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The Scottish Experience

by | Jun 23, 2024

On June 1, 16 players affiliated with the Pebble Beach Beach Club arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland to commence an odyssey that would cover five golfing venues.  The players ranged in ages from mid 40’s to 85!

The trip had been professionally arranged six months earlier with secured tee times, hotel reservations and dedicated transportation services. Players were coming in from everywhere and various flights with various degrees of difficulties as one set of golf clubs coming in from Toronto, Canada never made it as this predicament became the first major story of the event.

With the group finally assembled, we set off for a 5 hour bus ride to Royal Dornoch Golf Club. We would stop roughly halfway at Pitlochry, a small town beneficiary of its location for tour buses to empty and shop, eat and stroll in this rustic town. Pitlochry was well positioned geographically as a magnet for the tour buses that would traverse various points of interest all over Scotland.  The town gobbled up the tourist trade as the streets were teeming with locals on this Sunday afternoon with additional numbers of bus patrons descending on the  Fish N Chips shops, bars, restaurants and Mom N Pop retail at London type prices. It seems like all that was needed were a few slot machines and Pitlochry could be become the Las Vegas of Scotland. After a fair meal and a trip to the loo (cost 50 pence), we reboarded the bus for the rest of the trip. We would arrive about 6PM at the Dornoch Station hotel. The Dornoch Station hotel is a short stroll to the Royal Dornoch Golf Club where we would playing on Monday and Tuesday. In our group, we had four players that were determined to play whenever possible. There would be no waiting for Monday and with 5 hours of daylight in the Scottish sun, they were off to Dornoch for as many holes as they could get in.

The Dornoch Station had recently been renovated and looked very cozy, comfy and well appointed. The staff were well prepared for our arrival and all things were looking great until I walked into my room. It was the smallest hotel room, I had seen in years–I had to go back in memory to the airport hotels near Narita Airport in Japan to think about being in a room this small. The smallness of this room was appalling–there were no drawers or cabinets to store or hang clothing anywhere.   The bathroom had no storage or any place to deposit toiletries as I placed my toothbrush and toothpaste on the base of the television. It was amazing to me that a hotel that had been so nicely refurbished and modernized could have gotten rooms this wrong. We would certainly literally be living out of suitcase for the next three nights but this is what can happen on the road so you just “suck it up” and consider the great golf course you are about to play.

One of our members’ golf clubs did not arrive in Edinburgh from his direct flight from Toronto and the chase was on to figure out how and when these clubs could be retrieved. The handoff from the airline to a local messenger service would prove to be quite dodgy, unpredictable and frustrating as once the airline delivered the clubs to the carrier-communication and status to the owner became a black hole.  The purchase of an air tag on the golf bag proved invaluable as finally the clubs could be tracked inside the carrier’s vehicle and they were finally delivered on Monday evening.   The victim in this affair played out of my bag on Monday,  and he putted so well  with my putter that I had to keep a close eye on it.

Dornoch Round and Match

We played Dornoch on Monday and then we would have a match against the Royal Dornoch club on Tuesday followed by a dinner with their members at the clubhouse.  We moved to the first tee, which is a friendly welcoming hole that I would call, Benign. It’s a short hole with very little difficulty but you realize that this is just a welcoming appetizer.  You immediately move to the second hole, which I would label, Jolt. It is a par 3 of 170 yards, which is all carry to the green or you get the mounding effect of a Redan. It’s not quite a Redan, but it’s close and missing the green is not a good thing. The next three holes are strong par 4’s with the fairways sloping from right to left with multiple fairway bunkers eager to swallow a well struck tee shot. These holes primarily played down wind, which seems to give you a false sense of security that you can defy the presence of these bunkers. However, it seems that these holes were designed with the prevailing wind in mind so avoiding them was a challenge.  The par 3-sixth hole looks appetizing but any wind miscalculation and you could end up over the green to a very uncertain fate. I was a big fan of the 7th hole as the wind is directly at your back, a short hitter (as I am) could not hope to cover 492 yards in two but this is exactly what happened on both days. You move to the last two holes on the front nine that are extremely difficult and reminded me of the Pacific Dunes course at Bandon Dunes,  as these holes are by the sea.

