The Home of GolfArticle by: John Fenstermaker
As a follow up to a golf trip to Ireland, what could possibly be better than a golf trip to Scotland, the home to over 550 golf courses, some of which dating back to the 15th century? Our docket was full for our 11 day stay in UK and we couldn’t have been more excited.
We were fortunate to once again find fairly cheap flights over the pond. The flight was full, but this didn’t dampen our hopes of having an open seat between us for the long flight. All looked promising as we got closer and closer to takeoff. But, to our dismay, just before the doors closed, we were introduced to our travel mate. We were both envious of his flowing blonde locks of hair that was down to the middle of his back. But hope was not totally lost, for we had planned ahead and brought some NyQuil along for the ride. Fortunately, the NyQuil was a triumph and we slept nearly the whole flight to London.
Getting through customs was remarkably easy, even given our suspicious looks. We were greeted with true English hospitality. Our friend at Enterprise car rental was nice enough to equip us with a Hyundai Tucson, which would essentially be our home for the next 11 days, equipped with complimentary navigation.
We didn’t waste any time...after all, we were in the UK to golf and we take our golf seriously. We left directly from the airport to Sunningdale. We first searched for a place to change our clothes, so we pulled into a quiet forested neighborhood and took our chances. We only had one admirer pass, but he was busy driving his “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” car with his driving gloves and hat. He nearly waved and went on his merry way.
Sunningdale Old would be our first experience of English golf. Unfortunately, it started out with a little bit of a glitch as there was no tee time recorded for us. Apparently the guy with whom we had worked to set up a tee time was let go and failed to put our names down in the books. In retrospect, we blame his irresponsibility for his dismissal. But, not to worry, the gentlemen in the clubhouse weren’t about to send us away after a long flight. The course was pretty full, but they graciously carted us around until we found an opening (which took about 30 minutes). We were able to start on the 16th hole and we had an enjoyable, uninterrupted round of golf, finishing just after dark.
Thereafter, it didn’t take us long to find what would be one of our staple meals during our visit to the United Kingdom. We found a small hole-in-the-wall Kebab restaurant. We couldn’t understand what exactly they were asking us, so we just kept saying, “Yes, of course.” We ended up with a monstrous amount of onion and chili sauce on our Kebabs, but they were delicious. If you haven’t had the joy of experiencing a Kebab and you’re amenable to eating succulent lamb, we would highly recommend this. We ate quickly in the car and made our way to the Old Manor Hotel. The room smelled like fish and chips and the plumbing got plugged, which was attached to the shower and, unfortunately, put the shower out of commission. Nonetheless, we got our requisite sleep and hurried quickly the next morning to Royal St. George’s, without a shower and without the ability to brush our teeth.
But our spirits could not be dampened. We were able to play our round at Royal St. George’s in true links weather....30 mph winds. We also enjoyed the manicuring of the course that was done in a traditional way. The maintenance workers were even using handheld shears for the edging of the grass. After our round, we were fortunately able to make our way into the locker room for a shower, our first shower in about 48 hours. We were just happy not to have to smell each other for the long drive we were about to embark upon to Scotland.
If you’ve ever had to drive from London, England to Glasgow, Scotland, you would agree that traffic is insane! Traffic was nearly bumper to bumper the entire way and the drive took us 10 hours. Our quick stop for dinner was at a buffet. We didn’t realize that they charged for drinks separately from the buffet until after we had sat down. The workers were there to make sure that nobody got drinks without paying for them, never mind the messes that needed to be cleaned up. We felt like we were being watched by the Secret Service while we were eating. So, we purchased our drinks and made the best of it.
During our long drive to Scotland, it didn’t take us long for us to find another staple in terms of our caffeine fix. We were disappointed to find that there was no Mountain Dew in the UK, but we were pleasantly surprised by the quality taste of Ginger Pepsi Max. This was another triumph and it quickly became the choice drink of the trip. It also didn’t take us long to realize that radio stations are pretty liberal in what they’ll talk about. Censoring of TV and radio is not Europe’s forte.
