It’s good to be home! Lots of photos in this newsletter, so you can enjoy the views even if you don’t enjoy the descriptions.
What a great trip! Here is a synopsis. The focus is on golf, but with side notes that you may find helpful if you ever contemplate going on this, or a similar golf trip.
I had mentioned this earlier, but it was reinforced several different times during the trip: Booking a trip too early, as in six months or more, just invites a lot of airline changes that wreak havoc on planning. On the face of it, flying to Providence on American, then from there to Dulles and over and back to Edinburgh on United would be an inconvenience.
In fact, it was a major headache. One of the changes made by the airlines was lengthening our layovers. We had a long layover in Providence before boarding United to Dulles and then to Edinburgh. That, I thought, would be to give our luggage and clubs plenty of time to make it in case they didn’t make it on our original flight. They did, so we had a long time to sit. Then the incoming flight from Dulles coming in to Providence was delayed almost an hour, so our originally planned 90 minute layover in Dulles to make the connection to the Edinburgh flight was reduced to 30 minutes, and in a different terminal.
Thankfully everything leaving Dulles was late as well, so we made the flight. Barely. A lot of stress starting out.
Otherwise, it was a smooth flight. Crowded, as all summertime flights overseas seem to be, but uneventful.
The Rental Car
I’d driven many times in England when I was on active duty in the Navy over the years, so I wasn’t concerned with driving. However, it had been many years since I’d driven a left-hand shift five-speed. But that’s what we got. Plus European airports universally are cramped, and that includes the rental car area. It took 45 minutes to book the car, 20 to find the car, and another 15-20 to load it, figure out, more or less, where to go, and get out.
A few wrong turns later, we were on the highway heading to our hotel. And other than having trouble feeling where first and third gear was when downshifting (and I never did get comfortable with it–it was more a function of the car’s transmission than me, I think), I managed the driving pretty well.
We stayed in Edinburgh Tuesday, so first order of business was driving to the hotel. I’d booked a boutique hotel which was highly rated on TripAdvisor and it was a really nice, comfortable, updated room. Relatively close to Edinburgh Castle, which was our sightseeing goal.
However, it had no dedicated parking. The only place to park was down the street in a public lot, which meant feeding a meter £2.20 every 2 hours. Plus moving the car to a different place in the lot. Thankfully that expired at 5 every night, so I waited until 3 p.m., moved the car, fed the meter, then we hopped on a bus and went to the castle.
It also closes at 5, so we didn’t actually get into the castle, just the outer grounds. But we did get to see the flower clock at Princes Street Gardens, adjacent to the castle, and the parade ground where the military tattoo is held.
Back to the hotel for dinner and early to bed since we were both exhausted. You just don’t sleep on the flight over, so neither of us had any sleep to speak of in about 36 hours.
Trip to St Andrews
First thing Wednesday morning I found a Bank of Scotland for the first of several ATM withdrawals. I went in and exchanged some old British Pounds Sterling I’d had since my last trip over. They went to a new design for their one pound coin, so my old coins would not work in any vending (such as the parking meters). I also learned that Scotland has their own design on their currency- the bank notes were labeled Bank of Scotland. They still had the Queen’s likeness on them, however.
Anyway, we loaded up and got out all the maps I had run off to get us from Edinburgh to St. Andrews, which is about 75 minutes or so north, and immediately realized the first half of the directions had no bearing whatsoever on where we actually were. Once we got outside of Edinburgh heading north, they were accurate, but not in town.
So, Suggestion #1: Make sure you have contacted your cell phone carrier and downloaded the international plan for your cell phone for the time you will be in another country. Verizon’s was $10 per day for every day it was used. It was invaluable for me, if for no other reason than using the Google maps feature to help get us around.
Alice has her B.S. in Botany, so she has a thing for birds and flowers and grass. She took a lot of countryside photos as we were driving. Here are a few on our way up to St. Andrews. There is no denying that Scotland is a beautiful country, and this is just a small sample of what we saw.
Carnoustie and Open Practice Round
I checked and we had not made the lottery to play the Old Course. Therefore the original plan to use tickets for the Open practice round were in force. We left early enough Wednesday morning that when we checked into the hotel in St. Andrews, it was way too early to get our room. We simply continued another hour north to Carnoustie to the practice round.
As with any major golf tournament, you park in an outlying car park and ride a shuttle bus to the site. I will say this about the Open- there was no possible way we were going to miss where to go. Beginning about 30 miles south of Carnoustie, we saw multiple signs, in official Open Championship yellow, advising where to go. Navigating to parking sites was as easy as it gets.
There were relatively few people at the Wednesday practice day, and after coming into the entrance, the first thing we saw was the massive giant screen TV located in the concession area, which was a great idea. We ordered fish and chips (which were outstanding), a beer, and watched some historical info on the Open while we planned the day.
We walked the course, stopped at different sites to see certain groups playing (such as the Poulter-Bubba-Cink group),
and took a lot of course photos. Of course, walking up the 18th was pretty cool, and crossing over just in front of the Barry Burn, where Jean Van de Velde had his infamous meltdown in 1999 was a must.
