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Friday, September 16, 2016

Five Days of Golf in and around North Berwick

An invitation came out of the blue to play golf in Scotland. Would I and a couple of friends like to come to North Berwick for six days of golf? mmmm, let me think about that! YES!
So, flights were booked from DC to Edinburgh and I volunteered to help with the golf bookings. I love an excel spreadsheet! My friend provided the extraordinary accommodations in North Berwick. There are many great golf options that exist in the East Lothian area and you have the ease of travel to and from Edinburgh. We didn't want to travel too far from our home base and The Old Course at St Andrews was out of the question as it was the RandA Autumn Meeting. Most golf is easily bookable online and I found all of the Club Secretaries very responsive through email. Several of the group were golf magazine raters and some clubs very generously gave us a break on the rates, which was kind of them. Contrary to popular belief, the weather in Scotland is actually quite good and we were blessed with a week of incredible days with rain and wind on only one day. I spent two years at University in Glasgow and recall some wet days, but it was always better than dealing with 105 degrees and 95% percent humidity which is DC in the summer! And so our journey began, with only 18 holes and teeing off around midday each day. There would be no 36-hole route marches for us - we are too old and wise for that - ok, just too old!

Our Merry Band
Day 1 - North Berwick

The West Links at North Berwick was heaving with people on Monday morning. Many were Americans, as North Berwick has quite rightly become a "must play". I have played it many times and am never disappointed. The finishing four holes are as much fun as anywhere on the planet and are built for matchplay drama. The 15th is the original Redan hole, the short par four 16th hole with its crazy double green, the 17th and it's blind approach to a punchbowl green and then 18. Wow! The cars that line the drivable 18th were in imminent danger with our group and how Chip missed a car and ended up behind the green we will never know!
The 13th hole - The Pit - They don't build 'em like this anymore, which is a shame!

Green Fee -  £105
Pro Shop - 8/10 - the NB logo is way too complicated to work with - They should call Lee Wybranski who would do a killer rebranding!
Condition - 9/10 - firm and fast, except for rather oddly, the depression in front of 18 which was overwatered
Fun Factor - 10/10 - North Berwick will make you smile all the way around! And then want to go back to the first tee!

Day 2 - Longniddry

A lovely golf course, that with some tree removal could be even better. It is truly hiding it's light under a bushel of trees! Many of the sea views are lost and strategy on a couple of holes has been compromised by trees that need a chainsaw or a storm in the middle of the night! One of the best holes on the golf course is the short par four 5th with its infamous sloping green. Four and even five putts are common here - add my name to the list! Don't look at the scorecard yardage, presume it's too short and make the (wrong) decision not to go - it's a gem!
Green Fee -  £55
Pro Shop - 7/10 - solid selection
Condition - 8/10 - in good shape, but they need to cut down dozens of trees that are killing the views to the sea and adding nothing strategically
Fun Factor - 7/10  - great views and some terrific holes

Day 3 - Dunbar

Dunbar Golf Club opened in 1856 and was recently used as an Open qualifying course. If the wind is up, watch out because the wall that runs around the golf course from the fourth hole onwards will be watching you and your ball! If you are a slicer, bring some golf balls! The course starts with two gentle par 5s, both birdie chances, and following the delightful downhill par 3rd the real fun starts. You feel like a gladiator entering the ring walking through hole in the wall to get to the fourth tee and the fun never lets up. Great views, a great walk and a really solid course that should be on every visitors must play list. On 18, below, I got close and personal as my second shot hit the wall. I couldn't resist the "wally" and salvaged bogey.
Green Fee -  £75 - good value for a classic links golf course
Pro Shop - 6/10 - opportunity missed with small range of merchandise, like the logo though
Condition - 8/10 - in great shape
Fun Factor - 9/10 - the old sea wall provides plenty of drama, especially for slicers!

