The Hooked On Golf Blog World Tour made a quick stop to enjoy the very warm weather of Mesquite, Nevada this past weekend. After enduring the largest snowstorm of the year in Salt Lake, it was time to get out of dodge. The golf was a side-trip though, as I was in town to attend and honor a golf buddy and disabled Iraq war veteran at a local fundraiser.
This trip there was more than golf gear in the HOG Tour Van. Along for the ride this time was the big hexacopter (drone) I built for capturing photos and videos of golf courses from above. I managed to snap some nice pictures ahead of the morning groups Saturday, as well as some nice video clips like the par-5 5th hole video below.
Below is a photo of the par-4 6th hole which goes into a very cool desert canyon bowl.
Not far from the Old Course in St Andrews, Scotland is a fabulous, authentic, old-world links course in the town of Crail called Balcomie Links. Balcomie Links is one of two courses on the property. The other course is Craighead Links which opened in 1998. Craighead Links was designed by Gil Hanse, one of today’s most popular golf architects, and the architect of the 2016 Rio Olympics golf course.
Old Tom Morris is the architect of Balcomie Links. Old Tom finished up Balcomie the same year he finished up the “New Course” in St Andrews, 1895. The course plays to a par of 69, and a total yardage of 5,861. If you are a yardage snob you’ll have to adjust a wee bit. Once you do, you’ll truly appreciate the splendor of this course and the overall par and length will matter not.
Fantastic Balcomie Golf Links in Crail, Scotland
The personality of Balcomie Links is fantastically understated. The pro shop has to be the coolest shops I’ve ever seen. I imagine golfers sitting on this bench as children, learning to golf from mom and dad. They grow up sitting on this bench. They grow old sitting on this bench, and life is good for them. I’m envious.
Coolest Pro Shop in the World!
Located a 20-30 minute drive from St Andrews, Balcomie Links is located on an unbelievable stretch of land which borders the North Sea. I can’t think of more than one or two holes which don’t have a view of the North Sea, and most of the holes are right on the water. If this course was in California it would give Pebble Beach a run for its money.
In fact, the whole time we played the course my group of pals kept playfully looking around and saying “Pebble who?”
Tee shots at Balcomie Links are so enjoyable and fun. Tom Morris was quite creative with the layout, and there are tee boxes in some very interesting places. Some tee boxes are by old buildings (below), while others cross holes. Some are by mortar and rock OB walls that must be hundreds of years old.
Par-5 2nd Tee – “Ower The Knowe”
The fairways at Balcomie links welcome golf shots and don’t provide too much penalty if they’re not perfect. The wide fairways provide an enjoyable walk, but on rare occasions present challenging angles and blind shots if the ball finds the wrong resting place.
Fairway approach to the double green on the 11th
Some fairways, in old Scottish links golf style, cross each other. Keep a keen eye open for other players and rest assured the locals who know the course will do the same for you.
Due to typical high winds, the greens at Balcomie Links only run between a seven to a nine on the stimpmeter. In other words fairly slow. American golfers may be used to faster greens, so it takes a few strokes to get used to whacking putts that hard.
Forced carry to an elevated green with the North Sea in the background. Fabulous!
The greens are not severe, but are tastefully protected via bunkering and other hazards, like the North Sea! A few holes feature some strong elevation change approaching the green.
Crail Golfing Society
The town of Crail is the home of Crail Golfing Society, the 7th oldest golf club in the world. The clubhouse overlooks the links, with the beautiful blue water in the background. Crail Golfing Society was kind enough to allow us to enjoy their fine food and a wee pint following our round. One of the best meals I had on my last Scotland trip was accompanied by one of the best views, as seen below.
Room With A View – Crail Golfing Society – click for more
When trying to come up with words to describe the experience at Balcomie Links the first two which came to mind were “authentic” and “true.” Golf here is authentic, as are the people. There’s nothing gaudy or commercial here. Balcomie Links is about TRUE and traditional Scottish links golf and is uninfluenced by the outside world.
St. Andrews is my 2nd home. I’m so happy there. The golf, the history, the pubs, the people. No I didn’t mention the food. Four out of five ain’t bad… The “auld grey toon.” There’s no place like it.