Late that night, we arrived at Troon No 2, a quality Bed & Breakfast not far from Royal Troon. The owner got a little bit sick of waiting for us, but we couldn’t blame him. Because of traffic, we arrived 2 hours later than we should have. Nonetheless, he was very welcoming and we were super excited to see a very clean room with nice, comfortable beds. The next morning, we had a nice shower and a full, traditional Scottish breakfast with tomatoes, mushrooms, ham, eggs and toast. We had a very nice discussion with the owner and his thick Scottish accent. He was not optimistic that we’d be able to finish 36 holes each of our days in Scotland. We’ll show him!!!
The weather at Royal Troon looked great, but just for a minute. After taking a tour of the impressive clubhouse loaded with history, it took less than 30 minutes for the skies to turn completely gray and for 30 mph winds to creep up again. We were informed by the starter that were weren’t allowed to roll the trolley onto the tee boxes and we wouldn’t be allowed to play from the tips, even as a two ball. Because of the high winds, the inward holes were a little bit like climbing Everest, but in the end, it was very cool to experience a course and clubhouse that was adorned with such a steep tradition of the game that we love.
After our round at Royal Troon, we quickly made our way over to Dundonald links. This was a surprising little gem that shouldn’t be missed. We were given two caddies and we couldn’t understand a word that they said between themselves during the entire round; we could barely understand what they were saying to us. They were an intriguing couple of caddies: the first being 75 years old and the second didn’t have any hands. After talking to the latter for some time, we found out that he held a handicap of 1 and was the Disabled Golf Champion of Scotland. Remarkable!
That evening, we found our second staple for food for our trip. In fact, we would eat at this restaurant a couple of times as we would pass through Glasgow. We found a little treasure at Koh-I-Noor Indian Buffet in Glasgow. The food was spectacular and we would highly recommend this place. The server was a little particular in the order in which things were eaten, however. Billy had the gall of getting rice for his first plate. The server wouldn’t have it. He literally walked up and stole the plate of rice right out of his hands. The server then began opening up the other trays and assured that we ate from those first. The initial plate of rice disappeared forever and the server coached us on what to eat the entire time. But even with the oddities, this restaurant comes highly recommended.
That night we stayed at the Old Manor close to Kingsbarns in preparation for the next day of golf. This was another nice, clean accommodation with a room with two separate bedrooms and comfortable beds. Upon arrival, the bartender offered us a night cap, which we obviously turned down, but appreciated the gesture nonetheless. During breakfast the next morning, we experienced another nice breakfast with a nice spread in a dining room with a great view. Old Manor didn’t disappoint.
We then made our way to Kingsbarns, home of the Women’s British Open the July prior to our visit, and embarked on a world class day of golf. There was a view from every hole. We also continued to experience Scottish hospitality as they provided us with a bag of goodies. We really enjoyed this round and Kingsbarns ended up being one of the better courses of the trip.
We then made our way to St. Andrew’s Castle Course, another very solid track. They didn’t appreciate that we arrived just 10 minutes before our tee time, but we arrived at the first tee with plenty of time to spare for the starter to triple check that we had paid for our trolleys. There was also plenty of time for the staff to bag on Kingsbarns for a few minutes when we told them we had just come from there.
In front of us, there was a group Swedish guys playing their match play on a buddies’ trip. One guy striped his drive down the fairway and he couldn't find it. Came back to retee only to find that his ball was in the fairway longer than he had thought. But it got us a play-through. We played through three Swedish groups that day on their annual international golf trip. They were actually pretty nice guys. They informed us they hadn't been to America because it was too far to go for approval from their wives.
On the way to our next hotel, we stopped at a store called Adsa (the UK equivalent to Walmart) and got dinner for the night (salads, fruits, chips, etc.). Unfortunately, we were running a little low on golf balls, so we thought this would be a great opportunity to stock up a little bit. It didn’t take us long to find out that it is nearly impossible to find golf balls, even in the birthplace of golf, unless you’re in a pro shop.
