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Friday, May 10, 2019

Go West Old Men!.....to Machrihanish

Thanks Tom Coyne! I was lucky to have dinner last year with the English professor and author of fine golf books and discovering my love of all things Scottish he said, "You must play Machrihanish!" Now, I went to University in Glasgow, so have been very fortunate to play most of the wonderful links and non-links course in Scotland. Somehow, I have never found the time to visit Mull of Kintyre and its golf courses (maybe it was the dreary Paul McCartney number one song that put me off!)
In the last couple of years Coyne has become the "Rick Steves of golf." His books on Ireland and Scotland have promoted off the beaten path courses (let's not call them "hidden gems") and hopefully led to increased revenues for courses worthy of a golf travelers time and money. And so it was, as the unofficial golf booker of our motley crew that we found ourselves on the road from Glasgow to Campbeltown on the Mull of Kintyre.

Here's our route from Glasgow to Macrihanish. It's around four hours through the most glorious countryside and coastal roads you'll see. No need to rush - enjoy the views! We stayed at The Royal Hotel in Campbeltown, a delightful fishing town. Fair warning, there are very few dining options (very few!) in the town, so we had breakfast, lunch and dinner at the Royal - all were excellent.

Opened in 2009, Machrihanish Dunes brings another fine golf course to Kintyre. Designed by David McLay Kidd, the course rests comfortably in the natural dunes and is a gem. We played it on a five-club wind day and despite that we thoroughly enjoyed it. It does feel modern, which is certainly not a criticism and the greens complexes are remarkable. The course is a 10 minute drive from Campbeltown with a tiny pro shop that also serves food and drink.

The original Macrihanish course was built around 1876 and expanded from 10 holes to 18 by Old Tom Morris in 1879. Further modifications were made by J.H. Taylor and Sir Guy Campbell, so its pedigree is beyond reproach. This was our only planned 36-hole day and what a glorious day we had. The course was everything we had hoped for - great holes out in the dunes, completely natural and short walks from greens to tees. Go play it!
The Road South to Dunaverty
Another recommendation from Tom Coyne was the shortest course we played at just 4,600 yards, Dunaverty. It was founded in 1889 and is on the southernmost tip of Kintyre. It was designed by no one in particular and is a pure delight. Measuring 4799 yards from the back tees it is the definition of fun - there are seven par threes and a single par five. With a long drive north on the books, we needed a short, fun walk and boy did we find one! We left our money in the Honesty box in the modest clubhouse and headed to the straightforward short par four first hole. After scrambled pars there we embarked on a series of the most extraordinary and fun holes you will play - short threes, long blind threes, drivable par fours - it is breathtaking and I will be back.
A Long Drive North to Dornoch
With our change in plans we had the opportunity to reinvent the trip. So, one of the greatest venues in golf beckoned, Royal Dornoch. It's a long and scenic drive from the southernmost tip of Mull of Kintyre to the town of Dornoch, about 40 minutes north of Inverness. With a stop along the way and driving the full length of Loch Ness (with no sign of the monster) it took us about six hours. If you haven't played the course bestowed as a "Royal" in 1906 then I highly recommend you make the journey. The weather can be changeable at this time of the year, but the golf gods were with us and we had two fresh, but fine days. On both occasions we were round in three hours, despite taking photographs and admiring the gorse filled views. Dornoch was laid out by Old Tom Morris in 1886 and is justifiably ranked in the top 10 courses in the world.

And Back Down South to North Berwick
Back into the car for a drive down through Edinburgh (choose your timing carefully to miss the choked ring road) to the seaside town of North Berwick. The town, the golf course/s, the putting courses, the food, the people. It's all quite lovely. The West Links course is in the middle of the town with the first and eighteenth sharing a single fairway and the Glen Course is at the far end of the town and played on a bluff. Yes, I love the West Links, but having played it many, many times we opted to drive east down the coast road to another personal favorite, Dunbar Golf Club.

East to Dunbar
If you are planning a trip to the East Lothian area, do not miss Dunbar. Improbably wedged between the sea and an old deer park wall this true links golf course is an absolute gem. The staff are wonderful and despite a rainy day we once again spent three lovely hours enjoying the scenery and delightful holes attributed to James Braid and Ben Sayers in the 1920s.
And on to Gullane
Gullane hosted the Scottish Open a couple of years ago, won by Rickie Fowler and it is the perfect warm up for the professionals warming up for The Open. There are three courses in Gullane (well, four if you include Luffness) and they are called One, Two and Three - inspired! The number does determine the quality too, with Number One being the course of choice for most visitors. That said the view from all three at the top of Gullane Hill is equally inspiring. With the Forth Road Bridge and Edinburgh in the distance and the North Sea in the foreground the view is wonderful.

By the way, if you haven't read Tom Coyne's books, they are a must read. He walked around Ireland (no, really, he did!) with his golf bag on his back, but sense prevailed for his Scottish jaunt and his musings are delightful. You can buy A Course Called Ireland here and A Course Called Scotland here. Oh, and I hear an American book is in the offing. I'm not a betting man, but I'm guessing it's called A Course Called America! Also a shout out to my friends at Holderness & Bourne for the best quarter knit sweaters in the game!

PS - if you want to see many more pictures visit @macduffgolf on Instagram.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Christmas Golf Gift Guide

Here’s our 2018 Golf Gift Guide that checks the boxes on authenticity, great value and are “MacDuff Guaranteed” to bring a smile to the face of any real golfer. 

