For six glorious days my son-in-law Ken Hanson and I played some of the great golf courses of Scotland, where legendary golfers trod the same turf we trod. We were part of a nine-person group, alumni of the Grand Cypress Golf Academy in Orlando, Fla.
Ken, fulfilling his duties as publisher of Golfweek, went to Scotland to help cover the British Open (or The Open Championship, as it is properly called). I arrived in Glasgow on the day John Daly defeated Costantino Rocca in a playoff to win the 124th Open.
Golf is a different game in Scotland. The fairways are rock hard; there are lots of deep-dish pot bunkers scattered around to punish an errant shot; the roughs are tall and sinewy; and your drives are often to a distant spot you can't see from the tee. There's a steep premium on accurate shot-making.
And the wind, oh the wind.
To compensate, your golf ball tends to run a long way, so you can bounce it 40 or 50 yards to the green. You can putt 20 yards or more off the green because the fairways are so hard and fast.
Each course we played had a character all its own. On our first day we played Turnberry, on the west coast, where Tom Watson beat Jack Nicklaus by one stroke to win the Open in 1977.
Turnberry, to my reckoning, is an enchanting yet dangerous seductress. You become mesmerized by the sheer beauty of the layout and you inevitably fall prey to her charms. On the other hand, Old Prestwick, the site of the first Open, was described by Ken as "an ornery old man. It doesn't have any friends, it doesn't want any friends, it will never have any friends."
One of the charming things about Scottish golf courses is how they are most often right in the middle of the community, with townspeople and their kids strolling along the edges, and along various paths cutting through various holes. In North Berwick, citizens can enjoy four area courses for 200 pounds a year.
The West Links at North Berwick was my favorite course, although the Open is not played there. It is a gentle course, ready to accept and reward the good shots you hit and not punish you too severely for the bad ones. One hole, running along the coast, had a stone wall stretching the length of the fairway and then angling in front of the green; the wall was built hundreds of years before the course opened in 1832.
What will stay with me as I try to sort out my impressions of our trip? I won't soon forget hitting into a deep bunker on the fifth hole of the Old Course and not being able to get out before I took 10 strokes; Chad Price, a member of our group, said I looked like a "whirling dervish." Or as we walked up the 18th hole of the Old Course, where Arnold Palmer strode for the last time in the Open this year, the Royal and Ancient clubhouse shimmering in the distance.
It was a good week.