Which Nine Was That?

OldCourseLayout

ESPN’s scorecard graphic for the Open Championship is labeled “front nine” and “back nine,” but the Old Course doesn’t have a front and back. You play nine holes “out,” making a little loop at the bend of the shepherd’s crook, then nine holes “in.” “Outward nine” and “inward nine”—he preferred local terms—would be more accurate. But not for every course, even on the Open Rota. People often say that out-and-in is a defining characteristic of links golf, but it isn’t. Troon (for example) does play nine out and nine in, more or less, but the holes at Carnoustie (for example) wander around:

CarnoustieLayout.jpg

And there many variants.
“Front” and “back” actually don’t make sense on many golf courses. It’s rare to find a club at which the first nine holes you play are laid out in front of something, and the second nine holes are laid out in back of the same thing. Sometimes the nines are right and left; sometimes the holes are all over the place; sometimes—as on nine-hole courses, where you play the same holes twice—the nines are essentially on top of each other (upper and lower?).
Bobby Jones wanted TV announcers to refer to the nines at Augusta National as the “first nine” and the “second nine,” partly because “front” and “back” weren’t accurate, and partly because he felt that “back side”—a common variant—was indecently anatomical. One nice thing about “first nine” and “second nine” is that they work for any golf course, including your course, my course, and the Old Course. Golfers will never change, naturally—but if it came to a vote I’d go with Jones.

OldCourseStarter1992

Reader’s Trip Report: Northeastern Scotland

Fraserburgh Golf Club, Scotland, March 13, 2014.

Fraserburgh Golf Club, Scotland, March 13, 2014.

Seth Low, a reader and, not incidentally, a member of the Sunday Morning Group, recently returned from a winter trip to Aberdeen, Scotland. It wasn’t a golf trip, but he hung around for a few extra days and played several courses I like a lot—among them Fraserburgh, shown above. Excerpts from his report:

The non-business portion of my trip started in St. Andrews. I did some local scouting at the Keys Bar, where I ran into Dave, an American expat who has lived in St. Andrews, on and off, for twenty-seven years. He caddies during the golf season and, as far as I could tell, hangs out at the Keys in the off season. 

seth low keys bar

The next day, I took a train to Carnoustie, half an hour to the north. Perhaps because of the time of year, or perhaps because of the weather, I went out solo, no one in front of me or behind me. I muscled an ugly 4-iron into the wind, and then had my first go at hitting from a “winter mat.” Apparently, these are standard in Scotland. I am not a good golfer, but I can generally get the ball headed in the right direction. However, I could not master the mat. My reward for a good drive was inevitably a sculled iron.

seth low winter mat

I found myself hoping I would miss the fairway, to be spared the mat, and when my ball landed close to the rough I kicked it in. It was interesting to find myself in this alternate golf reality, and I spent a good deal of time wondering what it said about me as a golfer (and as a person) that I was more comfortable playing from what most people think of a bad lie.

Fourth green, Carnoustie. The white stuff on the ground (not the ball) is hail.

Fourth green, Carnoustie. The white stuff on the ground (not the ball) is hail.

Next, I headed north, to Fraserburgh, and, once again, went out on my own. I was the beneficiary of a new employee, who told me that mats were unnecessary, despite signs saying otherwise. The course wanders through the shoreline dunes and is truly spectacular.

Fraserburgh Golf Club, thirteenth hole.

Fraserburgh Golf Club, thirteenth hole.

To navigate among the dunes, I had to follow the signs carefully, which wasn’t always easy. If wondered if they were in Doric, a dialect spoken by folks in the area, but it turned out that they had just been beaten up by a long and windy winter.

seth low doric sign

On my last day in Scotland, I headed west from Fraserburgh, at the recommendation of this blog, to play Cullen Golf Club. [Editor’s note: No one who asks me for a Scottish golf recommendation will escape being told about Cullen.] The clubhouse was empty, so I wandered around until a member came in and showed me some clubs I could use. I managed to assemble an almost-full set, consisting of a couple of Wilsons, a couple of irons of an unrecognizable brand, and a Fazer Contender 404 driver:

seth low golf bag

Cullen’s fairways weave across each other, and there is a complex set of bells and “yielding” protocols that the locals know. The course is complicated by a right-of-way that allows walkers to get from the ridge above the course to the beach below. All in all, it was a somewhat hectic scene, and I was happy to be joined by Graeme, a local member, who was out for a Sunday round. Like many in the area, he worked on a fishing boat before getting a job in the oil-and-gas industry. Now he is a cook on an oil rig, where he works two weeks on, two weeks off, four weeks on, four weeks off—leaving plenty of time for golf. I came away with what I hope will be a new addition to my golf lexicon: “hitting into the skink.” I am not sure what it means, but I like the way it sounds.

The first hole, second tee, fifteenth green, sixteenth tee, seventeenth green, and eighteenth hole at Cullen.

The first hole, second tee, fifteenth green, sixteenth tee, seventeenth green, and eighteenth hole at Cullen.

