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Apr 23rd, 2018

A very roundabout trip to carnoustie - Part One

A Shank-by-Shank Guide to the Home of the 147th Open

History. Wind. Changeable Weather. Joy. 

When, as happens often, I turn my thoughts to playing golf in Scotland, I think first of these four things.

The history part is obvious enough, Scotland is the historical and spiritual home of golf. The Dutch may have made some pitifully desperate attempt to lay their own claim to the origin of the sport - some tragically, transparently vague assertion that the word’s passing resemblance to the middle Dutch word for bat - kolf - might suggest the game’s origins lie outside of the land of glen and loch.

Even the Chinese, equally desperate to get in on the action, have claimed golf may have been played in China as early as 945 A.D., citing references in a book of a prominent magistrate instructing his daughter to "dig goals in the ground so that he might drive a ball into them with a purposely crafted stick."

But the Royal and Ancient are having none of it. In a particularly no-nonsense, understandably dour statement, an R & A spokesperson simply brushed off such frivolity; "Stick and ball games have been around for many centuries, but golf as we know it today, played over 18 holes, clearly originated in Scotland.”

So you can keep your “stick and ball games” China and Holland; Scotland is golf’s daddy.

My own golfing origin story traces its routes north of the border, to fishing trips with family that swiftly became less about fishing and more about marching purposefully around the 9 holes at Ullapool, north of Inverness. Come (frequently) rain or (much less frequently) shine I’d often devour 54 holes in a single sitting, all for the princely sum of £5 dropped in the honesty box of the modest, utilitarian clubhouse.

So any golfing trip to Scotland is sure to evoke considerable nostalgia and palpable excitement, and upon learning that I would be exploring Carnoustie Country in preparation for the 147th Open, I knew that “swing easy when it’s breezy” was to be my mantra for the next week. You see I’m no golfing fool. Golf in Scotland, particularly of the links variety, is a thinking man’s game. So this thinking man marched straight for the driving range to hit knockdown shot after knockdown shot. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail and all that jazz.

A cursory (and by cursory I of course mean obsessive and repeated) glance at the weather forecast only served to bolster my excitement. After a depressingly damp start to 2018, those temperamental golfing gods appeared to be blessing us with 4 days of glorious sunshine.

So, on the wife’s orders, in with the clubs went the sunscreen.

Looking back now, I think it was this quixotic ideal that ruined me. So, in retrospect, I blame my wife for everything that happened from this point onwards.

It all began at Murrayshall House Hotel

The journey up had been painless. That’s one of the marvellous things about Scottish golf for us English, the journey is so innocuous. Gatwick to Edinburgh in an hour and ten minutes. A gaggle of seven journalists, my travelling companions for the next four days, and, it turns out, unwitting witnesses to my upcoming turmoil, congregated at arrivals, at which point it became clear that Kevin, a photographer and scribe from near Dublin with as misleading an Anglo-Irish accent as I’ve encountered, had had his bags lost on route. With the benefit of hindsight, this was also clearly my wife’s fault.

After a convivial journey in which it quickly became apparent that, as a group, we would get on famously, we arrived at Murrayshall House.

Murrayshall, near Perth, is one of those Scots buildings that seems carved from the very landscape on which it sits, at once imposing and brooding, yet reassuring in its very solidness. One might expect a pony, fresh from a hunt draped with the body of a stag, to emerge around one of its hulking corners. But this is a golfing hotel, so a Motocaddy carrying clubs is more likely. 

Following a quick check in and a soup, we swiftly made our way to the first tee of the Murrayshall course. I found myself paired with Sarah, founder of the Golf Guru Group and possibly the most connected women in golf (seriously, she knows everyone), and Kevin, he of lost bag, an incredibly talented photographer and a man so infected by the golf bug that In 2007, he packed up a camper van and travelled around Ireland for 14 months, playing every 18 hole golf course on the island for a book entitled ‘Hooked – An Amateur’s Guide to the Golf Courses of Ireland’.

These two would become my ad hoc therapists for the rest of the day, as it quickly became apparent that there was an “issue” with my golf swing. And by issue, I mean that the thing completely, utterly deserted me. I don’t want to use profanity, but let’s just say that the name of the problem begins, and ends, with an S.

Shot after wretched shot rocketed low and right. My ball and my hosel had embarked upon an elicit and exclusive relationship, and they were inseparable. One might think that this would ruin the round. Yet Murrayshall is such an enjoyable and picturesque track that even in the midst of golfing chaos I couldn’t help but enjoy this course.

You see, the unexpected benefit of suffering from the hosel rockets is that you get to discover pretty much every part of the course, places perhaps even the designer never intended for discovery. What might usually amount to a miserable schlep became an unexpected joy, as I wondered from thicket to copse, from stream to pond, admiring the routing within a parkland setting that could just as easily be Surrey as Scotland.

It’s unfortunate we only had time to play the Murrayshall course, as the hotel boasts a second, the Lynedoch. If the Murrayshall was anything to go by I’m sure it’s a joy. As a golfing base for exploring the rest of Carnoustie Country, an area that stretches from the glens of the glorious Angus and Perthshire countryside to the rugged beauty of Scotland’s east coast, it is worth serious consideration.

Needless to say, the pain continued. Read Part Two here. You sadist.

TAGS: GB&I, Carnoustie Country, The Open, Carnoustie, The Shanks, Travel, 2018, Lifestyle