Back-Roads Scotland: Newburgh-on-Ythan

One of the Daves I played with at Newburgh-on-Ythan, in Scotland. He’s teeing off on the 18th hole, a par-5, which was once said to be the longest golf hole in Scotland. Snow began to fall as we reached the green, although it didn’t fall for very long.

Last April, I played a round at Newburgh-on-Ythan Golf Club, on the east coast of Scotland about halfway between Royal Aberdeen and Cruden Bay. The round was unusual in that all three members of my threesome were named Dave. (One of the Daves was the club’s captain, but I no longer remember which one.) Newburgh was founded in 1888, a year before my golf club at home. Originally, it had nine holes and was only a little over two thousand yards long. (The hole called “Long” was just three hundred and thirty-three yards.) It was laid out like this:

The second nine of the current course occupies the same piece of ground as the original course, although the layout has changed. The new nine is situated on the hill shown in the upper left-hand corner of the map above. One of the new holes incorporates an ancient wall thing, and if your ball ends up inside the enclosure you may have trouble hitting it out, as one of the Daves did:

A rare photo, showing both of the non-me Daves at the same time. No photo of all three Daves is known to exist.

The most famous person ever to take golf lessons at Newburgh is probably Prince Phra Bat Somdet Phra Poramentharamaha Vajiravudh Phra Mongkut Klao Chao Yu Hua (later King Vajiravudh) of Siam (later Thailand), who learned to play there in 1897, the same year the map above was drawn. Here’s what the Prince looked like after he became King:

The future king learned to play golf while staying for a month at the Udny Arms Hotel, across from what was then the first tee and is now (more or less) the thirteenth. The hotel still exists, and from the outside it looks pretty much the same as it did in 1897. I had a nice meal there the day after I played the course.

The wind blows hard on Scotland’s east coast, and one result is the mountain-size pile of sand in the photo below. It’s on the far side of the estuary of the River Ythan, directly across from the golf course:

The Sands of Forvie, across the Ythan estuary from Newburgh-on-Ythan Golf Club.

The mountain of sand is part of Forvie National Nature Reserve. You can enter the reserve from a parking lot a mile north of Newburgh and walk all the way across it to the sea:

I hiked across the reserve along this road.

A large part of the reserve was closed when I was there, to protect nesting terns, but I was able to explore the ruins of the village of Forvie, which was buried by blowing sand in the early 1400s. All that’s left are some piles of stones and part of the village church, which was built on high ground:

What’s left of Forvie Kirk, and of Forvie itself.

Forvie Kirk was built in the 1100s and was dedicated to St. Adamnan, who was born in Ireland in the seventh century. Adamnan visited Scotland in the late 600s and, apparently, made an impression. He didn’t bring luck to the residents of Forvie, however.

I took this picture for my wife, who, for unknown reasons, has become interested in moss and lichen. To make up for the fact that I’d abandoned her for a week, I smuggled home a golf-ball-size chunk of moss from Aberdeen, as a present. (Never bring your wife a golf shirt or golf hat, no matter how much you loved the course.)

Near the path I followed into the reserve were several stations like the one below, which were equipped with tools I could have used to stamp out any fires I happened to have started. Luckily, I didn’t start any.

I’m not sure that I need to play Newburgh-on-Ythan again, but I’m glad I played it once, and I’m glad I met the Daves, and I’m glad I found that old ruined church. And the chunk of moss I brought my wife is now growing near our back door. It didn’t make up for the trip, but it probably helped.

Should You Live on a Golf Course?

Houses overlooking the second fairway, Cruden Bay Golf Club, Scotland, May, 2008.

To live on a golf course is not a universal aspiration. At a club where I sometimes play, a dozen houses back up to various fairways. Over the years, the owners of those houses have taken pains to obliterate their views of the course. They’ve built fences, planted bushes and trees, and hung No Trespassing signs. One scary old guy patrols the boundary of his yard the way East German soldiers once patrolled the Berlin Wall. Follow a bad drive into his garden and he unchains his dog.

It’s not that the course is ugly or the golfers rude. It’s just that to some people a fairway is no more attractive than a freeway. Golf, to them, is a public nuisance. (You can’t sunbathe in your underpants when local slicers treat your patio as a cart path.) Some people live next to golf courses because they figure they can’t afford to live someplace nice.

Howard indicating the house I'm going to buy as soon as this blog has made me rich. Royal Portrush Golf Club, Northern Ireland, April, 2012.

I belong to the opposing camp, the folks who view an adjacent par 4 not as an invasion of privacy but as a big, free, weedless lawn. At least, I would if I lived next to one. The perfect neighborhood, in my view, would be the one in the photo above, next to the fourth fairway at Royal Portrush, in Northern Ireland. Or how about something ocean-oriented at Cypress Point, in California? I’ve even picked out a building site: that wind-swept knob to the right of the sixteenth green:

Sixteenth hole, Cypress Point Club, Pebble Beach, California.

