A Golfer’s Bucket List: No. 6

Home course, flooded fairways, September, 2011.

Home course, flooded fairways, September, 2011.

Play in weather so miserable (lightning excluded) that yours is the only group left on the course. Old golf joke: An obsessed golfer heads to the club in pouring rain for his regular Saturday-morning game. The storm turns out to be too intense even for him, so he returns home, takes off his wet clothes, and slides back into bed next to his wife. “The weather’s horrible,” he whispers, and she says, “And can you believe it? My idiot husband is out there playing golf.”

Gairloch, Scotland, May, 2007.

Gairloch, Scotland, May, 2007.

He should have stayed at the club. Golf was invented in a country where bad weather is almost the only kind, so to take the game’s full measure you have to play it occasionally when all the sensible people are indoors watching Sports Center. There’s something sublime about putting through casual water or over pea-size hail, especially if you have the course to yourself.

On the road to Tralee, Ireland, May, 2006.

On the road to Tralee, Ireland, May, 2006.

Back-Roads Scotland: Gairloch

In 2007, a Scottish guy told me that I absolutely had to play Gairloch Golf Club, a nine-hole links course in an isolated village on the country’s west coast. Gairloch was a solid hour and a half out of my way, but he insisted. So I went.

I’m glad I did, in part because the drive—through the desolate mountains of Wester Ross and along the southwestern shore of Loch Maree, on a road that sometimes narrowed to a single lane—was beautiful:

I got a room at a small hotel on Gairloch’s harbor, and was awakened during the night by what sounded like a hundred-year typhoon lashing against my window. In the morning, the BBC said that the weather that day would be pretty good in all of Scotland except the part where I happened to be, for which the forecast was “heavy rain” and “gales.”

I drove through both on my way to the golf course, a short distance down the coast road, and found the parking lot empty and the clubhouse locked. So I zipped up my rain suit, let myself through the gate, and teed off alone.

Gairloch is just nine holes, and six of the nine are par-threes, and you have to go around three times to push your golfometer past six thousand yards, but it’s a wonderful course and I’m not a bit sorry I went to so much trouble to play it, even in driving rain. (How’s that for a recommendation?)

To get to the medal tee on the eighth/seventeenth, the course’s sole par-five, you climb a slippery path up the rocks to a spot from which you can see the course, the clubhouse, the town, the mountains, the harbor, and (I think) the isle of Skye, among other stirring sights.

And the hole’s a corker, too.

A club employee had arrived by the time I finished my first nine. I watched her raise the Gairloch flag in a wind that was almost strong enough to rip it from the pole, then made breakfast of a couple of candy bars from the golf shop. Then I played nine more holes, returned to my hotel, took a hot shower, and checked out.

And here’s a photo of Gairloch’s Honesty Box, which is mentioned in one of the comments below: