Stories

Taba has written over 250 short stories since she began writing in 2010 during her first full summer in Ireland. Of those 250 + stories, about 150 are golf-related. Some can be found in her books. We’ve collected several favorites for this page.

To read more of Taba’s stories please visit:  ClareHousePublishing.com

Two Kinds of Golf Taba Dale, June 13, 2016

It’s 9 PM and amazingly the sun is stronger than it’s been all day now that the thick clouds have traveled east. To many people, that might sound strange, but keep in mind that Lahinch is only 945 miles from the Arctic Circle (as the crow flies) and the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, is just seven days away, falling on June 20th. 

Perhaps even more amazing is the fact that in Norway, the northernmost inhabited region in Europe, and known as the land of the midnight sun, there is no sunset at all from about mid April to mid August!

Dinner’s done. The dishwasher’s on. 

“Sweetheart, how about we go play a few holes?”

“Why not!” Kevin agrees, bolting out of his chair and grabbing his clubs from the nook in the hallway.

I lighten my golf bag to make it easier to carry, lace up my shoes and off we go.

This is pure golf fun on the Castle Course at Lahinch. Just tee it up and hit away. 

Blind first shot over a white rock. It’s a par 4 and I make a 5, so I’m happy. The turf is springy underfoot, and the greens, although a bit slow at this time of night, are running true.

Second hole is the long par-3 that’s a driver for me. My tee shot drifts out to the right. Sand wedge comes up short which begets another 5. 

Dough Castle c. 1450
July 27, 9th tee

Dough Castle Ruin

Third hole is a par-4 for the ladies and a par-3 for the men, with their tees nearly 100 yards ahead of mine. This set up is common over here. And yes, they are called “Ladies Tees” at Lahinch with no disrespect felt or intended. If you prefer to call them the red tees, that’s okay too.

Kevin likes to hit off my tee (about 246 yards) and tries to drive the green. Bunker for him. No problem. He holes his sand shot for an eagle. My putt just slides by the hole...darn it, so close! A tap-in 5 for me. Decent hole. The best part is, we play it the way we want to, not the way the holes go on the scorecard. Besides, tonight we don’t even bother with a card.

This evening we still have enough light to play the par-5 fourth that heads west toward the Dough castle ruin, where the Castle Course derives its name. Hooray—a 6 for me.

More intoxicating than my string of good holes is the glorious sun sinking just above the rolling hills—delivering a spectacular sky radiating orange, pink and purple. There is a seashell-shaped cloud formation hugging the horizon with gorgeous effervescent rays of light shooting upward. It looks like a giant, pulsing, fluted fan reaching to the heavens above. Truly amazing. Words cannot come close to capturing this image. Where is my camera when I need it?

We decide to turn back and play the par-5 twelfth hole. Instead of walking all the way to our normal tees however, Kevin and I play from the “junior” tees. These are defined by two round rocks painted a bright yellow, off to the right side of the fairway. This made the hole a par-4 for lucky me.

I murmur to myself, but just loud enough for Kevin to hear, “Let me see if I can find something here,” and manage to produce a prodigious drive right into a narrow gap about 100 yards from the green. I foozle a 9-iron, but chip on and make another 5.

“Do you want to play the short (par-3) thirteenth or just play eighteen?” Kevin bids.

The light is fading fast; I say, “Let’s just play the eighteenth.”

We have to negotiate a steep hill of tall grass and descend into a sea of delicate little yellow buttercups. With the beautiful birdsong of the daytime eerily absent and a thin band of sky ablaze in the distance, the two of us slowly wade through the un-manicured field to the last hole. It’s magical. Mystical even.

Kevin launches his drive to the left of the white rock. Far left. I send my drive to the right of the rock. Far right. In fact, I’m in the rough by the first fairway.

I have to climb up on a little dune to find the green. Okay—red flag—got the line.

This is a completely blind shot over about 150 yards of dense linksy growth. I pull my 7-wood from the bag and with absolute conviction, commit to the shot. It’ll have to be heroic to get anywhere near the green. Alone in the dim light, I’m completely calm and execute a perfect swing.

Seconds later, I hear “Great shot!” called out in a combo of joy and disbelief.

I emerge from the grassy hollow and walk toward the green. Turns out it truly is one of the best shots I’ve ever pulled off.

From just off the green, I chip to about 6 feet and sink the putt to finish with a par. Six over for six holes—it’ll probably be my best “round” of the summer.

I’m reminded of a Bobby Jones quote from his book, Down the Fairway: “There are two kinds of golf: golf—and tournament golf. And they are not at all the same thing.”

For me, there is golf, where we are expected to perform and it’s all about the score. And then there’s golf like tonight—where the reward is a superb sunset while we wander betwixt the wildflowers—finding joy at the junction of zen and golf.

And further, take it from that famous Head Professional, Albert Einstein (1879-1955), who had a sign hanging in his office at Princeton:

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

Knock the Spots Off Taba Dale, July 17, 2013

“A guy will try to murder it,” Scott said after we all hit our tee shots on the first hole of Machrihanish. It would only be one of the best opening shots in all of golf, requiring a carry over the Atlantic Ocean. It certainly sounds funnier when Scott says it—more like muuurrrrrduuuurrr it.

I was so happy to be pretty far down the fairway and as it turned out, on a nice flat lie. We caught it on a gorgeous sunny day, maybe 70 degrees, with a bit of a breeze.

Scottsdale Collection

Machrihanish opening drive over the Atlantic Ocean.

Scottsdale Collection

My drive off the 1st tee with the Pro Shop way in the distance.

Kevin and I met Scott and his family the night before in The Old Clubhouse Pub. The 19th century stone building served as the original clubhouse in the days of Old Tom Morris. It was situated right beside the recently renovated Ugadale Hotel. I hadn’t been back to this remote part of Scotland on the Kintyre Peninsula for a couple of years, and I’d only seen the Ugadale in a dismal state of deterioration...that is until now.

It is in such a prime location, almost directly opposite the first tee of Machrihanish Golf Club. A truly remarkable transformation and a huge asset to this magical golf mecca.

I’ve been a member of Machrihanish since 2003, the year I first played there, and I’ve kept track of the progress of both the new course and the two hotels that are currently owned by Southworth Development. Their commitment to Kintyre and the fabulous results they have achieved are commendable and then some.

