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Excuse the brag but 2016 was a rather vintage year for yours truly in terms of quality golf courses played.

From a first-ever knock around Loch Lomond – which is every bit as good as the hype – to the new Ailsa Course at Trump Turnberry, to the majestic Carnegie Links at the frankly spectacular Skibo Castle, I had a pretty decent year.

By my own conservative estimate, I reckon that I’ve now played close
to 100 Scottish courses, plus many others further afield – some of the
world’s most prestigious tracks amongst them. You could say it’s a perk
of the job. From Valderrama to Trump International, to Bro Hof Slott, to
Royal County Down, I’ve knocked it around numerous ‘Bucket List’
favourites.

What have I discovered? That there’s no substitute for fun. Don’t get
me wrong, it’s always nice when you play somewhere of renown, in the
same way that it’s ‘always nice’ when you get the chance to drive an
Aston Martin or eat in a Michelin-starred restaurant.

However, when people ask me about the best courses I’ve played, I immediately think of places like Dunbar (below), Prestwick (above),
Wallasey and the like, places where I’ve enjoyed playing golf more than
I’ve enjoyed being there. Fun, after all, is what golf is meant to be.
Otherwise, what’s the point?

Dunbar

It has taken me a while to figure that out. I’ve been seduced by
reputations, by ‘vistas’, by the envious reactions of friends when they
find out about the latest ‘big course’ I’ve played. But none of that
compares to actually having a good time hitting the shots.

What makes a golf course ‘fun’? That, naturally, is entirely
subjective. For me, it’s mostly about playability, and that relies on
sensible design and set-ups that encourage creativity. I have zero
interest in 250-yard carries and hacking around in shin-high rough. I’m
not sure anybody does, not even the pros who are forced to endure these
bland, devoid-of-imagination slogs most weeks. Instead, give me a course
I can play. I’m not asking for it to be fair. I’m just asking for it not to be unfair. There is a difference.

It was interesting to see Scottish golf course architect David
McLay-Kidd tweet towards the tail-end of last year about the Castle
Course at St Andrews (below) which he designed. I
played it around the time it opened back in 2008. On paper, it had
everything going for it: a great location on the fringes of the town,
beautiful views, the backing (financial and experiential) of the St
Andrews Links team, and so on.

Castle Course

However, by his own admission McLay-Kidd got the design wrong.
Bluntly, he didn’t miss an opportunity to maximise the difficulty of the
course. The greens were borderline unplayable and there were peculiar
little clumps of heather dotted around the fairways which all-too-often
punished otherwise excellent drives. It was, quite frankly, much too
contrived. Fortunately, those issues have been addressed now and, by all
accounts, the Castle Course is now a top-drawer modern links.
Crucially, McLay-Kidd also recognises the error of his ways. “I was
seduced by the ‘harder is better’ Tiger proofing ethos sold by the
media,” he wrote.

Ignoring the laughable attempt to share responsibility with ‘The
Media’ – come on now, David – McLay-Kidd is right to acknowledge an
enduring attitude that courses need to be as tough as possible. It’s an
arrogant, dangerous perspective, and it needs to change.

In the context of golf course design, a ‘simple’ approach doesn’t always yield an ‘easy’ course. Good design is smart design.

It doesn’t rely on gimmicks or trickery because it doesn’t need to.

It understands that creating a course designed to punish the wayward
shots of a 14-time major winner shows a staggering level of ignorance to
the requirements of the masses.

It understands that ‘fun’ doesn’t necessarily mean breaking 70 but,
instead, creates enjoyment and an urge to play another 18, and another
18, and another 18.

It understands that the best view in the world is scant consolation for losing a sleeve of balls on each nine.

It recognises that length scares nobody but, instead, only succeeds in inhibiting enjoyment.

It knows that golf is an inherently simple game that, in the wrong
hands, can become an elaborately complicated monster of Frankenstein
proportions.

As a wise man once said, never, ever underestimate the importance of
having fun. After all, we’re here for a good time, not a long time.

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author headshot

Michael McEwan is the Deputy Editor of bunkered and has been part of the team since 2004. In that time, he has interviewed almost every major figure within the sport, from Jack Nicklaus, to Rory McIlroy, to Donald Trump. The host of the multi award-winning bunkered Podcast and a member of Balfron Golfing Society, Michael is the author of three books and is the 2023 PPA Scotland 'Writer of the Year' and 'Columnist of the Year'. Dislikes white belts, yellow balls and iron headcovers. Likes being drawn out of the media ballot to play Augusta National.

Deputy Editor

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