DAY SIX: OLDER AND WISER
Tain Golf Club was the perfect place to end out trip. It’s a quintessential Scottish course -- loaded with character and a pleasantly scruffy around the edges. The course winds through farms and pastures, with ever-present sheep and cows providing an ambient soundtrack. (A couple of sheep on the lam were scampering around the 7th fairway.) The par-4 11th, called “Alps,” featuring a green hidden behind a glorious sand dune, was one of my favorite holes on the trip.
While strolling Tain, a peaceful feeling came over me. In the beginning of the trip the four of us tended to walk down the fairway in a clump, eager to share the experience. In later rounds, there was more solitude, and I didn’t mind the time to Zen out. I had arrived in Scotland a tad overwhelmed, wrestling with changes in my personal and professional life. With my phone stashed in the golf bag, surrounded by so much beauty, I had the chance to figure out a few things. I realized that I was okay with growing older. Surviving this trip definitely helped. It was the golf equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest -- there was plenty of pain and doubt, but tremendous satisfaction at having completed the journey. Despite the dings, I felt like an insouciant 23-year-old again. For a week anyway.
The camaraderie made the trip. A week earlier, Tom was just an acquaintance; now we had forged a strong friendship. It was great to reconnect with Matt, and for Kevin and I, what a 40th. He and I grew up one block apart and played on the same basketball teams beginning in seventh grade. We’ve been on a handful of epic golf adventures together, but this one topped them all. Kevin is an emotional guy, and he had tears in his eyes when we finished at Tain. Finally getting to Scotland meant more to him than any non-golfer could ever understand. It was moving for all of us to share the experience with him. Bringing friends together is one of the best things about golf. Would the four of us ever spend a week together laying on a beach in Santorini or exploring art galleries in Paris? C’mon.
Matt, on the other hand, felt little sentimentality; on the four-hour drive south to Glasgow, he repeatedly called North Berwick. The post-facto ruling loomed large, because of the events of our match at Tain. After my second birdie of the day, on 14, I was one-up for the day but Matt played his ass off coming in and won three of the last four holes to take the match 2-up. In my mind, that left us square for the entire journey, but Matt couldn’t let go of the dream of a time-machine ruling. Finally, he reached some random dude in the North Berwick bar. Slurring his words only slightly, the guy said he was “96 percent sure” my ball was in-bounds (yes!), but there was no free relief from the silly clubhouse landscaping (boooo!). Trying to keep things civil, I paid Matt 10 pounds to settle the bet. And you thought Ken Venturi got jobbed at the 1958 Masters.
That night at a pub in Glasgow we plotted our next trip, which could very well be for one of our 50th birthdays. (Gulp.) The consensus was that it would make sense to take St. Andrews as a home base and be way less ambitious. Eighteen-hole days will suffice. Maybe we’ll visit a few castles, or even shop for souvenirs. One thing we agreed upon: This was an awesome trip…and we’ll never, ever do another like it again.