Back to the Future: Mea Culpa?

A person should never be too confident, let alone arrogant, in making  any assumptions about one’s golf game.  I am old enough that I should know this.  Oh well. After my recent rant about how vintage golf clubs are just as good as modern ones, I played a few normal rounds with them. Guess what? They ARE just as good, but only when your swing is at its best.  That’s why game improvement clubs were invented- because our swings are often (usually?) not at their best. Guess what?  My swing didn’t take long to let me down.

I believe all players should keep a set of old blades and persimmon woods around to take out a few times a year, just for fun. Stripping yourself of expectations, just go out and remember the most fundamental things about the game.  Leave the GPS at home, play the forward tees, carry your clubs so you can hear them jangling in the bag as you walk.  I’ll always keep a few sets of old clubs a round for that reason.  On my first real trip to Scotland (other than the quick run up to Dornoch I describe in my first post), I played with persimmon woods and old Wilson staff fluid-feel blades. It was pretty cool hitting a persimmon driver off the first hole of the Old Course. Over the course of my two weeks playing, however, I was very inconsistent with these old clubs, though I did manage a 72 one day at Brora- my best round of the trip. I also came within two inches of a hole-in-one at Turnberry which would have been a memory of a lifetime.  But I digress.

The fact is that the two best rounds of my life have been played with major game improvement irons- Top-Flite XL2000s and the original TaylorMade 2009 Burner irons. This probably is not a coincidence.  So next time I go all “old school” (and I’m sure there will be a next time) please remind me of these inconvenient truths.

Here are my latest irons, vintage RoboCop!

adamsxpg2

Advertisements

Vintage Steel Shoot Out! Round #2

Wilson Staff Dynapower Fluid Feel (1965)

5 iron Length: 38″ SW: D9  TW: 437 grams Loft: Flex: Stiff

DSCF1122DSCF1125DSCF1124DSCF1123

Weather: breezy, 41*

I described the front 9 of my home course in the first post, so I’ll just summarize the results here.

The yellow ball won by three strokes over the orange ball: 41-44.  The difference came from a pulled 7 iron to the par 5 3rd that cost the orange ball a bogey, a three putt on the par 3 5th that cost the orange ball a double, and a birdie on the 9th for the yellow ball.

Overall I didn’t like these irons as much as the previous McGregors. That surprised me, as I usually like Wilson irons.  I think the difference is that these irons had shipped long (38″ 5 iron) and the swingweight was a whopping D9. I suspect that made them feel heavy and a bit unwieldy.  As I got used to them, I did hit them better. The thing with these old blades is that misses cost you a bit.  If you are a confident chipper, that may not matter too much.  If not, you will lose strokes.

I had 3 three putt greens this round using my regular putter which was very annoying, including two bogeys on the par three 7th after hitting almost identical nice shots to the middle of the green.  Somehow I managed to three putt both balls!

 

Total Score: 85

Vintage Steel Experiment

Background:  I was frustrated on Sunday with how poorly I was hitting my irons.  So I switched mid-round to an older swing- what I would call my “simplest” golf swing. I bring the club back to the outside without a lot of wrist or turn. I then bring it down on what seems like the same plane- it feels like I am cutting across the ball with the face of the club. This has been my go to swing for fairway woods and hybrids for quite awhile, though I experiment with different swings. It worked pretty well Sunday, though I tended to pull my irons with it- probably because I was using over-length irons with an upright lie.

Sunday evening I was wondering whether this simple swing would work with shorter blades, like the vintage clubs that I use periodically. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to get enough height as I struggle with this even with game improvement irons. I woke up to a rainy Monday morning.  I figured the course wouldn’t be crowded, so I went out in the afternoon with my Ping Sunday bag and six different 7 irons from my collection.  I also brought my 8 iron from my contemporary Wilson Staff set of game improvement irons. The loft on this iron is 36*.  The vintage 7 irons range from 36-39 degrees for their 7 irons- so they are actually a bit weaker in loft than the contemporary 8 iron.  This means the modern game improvement club with a lightweight steel shaft and jacked lofts should be longer and straighter than any of these old irons, right? Otherwise, what’s the point of new technology?

So I played a bunch of balls from 150 yards and holes 1, 2, 8, &9. The result?  The modern club was no longer- in fact, I would say it was a bit shorter than most of the blades. But what was more surprising was that the blades were like lasers.  They were all more precise and more accurate than the modern game improvement club- using the exact same swing on each shot- as exact as I could make it.  No warm-ups. These were 7 irons, so should not have been easy to hit. My favorites were a Dunlop DP-30 Australian Blade from the late 80s (which I have always liked), a Wilson Staff “Button-Back” from the early 70s, and a Wilson Staff Bullet-Back from the late 70s. I also tried an original Hogan Apex (early 70s) and another Wilson blade, the FG-17 from the early 80s. Finally, I tried a Wilson GooseNeck blade from the early 90s- a much larger clunkier head, but still a channel-back blade.  And the blades had as good a trajectory as the Wilson 8 iron.

