Back-Roads Scotland: Tarbat Golf Club

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Last week, Alex Noren, of Sweden, won the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart Golf Links, in Inverness. About an hour farther to the north is Tarbat Golf Club, in the microscopic village of Portmahomack. I played a round there in 2007, and, although I wouldn’t suggest planning a trip around it, if you happen to be in the area you could do worse than to stop by.

Tarbat is a links course on a sandy promontory on the southern side of Dornoch Firth, and on a clear day you can look across the water to Dornoch itself. The course has 10 holes, which are listed on the club’s website as 1-9 and 14. To make an 18-hole round, you play all the holes twice, from different tees the second time around—except the fifth, a 125-yard par 3, for which you substitute an entirely different hole, a 155-yard par 3—the fourteenth. I played with two middle-aged members, both of whom lived nearby and worked in the oil industry.

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They were competing in a club tournament but had no expectation of winning any prizes and so didn’t mind having me along. My favorite hole—in fact, one of my favorite holes of the trip—was the ninth/eighteenth, a short par 4 that plays either around, over, alongside, or into a cemetery, depending on the shape and length of your tee shot.

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A Golfer’s Bucket List: No. 1

My luck-of-the-draw playing partners at Tarbat Golf Club, a ten-hole course in Portmahomack, Scotland, across Dornoch Firth from Royal Dornoch Golf Club. I don’t remember their names, but they lived nearby and worked in the oil industry. They were playing in a tournament but had no expectation of winning anything and so didn’t mind having me along. May, 2007.

Life, I discovered recently, is much shorter than it seemed to be when I was fifteen years old and waiting to get my driver’s license. I’m going to turn sixty in a little over two years, and not long ago I realized with distress that I scarcely have enough time left to paint the rest of my shutters, much less to qualify for the senior tour. And what about that twenty pounds I was going to lose?

Fortunately, I’ve already managed to accomplish more than I ever thought I would. In a club tournament a few years ago, I five-putted from six feet, turning a merely bad round into one that I’ll be able to boast about to my grandchildren. I also once spent part of a family vacation writing an apology letter to the entire membership of my golf club, after (allegedly) behaving like a man half my age.

Now that I really am my age, I intend to devote the dwindling remainder of my time on earth to telling other people what to do. Here is the first of ten important things that I think every serious golfer ought to try to accomplish before it’s too late:

1. Explore golf from the singles line. Like most golfers, I play most of my rounds with people I know already—guys I tend to think of as my best friends, even though I’m not sure where some of them work or whether they have kids. However, I’ve played more than a few of my favorite rounds with total strangers after showing up at an unfamiliar course by myself or with less than a full foursome. At various times over the years, on golf courses on four continents, I’ve fortuitously been paired with: a French real estate developer who had a weekend house in Morocco, a guy who owned and operated a souvlaki pushcart in Manhattan, the man who served as the Senate’s chief counsel during the Iran-Contra hearings, a retired Korean wigmaker, three guys who were playing hooky from their jobs on the assembly line at Boeing, a future chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, a teacher who had recently started a golf program at an inner-city high school, a retired cotton broker who had once been a colleague of Paul McCartney’s father, and an unemployed carpenter who looked like George Carlin and told me that the key to golf is to “swing easy as hard as you can.” How many other relatively ordinary activities throw you together with people like that for an afternoon?

To be continued.

The ninth/eighteenth at Tarbat. This is one of my favorite golf holes anywhere: a short par-four that plays either around, over, alongside, or into a cemetery, depending on the shape and length of your tee shot.