Our next night’s stay would be at the Royal Hotel. We arrived and were welcomed by a bunch of drunk guys watching soccer. The only discernible word we could hear was the expletive that starts with the letter F. The bartender checked us into to our room. In the room, we were welcomed by three different kinds of wallpapers and only one of three working lightbulbs in the room hanging from the ceiling. We were graced with spring mattresses and we could feel every single spring in our backs...all 12 of them. The room smelled a little bit like a dairy. The bathroom was a shared bathroom in the hallway. The overall feel was that of a cheap brothel. We didn’t really dare to the breakfast, but it was our last opportunity to obtain some sort of nutrition before embarking on another 36 hole day. So, we savored the pork and beans that came straight out of the can for breakfast. With all of the golf trips we’ve done, we’ve stayed in some pretty sketchy places, but we had never wanted to leave a hotel so quickly in our entire golf trip careers. But, at the end of the day, all we needed was a bed for the night and it provided us with that, along with a few communicable diseases.
We were super excited to get to Turnberry the next morning where we would spend the entire day: the morning on King Robert the Bruce and the afternoon on Ailsa. The weather wasn’t great, but the golf was epic, especially Ailsa. Between our rounds we had an hour to spare, so much of that time was spent in the pro shop. It was unbelievable how much rain equipment was sold there....it seemed more like a Galvin Green Outlet Store. For the afternoon round at Ailsa, we were paired with a nice couple of guys, one from lower Manhattan and the other from North Chicago. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of standing a little bit in front of one of the other golfers, and as he lined up and made a full swing with his 3 wood that came off at a 45 degree angle and as I was leaning forward, the ball nailed me in the arm, missing my head by inches. The guy was very apologetic though. His partner just kept firing up stogies. The caddies were interesting as well, and one of the caddies’ highest aspirations in life was to play golf in Missouri.
Outside of the world class golf at Ailsa, we were impressed by the remarkable lighthouse that also served as the halfway house and also included a couple of suites overlooking the ocean. We also enjoyed the bagpipes playing under the Scottish flag as we finished our last few holes. As we finished the round, we asked the caddies for some dinner recommendations. Their highest recommendation was McDonald's. We chose not to take that recommendation.
We were then back on the road, but not until we stopped at the All World Buffett, where our Hungarian waitress was obviously desperate to get a date. This was in downtown Glasgow, which was a pretty happening place on a Saturday evening. We’ve never seen so many short skirts in a place that is consistently cooler than 60 degrees F.
We kept on the road a few more hours and arrived at Ashley House Guest House. The owner was a guy who was a self-proclaimed chef with “an intuition about things.” His intuition had told him that we weren’t coming. His intuition was wrong. We got in late, and the very nice gentleman showed us up to our cozy room with en suite bathroom and then he was anxious to get in bed, for in the coming morning he was off to a car show put on as a tribute to Paul Walker. He then admitted that he was probably in a midlife crisis. Then, for quite a while longer, especially for someone who was anxious to get to bed, he continued to tell us stories. He related a story about how he knew something was off with his car. He took it in and was told it was fine, but he didn’t believe that because of his chef’s intuition. Sniff, sniff. A few days later, he accidentally ran into a curb and alas, experienced a couple of flat tires. He knew his intuition had been correct. So, he got those fixed and then spent an extra 16 pounds on nicer breaks. You know Subarus, right? Sniff, sniff.
Although his stories did carry on for a little longer than expected, he was very nice and we eventually had a very good night’s sleep at the Ashley House Guest House. The next morning we had another traditional breakfast cooked by his wife, who actually knew quite a bit about golf herself. She had attended the Open at St. Andrews.
Our next goal was to get golf balls. We tried Asda again...no luck. Per the recommendation of the Asda employee, we tried Tesco. Again, no luck.
As we often do, we were able to attend church the next morning. It was a very nice LDS church building. Other than the accents, the best part of church was the usher. He was watching things so tightly, he made a hawk look tired. But we had to hand it to him, he was all over things. He gave nods of approval with a smirk on his face when things were going well, but then followed that with brief moments of panic when something was amiss. But overall, we were graciously welcomed into the ward. The bishop was young and had already served a stint in the High Counsel. He was a native Scot, and there weren’t many American members. There was, however, a recently baptized sister who would loudly agree with the false doctrine that was being preached over the pulpit from the local speaker. “Mhmm, mhmm!!!”