Not surprisingly, the blades (all forged) felt SO much better than the contemporary club and the small sole made turf interaction much easier and cleaner. Also note that all of these blades were shorter than I am used to playing and some had stiff and some had regular shafts. What does this say about all the hype that you need to have your irons “fitted” by a professional based on all these stats that they get from launch monitors?  Really?! I did mis-hit a couple of shots that went short and I pulled one shot with the DP-30s that went a bit left, but still hit the green.  The old Hogan went right on two shots- I am thinking that it is lighter than the other clubs or maybe it was the Apex regular flex shaft that lagged some- not sure, but I did it twice, so it was significant.  Otherwise, these blades worked really well. I am not going back to the big-headed contemporary iron. No reason to if these feel so much better and I know from this experiment how they can perform.

Lots of rainy-day fun.

Vintage Steel Shoot-Out!

Introduction

I have a garage full of old blades from the 50s to the 80s. Periodically, I pull them out, throw them in my Ping Moon bag with a persimmon driver and fairway wood and go out by myself for a quick 9 holes. I have offered this experience to my friends- all of us are over 60 and so grew up with these sort of clubs- and none have take me up on my offer.  I can’t imagine why someone wouldn’t want to play with old rusty clubs that are too short and impossible to hit…

I like golf clubs and have bought a whole lot of them- way too many, in fact. But I always carry this suspicion that most of the stuff you hear about irons is just hype. Anybody can adjust the loft of a PW to 44*, extend the length by 1/2″ and wait for golfers to marvel about how they hit these “at least a full club longer than my old set.” That’s because your PW is really a 9 iron, pal! That’s why you now carry a gap wedge. There’s nothing wrong with ditching long irons for hybrids and adding wedges to your set- I do that too with my normal set that I use. (Wilson Ci 4-GW- $140 new). But the sometimes purist in me keeps whispering that there is something wrong with all of our emphasis on club technology, precise yardage devices, swing aids and all these golf gimmicks that promise us length and accuracy. I leave the modern golf ball out of this discussion because the improvements there are so obvious and it would be very hard (for me) to return to the balata days. So I openly admit my inconsistency and occasional hypocrisy.  But my suspicions remain.

Before I get rid of my stash of rusting antiques, I decided to take a bunch of them out on the course and see what they can do. Vintage Steel Shoot-Out!

Vitals: I am a 63-year-old male and have played golf off and on most of my life. I am presently playing the best golf of my career (what a great game). My handicap index jumps a round a lot- from a recent low of 2 (very unusual) up to around 6. I drive the ball around 230-240 yards and hit a 7-8 iron from 150 yards. I am a decent, but not exceptional ball-striker. I am a grinder and when I play well it’s because I am getting up and down and making good decisions and making the occasional birdie putt. I don’t “work the ball” and I change swings and clubs often. I don’t practice unless I absolutely have to. I just love to play.

Vintage Steel Round #1

Clubs: MacGregor MT Tourney M2 CF4000 (1963) 3-11 (PW)

“Compact, traditional blade with diamond back design. Black “flame ceramic” face with red diamonds along scoring lines. On sole: iron number, MacGregor (in script). On back: CF4000, Tourney, M2, M over T inside a circle of hash marks and arrows on each side. Hosel has double rows of X’s. “(From: ironfinder.com)

Shafts: Tourney Action #2 (medium flex)

Grips: Avon Chamois (very playable)

 

 

Driver Cleveland Classic 10.5* stiff

5 iron: length: 37” Swingweight: D1 Total Weight: 446 grams

SW- Hogan “Special” Sand Iron (1972-83)

Putter: Original Sportsman Wizard 600 Melrose Park, IL

These clubs were a mess- lots of rust on faces, some pitting on shafts, broken or missing ferrules. I pulled them out of the basement today and cleaned them. This is a good first set for the vintage steel blog- they are classic, hard to hit blades from the early 1960’s. In case you are math-challenged, that’s over 50 years old! I doubt I could sell the set (matching 2-PW) for more than $10. They aren’t the kind of blades I usually prefer- toe heavy like many of the old Wilson staff irons. They are also quite short. I normally play a 5 iron that is 38.25 inches. These are over an inch shorter. So everything worked against these clubs, including the fact that I went on the course without even hitting them once on the range.

DSCF1111

 

I played the “senior tees” (2924 yards) on the Front 9 of my home course- The Pete Dye River Course of Virginia Tech- and played two balls- a yellow Srixon Z-Star XV and an orange Volvik crystal.

