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A month in Scotland: AmateurGolf.com founder takes a golf sabbatical
06 Jul 2024
by Pete Wlodkowski of AmateurGolf.com

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The author got in off the singles draw at The Old Course
The author got in off the singles draw at The Old Course

I’m not sure when it hit me that I better tick some items off my golf bucket list now. I turned 62 in March, am in relatively good condition, and more than a year removed from a partial knee replacement. Walking 36 is still fun, i just don't do it as offen as i used to. 

I’ve been to Ireland and Scotland twice, and checked the classic "Royal" courses of Northeast England have off of my list. I consider playing The Old Course a right of passage for any avid golfer, and I was able to play it on both of my Scotland trips. Australia, Hawaii, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Puerto Rico are just some of the destinations I’ve visited chasing the little white ball. 

One thing I’ve learned is that I enjoy playing the same course twice or three times. It takes at least three rounds to get a feel for a course; different weather conditions and course setups make for new “looks” every day. So, I thought, why not plunk down for a month somewhere?

And what better place to do that than Scotland, the true home of golf?


I have AmateurGolf.com running smoothly, and we will celebrate our 25th anniversary in 2025 (Not quite the 250 years that Royal Musselburgh is celebrating, but it's still a big milestone!) It’s always a business I could run from anywhere, especially during the summer months when we don’t have a busy AmateurGolf.com tournament schedule. 

My original thought was to rent one place for a month and branch out for day trips. But that would mean paying rent for two places when I ventured to remote places that required an overnight stay. So I split the difference and decided on no more than five moves. My first stop is the quaint village of Elie in Fife, just down the coast from St. Andrews. It's the birthplace of five-time Open champion and prolific course designer James Braid. Here, I’ll play their enticing Elie Golf Links, a course I fell in love with during my last visit to the area. I'm still within a short drive to links courses at Crail, Anstruther, Dumbarnie, and any of the St. Andrews courses. 

During those first two weeks, I’ll be far enough away from the hustle and bustle of St. Andrews to kick back, walk to the beach, and not run into so many Americans. (I have nothing against mingling with Americans taking bucket-list trips, but I want to be in less touristy spots this time.) I’ve already entered some local “Open Competitions,” which allow access to some great courses at a reduced rate, and with the nervousness of having to post a number included in the entry fee.

I’ve also just finished Tom Coyne’s book “A Course Called Scotland'' in which the American author and editor of The Golfer's Journal describes his epic journey around the coast of Scotland, playing virtually every links course in the land while opening up about his cathartic journey towards being “present.” The book culminates with Coyne attempting to qualify for the Open Championship at St. Andrews. I couldn’t put it down, and when I met Coyne at Bandon Dunes during their 25th anniversary celebration, I gushed over it to him like a rabid fan.

Armed with Coyne’s favorites and my desire for a much more relaxing pace of travel than the sometimes 54-hole days he endured to fulfill his mission, I have picked a few more remote destinations for the second part of my trip.

 

I look forward to getting out to the Mull of Kintyre off Scotland’s West Coast. There, I will find both the old course at Machrihanish Links and a newer David McLay Kidd design at Machrihanish Dunes where I have entered the Campbeltown Open. I can’t wait to contrast the two, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the designer of one of my favorite courses in the world (Bandon Dunes) did with a unique piece of property in his homeland. 

There will be other discoveries on the west coast, where I plan to attend the Open Championship at Royal Troon. Perhaps an amateur will capture our hearts like Englishman Paul Dunne did in 2015 at St. Andrews, where he tied for the 54-hole lead and set the record for the lowest 54-hole score by an amateur. (He dropped to 30th place after a final round 78, but nothing can take away from his 69-69-66 start.)

It will be the second time I’ve visited Royal Troon and not played. Last time, I was entered in a local competition across the street at some of Ayrshire’s scenic, albeit a bit more rough-around-the-edges public links courses. 

And that sums up the way I look at golf travel. If your “jam” is to seek out every Open venue in Scotland or try and visit every top 100 course in the U.S., I get it. I’ve been fortunate enough to play many on personal travels or as part of the golf media covering a major amateur championship like The Walker Cup. 

A QUICK STORY FROM MY LAST TRIP

 


The tiny ferry to F&R
The last time I visited Scotland with my son, he managed the navigation. I still remember our ride from Royal Dornoch (see how I name-dropped there/) down to St. Andrews and how we picked out a few hidden gems along the way. We got to a dead end on our way to one of them—nothing in sight ahead but water and a very small dock. As we looked at each other in horror, we saw a boat in the distance. Our ferry to the other side was where we encountered Fortrose and Rosemarkie circa 1793 (It’s in Coyne’s book).  Our round there was the most enjoyable of the trip.

 

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