Moray Golf Club
The clubhouse is tiny, but that is why it is special. It feels like a family the minute you walk through the front door. At cramped tables, the golfers relive their stories, and the stories get louder as the night gets longer. We enjoyed the scene and the pints so much that we asked the bartender, who doubled as the club’s GM, if we could join as overseas members. He grabbed his hand-held credit-card machine from the bar, swiped our cards, and we were in just like that. He gave us a quick tour of the locker room — it, too, was small, with old cubicles filled with weather-beaten clothes — and handed us dark blue ties with the club crest and motto: “Far and Sure.” It was after 10 p.m. and the sun was setting, but not quickly. We grabbed our sticks and decided to play a quick loop of 1, 2, 17 and 18. As we walked up the darkened 18th fairway, a local was walking his boxer along the left. I love dogs and made it known, dropping my clubs and crouching like Johnny Bench. The boxer raced toward me, knocked me down and started licking my face. I had a new club, a new friend and a par at the last.
Cruden Bay Golf Club
The view from the clubhouse picture windows, high above this gorgeous links, is nearly as good as the golf. I played Cruden Bay with some scribes in the summer of 2007 on the Sunday before the Open at Carnoustie. The final round of the Scottish Open was concluding at Loch Lomond the same day. Phil Mickelson was in contention. When we retired to the clubhouse after our round, we asked some locals who were seated on a couch if Mickelson had held on for the win. “He lost in a playoff — hit a poor drive,” said one of the men, shaking his head. I immediately thought of Winged Foot, which had taken place the summer before. “Did he hit it left?” I asked. The group answered in unison this time. “Aye.”
Bethpage State Park
Farmingdale, New York
Part of the allure of this 19th hole is that you have to work so hard to get there. In the most docile of conditions, Bethpage Black is a beast. Throw in some wind and rain and it might be the most difficult course in the states, or maybe anywhere. When you finally ascend the hill of the 18th hole, your legs will be weary and your feet will ache. (No carts allowed on the Black). Think of the 19th hole as your reward after a tough day. It has terrific bar food (burgers, sandwiches and the like) and an ample selection of beer on tap. The televisions are all tuned to the day’s sporting events (Yankees, Mets, Giants, Jets — you get the picture). Better yet, the bar itself is made of a thick, dark wood, allowing you to slam your beer mug in disgust about that triple you took on 12.
Montauk Downs State Park
Montauk, New York
It’s the outdoor patio that seals the deal for this 19th hole. I adore the course, for starters. Then, when you are finished with your round, order some food in the clubhouse, take a seat on the outdoor patio and watch the tee shots on No. 1 in the distance, the approach shots into No. 3 at your right, and the last strokes on No. 18 to your left. I feel about Montauk the way I feel about Bethpage. It is a municipal course that belongs to the people. You see all kinds of golfers here, scratch and 30-handicaps, kids and grandparents. Tommy Gainey would love it. If you’re in Montauk to begin with, there is no need to be in a rush. After your round, relax on the patio with a drink and enjoy the sea air. Oh, and bring a sweater.
Sandpiper Golf Club
Santa Barbara, California
The best 19th hole cheeseburger I’ve ever eaten was after a round here. It was gigantic, it was delicious, and it took willpower not to order a second burger and a third. I stopped after one, but I made every bite count. As a California native, I’ve played Sandpiper several times, including with some graduate school pals who are similarly inspired by its challenging holes, views of the Pacific and lingering sunsets. I got married around the corner from Sandpiper. This stretch of California coastline moves me like few other places on the planet. If you are in the Santa Barbara area, Sandpiper is not to be missed. This 19th hole, with its unforgettable burgers, has its windows wisely facing west.