The 9th to me is a replica of the 12th at Bandon Dunes but I’m pretty sure that Dornoch predates that design. The hole is completely up the steep hill with a bifurcated fairway with the ocean directly on the left. A tee shot that is hit down the middle or middle/left could find the rough on the left or worse as the rough on this hole is wispy.  A tee shot that is hit down the middle or middle/right will hold its line for a shot to the green. With wind in your face and the uphill sloping of the hole, the second shot is long and critical. I grabbed a 3 wood and smashed it down the middle of the fairway on the right side of the fairway. All of my playing partners saw the shot and I thought the ball would be very close to the green. We never found the ball! I couldn’t believe it–the best struck ball of the round and directionally sound could not be found. It was maddening and I had to swallow some emotion having to take a lost ball penalty spoiling two great shots.  I needed a Mars bar at the turn to calm down and one of the sympathetic members insisted on buying me the local mini bottle of Scotch (Royal Dornoch brand).  It was the first time I can remember ever swigging a shot of Scotch while playing but it had a positive effect.  However, the short tenth surrounded by bunkers would provide the context for the rest of the round–a difficult grind.

The back nine holes  offer risk/reward and require the proper placement of tee shots to avoid the clumps of rough on some narrow fairways to position shots to claim par. The 14th hole is a long par 4 without any bunkers, nevertheless, it is the No. 1 handicap hole with the prevailing wind in your face and a number of grass mounds on the right.  The 14th is intimidating with an accurate tee shot absolutely required as this hole requires two solid strikes in the right place.  The second shot from the fairway must carry the mounds on the right that guard entry to the green although they are at least 40-50 yards.  Some players will lay up to the mounds and chip over them to try to make a one putt par.  The green seems to be situated as an altar in the cathedral as it sits atop some gentle upslope to the green.  The precision required on this hole is 10 on the 10 scale to survive.  After the difficult 14th, you might think relief has been achieved on the shortest par 4, 15th,  but wind can lengthen this hole to 400 yards of golf.  There is a mound 20 ft. wide on the left of the hole but I chose to fly all of it to the left with a hybrid club as there is no trouble there and the wind carried it over but I got up and down from there with a two putt par.

My favorite hole at Dornoch is the 17th. The first time I played it in 2022, the wind was directly in your face and it seemed impossible. This time I made par as the wind was present but not penal.   The hole has two fairways with the left fairway the choice of the long hitter to have a reasonable iron shot into the green. The green is blind from the tee with a directional pole in the fairway indicating the bifurcation of the fairways. The short hitter has to play to the right fairway and hit it accurately in that fairway to position for a shot to the green of at least 180 yards. My drive was in the right fairway but too far back to go for the green so I had laid up with a 7 iron, where I could try to get up and down from 60-70 yards. I clipped a gap wedge up the hill past the pin and slammed a putt from about 10 feet for an unlikely par. It’s difficult to describe how entertaining this hole is with the two fairways, scrub in front of the green and size of the green. It is truly a very unique design. The 18th is another strong par 4 finishing hole demanding two great shots to close out a remarkable piece of God’s earth.

The match against Royal Dornoch was a special treat to be able the meet the members of the club as we were able to soak in the culture of the club. The results of that match were not disclosed (probably in deference to us) but I’m sure that the home club won. The dinner was a classy affair as I think it might be only the second time I donned a coat and tie this year. The members were thirsty for information about US golf and Pebble Beach in particular. Dornoch has a long waiting list to achieve membership in the club, but unlike the US, the coming in fee is in hundreds of pounds as opposed to hundreds of thousands in the US, particularly in California.  Dornoch would be the toughest course we would play on this trip but it was a glorious experience given that the course delivers a punch but will also reward at the same time.

