Tag Archives: Turnberry

A Year That Didn’t Totally Suck

Another year without a hole in one. But golf has other rewards and foibles . . .

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Travel Tales . . .

In January, The Golf Nerd Goddess and I trekked to the Diamante Resort in Cabo San Lucas, home to Davis Love III’s acclaimed Dunes Course and Tiger Woods’s initial foray into course design, El Cardonal. It was the latter that proved to be a pleasant surprise, as Woods has created a linksy track that is both playable for the high handicapper while presenting a challenge to better players, particularly around its wildly contoured greens. This takes nothing away from The Dunes, which features holes that play along the Pacific, and its magnificent par 3 11th – an uphill beast whose green is carved into a dune – provides a breathtaking vantage point.

Beyond all of that, golf at Diamante has a vibe all its own – after checking in, one heads for the smoothie/slider bar for a pre-round snack, and then proceeds to the practice range, which features salsa music and comfortable lounge chairs. Once on either course, one can enjoy margaritas or mojitos, black bean soup, outrageously delicious tamales, and other local delights at various stations – all of which are included in the greens fee. Add to that a mountainous desert landscape that dips into the ocean – which, during January, features frolicking whales – and it’s hard to imagine a more unique setting for golf.

Quite the opposite was our trip “up nort” to Eagle River, WI, the most aptly named town in the US.Flocks of eagles flew overhead as we navigated our way through a couple of modest but thoroughly enjoyable tracks, one in the host town and another in nearby St Germain.

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We hosted and became friends with Julie Yang, an aspiring LPGA player. It was a tough year for her, as she failed to make a single cut, but she returned to Qualifying School and achieved full status for the 2016 season. Look for a much better year from this talented (and wonderful) young lady.

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I weighed in on erstwhile Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s foray into the world of golf. Things have not gone particularly well for The Donald on that particular front, as the R&A has removed his recently acquired Turnberry from the Open rota in reaction to his rants regarding immigration and refugees in the US. He also lost a court case in an effort to block a proposed wind farm that would overlook his course in Aberdeenshire, and had his name (briefly) removed from the signage for his course in Dubai. The PGA tour is considering moving its World Golf Championship away from Doral (also owned by Trump), which would be roughly akin to having the Kentucky Derby being run at Aqueduct. Stay tuned.

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While Spieth and Day dominated the news on the PGA Tour, the most exciting event of the year was The Presidents Cup, an event I admittedly decried for its seeming irrelevancy. The teams were separated by a point going into Sunday’s final day singles play, in which 7 of 12 matches went to the 18th hole, including the final decider, which was contested between the home country’s instant national hero and the American team captain’s son.  I was one of perhaps dozens in the US who stayed up to watch the live overnight coverage from Seoul, and it will likely be forgotten by the time the 2017 match rolls around.

And for some, the most poignant Tour moment may have been what might be Tiger’s last stand at The Wyndham tournament in Greensboro. Records crowds turned out as Woods seriously contended for three rounds before fading on Sunday. A month later, he was undergoing yet another surgery, this time for his back. His press conference at his own tournament in December was downright painful, as for the first time, he seemed to acknowledge his own mortality – at least as a golfer. If he is able to come back, I hope it is with realistic expectations from everyone concerned, and that he can make his way to some tour stops that he’s not frequented in the past so that all golf fans can pay tribute to this remarkable player.

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And finally . . .

Readers may recall the seemingly unrequited romance between the Golf Nerd Goddess and a certain golf club. Happily, Santa heard her urgent pleadings and delivered said club under the tree Christmas morning. The GNG tried it out that afternoon; the resulting tee shots were impressive. That trip to Pebble Beach may be forthcoming, after all.

Also on Christmas Day, I got to play golf with my sister Lisa and her boyfriend Chad.  Lisa’s interest in the game has been somewhat recent, and Chad (despite my concerns) has been a willing enabler. I was wowed by her tee shots; she drove the ball over 200 yards a couple of times. Moreover, despite some major work required on other game skills, she truly enjoys playing – and is actually watching golf on TV. If nothing else, this has made Christmas shopping for her a helluva lot easier.

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Remembering Turnberry

For the past few weeks, the men have held sway in the UK, what with the Open Championship being contested at The Old Course and the Senior Open at Sunningdale. This week, the focus switches to the women, as they make their way out to Turnberry for the Ricoh Women’s British Open (yes, that’s the official title – apparently, the Ladies Golf Union is not as finicky as the R&A when it comes to naming its championship). Mo Martin is the defending champion – a fact that would likely win one a lot of bar bets – thanks to what was very likely the shot of the year in all of professional golf 2014 when, on the par-5 18th at Royal Birkdale, she struck the pin from over 200 yards away, resulting in a winning eagle putt.

Turnberry ‘s Ailsa course is also included in the men’s Open rotation, and while it may not be the most challenging venue, it is undoubtedly the most picturesque, sitting hard by the Firth of Clyde and featuring one of golf’s most memorable teeing areas on the 9th hole. Its most distinctive landmarks are 1) the Ailsa Craig, a large inverted saucer-shaped island which vaguely resembles the 15th green at Pinehurst #2, sits boldly in the Firth and 2) the Turnberry

Turnberry Lighthouse

Turnberry Lighthouse

Lighthouse, positioned on a perch between the 9th green and 10th tee on grounds where the remains of Turnberry Castle – alleged to be the birthplace of Robert the Bruce – can be found, along with a miniaturized version of the castle that was used in the film “Braveheart.”

