Every Scot we'd talked to about affordable golf had said, "Ye have to play the Braids!" Three holes into my solitary round I was winded and dubious. The layout did not correspond to my scorecard map and seemed to have been constructed as an alpine mystery. Nine of the first 10 holes required a blind tee shot. The greens, too, were hidden from me and from the two other golfers I spied staggering among the rocks. It was only when I neared the end of my round that I looked downhill and noticed a slew of more attractive holes. The truth dawned: I was on the wrong course.
A young clerk at the clubhouse confirmed that I had played the par-65 Braids 2 course and not the par-70 Braids 1. "There's not much difference between the two," he said. "One is a bit longer and a bit flatter and a bit better maintained, and there aren't as many blind shots." You might want to hire this fellow.
By this time we were happily ensconced at the Dalmahoy Hotel and Country Club in Edinburgh, site of the 1992 Solheim Cup. I didn't play either of the 18-hole layouts, of course. Not at up to £50 a round. The day after I played Braids, I drove to nearby Penicuik to explore Glencorse, the home club of two-time Walker Cup captain George MacGregor. "I daresay someday they will name a hole for George," the head pro, Cliffe Jones, told me. "Probably when he's dead."
Glencorse is a par-64 with no par-5s, but it has some of the best par-3s in Scotland. The 5th hole, Forrester's Rest, made me gasp. From the medal tee, on a pinnacle above the rooftops of town, the hole tumbles down a wooded slope to a meandering brook and a shady green. Two hundred thirty-seven yards, pretty as a postcard and strong as any hole in Europe.
After playing, I spoke with 75-year-old Jim Stewart, a former club captain who was a finalist in the 1939 British Boys Championship. I asked if he knew the origin of any of the Glencorse hole names, such as Auchindinny or Hills O' Home.
Stewart cleared his throat and began, "Robert Louis Stevenson lay dying in Samoa...." We were off on a historical and literary ramble that wrapped up, a minute or so later, with the old golfer quoting the writer's expiring words: "No more will I see my beloved hills o' home and the Glencorse Burn." I wiped away a tear and mentally scratched theater off my list of things to do in Edinburgh.
Day 7. We crossed the Forth River Bridge and drove east into Fife, checking into the Lundin Links Hotel, 30 minutes south of St. Andrews. To this point, the weather had been splendid, but isobars were piling up in the Irish Sea, and I only got in nine holes over the next 48 hours. (I can imagine the stress you fellows feel when a force four gale blows in on the day your tourists are supposed to play the Old Course. Having no schedule to follow, we experienced no such disappointment. My wife and I simply retired to our room, turned on the telly and drank tea and hot chocolate while watching Dunstun Checks In.)
After two restful days, we drove to St. Andrews and checked into Rufflets Country House, renowned for its food and formal gardens. (No motor coaches in the parking lot.) In a light rain we drove back down to the Firth of Forth so I could play Kinghorn, designed in 1887 by Old Tom Morris. "Points of view unsurpassed among the golfing grounds of Scotland," raved an old hook about golf in Fife. I can't confirm that. As I teed off on No. 1, clouds and rain covered the treeless hills and the estuary.
But what holes! The 3rd, Loup Ower, is a picturesque par-3 from a highland tee to a valley green, guarded in front by an old stone wall. ("You don't want to be leavin' it short," a helpful Scot told me.) The 18th, Cryin' Hill, is the longest 196-yard hole in the world. The blind tee shot is straight over a vertical cliff face and can be lofted sufficiently only because the tee is canted upward like a ski jump.
When I finished, I found my wife, who had gone off to explore indoor activities, waiting in the car in the rain in an otherwise empty car park. She couldn't reconcile my drowned-rat state with my broad grin.