Before travelling to the UK for a few weeks golf we cruised from London to St Petersburg with stops on the way.
This included the one round of golf that was at the Stadium Course at Bro Hof Slott about half an hour from Stockholm.
It is rated the no.1 course in Sweden.
Whilst it was very well presented it was a great disappointment.
To me it was a long and at times uninteresting slog on a flat course with water on many holes.
Designed by Robt Trent Jones Jr , it had a very American feel - not what I was wanting in Sweden.
The very short par 3, 17th with its tiny island green looked like it was added after they found they were missing a hole.
Having paid a hefty green fee we were then were joined in the eating area of the bar by four young locals who ate with their caps on the whole time and when we ordered drinks the barman asked for his tip.
In the UK we were golfing on the south coast of England, heading west and then to Wales, East Lothian and Ayrshire in Scotland.
First on the agenda was Littlehampton located on the coast west of Brighton and directly south of Pulborough (home to West Sussex GC).
This was one of the few 18 hole links to escape my attention when I completed Another Journey through the Links and it also became the 300th course I have played in the UK and Ireland.
For some reason it seems to fly under the radar as not even my golfing friends in England had played it.
Littlehampton is a delightful links with just the right amount of challenge and an ideal warm up venue for any golfing excursion in southern England. The town also boasts some good pubs/restaurants right on the river estuary.
There are some dunes in play for a few holes but in general it is an easy walking layout.
Next stop was Bournemouth in Dorset where we played three of the best there in Parkstone, Broadstone and Isle of Purbeck. They are all reviewed in depth in my latest book, Golf in the Heather and Gorse.
Parkstone was a delight notwithstanding that it rained for much of the round. Knowing the forecast was bad I visited the day before and managed some photos with some sunshine. Whilst it is a little hilly it is on a par with some of the best heathland courses in Surrey. The club is very welcoming so try a meal there as well as the golf.
Broadstone I would rate as being nearly as good as Parkstone. It is also a little hilly but very manageable. The course is on a large site of 250 acres of rolling heathland.
For first time visitors then you will be polarized in your feeling about the 7th hole which features a blind tee shot and the large expanses of heather where your ball may never be found.
As with Parkstone, the clubhouse was very welcoming.
Just to the south, near Swanage, we ventured to the Isle of Purbeck GC. This is quite hilly and very wind exposed but it certainly features some magnificent views. Some of the fairways have a links feel. Accuracy is important here with some interesting shots that will test you if you have never played the course before.
Moving further west our next stop was to Budleigh Salterton, near Exmouth, for the delightful heathland East Devon GC.
The horrible weather followed us to the extent that torrential rain forced us off the course after 9 holes. We needed to return to our nearby B and B to shower and change and by then in late afternoon the skies cleared so I could at least venture out for some photos, particularly around the 16th green area with magnificent views across to Otter Head and part of the Jurassic coastline.
I would highly recommend East Devon but be prepared for a few hills.
One of my very favourite links has always been St Enodoc near the town of Rock in Cornwall. The course was in immaculate condition and is a delight notwithstanding some challenging tee shots over fairly thick rough. The greens were excellent and there are some stunning views along Padstow Bay. Several interesting features include the 4th hole where you have to hit over the corner of a field full of grazing cattle, the 6th with the massive dune and bunker and the 10th and 14th holes with views of the 11th century church in the middle of the course.
Leave yourself some time to visit nearby Port Isaac used for the filming of the tv series Doc Martin.
The last time I was in Wales it was very hot and dry so I wanted to revisit several of the links courses there.
The first stop was Pennard known as the "links in the sky". This is a very challenging and quirky links made more difficult for us on the day we played by the near four club wind we experienced. Lovers of pure links will enjoy Pennard but with firm fairways the numerous rolling bumps and mounds can at times be a little unkind.
Last time we had wild ponies on the course but this time it was cattle plus a large number of walkers heading to the beach below the cliffs. They have right of way and some like to move very slowly so as to test the golfers patience. The fairways were rather ordinary compared to all the other courses we played.
The drive to Aberdovey is quite time consuming as there is no direct route. But, to quote Bernard Darwin, this is a links my soul loves best.
Here you will find the classic links layout - 9 holes out, 9 holes back, dunes and the sea on one side and a railway line on the other. This is a course I would never tire of and whilst not long it has its challenging moments.
The day we played there was not a minute's sun and it rained quite heavily with the 18th being partly flooded - and this the day before the start of the Welsh Amateur. Even with the heavy rain the greens were true and reasonably quick.
Next was a long day trip north east to Gullane in East Lothian, Scotland. This area is high on my list of golfing destinations with 8 courses in close proximity and several lovely pubs in the village of Gullane.
As always Gullane no.1 course was in great condition, superb greens and equally great views across Aberlady Bay. It is worth spending some time at the 7th tee, Queens Head, where you can see the three links of Gullane, Luffness New, Kilspindie, Craigielaw, The Renaissance and Muirfield.
We revisited Tom Doak's design at The Renaissance where three new holes near the sea have been added since I last played there. I also met and chatted with Jerry Savardi, one of the owners.
The new holes and the changes to several others have certainly improved the layout and the links feel. The Scottish Senior Open was being played there in a few days and although the course was in good condition there was a distracting amount of poa weeds in the greens.
Our final game here was a revisit to nearby Dunbar which is now a reciprocal club with my home club, Commonwealth.
This a real fun links built on a narrow strip of land right on the sea. Having obtained the services of the former head green keeper at St Andrews the course was in great condition with the greens as good as I have ever seen them.
You will enjoy Dunbar and the friendly people there.
We journeyed to the west coast for our last few days before returning to Melbourne but first we drove to the north side of the Firth of Forth and lunched at the delightful Aberdour Golf Club.
Aberdour is not a links but it is right beside the sea and is pretty as a picture. The scene is set on the par 3 opening hole where you hit from high up to a green near the sea shore. It is a little on the hilly side but worth a visit for the ambience and views alone.
In Ayrshire we stayed at our usual accommodation directly opposite the 14th green at Prestwick. The Scottish Amateur was being played there that week and the weather remained wet and rather cool.
Royal Troon was lush green from the rain and balls were hard to find if you were in the main rough. The greens are always good at Troon but not particularly quick. Unfortunately we were rained out and had to exit the course after just 12 holes.
Our final game was at Western Gailes which I rate as the best course in this part of Ayrshire. Even my playing partner, a member at Troon, said he prefers Western Gailes. The six consecutive holes by the sea on the front nine are very memorable and there are no weak holes.
The starter warned us about the Lion rough. When we asked what he meant he replied that under present conditions if you find your ball in the rough then "you're lyin".
Whilst the month of June had been exceptionally hot in the UK and southern Europe, unfortunately our 5 weeks was the complete opposite.
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