After church, our afternoon was spent at the prestigious Carnoustie. The clubhouse was being remodeled, so they had a temporary clubhouse up, which they'll keep for admin stuff during the upcoming Open. Wait, I mispoke...this is not a clubhouse...it is a community center because this is a municipal golf course. The most shocking thing about Carnoustie was the entrance, which are several tunnels under railroads that have room for only one car. There were no signs and absolutely no indication that a world class golf course was ahead. During our round, we were graced with Adam Scott’s doppelgänger as a caddie. And we were fortunate enough to play the most difficult holes in a 30 mph head wind, opposite of the prevailing wind.
After we got back on the road, we did something unusual for a golf trip. We made a sightseeing stop at Dunnottar Castle. It was quite truly amazing. It was a huge climb to get into the castle with nearly 200 steps. Fortunately they had warning signs about how difficult it was to reach the castle and also several rest areas for those who braved the climb.
For dinner, we went to the mall. We had called a buffet in the mall and they said they closed at 10 PM. We got there at 9:10 and were told that we should go away because they take food down at 9:30. So, instead, we ate at TGI Fridays and had endless appetizers. We ordered a salad, but didn’t get any dressing with it, so we asked for some ranch. We were told that they didn’t have that anymore. However, seconds later, we got some wings with a side of ranch, which begs the question of what ranch dressing is actually called in Scotland. But overall the endless appetizers were quite good: black chicken nachos, pulled pork sundae, wings, BBQ hummus, ice cream cones with chicken. The decorum was a little dated with Derek Jeter and Curtis Martin photos, and the waitress was a little disinterested, but overall not a terrible experience.
We arrived later that evening at the Atholl Hotel. It was a great, classic looking hotel, but in order to get to our room we had to go up a staircase and down a different staircase.
The next morning, we enjoyed a round at Royal Aberdeen with 10 yard wide, undulating and mounded fairways. We were the first tee time, but there was a single behind us, so we waived him through. He stepped up and jacked one left, teed another one and said "No one is immune to play through disease." He opted to join us instead. And that's when we met Bill, who was a fellow lover of the feeling of well struck Mizuno irons. He had a little more graphic description of what he felt that feeling was like, but for our sake, we will just say that he enjoyed the feeling. Fortunately, he cleaned it up a little later and described it as "soft as a southern Georgia peach." He played college golf at Georgia Tech, but couldn't beat out Cink and Duvall, so he transferred to Georgia State. We’re pretty sure that Bill has a drinking problem, whether he knows it yet or not...it's a problem. He told us a story of getting kicked out of an Irish pub for drinking too much. Let me say that again, he got kicked out of an Irish pub for drinking too much. Yeah, Bill has a problem. When we told him our schedule, he said he drinks too much for that schedule. The more we were with him, the more we believed him. At the end of the round, he offered us a pint, but we didn't have the time to sit through all of his pints, so we declined.
After our round, we were still faced with a golf ball deficit problem. We went into Aberdeen to Sports Direct, the only sporting good store we could find in the entire country. Golf balls still weren’t easy to find though, as they were sold on the second story in the back with the cross country attire. But we were able to secure four dozen Dunlop balls for 17 pounds. That’s an incredible deal, but they felt worse than a range ball. Therefore, we do not recommend the Dunlop Tour Sport except for under the most dire circumstances. It turns out that this particular Dunlop golf ball is a two-piece golf ball...a piece of crap and a piece of shiz. But the four dozen cost us less than a sleeve would have cost us at Trump Scotland, which was our next destination.
As with any Trump-owned property, Trump Scotland was fairly full of themselves. There was a plaque that read, "Constructed by Donald Trump. Considered by many to be the best in the world." While we didn’t necessarily agree with that sentiment, we did agree that it was a solid track. The workers were trained well to stop working when we were playing through and this was by far the most welcoming course to play the tips. There were consistently choppers flying around all of the time, coming in and out, but it was a pretty enjoyable round.
That night we drove and spent the night at Kilmarnock Arms. For dinner, we had a huge piece of haddock with chips at the onsite restaurant, where the food was tasty and inexpensive. There was some salad cream and mayo on the table, both containing eggs and both not refrigerated, but we took our chances and ate it anyway. Overall, this hotel had really nice rooms. There was stylish stone everywhere on the walls and tile. We made our way to our room and watched Pawn Stars for the 90 minutes before we passed out.