Hole #1: Relatively benign- 325 yards. After two good drives, I had about 110 yards to the pin, but into a decent breeze. I hit the yellow Srixon first with a 9 iron (my usual club would have been a gap wedge). The shot was a good one but landed short. I switched to an 8 iron and hit the Volvik in the middle of the green- just missed the birdie putt.   Got up and down with the old Hogan sand wedge for a par with the Srixon.   So far, so good.

Hole #2: Tough par 4 (376 yards) with water on left so you tend to hit right and add yardage to the hole. I did. I had 200+ yards still to the back pin and decided to wade right into it and hit three irons. One (yellow) was a squibber- short and right. The other (orange) was a bit better but still well short of the green, but in the fairway. Into a stiff wind, I left the green ball on the bank of a front-side bunker and failed to get up and down- double bogey 6. I two putted the orange ball for a bogey. One up, orange.

Hole #3: Par 5 playing long into the wind with the New River on the right and bunkers on the left side of the fairway. Two decent drives, one in the fairway and one in the left rough. Pulled out the three iron again as I am not carrying a fairway wood. The yellow ball was struck a bit better than last hole but faded into the long trap that lines the right side of the fairway the entire second half of the hole. Hit the orange ball in the fairway about the same distance. Had 150 yards, more or less, to the pin. I hit two 6 irons. The orange ball rolled towards the back of the green and the sand shot came up just short and right. Failed to get up and down with the yellow and 3 putted the orange (uuggh!) for two bogeys.

Hole #4: 360 yard par 4, dogleg left. There is a lake on the left and out of bounds on the right, but a fair amount of room for the drive. Orange ball was hit low and didn’t make the hill so it was going to be a layup, as I couldn’t hit enough club to reach the green and still clear the hill just in front of the ball. The yellow ball was in the fairway. I hit a good 9 iron with the orange ball and left myself a short sand wedge to the green. Missed the par putt. I snap-hooked the yellow ball into the lake, took my drop and two putted for another double. Two up, orange.

Hole #5: This is a straightforward par 3 of 154 yards to a slightly elevated greens with bunkers to left and a fall off to right.   I hit two pretty good 5 irons here. The first rolled just off the green back/right and the second rolled off the back. I should have hit a six iron to the back pin, I think. I got the orange ball (easier shot) up and down for a par and missed my par putt with the yellow ball. Three up, orange.

Hole#6: Fairly short par 4 and a relatively easy driving hole.  All the trouble is around the green.  Green presents its narrow side to most approach shots and there are drop offs on either side that almost guarantee a bogey or worse.  Drove the orange ball low and left into a bunker.  Had to pop it out well short of the green.  Chipped on and two putted for a bogey.  Hit a nice drive with the yellow ball.  Hit a good 8 iron into a middle pin.  It stuck beautifully, but I missed the birdie putt. Two up, orange.

Hole #7:  A short par 3 to an elevated green with bunkers in front and back and a cross wind blowing. Hit an 8 iron to a back pin.  Orange ball on the green, yellow ball off to the left.  Hit a good chip with the yellow ball and missed my birdie putt with the orange ball.  Gave myself the two par putts as I had someone on the tee waiting for me to play out my two balls.. Two up, orange.

Hole #8: A simple par 4 if you avoid bunkers on your drive and hit a reasonably straight shot into the green.  Did that and was left with birdie putts with both balls.  Missed, of course.  Two pars.  Two up, orange.

Hole #8: Short par 5 and pretty easy if you keep the ball in play. Did that with the yellow ball and got a routine par.  Hit a decent three iron for my second shot. My 3 iron with the orange ball landed in a faiway bunker up against the lip, so I had to just blast it out.  Chipped onto the green and three putted for a double.

Final scores: 42/42 All even.

Summary Impressions:

Blades are hard to hit, but the shorter shafts help make good contact (especially with shorter irons) more likely. The forged heads feel great when you do hit them even on the clubs this old and this ugly. Considering the jacked-up lofts on most modern clubs and the shorter shafts on these classic MacGregor blades, I was not surprised that they were often 2 clubs shorter. I think, though, that I might be able to use the 7 iron as my 150 yard club once I got used to them. I now use an 8 iron. Since these two clubs are likely close to the same loft and the modern 8 iron is more than ½” longer than this MacGregor 7 iron, I have to tentatively conclude (more data needed) that the old blades really don’t give up much to the modern irons, provided they are struck well. I doubt people will believe that, so I’ll wait and see before I draw firmer conclusions.   Despite the fact that these clubs are not very pleasing aesthetically, I really didn’t think about that on the course. They felt really good and the old Avon Chamois grips reminded me of why I always liked those grips when I was younger. They are still very tacky and comfortable. The greens had received a fair amount of rain the night before, so it was hard to judge the spin on the irons, but they certainly held these softer greens very nicely.

