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OnTheLinks

Course Feature

by /Naimah Jabali-Nash

A Round with Royalty Gleneagles Queen’s Course (Pertshire, Scotland)

the vast perthshire countryside covers northern Scotland like a patchwork quilt. Historic threads are embroidered into each swatch of land. Sir William Wallace’s valiant Battle of Stirling Bridge, the complexity of Mary Queen of Scots or Old Tom Morris’ Open Championships in the Kingdom of Fife can be traced along seams of crawling brush. Sluggish winter-white sheep graze in pasture and multicolored wildf lowers peek through wispy fescue. I forced myself to take in these natural embellishments while approaching the Firth of Forth Bridge.

I had long dreamt of playing golf in Scotland. A week ago, I sat with my room mate for a thrilling night in front of the television watching The Notebook. My sister walked in and interrupted what I thought to be a climatic scene (the one in the rain after the boat ride). “I’ve got some news,” she said with a sly grin on her face. 54 December 2009

“Wait until commercial,” I retorted (obviously I was busy). “Ok. But it involves the British Open,” she sang walking out of the room. And she immediately caught attention. Her friend invited her to Scotland for a week of golf, a bit of scotch tasting, golf and a day at the spa—followed with more golf. My sister doesn’t have

an athletic bone in her body, or if she does, I’ve never seen it. The thought of her standing on sacred golf soil in her Manolo Blahniks was unnerving. I’m sure she sensed the lifelessness in my voice when I replied, “Well, have a good time.” Days before she was to depart on this golf-centric excursion, feeling charitable, my sister

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decided to trade in one Swedish massage to fulfill her little sister’s dreams. And for that I am grateful. Queen’s Course: I found an eerie association to the sand dunes, to the cutting winds that hurled off the North Sea, to the crevices of Glendevon Valley. On my way to meet


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the Queen clouds began to leak releasing a calm, steady mist from periwinkle skies. I accepted this welcoming gift as the drops tickled my skin. A group of caddies identically dressed in black rain suits and white smocks branded with the Gleneagles trademark crowded around the first tee box. “I’ll be carrying your bag today,”

said Danny Walker, a stocky, broad shouldered bloke in his Scottish brogue. My hand disappeared in his warm, calloused grasp. He leaned in and whispered, “You’re in for a treat. The Queen’s course is beautiful.” I turned to witness her majesty in all her regality. There she stood dripping in cavernous bunkers, undulations of

mythical proportions and quaint greens. My golfing coronation had begun. We headed down the par 4 first. The Earth’s damp terrain gave way to each progressing stride. At 409 yards, Trystin’ Tree, a slight dog-leg left drops off steeply after the tee box. A drive down the right hand side

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sets up a clear approach to the tight putting surface. Stout Fir trees stand at attention along the left side obstructing those balls who have found the wrong side of the fairway. This romantic paradox precedes Needle E’e. The 146 yard par 3, is named in reference to the careful precision it takes for one to thread the eye of a needle. December 2009 55


OnTheLinks

Course Feature

and the King’s Course (beast) in 1910. Fleshed out by the hands of many with shovel and pick, horse and buggy, the Queen and King nobly stand peering down on their humble servants.

Four bunkers guard this misleading green. Danny understood the green’s grain, borrows and ridges, intricacies unfamiliar to my American eye. It was there that we forged the integral caddie-player relationship. One built on trust and significant to my overall playing experience. The sun crept out from behind the clouds as we moved forward. Rays descended upon the Queen’s rolling sand hills, illuminating her splendor. We finished Gushet Rig, Warlock Knowe, Glower O’er’em and arrived at Drum Sichty. As we approached, the sun retreated behind its clouded cloak. Ochil Hills is to the west of this 437 56 December 2009

yard par 4. “There’s an old Scottish saying about those hills,” revealed Danny as he pointed towards the distant hillside. “If you can see the Ochil Hills it’s about to rain, if you can’t it’s already raining,” he said belting out a hearty laugh. Links golf wouldn’t be links golf without the inclement weather. It’s hard to imagine golf in the 16th century. Players dressed in tartan jackets and wool trousers, trudging through club-strangling rough and rabbit runs, watching leather bound balls flutter in whistling gusts from the Irish Sea. Despite historical claims of other countries having started a game similar to golf, with sticks

and pebbles, it was the Scots who added the hole—the game’s essential component. In the near distance bulldozers were busy at work, plowing into the earth’s crust. The disrupted soil was an indicator of what would be another addition to the more than 600 courses raked across the Scottish landscape. Once the last putt dropped on the plateau green, it was off to Westlin’ Wyne. At the farthest point from the first tee, the 491 yard par 5 exhibits signature artisan folds left behind from the last ice age nearly 15,000 years ago. From this natural cast five-time Open Championship winner, James Braid, began to design the Queen’s Course (beauty)

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The front nine concludes with, Stey Brae, or steep slope, a right-angled dog-leg that requires “a stout heart to overcome.” We rounded the turn to the right-to-left dog-leg, Pint Stoup. No longer were the greens vibrant, but muted. A matte finish left over from sporadic showers. Throughout it all the Queen maintained her grace. On the back we passed through Muir Trap, Tinkler’s Gill (the smallest green at 18 yards) and Water Kelpie, the first of two consecutive par 3s. The second is the 180 yard, Witches’ Bowster, whose twotiered green demands an extra club or two. I struck a good shot and ended up on the bottom tier. “You’ve got to take the good with the bad,” said Danny with his optimistic realism. I faced a brutal uphill putt and with one stroke my ball barely made it level with the hole. I three putted, committing a faux pas in the Queen’s presence. I took my lashing for ending up on the wrong side of the hole. As I learned quickly throughout my round—the Queen shows no mercy for careless or greedy shots. She’s not the only one. Countless battles have been lost for the treacherous on Scottish soil. Who could forget Jean Van de Velde’s crash at Carnoustie? Or David Duval’s slaying in Road


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Hole Bunker at St. Andrews? Or more recently, Ross Fisher coming undone (quadruple bogey) at Turnberry? So, I heeded Danny’s advice and moved on. The fresh after-rain scent was comforting. It was difficult to keep a cold heart in her radiant glow. There was more golf to play. And, Leddy’s Ain, meaning lady’s own, was next. Meager only in length, the straightforward 252 yard par 4 was a chance to get a stroke back. I made off even heading into the final three holes: Lovers’ Gait, Hinny The Green Magazine

Mune and Queen’s Hame. Aptly named, Queen’s Hame or Queen’s home, the finishing hole is yet another testament to her majesty’s exquisiteness. An elevated tee box looks across a stream to the verdant fairway. Crossing the wooden bridge I looked to the hillside—her decadent robe that shrouded the scenic backdrop. We ended on good terms, the Queen and I. I warmed myself, not by the fire, but with a glass of Auchentoshan Scotch. And wondered how we would fair the next time we should meet. December 2009 57


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