Lee has had another outstanding year in 2018 creating official artwork for the majors and the Ryder Cup. Lee's work has become highly collectable and his website features his iconic posters as well as one off originals. www.leewybranski.com

We introduced our own golf themed candles in 2017. This year we have a number of gorgeous Christmas scents including Chocolate Chip, Cinnamon Stick, Cranberry Crush and Peppermint Candy. Beautifully packaged and ready for the tree. We also have a gorgeous Yoga themed gift collection, called The Chakra Range. www.macduffcandles.com

We have always been big fans of Portland based, Seamus Golf. Their core products are unique headcovers designed from literally hundreds of tartans and other fabrics. They also have introduced all manner of new items that continue to amaze us. These include ball marks, hand made golf bags, hip flasks, restored golf clubs and pitchforks. You'll find great gift items and different price points on their site, each one handcrafted by our friends in Oregon. www.seamusgolf.com

This is a golf gift you can safely give golfers and know they will use it. The rules of golf state that you should mark your golf ball before playing and Tin Cup has made this a simple process for hundreds of thousands of golfers since 2010. www.tin-cup.com

My favorite golf book of the year, Tom's book is a worthy follow up to his Irish tome about golf in Ireland. www.amazon.com

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

World Class Golf in the North Berwick Area

I'm back from a week in the East Lothian region of Scotland and truly outstanding golf, hospitality and, somewhat surprisingly, weather. Every day of our trip was 55 to 65 degrees and sunny. Sunscreen was the order of the day and not a drop of rain fell. We based ourselves in the delightful town of North Berwick, around 45 minutes east of Edinburgh and played some of the best true links golf courses in the world. The pilgrimage to St. Andrews is a must, but once you have that out of your system, there are better golf courses in and around North Berwick than St. Andrews. We paced ourselves with one round a day, except for our opening day at Muirfield and were fortunate to be playing with members every day. This saved us a considerable amount on green fees as the member guest rates at all of the courses was between $14 and $20 - yes, you read that right! In addition to walking each course, I spent every morning on North Berwick beach with stunning views of the four small islands in the bay, Fidra, Lamb, Craigleith and Bass. I recommend taking some time off the golf course and strolling on the sand and rocks. It is a very special place.

Day 1 - Muirfield
Our weeks golf began with 36 holes at The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers (Muirfield) and two delightful members, Jack and Sandy. They had the dubious distinction of being our foursomes (alternate shot) partners for the day. The course was as magnificent as ever and it’s one of those courses that the more you play, the more you appreciate the architecture, the routing and the views. The clubhouse is being renovated at present and on Monday the kitchen was closed. Sandwiches and Kummel were the order of the day and it’s not an exaggeration that lunch took around the same time as 18 holes. We played 36 holes of foursomes in 4 hours and 50 minutes!

Day 2 - North Berwick
Established in 1832, North Berwick has Ben Sayers credited as one of several architects who has a hand in the West Links. It’s hard to think of more natural land being used for a golf course and I would argue there is no better closing six hole stretch of golf than North Berwick. From the 13th “Pit” with its famous stone wall tight to the green, the blind second shot aimed at Bass Rock to the 14th green, through the original Redan hole at the 15th, the best and craziest Biarritz green on the 16th, the Alps at the 17th and then back into town with the drivable but potentially treacherous closing hole. The West Links at North Berwick has slipped into my Top 10 in the world - it’s playable, scorable and downright fun!

Day 3 - Gullane Number Two
There are three courses in the town of Gullane (actually there are five if you include Muirfield and Luffness!) and one of the joys of the golf courses here are how they start and finish in the town. Number Two was laid out in 1898 by Willie Park Junior and is a joy to play.

Day 4 - Gullane Number One
And so onto the best of the Gullane courses. Number One is hosting the Scottish Open prior to The Open Championship (minus a couple of holes from Number Two) and it is a gem. Like Number Two, the first holes play over the top of Gullane hill and the vista that presents itself is nothing short of spectacular. The Firth of Forth stretches out before you all the way to Edinburgh, down to Muirfield and beyond. It was built in 1884 and oddly, the architect is listed as unknown.

Day 5 - Dunbar Golf Club
Originally built in 1856, Dunbar is another course you must play. Many of the holes play next to the sea wall or the sea and both play on your golf mind on the way out and way in. Major changes were made to the course in the 1920s by James Braid and North Berwick’s Ben Sayers. There is more change on the way for Dunbar with the golf course and a new clubhouse and course routing planned for 2019. The greens at Dunbar were incredible and we discovered their relatively new superintendent came from The Old Course - clearly, he knows what he is doing!

Day 6 - North Berwick
Back to majestic North Berwick and another perfect Scottish Tourism day. The West Links gets better every time I play it and with that mindset, I always play well there. For the last three rounds of our trip we played with a former mini tour player, Clark, and he can straight out play! He broke 70 every day with very little links experience. Coming up the 18th at North Berwick into a three club wind he opted for the driver. It’s a brave choice with the out of bounds and car bonnets lurking right. He thumped a driver and somehow pitched and stopped it on the green - the ball made a sound with which I am not familiar! And then he holed the putt from 25 feet - perfect pace, center cut! What a way to finish a glorious week in the one of the great golf towns in the world.