Day 3 - Musselburgh Links - with hickories

It is billed as the oldest golf course in the world and no one seems to dispute that. So that's cool! However, the experience, although fun, was not quite up to par. Musselburgh Links (not to be confused with Royal Musselburgh) is a 9-hole golf course located in the middle of the Musselburgh race course in a decidedly dodgy part of town. There is no pro shop, just a guy taking money who seemed more interested in closing than having two more groups pay to walk around the shabby golf course. We opted to play with hickories, which were real but in poor shape. It's all a bit sad, because this place should be treasured and promoted. The commercial possibilities could be huge, but it's clearly run by a local council who have no interest in its upkeep or knowledge of what they have. There was no merchandise available, not even a shirt with "I played the Oldest Course in the World and all I got was this shirt!" So, it was fun, but could have been so much more.
Green Fee -  £50 - including the use of 5 basic hickories, golf balls and a bag
Pro Shop - 2/10 - basically a counter at the race track. Huge opportunity missed by the owners
Condition - 5/10 - it's likely the way it was 400+ years ago, but could be better
Fun Factor - 6/10 - wow, what an opportunity missed, though making a two on a 240 yard par 3 with a hickory shafted wood was fun!

Day 4 - Gullane No.2

Dating back to 1898 and course architect, Willie Park Junior, No. 2 is a joy! The first seven holes are close to No.1 before the courses diverge. The views from the top of the hill are stunning overlooking Aberlady Bay. The course is relatively short, but none the worse for that and birdies were few and far between in our groups!
Green Fee -  £53
Pro Shop - 6/10 - should be so much better and they make a big deal about being the shop for Muirfield as there is no pro shop down the road at The Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers. But, the lack of merchandise and the rather ordinary Muirfield logo don't make for good shopping. Maybe it was the end of the season and I do them a disservice, but with pretty much every American golfer going through this shop they are missing a trick and oodles of revenue.
Condition - 9/10 - firm and fast, great shape, perfect greens
Fun Factor - 7/10 - it's short, but that doesn't detract from a great walk, views and playability

Day 5 - Gullane No.1
A truly outstanding golf course built in 1884 and the host of the 2015 Scottish Open won by Rickie Fowler. We played it in a three club wind and a smattering of showers, but it never stopped being fun. The views across to Edinburgh, the Firth of Forth and Muirfield (or Gullane No.4 as one member called it!) are breathtaking. The top photo is of my favorite hole on the golf course, the par 3 13th - a world class golf hole with a demanding tee shot.
Green Fee -  £110
Pro Shop - 6/10 - The three courses at Gullane all share the same shop located across the road from the first tee on No.1. See my comments from No. 2 about how it could be so much better.
Condition - 9/10 - great shape, perfect green speeds for the conditions
Fun Factor - 9/10 - with the drivable 17th and 18th it's a course that makes you want to hurry back

And one final gorgeous view of North Berwick Beach to sign off - a magical place!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

MacDuff's 2016 Father's Day Gift Guide

It's a tradition for the final Sunday of the U.S. Open to be played on Father's Day, and as a father it is one that is much appreciated. My main gift each year is to get to watch the golf with few distractions and it doesn't get much better than Oakmont Country Club. It's in my personal Top 10 in the world and with the recent tree removal the course looks better than ever. As well as the gift of golf on television here are five great gift options you can forward on, leave on the printer or tweet out to children, wives and anyone else you may think could buy you a gift!

At Beltology they believe belts should stretch! Their belts have no holes, as the prong passes smoothly through the webbing (fabric or leather) allowing for a comfortable and adjustable fit - after lunch for example! Read More Here

Holderness & Bourne
Alex Holderness and John Bourne never much cared for the exhaustive and hyper athletic styling associated with most modern golf apparel. They believe the branding should be subtle with classic styling and a tailored fit. I agree and am a H&B convert! Read More Here

Lee Wybranski
Lee is one of the leading golf artists in the world. This year he has once again created work for the major championships and the perfect gift for dad would be his Oakmont poster shown below. It features the famous church pews bunkers on the 4th and 5th holes and if you look hard you'll see the famous Oakmont squirrel. Read More Here