I think it was mistake to use an old putter- it introduces too many variables into the equation. So I will use my regular putter (whatever that is week to week) from now on. I think that would have saved me at least two strokes with both balls. I’ll continue to use an old sand wedge (no lob wedges) just to stay in the spirit of the challenge. I will also continue to leave out a fairway wood so I will be forced to try to hit long irons and see if I get any better at it.

In conclusion, I could play these irons if I had to, and not suffer that much for it. Or am I being too optimistic?  But it sure was fun!

Total Score: 84

Additional Photos:

 

 

Best (and Worst) Values in Links Golf

There is a lot of snow on the ground this week and I have some time on my hands, so here is a somewhat arbitrary compilation of the best and worst values in links golf.

World, GB&I and individual country rankings are all from one of my favorite websites, http://www.top100golfcourses.co.uk/. To qualify as a links course, the courses must be identified as such in George Peper’s great book, True Links. All green fess were converted to $US using the website http://www.xe.com/currencyconverter/#.

Links Courses Rated in the Top 100 Courses in the World

There are two overwhelming winners here. Barnbougle Dunes and Lost Farm (Tasmania, Australia) cost between $72 and $79 dollars to play and rank 28th and 37th respectively in the world. You have to go a long way to play these outstanding links, but once you get there they are a true bargain! The only downside for me is that these are resort courses. Nothing wrong with that, it’s just that links golf “feels” better to me when played at a real golf club with an active local membership.

Runners up include Lahinch, Royal Dornoch, and North Berwick. I’ve been fortunate to play all three of these courses and they are all worth the trip. Lahinch is only $130 a round if you play two rounds within seven days. North Berwick, an in-town course like St. Andrews is a mere $145. Royal Dornoch and the Scottish Highland should be on every golfer’s bucket list and, considering it’s ranked 12th in the world, it’s a good deal at $183. These are all courses that have an active local membership and are welcoming to visitors.

Because there are so many great courses in this list, I will add some honorable mentions. The European Club is Pat Ruddy’s masterpiece in beautiful County Wicklow south of Dublin. This is a big venue and a difficult course, especially when the wind is blowing. But the warm welcome from the Ruddy family and the spectacularly beautiful links make it one of my all-time favorites. We played rounds on Monday and Tuesday morning in August and practically had the course to ourselves. The per-round price of $142 (must play two rounds in seven days) is a steal. Next up is Ballybunion is County Kerry Ireland. While a bit pricey at $209 a round, it’s high world ranking (21) makes it a pretty good deal. Another County Kerry course, Waterville ($170) deserves a mention as does Cruden Bay ($154) on the Aberdeenshire coast in Scotland. Though few Americans have heard of it, Noordwijkse (southwest of Amsterdam) is ranked 89th in the world and can be played for $143.

Courses in the middle of the value range here are worth noting- The Old Course at St. Andrews ($259), Royal Portrush Dunluce ($244), Royal County Down ($267) and Royal St. George’s ($259).   All are in the top 20 in the world, two are on the Open rota, and all are well under $300.

The two clear “losers” in this category are both owned by Trump International. They are not losers as golf courses, quite the contrary. Turnberry Alisa is an iconic “must-play” course for many and the Trump International Golf Links near Aberdeen course, while unlikely to live up to it’s own boasting as the best golf course in the world, has received many rave reviews. Yet at $384 and $331, respectively, they are the worst value in this category.

Europeanclub

Links Courses Rated in the Top 100 GB&I

Things get very interesting as we move to courses that rank in the top 100 of Great Britain and Ireland, but fall short of the world’s top 100.

The winners in this category are Machrihanish ($99), Royal West Norfolk ($92), Carne ($79) and Saunton East ($107). All received better than a 5 ball rating on top100golfcourses website and all are very reasonably priced. Even though Saunton East cost more than $100, it made the cut because of it’s GB&I ranking of 35. The only course ranked better in this category is Prestwick ($164) at #34.

The only course among the winners I have played happens to be my favorite course in the world- Carne. Set in the remote western end of County Mayo Ireland, Carne has recently added a new 9 holes to complement the original 18 designed by the late Eddie Hackett. You will see Carne talked about a lot on linkswanderer because I am an overseas member.

Machrihanish makes many world top 100 lists and if played along with Machrie ($99) on the “whiskey isle” of Islay would make for a wonderful golf trip that is on my short list for sure.

The four runner-ups in this category are even better deals but didn’t make the winners because they are only ranked as 5 ball courses. This is still an excellent ranking and you might like them even better than the winners. They are Silloth on Solway ($75), Royal St. David’s ($85), Rosapenna Sandy Hills ($79) and Aberdovey ($76).

