The Independent Golfer

Excerpt from CHAPTER 2

This Land Was Especially Designed
by the Almighty to Play Golf and others like them are strung together like a necklace of sparkling gems in a curving arc across northern Scotland from the Irish Sea in the west to the North Sea in the east. They are set in some of the most scenic country you will ever encounter: islands floating in a dark green sea, narrow ocean inlets bounded by rocky shores below forested mountains, fields of purple-blooming heather rolling up the sides of great, rounded mountains that were sculpted by ice-age glaciers. It is a land of narrow glens (valleys) with small villages of stone, of seaside fishing towns, of green meadows with babbling streams and of rolling hills with patchwork fields dotted by sheep. This is the land of Braveheart’s William Wallace and Robert Lewis Stevenson’s Rob Roy MacGregor. Ruined medieval castles jut above the trees on rocky outcrops. Quiet villages now sleep beside ancient battlefields on which the honor of clans or the succession of monarchies was contested. And through all of this are found the golf courses that are the jewels of the Highlands and Islands.

At each end of this string of gems lies one of the greatest golf courses in the world. In the southwest is Macrihanish on the tip of the Peninsula of Kintyre. Royal Dornoch is in the northeast on the coast of the North Sea. Both of these are absolutely world-class golf courses that offer the Independent Golfer all that could possibly be asked for as a test of golf. Each is regularly ranked highly on various published lists of “the worlds greatest courses.” In its May, 2005 issue Golf Magazine ranked Royal Dornoch as the fifth best course in the world outside the U.S.A. and the second best course in Scotland. In their editors' opinion, it was only bettered by the Old Course at St. Andrews. In the same article, Machrihanish was ranked 39th best in the world and 10th best in Scotland.

Both of these are classic links courses. When Old Tom Morris declared in 1879 that the links at Machrihanish “…had been specially designed by the Almighty for playing golf” he was, of course, flattering his hosts on their newly created golf club. But he was also speaking truly of the grassy terrain between arable land and ocean on which these courses, and many others along Scotland’s coasts, are located. Machrihanish and Royal Dornoch reward effective use of a wide variety of shots. Their length is demanding. Their greens are large, well maintained and putt truly. Each hole offers a different type of challenge.

As you play either of these crown jewels, you work your way along undulating fairways, avoiding deep bunkers that are cunningly placed where errant shots are likely to go. You may find yourself needing to hit a tee shot over an ancient dune now covered with grass to a blind landing area. You are always within a few yards of the ocean and repeatedly feel the need to pause to take in wide and grand vistas of sea, mountain, dunes and sky around you. You sense that you are playing golf where the greats of the past learned their sport and you are somehow happily humbled by the need to figure out the subtleties of the courses that they knew so well.

So, why have most Americans never heard of these two great courses? Certainly, every golfer who has played either of them agrees that, as a place to play golf, they offer at least as much or perhaps even more than the more well-known courses on which the British Open is played. Why do Royal Dornoch and Machrihanish remain unknown to most Americans?

The difficulty is that...


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