Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Chad Conine is a sportswriter from Texas who spent the summer in Scotland and the town of St. Andrews. He chronicled his golf adventures before this year's British Open, held at the Old Course July 15-18.Depending on who you ask, or where on the Internet you search, Balcomie Golf Links in Crail could possibly be the inspiration for the golf literary classic "Golf In The Kingdom" by Michael Murphy.It's more likely that the mythical Burningbush, the golf course Murphy describes, is a combination of many if not all of the courses in The Kingdom of Fife. But having played most of them now, Balcomie definitely is the most mysterious, and perhaps mystical. Crail Nowhere is that feeling more palpable than in "The Cave."Standing inside the cave, which is tucked in sort of under the 13th green and on the trail from the 14th green to the 15th tee, I wanted to take a photo from way back in the depths of it, in order to get the most dramatic shot. But dang if that thing isn't spooky. I clicked and ran.According to the sign at the entrance of the cave, King Constantine I, King of Scotland, might have been killed in the cave by Danish Vikings in 874. I couldn't get a second source on this, but it's a cool story for the imagination, you know?About a month ago, a golfing buddy of mine who calls himself Gregory McGregor — a self-imposed nickname — told me I had to go play Crail where Shivas Irons, a principle character in "Golf In The Kingdom," lived. Playing Crail was already on my to do list, so when I finally made the 20-minute drive from St. Andrews to Crail, I asked golf pro Graeme Lennie about Shivas Irons and the cave."Oh, yes, you'll see it when you come off the 14th green to the 15th tee," Lennie said. Apparently he'd answered the Shivas Irons question many times since he came to Balcomie in 1987.Lennie himself is a golf literature enthusiast. He told me his favorite golf book is the biography of the great 19th-century amateur Freddie Tait, titled "F.G. Tait: A Record" by John Laing Low. That's the kind of esotericism I can appreciate.That's sort of why I tag Balcomie as relentlessly cool.For starters, just getting there involves a lengthy drive down a one-track road that makes you think, "I must've missed it." But then you crest the final hill before you get to the sea and there sit golf holes right on the sea shore.Somehow, Balcomie combines the history of The Old Course — the Crail Golfing Society is the seventh oldest golf club in the world — along with the seaside brilliance of Kingsbarns, the quirkiness of Prestwick and still manages to be delightfully unassuming. Parts of the course felt like Kingarrock Golf and Thistle, a sort of museum/golf course 20 minutes from St. Andrews that strictly adheres to early 20th century style of golf and golf course maintenance.According to the Crail Golfing Society Web site, Tom Morris set up the Balcomie Links in 1895, using the coastline as much as possible. Indeed, my friend Ray Kelly and I played as the tide was coming in and waves consistently crashed against the rocky shore just near us. I only wish I could've played my ball off of the beach on the fifth hole as that might have shaved a stroke off of my final score. Interestingly, my first five holes went like this — double-bogey, quadruple-bogey, birdie, birdie, quadruple-bogey. I am going to attribute this to an unusual golf course rather than wildly inconsistent play.But it's a fun course all the way around. What's more, the challenge and the views from the 14th hole through the finish can't be beat. And the clubhouse, like every Fife clubhouse I've visited, is elegant with a view you can stare at for hours. On this particular afternoon, I watched white birds, arctic terns I'm told, dive for fish just on the other side of the 15th tee.Definitely cool, whether Shivas Irons or King Constantine I ever walked across this place or not.(Photo: The mysterious and famous cave at Crail's Balcomie Golf Links sits near the 14th green -- foreground -- and second fairway -- background.)

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