St. Andrews

On day 4, we packed up and headed south for St. Andrews for another four hour bus ride to the Old Course Hotel in St. Andrews and yes, another pit stop in Pitlochry.  The Old Course Hotel is the home of the Old Course at St. Andrews and you might instantly compare it to the Pebble Beach lodge home of the Pebble Beach Golf Club.  For me, the comparison ends there as the Old Course Hotel demonstrated a consistent, customer-oriented experience completely focused on golf and the logistics and infrastructure required for a great stay.   We would be able to unpack our stuff in these sumptuous rooms and not worry about a thing–the breakfast room at the Old Course is first rate and the best I have experienced on the road.

On Thursday, we descended on Kingsbarnes Golf Club for a late tee time that would take us to 8 PM with plenty of brightness to spare. The course was in wonderful condition with well manicured fairways and a very attractive layout whereby you would be able to use  all the clubs in your bag. Kingsbarnes was a delight to play with any number of challenging holes but did not require the precision of playing a course like Dornoch. It would be a false statement to state that it was an easy course, because you had to place your shots in the right places to have the scoring opportunities. It just seemed that there was more visibility to what you needed to do without the feeling of grinding through negative thoughts. It was all in front of you to execute.


The most difficult hole in my view was the par 3, 15th, which can be described as wicked and extremely intimidating. The hole is a par 3 of 180 yards, where the ball simply has to be in a straight line or slightly center left.  Any shot that deviates from this line could be potentially “dead.”  The left side of the hole is completely sculpted by trees so any shot that is pulled off the tee is gone. The right side of the hole is the ocean from tee to green so any shot that fades will also be completely dead as the hole lengthens to the right and so a faded shot would have to carry 200 yards to hit the green and could bounce further right into the ocean. The hole gives you a sniff memory of Cypress 16 for the intimidation factor although Cypress is a sterner challenge having to carry the ocean straightaway.  It’s a fair hole but really difficult into the wind. The 18th hole is a great finishing hole especially if it’s downwind as you get to play over the burn onto the green. The burn is very much in play and it was a pleasure to hit this green in regulation and leave with a pleasant memory of a very well designed course.

The par 3th, 8th hole played for us at only 120 yards but the design of the hole is delightfully diabolical.  The green is large horizontally but not vertically.  The pin was placed on the left side of the hole whereby the green slopes severely from right to left.  The ideal shot is to hit the green at the point where the green slops such that the ball will release to the left towards the hole.  Our group managed to make a few birdies here as they hit the ball in the right place.  A less precise shot could hit the right side of the green and go through into some ugly rough making par a desperate possibility.

The Round at the Old Course

The next test would be the Old Course at St. Andrews. We turned up for our tee times at 2:30PM to find a welcoming starter infrastructure and local caddies that would prove to be outstanding during this round. There was only one small problem-the bright sunshine and pleasant temperatures were offset by a 25 mph wind with gusts up to 40 mph. Oh well, we’re here and we’re doing it so off we went. I always thought the first hole was easy–the widest fairway on the planet–over the greenside burn onto the green and an easy par. Easy? Not today! The first hole was right into the teeth of the wind and was probably playing 450 yards. My tee shot wasn’t particularly great and I would have no shot to the green. I ended up hitting a 7 iron from 110 yards to six feet–I ended up with that par but the grind was on. On the par 4, 4th hole, I had  had 150 yards left into the wind for what was 175 yard shot and knocked it to within 4 feet for an unlikely par.  However, my competitor in the match holed out with a wedge from 80 yards after nearly hitting his tee shot out of play for a birdie 3–such is the game of golf. We ended up making an easy par on the downwind par 3, 8th hole and I drove the 9th hole-all downwind.