To fit in a visit here really takes planning—and plan we did. We’d hoped to include playing at Shiskine, the 12-hole course, founded in 1896, that is on the Isle of Arran. Alas, we had only time to test out the ferry crossings from Ardrossan after our round at Dundonald, scoot over to the west side of Arran and make the 6:30 PM ferry to Kintyre. Insert your own curse word here! Shiskine will have to wait, but hopefully not too much longer.

Then it was zip down the peninsula on the A83 in time to check in and grab a bite to eat. We were doing a site visit at the Ugadale when Rhona Miller, the sales manager, being a very smart cookie, put us in a magnificent suite facing the first tee of Machrihanish. The room was palatial and absolutely splendid for two weary travelers.

Nice to be able to walk right next door to The Old Clubhouse Pub and have a good meal with a lovely glass of Sauvignon Blanc. We barely managed to get a table, but thanks to some people with a reservation, failing to show up, we snagged a cozy spot by a window. We also had the good fortune to be seated next to a cutie named Carla and all her minders—mother, father and a granny. Like most 8-year-olds, she was a veritable Mexican jumping bean—bounding in and out of the pub—enjoying the grassy lawn outside and the light of the long summer day.

We struck up a conversation with her mum and dad and learned that he’s a golfer, but mainly plays the nine hole course at Machrihanish called The Pans. When we invited him to join us on the big course the following day, he was delighted.

Scott was absolutely giddy when we arrived for our tee time the next morning. The sky was bright blue and the waves of the Atlantic Ocean were lapping gently on the shore to our left. The fairway of the opening hole looks like a skinny green ribbon—especially when you try to carry a big bit of the sea. It’s scary. No two ways about it.

Kevin, Scott and I all hit off on the first—our respective tees being only a few yards apart—and walked to our balls. On the way—happily, a longish walk—Scott told me that he enjoys playing with women because, “They don’t try to knock the spots off it.”

Oh, and he said, “Women keep the ball in play,” which I didn’t do consistently, but I don’t think I lost as many balls as he did that day.

Not too many of his friends in the Glasgow area where he lives are golfers, and he gets asked a lot, “Why do you play?”

He figures it this way: “If I hit the ball like a donkey, and then hit one great shot—that is why I am playing golf.”

Well now, doesn’t that fit the adage, “That’s the one that keeps you coming back!”

I was thrilled to make 6 on the par-5 opening hole called Battery. At 422 yards, often into the wind, it is a par 5 on the Ladies Yardage and a par 4 for the other sets of tees. In this part of the world, there is no stigma attached to Ladies Tees, or Ladies Yardage. I rather like it and sometimes we have our own scorecard on “the other side of the pond”, which I rather like too.

The second, simply called Machrihanish, was a real tester for me. After you hit your drive, the next shot must carry a wide burn, and you have to hit up over a huge hill with gaping bunkers to a blind green.

The guys could go for the green on their second shot. For me, the safe play was wedge over the burn and then a 9-iron to the green. It produced a fabulous 5 for me.

I’m home. That’s how I feel when I play here. It is a course I could play every day of my life. Plenty quirky. Always fun.

The stewards of Machrihanish Golf Club report on their website that golf was first played on this linksland back in 1871.

Like many other courses in their early incarnations, it started out with less than eighteen holes. In this case, the original ten holes were expanded to twelve by Charles Hunter of Prestwick, in 1876, when the Machrihanish Golf Club officially formed.

Charlie Hunter (1836 - 1921) played in the first Open Championship at Prestwick in 1860; and he succeeded Old Tom Morris as the clubmaker and club professional in 1864.

When Old Tom Morris, now back in St Andrews to oversee the Old Course, was summoned in 1879, he persuaded the club fathers to secure more land and lent his expertise to stretch the course to eighteen holes, designing the jewel of a course we play today.

The next two holes are named Islay and Jura—appropriate, as those islands are visible off the coast. Islay (pronounced Eye-la) boasts one 18-hole course called Machrie, dating back to 1891, which I have long wanted to play, but somehow I have never carved out the extra time to get over there.

For some Scots and foreign tourists alike, the island is better known for its distilleries. According to Visit Scotland, Scotland’s National Tourism Organization, there are eight malt whisky distilleries on this Hebridean Island. Laphroaig is certainly one of the most distinctive single malts, with Bowmore being the first recorded distillery, dating back to 1779.

During our round, Scott mentioned there are nine distilleries and his wife is with the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, so maybe she had some uber-insider information that only society members know?

Then we had a string of par-4s called Punch Bowl, Balaclava, Bruach More, Gigha (named after another island) and the ninth was Ranachan. The guys had a completely different angle to the fairway—my tee box was in a valley requiring a blind shot over a long dune ridge. I couldn’t quite remember how much farther to the right of the guide post I could go, so on this day I was too conservative and my ball ran through the fairway. We played the course again the next day and I judged it just right, leaving a short wedge to the green, leading to a very satisfying par.

Although it is basically a classic nine out and nine back layout, when the back nine swings around near the airfield, it takes a few holes before you are pointing back toward the opening hole. With two tough par-5s and long back-to-back par-3s at the fifteenth and sixteenth, this course delights and frustrates in equal measure.

I’ve heard people complain about the last hole, which is a short, relatively easy par-4, but by then I felt like I had “bagged a Munro”, and I was incredibly grateful to just be getting close to the finish line. A Munro, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the word, is a Scottish term for a summit over 3,000 feet. There are 282 of them in Scotland, named after Sir Hugh Munro, who created the first list of these big hills or small mountains—take your pick.

Our exhilarating adventure for the day now over, we are happy to be heading back to the Ugadale, where our tastefully decorated suite and a lovely meal in The Kintyre Club restaurant await us. I’d say a wee dram of Springbank, distilled just down the road by the same family since 1828, awaits us too.

If you are looking for an exceptional golfing experience, I heartily suggest you plan the trip. Along with the historic Machrihanish Golf Club, The Ugadale, the Ugadale Cottages, Royal Hotel in Campbeltown and the new sister course, Machrihanish Dunes, you have at least five reasons to make this a golf destination. Soon. Make it soon.

