With the tee up on a bluff furnishing a wide view of the sea, and with the wind usually helping, you can envision how Nicklaus might have driven all 385 yards of it. He caught one just right and strung it out over the sand hills, hit a downslope and burned a path through the whin up to the putting surface.
It might well have been this good fortune back in 1962 that encouraged Jack to take out the driver at Troon's 11th the day he had to sink a good putt for a 10. The 11th hole is 485 yards of railroad track on the right and clusters of whin on the left. The fairway is nothing but moguls all the way with the tiny green hard by another of those old stone fences. This is the hole Palmer won the Open on, for he played it with a 3, two 4s and a 5—four under—by using a one-iron off the tee and a two-iron to the green.
My caddie at Troon, Peter Neil, who happened to have toted Sam Snead's bag in the 1962 Open, gave me the driver at the 11th and when we lost sight of the ball soaring out over the whin, he consoled me the way a good caddie should.
"You're just not with it today, Sir," he said.
Troon makes no claim to being among the oldest clubs in Scotland, seeing as how it wasn't built until just the other day—1878—but like any other self-respecting private domain for gentlemen golfers, it has a set of relics that are said to be the oldest in Britain. Mr. A. Sweet proudly pointed to the trophy case and said those clubs were found in a cupboard wrapped in a newspaper dated 1741.
"I think Laurie Auchterlonie at St. Andrews is getting ready to discover a set from 1740," I said.
Mr. A. Sweet did not laugh.
The crass American would not think much of a clubhouse at a Scottish links, be it Troon or Prestwick or most anywhere. There are no tennis courts, of course, and no swimming pool. There is no Mixed Foursome Grill because there is no mixed. Which means no women or pros allowed inside. The pro stays in his wooden shack nearby, selling rain suits and mending clubs. The main clubhouse itself is for ex-wing commanders to eat lunch in—no smoking until after 2 p.m.—to change socks in before or after their daily 36 holes and to slump over their London Times in. If there is a shower stall down some creaking corridor, the water is chilled and hits you with all the force of a leak in the roof. On the walls of the dining room and the reading room, both of which are likely to offer a closeup view of the 18th green, will be portraits of a lot of men who look like George Washington but would rather be dead first. They will be ex-secretaries and ex-captains of the club who not only invented the mashie niblick but were survivors of the Black Hole of Calcutta.
If you are as poor at geography as I, you have to divide Scotland like this. The West Coast, where Troon and Prestwick and Turnberry are, and where I had been, is the Ireland side. From almost any point on those three courses, in other words, if you could see far enough, you would see Northern Ireland. This is also known to me as the Glasgow side which, even to the Scots, is not exactly Sutton Place. Where I was headed now was to the East Coast, the Edinburgh side, to the North Sea, to the more posh area of the country where St. Andrews, Muirfield and Carnoustie are. There is a great deal more to Scotland than just this "golf belt," which embraces the land across the midsection from Troon to Muirfield. There is, for instance, way up north, the links of Dornoch. As good a test as any, according to Keith Mackenzie, but too far away for the R&A to transport its people, chestnut palings, gallery rope, scoreboards and tents for the Open Championship. Thanks, Dornoch, but Carnoustie is as far north as the R&A cares to travel.
Actually, if one could grease himself up and swim like Florence Chadwick, he could get to Carnoustie from St. Andrews in about 30 minutes. It is just across a bay. Driving, however, takes longer because cars have to go through Dundee, which is Yonkers with, as they say, less glamour.