A friend once told me he woke up every morning hoping his wife would turn to him and say, “Darling, I’ve watched you carefully all these years, and I am now convinced that you really do love me for myself, and I am happy to tell you that I have a $250 million trust fund that I’ve never mentioned before.” Well, she never did (and they’re now divorced). But not everyone is as unlucky in marriage as my friend.
Dan Miller, a reader—that’s him in the photo above, taken on the Ailsa Course, at Turnberry—wrote recently to say that his wife’s employer (which sells software to hotels) had transferred her abroad for at least three years, and that they had just completed their company-financed move to . . . Scotland. He writes:
A nine-week trial run last fall sealed the deal. As I asked my wife when we returned to Los Angeles, last Thanksgiving, “How can we be home and yet homesick?” Between yard sales, Craigslist, and eBay, we sold off or gave away much of what we owned States-side, and began bidding online at auctions in Scotland to furnish our new home, in the market town of Kelso.
Kelso is in southeastern Scotland, right on the border with England. It’s less than 50 miles from North Berwick Golf Club, which is one of my all-time favorites. Here’s Kelso:
Will we land on our feet in the home of golf? So far so good. Establish local bank account? Check. Buy used right-drive car? Check. Join local golf club (specifically Goswick, a James Braid links course just across the border with England)? Check. A few bumps in the road? Yep. But absolutely no regrets. Six weeks into our adventure, Scotland still feels like home.
Miller himself had no trouble switching continents, because he’s a writer. And, although writers are notoriously lazy, wife-mooching bums, he is at least pretending to pull his weight during this adventure, because he has written and self-published a novel called Machrihanish, which happens to be the name of another of my (and his) favorite golf courses. Here’s a photo he took at Machrihanish, looking back toward the clubhouse:
And here’s the jacket of his book:
Why don’t you buy a few copies and take them on your next golf trip to Scotland? Maybe some of his good luck will rub off.
If my wife ever throws me out of the house and they won’t let me move into the Crow’s Nest at Augusta National, I’m going to hide out in North Berwick, Scotland, just a few miles along the coast from Muirfield Golf Club. I’ve played North Berwick pretty many times over the years, and it’s probably the course I think about the most, except for my home course. Among the many permanently memorable holes is the thirteenth, a par-four, on which the green is on the far side of a very old stone wall:
Thirteenth green, North Berwick Golf Club, Scotland, May, 2008.
On a visit in 2004, I missed the green to the right and tried to chip through an opening:
I missed the gap, and then l was really in trouble. During two of my most recent visits to North Berwick, I stayed in a small hotel overlooking the course, called Blenheim House. Sad to say, the young couple who owned it, Milton and Ailsa, gave up last year and sold it to someone else. I don’t know if it’s back in business.
R.I.P.: Blenheim House Hotel, North Berwick, May, 2008.
One of the great things about that hotel was that you could get to the golf course simply by walking through a gate in the back garden:
Here’s the gate, viewed from the golf-course side. The people in the windows are eating breakfast:
During the relatively few daylight moments when I wasn’t playing golf, I gazed at the golf course from the window in my room. Here’s what I saw:
The cylindrical stone building at the far right is the starter’s shelter; the semi-subterranean white structure just to the left of it is the golf shop. The eighteenth green is at the far left, and the clubhouse is out of the picture to the left of that. The opening tee shot at North Berwick usually calls for something like a five-iron, and the second is essentially blind, and several of the other holes are almost as unusual. When I looked out my window one morning, before breakfast, I saw a guy walking a dachshund just east of the course:
Here’s what my room looked like. As you can see from the size of the suitcase, this was before I had realized I could cram all the clothes I need for an overseas golf trip into a carry-on bag:
One afternoon in 2007, when I was in Scotland on a Golf Digest assignment, I teed off at North Berwick by myself. After a few holes I was joined by an old man, who had come through a gate leading to one of the houses overlooking the course. He had lost his wife sixteen years before, he said. He walked along with me and asked me questions and held the flag while I putted, and I played really well for as long as he was there. He said that if someone offered him a plane ticket to New York he would go in five minutes, and I briefly considered trying to work out a temporary life swap. He said that he had once been to Chicago, and that while he was there a shoeshine man had asked him if he was French. He said no, Scottish, and the shoeshine man said, “You speak English very well.”
On the fourteenth hole, the old man and I caught up to and joined three Swedes. He knew them already, because he had run into them the night before, in the bar at the Blenheim. They were part of a group of six, and they had played Muirfield the previous day, and they were going home in the morning. One of them said that the flight from Edinburgh to Stockholm was just an hour, and that he would be going straight from the airport to his office—a thought that made everyone temporarily adopt a grim facial expression. The old man walked along with us until he got back to his gate. It turned out that he was very interested in Swedish girls, and other girls.
