DAY ONE: ROCK WALLS AND GREYWALLS
Kevin and Tom, bless their hearts, went over early to play their way across southwest Scotland, with tee times at Turnberry, Troon, Prestwick and the old and new courses at Machrihanish. Matt and I flew together and we all rendezvoused at the Hertz counter at Glasgow airport. Perry Golf will provide chauffeured transportation on its itineraries, but we opted to drive ourselves because it would keep costs down and, to my way of thinking, be more of an adventure. Knowing that rentals are always more petite in Europe, I had spent a lot of time on the phone ensuring we’d have a good-sized van. What was waiting was basically a glorified station wagon. In a bit of quick thinking, we stored our oversized golf club travel bags at an airport hotel, but stuffing all of our gear into the car was a Rubik’s Cube come to life. The back seat wound up bisected by overflow detritus, and packing and unpacking would become a never-ending ritual on the trip.
The mood in the car was positively giddy as we pulled away from the airport, heading 80 miles east to North Berwick. The start of a golf trip is like a great first date -- so full of promise, and unencumbered as of yet by human failings.
We started at North Berwick West, one of Scotland’s most charming courses. It begins in town and then goes out along the beach, with the island of Fidra hovering offshore. (Fidra is thought to be the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island.”) Ancient rock walls zigzag across the course, left over from the pastures that predated the formation of the club in 1832. Generally, they’re just a fun visual to driver over, but on the par-4 13th hole, a wall cuts right in front of the green, leaving one of the most fun shots in golf. (If Donald Trump built that today we’d skewer him, but since the wall’s been there for centuries, the hole is universally beloved.) Architecture wonks revere the 15th hole as the original Redan, a 190-yard par-3 with its green diagonally sloping away from the tee.
It had been a historically cold spring in Scotland, and those first blasts of wind were a tad disarming. I teed off in a T-shirt, polo, wool sweater and light windbreaker, but by the time I reached the first fairway I was wearing another jacket as a fifth layer, plus my fleece cap. Then it started drizzling. Even without airplane-back, it’s hard to make a full turn in that much clothing. On the second hole, I hit my reconstituted driver for the first time…and hooked it 50 yards into the wrong fairway. Sigh. Part of the fun challenge of a Scottish trip is learning to master unfamiliar conditions -- if it was this cold and windy at home, I’d never, ever leave my couch. By the time we got to the fourth hole, we were playing into a 100-yard wind. I know this because Kevin, who plays off scratch, and Tom, a sandbagging 6 handicapper, are long-hitters and both pounded drivers that expired pin-high -- on a 178 yard par-3.
Matt and I had slept only an hour or two on the flight over, but we grinded till the end, inspired by a grudge match that goes back nearly two decades. We both carry handicaps around 7 and are wildly unpredictable from one shot to the next, making our matches serialized cliffhangers. I blew a 4-up lead and had to scramble for a par on 18 to end the match at level. (The concurrent team matches, with rotating partners, were a lesser concern.)
From North Berwick it was a very quick drive to our hotel. If Muirfield conjures Augusta National, Greywalls is the Scotland’s answer to the Lodge at Pebble Beach -- elegant and refined. We were woefully out of place but loved it nonetheless. The hotel is steps from Muirfield’s 10th tee, and it was so cool to peek out the window and see the bleachers and other infrastructure that had already gone up for the Open. We enjoyed a long, leisurely, utterly civilized meal, but minutes after downing a chocolate mousse I was in bed, sleeping like the dead.