Far away where golf was born
Two Minnesotans who love the game enjoy playing on courses in Scotland
that are hundreds of years old
By Ed DuBois
For someone who loves golf, a trip to where golf was born might be the ultimate in golf adventures, and that's the way it was for Kevin Knop. He had the good fortune to golf in Scotland with the author of a book on the subject, Marvin Athey. The book is entitled "Play Away."
The two had met about 45 years ago, and a friendship based on their mutual enjoyment of golf was refreshed about 8 years ago. One day they were talking, and Marv's book, "Play Away," was probably mentioned during the conversation. At some point, Kevin looked at Marv and said, "I would love to go to Scotland."
That was about a year ago, and the two began looking into when they might go and where they might play golf.
"Around the first of the year, we got serious," Kevin said. "Marv sent me homework assignments to get me familiar with the courses in Scotland and places to stay."
"I was preparing Kevin so he could get a feel for what we would do," Marv said. "It was a fun thing for him to do."
Buffalo High School golfer
When not playing golf, Kevin works in the groceries industry. He has been at it for a long time.
In fact, while growing up in Buffalo, he worked at Esau's Grocery Store, which much later became a NAPA store in downtown Buffalo.
He also worked at Holmquist's supermarket, which became the Lakeview Mall. Before owning a produce brokerage business, Edgewater Marketing, Inc., he worked for the SuperValu Corporation. He now lives in Monticello.
Kevin was a standout golfer at Buffalo High School, and he qualified for a state Jaycees' meet when he was a junior. He is a past club champion at Buffalo Heights Golf Course, and more recently, he has won the senior club championship at the Monticello Country Club. He has a 5 handicap, he said.
Marv, who was the general manager of the Wright-Hennepin Electric Co-op from 1975 to 1979, has played golf in Arizona many years, he said.
These days, he lives in Cambridge and winters in Florida. Marv has managed to score four holes-in-one, Kevin mentioned. He added that he has three aces, two in Monticello and one in Texas.
Landed in Glasgow
On Sept. 22, 2016, Kevin and Marv flew to Scotland with Icelandair. The very long flight included a stop in Reykjavik, Iceland before landing in Glasgow, Scotland.
Being unfamiliar with driving a car that has the steering wheel on the right side, Kevin was glad Marv did the driving from the airport.
"I have so much respect for Marv's driving over there. The brick walls are very close the road, and there were trucks coming the other way," Kevin commented.
He estimated they drove through about 200 roundabouts. He said it was strange driving on the left side of the road all the time.
From his seat on the passenger side, he enjoyed looking at the "very scenic" countryside.
"Scotland has a tremendous variety of scenery, from farmland to villages," he said.
He remembered riding along a "long and winding road," like the one Paul McCartney sang about with the Beatles. McCartney reportedly drew inspiration for the song from a long and winding road near his property not far from the coastal community of Campbeltown.
Kevin saw numerous castles, and at one of them, he and Marv watched a peregrine falcon demonstration.
Kevin mentioned seeing many puffins (seabirds), as well as gannets. He bought puffin dolls for his daughter, Sandra, and daughter-in-law, Melinda.
Only one windy day
The land is rugged, and the temperatures were in the 50 to 60-degree range.
"We were fortunate to have weather with mild wind and sunshine most of the time. We had one windy day to experience (while playing Scotland golf)," Kevin said.
They stayed at the Royal Hotel in Campbeltown. The next day was a Sunday, and they played the Machrihanish Old Course.
Kevin said he wanted to play the old courses rather than the new courses.
"I can play all kinds of new courses in the U.S.," he commented.
The old courses in Scotland are special to him because they go back hundreds of years.
Generally, these "links courses" were established next to the sea. Back when golf started, it was played on strips of land by the ocean. This was land that wasn't considered very good for anything else.
You don't see very many trees in the coastal areas, which is one of the reasons the old links courses are distinct.
'Hotspots of golf'
The next course Kevin and Marv played was Royal Dornoch, and they stayed at a hotel called the Old Manse.
During meal breaks, Kevin discovered pureed soups "are great." He also enjoyed the fish dinners. He added that the people of Scotland are very friendly.
The itinerary set up by Marv basically circled Scotland and included what Kevin called "four of the hotspots of golf."
While the old links courses have few or no trees, they have other hazards, such as deep bunkers.
Kevin and Marv said the bunkers probably originated as places where sheep could gather and huddle for shelter from the wind.
Scotland still has plenty of sheep.
"I never saw so many sheep in my whole life," Kevin commented.
The old courses also have stone walls that go back to the 1800s. They are called stone ledges in Scotland. You better stay on the fairways. It would be a tough shot to hit a ball lying next to one of those walls.
"It is unbelievable how many stone walls we saw," Kevin mentioned.
Another hazard is called gorse, a tough, thorny evergreen plant that grows thick in the roughs. You don't want to lose your ball in there.
Kevin said gorse is nasty for playing golf, but it produces beautiful yellow flowers at certain times of the year.
Ball runs longer
Marv said the game of golf goes back to the 1400s, and then golf courses began to be designed around 1700-1800.
"It's a neat feeling to play on golf courses that are that old," Kevin said.
He found out he needed to hit the ball a little harder on the greens. On the fairways, which are cut very short, the ground is hard, and the ball runs longer than it does here in Minnesota.
In Scotland, the ball makes a louder sound when it hits the ground.
Many of the famous old courses are near small towns. Kevin said visiting the towns was like stepping back in time to small town USA.
He took a nice photo of Marv in front of a seaside setting at Ganavan.
At a course called Brora, Kevin was surprised to see cattle grazing in the rough.
"They own the place," he joked.
Electric fences are used in certain areas to keep the cattle off the fairways and greens.
Green fees and buggy fees
Kevin and Marv ventured on and played the St. Andrews New Course and the St. Andrews Eden Course. They wanted to play the St. Andrews Old Course, but there was a long waiting list, and the cost was very high, $218.
Next, they played the North Berwick Glen Course and Dunbar while staying at Nether Abbey.
The green fees ranged from $65 at Brora (not including a buggy fee of $31) to $181 at Royal Dornoch. At some courses, you are expected to walk, but at St. Andrews, you can get a buggy for $37 if you are 65 years old or over.
Where golf was born
Kevin and Marv concluded their special golf experience on Oct. 2. Altogether, they played about seven rounds of golf, stayed at five locations and drove approximately 720 miles, not counting some local driving.
Playing far away from home, they came back with great memories in the land where golf was born. They played on courses that go back hundreds of years, and they enjoyed meeting the people of Scotland, trying out their cuisine and taking in the sights and sounds of their coastal towns and villages.
For a couple of guys who love golf, the trip was an ultimate adventure.
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