I wouldn’t care if a stray shot shattered my front window every once in a while. Heck, I wouldn’t care if you and your foursome cut through my kitchen on your way to the seventeenth tee. Help yourselves to beer! I’d just like to be able to step out my back door and tee it up whenever I wanted to.

I'd also be happy with any of these. North Berwick Golf Club, Scotland, April, 2008.

Next: Would you be willing to spend a few hundred dollars for a building lot at Augusta National? You (or your parents or grandparents) could have, but didn’t.

Choosing Teams in Scotland

Cruden Bay Golf Club, Scotland, 2008. That's the green of the fifth hole, a par 5, in the upper right-hand corner.

At five o’clock yesterday afternoon, I stopped by Cruden Bay Golf Club, in northeastern Scotland, on my way back to my hotel. I had played there the day before, and I thought maybe the pro would let me sneak out for five or six holes before dinner. He said OK–but the course was empty, so why stop? Snow began falling as I teed off on 5, but the sun was out again by the time I reached the green. I ended up playing all 18, in a little over two hours, and then ate dinner in the clubhouse, which has huge windows that overlook most of the course.

Spring snow, Cruden Bay, Scotland, April 2012.

This morning, there was snow on my rental car, which is a kind of MG I’d never seen before, and I had to scrape the windshield with one of my golf shoes. I played at 8:00 at Fraserburgh Golf Club, a wonderful links course up the coast from Cruden Bay. The Sunday-morning regulars at Fraserburgh choose teams the way my friends and I usually do at home, by pulling balls out of someone’s hat. The temperature was in the mid-30s, and the wind was blowing hard. The golfers below fortified themselves with quite a lot of Budweiser, which one of them referred to as coffee.

Choosing teams, Fraserburgh Golf Club, Scotland, April 2012.

In the afternoon, I played at Peterhead Golf Club, which is just a few miles south of Fraserburgh. You park in a public lot on the town side of the Ugie River and cross a footbridge to get to the golf club. They manage tee order slightly differently there:

Peterhead Golf Club, Scotland, April 2012.

I played with Peterhead’s pro, Harry Dougal, who has a crushing handshake and sometimes carries his golf bag like a briefcase. He lost his wife in a car accident eight years ago. He said that swallows nest in the club’s rain shelters–that green shed in the photo is one of them–and return (from South Africa) on the same day every year.

Harry Dougal, Peterhead Golf Club.

Snow fell hard a couple of holes before I took the photograph above, but it didn’t last very long. I brought four pairs of rain gloves on this trip, and I’ve worn them every round, for warmth. I’ve wiped my nose on them so often that they’re all sort of shiny and stiff. At Fraserburgh, I played with a semi-retired furniture-store owner and a semi-retired fisherman. The fisherman didn’t wear gloves of any kind, because a fisherman’s hands, by comparison with fishing, are never cold.

Alzheimer’s and Golf

I’m in Scotland. Yesterday, I played two courses on the east coast, north of Aberdeen: Inverallochy, which I knew nothing about, and Cruden Bay, which is one of my all-time favorites. The wind blew hard all day–that’s the flag on Inverallochy’s eighteenth green in the video above–but there was hardly any rain, and I was wearing plenty of clothes. Inverallochy isn’t the world’s greatest course, but it has some terrific holes, and you can see (and hear) the North Sea from all of them. I arrived before anyone else and accidentally set off the clubhouse burglar alarm by trying the front door. The club secretary pulled up a few minutes later and turned off the siren, and two young policemen got there a little after that and declined to arrest me, even though I said I’d go quietly. One of the cops was wearing a short-sleeve shirt. I, in contrast, had on two long-sleeve shirts, a sweater, long johns, and my rain jacket–just enough.

At Cruden Bay, I played with the pro, Neil Murray. When we were on the first green, a single golfer played up behind us, and we stepped aside to let him through. Neil explained that he was a longtime member and that he had Alzheimer’s. They try to keep him on the club’s nine-hole course, which is enclosed by the central part of the the big course, because he’s more out of the way there, but he wanders, and plays holes out of order, and, occasionally, plays holes in the wrong direction. His decline had been rapid, Neil said; just two years ago, he was working on the course as a ranger.

He had lost his ball, and looked confused. Neil invited him to play through, and after hesitating a moment he dropped a ball about ten feet from the hole and putted it with a hybrid–and sank it. Then he wandered off toward the second tee and dropped a ball and hit it. He was accompanied by a dog–one of the herding breeds, like a border collie–and it sort of moved him along, and lay down on the green while he putted, and ran in circles around him as he headed into the rough. Neil told me that he thought the dog guided him to and from the course–his house is nearby–and kept him out of serious trouble. The man is sometimes a danger to other players, Neil said, because he will hit into groups ahead of him, but the club was reluctant to do anything because letting him wander on the course gave his wife a break of a couple of hours every day. I saw him again later, wandering up near the clubhouse.

