My second visit to Scotland was just as good as my first when I flew there in April 2015 on a pilgrimage to play at Shiskine, a twelve hole course on the Isle of Arran.
Not only did I catch up with old friends, I made many more new ones along the way.
After arriving in Glasgow I drove straight to the Necropolis and while the folk at the car hire thought I mad going to see a cemetery, I had heard it had amazing vistas over Glasgow.
I was not disappointed.
For the first three nights, I was staying in Lochwinnoch at a cute little cottage with my new friend Karen – who I will be visiting and staying with again when I return to Scotland next year.
I went hunting for food and while I was driving around, a brightly clad policeman jumped out at me from under a bridge. A little troll like and scared the crap out of me.
I pulled over, put the hazards on and we had a bit of a chat.
He asked me if I knew why he had pulled me over. No I did not. He then told me I was in a 30 mph zone and showed me his speed gun. It read 48 mph.
He questioned me, checked my licence (to which his partner decided it was fake because it is Australian) and questioned me some more. I told them I was here golfing and asked them to direct me to the nearest supermarket as I hadn’t found one just driving around.
He asked for my hand where he proceeded to smack me and tell me to slow down, not do it again and to tell people Scottish policemen are nice.
I told them I loved them and drove away.
I have now golfed at twenty courses in Scotland and yet I have not even scratched the surface of Scottish golf.
While I kick it solo and travel alone, I always find someone to tee it up with. Whether I have connected via social media – last year I played with my first twitter connection and this year I played with many in both Scotland and Ireland – I also connect directly with the clubs arranging rounds with the locals.
I am interested in finding out what is happening on the ground level at all the courses I play – from junior programs and participation to encouraging and ensuring there are attractive options for adults – particularly ladies, to get into the game.
I have now golfed at 80 courses in 8 countries and while every club is slightly different so many similarities exist across the world. Membership seems to be dying off (literally) and social (or society golf) groups seem to be growing.
People are certainly golfing but the way they are engaging with clubs is changing.
Social media is a powerful tool that some clubs are not yet incorporating into their everyday business but this is changing as it is necessary to connect using new technologies to reach a greater audience.
I recently read an article about devaluation of golf via the use of group discount sites and the reduction of green fees. I agree insofar as you can provide and advertise special deals directly to your target market without the need to discount your rates 50% and then pay a similar percentage of the sales made to the discount site.
This doesn’t make sense to me. You would be better off spending some money boosting FB posts and getting all your members to share it with all the golfers they know.
Enough about marketing strategies. I am no expert and yet I see what is working for courses in different parts of the world as I travel.
I had the pleasure of playing 189 holes of Scottish golf in twelve days.
My first visit was to East Renfrewshire Golf Club with Bill McFarlan and we had an amazing afternoon in the gorgeous Scottish sunshine and a wonderful golf chat.
The next day I was off to Ranfurly Castle Golf Club where I had my first experience of playing for pennies (well five pence per hole) and again, a beautiful day in the sunshine.
I then returned to the Isle of Arran. I love Arran and returning to Whiting Bay Golf Club was a little like coming home. I golfed again with my friend David and were joined by John.
I was touched inappropriately by the gorse on the 12th and in fact a week later I had a sore spot on my hand which I scratched and squeezed out a gorse needle which, unbeknownst to me, I had been wearing as an accessory.
Lochranza was next on my schedule and I headed to the Isle of Arran Distillers to taste some delicious Arran whisky. I interviewed Chief Distiller James MacTaggart, had a tour, then sipped on some product.
I have had an inclination to play barefoot golf for about a year, just to feel the grass underfoot as I pray to the golf gods. It was very quiet at Corrie Golf Club and after checking with a couple of fellows sitting in the sun on the 1st, I was able to leave my shoes in the car and delight in the grass between my toes.
Sunday and I was off on the ferry to meet with a fellow twit (those of us on twitter) Robbie to play Machrihanish (the old course not The Dunes). Again the weather was fantastic, although I should have emptied some of my golf gear (perhaps just the thirty balls) from my bag before hefting it on to my shoulders and heading out.
Robbie had met me at the ferry so I got to be a passenger and just look out the window and take in the beautiful ruggedness that is Scotland without worrying about running off the road. We stopped at an old church on the way back.
I was chatting to the ferry guys on the way over and the driver wanted to meet me on the way back so I got to steer the ferry – well sit in the seat and put us off course. Then once back on land I drove to Lamlash Golf Club to visit my friends from last year for a bit of a golf chat.
