The Other Major Tournament at Royal Troon

The southernmost end of the championship course at Royal Troon directly abuts a trailer park, called the Prestwick Holiday Park—which also separates Troon from Prestwick Golf Club.

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In fact, the trailer park is so close to the course that when you tee off on the tenth hole you practically hang your rear end over the fence. (In both the U.K. and Ireland, a surprising amount of what looks to an American like prime seaside real estate is occupied by mobile homes and RVs.)

Prestwick Holiday Park

A Troon member once told me that another Troon member, while traveling, overheard some other diners in a restaurant discussing a recent tournament at Troon and eagerly went over to introduce himself. It turned out that the tournament they were discussing was an event conducted surreptitiously by golf-playing residents of the trailer park, on the Troon holes nearest their caravans—including the Postage Stamp, which I played in 2009 (in neither the Open Championship nor the Prestwick Holiday Park Invitational):

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Troon is a Time-travel Wormhole to Machrihanish

Machrihanish is a legendary links course on the Kintyre Peninsula, in western Scotland. Part of the routing was created by Old Tom Morris in 1879, when what was then called the Kintyre Golf Club acquired additional acreage and expanded from 12 holes to 18. Machrihanish has one of the awesomest opening tee shots in golf. Here’s the first tee:

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The rest of the course is terrific, too. The only difficulty with Machrihanish is that it’s tricky to get to. The drive from Glasgow Airport can take more than three hours, with little or no hope of golf along the way. But there’s a shortcut, if you do what 11 friends and I did in 2014: charter a boat from an outfit called Kintyre Express. The trip from Troon Harbor (which is just up the road from Royal Troon) to Campbeltown Harbor (which is just down the road from Machrihanish) takes 75 minutes. That means that the round trip saves you more than enough time to squeeze in one entire bonus round at either Machrihanish or Machrihanish Dunes. Here we are getting ready to set out from Troon:

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And here’s some of what we saw along the way:

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And here’s what Tony looked like when the skipper gunned his engine:

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And here’s what we saw as we approached Campbeltown:

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And here’s where we stayed, just up a long ramp from the dock:

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Three days later, we took the same boat to Northern Ireland—which is even closer to Campbeltown than Troon is. All our golf bags and suitcases went into the hold:

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Kintyre Express has lots of other routes, too. The Troon-to-Campbeltown trip starts at £500 for up to 12 passengers. Thanks to Brexit, that currently works out to only about $55 a head. Kintyre also operates regular ferry service to a number of destinations in the same region. Ask for Mairi!

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Open Countdown: Troon, Foursomes, Kümmel, and the Queen

Foursomes is a game in which two golfers take turns playing the same ball. In the United States, it’s usually called Scotch foursomes or alternate shot, and it’s often a prelude to divorce. (The great British golf correspondent Henry Longhurst once recounted, with disapproval, an old joke about a male golfer who was “alternately playing and kicking his ball” because he was “practicing for the mixed foursomes.”) Foursomes moves fast, and hitting just half the shots ensures that someone in the group always has a hand free to hold the kümmel, a clear, anise-and-fennel-flavored alcoholic beverage, which is sometimes called the golfer’s liqueur:

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Kümmel is a popular drink at Troon. Every year, its members play a cross-country foursomes match with members of Prestwick, which is right next door. Half the field starts on the first tee at Prestwick, and half starts on the first tee at Troon. Everyone plays to the eighteenth green on the other course, breaks for lunch, and then plays all the way back. Two Troon members I played a non-foursomes round with in 2009 told me that, usually, a team scores better if it starts at Prestwick, because a typical Prestwick lunch includes so much alcohol that golfers who make the turn there sometimes have trouble finding their way home.

  (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

(Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

Competitors who start at Prestwick get to eat lunch in the dining room at Troon. Hanging on the wall at one end is a portrait of one of the club’s founders:

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Hanging on the wall at the other end is a portrait of the Queen:

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A member told me that pictures of the Queen are always supposed to be hung so that her eyes are higher than the eyes of any person in any other picture in the same room. Doing that at Troon would have meant pushing her almost all the way up to the ceiling. So they didn’t.

More About Foursomes: Muirfield, Troon, Prestwick, and Kümmel

The golfer's liqueur.

In 2009, I played a round at Muirfield, in eastern Scotland, where the Open Championship will be held in 2013. Alastair Brown, the secretary, described it to me (over lunch) as “a lunching club with a golf course attached to it.” A member, he said, once described an ideal day at Muirfield as “two-and-a-half, two-and-a-half, two-and-a-half”: a two-and-a-half-hour 18-hole foursomes match in the morning, followed by a two-and-a-half-hour lunch, followed by a two-and-a-half-hour 18-hole foursomes match in the afternoon.

In the United States, foursomes is usually known as Scotch foursomes or alternate shot, and it’s often a prelude to divorce; at Muirfield, it’s the signature game. Hitting just half the shots gets the non-lunch portions of the day over faster, and ensures that someone always has a hand free to hold the kümmel, a clear, anise-and-fennel-flavored beverage, which is sometimes called the golfer’s liqueur. “The way the club’s members play golf is the antithesis of championship golf,” Brown told me—and he meant that as praise. Muirfield has its own foursomes handicapping system, named after C. J. Y. Dallmeyer, a club captain in the 1950s, who invented it: if you go three-up in a match, you give strokes to your opponents until you’re back to one-up. Dallmeyer also initiated a heavily lunch-oriented New Year’s Day tournament, called the Captain’s Frolic.

Foursomes is also a historically significant game at Royal Troon and Prestwick, two other courses on the Open Rota, on Scotland’s west coast. Every year, members of the two clubs play a cross-country foursomes match over both courses, which abut each other. Half the field starts on the first tee at Prestwick, and half starts on the first tee at Troon. Everyone plays to the eighteenth green on the other course, breaks for lunch, and then plays all the way back. The two members I played with at Troon told me that, usually, a team scores better if it starts at Prestwick, because a typical Prestwick lunch includes so much alcohol that golfers who make the turn there sometimes have trouble finding their way home.

Before lunch, Royal Troon, May, 2009. I'm standing on the tee of the famous Postage Stamp. That's the green by my right arm.

Muirfield has an undeserved reputation for hostility to outsiders. It’s true that visitors are limited to specific tee times on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but the club actually welcomes thousands of unaccompanied non-members every year, and you can make reservations online. You have to wear a jacket and tie in the dining room, but the atmosphere is seductively informal, and even visitors are encouraged to linger. No table has fewer than six chairs, an arrangement that forces groups of golfers to mix, and the food is served cafeteria-style. Diners who don’t live in fear of their cardiologists sometimes bypass lunch itself and move straight from the bar to the dessert table, where the specialties include rhubarb crumble, sticky toffee pudding, and ice cream from S. Luca of Musselburgh, a locally famous dairy.

Muirfield’s locker room has modern, car-wash-caliber showers, like the ones at Merion and Pine Valley, but the other amenities are distinctly old-school, among them a pair of wooden dressing tables, each furnished with a shaving mirror, a nail file on a chain, and a single hairbrush and comb (and no beaker of blue Barbicide). And the members’ locker room at Prestwick is even cooler. Ninety of the lockers there date back to 1877. They look like Queequeg’s coffin.