Cover Photo provided by Mr. Jim Hartsell
Editor's note: When it came time to roll out our (long overdue) new website we wanted to do something celebrating the people we've met through golf and the places that are still out there for us to explore. We've only scratched the surface on who we need to meet and where we need to go. Jim Hartsell embodies that spirit to the fullest. I met Jim through Sweetens Cove a few years ago and we became fast friends. He's spent the last two-and-a-half decades exploring Scotland and digging deeper than nearly any American I know, non-Tom Coyne division. As an Registered Building Architect, he brings a unique perspective to golf travel, both on and off the course. We're thrilled to roll this series out over the next few months and hope you enjoy. - Tron
The Hidden Soul of the Game
Fraserburgh Golf Club, The Jimmy Gibb Tankard Open
By Jim Hartsell
Scottish golf has a unique and wonderful tradition called “Open Competitions” – 18-hole stroke play events that are open to any golfers with a handicap - at an entry/green fee that can be inconceivable to a visiting American. I have been fortunate to play in several of these competitions over the years - at places like Machrihanish and Dunaverty – often paying only £5 or £10 for the pleasure. If you take one piece of advice from this series, try to schedule your Scottish golf trip around an open competition at a course like Fraserburgh. I can guarantee that you will meet some of the nicest people on earth and get to experience a great course under tournament conditions. We played in the Jimmy Gibb Tankard Open at brilliant Fraserburgh for the nominal sum of £18 – about $26.
Photo provided by Mr. Jim Hartsell
Jake and I were joined for the Jimmy Gibb by local Fraserburgh member called Adam Duncan, who introduced himself as we were signing in upstairs in the tidy clubhouse. An engineer who works on the North Sea oil rigs, Adam is home for long stretches of time - and plays golf on most of these days. The entry fee was cash only and I was embarrassed to realize that I did not have any pound notes on me. Adam immediately offered to drive me to the closest ATM at a nearby Tesco. This was a man I had just met two or three minutes earlier. The Scottish people are the kindest and most welcoming group that I have ever encountered.
Founded in 1777 - and noted as the 7th oldest golf club in the world - Fraserburgh sits on some of the most unique and stunning linksland to be found on the planet. In 1922, the legendary Scottish golfer and architect James Braid completely redesigned the links and today it remains largely as the great man intended. There is an understated elegance to a Braid design that is on full display at Fraserburgh. It is simply a beautiful golf course.
Once I had obtained the appropriate currency from Tesco, we walked across the B9033 to the 1st tee for our 9:08 starting time. Not surprisingly, in the greatest links golf tradition, the first hole is a dead flat par four of 434 yards, running parallel to the 435-yard 18th hole – which is a virtual mirror image of the 1st. These holes serve to get us from the clubhouse into the great dune land. I have heard them used as a criticism of Fraserburgh, but I like both holes and the stark contrast they offer to the rest of the course. It was a brilliant sunny day as we started our round, but the wind was steady at 20 mph with gusts up to 30 mph. It was going to be a challenging day for golf.
1st Tee at Fraserburgh Golf Club. Photo provided by Mr. Jim Hartsell
The stunning dunes - and the North Sea beyond - are first introduced as we climb the heights of the 391-yard par four 2nd hole (the curiously named Braid’s Bellow) to its’ wonderfully exposed green. There is a strong sense of anticipation that something special is in store. The oncoming sequence of six holes at Fraserburgh – the 2nd through the 7th – is among my favorite links stretches in Scotland. Every hole is great. The revetted face bunkers - like individual works of art – are placed with restraint - yet attract balls like an Atlantic whirlpool. The green sites are brilliant – on exposed plateaus or in punchbowl-like dells.
2nd Green at Fraserburgh Golf Club. Photo provided by Mr. Jim Hartsell
The 331-yard par four 3rd hole, Whyte’s Shelter, is an all-world hole. The view from the tee seems to extend for miles, with the great links laid out before you as Braid must have surely intended. The dunes and sea beckon; the ever-present Scottish wind turbines stand like sentinels in the distance. Adam, the perfect host, proudly told me that over 95% of Scottish energy is renewable and generated from wind turbines. I felt slightly embarrassed to be an American.
3rd hole at Fraserburgh Golf Club. Photo provided by Mr. Jim Hartsell
The wind was straight and true behind us - and our drives from the elevated 3rd tee to the fairway below took off like an F-16. The bunkers must be avoided, of course, as they are at least a stroke penalty. It is an undeniably fun and perfect links golf hole. We turned straight back into the wind on the 328-yard par four 4th – which played more like 475 yards, to an elevated and brutally exposed plateau green. Here my hopes of securing the Gibb Tankard were dashed - in a deep and impossible bunker well below the green surface. There is no mercy in an open competition, every stroke counts.
5th at Fraserburgh Golf Club. Photo provided by Mr. Jim Hartsell
The par threes at Fraserburgh are a wonder. They all seem to perfectly fit into the landscape as if they have been there for 1000 years, which I suppose in some ways they have. I try not to overuse the term genius, but it applies to the great James Braid. The 7th hole, which we played at its’ full medal tee length of 165 yards, is one of my favorite par threes in golf. If you do not stand on that tee with a smile on your face, then you probably should not be playing Fraserburgh.
7th at Fraserburgh Golf Club. Photo provided by Mr. Jim Hartsell
While I struggled in the ever-increasing wind, Adam and Jake were playing beautiful golf – both striking with the penetrating, low ball flight that is required in these links conditions. It was fun to watch. Adam, generous as ever, was encouraging for Jake’s good play and sympathetic to my struggles. One of the benefits of getting older is that you enjoy the experience of walking on a beautiful golf course with good people much more than posting a score.
The back nine at Fraserburgh is hard. There is no other way to put it. At this point we were playing in a violent crosswind, due to Braid’s wonderful routing. I understand clearly why the Scots generally prefer match play. The 10th is a lovely 332-yard par 4 with a tremendous green complex. It is aptly named Solitude and is my favorite hole of the inward nine. The 508-yard par five 15th, Bents, is another great hole routed through the massive dunes and is one that I also remember with great fondness. It is unique in scale and reminds me of some of the holes at King-Collins Golf new Landmand GC in Nebraska, USA.
10th Green at Fraserburgh Golf Club. Photo provided by Mr. Jim Hartsell
We finished our round and shook hands on the 18th green, thanking Adam for his kindness. It is a round that I will always remember. Fraserburgh was one of the pleasant surprises of our trip. It is the most testing 6300-yard course that I have ever played. I was embarrassed by my play and attempted to apologize, but Adam would have none of it. “Aye, Jim, it was tough out here today. It’s understandable,” he said kindly. We walked back across the B9033 to turn in our official scorecards.
Well played. Photo provided by Mr. Jim Hartsell
For a brief second, I thought about not turning in my card. Then I realized how disrespectful that would be to this wonderful place – so I signed and turned in my score for the Jimmy Gibb Tankard Open. I handed it to the nice gentleman at the scorer’s table.
“Rough day,” he asked. “Yes, yes it was,” I said. “That’s what they make Tennent’s for,” he replied with a smile.
Perhaps not the standard recommendation, but I cannot say enough about the grocery store chain Tesco. I love it. Every time I go to Scotland, I always make a few trips to Tesco to buy a few things to take home. There is nothing really like it in the US, at least where I live. It is just so organized and well run. I remember some past trips where my Dad and I bought some bread and cheese in Tesco and just stopped on the side of the road to have a simple lunch – on our way to Dornoch or wherever we might be going. Fraserburgh is also only 40 miles from Cullen Links - a No Laying Up favorite - and my next stop on this series.