Tuesday would prove to be the best day of the trip, from both a weather standpoint and a golf standpoint. We showed up first to Cruden Bay, where a member was there to welcome us. We were the first visitors they had ever had from Southeast Idaho. We also enjoyed the most unbelievable panoramic view of a course that we have ever seen from the clubhouse. Everything at Cruden Bay was classy. The course was just pure. It was quirky, but in a fun way and not in a frustrating way. The views from the 9th tee at Cruden Bay rival any other coastline view in Scotland. There were even two holes with peg boards for pin placements on holes with blind shots.
We then drove to Castle Stuart. Gil Hanse did a great job in designing this course and it was not a letdown in the slightest. These were the most forgiving fairways of the trip, and we were playing it on the calmest day of the trip. The staff was extremely warm and welcoming. They were anxious to get us on the course so that they could go play themselves. Essentially, we had the course to ourselves. It was truly an amazing round of golf.
As food crossed our minds next, we did notice one odd thing about Scottish cuisine. Nearly everytime we asked where to get a salad, we were greeted with perplexing looks. “Salad? We don't eat that here.”
We spent Tuesday night at the Sandown House, another spectacular B&B. The owner, Liz checked us in. She knows the entire community on a first name basis. This was probably the best B&B at which we stayed in the UK...the best breakfast, room and setup...the finest operation we came across. The homemade bread and jam was simply delicious, as was the entire breakfast from start to finish. Liz was also a lover of golf. She even said her son was an assistant pro at Nairn, but unfortunately he didn’t carry enough clout to get us a tee time during the member’s time.
So, even though the tee time wasn’t at the most convenient time, we hit the sticks at Nairn the next morning. There was a lot of talk from the members and workers there about how Nairn compared to Royal Dornoch (where we would be playing later that afternoon). Many of the old boys said Nairn was the better of the two. "It's a more honest course than Dornoch," they repeated more than once. We opted to hold our judgement until later that day. But the highlight of the round was probably the condom cover that Billy was given to protect his clubs from the rain.
We made it through only 14 holes at Nairn and had to run to Dornoch. Just another great track and a solid round of golf, even in the Scottish rain. There, we were teamed up with Mike from Toronto. It’s always exciting when you’re put together with someone who is as nutty about golf as you are, and this was certainly the case for this round. He had played in 59 different countries and was in the midst of an epic golf trip himself. He had traveled from Florida to Iceland to Norway to Scotland, he explained, and was then on his way to Wales, Ireland and Berlin before heading home, all centered around golf. The guy shot nearly even on the back 9 in the Scottish weather. Our conclusion was that this guy was loaded, somehow from being in the blinds business. It was, however, an absolute pleasure to play with him.
We then began the drive and arrived four hours later at Adniston Manor, another very solid, clean and comfortable B&B near Muirfield. Don’t worry about wearing a watch to breakfast as there’s about 50 clocks on the walls in the dining room. We ate another solid breakfast after a good night’s sleep and then made our way to Muirfield. We even tried Haggis that morning...we’ll leave it to you to look up what Haggis is.
After showing up to Muirfield 10 minutes before our tee time, we got chewed out by every staff person on our way in. “You guys are late,” we heard more than once as we made it to our tee time. We will admit, we’ve never seen a group of guys or caddies that were in such a rush trying to play a round of golf. Bobby, Sr and Bobby, Jr, who we were paired with would just keep walking ahead without any concern to try to find a lost ball, nor did they care that they were standing right in front of you when you were trying to hit your shot, even off the tee. We were graced with plenty of dropped F-bombs, however. The caddies gave us the impression that they were trained specifically to focus on just hurrying through the round. As a 4-ball group, we finished an 18 hole championship level course in 3 hours and 50 minutes.