Reader’s Trip Report: Mackinac Island, Michigan

IMG_20130804_104132Jim Doherty, a reader in Chicago, wrote to me toward the end of the summer about a family vacation he had taken to Mackinac Island, Michigan—which is in Lake Huron all the way up next to Canada. (Mackinac, incidentally, is pronounced Mackinaw.) Jim is one of the guys in the photo above; the other is his brother-in-law, Mike. Because male golfers are essentially interchangeable, it doesn’t matter which is which. Here’s what the island looks like from the air.

Mackinac

Jim wrote:

Mackinac Island doesn’t allow any motorized vehicles. You ferry over with bikes, and there are horses and carriages that you can use to get around as well. The island had some military importance way back in 1812 and is now a beautiful spot to visit. There are a lot of fudge shops, for some reason. Anyway, even though our wives had chosen this non-golf-hotspot for our vacation, Mike and I brought our sticks on the theory that at some point our families would be equally sick of us (seven-hour drive) and be happy to see us exit to a golf course for a while.

Mackinac has two courses. One belongs to the Grand Hotel, where Jim, Mike, and their families were staying. It’s made up of two non-contiguous nines, called the Jewel and the Woods, and golfers are transported from one to the other by horse-drawn carriage. According to the hotel’s website, “The leisurely 15-minute ride includes parts of the island unseen by many visitors.” That sounds mildly interesting, but I think Jim and Mike were right to skip it. Jim wrote, “I try to avoid non-golf resorts that have a course. I find that they are usually full of very slow, non-regular golfers who are just trying to kill time, theirs and mine.” (The hotel and its golf course are visible in the photo above, in the lower part of the island.)

Instead, Jim and Mike played a nine-hole course called Wawashkamo Golf Club, which you can see, sort of, in the clearing in the woods near the runway at the top of the photo of the island. Here’s what the club’s front gate looks like:

Wawashkamo

Jim continued:

Remember, there are no motorized vehicles, so we rode our bikes, with our bags on our backs, up to the course. The inclines early in the ride were steep enough that we needed to walk the bikes, but it was worth it. Wawashkamo is a gem. No irrigation in the fairways or rough. Fescue-lined holes. Tiny hand-mowed greens in great shape, and tees that are literally about twenty square feet. I guarantee that the area rug under your dining-room table is bigger.

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Wawashkamo was laid out in 1898 by a Scotsman (from Carnoustie!) named Alex Smith. The club’s first pro was Frank Dufina, a Chippewa Indian, who played in the 1911 Western Open. He was fourteen years old when he went to work at Wawashkamo, and eighty-four when he retired, in 1968. Among the course’s unique features is its third green:

IMG_20130804_092803The putting surface (as you can see in the photo above) is surrounded by a thick fescue collar, which is called a Circus Ring. Its purpose is explained in the sign in the photo below:

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Jim continued:

Wawashkamo has two sets of tees, which change the length and angle of the holes a bit. It’s an easy walk: ninety minutes, max, for nine holes, then back on the bikes for the downhill ride to our families. The club’s pro, Chuck Olson, invited us to leave our clubs overnight and return to play the next morning, to ease our bike ride. We got the idea, from talking to him and a member, that the club’s budget is nil.

Here’s the clubhouse:

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And here are two of the amenities, which are available to visitors as well as to members:

IMG_20130804_104341Wawashkamo is closed for the season (I’m pretty sure, based on the website), but it will be open again in early May. Fifty dollars for eighteen holes, walking. Let’s go!

Back-Roads Scotland: Forfar Golf Club

Forfar Golf Club, Scotland, May, 2007.

Forfar, Scotland, is a small town about dozen miles northwest of Carnoustie. Its most famous resident may be Bon Scott, the lead singer of the rock band AC/DC, who was born there in 1949 and died, of acute alcohol poisoning, in 1980.

Brian.

Forfar—prounouced FOR-fer—has a golf course, which was designed by James Braid. I pulled in one evening in 2007, to make sure I’d be able to find it the following morning. It was almost time for dinner, and I wasn’t really planning to play, but suddenly I found myself in the golf shop handing my credit card to the wife of the head pro. On the course, I soon caught up to and joined three members: Brian, a local builder, who sounded a little like Sean Connery and carried his golf bag by the handle, like a suitcase; Gavin, a retired local cultural administrator; and Michael, a jeweler. Here’s the sort of golfers they were: all three, despite having played the course regularly for many years, were surprised to learn that the round blue marker in the center of each fairway was 150 yards from the green. Gavin told me that the three of them played together almost every Monday evening because “then there’s no one in front and no one behind.” They took lots and lots and lots of swings, although we still finished in just about exactly three hours.

The next morning (after breakfast and a bucket of balls at the local driving range, on the other side of town), I played a second round at Forfar. A ladies’ medal competition was going on just ahead of me, so I had plenty of time to admire the course, which is well inland and is surrounded by farms but feels very much like a links course, in part because most of the fairways have distinctive undulations, like gentle ocean rollers—remnants of ancient flax furrows, Brian had told me. (You can see the furrows, sort of, in the photo at the top of this post.) And when I finished I still had time to kill, so I went around again. And the following year I came back, with friends from home.