Most of St. Andrews’ offerings for lodging, like the Ardgowan Hotel, are very old 2-3 story buildings with cramped space and tough access through tight doors and stairways. They’re just fine, and most are located walking distance from the Old Course.
The Fairmont Hotel offers something quite different than those old cramped rooms. Space. The Fairmont is a very large hotel a few minutes drive from the Old Course and about eight other courses. The hotel provides extremely spacious rooms and every amenity one might want or need when on a Scottish golf trip.
Fairmont Hotel – St. Andrews, Scotland – As seen from the Torrance Course – click to see full gallery
The hotel is located on the Scottish coast, featuring fantastic views. The property occupies some 520 acres.
The Fairmont offers several different types of accommodations: Standard rooms available with four different views, five different suite configurations, two family style rooms, and manor homes.
Even the smallest offering, the standard room, has about 4-5 times the space of the smaller hotels in town. In fact, I’d venture to guess that the bathroom in my room at the Fairmont on my last golf trip to Scotland had more square footage than my room at the Ardgowan.
Warm and comfortable rooms at the Fairmont Hotel in St. Andrews
From the robes to the heated towel racks in the bathroom, the standard room amenities are but a dream compared to the old town’s offerings.
The manor homes, which I’d love to try out the next time I’m in St. Andrews, are stand-alone homes which are over 4,000 square feet. Perfect for a golf group.
The Fairmont offers full spa treatments and unique packages which would come in handy after a long cold (yes it can be cold in Scotland) day on the links.
Hot tub and pool. I’ll be here next visit to St. Andrews!
I personally found the hot tub and swimming pool to be such a fantastic treatment for all the stiff muscles in my back and my aching lower body, a result of playing some 6-7 straight days of 36-holes. If you’ve never golfed in Scotland, there are no carts (buggies as they’re called in the UK). All golf is walked and the ground is as hard as Interstate 5. Your feet and knees WILL ache after a few rounds. Book it.
Food & Beverage
After a long day of chasing the white spheroid, a good meal and a “wee pint” are in order. The Fairmont has numerous culinary offerings and plenty of great places to enjoy a splash of scotch or a wee pint of Belhaven Best, a local brew I’ve come to love. My group spent quite a bit of time in the Kittocks Den & Bar, celebrating our triumphant shots on the Old Course, and lamenting over the not-so-triumphant ones.
May I help you? “Yes. A wee pint of Belhaven Best please!” Splendid
Each morning the hotel offers a fantastic breakfast buffet fit for a king, or a monarch. Check your Scottish history on that one. The dining area for breakfast was the gigantic atrium area, seen below.
Atrium area… Breakfast buffet
I think I could hit a full sand wedge and not hit the ceiling in the atrium.
Nearby golf courses include the Old Course, New Course, Kingsbarns, Castle Course, Srathtyrum Course, Eden Course, Jubilee Course, and Balcomie Links a short drive away.
To supplement the property and the great local courses, the Fairmont has two on-site courses, the Kittocks Course and the Torrance Course. I had the pleasure of playing the Torrance Course (pictured below), a wee combination of Scottish and American golf architecture. A mere walk from my room at the Fairmont, the on-site courses feature fantastic views of the nearby sea and the town of St. Andrews.
The Old Town serves as a backdrop for this approach shot on the Torrance Course
The Fairmont offers a different, more luxurious type of lodging and experience than the old salty rooms found in downtown St. Andrews. A far cry from a small room with a bed.
The hot tub alone is worth booking the Fairmont. It was a life-saver on the achy bones, which walked over 100 MILES of golf the last week I was in St. Andrews.
Golf Digest, or is it Golf Magazine… or maybe it is both… always coming up with their top 100 courses lists. Top 100 courses in the world. Top 100 courses in the USA. Top 100 public courses. Top 100 private courses. Top 100 courses you can play. Top 100 courses built in a leap year. Top 100 courses built before 1987. Top 100 courses built after 1987. Top 100 listings of top 100 course lists…. You get the idea.
Time For MY List
I’m not sure I’ve even played 100 courses, so I’m now setting out to do a couple of things: post my list of top 10 “favorite” courses I’ve played, and create a list of all the courses I have played.
