In our time at Seamus, we've been most blessed with the opportunity to make certain 'business trips' that just make loooooads of sense. In Scotland, we are able to both visit the mills that produce the tartan and tweed wool we use to make our covers, and play the great golf courses that defined the game we play. St. Andrews ranks at the top of the list and inspires us endlessly.
As a venue for the Open Championship, St. Andrews is quite possibly one of the best spectator venues owing to the flow of the course. Taking a look to the course routing below depicted by the great and late Dr. Alister Mackenzie, we can see the unique out and back format and the fact that the course only has 11 greens in total (4 of which are shared). As a spectator from any hole, it's possible to see quite a bit of golf and the terrain is both flat and wide that it gives the golfing enthusiast the ability to see so much with little foot travel.
In March 2015, we were delighted to make our first voyage to Scotland, the birthplace of the game as we know it and the inspiration for our little brand, SEAMUS GOLF. On the trip, our plan was to visit fine golfing destinations, experience culture and finally engage with our woolen mills.
For golf, we were lucky to have some fantastic spring weather with absolutely no rain and with the lull in the season the fine opportunity to play the Old Course as a three ball (and only a three ball). In addition to the Old Course, we visited North Berwick, Castle Course and finally Crail Golfing Society. Along the way, we took the time to visit a couple of Castles, enjoy a distillery tour and consume copious amounts of Haggis among many opportunities to bond between father and sons.
Upon arriving on the 17th Morning of March, we drove directly to the mills located directly on the river of Tweed (arguably the reason for the naming of the cloth we so much love). It was important to us to perform the 'business visit' which included a trek to the mills. Many of the weavers originally found and sought locations near rivers for the reason of powering their mills with water power, and these locations ensued for hundreds of years as they were also close to farming and sheep country.
First, yarns dyed not far from the weaver are straightened and then woven. Below is a look at the gorgeous Thompson Camel, prior to weaving and finishing.
Some of the machinery dates back over 100 years, and simply could not be recreated in the modern era. Many tools were custom made on site.
GOLF + ATTRACTIONS
After our mill visits, we head straight for East Lothian and checked into a great bed and breakfast called Number 12 Quality Street. The young couple that operates the B + B were great, and the accompanying quaint dining area was ideal for a night cap and the Traditional Breakfast in the morning before our time at North Berwick West Links.
The first thing we noticed about North Berwick West Links (NB) was that much like the Old Course, the first and eighteenth holes start and finish in the same area, with the city surrounding the teeing and green areas.
NB has so many engaging design elements, but mainly a common motif through the experience. A stone wall meanders throughout the property, sometimes around the famous pit hole green side, and other times through the middle of fairways.
The Pit hole, #13, is home to many balls that have found rest by the stone wall that would require an unplayable for most.
Many holes are right along the North Sea, with large panoramic views. It is from this point that one can see directly across the Firth of Forth. We discussed the sad story of Young Tom Morris during our round, as it was after finishing a match at North Berwick that Mr. Morris learned of his wife's troubled health during the birth of their child. We were told he took a boat across the inlet to be by her side.
As can be seen below, West Links follows along a gorgeous coast line. We failed to capture an image, but hundreds of walkers and dogs passed by. One local suggested to our errant tee shot on two to the beach that 'There isn't any wind today, boy, what the hell 're you doing out here?'.
After the round, we commenced our drive to St. Andrews on the long, and scenic route up the coast line. (The route noted below isn't quite how we followed along).
After our great time at North Berwick, we left before night fall to get to Saint Andrews and check in at our next great Bed and Breakfast, the Clevenden House. Host couple Charlie and Ray were amazing, we can't say enough about the wonderful morning coffee chats we had with Charlie about great golf outings, The Castle Course, and the town. Breakfast was delightful - specifically Charlie's world class porridge that will coat your stomach for at least 18 if not 36. A short (less than 500 yard walk) to the first tee at the Old Course and an even shorter walk from the golfers pub at the Dunvegan. We had to extend our our stay one extra night to 4 nights with all the fun we had and to include an educational whiskey tasting class at Luvians.
Yes, the morning walk measured at 352 yards from bed to Old Course first tee.
Walking through tight alleys and in an urban setting is a pretty unique experience, especially when one knows that golfers have done the same for hundreds of years.