That night, I stayed not at Blenheim House but at the Mallard Hotel, in Gullane. Incidentally, “Berwick” is pronounced BARE-ick, and “Gullane” us pronounced GILL-en. There are three golf courses in Gullane: No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3. Muirfield Golf Club is virtually next door and can be seen from the top of Gullane Hill, and a caddie at Gullane once described it to me as Gullane No. 4—although Muirfield members don’t think of themselves that way.
I ate dinner that night at a pub called the Old Clubhouse. Directly across the street from both the pub and my hotel was the Gullane Golf Club’s six-hole children’s course, which costs nothing to play, as long as you’re not an adult. As I walked to dinner, I saw a man and his nine- or ten-year-old daughter. He was teeing up balls for her, and she was hitting the most gorgeous draws with a driver. She was hitting from a tee toward a green, but she was using the hole as a driving range. What a swing! And beyond the children’s course I could see Gullane No. 1 and No. 2.
First green, Gullane No. 1, looking back toward town. The knobby thing at top right overlooks North Berwick and is also visible in the photo with the rainbow, below.
The next year, I went back to Scotland with eight friends from home, and we spent the first two nights of the trip in North Berwick. On the second day, we saw this:
And that evening we saw this:
I almost feel picking a fight with my wife, to see if I can’t tempt her to give me the boot.
Quite a while ago, Tom Reynolds, a reader in Atlanta, asked me to suggest a packing list for a golf trip to Ireland. I said I would, then forgot all about it, and recently he asked again. So here it is.
This packing list is the result of two and a half decades of thoughtful experimentation. In making it, I’ve assumed that no spouse or health-department official will be in your group, and that you will buy at least one souvenir golf shirt, one souvenir golf sweater, and one souvenir golf hat while you’re abroad. I’ve also assumed that you are not planning to do anything rash, like meeting a client or going to a play. My strong preference with rain pants (which are also useful as wind pants) is to wear them as pants, if possible, rather than over pants. If the weather is nippy, I wear them over long johns.
The reason for minimalist packing is not to avoid airline luggage charges; the reason is to reduce the tonnage of the gear you have to lug from place to place, and to make the most efficient use of the storage space in whatever vehicle you’re traveling in. Packing light also leaves space for all the overpriced golf stuff that you are almost certainly going to buy and lug home.
Because linksland weather is highly unpredictable but within a relatively narrow range—I’ve played in shirtsleeves in Northern Ireland in November and been hailed on in Scotland in June—my list doesn’t change a whole lot from month to month. Think in terms of layers, and be prepared to allow time for wet items to dry out—especially shoes. Mike B. took his plug-in ski-boot driers on our most recent trip to Ireland. He never needed them, because our shoes never really got wet, but taking them wasn’t a terrible idea. On a golf trip to eastern Ireland twenty years ago, I took two rainsuits and needed them both.
It’s possible to pack more than this, of course. It’s also possible to pack less. My friend Tony gets by with just his rain pants and one pair of chef pants, and some people believe that he never changes his shirt. A few years ago, Golf Digest sent me to play all fourteen courses where the British Open has ever been held, and I realized toward the end of the trip, which lasted two weeks, that although I’d brought two pairs of pants I could have gotten by with one. The great thing about microfiber is that you can launder it with a hotel wash cloth, even if you’ve gotten chocolate on it. I recommend black.
Tony in chef pants, North Berwick, Scotland, May, 2008.
On my first golf trip to the British Isles, twenty years ago, I took a full-size suitcase. Now I take just a carry-on bag: a Mother Lode TLS Mini 21-inch rolling duffel, by eBags, which is currently selling for $190, shipping included (see photo at the top of this post). This is my favorite suitcase ever, even for non-golf trips. No matter what kind of suitcase you use, I recommend buying a selection of eBags Packing Cubes, which are soft, box-shaped modules that simplify intra-suitcase organization and make it easy to use your golf bag’s travel case for overflow packing.