Monarch of The Marcliffe Taba Dale, July 27, 2013

The brass plaque on the wall beneath him says he weighed “699 lbs.” Below that, “277 kilos”. His graying brown head is turned just slightly and his dark eyes catch yours. His antlers: “9.5 lbs. Dry”. I don’t understand the “dry” bit. Actually, this was the grand stag, a red deer I think, that was “The Monarch of Pitfodels”, which is where The Marcliffe Hotel now sits. The Marcliffe being the exceptional 5-star hotel our group stayed in for four glorious nights, just outside Aberdeen.

And it is Stewart Spence, the owner, who is the true Monarch of The Marcliffe. The moment you check in to your sumptuous room, you notice a letter from him in your welcome materials that states he is a keen golfer and member of Royal Aberdeen.

In fact, the letter starts out: “Dear Fellow Golfer”—and at the bottom it is signed: “J. Stewart Spence (h’cap 7)”. He tells you that he has been a member of Royal Aberdeen for forty years and a member of Cruden Bay for forty-five years as well (along with several other clubs).

Stewart, who has already made me feel like I know him, informs us: “For Scottish Beef (aged a minimum of 35 days and cut to suit), along with shellfish and seafood, you need go no further than the Conservatory Restaurant, right in the hotel.” But here’s the bit I really like: “To complement your dining experience you may choose from our very interesting and extensive wine list with over 400 bins, including a page dedicated to wines produced by golfers for golfers.”

Making mention of the fact that he is operating a hotel in the Home of Golf, he assures you that: “We are here to facilitate a memorable stay for our golfers, and if there is anything we can do to make your visit more pleasurable, please do not hesitate to ask.”

And then he reads your mind and offers: “If I have one piece of advice for you when you are tackling the great links courses of the North East, it would be ‘keep it low’.”

Now how’s that for providing a clue to the driving force behind this hotel? I have the distinct feeling that he likes the best of the best and he wants you to enjoy the same. There is an immediate sense that this man is passionate about everything he does and everything he puts his attention on.

So of course you will google The Marcliffe website where you’ll discover that Stewart is an avid angler and he fishes for salmon in Russia and Iceland every year. He is also an enthusiastic fundraiser of Orri Vigfusson “Patron Saint of Salmon,” and the North Atlantic Salmon Fund.

Although a monarch, Stewart drives himself around in either his Range Rover or BMW 7 series. He regularly shops at Harrods, and is particularly fond of Loro Piana jackets, Turnbull and Asser shirts, Ferragamo and Bulgari ties. He is royal right down to his shoes—made by Church’s.

By now I have already googled Church’s and discovered that yes, they do have a Women’s Collection and that my next shoe is called “Constance”. It is black patent leather, and with its smart not-too-high heel and a decorative “gusset flap”, it is quite classy and has a little bit of a vintage golf shoe look.

That just about covers Stewart Spence, except all the elegant ladies want to know if he is available and our golfing guys all want to know when he is on hand to tee it up?

I file away all this interesting information about the hotel’s proprietor and figure I can now free up my mind to ponder other wonders of the Scottish world—that is, until Kevin and I are sitting down in the Drawing Room using our laptops (giving the housekeeping staff a chance to tidy up our room-cum-office now that it is nearly 4:30 PM). Right next to us is the black grand piano topped with photographs, many of Stewart with luminaries such as Tom Watson, Paul Lawrie, Jack & Barbara Nicklaus, and Bernard Gallagher sitting with the Ryder Cup trophy. And who walks straight over to us to say hello, but Mr. Spence, his good self!

I actually noticed him in the lobby earlier in the day, wearing a crisp light gray suit and exquisite pale green silk tie. He was chatting with a couple who were leaving, so I didn’t want to intrude. But now he has planted himself beside us as the consummate host; and in two seconds the conversation turns to golf.

After a bit of chitchat about the courses our group has been playing on this tour, Kevin casually mentions, “I’m on the Top 100 Panel with GOLF Magazine.”

“Oh are you?” Stewart says with delight, realizing he is now conversing with a true golf aficionado.

Kevin nods. “In fact, I think Royal Aberdeen is one of the most underrated courses that I’ve played—I said it to Ronnie—how it’s not ranked in the Top 100 in the World is beyond me.” Ronnie MacAskill, being the Director of Golf at Royal Aberdeen, which is the sixth oldest club in the world.

Stewart picks up the thread about the ranking lists. “But I’ve always said—you see—I’m sixty-six and been playing golf since four years of age—that’s what happens in Scotland—played in twenty-six countries. And I said to the guys at Pine Valley—I was there for a couple of nights a couple of years ago. You know guys, I think you are definitely the number one inland club in the world...”

I find this statement perfectly logical from a Scot who plays a great deal of golf on the pure links courses of the east coast, and offer, “That’s a good way of putting it.”

Stewart goes on, “Because I’ve never understood why they rank inland and links in the same category. I’ve played golf for over sixty years. It’s a totally different thing.”

Kevin and I, we get it.

“And you know something, they all to the last one agreed with me,” Stewart says proudly. “Because they are all keen golfers. They said, ‘We would never compare St Andrews with Pine Valley,’ and stuff like that.”

He finishes his confidential point of view with: “Because I, well, I’ve played all the great inland courses, but out of choice, I’ll always go and play links courses. Know what I mean?”

We do.

“I’m the same,” Kevin beams. “I’m born in Dublin and played a lot of my early golf on Portmarnock—now live near Lahinch in the summertime.” He touches my arm. “We live in Scottsdale, Arizona in the winter.”

“Brilliant. Beautiful,” Stewart smiles.

I chime in, “It’s the complete contrast—desert and water’s edge,” so Stewart knows I am a golfer; not that he didn’t intuit this. “I’m a links lover, too.”

This sparks a memory and Stewart reminisces: “I remember playing the Boulders. We used to be affiliated with them. And John, this pal of mine says, ‘Now listen, if you hit a ball into that desert, into that scrub, you’re not going in there, you’re live bait.’

“I’m standing on this fairway,” Stewart recalls, “I’m thinking, John, there’s two brand new balls in there.

“‘Yeah, yeah, yeah,’ he says, ‘well just forget about them!’