Links Candles
This new range of golf themed scented candles will be a big hit with dads. Full disclosure, we own this company and it's been fascinating how many dads have declared their passion for scented candles! The range based on the elements of the game includes, Dirt, Fescue, Ocean and Pine. Read More Here

Tin Cup
The only way to really make your mark on a golf ball is with a Tin Cup. They are available in over 140 designs and a new section of specially priced custom cups gives you a good chance of finding a unique cup for dad and his golf balls. How long he can keep it in play is his responsibility! Read More Here

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Links Candles - Light Up The Course

It's time for a new adventure. And there is nothing quite like launching a new product to get the creative juices flowing. So, that's what we are about to do and we are doing it with candles. Yes, candles! Who doesn't love scented candles. They look great, smell great and make the perfect year round gift. Over the course of the last few months we have sourced gorgeous 100% soy scented candles, labels, packaging, crinkle paper, shipping boxes, product cards and built a website. (Awesome job by Cary building www.linkscandles.com). I'm happy to say everything we have sourced is made in America. The majority of scented candles are made in China and the volumes required may be okay if you are Target, but not for us. We have no idea if anyone else likes the idea yet, so I didn't feel like having a garage full of 10,000 candles stacked upon each other and nowhere to put the car!
The inspiration for the candles is the great game of golf. The blue, green and yellow logo above represents the sea and sky, grass and sand. It's nature at its finest and the linked circles are the combination of the three coming together. We went through many iterations of the name and it was my father in law who really liked the simple name "Links" amongst our many possibilities. We hope you like it too! 

The scents for the candles came through many hours of testing and sniffing. Candles can smell very different when lit and the living room was our olfactory testing center for weeks until we all agreed on the ones we liked. The scents include fresh cut grass, pine tress, magnolias and more. We also had great fun naming the products to fit the golf theme. For example, we have Tall Pines, Earth and Magnolia (yes, I would have liked to have added another word to that one!)
The artwork above of the 16th at Cabot Links truly represents what Links Candles stands for and I have a couple of people to thank for allowing us to use the image on our website and packaging. Josh Smith, the incredibly talented artist who painted it and Ben Cowan-Dewar, the visionary behind the Cabot Links property in Inverness, Nova Scotia. See Josh's site here and Cabot Links here.

Well, that's a little of the background to the adventure. We will see where the journey takes us in the coming months. If you would like to order a candle or two, here's where you can do it. 
STOP PRESS - Our packaging just arrived and here it is.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Planning a Scottish Golf Trip This Year? You Need to See This Site.

One of the most interesting facets of the annual PGA Show is meeting new people. This year I had the good fortune to meet and spend time with passionate golf purist and Links Magazine Assistant Editor, Graylyn Loomis. Graylyn is a terrific young man who spent four years at the home of golf, St Andrews. Ostensibly, he was there to educate himself at the fine University, but really we all know why he was there. To play golf, caddy, drink beer and meet Scottish girls! As I was at university in Scotland too, in Glasgow, I understand the attraction of Scotland and all it has to offer.

Graylyn has come up with a great idea for golfers looking to put together a memorable Scottish golf trip. For a very small fee (too small Graylyn!) he will listen to your wants and needs and make recommendations based on your group size, golf ability, timing, budget and more. Take a look at his website, Scottish Golf Trip Planner featuring wonderful reviews of golf courses you know and also Graylyn's hidden gems that will add considerably to your enjoyment of your Scottish trip. Read More Here.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

MacDuff's Top Five from The Show

The Show is over for another year. My iPhone showed I walked 33,000 steps over the 3 days in the Orange County Convention Center. My feet feel like it! I did finally find a restaurant in the Hall I had heard of! Chick-fil-A had a couple of carts serving the awesome chicken sandwich, but you had to look hard to find them!
The steps were not in vain. It was a busy show and with rainy Orlando days, many who come for the mediocre golf available in Orlando actually attended the PGA Show and checked out the 2016 ranges of hard and soft goods. And as I walked 33,000 steps, so you didn't have to, here are my
Annual Top Five from The Show.

