The Ayrshire Coast

No sooner did we disembark from the Stena Line ferry, we came to the first little hamlet. A minute later we saw the familiar sign: Haste Ye Back. No doubt about it — we’re in Scotland.

We rolled into Troon where we are staying at the refurbished Marine Hotel. Under new ownership, the landmark 19th century Ayrshire property features 89 guest rooms, a luxurious spa and fitness center, indoor pool, steam rooms and sauna. Our sumptuous room had views in three directions, including the fairways of Royal Troon and even the clubhouse, one prodigious 5-iron away.

For me, our accommodations ticked all the boxes. Dining in The Rabbit Restaurant with Gillian Black, Director of Sales and Marketing for the venerable hotel, which is now part of the Marine & Lawn Hotels & Resorts portfolio, was icing on the cake. Or maybe I should say it was the Salted Butterscotch Sauce on the Sticky Toffee Pudding, that we couldn’t resist.

Not only is the setting and menu exquisite, I love that you can also devour the facts about where so much of the outstanding food is from — like the Cumbrae Oysters, sourced from sustainable fishing boats and oyster farms just off the coast, and the Isle of Mull Cheddar, made by the Reade family using unpasteurized milk from cows fed on grass and whisky grains from the nearby Tobermory Distillery.

We had a lovely Dashwood Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand to go with the Chicken Liver Parfait and Grilled Orkney Scallop starters. Gillian and Kevin both had the Grilled Middle White Pork Chop, Rainbow Chard & Rhubarb and I had the Roast Shetland Pollock, Capers Brown Butter and Herb Mash. Gillian was driving home to Glasgow, so only Diet Coke for her!

Before heading up to Prestwick, we popped into the Royal Troon Clubhouse so I could browse the selection in the pro shop. I did not leave empty-handed! Always fun to wear a Royal Troon item when home at Troon Country Club in Scottsdale, Arizona. I’m useless on the golf course, but I can hold my own in the “I’ve Been There” department.

Royal Troon will be hosting the 152nd Open in July 2024. I will often say a silent prayer for Tom Weiskopf, the winner of the 1973 Open at Troon, who had just passed away on August 20th. The course at Troon CC was designed by Tom Weiskopf — the first course he designed, with Jay Morrish, and it was named as a fitting tribute to his Open win at Royal Troon.

Interestingly, the first Tom Weiskopf-designed course I ever played was Loch Lomond Golf Club near Glasgow in Scotland. I still love that parkland course with stunning views of the loch. He certainly found his genius when his playing days were over. R.I.P. Tom.

Upon arriving at Prestwick, we were hoping for a few minutes with Ken Goodwin, the Secretary at the venerable club for over a decade. We wanted to get the latest intel on the re-creation of the original 12-hole course played in the first Open Championship in 1860. Thanks to a chance encounter with David Fleming, the Head Golf Professional, I learned the club just received the hot-off-the-press limited edition course guide of the historic layout. What a great souvenir to bring home with me!

When we caught up with Ken, with his characteristic Scottish humor, he said: “The original course was dangerous! Four holes intersected at one point. Old Tom obviously did not do a risk assessment!” Ken confirmed the demand to play the re-created original 12 holes for just a few short weeks in October “far outstrips the supply.”

Only members of Prestwick, Muirfield, the R&A and a small number of golf history enthusiasts will get the chance in October to play the 12-hole layout to commemorate 150th anniversary of the Open. They will all be walking in the footsteps of Open Champions — one being Young Tom whose score of 47 was recorded on his opening round in 1870. How did he do it? He started with playing the 578-yard first hole in three shots.

In the early days the golfers went around the 12 holes three times to determine the winner. Although he designed the course, Old Tom did not win the first time. That honor went to Willie Park, Sr. from Musselburgh, with a score of 174. However, Old Tom did win in 1861 and then went on to win three more times. He still holds the title of being the oldest golfer to win the Open in 1867.

We made one more stop at Dundonald Links before we crossed the country to St Andrews on the east coast. The course, designed by Kyle Philips, was always a treat to play. Now there is an outstanding clubhouse where there used to just be a fancy trailer. The reception area is very unique—full of fascinating books like: The Secret Life of Tartan, How a cloth Shaped a Nation by Vixy Rae.