“‘But I’m a Scotsman!’ I insist.

“‘Don’t go in there!’ he says ominously.”

Kevin and I smile and nod our heads knowingly.

“My girlfriend took up golf a few years ago...” Stewart volunteers.

Okay, now we know he’s not available! So that’s all the elegant lady readers canceling the flight they just booked to Aberdeen.

“And her favorite thing is looking for balls.” Stewart continues, “Well, awhile ago we’re playing golf in Gran Canaria (Spain). It’s another box to tick,” he interjects. “We were on this course with a lot of scrub on the left. The next thing I know, she disappears in there and comes out with seven balls!”

To me, this hilarious. “That’s just like Kevin. For some reason, he always seems to find five brand new Pro-Vs for every one he loses.”

Stewart picks up the story. “Well, the next ball I hit into the scrub, off she goes and finds ten more balls in the same place!”

I’m now picturing her going around the golf course wearing a backpack bursting at the seams with found balls. I wonder if Church’s sells backpacks. Gotta go back on their website and check.

“Why do we even go looking in there? If you find your ball in that scrub you can’t play it!” Stewart points out.

That never stops Kevin from foraging anywhere. The rough of links dunes. The jumping cholla of the desert. Nothing deters him. It’s all I can do to keep him out of the marshy areas in Florida. What does he think? The alligators will not like his “I-only-drink-New-Zealand-Sauvignon-Blanc-Irish taste?”

Kevin and I are laughing ourselves silly.

“My girlfriend,” Stewart chuckles along with us, “her son, he plays golf. She’s brought back enough balls to fill three shag bags. ‘Mom,’ he says, ‘no more! I have enough!’”

Kevin’s inner caveman hunter-gatherer is completely engaged just picturing her hoard. I can tell he’s envious. As if he all of a sudden feels he has a shortage of golf balls. He has dozens of plastic golf shoe bags full of them. He has drawers loaded with them in every room of both houses. There is even a crystal bowl in the Liscannor kitchen heaping full of balls. This is not including the hundreds of prized balls of Top 100 or other exotic courses he has played that are on display in the living room and dining room in Ireland. He has amassed so many in Scottsdale that I was forced to locate a used ball buyer over by Paradise Valley Mall who took something like 80 dozen of those balls.

“I mean, come on, even though we travel business class, there is a limit to the weight of the bags...” Stewart winds up.

On this convivial note, we say our goodbyes with Kevin extending an invitation to Stewart. “Why don’t you round up a team from Royal Aberdeen for our inaugural Top 100 Invitational in Florida next January?”

“I will handpick my team!” Stewart replies enthusiastically before taking his leave.

There goes the amiable Monarch of The Marcliffe, come to life straight off the page of his letter. Maybe only 170 lbs. dry.

Kevin goes right back to working on his computer, and I am left to marvel at what this inimitable man has created. To the left of the grand piano is an L-shaped, almost floor-to-ceiling display housing a world-class collection of porcelain cheese and butter dishes. Above the fireplace and on every other wall not made up of windows are outstanding original oils and watercolors, mainly landscapes. The inviting lobby with comfortable silk damask-covered sofas, round-skirted tables, and a gorgeous arrangement of fresh flowers including delicate orchids, which are included in every guest room, also has a charming assortment of raku pottery by the reception desk.

Scottsdale Collection
Scottsdale Collection

One can only guess that perhaps the artist, John Hine, is a personal favorite of Stewart. There, artistically displayed on beautifully lit shelving, is an entire menagerie of various ceramic animals that include a precious Scottie and even a Jack Russell. But it is the hares, dozens of them, ranging from a few inches tall to life-size, all in a white crackle glaze, that are the stars.

This reminds me that listed on the “52 things to see and do when in and around Aberdeen,” also discovered in our room, is #27: “The Golf Memorabilia and Snooker room at The Marcliffe Hotel.” And that is where I probably found the true essence of the man.

I feel a bit like the super sleuth of my childhood, Nancy Drew, creeping down a narrow staircase in search of this most private retreat. In the quiet recesses of the elegant boutique hotel, I find loads more early photographs—images like the Beechwood House, from back in the 1950s—that provide a rich narrative of the whole history of the house.

What is now The Marcliffe, started out as a mansion built in 1852 for an Aberdeen banker. A veritable gallery of prints and drawings tell a fascinating story of the entire evolution of the mansion and its environs over the decades.

Perhaps the most endearing of all the artifacts is a hand drawn map of the “Salmon Rivers of Scotland”, accompanied by a little framed poem on the wall called The Fisherman’s Prayer.

For me, it rather sums up the charm and wit of our host, the Monarch:

“Lord, suffer me to catch a fish, So large that even I, In talking of it afterwards, Shall have no need to lie.”

How Hard Can it Be? (Himalayas) Taba Dale, Evening, June 18, 2013

Now you might be thinking how challenging can a putting course be? Well, if it’s the Himalayas, and you play off a five handicap like Kevin does and you’ve already taken six without finishing the hole, I’d say that is pretty damn challenging!

“I want a mulligan,” Kevin insisted, as his ball went everywhere but in the hole.

Well that cracked me up so much I almost peed in my pants. We did do the hole over again and made a rule right then and there that five was the maximum we could take on any hole.

Truth be told, after botching up the first hole, I said, “Sweetheart there’s nobody behind us, let’s just start over, ok?”

We each took one ball and our putter and walked over from our apartment by the 18th green of the Old Course. I had been looking forward to this experience for years—not only for the sheer fun of it—but because I figured there is no way I’m going to lose a ball!

Just like at regular courses the world over, there was a starter. As soon as we arrived around 4PM and paid our 2 Pounds he said, “You can go now.” Perfect.

“Can I have a scorecard?” I asked, since he didn’t offer. We were each given a little white card plus he gave me a super sharp bright red pencil.

Scottsdale Collection
Scottsdale Collection

The famed Himalayas, which is open from April to the end of September, is the home of The St Andrews Ladies’ Putting Club, which was founded in 1867. It has officers just like any other golf club, which include a President and a Secretary and even a Tournament Secretary!

And if that doesn’t bring a smile to your face, how about this from the St Andrews Links 2013 Local Club Review:

“Informal Thursday mornings have once again proved popular with a shotgun start and as many as sixty players taking part.”