The big talk surrounding Muirfield is the environment and what a great experience it is. We have to admit that we didn’t experience that same feeling of warmth and welcoming, although the golf itself was quite solid. We were the only one’s that didn’t stay for lunch. As we were trying to leave the compound, we ran into the starter again, who again reminded us and harassed us about being “late.” Reluctantly, he showed us back to our car and we headed to the off-sight pro shop. We found it a little bit odd that we had to travel a mile away to get Muirfield merchandise, but everything was on sale for 20% off, so no complaints here. Overall, the experience at Muirfield was nothing what we expected it to be. Rather than being warm and welcoming, it came across as stuffy and overly exclusive.
So, what better way than Thai food to cool off your nerves from a irritating morning at Muirfield? We chose a little place close by North Berwick named Poonthais for lunch. Great food. They were very nice as well. They offered us tea and coffee about 17 times. When we were done eating, they cleaned up our plates and went back to the back room. And then we sat, and sat, and waited, and waited, for at least 15-20 min for our check. Finally somebody came in to book a reservation (which is a a requirement in the U.K.) and another lady helped them. She said "hi" to us and went to the back again. And we waited some more. We even noticed the chef and waitress peaking through window of kitchen wondering why we were still there. We were finally able to establish eye contact through the window, and she came out and asked what we wanted. "Can we pay our check?," we asked. "Oh. Yes!" Fortunately, tips were optional.
North Berwick would be our next adventure later that afternoon. With the original Redan and a Biarritz, we knew that we’d be in for a treat. Unfortunately, we then met James, who suffered from a condition known to many as diarrhea of the mouth. Unbeknownst to Jim, we quickly made a game of how long we could go with him talking and us saying nothing more than “yeah” and “uh-huh.” We thought we could probably go 30 minutes. Let’s just say that we easily exceeded our goal and we could have gone the entire round. He literally talked the entire time. We’d be amiss to not comment on his practice swing too. He would line up on the ball and would take a swing inside the ball and intentionally miss. We know his practice swing so well because he did it before EVERY shot, even with a 4-ball sitting on us the entire round (not to mention the time he wasted talking when it was his shot). But, so be it, we endured the endless chatter and enjoyed the round. We do commend him on his commitment to golf though, as he had played every course in Myrtle Beach and had played in 48 states.
The round came to an end and we headed back through Glasgow for the fourth time. I know this will be shocking to everyone, but we once again stopped at our favorite Indian Buffett, Koh-I-Noor. We’d eaten there four times within a week, so we finally got the opportunity to get to know Waseem, the owner, a little bit. He gave us a behind-the-scenes look at the restaurant and in terms of space, the restaurant is massive. The food is delicious and it has been open for 53 years. Trust us when we tell you that if you are ever in Glasgow, Scotland, you have to stop there for a bite.
We then drove to and stayed the night at Park Stone Hotel, just a stone’s throw from Prestwick. We were checked in by a little bald guy, who didn’t like us messing with his old style phone booth. As a part of the check in process, he was required to charge one (yes, one) cent on the credit card. So we gave him the American Express and he literally charged it for one cent. We couldn’t find it in our hearts to tell him that the transaction fee was going to cost them more than the penny he received. Congratulations, AMEX! We’re pretty sure you came out on top with that transaction. But, we finally got checked in and enjoyed a comfortable bed. The next morning we enjoyed a small, elf-size shower and ate a satisfactory omelet and then we hit the sticks for our last round of the trip at Prestwick.
Unfortunately, we had plans for one more additional round after Prestwick, but due to the rain, our round at Loch Lomond got rained out. So, we made our way back through the traffic back to London, where we spent the next night at the Old House Inn. This was another great accommodation, with a nice roomy sleeping area and a nice bathroom with shower. We truly enjoyed our night there too.
Fortunately, the next morning, we had the time to stop at the LDS Temple in London before heading back to Heathrow for our long flight home.
With a legacy that spans over six centuries, there is no better place to enjoy world class golf than Scotland, especially with the opportunity that we had to add some fine English golf as well. After walking about 126 miles and about 234,000 steps while golfing 18 courses in 11 days, we certainly had a good sense of what golf in Scotland is all about. In the end, we played where golf legends have been playing for centuries. In fact, the courses we played on this trip alone have hosted 74 Open Championships dating back to 1860. Not a bad 11 days’ accomplishment!