31 MAY 1957, Page 23

Scottish Golf Courses

By BERNARD DARWIN AA FRIEND of mine is now making good a sad .,,gap in his education;. he has. gone to play golf for the first time on Scottish courses and I am envying him that experience which befell me almost sixty years ago. It was to Troon in Ayr- shire that we went, then to historic Prestwick and then to St. Andrews, and, often as I have made the journey since, it remains the most ex- citing in the world. '1 think the air is callerer and fresher there than anywhere else in the country,' said Wandering Willie about Primrose-Knowe, and I like to think that there is some magical freshness of the morning air that blows at Leuchars Junction as we get out of our sleeping- car and into the little train to take us curving in to St. Andrews past the corner of the Dyke.

There are several things that make golf in Scotland different from any other. In the first place it is there really the national game. The game has 'boomed' there as much as ever it did in England. To look at an old Golfing Annual of the Eighties, in its green coat with gold letters, is to realise how relatively few courses there were in Scotland apart from the classic homes of the game. But its memories go back into the dim distance and Scotland knows golf. A Scottish crowd can in the case of a 'local derby' be rather turbulent, even as it was over a hundred years ago at North Berwick when Gourlay, the ball- maker, led the men, of Musselburgh in cheering if the two Dunns got a good lie or the St. Andrews champions Allan Robertson and Toni Morris got a bad one. But it appreciates the finer points of the game in a way an English crowd does not, and the very names of the streets bear witness to that familiarity.

Next, it is essentially the people's game. The visitor may think it a little too popular if he wants a quiet game with the links to himself, but still there is 'something pleasantly stirring in the fact that, their day's work done, the butcher and the baker take up their clubs and come out to play their own game on their own course. Scotland has now become a country of municipal courses. The Englishman does not think of Aberdeen as a golfing centre, though Balgownie is a fine course; yet Aberdeen has twenty municipal courses. Before the great James Braid became a Professional he worked as a joiner in Edinburgh and he has told us how when he went to his work at six o'clock he met people coming back from their morning round. He would get there about half past one on Saturday afternoon and might have to wait till half past five before start- ing. And that was in 1891. Doubtless there are more courses now on which that enthusiasm can find vent, but it is greater than ever it was.

And then for anyone who has any feeling for the romance of a game there is no place like .Scotland. A few English courses, such as Hoy- lake, have famous names for their holes and bunkers, but they are not so rich in them as is Scotland. Think of the Elysian Fields and the Station Master's Garden (in fact a row of black sheds) at St. Andrews; Point Garry at North Berwick; South America and the Barry Burn at Carnoustie; and, best of all perhaps, Prestwick with its mighty Cardinal bunker and the Alps and the Himalayas and the Sea Hedrig. When I first saw these sacred spots I was tolerably well up in my history. As regards the Sea Hedrig I was possibly like Mr. Micawber when he sang `Auld Lang Syne' and was not exactly aware what gowans might be, but the name gave me an in- expressible thrill. To feel none of this romance is to miss half the point of Scottish golf.

It is to these historic courses by the seaside that the pilgrim naturally repairs. They are more than single shrines, however, for, though one may be of peculiar sanctity, each is in fact a nest or pocket of courses. A friend of mine now long dead told me how as a boy he had been driving with his father in a dogcart on the road across the great expanse of turf that rises up to Gullatie Hill. 'You may not believe me,' said his father, 'but you will live to see this a whole stretch of golf courses.' Never was there a better prophecy. There cheek by jowl are New Luffness and the three Gullanes and just over the way is Muir- field. Alas, the dear little Archerfield is a course no more. I remember a small caddie that I took there, almost breathless with its beauty, saying. 'This is a bonny wee place. You can see nothing but the rabbits and their wee white tails.' The course is gone, but Archerfield Wood is still there, the scene of RLS's tremendous story 'The Pavilion on the Links.' Aberlady and Long:- niddry are not far away and a few miles down the road from Muirfield is North Berwick with the sun shining on the whiteness of the Bass Rock, a historic and fashionable course rather than, to my mind, a great one. Muirfield, the home of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, is a very great course. It is also a private one and I must pass the pilgrim a hint to take a proper introduction 'With him, lest the gates of paradise be shut. The Gullane courses, where he may play if he pays his green fee, are very good indeed with a vast stretch of turf having a glorious view towards the gaunt tracery of the Forth Bridge, and the curlews Calling and calling in his ears.