It is really quite an amusing vision, having so many people spread out on this wee course, full of humps, hollows and linksy hills which sits side-by-side the hallowed ground of the Old Course.

Until I did some research later, I had no idea that there are ‘Members Times’ when the course is closed to the public, that the ‘Rules’ insist that you keep up with the group ahead (that might be just 20 yards ahead), and that the course record, held by G. Anderson is 34. That amazing -2 score was accomplished with two holes-in-one!

I wasn’t even sure where to begin, but Kevin found the flat, triangular ceramic white arrow with the number 1 in black, affixed to the ground.

We both went along nicely, making twos and threes until we got to that really tricky “do-over” hole which just about drove Kevin around the twist.

From the same St Andrews Links 2013 Local Club Review, which describes the entire vibrant golf scene of competitions and prize winners including the Royal and Ancient Golf Club (formed 1754), The New Golf Club of St Andrews (formed 1902), St Regulus Ladies’ Golf Club (formed 1913), The St Rule Golf Club (formed 1901), among others, you can find out the 2012 winners of such tournaments as the “Birdie” Owl Paperweight (St Rule), the Rutherford Eclectic Salver (St Regulus), Texas Scramble (The New Golf Club), the Power Vase (Thistle Golf Club), and the Scott Foursomes (Children’s Golf Club), plus all the monthly Medals and other annual fixtures of at least fifteen clubs based in St Andrews.

When I read somewhere that the St Regulus Ladies Golf Club even has a separate Putting Membership (along with a Golfing Membership), I thought Eureka—I finally found my future golf home in St Andrews! But given that this is St Andrews we’re talking about, I probably have to be nominated and seconded and voted in and who knows if I will live long enough for that to happen.

Oh, and there is one other small thing, I probably have to be a resident of St Andrews!

We are now on the back nine of the Himalayas. The grass is the same all over, so you really have to develop your judgement as to the speed (or the slowness) of the many quirky undulations, which Kevin did slightly better than me, but only slightly, since we erased that six-and-counting!

There is hope, however, since I read that in the Millennium Trophy Competition which is held on the Ladies’ Putting Green over Thursday and the quarter-finals on Friday morning, it was contested by eight ladies all of whom, except one, a close contender, were over eighty!

Not only that, the final was contested by two ladies both over ninety!

So now I have the answer. All I have to do is live to be eighty or so. How hard can that be?

Go on Your Donkey June 17, 2012 Taba Dale

Today is my lucky day. By the excitement I’m feeling, you’d think I am going to play golf at Augusta. But no, we are playing at the Sandfield House Pitch & Putt course on the Lahinch Road. I have passed by this wee course, what, a hundred times? Five hundred times over the last two summers?

We are taking just our wedges and a putter, plus two balls each, and going out to hit the links. Really, this is a pure links course, just like the other famous 18-hole courses.

“Sweetheart, are you sure this is all I will need?” I wonder aloud.

“No pitch and putt hole can be over 75 yards,” Kevin assures me, “so yes, that is all you need to bring.”

In fact, a little research reveals that there is even a Pitch and Putt Union of Ireland, and that any club formally admitted by the Constitution must comply with the rule that says:

“Maximum distance from tee to green shall be 70 metres, measured from the forward edge of the teeing ground to the centre of the green.”

Furthermore, many of the courses are graded and they are split in two divisions—Championship and Provincial—the Championship Grade being permitted to host National Championships and Competitions.

There is even a club called Royal Meath Pitch and Putt, established in 1962, which, according to the club’s website, adopted the name thusly: “The county of Meath is called Ireland’s Royal County because the ancient kings of Ireland lived within its confines at Tara.” A partial description of the course layout reads: “The tiny seventh green has broken many hearts. The raised green of this 25 metre teaser has delivered many a card wrecking double bogey!”

Scottsdale Collection

We turn in to the car park and go up to the “clubhouse” which is really just a shed. When I poke my head inside I don’t see anyone, so I call out, “Hello? Hello?”

A trim looking sixty-something gentleman emerges from a room behind the front “desk.” I promptly announce, “I’ve come all the way from Arizona to play your course!”

He is pleasantly amused. I ask him for a scorecard and want to know, “Is it nine holes out and nine holes back?”

“Oh yes,” the man says, his blue eyes twinkling, “It is indeed eighteen holes.”

“Does the color of the flags tell us which way to go?” I press.

“Red out, yellow in,” he nods, then turns to Kevin. “Are you McGrath? McGrath from Kilfenora?”

“I am a McGrath—we are the McGraths from Cork,” Kevin replies, a bit surprised that the man recognizes him. “Do I know you from Lahinch or Egans?”

“Oh it would be Egan’s,” says the man. “From the good old days when we could have five or six pints and still drive home. Now the only way you can go is on your donkey.”

I fear our exchange will end without the Honorable Secretary-President-Captain volunteering who he is, and ask, “What is your name?”

“Slattery would be my name. Eamon Slattery.”

It’s not quite like meeting Bobby Jones, but hey, it is pretty darn special and we haven’t even started our round yet.

It turns out that our chat with the famous Slattery of County Clare puts us past the last tee off time of 5 PM. I barely took note of the sign by the car park, and at this time of year, with the days being so long, it didn’t occur to me that we couldn’t just mosey on over and tee it up.

Oh well...we left with a good story, and like my dear friend Steve Goscin said, “It gives real meaning to the phrase “drunk on your ass!”

 

Come See Some Grouse (Walton Heath) Taba Dale, August 25, 2010

Never was I happier to not play a round of golf that had been so much looked forward to.

All the way from Celtic Manor to Walton Heath, we slogged through persistent rain. We pulled in next to a Corniche and sat in the car park while deciding our strategy for getting one of our golf umbrellas out of the boot.

Scottsdale Collection
Scottsdale Collection

We arrived at this storied club to play #82 on the Top 100 courses (2009, Golf Magazine) well ahead of our 2pm tee time, which became tea time. Or rather, we opted for a glass of wine and bite to eat in the bar, after conferring with the Professional, Simon Peaford, over in the golf shop. We discussed the idea of coming back to play the following Monday, which gave me plenty of time to marvel that this personable young man was following in the footsteps of James Braid, winner of  the Open Championship 5 times and their professional for 46 years.

