I try the best I can in these posts to limit the personal stories, and try to maintain the theme of providing information that helps you plan your golf trip, rather than bore you with inane details from what is ultimately an insignificant round of golf. But for this writeup on Brora, that’s not going to be possible, because what unfolded on the evening of June 20, 2017 was one of the wildest and most unlikely four hour stretches I’ll ever experience on a golf course. But let’s start with the golf course.
Brora Golf Club
I met up with two members of the club, Campbell Ross and Calum Stewart, around 6 PM on the longest day of the year. The night was perfect. Coming off two hours of sleep, four+ hours of driving, and 18 holes at Castle Stuart previously that afternoon, I was feeding off the energy of the sunshine and the rave reviews this course has received.
Brora is about as far north as people are reasonably willing to venture to play golf in Scotland. It’s not a championship level golf course, but that’s hardly a pre-req to being an enjoyable walk. I had heard stories of how sheep and cows roam freely through the grounds, and I just had to see it for myself. Sure enough, tiny electric fences surround the green complexes to keep the sheep off of them. But this is only one small element of the charm that is Brora Golf Club.
The club opened in 1891 (originally nine holes) and was lengthened to 18 holes around 1900. Five time Open champion James Braid redesigned the course in 1924, and the course remains mostly unchanged from that era.
The sea breeze was cool, and noticeably cooler than the 70 degrees I had at Castle Stuart just two hours earlier. It’s old school in the sense that, the tees seem to be in their original places (the course tips out at 6,100 yards), and they’ve not ruined the course with desperate attempts to keep up with the rapid advancements of technology. While it may seem like the game has overgrown the course’s shortish par fours, if you’re expectations are managed coming into it, you’ll enjoy this aspect. And for 35 pounds for a twilight round (after 5 PM), you can’t beat the price point.
The sheep are hilarious. They are everywhere, and it honestly never stopped being funny when one would let out a gigantic “BAHHHHHHHH” seemingly right as we were about to hit a shot. The locals kind of laugh at the Americans overly keen interest in the sheep, but I’ve played golf in a lot of places and I’ve never seen anything like this. And it’s etched in my memory of this place.
I was expecting the turf and terrain to be a lot more raw. The conditioning was beautiful, and while the greens were on the slower side, they were lush and well maintained. Tom Watson paid a visit here in July:
— Tom Watson (@TomWatsonPGA) July 20, 2017
Brora is not going to be at the top of a lot of people’s bucket lists. Top 100 seekers aren’t likely to venture this far north, but to me, this only adds to the mystique of this place. Gone are the busloads of American tourists at the Open rota courses, and the only guests that make it up here are the hardcore ones. To me, it’s absolutely vital to fill your golf trips with journeys to places like Brora. The opportunity to play with locals no doubt enhanced the experience (more on that in a bit here), and the pride the members take in their club always fascinates me, and you inevitably end up getting a history lesson along with a pleasant walk.
The Evening of June 20, 2017
I’m separating this section out because it has very little to do with Brora the course, and more to do with my experience, which remains one of the weirdest and wildest golf experiences I’ve ever had.
Shortly before arriving on the grounds, I hear word through the grapevine that Bones and Phil were divorcing, and that the announcement was going to come later that evening. It was a shock, and it honestly rattled me a bit. There was nothing going on that would lead me to think this was a possibility, and my mind was racing trying to figure out what was going on. I wasn’t allowed to share the news publicly, which wasn’t that big of a deal at the time.
Aside from taking pictures, I try to keep my phone in my pocket as much as physically possible during a special round of golf. I manage to make it about four holes in before checking, only to see that I had a missed call from Bones. I was beyond confused. I call him back and act like I don’t know anything. He sounds totally normal, and just asks for my email address.
I spent the next hour refreshing my email every chance that I got, knowing what was coming. I was close to just giving up on it ever coming. Finally the statement comes in, and I get it out to twitter as fast as I can, and just watched golf twitter melt down. I remember us all holing out on one hole, and remaining on the green each on our phones just watching the overwhelming reaction to the news.
At this point, I’m apologetic to Calum and Campbell for being on the phone the entire round, now that I’ve decided to call this my job, this is the reality, and they’re more than understanding.
Trying to calm down, we’re all still talking about the Bones thing. I’m not doing a good job of soaking up this experience and I know it. Nearing the end of a 36 hole day on no sleep, and my mind racing on the divorce, and my focus just isn’t really there.
The 14th Hole
“You can probably have a go at it,” says Calum as we approach the tee on the 334 yard par-4. Legitimately two holes earlier, I told the group “You guys have no clue how many strokes this twitter account has cost me” as I reached for the driver on a somewhat drivable par-4. I’m bound by duty to reach for the driver whenever reaching the green is even a remote possibility.
Fighting the hooks all day, I let loose and one and finally flushed one. It had just enough draw spin to hold up against the down and off the left wind. The ball disappears into the distance, as the green is a bit blind.
“That’s probably just short,” Calum says.
In my head, I’m thinking, “man, that’s not short of ANYTHING.” This ball was crushed.
I don’t think much of the fact that I couldn’t see my ball as we walked up. We looked short of the green, nothing there. Looked slightly right of it, nothing there. Nothing in the bunker. It’s clearly not on the grass, so we start perusing around the heather that frames the green. Could it have gone long!? A casual search begins over the green. I’m a million over par and hardly playing super official golf at this point, so I’m close to just dropping one.
“You check the cup?” Calum says.
Maybe 30 seconds more of searching. I’m resigned. Calum walks by the hole just to have a peek. A semi-shocked look comes over his face as he utters:
“It’s in the hole.”
Ahhhh the old “hole in one trick” on the foreign guest. Not gonna fall for that one. I laughed it off and tried to draw the joke out of him before the demoralizing self gander into the cup, only to find out I was pranked. This show went on for a good 20-30 seconds. He was steadfast. His hands were on his head. “I’m not joking you, the ball is in the hole.”
“If I come over there, and my ball is not in the hole, I’m going to actually punch you in the face. You do realize that right?”
This is beginning to become a reality for me, but his excitement level still does not match what I would expect for apar four ace. I don’t even remember actually walking up to the hole. But I remember looking in the cup, and the legitimate state of shock that I entered. There it was, aCallaway Chrome Soft-X. And fittingly, a number one. My jaw dropped.
I still wasn’t convinced.
“Are you messing with me!?”
“I SWEAR I am not.”
“DID YOU PUT IT THERE!?”
I’m yelling at him like he’s Jack Nicholson and I’m Tom Cruise, just waiting for him to fess up to the truth.
We do an awkward white guy high five, and suddenly all of Tiger and Stevie’s failed celebrations make sense. I’m not running around and screaming mostly because I’m actually in a state of shock. I’ve never had an ace before! And it comes on a par 4!? On a perfect night in northern Scotland!?
I made a few frantic phone calls to my Dad, my best friend Frank, and to Tron. I don’t have a single clue as to what happened the rest of that round, other than the fact that Calum shot like 66. I played so unbelievably bad that I didn’t even break 80 on a par 70 WITH AN ACE ON A PAR FOUR. I didn’t even have a birdie on the card.
By the time we had finished, word had gotten back to the clubhouse about the ace, and they were awesome enough to present me with a framed photo from the course. I went inside, nervous about the bar tab, only to find that the clubhouse was nearly empty. I offered a round to everyone there, but it was so sparse that my final tab only ended up being 15 pounds.
I drove the thirty minutes back to my hotel in Dornoch, music on full blast to try to stay awake. It’s 10:30 and it’s still light out, and the greatest golf trip ever could not be off to a better start.