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.

Golf Holes With Ghost Names

Newburgh-on-Ythan Golf Club, Scotland, April, 2012.

Last week, I played a round at Newburgh-on-Ythan Golf Club, in northeastern Scotland. The twelfth hole is called Home—an odd name for a hole far from the clubhouse. The explanation is that the course, which was first laid out in 1888 and originally had just nine holes, used to end there, across the Ythan estuary from the Udny Arms Hotel. The original clubhouse, which is cottage-size, still exists and stands nearby, although it hasn’t been used in many years. The current tenth hole, which was once the seventh, is a short par 4, just 339 yards. It was the same length in 1888, when it was called Long. (In those days, it was the only hole over 300 yards, and one of just two over 250.)  The fifteenth, near the old third, is called Boat House, because the old hole’s green was next to the hotel’s boat house. And the thirteenth, Majuba, was named after a battle in the Boer War, which was a topic of discussion during the club’s early years.

Newburgh-on-Ythan Golf Club, Scotland, early 1900s.

One of my favorite courses anywhere is the Island, in Donabete, Ireland, a few miles north of Dublin. Its fourteenth hole—which may be the world’s most intimidating short par 4—is called Old Clubhouse, because the old clubhouse used to stand where the tee box does today. In fact, the teeing ground is framed by the old foundation. And the club is called the Island because that’s what it looked like to the original members, who got to it by rowing across the estuary of the River Broadmeadow from Malahide, where golf-playing on Sundays was forbidden.