Scottsdale Collection

Ho! What good fortune. We settled in a cozy corner near the bar, where an irresistible book entitled “Heather and Heaven, Walton Heath Golf Club, 1903-2003” by Phil Pilley was discretely displayed. I was completely absorbed from the first few paragraphs of the Introduction where Pilley confesses: The title of this book, by the way, is shamelessly plagiarised—though with consent from The Daily Telegraph of Augusts 5, 2002. That day Bill Meredith, reporting the English Amateur Championship, wrote that

 a bewildering burst of back-to-back eagles followed by a birdie lifted   Richard Finch into a field of dreams at Walton Heath, a wonderful mixture of heaven and heather.

I merely changed the order of billing to ingratiate myself with the heather.

It only got better from here, when a trio of members were passing through the bar and one stopped to chat with us—perhaps because he learned of our passion to play the highly revered parkland course. He introduced himself as Simon Creagh Chapman, and revealed that he is the Chairman of the Green Committee. Moments later, when I quoted one of my heroes, Bernard Darwin, who said: If there’s something golfers want and do not get at Walton Heath, I do not know what it can be, Simon disappeared for an instant and then presented me with a pristine copy of the centenary history book to keep. For me, this was on par with back-to-back eagles!

Scottsdale Collection
Scottsdale Collection

The whole magical encounter took a fantastic turn when Simon invited us into the inner sanctum of the clubhouse. There hung a magnificent life size portrait of the champion James Braid, by Sir James Gunn, RA, c.1925. On the way back to the bar, he pointed out another of the crown jewels—a Gunn portrait of the architect of Walton Heath, Herbert Fowler, who was an accomplished

amateur golfer when he was commissioned in 1902.

Back at our table, Simon continued to astound us with stories of how his great grandfather was instrumental in founding Ballybunion.

Apparently it all started with an invitation to “Come see some grouse!”

Ferry Tale (Morfontaine) Taba Dale, August 23, 2010

Following behind two metallic burgundy fully-decked-out matching Honda motorcycles (with trailers!), we drove on to the 9am ferry to Fishguard, and departed the dock on time. We were comfy with WiFi and two Pullman chairs on deck 7 of the Stena Line. With endless cloudy skies, a west wind and a calm sea, we are sailing to Wales, where along the way to Holland, we will begin our quest to play 3 more of the Top 100 courses in the world—starting with Royal Porthcawl.

Our main reason for embarking on this 10-day journey to Holland is to celebrate Kevin’s sister Gerri’s 60th birthday. All of Kevin’s siblings will be coming from all over the world, like they did for his 60th birthday last year in Liscannor on the Emerald Isle.

Scottsdale Collection
Scottsdale Collection

Walton Heath and Porthcawl will merit stories of their own, but perhaps the most looked-forward-to round of all is Morfontaine, #54 on the Top 100 in The World (2009, Golf Magazine). North of Paris in the Chantilly, Oise region, we are guests of Laure de Gramont, the granddaughter of the aristocratic owner.

In 1913, the 12th Duc de Gramont (1879-1962),
a keen golfer, engaged the eccentric Englishman, Tom Simpson (1877-1964) to design a 9-hole golf course, near his estate Chateau de Valliere, on what was originally a polo field. In 1927, Armand de Gramont once more commissioned Simpson—whose clients included Royal Lytham, Cruden Bay and Ballybunion―to design an 18-hole course. With some recent alterations by the American architect Kyle Phillips, it lived up to its reputation of being a “museum piece.”

We have permission to invite some friends, so we are delighted that Nancy & Michael Bamforth, who live in Belgium, will be joining us. We are extremely grateful that they speak perfect French, as Michael learned from the secretary –manager when providing their handicaps that the men are required to wear long pants. Thankfully we have been spared the embarrassment of Kevin showing up in his perennial favourite shorts. Mon dieu! That is, when we finally do show up—as our “route-planner” directions only bring us to the ancient town and we are now looking for a place that does not want to be found!

Scottsdale Collection
Scottsdale Collection

After a delicious lunch on the veranda of the ivy-covered, understated clubhouse —with a glass of wine (bien sur!)—the four of us set out on our round. Other than one member playing by himself, we were the only people on the oh-so-private Morfontaine. Starting on the first tee near the sandy parking lot, we wove our way through the magical forest

along the pine tree-root-bound paths and lengthy heathery carries. There is no way to describe this experience other than to employ another Oscar Wilde quote:  The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.

With a little rain and a lot of humidity, we completed our round, full of wonder and a very good appetite for a fabulous meal in the medieval village of Senlis. Saw-lease. Nancy taught me how to pronounce it correctly.

We parked near the magnificent Cathedral (dating to the 12th century) and in the fading daylight, walked on the cobble stone streets to Porte Bellon, where Nancy and Michael had stayed and eaten the night before. Something to drink? Yes, please, I’ll have a glass of shampoo! What else could a champagne-loving golf geek do? A true fairytale day.

Celtic Clash (Royal Porthcawl) Taba Dale, August 23, 2010

Alighting from the ferry in Fishguard, we are welcomed with some sunshine. We’re back to miles and spelling that only the Welsh can decipher. No longer in the Emerald Isle-land of 40 shades of green—we are now in with only 39 shades of green and one other distinct difference—the roads are much smoother.

We must ARAFWCH NAWR as we have a WYNEB DROS DRO due to TREFN FFYRDO O’CH BLEAN  because the FFORDOO AR GAU.

Scottsdale Collection

Which is to say that we must reduce speed now as we have a temporary road surface due to a new road layout because the road is closed ahead. Or something like that.

As we are stuck behind a truck, listening to a CD, all of a sudden in a BOOMING voice, BBC Radio overrides our music with a traffic report at a deafening decibel level….lanes blocked, still queuing on the road to Swansea although the accident is long gone—the voice tells us. OK!! After inching along, we finally start moving.

Scottsdale Collection

We haven’t been in Wales for more than a half hour before I realize we are seeing 10 times the number of BMWs that we might see in a single day in Ireland. Zoooom.There goes the first Porche Carrera since leaving Scottsdale—opening the throttle between the speed cameras. As our movie unfolds, the contrast piles up—here’s a guy in a red T-shirt beside the road having a pee while a sleek black Bentley slithers by. Clash of low class and high class.

