The Intrepid Golfer
Over time I will be offering my views and recommendations re the golf you really want to play in England, Scotland, Wales and of course Ireland.
Whilst I am based in Melbourne Australia, you may be surprised to know that I am the only person to have written in depth reviews of virtually every 18 hole links course in the UK and Ireland.
My 3rd book, Journey through the Links, was voted the no.1 golf book in the world for 2007 by Sports Illustrated USA “Stunning photography and elegant prose”.
This book is pretty much unavailable now outside of Australia but in 2010 I produced an updated version with many new photos and some additional courses in Another Journey through the Links.
My golfing trips to the ‘Kingdom’ so far have been in 1996, 1998, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2014 and 2017.
In order to have played every 18 hole links course I finished up playing 97 courses in 90 days on the 2006 trip. Luckily it was a warm summer with good, but exceedingly dry, weather as in the first three trips encountered some of the wettest springs and summers ever experienced. The day my wife and I played Rye in July 2006 was the hottest day recorded around the London area -39 degrees Celsius. The airport was even temporarily closed at Heathrow as the tarmac was melting.
Whilst the first 2 trips were a mixture of links and inland courses it soon became pretty obvious to me that it was links golf that was the holy grail for lovers of golf and golf course architecture. I should hasten to add that mother nature has been the principal architect for most true links.
A good heathland course has many of the characteristics of a links course. I had already played Formby twice and this is a wonderful experience of a links course with some heathland characteristics. Formby has a unique touch in that the ladies own their own course which is located inside the championship course.
We try to avoid Heathrow but if the trip ends near London then we had also been fortunate to play Walton Heath Old Course on two occasions. It oozes charm and history and made me want to discover more of the heathland gems, particularly those in the south of England..
In 2011 I played 30 of the best heathland courses from Leeds down to London.
The preceding cold winter and dry spring may have been a contributing factor but in any event the heather was the best it had been in 30 years - great for my photos but not so great for my wife, Irene, who spent quite a deal of her time seeing the heather close up. The heathland courses around Surrey can be difficult to access but it is worth the effort to try for a tee time as they are really spectacular. August is the best month if you want the flowering heather as part of the package. If you want to delight in the heather then you
can’t go past Hankley Common, West Sussex, Sunnningdale, Swinley Forest, New Zealand and The Berkshire just to name a few.
Interestingly, the broom and gorse flowers best around April and May. I prefer to use my own photos where possible in my books. I would love to one day do nothing but photograph many of the courses in April and then replicate the photos in August. Some of them would be transformed from a blaze of yellow into a sea of pink and purple.
In my last two books I have avoided trying to rate courses in a numerical fashion as this can be so subjective. When I see some of the rankings I really do wonder how long it has been since the reviewer last visited. If a course is good I say so but if it does not deliver then I have always been totally honest in my appraisal.
I will also give you some travel and accommodation tips - after all, I have travelled the coastline of England Scotland and Wales at least 3 times fully circumnavigating the island in a clockwise direction and Ireland twice in an anti-clockwise direction. I estimate that I have now travelled nearly 40.000 miles in hire cars in the UK and Ireland.
Courses played to date in the UK and Ireland numbers 295 and many have been played three or four times. I should also add that sometimes the word intrepid has been most appropriate particularly if you venture to places such as the Islands along the west coast of Scotland. Links such as The Machrie, Askernish and Scarista are a lot of fun but at times the weather can make them unplayable. The first time I played Royal Troon (in 1998) we encountered wind gusts of over 90 miles per hour and at times it was difficult just to stand up let alone play golf. Even though it was a Friday the course was almost deserted - except of course for the intrepid golfer.
Coming from Melbourne I am used to playing on some world class courses so, generally speaking, I wouldn’t travel to the UK to play inland courses. But there are some notable exceptions, for example, Gleneagles Kings and Queens courses, Boat of Garten, Loch Lomond and Blairgowrie in Scotland and Woburn, Woodall Spa and many of the fine heathland courses in Surrey, England.
* All photos copyright David Worley and may not be reproduced in any format without his written permission.
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