The book has been laid out in various categories of courses, each having a different chapter. Links, Open Championship Courses, Ireland, Nine Holers, Rub of the Green, Inland, New Courses.
Cruden Bay has become a place of pilgrimage for me since my motley band of golfing brothers first discovered it more than 25 years ago. Following the path the good St Olaf trod, we have often stood poised in the sunshine, with Port Errol on the left and the 4th green beckoning ahead, our cares forgotten and truly on holiday. We are all too aware that we still have to make our way down the 6th, only to see our third shots stutter on the bank and roll inexorably back into the Bluidy Burn. But of course nobody would ever dream of playing short and safe. It would be feeble to do so – and equally feeble to moan over the blind par three 15th; the smothering knoll in the centre of the 17th; or the out of bounds and the gorse on the 18th.
In those summer days the sun was always dazzling, the sea a brilliant blue, our scores effortlessly in the 70s, and the joy of good friends gathering was complete.
Pronounced ‘Critch’, Cruit Island is a stunning nine hole course in Donegal. It sits on the very edge of the world, thrust out into the Atlantic in the teeth of every roaring westerly gale. The course has views stretching over miles of islands and coastline and the soaring hills of the mainland. What a day we had, taking on leaping chasms over the boiling Atlantic amidst sunshine, gales, crashing breakers and the bluest of seas. Cruit has more rocks and cliffs than my beloved Traigh, and is a fiercer course overall, but it is another real seaside experience, with all its defences in the bones of the land and the howl of the wind.
Playing Boat of Garten in the summer sunshine makes life feel fuller and more joyful. Beneath the Cairngorms, carpets of heather are ablaze and the silver birches and Scots pines framing the narrow fairways flaunt their greenery. The Boat places immense demands on the accuracy of the driver, yet I was surprised how often my sons were able to find where their booming bashes had come to ground, leaving them with some chance of squirting out unscathed from under the trees or flying in from neighbouring fairways. The course has many magnificent views from its higher tees (perhaps best of all from the splendid 12th), but the great challenge for the long driver is to take on the chasm that cuts across the short par four 15th. What satisfaction the bombers gained, after an afternoon spent flailing through the undergrowth, when they sent tee shots soaring to the very fringes of the green while my own ambitious attempt left me toiling in the depths below. This has to be in the very top group of courses in my personal pantheon, a wonderful place to spend the happiest of days.