The bad breaks came on 7 and 11 where I ended up in Shell bunker after the wind killed what I thought were good shots. I labored heavily in Shell bunker as there was very little sand in the bunker due to the wind blowing it around–it felt like trying to get out of a hole that had just been bombed. Usually, the sand in these bunkers is fine and soft in texture so if you can control your backswing tempo, you can get the lift required to extricate the ball from the bunker and pull off a decent shot. In this particular bunker, the sand behaved like gravel and it was pretty difficult to control swing tempo. I was determined to get out of this bunker at the foot of a 5-foot wall–but it took three attempts to get it out and on to the green.

After a great bogey on 16 to square our match–my playing partners all attacked the Road Hole (17) and drove the ball over the hotel into the fairway. I hit the straightest drive of the day down the middle, which is really a no-no as I had at least 175 yards to  play a shot almost 90 degrees back to the fairway for an approach to the green with a hybrid club to get to the green and got down in 3 for a well earned bogey. The Road Hole is the most intimidating holes in golf bounded by the bunker on the left and the wall on the right.

We crossed the Swilcan bridge, posed for the applicable photo and moved to the iconic 18th hole. The tee shots were great thanks to the assist from the wind and I cleared the path for an easy pitching wedge to the green. Avoiding the valley of sin, the ball fell to the back of the green past the hole where a pedestrian two putt par was executed to close out a tough but great day at the home of golf.

The caddies did a phenomenal job at guiding us around this great layout and the Shell bunker episode was my only failure on the day. I had managed to avoid every other of the famous bunkers on this course but I now own the Shell bunker badge of futility.

North Berwick

It was on to North Berwick for the final chapter of this Scottish golfing odyssey. We pulled up to the Marine Hotel in North Berwick in the late afternoon and once again a group decided to head out to play at Gullen just down the road. I was saving my last bit of energy for the North Berwick links as it would be my second time playing there. I had taken the weekend off from playing to give my back and knees the rest it needed as I would be walking the course.

Monday morning arrived in brilliant sunshine, moderate temperatures and an average wind so I began to relish the opportunity that would arrive at our 3PM tee time. We headed over to the course about 2:15PM to the same conditions, garnered our caddies and took the tee.

As soon as the group stood on the first tee, the sky turned gray, the wind started to howl and the rain began to pour. I couldn’t believe it and now my rain gear was safely tucked in my golf bag in the hotel.  I was completely exposed and started to get wet. For some unknown reason, the level of focus and concentration seemed to be at a higher level as I cracked a four iron onto the first green and made par. In 2022, I can remember making double bogey on the first after a poor tee shot. It seemed like the more the rain came down and the wetter I got, the better I played with the good fortune of having rain gloves in the bag.

I was even par after 6, and chipped in a shot after punching out of a bunker sideways. It finally stopped raining as the wind continued to howl, which had a drying effect on my clothes and so the rest of the round was played without the rain. There was a significant difference to this round as compared to the 2022 round inasmuch as in 2022, the back nine played into a furious wind, which forced you to grind through these difficult holes.  On this day, the wind would be swirling around in all directions, which made shots easier to understand, not necessarily easy but you were more in control of the situation.

We approached the famous 14th Redan hole, a par 3 of 190 yards of pure hell. On this day, the wind was behind us so I had the luxury of taking a hybrid club which I hit perfectly and made it to the green for a 100 ft putt. No matter, I made the green whereas in 2022, I couldn’t reach the hole against the wind with a driver. Once again, thanks to some great caddies, we managed to avoid most of the troubles and got around this course in a pleasant way despite the soaking in the first hour.

Many of the players in our group drove the final 18th hole and had eagle putts but none of those were made. The hole, which seems to be a replica, of the 18th at St. Andrews although I was told that the reverse is true, was somewhat downwind. Most of the group had birdie putts as I was only 40 yards short of this green. A very pleasant memory to end what has become my favorite course of them all.

The trip was a phenomenal success as we got to play together and get to know one another on some of the most iconic golf courses on the planet.  I was pleased with my level of play (except for Shell Bunker at St. Andrews) as it is a memory that will last a lifetime.


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