Holderness & Bourne

It was the inaugural show year for this New York based company. Owned by two young entrepreneurs Alex Holderness and John Bourne, the company has created a terrific range of shirts, knits and accessories. With bold stripes and a color palette that will appeal to golfers on and off the course this young company are going places. Their small range of luggage and accessories in canvas and leather is also stunning.  See the range here.

Oak Locker

Oak Locker is a cool idea. You go online to their site, register and curate your own locker of clothing, clubs, courses, even your fantasy golf Tour players. Oak Locker allows you to buy products through their partner websites and has a library of current content that is engaging and informative. They have wisely been selective about their partnerships and as their tag line suggest they only promote "the best in golf." You can create your locker here.

Seamus Golf

It's no secret that I have been a Seamus fan since clapping eyes on a single headcover that co-owner Akbar Chisti was wandering the cavernous OCCC hall with several years ago. He and his wife, Megan (she's the other owner!) have taken their simple idea of plaid headcovers and created a brand built on great ideas, execution and passion. Their wool, metal and wood products crafted in Oregon are irresistible! See the Seamus Golf range here.


I so wanted to like swingOIL. It has a great name, packaging and marketing and their endorsement deal with Jason Day is spot on. So, I wandered by their booth and met the engaging owner, Thomas Healey and heard the story behind the company. (You can read it here) I'm pleased to report the drink supplement, available in three flavors tastes terrific and will definitely be in my bag once the season begins. With glucosamine, chondroitin and turmeric, swingOIL will unquestionably help my flexibility and concentration. Read the whole story here.


I have played the same set of irons for nine years now - Callaway forged blades. Having now seen in person the Titleist 716 T-MB irons I may actually switch brands. Built around a large tungsten weight with a thin top line they are an incredible looking set of clubs. I need to see my friends at Club Champion and go through a fitting to see if they will work with my rusty swing. Hopefully they will perform, because I really want these! Read more here.

Bonus Find! - Callaway Mack Daddy PM

This is a matte black line extension of the successful line created by wedge genius Roger Cleveland. I bought the 56 degree version last year and am very tempted to add the 60 degree version. My only question - why didn't they call it Black Daddy? Read more here.

Friday, January 15, 2016

It's Showtime! - Do's and Don'ts at the 2016 PGA Merchandise Show

I know, I rewrite this piece every year. Hopefully honing it, improving it and making more sense with each passing year!

The PGA Merchandise Show is a few days away and everyone in the golf business is frantically printing, manufacturing samples and making meetings for O Town. It is the best time in our world to meet old friends, make new ones and take a look into the crazy world of golf merchandise and see what’s new! That’s all everyone wants – new, new, new!

So here we go again with my list of Do and Don'ts for the PGA Merchandise Show.
  • Wear comfortable shoes...this is no time to break in your FootJoy teaching shoes
  • Don't sell on other people's booths. They have spent thousands on the space and months preparing for the show - it is just not cool. 
  • Drink plenty of water. The free Pepsi isn't going to help your hydration! There are water fountains and it may well be the only free thing in the Orange County Convention Center (OCCC)!
  • If you want to do business, dress appropriately. Smart casual is perfect and don't dress as if you are a PGA Tour player!
  • Eat a good breakfast at your hotel because the food in the OCCC is like a hot dog in a movie theater...overcooked and overpriced. There is nothing good to eat in the Convention Center – nothing!
  • Be very specific about where to meet your appointment. Pick a booth, preferably a small one, so you can't miss the person you are meeting.
  • Be prepared to stand and talk. There is nowhere to sit down in the OCCC, so Note to the organizers, people are here to meet, so you may want to invest in some chairs.
  • It's a long way from the 1000 aisle to the 6000 aisle so don't make three appointments in 60 minutes in three locations. It's like trying to get from uptown to downtown in Manhattan at 4 p.m.
  • Be patient. Everyone is busy and often running a few minutes behind. Whether you are buying or selling they will come.
  • Take some time to wander the floor. Go see the New Products section and marvel at the craziness of this business of ours. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Six Great Christmas Gifts

