distance, its yellow lights playing tricks with my eyes. I could see the fairway from the elevated tee, and I hit a ball (which I couldn't see) that felt solid enough. When I found it in the fairway, I had 168-yards, straight into the wind, over one of the most daunting protective hills I have ever seen. (I'm sure it isn't that bad in the daylight, but heck, it was almost pitch black!) 'Miss it short, and it's rolling back to a little stream at the base of the hill,' I thought. I could make out the wildly-whipping flag, but had no idea how much room there was over the hill. The hybrid I hit felt really good, but I would have been happy just to find it.

Such was my final round in Scotland, a fitting end to a fantastic trip. After covering the Walker Cup, I managed to snag one of the media times at the host course, Royal Aberdeen. Playing the day after thousands of spectators watched the world's best amateur play in "golf's greatest contest" was certainly a thrill -- but it was love at first site when I gazed North to Murcar, which follows the coast past the 9th green of Royal Aberdeen. I heard that a group of tourists once made the mistake of walking from that green to the 4th tee at Murcar Links, winding up miles away from where they were supposed to be. By the time I finished my round at Royal Aberdeen, I knew I too needed to find my way to Murcar, but I took a more traditional route to the first tee, by Taxi.

Unfortunately, I didn't tee off almost 6:00 pm. Not exactly conducive to finishing 18 holes on foot.

Murcar Links, established in 1909 and designed by Archie Simpson (with later refinements made in the 1930′s by James Braid), is a rugged layout that is a bit quirkier than it's neighbor Royal Aberdeen. A couple of blind shots, one or two tiny greens, and a shorter overall distance (6516 yards, par 71 from the tips) means that there are many styles of play that can produce a low number. And it also means that the penalty for a mis-placed shot is at times severe. (Note, a link to a Travel Golf review of Murcar Links can be found at the end of this post.)

Now back to the 15th.

My goal in Scotland was to always have a medal play score, no matter what. I made some fantastic double- bogeys after losing a ball, but never more. I kept that going at Murcar, then walked up the hill on the 15th wondering if it would all come to a crashing end, leaving me to ponder whether I should have strayed so far from the clubhouse in the dark.

After forcing my tired legs up the big hill in front of the green, I spotted my ball, 10-feet right of the hole, pin high. Had I pulled off my luckiest shot in Scotland? I checked the Titleist with the green dot just to make sure. I pondered (albeit very briefly) not putting the treacherous right-to- lefter, made even tougher by the wind. I picked out a line, hit it almost a foot above the hole, and watched with ecstasy as the break, and wind, tracked the ball into the center of the cup. I literally let out a yelp, with nobody to hear it, and, like the Walker Cup, no money on the line.

FOOTNOTES

IF YOU'RE GOING:

Murcar Links is in Northeast Scotland, next to Royal Aberdeen just a short drive out of the Aberdeen City Center. I stayed at a lovely boutique hotel called the Rox, near the bustling, up-to-date Union Station railway station and shopping/dining destination. Bed and Breakfasts are nice, but I recommend staying in both Edinburgh and Aberdeen if your stay allows. From my hotel, it was about a $3 bus ride straight to Royal Aberdeen.

POST ROUND MEAL WITH AN UNBELIEVABLE VIEW

Murcar's remodeled clubhouse has huge floor-to-ceiling windows that provide an almost 360 degree view of the course and North Sea. The club warmly welcomes the visiting public with excellent food, service, and fantastic practice and locker facilities. It was so dark when I finished that I wondered if I would find a locked door (with my shoes inside) but the clubhouse manager, Brenda, not only waited for me to come in, she served me a cold beer and a warm ham "toastie" with fries as well. As I thanked her profusely for not only waiting for the lone golfer trudging home in the dark, but feeding me as well, she simply said "Nice is nice." That meal, by the way was the best I had in Scotland.

DON'T PLAY THE MEMBERS FOR MONEY

Murcar Links hosts many professional and amateur tournaments, and its membership boasts at least 100 players with handicaps lower than 5. There are over 100 members in its junior program alone. Paul Lawrie, the 1999 British Open Champion, is a frequent visitor -- he opened the remodeled clubhouse in 2005 -- and I was told that Colin Montgomerie had stopped in for a tea (just a tea, not golf) several weeks prior to my visit.

MORE INFORMATION

A Travel Golf review can be found at:

http://www.travelgolf.com/articles /murcar-golf-links--aberdeen-city-scotland- 11405.htm
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