DAY THREE: FATIGUE BECOMES A FACTOR
It was a mad dash to get to Kingsbarns on time, but strolling this lovely linksland I could feel myself settling into the rhythm of the trip. As life all around us moves faster, it seems like I never get to finish a conversation. But being with these guys 17 hours a day, I was enjoying the chance to circle back to any number of topics. With Matt, that meant talking in detail about his new job in a new city. Tom and I spent a lot of time comparing notes on parenting, and I enjoyed probing his political views, which are the diametric opposite of Kevin’s.
I was also getting in touch with my game. At home, I play maybe twice a month and never practice, so I’m always searching. At Kingsbarns, I made a couple of welcome discoveries: chipping off the exceptionally tight lies was much easier if I imagined throwing my right hand under the ball, and taking my putter back hugging the green made it much easier to start the ball on-line. I also stopped fighting the zephyrs and began to use them to my advantage, riding the crosswinds more effectively.
Golf has been played on the site of Kingsbarns since at least 1793, but the course was reborn in 2000. It is, quite simply, one of the best in Scotland, which is to say, the world. The complex routing makes wonderful use of exceptionally varied terrain. You find yourself quick-stepping to the next tee, eager to see what awaits -- in my case back-to-back 7s down the stretch.
After the round, during the ceremonial removal of socks, I discovered a couple of bloody toes; one of my nails had cracked. I’ll admit: I’m lazy. At home, I like to ride in golf carts, feet propped up, locks blowing in the wind. My poor tootsies were just not used to this kind of pounding. Everyone was beginning to feel the effects of this madcap itinerary, so we self-medicated with beers over lunch, but it wasn’t enough. I used to laugh at the old guys popping pills on the first tee, but this was the day I began my routine of an Alleve in the morning and four Advil before the second 18, followed by three more at bedtime.
It was two and a half hours north to the Trump International Golf Links. The drives were beginning to get lonelier, as two people were invariably asleep, leaving only a driver and navigator to titter about the signage (warnings for “Elderly people”, the town of Gash).
It was after 4 p.m. when we arrived. While I was smearing Body Glide on my thighs in the bathroom, the boys migrated to the driving range, the first one we had seen on the entire trip. I joined them and we were all whacking balls with glee when Matt said, “What the hell are we doing to ourselves?” We marched to the first tee.
On the opening holes, it’s impossible not to be dazzled by Trump’s rugged dunes, which are taller than any I’ve ever seen on a golf course. But eventually the dunes never really come into play -- they just frame the holes, and the playing field is kind of flat and ordinary. A round at Trump is like going through a stack of Playboys -- you appreciate the beauty, but at some point it all starts to look kinda the same. The greens are another problem. Multi-tiered with sharp edges, they look wildly out of place in such a natural setting. The fairways are pretty narrow given the breezes, and there’s no wispy rough here -- a couple of feet off the short grass and you’re dead. I wasn’t hitting it badly, but I lost a ball three holes in a row to close the front nine.
On a trip like this it’s a mental challenge to not get discouraged. You know you’re outrageously lucky to be playing these courses, but bad shots still hurt, and maybe even more so because so much effort has gone into getting to that very spot and you know you may never get back to try it again. On the 10th tee, I resolved to play my absolute hardest, and even though I was still fighting my swing, I produced some of my best golf of the trip. It was getting dark as we arrived on the 18th tee. It’s a 586-yard par-5 that was playing more like 700 yards in the cold, heavy air. I hit a strong drive and two flushed hybrids and was still short of the green. A pretty good chip left me a four-footer for par. Everyone else was in with a bogey. Tom had carried me for most of the team match, but with one putt I could take the team match and trump Matt, too. I drilled it.
We stayed on-site and the room was a hoot -- it looked as though Louis XIV had designed it himself. There was a huge tub and sometime around midnight I collapsed into a scalding hot bath. My thumb throbbed, my toe was bleeding, my back ached, my inner thighs were raw and my cheeks still tingled from wind-burn. But laying there in the bath I replayed the 18th hole over and over and I couldn’t have been happier.