From the lighthouse, we banked and flew over the red roof of the glorious Turnberry Hotel and headed for Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth bridges. The rust color of the Forth Rail Bridge appeared and disappeared as we headed north into Fife and on to St. Andrews. As we approached the auld grey toon, I could recall only Sam Snead's famous disparaging comments about an old "abandoned" golf course. But the more I looked down over St. Andrews Bay, over all the courses, the sea, the beaches and the Eden Estuary, I sensed an inevitability: If golf had not taken root here, then it couldn't have had a future anywhere. The Old Course and even the New look fairly ordinary from the air, just as they do from the ground. But therein lies their magic, because at St. Andrews there is only the extraordinary.
The Royal and Ancient doesn't take kindly to seaplanes buzzing its domain, but we all wanted another look. So we circled round, this time taking in Kyle Phillips's Kingsbarns Golf Links south of town, the modern-day marvel that looks as if it's been there for centuries. In contrast to the Old Course, Kingsbarns looks amazing from the air. There's contour and definition and color, tempting you to parachute down onto the first tee and immediately begin a round.
We could legally have landed in the Eden Estuary at the far end of the Old Course, but with choppy water, West flew the seaplane to the safety of the runway at Dundee Airport a few miles away. It was then only a short drive to the starter's box by the first tee at the Old Course.
There's a Chinese proverb that says we dream of taking a thousand new pathways but wake only to walk again in familiar territory. I'd just spent a few days in places I thought I knew, but the seaplane had turned the journey into something novel. I began to appreciate the vision and imagination that it takes to make a golf course great. The traditional view from the ground now isn't enough. My new motto?Always aim high.
Taking Off: Seaplane Golf
Scotland's first and only amphibious air service, Loch Lomond Seaplanes (011-44/1436-675-030, lochlomondseaplanes.com), offers a portfolio of excursions as well as chartered flights to golf destinations across the country, including Machrihanish, the Machrie, St. Andrews, Gleneagles and Royal Dornoch. The company is set to open a seaplane terminal this spring in Glasgow's city center on the River Clyde. The cost: $982 per hour for a six-seat Cessna 206, which can hold up to a threesome of golfers plus their clubs and carry-on bags, or $2,065 per hour for a nine-seat Cessna 208, which can accommodate two foursomes and all of their luggage.
Loch Lomond Seaplane flights, as well as lodging and golf packages at properties such as the Westin Turnberry Resort and the Old Course Hotel at St. Andrews, can be booked through Connoisseurs Scotland (011-44/1383-825-800, luxuryscotland.co.uk).