Here’s what I take:
In the carry-on bag:
1 pair dark polyester microfiber pants (and a second pair worn on the plane—and I recommend black for both, because they never look dirty and you can remove stains, even chocolate, with a hotel wash cloth)
1 golf shirt (and a second one worn on the plane—and in cooler months I would make one or both of these shirts long-sleeved)
1 sweater (worn or packed, depending on the weather
1 pair of Under Armour-type long johns
1 long-sleeve Under Armour-type undershirt or turtleneck
1 tee shirt (to sleep in and serve in a pinch as an extra layer)
1 pair of “house pants”—fleece pants or nylon hiking pants or something similar (for lounging around, and for emergency duty under rain pants if the weather turns really foul, and for wearing on the trip home)
1 pair of shorts, maybe (something I’d never thought about before 2016, when sunburn was a bigger threat than rain in western Ireland)
Lots of cotton handkerchiefs (my new favorite golf accessory, useful for nose-wiping during wet, cold, windy, or allergen-dense rounds)
As many pairs of underpants and (wool) socks as I can cram into the remaining space
In the golf bag or golf-bag travel case (along with my golf clubs):
2 pairs of waterproof golf shoes
1 rain suit (the jacket of which, in combination with an undershirt, shirt, sweater, vest, etc., should be plenty of cold-weather protection, even for winter)
2 regular golf gloves and 2 pairs of rain gloves
1 Seattle Sombrero (or other truly good rain hat)
1 regular golf hat
1 knit cap
1 super-lightweight down vest, in its little stuff sack (weighs nothing, and is easy to cram into a golf bag; mine is by Uniqlo and is a recent addition to my packing)
As many golf balls as you think you’re going to need, because they’re cheaper here (a reasonable number is two balls a round; a couple of guys lost more, but some lost almost none)
A full box of Band-Aid or Compeed “blister cushions.” You won’t need them if you’re careful about the golf shoes you take, but if you have them in your bag you’ll be a hero to someone on your trip
Toiletry-type crap (if you put your toiletry kit in your checked bag you won’t need to worry about decanting your gels and liquids into tiny bottles and setting them aside in a Ziploc bag)
1 or 2 twenty-four-inch bungee cords, for strapping your golf bag onto a pushcart (known abroad as a trolley), to keep the bag from falling off when you drag it into the dunes
1 water bottle (because on-course water isn’t common outside the United States; you can fill your bottle each day in your hotel room or in a golf-club locker room)
1 UK-and-Ireland-type plug adapter. Household current is 230 volts, but all your electronics will run on that with just the plug adapter—no need for a voltage converter. If all you’re going to need to charge is your phone, you can probably find a 110-volt shaver outlet (for an American-type plug) in the bathroom of your hotel room
1 mini-power strip (if, like me, you have a lot of stuff to plug in—mine’s made by Belkin—because no hotel room on earth has enough outlets, especially in other countries)
1 sleep mask (for creating darkness where there is none)
Earplugs (doubly useful if the locals are holding a Dallas-themed “Oil Barons’ Ball” in the main dining room—as happened to me in England a few years ago)
If you are going straight from the plane to a golf course—and that’s what you should be planning to do, in my opinion—you should wear golf clothes on the plane. For the trip home, it’s nice to have clean stuff. In my case, I flew home in a bought shirt, a bought sweater, and a pair of lightweight nylon pants that I hadn’t worn during golf.
If your golf shoes have nubs on the soles instead of spikes, you probably don’t need any other shoes—although you may be required to strip down to your socks in some parts of some golf clubs. On a recent trip to Ireland, I took a pair of “après-golf” shoes—which were actually just non-waterproof golf shoes—but wore them only a couple of times, because my two pairs of “working” golf shoes were just as comfortable and never really got wet. Tim brought two pairs of golf shoes plus a pair of Merrell Jungle Mocs, which he wore on the plane, on the bus, and when we weren’t playing golf—an idea I intend to steal next time
If you prefer to receive your packing instructions in video form, you can do so here:
For many years, I’ve accessorized my rain paints with farmer-type suspenders, my first pair of which I ordered from the Vermont Country Store. (I now use a different kind, which you can order here.) Suspenders eliminate the main problem of rain paints, which is that they creep down every time you put wet hands into the pockets. I also own, and sometimes use, a pair of Velcro bicycle clips, which are handy if the legs of your rain pants are so long they drag on the ground, as many are.
Vermont Country Store suspenders with rain pants, Scotland, 2004.
On a golf trip to England in 2010, my friends and I had to take sports coats so that we could eat dinner in the clubhouse at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. Hacker (real name) took a crummy old one, intending to abandon it there—a plan I foiled by spotting it in a closet on the day we left and returning it to him at the airport. But the concept is brilliant: clothes you can wear to extinction, then leave behind.
My bedroom in the Dormy House at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, May, 2010. My sports coat is in that pile somewhere.