Of course, he went first to St. Andrews, and that may be called a nest in itself, for it has three courses; two of them very good ones, apart from the incomparable Old Course. People are very apt to be.disappointed with the Old Course on a first acquaintance, for it seems flat and almost simple, but it grows upon them if they are any judges of golf, and the more they learn of it the more they realise how much they do not know. A friend of mine, a distinguished soldier, was introduced to an old member of the Royal and Ancient and, being asked what he thought of the course, ',said he should like some signposts directing visitors to famous bunkers. 'Good God I ' exclaimed the old gentleman and turned on his heel. No doubt it would not do, but a guide is needed to pOint out the scenes of famous triumphs and disasters, and one day, which is all my friend allowed himself, is utterly inadequate. He will not have had the chance to putt into the bunker at the Road hole, and he who has not done that is like the man who has never made a duck at cricket. .What.. are the characteristics of St. Andrews? It is -very hard to say, but I think the banks and braes make it. Nowhere else are there so many, varying and ingenious plateaux laid out by the hand otnature. It was once said that nature had provided that the holes should be of the length of two or three full shots. That is so no longer, of course, but though with modern clubs and balls holes are easily reached in two that once could scarcely be reached in three, yet the glory remains defiant and indestructible.

Fife has other fine courses in Elie, which bred Braid and Douglas Rolland and the Simpsons, and Leven, but I must now make a dash to another nest not far from Dundee—Montrose, Monifieth, Barry and above all Carnoustie. Car- noustie sent many golfing missionaries to America, headed by the illustrious Smith family and including Stewart Maiden, whom Bobby Jones used to follow round like an admiring, imitative little dog. It is a fine, stern, trying course rather than an engaging one, but no one can despise it in his heart. No course has produced better Open Champions than Armour and Cotton and Ben Hogan, and that is a good test. It has a ubiquitous, serpentine burn, the Barry burn, which seems at the last hole to, lie in wait every- where and is calculated to produce hydrophobia. Altogether, a course worth seeing, but, as Dr. Johnson said of the Giant's Causeway, not worth going to see unless the pilgrim be very pious.

The Ayrshire pocket is perhaps the most attrac- tive of all, with its soft, kindly, helpful turf and its views of Arran and Ailsa Craig. How many courses are there? I give it up. Prestwick is venerable and illustrious, but Prestwick St. Nicholas, nurse of many great artisan golfers, is nearly as old. Troori has the Championship Course now given the title of 'Old,' but Troon Portland' is just about as good, and there is like- wise Troon Municipal. Not far away are Barassie and Bogside and there is Western Gailes, which some people think almost the best of all. I do not quite agree, but it is full of charm and by no means easy. And then near Girvan is Turn- berry, with its vast hotel, which has had a won- derful renaissance. There were once two courses there and then came the war and the whole ex- panse was covered with cement and all hope of restoration seemed dead; but wonderful things have been done.

I have been keeping strictly to the sea, but I must not forget at least two inland courses, both in Perthshire : Gleneagles and Blairgowrie. It is said that good Americans when they die go to Paris and good American golfers must go to Gleneagles. With its two courses and its huge and gorgeous hotel it has for them the atmosphere of their own holiday resorts, and they like the elaborately Scottified names of the holes—the Kittle Kink and so on. It is perhaps an insult to Blairgowrie to describe it as the kind of golf of fir-trees and sand and heather that one expects to find in Surrey. Let me add that Surrey has no better. It is in the highest inland class.

I look forward to seeing my friend home from his formative experience. I trust he has proved worthy of it, but if he says the Road hole at St. Andrews is a bad hole we shall quarrel.