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How to Golf Scotland like a Local

Lunch at Muirfield—the high decibel level here reflecting the convivial mixing of members and visitors at the long refectory tables—is a major event: perhaps cullen skink, a hearty native cream soup featuring smoked haddock and potatoes, to start; followed by loin of lamb or sirloin of beef, with five or six vegetables; then a selection of desserts that may include a sublime rhubarb crumble; and finally, five or six cheeses. The house wines will smooth the way and coffee at the close will restore your equilibrium, enabling you to hold up your end in the afternoon round, which is always foursomes (two balls, alternate stroke). The Scots relish this form of partners' golf, perhaps because it takes only two and a half hours to play. In years to come, when the golf holes have blurred in memory, the details of the lunch and of the foursomes round may still shine forth.


No course in the British Isles puts as much pressure on the swing as the Championship course at Carnoustie (greens fee: $205). No hole—in truth, no shot—is a breather. From your drive on the first (gorse and boundary left, sand and rough right) to your long approach shot on eighteen (the broad Barry Burn in front of the green, sand right and left of it), there is the constant threat of danger. The combination of 118 bunkers, gorse, out-of-bounds and thick rough is relentlessly inimical. Water awaits the mis-hit shot on eleven holes, perhaps more often than all the other Open Championship courses put together. (Jean Van de Velde's famous slosh through the Barry Burn on the final hole of the 1999 Open Championship notwithstanding, the deadliest water crossings at Carnoustie occur on the seventeenth, with its "island" fairway disdainfully angling away from the tee.)

This mighty muni—for regular play, 6,941 yards, par seventy-two, with no fewer than eight great holes—is one of the implacable major-championship tests in the world, a course that can stand up defiantly under the assault of the game's most accomplished players (as we'll doubtless see when the Open returns here next summer). Club players with a handicap of three tee off here in a 15 to 20 m.p.h. wind and routinely fail to break eighty-five.


This is the kind of week that asks for a gentler ending than the hostile encounter that is Carnoustie, so I would suggest one last round in St. Andrews, on the sporty Eden eighteen (greens fee: $64). It's a collaboration by two of the iconic figures of golf course architecture, Alister MacKenzie and Harry Colt. Despite many changes over the years, some top-notch MacKenzie/Colt holes remain, including two very short par fours that play tight along the Eden estuary to plateau greens perched teasingly above it.

Afterward, take the afternoon to soak up all you can of the "Auld Grey Toon." You'll want to stroll the Scores, the avenue along St. Andrews Bay connecting the eighteenth green of the Old Course with the cathedral. In the cemetery there, you can pay homage at the graves of both Old and Young Tom Morris.


You'll have plenty of time on the flight home to tote up the damages. Here's what (I hope!) they'll look like, per person, exclusive of airfare and shopping: car rental and gasoline, $225; accommodations, with breakfast, $600; lunches, $175; postgame beverages, $130; dinners (pub food is cheap and hearty, but I've also included places to indulge), $350; greens fees, $1,420. Total: $2,900.

As for the shoestring, it probably never had a chance. But with the satisfaction that comes from planning (and, hopefully, playing) well, no sooner will you have safely touched down at home than you'll be plotting your way back.


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