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Issue 76 - Home Comforts

Scotland Magazine Issue 76
August 2014


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Home Comforts

Scotland is preparing itself for the biggest golf show on earth. As the Ryder Cup tees off at the Home of Golf, Mark Alexander takes stock of where to stay and play

Golf in the Highlands of Scotland is set for big things this year. Mark my words, as the buzz around the 2014 Ryder Cup reaches fever pitch, the heather and gorse will become watchwords for journalists lauding the hidden gems of the north. This will be golf’s day in the sun – we hope!

At the centre of it all will be Gleneagles: a wonderful oasis of style and elegance where outdoor pursuits mix freely with spa treatments and fine dining. On centre stage will be the PGA Centenary Course with its sweeping doglegs and teasing par threes. This is where the world’s best golfers will battle it out over 7,296 yards of manicured heathland to be crowned Ryder Cup victors. This is the biggest prize in golf and it is set to be played out on Scotland’s longest inland course. Could there be a better setting?

But golf in the Highlands is not just about Gleneagles. Next door, the finishing touches are being made to a new, high-end course called gWest and further afield Taymouth Castle is going through extensive redevelopment. Things are shaping up nicely, and although much of the excitement will inevitably centre on Gleneagles, Perthshire, in particular, is dusting itself down and sprucing itself up for the biggest party in golf.

Elsewhere, Scotland’s golfing heartlands are also making plans. On the west coast, Donald Trump has acquired the four-times Open Championship venue Turnberry for a cool £35 million. The famous links course will be renamed Trump Turnberry, with the American property tycoon promising to invest £100 million to renovate the iconic hotel.

“We will be spending a great deal of time, effort and money to make Trump Turnberry the finest resort of its kind anywhere in the world,” he told reporters in his unmistakable bullish manner.

Further up the coast, Troon is preparing for its return to the spotlight when it hosts the Open Championship in 2016. “We’re removing the trees behind the ninth green and 10th tee which cast a lot of shadows, meaning the ninth is the softest green on the course,” says Martin Ebert, founding partner of the architectural firm Mackenzie & Ebert, who has been entrusted with preparing the course. “The idea is take down the trees and build some dunes to give it a backdrop.”

Changes are also afoot on the 15th where the first half of the fairway is to be re-routed along similar lines to the layout used during Troon’s first Open Championship in 1923. “Andrew Cotter’s brother Colin discovered an illustration showing the tee on the left of the 14th green with an identical centre line that I had proposed,” says Ebert. “It was reassuring for the club to see my proposal as a question of restoring an old hole. It’s a lot easier to convince clubs to make these changes when you can show them that the changes will be what they had before.”

The course itself is a fascinating mix of cruelty and benevolence with the ever-present breeze off the Firth of Clyde adding an air-borne twist. The course hooks back upon itself meaning the challenge of the closing holes is played out adjacent to the now-long forgotten generosity of the opening ones. The local advice is to make your score on the way out because Troon will ultimately take it back.

The rich tapestry of golf courses along the Ayrshire coast range from the renowned to the unknown, but like the majority of tracks in Scotland, many are open to the public and many can be played without breaking the bank.

There is, however, a swathe of ultra private clubs where it might be useful to own a bank in order to play them. Loch Lomond Golf Club was created in an area of outstanding natural beauty and is famed for its international membership, while the Renaissance Club and Archerfield Links near Edinburgh sit alongside one of Scotland’s most revered gentleman’s clubs, The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield. What they have in common are business models that rest on the desire of the world’s financially elite to play golf in Scotland.

In the north, near the hallowed links of Dornoch, another retreat offers exclusive surroundings and a golf course that is being tentatively opened to the public. The Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle, which accommodates around 3,000 rounds a year, is offering eight tee times a week from Monday to Friday until October. The price: £300 a round.

It is a move that Managing Director Peter Crome says provides a rare opportunity to step into this guarded world. “I am delighted to be able to open our world-class golf course to the
public and allow non-residents the chance to sample what is surely one of the best golf experiences on the planet.”

While the upper echelons of golfing society are catered for by these often super-private sanctuaries, the notion of playing golf in Scotland is more akin to pitching up to a clubhouse swamped in history, changing your shoes in the car park and striding out across fairways walked through the ages by legions of enthusiasts.

In East Lothian, places like Gullane and North Berwick optimise this ethos, although new clubhouse facilities at each are dispelling any quibbles about lack of customer service. Here, wonderful links courses that reach down to the coastline offer up challenge and fun in equal measure. Both have open-door policies, meaning they should command a prominent place on your Scottish must-play list.

One name synonymous with Scotland, golf and hedonistic pilgrimages to where it all began, is St Andrews, the Home of Golf. Like no other place, St Andrews brings together all of the elements that make the game of golf in Scotland special. History and celebrity share the limelight with the bouncy links turf and smooth-running greens. Around the town there are seven courses with six further gems within easy reach.

Golf is the lifeblood that flows through the veins of the locals in St Andrews and with the Open Championship set to make its five-yearly return to the spiritual bedrock of the sport, a new breed of passionate devotees will no-doubt be born.

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