If I were sure I’d return to Forfar as often as I’d like to, I’d accept an email solicitation I received a few days ago:

15 months membership for the price of 12!

New members can join straight away for the 2012 price of £485 (£460 + £25 bar credit) and receive membership of the Club through until 31st December 2013!

To join call now on 01307 463773.

The 2013 subscriptions for the remainder of the year are as follows:

Full Membership: £485*

5 Day: waiting list in operation
Under 25: £260
Family: £970** (2 adults & unlimited children)
Junior: £100 (17 & 18)
            £75 (12-16)
            £50 (8-11)
Country: £310
*includes £25 bar credit
**includes £50 bar credit

You will be assured of a warm welcome so please don’t hesitate to contact us by telephoning or sending an enquiry to our email address.

For more information on the benefits of membership at Forfar Golf Club please see below.

  • Excellent layout for all ability of golfers to enjoy.
  • Comfortable clubhouse with refurbished lounge & dining room
  • Driving Range facilities
  • Competitions every Thursday, Saturday and Sundays
  • Online tee time booking & Members Website
  • Unlimited Members guest tickets
  • Reciprocal arrangements with other Clubs for reduced greenfees and a member of the Association of James Braid Courses
  • Membership categories to meet your needs
  • Monthly Newsletter
  • SKY tv
  • Free WiFi
  • Excellent Catering facilities 7 days a week
  • PGA Pro with fully stocked golf shop
  • Discounted rate for FGC members on the Angus Council ‘Be Active’ scheme

Payment can be made by all the usual methods and the Club offers a Direct Debit scheme through Premium Credit Ltd.

Back-Roads Scotland: Fraserburgh

Fifteenth green, Fraserburgh Golf Club, Scotland. Photo by Ian Stephen.

For the July issue of Golf Digest, which is on sale now, I wrote an article about Donald Trump and his newest golf course, Trump International Golf Links, in Scotland. The course is on the North Sea coast, a two-and-a-half-hour drive north from the Old Course at St. Andrews and about ten miles beyond the port city of Aberdeen. You should definitely play it if you have a chance—it will open July 10—and after you’ve done that you should get back on the A90 and drive another hour north, to the town of Fraserburgh, at the easternmost end of the Moray Firth. It’s the home not only of the Kinnaird Head Lighthouse and the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses, but also of Fraserburgh Golf Club, the seventh oldest in the world.

Fraserburgh foghorn, April, 2012. It was built in 1902. It's not still in use, but the museum keeps it painted.

I played Fraserburgh with two older members: Bill Maitland, who owns a furniture store in town, and Andrew Tait, a member of family of extremely successful fishermen. The morning was cold and the wind was blowing hard, and I wore two pairs of rain gloves, one on top of the other, in the hope of maintaining feeling in my fingers. Tait, in contrast, didn’t wear even one glove, and the explanation was what I guessed: after you’ve spent  a few decades fishing in the North Sea, it takes more than wind to make your hands feel cold on land.

Town of Fraserburgh, viewed from the golf course. April, 2012.

Fraserburgh’s first and eighteenth holes are flat and forgettable, but nearly everything in between is brilliant, beginning with the second, a par 4 that plays up what looks like the surface of the moon, on the flank of a mountainous dune called Corbie Hill:

Second Hole, Fraserburgh Golf Club. Photo by Ian Stephen.

Golf in the region goes back a long way. Local church records show that a parishioner named John Burnett was sent to the “maisters stool” for “playing gouff” on the links of Fraserburgh in 1613. The club was founded a century and a half later, in 1777, and it has the documents to prove it. At lunch after our round, Maitland showed me a copy of the original membership register. “These names are still well known to us,” he said—and by that point they were well known to me, too, because I had seen them on plaques and trophies in clubhouses along the coast:

"These names are still well known to us," Bill Maitland told me.

Fraserburgh’s original members got together for lunch after they played, just as they do nowadays, and they were required to pay their share of the bill whether they showed up or not—an excellent rule that my own gang ought to adopt. After we’d eaten, Tait took me to the wharf to see his family’s three fishing boats. He lives on a farm a few miles down the road and has his own five-hole golf course, which he plays when he’s too busy to get to the club.

Andrew Tait, Fraserburgh wharf, April, 2012. The boat is named for his parents.

Fraserburgh’s eighteenth hole is called Bridge, after a footbridge over some railroad tracks along the western edge of the course. The rail line connected Fraserburgh with Aberdeen and the villages and golf courses in between—a sort of Linksland Express. It closed in 1965, though, and the footbridge was demolished, so Fraserburgh’s eighteenth is now a golf hole with a ghost name. The course is still there, though, and it’s one of many worthy destinations along the coast for links-golf pilgrims who can be persuaded not to turn around after playing Carnoustie.