One of the best old players at my club at home died of Alzheimer’s. I saw him playing by himself occasionally when I first joined, and decided that maybe Alzheimer’s wouldn’t be completely terrible if you could keep playing golf–never remembering your bad shots or worrying about your next shot, just as Bob Rotella recommends. I asked my doctor about that, and he said that, unfortunately, the disease affects more than your memory, and eventually destroys your ability to swing. But for a while before he died the old guy at my club looked fairly content, at least from a distance.

How to Take a Golf Trip With Friends


How to stock a golf-trip refrigerator. (Ferris's house, Pinehurst, 2006)

My regular golf buddies and I have taken many trips together, and, by trial and error, we’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t. Here are some tips:

thereinto Do give one person the overall responsibility for managing the itinerary, keeping track of reservation deadlines, reminding laggards to make their deposits, and deciding which minor tasks can safely be delegated. Having a single, reliable leader makes it less likely that critical details (such as tee times) will be forgotten, and creates a clear blame path if things go wrong.

buy Clomiphene 25mg Don’t automatically  assume that nobody will be up for more than eighteen holes a day or (equally important) that everybody will. During a buddies trip that eight friends and I took to Scotland in 2008, we designated one round as the official eighteen for each day, so that oldsters could flake out in the afternoon without losing their place in the standings. On the final day of an earlier, ten-day trip to Ireland, when even the golf obsessives had begun to fade, we revived everyone’s spirits by playing a scramble in the afternoon.

Do establish a centralized rule-making authority with the power to silence whiners, naysayers, and independent thinkers. Among my friends, this authority is called the Committee, and it typically consists of Hacker (real name) plus one or two people who, over the years, have satisfied Hacker that they are likely to agree with him. The Committee has many responsibilities, including picking the games, choosing the stakes, deciding whether or not Gene will be allowed to play from the senior tees, and settling minor but potentially divisive issues as they arise, such as do we get a first-tee do-over or not, and what about handicap strokes on par-threes? The Committee’s decision is always final—a relief to most people, who go on golf trips to escape their current responsibilities, not to acquire new ones.

The Committee.

Don’t allow trip-threatening behavior to go unpunished. On the second morning of our annual Atlantic City trip a few years ago, one foursome drove to the wrong golf course (with Hacker, of all people, at the wheel), even though all five cars had left our hotel at the same time and everybody had been given printed driving directions. The resulting confusion came close to ruining the whole trip, or so we said. When the round was over, we restored order by conducting a trial in the clubhouse—taking advantage of the fact that two of the participants that year were lawyers—and sentenced the offenders to pay for everybody’s lunch.

Do collect all wagers before anyone tees off. Losers always outnumber winners, and on a large golf trip that means that if the prize money isn’t in hand when the scores are tabulated the victors will have to collect from a sullen mob. We handle this on our golf trips by collecting a single buy-in on the first morning of the whole trip—currently, a hundred bucks a man—and paying all prizes for the trip out of that fund.

Don’t let the stakes get out of hand. The purpose of playing for money is to make three-foot putts seem important, not to let anyone get rich. We try to spread the prize money around by having lots of complicated side bets, all paid off from the same hundred bucks. The big winner, furthermore, is expected to buy lunch on the last day.

Do establish community-building trip traditions, such as our rule that recovering alcoholics drink free.

Don’t feel you have to do everything as a group. We often split up for dinner, primarily to eliminate tedious late-afternoon arguments about who is willing to pay how much to eat what. Doing this also occasionally generates interesting demographic data, as it did on the night when (as someone realized later) all the Democrats went to a sushi bar while all the Republicans went to Outback. (Figuring out that this had happened took some deductive work, because in our group, as in all successful golf groups, we almost never mention politics, even with people we agree with.)

Do be careful about the guest list. We usually open up our trips to friends from outside our club, and even to friends of friends. This has beneficially expanded our acquaintance with overweight middle-aged men from outside our immediate geographical area, but it has occasionally led to problems. One year, one guy invited an old high-school friend of his, whom he hadn’t seen in years. The old friend, who began drinking as soon as he got into Hacker’s car, bought a dozen condoms at a convenience store during the first refueling stop, then stashed the box under his seat and forgot all about it. A week after we got back, Hacker’s wife discovered the condoms and—here’s the problem—didn’t believe, even for a minute, that they belonged to any of us.

Don’t let a buddies trip end without establishing a Committee to pick the next destination.

How to load a rental car. (Cruden Bay, Scotland, 2008)