Like many people in this country I can't really think about Christmas until Thanksgiving is over. The perpetual "holiday creep" taking hold is so unnecessary and so blatantly led by retailers stuck with too much inventory. OK, I have that off my chest...on with my Pick 6 for Christmas.
1. Links to St Andrews - Love Letters to the Home of Golf This extraordinary 350 page book passionately compiled by Josh Evenson is an ode to the first town of golf. www.linkstostandrews.com
2. Beltology - The perfect belt on and off the golf course. With enough stretch to take in a full lunch and dozens of colors and styles to choose from Beltology belts are instant classics. www.beltology.com

3. Tin Cup - Yes, I'm biased as I have been on board since the beginning with this cool golf ball marking stencil. It's available in 150 design and and also custom designs. www.tin-cup.com

4. Best Made Co - It's just not the same unless I get something from one of my favorite online retailers. They sell cool, well made American products, like this match striker - Go see at www.bestmadeco.com

5. Lee Wybranski - Lee created the official posters for three Majors in 2015. His iconic imagery is extraordinary and his work is a fitting reminder of the great courses and memorable events played through the year. www.leewybranski.com

6. Bob Dylan's All the Songs - Maybe it's just because I really want this book that it made the list. But, if you like music then you owe it yourself to find the reason behind Mr. Zimmerman's genius. And for less than $30 on Amazon.com

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Mike Malloy and Waveborn - A Man and a Company on a Mission

Mike Malloy
 (Sunglasses entrepreneur and leading Ultimate Frisbee player)

Some people are just driven. That's Mike Malloy. I was introduced to Mike at 1776, the downtown D.C. incubator firm and he is a man on a mission. His company is Waveborn and they make awesome sunglasses in a variety of styles, including a couple designs, Dockweiler and Zuma that are great for golf. I can personally attest having played a number of rounds with them.
Zuma (Polarized)

Mike and his socially responsible company are on a mission to support funding for eye cataract surgeries around the world. Mike has partnered with See International a well known charity with a strapline that explains perfectly what they do - "Restoring Sight. Transforming Lives." Waveborn gives 10% of their profits to this incredible cause. Mike is passionate about his business and about giving back and his Waveborn is growing rapidly as a result of his commitment, alongside quality products and service.

I'm honored to have recently joined his Advisory Board and am steering him through the world of golf retailing. Mike also recently announced that three time Super Bowl winning quarterback, Troy Aikman has joined the Board. That's one Board meeting I am looking forward to!

Troy Aikman

Here's the Waveborn site and I recommend you take a look at the many designs and colors available. Mike also set up a coupon code for our Blog readers. The code is "macduff" and gives you a 20% discount off all sunglasses on the site.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A Wonderful New Golf Book - Love Letters to the Home of Golf

Who doesn't love St Andrews? Well, if you are a golfer and you don't love it, either you haven't been there or you haven't been there enough! It is without doubt the greatest golf town in the world.

I was fortunate to attend University in Glasgow and as a member of the golf team we played many matches at truly great courses, including, naturally, The Old Course. I have great memories of those days and also in more recent times; walking around the town, staying in the Dunvegan and The Old Course Hotels, popping into the Jigger Inn, recreating Chariots of Fire on the beach and much more!
Thistle by Michael Klein

A fine young man, Josh Evenson, a North Dakota native, who attended the University of St Andrews, has gone many steps further than simply blogging about the Auld Grey Toon! Josh, along with an A list of the world's greatest artists, golfers and writers has created an extraordinary volume about the town, fetchingly entitled Links to St Andrews - Love Letters to the Home of Golf. He puts it best in his personal description of the book,

"Links to St Andrews is about links of many kinds in the world of golf and in life: links between fathers and sons, between coaches and athletes, between the past and the present, between an undulating expanse of grass and the swing of a club, between a town and those who fall under its spell."
Josh Evenson

Josh has travelled the world compiling this mighty tome with contributions from Messrs. Nicklaus, Palmer and Player, Annika, Greg, Tom - you know, all those for whom only one name is sufficient. And it doesn't stop there; the artwork is extraordinary, as is the art direction. The stories are compelling and tell so many aspects of the centuries old town, most of which I was unaware of. So, if like me, you love St Andrews, buy yourself a present and for less than half the price of a driver (which I almost guarantee won't be in your bag in a year) you can own one of the truly great golf books produced in my memory.