On our trip to Scotland and Ireland in 2014, Peter A. brought many pairs of super-cheap socks, and threw away each pair after a single use. This seemed smart in the abstract, but he ended up being the only person on the trip who got blisters. For this most recent trip, he brought more expensive throwaway socks (roughly a dollar a pair versus roughly fifteen cents) and didn’t have a problem. My personal preference is to pack the best wool socks I feel I can afford, and lots of them.
I’ve always thought it was crazy to take shorts on a golf trip to the U.K. or Ireland, because indigenous golfers hardly ever wear them and some golf clubs have semi-ridiculous rules about them—like Hillside, in England, which allows shorts only if they’re worn with knee-height socks. (Dress codes abroad are kind of unpredictable. In 2016, the starter at Lahinch asked Matt to roll down the cuffs of his pants, which he had turned up maybe an inch, but let a local kid tee off in surfer shorts and an untucked tee shirt.)
It’s possible to pack more than this, of course. It’s also possible to pack less. On a non-golf trip to Europe a few years ago, my wife surprised me by packing lighter than I did. You don’t need to plan a lot of different “looks.”
Olmsted Brothers' 1932 Augusta National real-estate development plan. If your eyes are good enough, note the tennis courts and the brand-new clubhouse—none of which were built. Also note the small practice area, between the ninth and eighteenth holes.
Augusta National Golf Club suffered severe financial problems during its first two decades, which coincided with the Great Depression and the Second World War. Its lenders actually foreclosed in 1935, just eight months after Gene Sarazen had seemingly secured the future of both the club and the Masters by hitting “the shot heard round the world.” (I explore those difficulties at some length in The Making of the Masters.)
One of the club’s best hopes for raising money in the early years was to sell building lots overlooking the course. Roughly a third of the club’s property was reserved for that purpose, and the lots were delineated and numbered on several early maps, including the plan reproduced above. For the most part, the lots occupied areas west of the second fairway and east of the tenth and eleventh. (Note to Laurentius: The spot where Rory McIlroy’s yanked tee shot on the tenth hole ended up during the final round of the 2011 Masters was near the edge of Lot No. 1.)
The club’s development plan, which was created by the landscape architecture firm Olmsted Brothers, called for two dozen building sites, and additional acreage was reserved for more. Most of the lots were between three and five acres; the largest, No. 6, was twelve acres. The club actively tried to sell those lots or others for more than twenty years. Boundary lines were cleared, access roads were built, lots were numbered with signs that faced the roads, and a major, continuing effort was made to stir up sales—all without success. In the early 1930s, W. Montgomery Harison, an early member, bought three adjoining lots just beyond the first green, but he was the only taker. He built a huge brick mansion, which stood until 1977, and the elder of his two sons built a much smaller house next door. (Harison’s younger son, Phil, was the tournament’s official starter for more than sixty years. He died 2008, at the age of 82. His own son is a member now.)
W. Montgomery Harison's house overlooking Augusta National's first green, during the Masters in 1941. (The photographer was standing near the ninth green and looking up the first fairway.) The house was torn down in 1977.
After the war, the club briefly considered leasing or renting the remaining lots, at annual charges ranging from $250 to $500 a year. When no enthusiasm for that idea was evident, the club gave up on the original subdivision and for four or five years pursued a more modest development plan in a different location. This new subdivision—which was to be called De Soto Trail—was situated just east of the area now occupied by the par 3 course. It consisted of twenty-four lots, most of them about a half-acre, and was targeted not at club members but at local middle-income families. To avoid the expense of building an access road and installing utilities, the club in 1949 offered the entire parcel to Augusta real-estate agents. There were no bids. The club then tried without success to sell the lots individually. Late in 1952, a developer offered $18,000 for fifteen acres. Roberts viewed that figure as too low, and the club eventually abandoned the entire idea.
Today, golf fans and even club members are almost always amazed to learn that Augusta National, in more than twenty years of conscientious effort, could turn up only one buyer interested in building a house near what today may be most fabled golf course in the world. If the same lots were offered for sale today, the bids would undoubtedly be astronomical. The failure of the real-estate projects underscores the immensity of the challenge that Clifford Roberts and Bobby Jones, Augusta National’s founders, faced in nearly every area of the club’s operation. As late as the early 1950s, Roberts couldn’t get local real-estate developers to return his calls.
It was only in the mid-1950s—when the tournament was securely established, and both the club and the country were on better financial footing—that Roberts began to view all development ideas as a mistake. A local club member named Julian Roberts (no relation) eventually bought Harison’s property and later sold it back to the club. One of Clifford Roberts’s last acts before taking his life, in 1977, was to walk to the first tee with the help of a waiter so that he could look up the fairway and assure himself that the house had been torn down.
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.