Will Ye No’ Come Back Again?

A Return to The Hidden Places of Scottish Golf

By Jim Hartsell

Photograph by Mr. Jim Hartsell

The so called "Bridge Over The Atlantic” to the Isle of Seil is barely wide enough for one car. The camber is such on the beautiful 19th century structure that you are driving completely blind as you proceed almost vertically up the arched roadway. As I approached the ancient bridge a few days ago - on the way out to play Isle of Seil GC - I realized that you must have faith to drive over the bridge, trusting that the way is clear. There is no traffic signal. You can see nothing as you start up the incline. As I write this on a beautiful morning in Lochgilphead, Scotland, I realize that this trip has been a similar leap of faith and hope.

Photograph by Mr. Jim Hartsell

As some of you that have read my writing or follow me on social media may know, my youngest son Jordan died suddenly on May 17, 2021. For most of his life he was a happy, sweet boy who loved golf and happened to be uniquely gifted at playing the game. We had talked a lot over the years about Scotland and Scottish golf, something that I have loved almost my entire life. A few days before he passed away, we discussed the possibility of him joining me on my next trip. He watched YouTube videos of old Open Championships during his last week of life. The last 3 months have been extremely difficult. I have come back to my favorite country to try to recover - or find a way to keep going - as much as someone can after such a senseless, unfathomable tragedy. Being back in this stunningly beautiful place for a few days - and the sincere welcome I have received from so many people - has somehow been helpful. I have felt the presence of my son with me out on these ancient links and moorland courses.

Photograph by Mr. Jim Hartsell

This series on No Laying Up originally started as a chronicle of a trip I took in May 2019 with my middle son Jake. It grew out of a lengthy conversation I had with Tron Carter later that year. I will continue to write about that journey, but also try to figure out a way to integrate some things from this visit. As I write this, I am roughly halfway through my itinerary – which has evolved as I have met people or just had a feeling about visiting a certain place. My (now good) friend from the 2019 trip, Robbie Wilson, graciously invited me to stay at his house in Lochgilphead for the first 10 days. Otherwise, I’m not sure that I could have managed a trip so extensive in scope.

Photograph by Mr. Jim Hartsell

My goal is to visit places I’ve always wanted to see, but just never managed to get to. I am also planning to write a book about this trip and try to tell Jordan’s story as part of the narrative. My current working itinerary is as follows:

August 4 - Tarbert GC

August 5 - Isle of Seil GC

August 6 - Dunaverty GC

August 7 - Gullane GC / North Berwick GC

August 8 - Panmure GC

August 9 - Dunaverty GC

August 10 - Isle of Colonsay GC

August 11 - Travel day

August 12 - Rothesay GC

August 13 - Bute GC l

August 14 - Travel day

August 15 - Traigh GC

August 16 - Isle of Skye GC / Lochcarron GC

August 17 - Gairloch GC

August 18 - Durness GC

August 19 - Durness GC

August 20 - Reay GC

August 21 - Golspie GC

August 22 - Brora GC / Portmahonack GC

August 23 - Comrie GC / Killin GC

August 24 - St. Fillans GC

August 25 - Machrie Bay GC / Shiskine GC

August 26 - Corrie GC / Brodick GC

August 27 – Dunaverty GC

August 28 - Machrihanish GC (Open Competition)

August 29 - Dunaverty GC

August 30 - Shiskine GC / Corrie GC

August 31 - Prestwick GC

September 1 - Depart GLA

I am playing many more 9 holes courses (and 12 holers) than 18. This may seem strange to some people, but I love the smaller “wee” courses of Scotland. It also allows me to keep the walking somewhat manageable. I’ve always believed that you get the truest sense of Scottish golf at the smaller courses – they are often the center of social life and activities in their town. My basic criteria for a great golf course – architectural character, enjoyment and how visitors are welcomed - is different than many architectural critics. This type of trip is obviously not for everybody, but it is what I love.

Photograph by Mr. Jim Hartsell

The revelations thus far have been numerous: Isle of Seil GC with its’ perfect golf hut, the remote and wild machair of Isle of Colonsay GC - where you could just as easily be playing golf in the 1800’s, stunningly beautiful Traigh GC and the utterly brilliant Gairloch GC are a few that are at the forefront. I will likely play Dunaverty GC more than any other. I am a member there and it’s a perfect golf course. The trip will end at the first course I ever played in Scotland in 1994 – the ancient links of Prestwick. I appreciate those of you following along on Twitter and Instagram and I cannot thank the great people of Scotland enough for the welcome I have received so far.

Photograph by Mr. Jim Hartsell

Jordan had an original Scotty Cameron Newport Oil Can putter from the mid-90’s that he used from the time he was 12 years old. He loved that putter. He won a state championship with it in 2015. I brought it here with me and have been using it the entire trip. Not long after he died, a good friend told me I would eventually want to play golf again and the course is where I would find my son. I think he was right. Scotland has a way of opening your soul to the spiritual side of things – if you let it.