Kyles’ best known course in Scotland is probably Kingsbarns in Fife. It is impossible not to like a course where you have had a hole-in-one as a couple of our clients have done recently (#8 and most recently #16). No hole-in-one for me but I had one of my best rounds ever (low 90s) with a caddie who was a student at Dundee University. I would have him be my caddie for life, except that job falls to Kevin!

We had a delicious lunch in The Canny Crow, on the second floor. Susie Sinclair Watson also showed us several of the well-appointed luxury golf lodges, ranging from 2-bedrooms to 6-bedrooms. Some very nice touches include the designated equipment room for storing golf clubs, and many of the lodges were clustered around a putting green for convenient practice. This is the ultimate in seclusion.

Of course being an art lover, I couldn’t help but notice the monumental sculpture of a wound ball made of corten steel. It is the perfect material for the marine atmosphere where the rust-like appearance resembles the rubber thread used in the ball-making of the early 1900s.

The St Andrews Experience

It’s always exhilarating to pull into the Auld Grey Toon and see the hallowed ground of the Old Course spread out with quiet dignity on your left. We had a set agenda that included meeting with the captains of both St Regulus Ladies Golf Club and The St Rule Club.

At St Reg’s both the incoming and outgoing captains are named Moira and Kevin and I got to meet them both! The current captain is Moira Hall and she greeted us upon our arrival at 9 Pilmour Links, a few steps from the Rusacks Hotel. We learned that even though St Regulus was founded in 1913, Moira Wilbraham, the vice-captain said, “When I took up golf 25 years ago women were not encouraged to play.”

“How is that possible, if your club was formed over 100 years ago?” I queried.

Moira clarified, “Men were not encouraged to play with women…not with their wives, anyway, as the men were out playing golf, to ahem, get away from the missus.”

Just a short time later, we were to meet with Janet Winter, captain of The St Rule Club. It was established at the end of 1896. From Janet we learned St Rule is not a club with just a golf section. They have a book club, gardening club, and in the winter months weekly meetings are held for Arts & Crafts and bridge. Their enviable location at 12 The Links has a stunning view of the Old Course and West Sands — the very beach where Chariots of Fire was filmed.

Our last meeting of the day was with Angela Howe, the Museum & Heritage Director of the World Golf Museum. She’s responsible for the running of the museum and oversees the management of the collections in the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews. It’s a pretty big job, especially since the museum was completely re-imagined to introduce an exciting, interactive presentation of the golf heritage experience.

The exhibits are organized in a very compelling way exploring concepts like “Ball and Stick Games” and “Clubs and Societies.” There is a fascinating section called “Women to the Fore” and a special exhibit of Seve: His Life Through the Lens by David Cannon. It includes many of the most iconic photographs of Seve Ballesteros, like the jubilant scene when he won The Open in 1979, wearing his trademark navy blue V-neck sweater. David captured this intensely euphoric moment when Seve sunk the winning putt. The crowd would have been roaring and so was he. Seve was crowned Champion Golfer of the Year three times — 1979, 1984, 1988.

One of the best panels at the museum states:

Golf is Everywhere. It is staggering to learn that there are 40,000 golf courses spread around the world from remote islands to bustling cities. We are reminded that golf continues to flourish around the world and that it is a sport for life. And right here at the Home of Golf, the R&A aims to make golf more accessible, appealing and inclusive.

The World Golf Museum certainly reflects that goal.

This day was capped off with dinner at Rusacks with our clients who just arrived and checked into the hotel. We’ll be staying there ourselves the next night to have our own first-hand experience of yet another property in the Marine & Lawn portfolio.

When it was our turn, we checked into a magnificent suite — bottle of prosecco waiting — chilled to perfection. We consumed it pronto in dainty old-fashioned champagne glasses— admiring the view of the Old course.

