During a recent ‘deep clean’ of the house, I found a shoebox in the loft containing old scorecards and course guides.
I’m not a particularly sentimental person, so I was surprised to find them. Pleasantly so, I might add.
Sifting through the contents rekindled memories of courses that I had forgotten I’d played. To date, I reckon I’ve pegged it up on a couple of hundred different courses. Some of them have hosted the biggest tournaments in the world, whilst there are others you’d likely never have heard of.
All of which got me thinking about my favourite and least favourite experiences. Here’s what I came up with…
FAVOURITE SCOTTISH COURSE
A few years back, I had the opportunity to play Carnegie Links at Skibo Castle. It has a well-deserved reputation for being one of the most exclusive places to play in the whole of Scotland, so I went there with high hopes – and it did not disappoint. A genuine links course, it is laid out on a narrow strip of land right on the Dornoch Firth in the Highlands, about an hour’s drive north of Inverness. There’s no gorse, the club’s long-standing head pro David Thomson having wisely advised the owners to remove every last branch of the stuff from the course a few years ago. That gives it a more ‘open’ feel. There’s genuinely not a bad hole, with the stretch from 12 to 18 being simply outstanding. Tee times are hard to come by and expensive when you do – but it’s well worth both the effort and the expense. It calls itself ‘Heaven on Earth’. Trust me, it’s not wrong.
FAVOURITE COURSE NOT IN SCOTLAND
I’m going to have to pick two. First up, the Old Course at Vilamoura in Portugal (pictured above). It’s just fun from start to finish. You don’t need driver on every hole and it allows you to be creative. Anywhere that actively encourages you to use your brain is good by me. Second, Adare Manor. With no rough to speak of, it’s just the ticket if you’re a bit wild off the tee. The back nine is particularly special, with the stretch from 14 to 16 as good as anything I’ve ever played. It’s going to be a superb Ryder Cup venue in 2026.
Give me a bucket of balls, take me to the par-3 fourth at Royal County Down (pictured below) as the sun is setting on a sunny summer’s night and I’ll be your friend for life. A terrific short hole with one of the most spectacular backdrops you’ll ever hit at (the glorious Mourne Mountains), it is my happy place.
Contrary to what some people would have you believe, the West Course at Wentworth is a joyless, charmless slog where they’ve saved the worst for last. From the tee, its 18th looks as though you’re taking aim at a featureless pasture… and that’s about as good as it gets. It’s a contrived, over-designed mess that ought to be dug up and rebuilt. A thoroughly dissatisfying end to an thoroughly underwhelming round.
Dunbar. I played there about five years ago and it’s not that I had low expectations. I had been told it was a terrific course. I just didn’t expect it to be as good as it was. The holes on the other side of the wall that run through the property – from four to 17 – hug the coastline pretty tightly and, again, invite you to hit a variety of shots. I’m pretty sure I used every club in my bag. Get it at the height of summer, when it should be firm, fast-running and more than a little ‘blowy’, and I defy you not to love every minute of the experience. Also worthy of a mention is Celebration Golf Club near Orlando. Outrageously quirky and so much fun.
There are a few that spring to mind. Carnoustie is every bit as tough as advertised. Trump Aberdeen was brutal on the day it opened (although it has since been softened somewhat). However, the pick of the bunch is the Stadium Course at Bro Hof Slott in Sweden (pictured above). I’ve never seen so much water in my life, and I say that as somebody who grew up on an island in one of the wettest countries in the world. It felt as though the greens were stimping at the national speed limit, the rough was gnarly, it’s long, invariably windy, and there’s water in play on 15 holes. I lost more than a dozen balls and came off feeling like I’d just gone 12 rounds with Mike Tyson. Quite possibly the most chastening experience of my life.
No contest – Valderrama. I played it around seven years ago during a Callaway product unveiling and I can honestly say I’ve never been so underwhelmed. There are a couple of memorable holes, such as the par-3 sixth, but the unremarkable far outweigh the remarkable. The 17th is one of the great abominations in golf – although I do understand what Seve Ballesteros was trying to achieve when he redesigned it – and the 18th is a poor finisher. And don’t even get me started on the diabolical eighth, which could be improved considerably with a few thousand pounds of dynamite and a match.
TOP OF THE BUCKET LIST
Anybody who doesn’t say Augusta National has either played it or is a liar. Equally, there are two others that are right up there for me. Royal Melbourne looks like immense fun, whilst I’ve heard nothing but good things about Tobacco Road in North Carolina. Google it if you haven’t heard of it until now. The pics are incredible.
• This piece first appeared in issue 180 of bunkered (July 2020). For the latest great subscription offer, click here.