Most American golfers know links golf calls for a special arsenal of shots, but that doesn't stop us from arriving in Scotland unarmed and clueless. What's long been needed is a top-shelf school dedicated to teaching the fine art of links golf. We now have Colin Montgomerie to credit for it—and, yes, Americans are more than welcome on the property.
"I feel like I've saved as many shots as possible in my career," Montgomerie told T&L Golf. "I want to stop people from walking off the golf course saying, 'If only . . .'"
The Colin Montgomerie Links Golf Academy at the famed Westin Turnberry Resort offers classes of instruction ranging from a basic forty-five-minute links education to the Full Monty, a daylong syllabus of private tutoring coupled with a playing lesson on the academy's coup de grâce: Montgomerie's excellent new nine-hole Arran Academy course, opened last April. Elsewhere, too, the facilities are first-rate. On stormy days, you can hit from the covered practice tees to a range that undulates in order to help visualize those knockdown shots. The Cairngorms putting course is big enough to practice the hundred-footers you can find on St. Andrews's double greens; the short-game area has bunkers with walls as high as your head.
The business of links learning begins with the "Monty Warm-up," a smart way to loosen up without tiring out. Starting with the sand wedge, the player makes one swing with each club through the driver, then reverses course back to the sand wedge. ("I don't want to leave all the good shots on the range," notes Montgomerie.) A lesson can take you through a circuit of the key links plays; having already blown a good round in one particularly hellish pit on Turnberry's Ailsa course, I decided to begin with a deep-bunker tutorial. Per the Monty method, assistant pro Chris Brown had me move the ball forward in my stance and place more weight on the front foot, further open my feet, hips and shoulders to the target line but square the clubface to it, then accelerate through impact. A dozen swings later, I was lofting shot after shot to freedom.
Montgomerie grew up just twenty miles up the road in Troon; he first played Ailsa as a teen when his mother became a Turnberry member. Nearly three decades later, he partnered with Donald Steel to build that rarest of things—a quality academy course. Using parts of the former Arran layout, the pair created a rigorous, thought-provoking nine-hole mix of par threes and fours that—like Ailsa and its sister, Kintyre—has thick rough, gorse-lined fairways and frequent gale-force gusts. With tight tee shots, bottomless pot bunkers and small, snaky greens, it was designed with a sharp eye for creating prototypical links situations. Several such bunkers, for example, come into play on the tee shot at the par-four fourth hole and teach that the wise player will lose one stroke from them, the fool several. The 415-yard par-four fifth, the longest hole on the course, offers the complete array of Scottish stratagems and defenses, highlighted by gorse left and right, large greenside traps and a prevailing head wind. When the gale really gets blowing, it takes three solid knockdown shots to reach the green, the last of which should be the traditional links run-up shot.
The sixth hole is one of Montgomerie's favorites. "When Nick Price won the Open here in 1994, he hit a fantastic chip-and-run from behind the fourteenth green at Ailsa," said Montgomerie. "I thought about that shot and wanted to reenact that possibility for our golfers, so on number six, we have a special bank that re-creates it."
Sure enough, I somehow overlooked the flat area in front of the sixth green that screamed bump-and-run and flew the shot onto the putting surface. The ball caught the runoff and did just that. I did not get up and down—one links lesson does not a Nick Price make. But on the 138-yard seventh, dead into a 40 m.p.h. wind, I hit a knockdown five-iron to eight feet that would have made Monty himself proud, a thought I had never before contemplated but now left me with a nice, warm feeling.
For information about the Colin Montgomerie Links Golf Academy, call 011-44-1655-334-190 or visit westin.com/turnberry.