I played Pat Ruddy’s Sandy Hills course at Rosapenna a few years ago and loved it. It is a difficult course, however. But Rosapenna also has the Old Tom Morris course which is a very nice 5-ball course for the same price. This part of Ireland probably has the best deals in all of GB&I for great links golf. Royal St. David’s and Aberdovey would make a very nice combination if you ever have the opportunity to head west into Wales. Aberdovey is the home course of the great golf writer Bernard Darwin and Royal St. David’s sits by the beautiful small village of Harlech. Silloth on Solway is proof that many of the best links deals are found in relatively remote locations. But you are close here to the famous Lake District and also to Southerness, a fine links course in far southwest Scotland. If you drive from Manchester to Silloth, you also can play the likes of Royal Lytham & St. Annes ($275) and Royal Birkdale ($298) on the way!

The losers in this category are those that cost more than $190 to play. They include Formby ($191), Rye ($192), Royal Cinque Ports ($198) and Western Gailes ($206). These are all fine courses, just too expensive.

The rest of the courses in this category include lots of really great courses that are a good value. A few examples include Enniscrone ($102), Ballyliffin Glasheedy & Old ($113), Prestwick ($164), County Louth ($136) and St. Enodoc ($115).

Links Courses Rated in the Top 100 Country Lists

This last list includes courses that aren’t in the world top 100 or GB&I top 100, but they are in the top 100 courses for Scotland, England, Wales, or Ireland.

The only bad values here are Murcar ($154) and Southport & Ainsdale ($161). To price your courses above $150 when you aren’t ranked in GB&I suggests you don’t care about receiving visitors. These are private clubs, so that is their prerogative. But I don’t see much reason for paying these prices to play them unless you happen to be in the area for other reasons.

On the other hand, there are lots of very good links tracts here that are a bargain. For example, you can play the following courses for under $75: Portmarnock Hotel & Golf Links, Dingle Golf Club, Laytown & Bettystown, Strandhill, Rosslare, Portsalon, Perranporth, Seapoint, Ashburnham, Portrush Valley, Connemara, Brora, and Gullane #2. Of these courses, I have played Brora, Connemara and Portsalon. Portsalon is a lovely, peaceful course and seldom crowded. Brora was a favorite when I took a group to Scotland to play. We played Dornoch twice, but Brora three times because of the friendly members and old-fashioned (in a good way) links where sheep and cattle graze on the course and people walk their dogs across the course to the beach.

Details

 The charts below lists all of the “true links” that can be found in the top 100 courses of the world, the top 100 courses in GB&I and the top 100 courses in the individual countries of Ireland and Great Britain. On the left is a score (lower is better) that adds the ranking number to the daily green fee for that course. And determines the best and worst values. I used summer green fees but occasionally used special offers when they were easy to get- for example two rounds within a seven day period. The “Country Top 100 rankings are ranked only by price.

Best and Worst Links Course Values

Score (Lower is better)  Course                                      Ranking                     Price ($US)

World Top 100

107                                      Barnbougle Dunes                               28                                $109

116                                      Barnbougle Lost Farm                        37                                $109

165                                      Lahinch                                                 35                                $130*

195                                      Royal Dornoch                                     12                                $183

196                                      North Berwick                                      51                                $145

225                                      European Club                                     83                                $142*

225                                      Ballybunion                                          21                                $204

231                                      Waterville                                              61                                $170

232                                      Noordwijkse                                         89                                $143

245                                      Cruden Bay                                           91                                $154

253                                      Portmarnock                                        44                                $209

259                                      Royal Portrush Dunluce                      15                                $244

263                                      St. Andrews Old Course                       4                                  $259

270                                      Royal County Down                             3                                  $267

277                                      Royal Porthcrawl                                 86                                $191

278                                      Royal St. George’s                                19                                $259

294                                      Royal Troon                                          63                                $231

299                                      Kingsbarns                                            40                                $259*

324                                      Royal Lytham & St. Anne’s                49                                $275

326                                      Pacific Dunes                                        16                                $310

327                                      Royal Birkdale                                      29                                $298

331                                      Muirfield                                                 9                                 $322

354                                      Royal Liverpool                                    85                                $269

355                                      Castle Stuart                                         65                                $290

369                                      Bandon Dunes  Bandon Dunes         59                                $310

382                                      Bandon Dunes Old MacDonald        72                                $310

402                                      Trump Turnberry Alisa                      18                                $384

424                                      Trump International Aberdeen        93                                $331

GB&I Top 100 (5+ ball rating)

136                                      Machrihanish                                        37                                $99

137                                      Royal W. Norfolk                                  45                                $92

141                                      Carne                                                       62                                $79

142                                      Saunton East                                         35                                $107

162                                      Enniscrone                                            60                                $102

168                                      Ballyliffin Glasheedy                           55                                 $113