You will also notice how dry the course was. Scotland has had a really dry summer so everything is much browner than typical.
Kingsbarns Golf Links
Without question, the highlight of the trip was playing Kingsbarns. It is in every Top 100 list for worldwide courses, and with justification. One of the most difficult tasks was focusing on the shot, rather than sightseeing and being constantly overwhelmed by the scenery! I can’t speak to any other courses he has done, but based on this one, I am a big Kyle Phillips (the architect) fan.
There will be a separate Shooting Your Age newsletter next week, reviewing the Kingsbarns Course, but for now here are just a few pictures to hopefully whet your appetite:
Friday at the Open
Friday morning saw rain for one of the few times this month in Scotland. We decided to wait until noon to attend the tournament, when the rain was predicted to end, which gave us a chance to sleep in.
Cameras were not (supposedly) allowed during tournament play, although plenty of people were taking pictures, so we only took a few.
We sat in the 18th grandstands as I wanted to see some of the groups finish coming up 18. We saw Tiger Woods, Stewart Cink, Padraig Harrington, Jordan Speith, and a few other groups complete their Friday rounds. Then we walked 50 feet over and back up the first tee grandstands to see a few groups tee off and hear that most unique of all introductions: “Now on the tee, from USA…”
Afterward, we meandered the course, ending up in what was a great location: the landing area on the fourteenth hole, just short of the spectacles bunkers. We saw several players up close and very personal. Rickie Fowler was in the right rough close enough to touch as were a few others. Witnessing 300-yard tee shots land in a 20-yard wide fairway was impressive, and watching the players hit their second shots from up-close-and-personal was fun.
We also spoke to the marshalls on several occasions, including one who was from Canada. He told us as soon as he left he would be marshalling at the Canadian Open this week!
We also spoke to a couple of Scottish police officers. Kinda, anyway. They spoke, and we nodded a lot, as maybe one out of four words was understandable. But we talked for quite a long time. And we should have asked for a photo-rules or no rules. Oh, well.
It was almost 8 p.m. when we left, with still plenty of daylight available, and we drove back, grabbed a sandwich and had a late dinner, then prepared for playing the Castle Course on Saturday.
The St. Andrews Castle Course
Most golfers know this, but there are actually six courses in addition to the Old Course that St. Andrews Golf Links manages. The newest, and from what I’ve read, most difficult, is the Castle Course. It is separated from the other six, and in fact is about halfway between the Old Course and Kingsbarns south of St. Andrews on the coast. It was opened in 2008, and designed by David Maclay Kidd, famous for his work as the architect for Bandon Dunes, the first of the courses at that complex.
There will also be a course review of the Castle Course in an upcoming newsletter. Suffice it to say that, a) the day was cooler; b) the day was much windier; c) we did not use caddies and therefore were “flying blind” on several occasions, and d) the course is more…..challenging.
We played with two guys from New Zealand. They said it took them 30+ hours to get to Scotland, which made me appreciate our piddly little 8-hour flight a little more!
It goes without saying the scores were higher than at Kingsbarns.
Here are a few photos:
The Old Course
Most golfers also know that the Old Course is closed on Sundays for golf, except in the case of a tournament, such as this week’s Senior British Open. It becomes open grounds, and walkers, runners, dog-owners (“Attention, attention, we have a poop clean-up on aisle, I mean, hole, 16”) and baby strollers all take advantage.
It was another glorious, warm, windy day, and we were out early. We got the obligatory Swilken Bridge photos as well as one on the 18th green. Then we walked the entire course, from the first tee to the 18th green. Some observations:
- It appears flat on t.v., and it certainly is. There are no blind shots on the Old Course- in most cases the golfer will see his ball land.
- On practically every hole, you can see the green from the tee
- Most of the greens are double greens, and are huge
- There is little rough, but the gorse bushes are deadly
- It has the largest bunkers I’ve ever seen- Shell and Hell being two of the most famous
- The wind truly is the defense, and it was blowing a steady 15-20 mph when we were walking.
- The tee shot at the seventeenth “Road Hole” really is as intimidating as it is on television. And it is the exception to the “no blind tee shot,” as it is most certainly blind. You hit over the “Course” in “Old Course Hotel” and hope it goes straight.
We completed our personal “Grand Slam” of seeing all four major championships during this trip. I had the most enjoyable round of golf I’ve ever had at Kingsbarns (shooting 80 didn’t hurt!) on as perfect a day as God could create. We navigated the country with relative ease, had wonderful weather, and experienced a bucket list trip that we will remember forever.
It’s always easy to say “We’re going back!” immediately after the trip is over, but I think we will be back. We, at least I, want to play Crail, and Cruden Bay, Prestwick, Royal Dornoch, and other world-class courses that aren’t world-class priced. Doing so in the spring or fall would be less crowded plus would give us a chance to tour castles and cathedrals and visit a few towns as well.
Now that I’ve done this once, and not needing to factor in tickets for The Open, I think planning a trip without professional help is certainly do-able.
Time to begin re-filling the piggy bank!
Thanks for reading and enjoy Shooting Your Age!