Monday and I was up early and on the first ferry back to the mainland and drove up to Perth. The weather was patchy and I drove through downpours around Glasgow and when I arrived in Perth it took me a moment to realize yes, it was in fact snow falling on my windscreen. I played at King James VI Golf Club which is an 18 hole course in the middle of the River Tay. It was snowing and sunny and snowing in the sun but I still smiled as I dropped that ball into the hole.
Tuesday and I was off to The Home of Golf and met up with Gordon Moir at the Jubilee Greenkeeping Centre. The sky was a swirling grey mass and was pouring rain when I drove in and yet an hour later as we teed off The Eden Course the sun was shining and the weather was fantastic.
Gordon and I then and grabbed dinner at The Russell Hotel (he did mention we could go to another place full of caddies and players but we both opted for the opposite).
The food was amazing. I had braised lamb shank with pearl barley risotto and turnip puree with Arran mustard jus. My mouth is watering for it now.
I was very lucky to stay with Gordon, shadow him for a day and on Wednesday while he worked in his office, I worked in the conference room at the Jubilee Greenkeeping Centre logged into The Home of Golf wifi. I must admit when Jeremy, my friend and colleague was messaging me and asking where I was that was a pretty good answer.
Gordon then had a presentation at a Tru-Turf conference in The Morris Building which I tagged along to. I filmed part of the presentation as I found it fascinating learning all about the workings of the greenkeeping staff and what is required to ensure the courses are perfect for everyone that comes on a golfing pilgrimage to St Andrews.
Following that we were off to the BIGGA (British and International Golf Greenkeepers’ Association) Central Region Spring Golf Day at Aberdour Golf Club. It may well have officially been spring however it was snowing when we were standing on the first tee.
I played some good golf (and some ordinary golf) but ended up with thirty five stableford points and won myself a visitors prize. I like to think I won the ladies division (I was the only woman there). I had a great day of golf and made some new friends who I will golf with when I am back in Scotland next year.
I also told Gordon I am infiltrating their annual event and that I am inviting myself to it again next year.
Thursday and I was back to Perth to play at Craigie Hill Golf Club with Steve (my friend Genna’s dad). As the weather was forecast to turn mid afternoon we headed out a few hours earlier than scheduled. I believe Steve is going to send a complaint to BBC Weather. We got a couple of holes in and were out in the middle of the course when the weather turned. Lots of snow, a biting wind and with numb hands and faces we continued to play.
I did find us some woollen hats in my bag which warmed us instantly having our ears tucked away and even with numb fingers I managed to get two pars in the worst of the weather.
Because of the snow, my golf on Friday in Braemar was cancelled (postponed until next year) as the roads were closed and the course was closed in the morning as it was blanketed.
Having a bonus day off meant I could spend some time working on the NFP that I am starting – golf related but that is another story altogether of which I will write about soon enough.
Saturday and I was not golfing just visiting friends I golfed with last year. My first stop after leaving Perth was Peterhead to visit Harry. I had a great chat with Harry and while talking to him a couple of junior boys came in and one stopped and said “You’re the girl”. I did admit to being a girl but he then explained that he had watched my youtube videos of the course and the interview I did with Harry last year.
He asked me if I was playing and I admitted that I was just travelling and visiting that day but perhaps next year he and his friend (who was with him) would like to play with me when I am next in Scotland. He was delighted and asked if Harry could join us. So I have another round next year with some budding junior golfers.
That is what golf is all about for me – the connection with fellow golfers over a shared passion regardless of age.
I then returned to Fraserburgh and had a golf chat catching up with the boys there. Once again Slessor (not sure of spelling) told me he used to work with horses and my smile reminds him of a horse. My sister, April, used to tease me and say I had horse teeth – clearly she knew what she was talking about.
My final day and round in Scotland was at Cruden Bay Golf Club with another twit (friend from twitter) Neil. The weather was forecast to be quite ordinary however the sun came out and I removed my third layer, daringly only wearing two layers for the last 18 holes (we played 27 as we also played the St Olaf course).
I enjoyed an amazing cullen skink (haddock soup – kind of like a chowder) in the clubhouse before playing St Olaf and heading to Aberdeen for my final night in Scotland – for this year anyway.
In 28 days I have driven more than 3,300 kms, played 325 holes of golf at 19 courses in 3 countries.
I am looking forward to being back in Canada, to settle in the one place for four months, have an income again, and be able to practice my golf before I pack my clubs and head off on more golfing adventures in other parts of the world.