Ailsa Craig

Ailsa Craig

It’s also the newest member of the Open Rota – while golf has been played there since 1902, the Ailsa course (there is another adjacent course called the Kintyre) in its current form was redesigned after World War II by Mackenzie Ross (what a great name for a course architect!). “Redesigned” is a kind word, as the original course was flattened during WWII for use as an RAF base. An old landing strip serves as a reminder of this particular function; it’s visible as one walks from the 10th to the 11th hole.

Nonetheless, it has been the scene of two dramatic Opens, both of which involved Tom Watson. In 1977, he and Jack Nicklaus engaged in what’s now called The Duel in the Sun. Having been deadlocked after the first two rounds, the two were paired over the final 36 holes, with Watson’s 65-65 finish barely enough to edge out the Golden Bear.

Fast forward to 2009, where Watson, now 59 but still a master craftsman on a links course, carried a one-shot lead into the final hole, a relatively innocuous par-4 (if there’s a weakness to the layout on the Ailsa course, it’s the final two holes, neither of which are particularly daunting). After a perfect tee-shot, Watson’s 8-iron was either a yard too long or too short; in either event, it rolled through the green. Tom was unable to get up and down, eventually losing in an anticlimactic four-hole playoff to Stuart Cink and deflating much of golf’s fandom in the process.

A lot of folks compare Turnberry to Pebble Beach, due in large part to their seaside locations and opulent associated resorts. I’ve not had the privilege of playing or staying at Pebble, but have been blessed with a couple of visits to Turnberry. The first time was in 2001, when I was traveling with the former Mrs Golf Nerd; the second in May of 2012 on a guys excursion. The resort is what I would describe as being “comfortably elegant,” with lovely guest rooms that face out towards the links and the Firth of Clyde, dining areas and “sporting pubs” that serve only the finest kind, and a staff that handles every request imaginable.

The Resort

The Resort

As for the course – there are spectacular views to be had, particularly on a clear day when one can see all the way across the firth to the Kintyre peninsula coast. And there are some truly spectacular holes. The 5th through the 8th are a fine stretch, as are the 12th through the 16th. The 15th, a par-3, is particularly diabolical when played in a strong wind (which almost always seems to be the case). There is a huge drop-off to the right from which there is no easy escape – a fact I sadly discovered the last time I played there, when, after admonitions to the contrary from my caddie, my tee shot found its way in a deep pile of fescue, upon which all four caddies uttered a collective “oh, fuck.”

But I doubt that I’ll be returning to Turnberry, given that it is now owned by Erstwhile-Presidential Candidate and Full Time Blowhard Donald Trump. From what I’ve witnessed golf-wise, Trump’s goal is to make the already-expensive, unattainable and a perfectly fine golf course unplayable (what he did to Doral was criminal).

Which is a shame. I remember finishing up my first round there back in 2001 – I played pretty well despite playing the final 4 holes in horizontal rain (my caddie, a hulking, good-natured Scot named Hugh, gave me a maniacal grin when the wind started howling on 13; “Aye, we’ve got a fresh breeze, Gary!” he exclaimed). After drying off and enjoying a wee dram, I took a stroll outside (the rain had stopped), a gentle fog had rolled in, and one could hear a piper off in the distance. I was waiting for the then-Mrs. Golf Nerd to return from site-seeing/shopping and happened by the caddie shack.

I struck up a conversation with the caddy master (Mike); he expressed mock surprise when I praised Hugh’s bagging abilities (“You mean he actually read a putt correctly for you? Bugger!”). Then a short fellow entered the stall, which prompted Mike to intone, “And now for your listening enjoyment, ladies and gentlemen – Frank Sinatra!”

Whereupon Shorty (I never got his name) broke into “Fly Me to the Moon,” and if you were standing in another room you would have sworn it was Old Blue Eyes himself. Soon we were swapping other Sinatra songs, and after awhile Mike suggested that we convene at a local pub (not in the resort) for a pint or a dram or whatever was going to suit our fancy once my ride arrived.

Ex-Mrs Golf Nerd was game, so we met up with Mike, Shorty, and another fellow who worked at the resort (Eric was his name, I believe). Much of the talk centered around golf, of course, but we also discussed the relative merits of sports played in our respective countries – Mike felt that American football was somewhat silly, with its gladiator-type dress, huddles, and the like, but that baseball was “rather catchy.” When I brought up cricket, all three of them snorted derisively – “bloody English bafoonery!”

Ex-Mrs Golf Nerd tired of this conversational bent after a while, and not so subtly suggested we head back our luxurious quarters at the resort. I dutifully (if somewhat reluctantly) agreed. But it was a great introduction to the hospitality of the Scots and pub life in general, and whenever I hear “Fly Me To The Moon,” I think back to that day in the caddy shack.

Hell, screw Trump . . . I’ll get back there someday. Not even he can screw that place up.