On our first pass with the ballot, we were awarded with a 7:40 AM tee time. We saw just a foursome ahead of us traveling from Colorado for their son's college visit to St. Andrews University. We recommended it be a good idea for him to study and play golf every day.
Something about the aura of this course makes it a truly spiritual experience. The connected feeling between the links and the community is unlike anything we've seen in the states. To try and put it into any group of words is impossible and there is no way to capture the feeling of standing in front of the Royal and Ancient. A must visit for every golfer, as so many have said before us.
Small stones, with the appearance of a Gravestone are in many fairways. Etched by hand, the letter 'G' denotes where golf is played and marked the border of the course. Known as 'March Stones', we were relieved to learn that we were not playing on top of our late golfing ancestors.
The rustic look one would expect, with numerous crossing fairways and shared greens. We interacted with about 4 other groups, each time cordial and joking around.
While the bunkers are a thing of beauty, there is no rose without a thorn and if the starter were to give a graduation style speech on the first tee, he would say something to the effect of 'Look to your left, look to your right....statistics have shown one of you will hit 13 bunkers today'. It doesn't matter, we approached each one with great excitement. Not often can we say that taking a couple extra shots to get out is a joy.
Belhaven brews a special beer for St. Andrews, and the pitch mark bottle opener was put to the test on holy soil.
For many years, the shops to the right of 18 noted below encroached the course and commonly golfers would play from the steps in buildings.
We made the honorable passing over the Swilican Bridge and took our mandatory social media pose. To be at this special place with family was truly a special moment.
After our morning round, we knew we had enough time to play Mr. David McLay Kidd's masterpiece, the Castle Course. Every hole is perfectly framed and more photogenic than any of our experiences on the trip. While many suggest it is a tough and unforgiving round, we learned that many changes have occurred to the playability and in our opinion the holes were a fair challenge. To our surprise, the starter provided us with free Bacon rolls. Perhaps our love is cheap.
Great views of the castles in town were abound from numerous holes on the links. A short single shotter towards the end below forced a carry over the ocean. An iconic hole that deserves a lot of recognition.
CRAIL GOLFING SOCIETY
Our final destination was a small local golf course called Crail's Balcomie Links. An Old Tom Morris gem, we traversed a property that meandered right along the ocean. Many shared greens like the Old Course, and more locals than we had ever seen. Golfers walking dogs, and four balls pushing 2 hour 30 minute rounds.
The downhill 15th at Crail alongside the boathouse had ocean mist and waves crashing into the green side.
One golfer with her dog made us inspired, next time we play in the states, SEAMUS is coming along for the walk.
While not a complete trip to visit all the fine golfing sites that Scotland has to offer, we found plenty to enjoy by spending a great deal of time in the town of St. Andrews and visiting these three courses. A later trip that year would be necessary in July for other business purposes, specifically the Open Championship.
The Open at St. Andrews
While our experience in visiting golf tournaments is limited, of the two visits we've made for the Open, St. Andrews was divine. For those making this trek, there's one piece of advice we may add at this time. Just off 18 is Links road, and if you're unable to pick up a ticket for the tournament it has been perfectly acceptable to walk up to 18 and view golf as a spectator without a ticket.
In the above, we were able to witness the wonderful ceremonies, and even Tom Watson's final pass over the Swilican Bridge. To those making the trek this week, we wish you the best, but also hope that some time can be found to enjoy the golf in the surrounding areas.
Far and sure!
Absolutely loved your pictures and stories of North Berwick, The Old Course, etc. A friend and I played rounds way back in May/June 1987 on those and a number of others (e.g. Carnoustie, Gullane, Royal Dornoch). Even walked to The Old Course with our bags just like you and yes, what an amazing feeling! :-).Always have to tell anyone who will listen, our story of the older woman (to us in our mid-20’s at the time) in the little pro shop behind the 18th green asking if “you boys” had “gone around yet”? We said we had but nonetheless she suggested to us that the starter would be leaving soon and we certainly could go around again if we would like. Kicking myself to this day for not following through and “walking on” the Old Course, lol. At that time of year and that far north it was light well into late evening so it would have been very feasible to have done so.
Great to see you made to Scotland at last – and succeeded in the ballot! How were you headcovers received on the trip?
Charlie/Ray, everyone here loved the porridge, even with our “not-fresh-from-the-farm” local milk, butter & cream!
Thank you for your wonderful hospitality!!