From Crail to Machrihanish: A spring fling through Scotland

By Brandon TuckerApril 5, 2012, 5:02 pm

MACHRIHANISH, Scotland -- A window seat on the early morning descent into Edinburgh Airport is always a treat; fields below burst with emerald green, peppered with roaming, little white dots.

The view also reveals scores of golf courses (this time, my trained eye could even make out Prestwick Golf Club and next door Royal Troon Golf Course as we soared over the southwestern coast). No country bleeds the game more. As we made the final descent over Edinburgh Castle, I began going over my week's itinerary in my head. With courses from Fife to the Kintyre Peninsula, I'd be covering quite a bit of ground, not to mention play practically every type of golf course in Scotland.

Crail's Craighead Links in Fife

Craighead

On arrival day, it's best to shake the heavy eyes and aching muscles of jetlag best with a mild afternoon round, where the sea breeze and sunshine will acclimate your body faster than any pillows, pills or spas. Both of Crail's courses, on the easternmost edge of Fife, are a great way to escape your home time zone and parkland style of golf.

Having previous played Crail's Balcomie links, I was eager to try out the Gil Hanse-designed Craighead Links, especially after I played his other Scotland design, Castle Stuart Golf Links last year.

Craighead certainly isn't out to rival Castle Stuart or any of the country's A-Listers; it was built merely as a way to keep up with demand in this golf-happy town nine miles from St. Andrews. Rather, Craighead succeeds as one of the best affordable golf links -- with a blend of scenery and modern length and design. Low-handicappers who balk at next-door Balcomie Links' shortish, 6,000-yard length will be sufficiently challenged tee-to-green.

Fairmont St. Andrews

There is no better road in golf: A917, the road that begins in the heart of St. Andrews, steps from the Old Course's 18th hole. Follow it out of town, and it takes you up a hill to cliffs just beyond town, where four more courses -- all in succession -- await: the St. Andrews Castle Course and Kingsbarns Golf Links, sandwiched in the middle by the Fairmont St. Andrews.

Now my fourth time in St. Andrews, I'd driven right by this 36-hole resort every time until now. This time, I walked both courses in bright sunshine and a mild wind. Both the Torrance and Kittocks were crafted by man into links from farmland. The Kittocks is the pretty school girl with postcard-worthy scenery, including a handful of holes that hug the seaside cliffs. The Torrance, while a little further inland at most spots, has more substance shot-for-shot. Together, the well-conditioned pair maintain their own identity in the shadow of their illustrious neighbors. The hotel makes the most of its location overlooking the town. The large atrium, where breakfast is served, is filled with early morning sun rays, where you can barely make it through your plate full of bacon before wanting to get back out onto the links.

The Queens Course at Gleneagles

Queens

After two days in Fife, it was time to head west towards Loch Lomond and Machrihanish. But first, I made a pit stop at one of the world's great golf retreats, Gleneagles. This five-star resort is literally home to a course of every size, from a pitch and putt on the front lawn to the 2014 Ryder Cup host PGA Centenary Course, which has been closed all winter for renovations. Having played 36 holes the day before, I opted to play an old, shorty: the Queens Course. Like the King's, it was designed by James Braid and it's about as perfect of a par-68, 5,800-yard course as there is. Nicklaus' modern design, while sure to be a fitting Ryder Cup host, may never capture the hearts as Braid did with his two heathland gems built nearly a century ago.

The Carrick, Loch Lomond

Carrick

I was last in Loch Lomond in 2006 to preview a few holes on The Carrick, which was set to open the following spring. I've been eager to get back ever since. Anyone familiar with Doug Carrick, the Canada-based architect, knows his work is some of the best in destination golf. I paired up with three local golfers, one of whom's pregnant wife's due date was this very day!

He risked a little trouble at home to play The Carrick, which has a gorgeous, loch-front setting that allows for both holes playing beside it and also some elevated spots where holes play on hillsides high above. It's always tough to talk Americans off the links and onto a parkland design when in Scotland, but Loch Lomond is just beautiful enough to warrant the detour, especially when coupled with a night's stay at the Cameron House Hotel, a luxury, chateau-style property on the shores of the loch.

Machrihanish Dunes and Machrihanish Old

Machrihanish Dunes

From Loch Lomond, I successfully navigated the two-plus-hour drive to Machrihanish with no errant turns, then trekked 17 holes on the raw links of Machrihanish Dunes Golf Club without a lost ball. Walking to the 18th tee, I felt good enough to step to the back tee box, where I launched a perfect draw straight over the aiming pole.

It was then, walking off the tee box, I got that unmistakable feeling (anyone who's played enough links golf knows it): I'd aimed for the wrong pole -- and my ball was in the eighth fairway.

Opened in 2008, Machrihanish Dunes has come a long way since it opened. Built on a Site of Special Scientific Interest, it's sensitivity means crews must be extra careful. But the completed laundry list for 2012 includes thinned rough, raised tee boxes and softened greens, all in an effort to make the round more manageable than when it first opened to critical acclaim. It's present form is certainly worth a loop - and even better two.

That night, I enjoyed a helping of 'Haggis Nachos' (similar to ground beef, only a little sweeter) at the Old Clubhouse. Then I rested my head next door at the Ugadale Hotel, a wonderfully restored property that's easily one of my favorite onsite golf hotels (along with the Royal Golf Hotel in Dornoch), and I gave thanks to six rounds thus far with nothing but sunshine and a mild breeze.

I awoke in the morning for my final round of the trip to the unmistakable whistle outside my window of a stiff, winter breeze. It was time to realize that Scotland wouldn't be letting me head home without at least one round in cold, blustery conditions.

From my room, I could see 'Battery,' Machrihanish's famous par 4 that plays along the beach. The whipping flags in the parking lot revealed I'd be hitting straight into a fierce wind on the first tee. But no trip to Scotland is complete without facing the elements head-on.

With a mix of snow flakes and hail hitting me in my backswing, I bunted a baby fade into the right rough (it was far too frigid to trek out onto the beach to chase down a hook), and embarked on one of the great 19th century links few too many golfers have ever made the trek to. Now my fourth visit to Scotland, I should have come to the edge of Kintyre much, much sooner.

Many of these golf courses can now be booked online at GolfNow.com/Scotland

Photos by Brandon Tucker

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.



The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”



Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.