Back-Roads Scotland: Boat of Garten

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Eight years ago, I took what’s probably my favorite golf trip ever. I flew to Glasgow,
Scotland, without an itinerary, and spent a little over a week playing only golf courses I’d never heard of. My second stop was Boat of Garten.

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The village of Boat of Garten (population 700) was possibly named for a nearby river ferry, long since put out of business by a bridge. The region is a major summertime holiday destination for bird watchers, among others; Loch Garten, a nearby lake, is a national bird sanctuary. The golf course, which is known locally as “the Boat,” began as six holes in 1898, and was extended to 18 holes by James Braid a little over 30 years later. There are four clocks on the wall above the counter in the golf shop; they give the time in Boat of Garten, Pebble Beach, Augusta, and the United Arab Emirates. I paid £32 and, because no one else was around, teed off by myself. The Boat’s first hole runs past a station of the Strathspey Steam Railway:

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It’s a so-so par 3, but the second is terrific par 4, and many more terrific holes follow. Here’s the second, from the tee:

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On the fourth, I caught up to Andy and Pat, a retired couple from Aberdeen, and played the rest of the way with them.

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Andy had lured Pat to the course by assuring her that it was flat, and he did penance for this untruth by pulling her trolley up the steeper hills, of which there were many. (He had already lightened his own load by leaving eight of his golf clubs at home.) This hole is called Gully:

P1020860On the tenth, we got stuck behind a slow foursome, and Andy told me that an American group had once visited his home club, Stonehaven—a seaside, cliff-top course with spectacular views, 15 miles south of Aberdeen—and had played so slowly (five hours) that the club secretary asked them never to come back. I apologized for my countrymen, and didn’t point out that the golfers holding us up at that moment were Scottish.

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We waited on the next tee, too, and as we did an old man on a tiny, one-person motorized golf cart came up behind us. He was wearing a broad-brimmed hat, leather boots, a green jacket, brown plus-fours, and long yellow socks. “That may be Willie Auchterlonie himself,” Andy said. I asked him how long he’d been a member. “Fifteen years,” he said — a deeply disappointing answer, Andy and I agreed later.

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Andy and Pat were playing a match. Pat had a low, flat swing with a big lift at the top, but she hit the ball a long way. On one tee, she asked Andy what he was waiting for, then looked up the fairway at the group ahead, maybe 200 yards away, and said, “Oh—them?” and gave a great throaty smoker’s cackle. She was three down with three to go and won the last three holes with pars. Good pars, too.

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November Golf in Northern Ireland

P1100471The mystery golf course in my previous entry is Kirkistown Castle, on the Ards Peninsula, in Northern Ireland. (Adam Heyes, who also identified Ardglass Golf Club, from photographs of some cannons and a life preserver, got Kirkistown right, too, but he let me know by email so that others would have a chance. Tralee wasn’t a terrible guess, but it credited me with the ability to teletransport myself and my golf clubs to the other side of Ireland and back.) I played Kirkistown last week with Kevin Gallagher and Jonny Breen, both members, shown above. You can see the ruins of the eponymous castle in the distance, between their heads. The structure on the right is the remains not of a castle but of an old tower windmill. It stands on one of the two sand hills that are the most conspicuous topographical features of Kirkistown:

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Kirkistown was founded in 1902, and the modern routing was created by James Braid in 1934. Among the few significant changes since then has been the sod-revetting of quite a few of the bunkers, a project undertaken with enthusiasm by the current greenkeeper, shown here in one of his ongoing creations:

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To get to Kirkistown, I drove from Newcastle to Strangford, through an area that a road sign identified, correctly, as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (A.O.N.B). There was also quite a lot of unnatural beauty, including this row of houses along the Strangford wharf:

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I then had to cross Strangford Lough on a small ferry—which, naturally, was pulling away as I arrived:

P1100403Small ferries are one of my favorite things in the world. I wrote about some even smaller ones in the Atlantic Monthly a long time ago. The Strangford ferry runs every thirty minutes, so I didn’t have to wait long for the next one. Here we are arriving at Portaferry, on the other side:

P1100435Kirkistown is just a few miles up the road from the ferry landing, on the other side of the peninsula. Rory McIlroy—who would have arrived from the opposite direction, since he grew up in a suburb of Belfast—played at Kirkistown often as a junior. A recent golf bag of his is displayed in the trophy case in the lobby of the clubhouse:

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I intentionally took an unnessarily long way home, by doing a sort of figure-eight loop around the entire peninsula. The sun was gone by the time I got back to Portaferry—where, once again, I just missed the boat:

P1100499I was in Northern Ireland mainly to write about Royal County Down for an upcoming issue of Golf Digest. The weather during my rounds there was mostly spectacular, too—much better than the weather at home:

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P1100228On my first day at Royal County Down, I played with Kevin Markham, who has played every eighteen-hole golf course in Ireland:

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We were accompanied for nine holes by Kevan Whitson, the club’s longtime professional. (Nearly everyone I played golf with on this trip was named either Kevin, Kevan, or Johnny.)

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I’ll have more to say about Royal County Down in the magazine—and here, too, probably. Toward the end of our round, I told Kevin I was never going to take another picture of a rainbow on a golf course, or anywhere else. But then I did.

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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.