My criteria for these ratings is simple. First and foremost is the total “experience” at the course. High influence goes to the quality of of the golf, shot by shot. I take into account playability, course architecture, scenery, originality. From there I factor in the facilities, location, and staff. Regarding course architecture I’m not a snob like some golf writers. The course doesn’t need to have X number of redan holes, X number of dogleg-left and dogleg-right holes and all that. I consider playability, strategy, and the number of options available to play a particular hole or shot. For instance, does an approach to a particular green offer the golfer two options, high carrying shot or a run-up shot?
Drum roll please… Below is the list my top 10 favorite golf courses played, and links to the course review/photos/blogs if available.
#1: Black Mesa Golf Club – La Mesilla, New Mexico
Black Mesa Golf Club has stolen my golf heart. From the first round I played this Baxer Spann design in 2007 through the last eight years, there isn’t a course I’ve played that has given me more enjoyment. There isn’t a course I’ve played which places so much value on EVERY shot, on every hole. There are no sleeper holes. There are no boring shots. None.
Combined with the serenity and scenery of a high New Mexico desert there is no place like it. To top it off the pro and director of golf Tom Velarde has become one of my best friends in golf, a relationship I value deeply.
The course has had some maintenance issues recently, which is tough. The staff is working hard to bring the course back to the condition it was in for the years that it was ranked the #1 course in New Mexico.
#2: Kingsbarns Golf Links – Kingsbarns, Scotland
Another course which owns a piece of my golf heart is the fabulous Kingsbarns Golf Links. Kingsbarns is a “modern links” course a short 15 minute drive from the town of St. Andrews. I could spend the rest of this month describing how beautiful this layout is, with so many waterside holes looking over the North Sea.
Look at the precision maintenance at Kingsbarns
With the standard prevailing winds this challenging links course has razor sharp teeth. Nowhere else have I been beaten up on a course and loved it so much. I fondly remember crushing a four iron to the 132 yard 8th hole, downhill. So much wind that shot, which would have normally gone some 225-230 at home, went 125 yards…. DOWNHILL! Then on the next hole, the par-5 9th, I remember debating going with 3-wood or hybrid, from 134! I went with hybrid and killed it. Nice shot, about 20 yards short.
The course architecture at Kingsbarns is fantastic. Credit designer Kyle Phillips. The facilities tremendous. The Kinsgsbarns chili is to die for. The “wee pints” are frosty.
I also have a great friend in director of golf Alan Hogg. Yes, HOGG!
#3: Carnoustie Golf Links – Carnoustie, Scotland
One of the most satisfying and amazing golf experiences I’ve ever had was playing Carnoustie Golf Links. Carnoustie is regarded by many as the toughest golf course in the world. Carnoustie is a “links” course and water is nearby, but not visible from the course. Carnoustie does not feature any notable elevation change, unless you count the elevation change between being in a bunker and out of one. Then it is huge. The bunkering on this golf course is the most amazing I’ve ever seen, or played.
Try and get this bunker shot up-and-down at Carnoustie
The layout is so enjoyable yet challenging, especially when the wind kicks up. Playing the par-5 6th hole “Hogan’s Alley” was such a thrill, and I made a hell of a bogey after my tee shot went out of bounds left. Yes, made birdie on the 2nd ball. No, I don’t play mulligans.
The layout at Carnoustie is stunning. I can’t wait to get back there. Two supposed “friends” told me (1.5 handicap) I couldn’t break 100 there and I did so easily, an 88 without losing a ball. I started off great, even par after the first five holes. The course slowly consumed my shots from that point on, and I loved every second.
#4: The Old Course – St. Andrews, Scotland
Hell of a list when the Old Course is in 4th place! Realistically the Old Course should be in its own list of one. This is the most unique golf course I’ve ever played. There is nothing like playing this layout, which has been serving up pars and birdies for over 1,400 years. The architecture of the course is so unlike anything else with it’s shared greens, amazing bunkering, criss-crossing holes, wind, weather, caddies, history. All the greatest players the game of golf has ever seen have competed on this course, from Tom Morris to Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Seve Ballesteros (except Ben Hogan)… I could go on.
Picking the ball out of the hole after holing out from 196 for par on the Road Hole
The Road Hole? What a golf hole. We have a love/hate relationship. My only par on the 17th was following an out of bounds shot that hit the Old Course Hotel observatory, an all glass building. No worries, it is bullet-proof glass. The price I had to pay for that amazing par? Nothing better then a double-bogey on the rest of my rounds on the Road Hole.