172                                      Machrie                                                 99                                  $99

182                                      Tralee                                                    46                                  $136

190                                      County Louth                                      54                                  $136

198                                      Prestwick                                             34                                  $164*

211                                      The Island                                            58                                  $153

213                                      Ballyliffin Old                                      100                               $113

218                                      Hillside                                                 42                                 $176

234                                      Fomby                                                  43                                 $191

239                                      Royal Cinque Ports                             41                                $198

242                                      Western Gailes                                    36                                $206

GB&I top 100 (5 ball rating)

132                                      Silloth on Solway                                  57                                $75

134                                      Royal St. David’s                                   49                                $85

138                                      Rosapenna Sandy Hills                       59                                $79

140                                      Aberdovey                                              64                                $76

152                                      Pennard                                                  75                                $77

153                                      St. Enodoc                                              38                                $115

173                                      Donegal                                                  93                                $80

191                                      County Sligo                                          50                                $141

194                                      Machrihanish Dunes                           79                                $115

213                                      Nairn                                                      44                                $169

217                                      Portstewart                                            92                                $125

219                                      Gullane #1                                             68                                $151

227                                      Doonbeg                                                63                                $165

248                                      Rye                                                         56                                $192

Country Top 100 (5+ ball rating)

Portmarnock Hotel & Golf Links                                                                                     $51

Dingle                                                                                                                                     $62

Elie                                                                                                                                          $118

Country Top 100 (5 ball rating)

Laystown & Bettystown                                                                                                    $34

Strandhill                                                                                                                              $40

Rosslare                                                                                                                                 $40

Portsalon                                                                                                                               $45

Perranporth                                                                                                                          $55

Seapoint                                                                                                                                $57

Ashburnham                                                                                                                        $62

Portrush Valley                                                                                                                    $65

Connemara Championship Links                                                                                    $68

Brora                                                                                                                                      $75

Gullane #2                                                                                                                             $75

Southerness                                                                                                                          $77

Tain                                                                                                                                        $77

Rosapenna Old Tom Morris                                                                                              $79

Montrose                                                                                                                               $81

Leven                                                                                                                                     $84

Narin & Portnoo                                                                                                                 $90

Glasgow Gailes                                                                                                                   $92

Crail                                                                                                                                      $100

Prestwick St. Nicholas                                                                                                      $100

Dooks                                                                                                                                   $103

Trevose                                                                                                                                $107

Monifieth                                                                                                                            $107

Dunbar                                                                                                                                $107

Saunton West                                                                                                                    $107

Castlerock                                                                                                                          $115

Lundin Links                                                                                                                    $123

Moray Old                                                                                                                         $123

Ardglass                                                                                                                             $130

Murcar                                                                                                                               $154

Southport & Ainsdale                                                                                                     $161

Thou Hast Thy Music Too- An Ode to Winter Golf

It’s late into November and it looks like the last warm days may have finally left us here in southwest Virginia.  In fact, it’s spitting snow this morning as I write this. The beginning of the winter season is always a shock to the system. It takes a while for aging blood to adapt to the inevitable.  So it is always tempting to stay inside and watch golf rather than play it. But soon the cold becomes more familiar and the empty fairways beckon.

We all have friends who are “fair weather” golfers.  If the wind is up or a light drizzle is falling or the temperature drops below some threshold, you can predict that they won’t show up for the weekly match. I am fortunate in that most of my friends don’t mind the cold and though our course is usually under snow for a few weeks out of the year, there are usually plenty of opportunities to get out throughout the winter.

In many ways winter is my favorite time to play. Mid-summer is too hot and sometimes too crowded.  The fall is spectacular, but the course is often full of people, especially when nearby Virginia Tech is having a home football game.  Spring is great but soggy.  In the winter, however, many people hang up their clubs and leave the course to the rest of us. A perfect winter day for me is partly cloudy with a light breeze and temperatures in the mid forties.  The New River is in sight from everywhere on the course and when the mist is hanging in pockets over the water,  you feel like you have walked into a landscape painting.  Across the river is a railway where Norfolk and Southern freight trains come through several times a day, their melancholy whistles echoing off the rocky hillside above the tracks.

Golf is a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual pastime.  That is why it is meant to be played on foot and not in motorized carts. My course is easily walkable, but because green fees are included in its cost to visitors, members are usually the only ones who walk.  As we all know who have tried it, riding in buggies on a cold day is not a happy experience.  But with a few layers of clothing, some winter gloves and a warm hat, one is very comfortable after walking three holes, even with a wind.  A good round always feels even better in the winter, because you have conquered the elements as well as the course.  Best of all, winter is the perfect time for an afternoon round on an empty course.  If you are playing well, the quiet and the concentration needed to hit proper shots may put you into that mysterious and wonderful “zone” that so many of us have experienced where for a time a difficult game seems almost effortless.  Even when that doesn’t happen, a winter round encourages a contemplative attitude and a quiet mind that allows participation in the metaxy, that in-between state of consciousness that grounds us between time and eternity, earth and heaven and nourishes the soul through the truths made luminous by this intense experience of the human condition.