No way we’ll make our tee time at Royal Porthcawl. Not a problem they say- we’ll get you out when you arrive. The weather has taken a dramatic turn and we are now about to tee off in gale force wind. I can barely stand much less get my ball on the tee. Daunting. When rain comes in by the 12th hole, I give up trying to play “extreme” golf and make my way back to the clubhouse where I can behold the rugged sea and absorb the history of Porthcawl from the confines of the cozy bar.

Scottsdale Collection
Scottsdale Collection

Founded in 1891 on a nearby piece of land, the original 9 holes were laid out by Charles Gibson, the professional at Westward Ho! The present layout was extensively modified by the esteemed H.S. Colt in 1913, with major alterations done by Tom Simpson in 1933. This course has crept (back) into the Top 100 in the world, occupying place #100.(2009, Golf Magazine) I was impressed to read the actual letter dated 30 March 1909 from Herbert John Gladstone to Sidney Robinson, M.P. (1854-1930)—at the time the Vice President of the Club, which says: I am glad to inform you after inquiry and consideration, I have felt able to recommend the King to permit the club to use the title “Royal”, and that His Majesty has been pleased to approve the recommendation.

While Kevin has continued on to battle the elements, I sooth myself with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, and have time to consider the clash of being inside the oh-so-refined royally ordained golf haven, as opposed to the raw, heaving, golf-ball-gobbling landscape outside—wishing I had more “ballast” so I could finish one of the great golf experiences of Wales. Perhaps the golf gods will let me have another go on a calmer day.

A Score by the Tail (Donegal) Taba Dale, August 19, 2010

We arrived in Donegal very late on Tuesday night so Kevin could play a practice round at Donegal Golf Club on Wednesday morning. His idea of a “holiday” is playing in the Ulster Seniors, which started today. When the ominous morning came, I went out at 10.04 with him and another competitor from Dun Laoire, but came in to the clubhouse at the turn. The play was painfully slow and when the menacing clouds down poured for the third time, I sought shelter. It was certainly a day when you could experience all four
seasons in your backswing.

Scottsdale Collection
Scottsdale Collection

Along with a bite to eat, I availed myself of the small booklet in the golf shop commemorating the 50th anniversary of Murvagh (1959-2009) as it is often referred to —and have now increased my geekiness by a significant margin. I learned that when Eddie Hackett (1910-1996) was commissioned in 1973 to lay out this course on a 180 acre tract, for the modest fee of £200, he cleverly used Muirfield as a model, with the front nine running counter-clockwise around the perimeter of the peninsula, and the back nine forming an inner clockwise loop.

Hackett, ever modest himself, was known to say: “I found that nature is the best architect, I just dress up what the Good Lord provides.”

It was the highly esteemed Pat Ruddy who was hired in the mid 1990s to make some changes over the next few years, and we did see him arrive yesterday to play in the tournament as well. I had actually discovered a couple of days before while reading in the “Official Golf Guide” for 2010, published by the Irish Tourist Board, that some redesign at Enniscrone was taken on by the “late Pat Ruddy,” so we had a good laugh when the “late” Pat Ruddy arrived in his customary good humor.

Scottsdale Collection
Scottsdale Collection

If it were not for the unfavorable conditions, I might never have learned that the Irish Hare is Ireland’s fastest mammal and they live in nests called “forms.”  And did you know that the badger is Ireland’s largest carnivore? They live in underground tunnel systems called “setts,” The starter on the first tee warned us of a pesky resident badger who had been tearing up turf and sure enough we saw evidence of his nocturnal activity on the 16th tee.

Perhaps the keen horticulturist and common golfer alike, will be amused to know that included in the 50 species of wildflowers found here on the seaside links at Murvagh are: Sneeze Wort, Dog Violet, Common Vetch, Devil’s Bit Scabious, Yellow Rattle and Bladder Campion.

But the most interesting species of all is the bag-carrying-or-trolley-pushing-ball-chasing-two-legged-golf-obsessed mammal who will travel great distances all over the world to play the most challenging game known to man. Both Kevin and one other playing partner today carded 79, missing a few putts by inches, to rob them each of a more magical number—Tony lamenting, “ I had a score by the tail.”

The Island (The Island) Taba Dale, August 3, 2010

Sandwiched in-between hosting our guests at Portmarnock and The K Club, Kevin and I managed to get out to play The Island on the Sunday, July 25th. It is a bit unfortunate that our only possible time to play there fell on the day of the Ladies Member competition, so we went out at 12:40pm, the first available tee time after the final fourball.

We were so warmly received by David Costigan, the Head Professional in the golf shop, and greeted so graciously on the first tee by Donal O’Meara, the Captain, and Council Member Miriam Hand who took our photograph, we were setting off on our adventure feeling very special indeed.

Scottsdale Collection
Scottsdale Collection

I had heard about The Island Golf Club some years ago, and was eager to finally have a chance to see this classic links course for myself. From James Finnegan’s “Emerald Fairways and Foam Flecked Seas,” to Tom Coyne’s “A Course Called Ireland,” it has been highly revered. I must say, it exceeded my expectations.

Kevin hits a very long ball, so we let the ladies clear the first green before teeing it up. I had a good shot up the middle. Uphill par 5, downhill par 4 and then a rollicking rollercoaster the rest of the way. Blind shots, doglegs, greens tucked behind dunes…even a long par-3 reminiscent of the blind par-3 “Dell” at Lahinch.

Now that I live in Scottsdale, Arizona, I found it particularly amusing to find the 5th hole named “Desert,”—this hole was the blindest of blind. Quirky like Machrihanish.

It felt like the whole concept of elevated tees originated here, as the heights and the views over the dunes and to the sea were intoxicating.

Scottsdale Collection
Scottsdale Collection

Painting by Tony McCarthy

By the time we got to the 14th, the course had slowed considerably with the competition on. It would be our last hole. At least I could finish with what may have been the best drive of the day onto the narrowest five-yards-wide fairway, with water all the way up the right side and a towering dune running the length of the hole on the left. Intimidating.