I was delighted to find a selection of books in our sitting room including Roger McStravick’s: St Andrews in the Footsteps of Old Tom Morris. I’m privileged to own a copy that I keep in my golf library at home. Roger is a brilliant award-winning writer and he is currently the Editor of the British Golf Collectors’ Society journal — Through the Green. He contributes a “Letter from St Andrews” for the Golf Heritage Society’s quarterly journal called The Golf. It’s great to feel the connection, through Roger, to the Home of Golf on a regular basis.

On Sunday we played golf at Panmure Golf Club. I had heard many years ago that this is where Ben Hogan practiced in 1953 before he won the Open at Carnoustie. He only played in the Open once and never came back to the UK again. At the time, Hogan was the reigning Masters and U.S. Open Champion.

We learned from Scott Grant in the golf shop, while picking up our score cards and a course guide, that the pot bunker front right of the green on hole #6 was Hogan’s idea so it is named after him. However, it was the flat hole #17 where he practiced the most. He kept a mower and hand-cut the green himself.

As we made our way to the first tee, I was astonished to see a scallop, emblazoned in rich pink on a 4-foot high boulder. This shell is the emblem of Panmure Golf Club.

I found it very ironic that I am currently reading The Pilgrimage by the Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho. Written in 1987, full of enchantment and enlightenment, it is about his experiences as he walked the Road to Santiago de Compostela across northern Spain. On the cover of my copy is a scallop shell — the most well-known symbol associated with the Camino de Santiago. It is this shell that accompanies the pilgrims on their quest for self-knowledge and spiritual mastery they are seeking on the Road.

And here is a bright pink one on the rock at Panmure! How did this come to be? The story goes like this:

Maule & the Scallop Shell

The Coat of Arms of Guarin Le Jeune de Maule, was incorporated into the Panmure Family Crest. The Escallop was adopted by Panmure Golf Club with the gracious permission of the Earl of Dalhousie.

We are often asked by Members, Guests and Visitors alike why our Club uses a scallop shell as its emblem.

Maule is the family name of the Lords and Earls of Panmure. There are strong associations between the name and Angus with, for example, street names in Monifieth and Carnoustie. Carnoustie is twinned with the town of Maule.

Guarin Le Jeune de Maule came from France with the Normans and indeed may have fought at the Battle of Hastings (1066). His son Robert de Maule accompanied David I to Scotland when he succeeded to the throne in 1124. Sir Thomas Maule (1521 – 1600) was Ambassador to France and fought at the Battles of Hadden Rigg (1542) and Pinkie (1547). Patrick Maule (1585 – 1661) was a courtier to King James VI and Charles I. He was created Earl of Panmure and Lord Maule of Brechin and Navar in 1646 and was granted lands stretching from Fettercairn to the Tay Estuary, including all the land now taken up by Golf Courses.

James Maule, the 4th Earl (1658 – 1723), was a Jacobite who fought at Sheriffmuir, fled to the continent and thus lost the family estates. His nephew, General William Maule (1700-82) returned, became a loyal soldier, bought back the estates and recovered the Earldom. However, dying without children his estates were eventually divided between a cousin George Ramsay, the 8th Earl of Dalhousie (d.1787) and George’s second son, William. In 1782, William assumed the name Maule and was created Baron Panmure of Brechin and Navar, the 1st Lord Panmure.

The course is a traditional links. Now and then you see a train zooming by and other times you see cows grazing lazily. At Panmure, a couple of miles from Carnoustie Golf Club, you will find tall pine trees along with a very dunes-y landscape. It is the kind of course you could play every day.

For dinner we met up with clients at The Locker room at The Russell Hotel — a very intimate private space. All the names on the lockers are winners of the Open at St Andrews. Lots of good food and laughs. The room only seats 10 people.

Our only other round of golf in the St Andrews area was at Dumbarnie Links. I waited years to play this new course with very high expectations. They were met and then some. We started off with rain on the first hole but by the third we were putting the umbrellas away and could concentrate on enjoying the course. The layout, designed by Clive Clark, former Ryder Cup player-turned-developer and golf architect was fun, memorable, and challenging. Every hole engaged all your senses and at times it seemed like we were the only people on the course due to the clever routing and use of the generous amount of land.

Holing out the last putt on the 18th leaves you feeling like you want to come back. In a word — it is seductive.