So I try not to be led off course by the siren song of Florida sunshine.  With apologies to Keats, winter hast thy music too and it can be quite beautiful if you listen.

Eight Days on “The Mullet”

Last summer, I convinced six friends to join me for a week of golf in western Ireland. (More on this trip in a later post.) The last round of our makeshift “West Ireland Links Championship” was at Carne (see my post  The Mighty Carne) outside of Belmullet, County Mayo.  I was particularly anxious for my friends to play Carne because it is my favorite course in Ireland and because I am a member and felt like I was welcoming my friends to my second golfing home.

All of my friends liked Carne to one degree or another, but it became evident to me that two of my friends really “got it.”  The reasons for this say something about the course. One friend had driven up to Carne early with me from Shannon airport (my favorite airport in the world) so that I could pick up my old set of clubs that I store there so I don’t have to schlep my usual clubs through airports.  Doug and I had a free afternoon before heading to our cottage at Mount Falcon, so we played 18 holes at Carne. I felt like Doug really liked the place, less for the golf and more for the scenery.  He is a hiker and walking around anywhere on the Mullet Peninsula (where Carne is located) is pretty spectacular.

Peter, on the other hand, fell in love with the place and the people.  “No worries, not a bother, not a problem”  was the mantra that he brought back from the trip to describe the attitudes of the people he met in this part of Ireland.  Peter is also one of the only people I know who, like me, likes to play golf by himself.  I remember being shocked on the course one afternoon when one of the older regular players in my group told me that he couldn’t remember ever playing golf alone.  I shouldn’t have been so surprised, because I suspect that the vast majority of golfers rarely play solo. When I returned to the game after about a 30 year lay-off, I joined a local country club.  I didn’t know anyone and being naturally anti-social, ended up playing a lot by myself early mornings before driving into work.  Even after I became part of a regular group of players, I would sneak out on drizzly late fall afternoons at my home course where I could enjoy the contemplative walk along the New River and would likely be the only person on the course.

What does this have to do with a trip to Belmullet? Carne, because it is in a remote part of County Mayo, struggles to fill its tee sheets. Those who find there way out there almost always love the course.  But there are a lot of nice courses in Ireland and so it is difficult to find one’s way back very often.  The lack of visitors sometimes makes things difficult for the course, but it is one of the reasons why I chose to join Carne as an international member.  During the week, you can drive to the course at 8:30 and find no one there. Having a great links golf course to yourself in the light of an Irish summer morning is, as they say, absolutely brilliant!

So when I asked Peter if he wanted to join Fred (another international member who I met at Carne on a previous trip) and I for a week’s trip this summer, he immediately said yes- enthusiastically. Fred had to drop out, so Peter and I found ourselves driving down a dirt road past the Eagle Bar in the village of Corclough to find our rental house.  The house, Tara Cois Farraige, turned out to be perfect. I like B&Bs in Ireland, but when I stay put for a week, I prefer to have my own place. What we didn’t know is this place seemed to attract stray animals, including this little guy who must have been dumped out here by someone assuming he would be adopted by one of the local farms.  I know, who could abandon a puppy as cute as this? After convincing him we were not a threat, Peter brought him into the house for our remaining time. With the help of the owner and Mary and Eamon at Carne, Peter was able to find a humane organization that picked him up our last day in Ireland.  “Scrat” is now happily settled into a new home, thanks to Peter’s soft heart.

DSCF0708 DSCF0755_face0

 Tara Cois Farraige                                                                   Scrat  

I won’t talk about our golf that week, except to say that my goal of breaking 80 at Carne has once again been left unfulfilled.   Peter, with a compact swing and low trajectory, proved himself to be a natural links course player. He is also probably one of the few people in the world who would actually enjoy spending his evenings sipping Irish whiskey and talking about the difference between Leo Strauss and Eric Voegelin’s interpretations of The Peloponnesian War and why this explains the problems of American foreign policy and maybe even more than that.

This trip will also be remembered for two other things.  First,  thanks to Chris Tallott and Eamon Mangan, I now am a member of the Golfing Union of Ireland with my very own spiffy plastic card, “sponsored by AIG.”  Even better, Eamon set up a round with Sports Illustrated golf writer John Garrity, whose book Ancestral Links: A Golf Obsession Spanning Generations is THE book to read on Carne.  Well, it’s actually the ONLY book, but it’s a very good read.  John is a nice guy and a great golfing companion and I would love to take him up on an offer to play golf with him sometime at Askernish, the Old Tom Morris course on the island of South Uist in the Outer Hebrides that Garrity helped to rediscover and has since been re-opened as one of the most natural links courses in the world.