Fourteen is a shortish par-4 named “Old Clubhouse.”  I had plenty of time while waiting to note the plaque set into the side of the tee box reading: Steps and Foundation of the Old Club House are Part of This Tee. It also says the golfers came by boat to The Island from its founding in 1890 until 1973, and there is a small boat full of golfers in the bronze bas relief. Kevin says he remembers coming by boat himself, the first time he played there. The signal to the boatman to collect the golfers was a large red & white disk which was hinged in the center and could be seen from the shore.

Time got away from us and we needed to make our way to Blackrock for an early dinner with Kevin’s daughter and family. Hopefully we’ll be back again some day to finish the final four holes—and perhaps play it several more times so that all the blind shots will no longer be blind.

Cute Up Close (JP McManus event at Adare Manor) Taba Dale, July 6, 2010

We spent the entire afternoon yesterday at the JP McManus Invitational Pro-Am, which is staged at the Robert Trent Jones Sr.(1906-2000) course at Adare Manor in County Limerick. It is the last major course he designed. The two-day event, inaugurated in 1990, is played every 5 years—and has raised a staggering €55 million for groups in the Mid West working with underprivileged and disadvantaged.

Scottsdale Collection

Kevin cleverly remembering a back road, skirted around the miles of cars in a massive 2+ hour back-up to get into Adare.  We parked on a grassy lot and followed the stream of people through a field of waist-high barley, walking single file along the giant tractor tracks. It was an almost mystical scene, with the stately Adare Manor Hotel finally emerging from behind a wall of trees, as we golf pilgrims emerged from a tan sea of wavy stalks of heady grain. Threading our way through the throngs of people, we spotted The Dog House, and got in the lengthy queue for a not-so-hot-hotdog. Hungry no more.

Scottsdale Collection

The record-breaking crowd of more than 40,000 came to watch defending champion Padraig Harrington, reigning U.S. Open champion, Graeme McDowell, and 13 of  the 16 top players in the world—yes--including Tiger Woods. We were part of the enormous gallery on the 12th green, where we did see him on his way to a painful 79. On this testy 7,453 yard layout, in windy conditions, Harrington finished with a 76, we later learned, taking a double bogey on the treacherous 18th.

Much to my surprise and delight, we got to see my DC hometown hero, Fred Funk, tee off on the 167-yard par-3 sixteenth. First shot in the water. Second shot just a few feet  from the flag. In this festive atmosphere, Fred eagerly turned around and signed lots of hats for dozens of kids. This is when I realized, that oh, Tom Lehman was in the next group. Get ready!

The jolly crowd was funny when Lehman consulted his caddie about what club to hit in the swirling wind to carry the water to a narrow, heavily-bunkered green—they yelled in unison: 7-iron! When the 7-iron carried over the green, someone said Fred Funk hit 9-iron, to which Lehman quipped, they better give him a drug test-! With the page opened to Tom’s photo, I got my outstretched program in his line of sight and said: For a Scottsdale fan! My new “hometown”hero (who lives at DC Ranch, not far from me) said – the weather’s much better here isn’t it? You bet it is!

But perhaps the biggest hero of all for me, was the one-legged amateur player Manuel de los Santos, playing with Lucas Glover,  who after knocking his bogey putt in with his rubber-footed crutch, was all smiles and bowed gracefully to the cheering crowd.Last thrill of the day—while walking down the 18th, seeing the crush of giggling girls trying to get their picture taken with Hugh Grant—yeah—he really is kinda cute up close!

Scottsdale Collection
Scottsdale Collection

Keeper of the Royal Ball Taba Dale, September 22, 2009

Scottsdale Collection

Duke of York ready to hit his tee shot.

Magical.

On a distant shore, on a distant land, it happened.

The sky was leaden. The wind was uncharacteristically calm. It was moisturish, as they say in Machrihanish.

Although it is so remote, golfers like me eagerly make the pilgrimage to play the pure links course called Machrihanish Golf Club. Situated on the Kintyre peninsula of western Scotland, on a clear day you can even make out the coast of Northern Ireland.

During the summer of 2005, I made the journey to play in Ireland, to attend The Open Championship in St. Andrews and hope to see Tiger take home the Claret Jug for a second time. He accommodated me.

Before I left Machrihanish, it provided something amazing to punctuate my golf odyssey. It was supposed to be a secret, but the whole town was atwitter. The isolated village of Machrihanish is little more than a single street. The region once boasted as many as 28 distilleries—now there is just one single-malt bottled: Springbank.

Right on schedule, at 5pm, the entourage of black Range Rovers made their way to the car park.

I was hurrying to finish my round and claim my spot on the wee bit of grass on this soon-to-be-royal teeing ground. The opening hole at Machrihanish is considered by many to be one of the best in the world. Your daunting tee shot must carry at least 150 yards over the Atlantic Ocean—for the men, more like 200 yards.

We waited patiently until at last Prince Andrew emerged from one of the Rovers. Known to be a very keen golfer, he came to hit a few ceremonial balls off the new “Tiger Tee,” recently carved out of a tiny spit of land, below and behind the small golf shop.

The town worthies and Captain of the Club welcomed him heartily on the narrow tee, bestowing a bottle of Springbank Whisky and a box of Machrihanish-logoed balls. Finally the time came for Prince Andrew to tee up the first ball and he asked, “Does anyone have a tee?”

Having just come off the course, I waved and said, “I do!” He graciously took the tee.

As it was low tide, a man and his dog were strolling on the beach. With natural bonhomie, the Prince noted, “Right, that man and his dog are now in danger!” He fired off three powerful drives. They all found the fairway. Quietly, a little boy was dispatched to go and retrieve them.

While the camaraderie and picture-taking continued, we all basked in the glow of this magical moment. The Prince then asked, “Whose tee is this?” I raised my hand and said, “You can keep it,” but he insisted on giving it back to me and placed it gently in my palm.

Having been touched by royalty was certainly enough to make my day, but then another amazing thing happened. A friend within the circle of officials secretly passed me one of the golf balls.

As the fog settled in, we made our way to the warm clubhouse where the men huddled around the Prince. I sat by myself relishing the moment when I became forever the Keeper of the Royal Ball.