The finishing hole and I have a deeply loving relationship. In the four times I’ve played the 18th during a round of real golf* I’ve carded two pars and two birdies. Two-under lifetime!
*I have played the finishing hole a few times with a putter, a ball, golf partners, and a wee bottle of scotch at around 2 a.m.
#5: Ballyneal – Holyoke, Colorado
Back in 2006 I had the distinct opportunity to play the Tom Doak designed Ballyneal two weeks before the course officially opened. At that time my round there was the most pure, enjoyable, and amazing golf experience I’d ever had. I had not been to Scotland yet.
Tom Toak is an amazing golf architect and his product built in a set of dunes in the middle of the flat plains of central USA is tremendous. The course played like a true links, hard and fast. The routing and layout found a great path through the unique dunes situated in the middle of thousands of acres of cornfields.
Blasting out of a bunker at Ballyneal
I haven’t been back to Ballyneal since, but I’m aching to. Need to get there soon.
Pretty cool that one of my top 10 courses is in my home state of Utah. From my garage it is exactly a 3.5 hour drive to Sand Hollow Resort, with its Championship Course and 9-hole Links Course. I’ve spent many rounds enjoying what could be the most stunning back nine anywhere.
Sand Hollow’s 11th hole aerial shot by me
#7: Diamante Dunes – Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Diamante Dunes is rated the #1 course in Mexico, and for good reason. The Davis Love III design sits next to the confluence of the Pacific Ocean and Sea of Cortez. It sits on top of, winds through and around huge white sand dunes left there by the constant thrashing of the ocean over hundreds of thousands of years.
Diamante Dunes is the sister to the new Tiger Woods design which just opened called El Cardonal.
Diamante Dunes 16 Green
My experience at Diamante Dunes was pure golf, ocean, wind, air, and dunes. A marvelous experience. Soon (perhaps already) the holes will be lined by real estate development, high end homes and such. That purity will forever be gone, except in my memory.
#8: Balcomie Links – Crail, Scotland
A short 20-30 minute drive southeast of St. Andrews, Scotland lies the very salty and wonderful town of Crail. Crail is home to Balcomie Links, a Tom Morris design which opened in 1895.
Fantastic Balcomie Golf Links in Crail, Scotland
Balcomie Links is not about length, difficulty, or even par-72. Balcomie Links is authentic Scottish links golf and absolutely bleeds character. This is perhaps the most enjoyable walk I’ve had in Scotland.
The golf was fabulous too.
#9: La Cima Club De Golf – Andes Mountains, Colombia
One of the world’s best ski areas is a 20 minute drive from my house. The highest ski lift at Alta Ski Area dumps skiers off at 10,450 feet. Colombia’s La Cima Club De Golf’s highest green is a mere 450 feet lower, at 10,000 feet above sea level.
La Cima Club de Golf – Click to enlarge
La Cima is not an architectural masterpiece. The course is not designed by a famous designer (to my knowledge). It isn’t the home of major championships. It isn’t in the heart of Scotland, on the coast of Monterey, or in Florida. Though it is none of those things, it is truly one of the coolest golf experiences I’ve had, especially teeing off “above the clouds” and watching my ball disappear into them.
#10: Colonial Williamsburg Gold Course
Picking number 10 was tough. There are many courses which could occupy this spot, and picking one means the rest are left out. I narrowed it down to two courses, oddly enough both designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. The first option was Dorado Beach in Puerto Rico, the second, Colonial Williamsburg’s Gold Course.
When looking back at some of my experiences on so many great courses, I couldn’t help noticing my body and mind felt “it” when I came across my Colonial Williamsburg Golf Course review. What a special place.
Island Green built decades before the 17th at TPC Sawgrass
Colonial Williamsburg’s Gold Course is on nationally preserved real estate and will never be altered or developed. There will not be homes on the course, nor will there be a Red Lobster near the entrance. The Golf Course was designed by one of golf’s all time great architects Robert Trent Jones, Sr. and plays fantastically.
The whole experience at the Golden Horseshoe is a bucket list worthy item.
Gil Hanse’s home course: Applebrook in Pennsylvania. Hanse is the architect for the 2016 Olympic golf course in Rio.