              DSCF0706

John Garrity and Eamon Mangan on the 17th tee at Carne

The Mighty Carne

It’s almost time to build an ark here in southwest Virginia- it has been raining non-stop for two days. I’m not missing golf that much, however.  I just returned from a week’s trip to my second home- Belmullet, Ireland- where I got in 8 rounds in 8 days. In his really good book, Ancestral Links, Sports Illustrated writer John Garrity notes that Ireland had the best weather in the world- at least for golf.  Why doesn’t anyone understand this? If you play in the rain and wind, it is wild entertainment.  If the wind happens to lie down or the sun happens to peek through, it’s heaven.  It’s almost never too hot, so you can walk 18 even on a hilly links course like Carne without exhausting yourself and you can play all year.  Are you convinced?

I played Carne for the first time in 2006 on a solo golf trip paid for by my lovely wife who had just inherited some unexpected money from an uncle who died with no children.  Ever since my maiden voyage to Dornoch, I had been whining about wanting to go back and play more links golf. So after some money was set aside for useful things like our children’s education, she graciously kicked me out of the house for an incredible three weeks of Irish links golf.  If you want to read a bit about that trip, click on the Ireland Journal link on my homepage.  I played most of the links courses in the west of Ireland, but Carne was my favorite.

Carne is a very natural and very beautiful links course set in the far west of County Mayo, outside the friendly small town of Belmullet.  It’s also very remote- you travel across miles of bog lands to get there. There is so much peat around these parts that there was actually a turf-fired power plant at Bellacorick for a number of years until it was torn down and replaced by a wind farm.  Probably a good thing for the environment, but it employed a lot of local people and nothing smells better than burning turf- well maybe except for the smell of a good peated whiskey.  Carne was the centerpiece of my first trip because of its compelling story. It was built by local people (many of who were out of work) under the direction of a local non-profit company (Turasoireacht Iorrais) established to develop tourism in this traditionally poor part of the Republic.  They hired Eddie Hackett, an amazingly prolific Irish architect responsible for such renowned courses as Waterville, Murvagh (Donegal) and Enniscrone.  The course was designed, built and continues to be run on a shoestring budget which fits the character of the course and the difficulty of attracting large numbers of golfers to such a remote location. Carne was Hackett’s last (and many argue his best) design before his death in 1996.  Finished in the early 90s, the original “Hackett 18” has recently been supplemented by a spectacular new 9 holes (Kilmore 9), designed by American Jim Engh and Dublin architect Ally McIntosh.  Imagine a world class links course where one can venture early on a blustery May morning and literally have the course to yourself.  It was love at first sight and a few years later I became a proud senior overseas life member of The Belmullet Golf Club.

DSCF0693               Carne #11   What a view!

DSCF0785            Carne #17 “Garrity’s Obsession”

 

Links Wanderer

In the fall of 2005, I skipped out early from a rather dull academic conference  in Oxford (actually Oxford-Brookes, but Oxford sounds so much better), took a train back to London where I had a nice lunch with a former student who had landed a job at a small museum in Bloomsbury and hopped another train to York.  But York, while a nice enough place, wasn’t my destination.  Neither was my next stop, Edinburgh,  where I loaded my backpack with shortbread, watched in terror as gangs of soccer toughs roamed the train station shouting and shoving,  and headed to Inverness.  My taxi driver in Inverness was a dapper gentleman who just happened to be the founding member of the local chapter of the Scottish National Party- “those bloody English!”  When he heard I was headed to Dornoch without golf clubs he offered me his, remembering later that he had already lent them to someone else. What a great place!

Why I was making a pilgrimage to Dornoch is now unclear to me.  I had begun to read and think about golf a lot since I took it up again after a 30 year hiatus- too much high school golf had burned me out.  Reading about the game and its origins brought me naturally to thinking about links golf and the great links courses of the UK and Ireland. Though St. Andrews might have seemed the more obvious choice, remote Dornoch struck me as a more satisfying and more appropriate destination.  I knew I had picked wisely after my first round, a late afternoon walk that still seems like a dream of gorse and heather and pot bunkers.  I came back to the road along the first hole at sunset and just sat there, feeling something inside of me being filled up with the peace and contentment I felt at that moment.  I was sure that this would always be the spiritual epicenter of golf for me.  I was wrong, however, but I’ll save that story for another post.

In any case, welcome to my blog.   I have picked a good time to start it, with the Open Championship at Hoylake starting in two days and having just finished a weekend of great links action with the British Women’s Open at Royal Birkdale and the Scottish Open at Royal Aberdeen.  My favorite part of the golfing season.