There are several editions of the book including a very special edition that includes the signatures of the 100 contributors, signed on hand made paper pressed from the grasses of St Andrews (I kid you not!). Good luck getting one of those! There is another limited edition tier coming at $295 signed by the writers and artists and includes a leather slip case. Available online right now is the "standard" edition, although there is absolutely nothing "standard" about this book. This version is $150 and likely to sell out fast. Although sans signatures it has everything you need to look at and read.
A sketch by Lee Wybranski

Josh undertook this venture with a passion and integrity rarely seen in Generation X and the result speaks for itself. This is a book you are going to want to own, read, study and read again. It's for sale on the Links to St Andrews website here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The High Heat Driver - Taking on the Big Boys

It takes brave souls in any business to take on the industry leaders, but in the golf business many would say you have to be certifiable. Well, crazy or not, two gentlemen, Dean Knuth and Steve Trattner decided to take on the behemoths of Callaway, TaylorMade and Titleist and launch a very cool and effective new driver. It's called High Heat and it is already making waves in the business. I'm told their first production run is already sold out and more drivers are on the way. And that's because it performs even better than advertised.

Both Dean and Steve have a long history in the game of golf. Dean is the "Pope of Slope" and if you have a USGA approved handicap you know his work, if not his name. He's the math whiz from the USGA who came up with the rating and slope system used in modern handicapping. His resume contains many extraordinary accomplishments (you can read it here) and suffice to say it was just a matter of when, not if, he created a great driver. His business partner is Steve Trattner and for full disclosure Steve is a family friend. He and Dean worked together for many years at the USGA where Steve was the intellectual property attorney (imagine the fascinating documents that came across his desk during that time). So, you know the patents and intellectual property for High Heat were in the best of hands.
I have worked with golf club manufacturers for many years, so I try not to get too caught up in the invented buzz words and marketing speak which invariably come with new clubs. For me, it's much more about understanding the tech without getting too wrapped up in the terminology. Look and feel mean more to me and these are tough concepts to sell, but are the most important factors to me when testing a club. So, let's get the tech bit out of the way. Thankfully and rather wisely High Heat has kept the marketing speak to a minimum  - they focus on High Heat having a deeper and lower center of gravity and a higher MOI than the major brands. 

That's all I need to know, as I understand both concepts. So that should lead to improved trajectory and longer distance, right? Well, in my tests both indoors on a launch monitor and outdoors where I was simply watching ball flight, the High Heat beat my existing Callaway RAZR Fit driver by a solid 10-15 yards and the flight dispersion with the Fujikura Pro 63 shaft straightened me up too!

The other really cool element is the no groove, shiny face that allows you to see where you actually strike the ball on the club face. It had the effect on me of focusing on a pure strike, rather than simply just trying to smash it - a strange calm took over and I started swinging instead of simply hitting, with very positive results! (See below - hard to shoot a great picture, but you get the idea!) I asked Dean about the smooth face for clarification and here's what he had to say,

"Another benefit of the mirror face is that it helps to lower backspin rates. Too much backspin causes distance loss. Lastly, there are seven zones of internal thinness behind the face for increasing the size of the sweet spot zone and putting grooves over this area would have created variability in performance."

If you would like to buy this great driver, go to the High Heat site where Dean and Steve have a MacDuff Golf special. In the "How did you hear about us?" section check the "MacDuff Golf" box and you'll get a $50 discount reducing the price from $399 to $349. You will love this driver! Read more about High Heat here.