I can’t think of anything that would make the whole experience more special except running into Clive himself! And lo, there he was with his lovely wife, Linda, as we were just ordering some lunch in the clubhouse. Now that was a thrill. They both said they remembered meeting me years ago at the Hideaway. Even if they didn’t, they insisted they did! That’s class.

“I have no doubt that Dumbarnie will soon come to stand along with Kingsbarns as the two courses (after the Old) that every serious St. Andrews pilgrim will want to play.” ~ George Peper, Links Magazine

Machrihanish, My Spiritual Golf Home

The time had finally come to make the pilgrimage to my spiritual golf home: Machrihanish Golf Club. The journey down the Kintyre Penninsula reminded me of the famous Paul McCartney song: The Long and Winding Road. It is said that he wrote the song at his farm in 1968 near Campbeltown, just a few miles from Machrihanish.

We arrived in darkness after a 6-hour drive. I was never happier to get into a cozy room and have a hot bath. We woke to the gorgeous view of the sea, pro shop and first tee — known the world over as the “Greatest Opening Hole in Golf.” Your drive has to carry the Atlantic Ocean, or at least a lot of beach if the tide is out. Exhilarating.

This is a pilgrimage of a different nature and like the Camino it is also filled with trials and tests. This is one of the most natural golf courses you will ever set eyes on. The 18-hole course we play today was laid out by Old Tom Morris. The club was founded in 1876 and Old Tom was brought in to extend the course to 18 holes in 1879. The course was modified in 1914 by J.H. Taylor and later by Sir Guy Campbell. The allure of the course has never been ruined. What will you find? Charm and mystery. At least I do.

“Specially designed by the Almighty for playing golf.” ~ Old Tom Morris

You like quirky, you say? Plenty of it here. Blind shots all over the place, rarely a flat lie, aiming posts to guide you on many fairways, and a bell to ring on a couple of holes to let the group behind know it is safe to send their ball to the green. All the holes have a name. I like Punchbowl. It’s just like it sounds. On the par-3 fourth hole you can see the majestic Paps of Jura (hills) that run the length of the island. Name of this hole? You guessed right, Jura.

We were thrilled to romp around Machrihanish two days in a row with splendid weather. And then to be able to have dinner in the new clubhouse was an absolute joy. When the original clubhouse burned down to the ground in December of 2018, I got an email from the club letting me know about the disaster. As a member (since 2003) I always followed the club news to keep track of all the goings on. But this disaster was absolutely devastating. Thankfully nobody was hurt. It is a marvel to see what stands on the site of the burned out rubble.

Even though they had to deal with the COVID pandemic, the G-1 Architects were hired, design approvals were given and construction carried on. The new building is modern, but not overly so. The structure is very sympathetic to the entire environment. The views of the course and the sea from the second floor of the clubhouse where the restaurant is located are superb. We even saw dolphins playing by the shoreline.

We loved being cocooned in the Ugadale Hotel. The staff is genuinely friendly and you can’t beat the convenience of being able to walk next door to the Machrihanish clubhouse or across the street to the first tee.

Along with creating Machrihanish Dunes, designed by Scotland’s own, David McLay Kidd, and also refurbishing the Royal Hotel in Campbeltown, Southworth Development made a huge investment in elevating this magical golf destination.

Alas, it’s time to make the epic journey to Cairnryan to catch the ferry back to Belfast. I reflect on our all-too-brief experience in this remote part of Scotland. I say goodbye to the Hebridean islands Islay, Jura and Gigha off the coast to my left. From the rock clusters along the jagged shore to the changing landscape of rolling hills dotted with sheep we leave the extraordinary Kintyre Peninsula and make the turns around the lochs.

Racing around Glasgow on motorways we hurdle toward the linksland of the Ayrshire Coast. We retrace our route, and then bang — the massive Ailsa Craig comes into view as we approach Girvan. It is lit up gloriously in the sunshine like a spectacular cabochon. Zipping along, passing through the little hamlets of Lendalfoot and Ballantrae that greeted us at the start of our Scottish adventure, at last we see the familiar signs that tug at our heartstrings:

Haste Ye Back.