The European Tour touched down for the last time in 2012 on ‘home’ soil at the Home of Golf, St Andrews a few weeks ago. It’s always a treat to travel to the Dunhill Links tournament as it’s played on such a good rota of courses and early October is a lovely time of year to be in Scotland. So, as seems to be my custom now, I used Monday morning to have a game myself and I strolled around Ladybank GC before lunch which enabled me get ‘up the road’ in good time to Kingbarns where the weeks work was about to unfold.
As I drove I considered the individual challenges that links golf would present this week to Gareth Maybin and how best I could help prepare him. I knew from experience that there would be wind at some point during the week, deep bunkers (especially at Carnoustie & St Andrews) would be a feature and the short game would be tested in terms of distance putting and bump ‘n runs shots. All this information is vital when helping a player prepare for a specific tournament and it’s these decisions that help ‘design’ on course and range sessions.
After a thorough basics check on the range and some work at shaping the ball against the wind, it was off to inspect the course. We were enthused by Gareth’s recent form in his previous two events and during the practise round we aimed to have a look at the condition of the course, formulate a game plan and play the usual practice games of ‘Par 18’ and similar distance wedge games that we have invented. For anyone who hasn’t played Kingsbarns, it’s what I would call an ‘American’ links in that it has very undulating greens and I always think has a slightly ‘contrived’ feel about it. I’d say it’s similar to Portmarnock Links or Dundonald Links. Although there is no doubting the quality of the views and the challenge it presents. The holes along the water are stunning and overall it’s certainly worth a game.
As we walked the last few holes in the fading light, I must admit my mind began to wonder onto the ‘other’ jewel in the Dunhill’s crown…..the ‘Anstruther Fish Bar’ to give it its full name!! I promised myself I would only go once and it was well worth it. Needless to say, I highly recommend the 15 min drive from Kingbarns to Anstruther. A top class Chippie!
Tuesday was Carnoustie – one of my all time favourites! Alongside Turnberry, Portmarnock and Waterville, the best links I have played. We started off the day with some really productive distance putting games and short game chipping tasks that involved ‘using’ the ground to complete the challenge. Again, Gareth enjoys these competitions and they are a wonderful way to condense a few hours effective practice into a fun experience. Also a chance for Basile (Gareth’s caddy) and myself to have a little wager!
One of the interesting things for me now when I visit these wonderful courses is to actually look around and study how the course ‘plays’ and what the designer has created. Whenever I played competitively around these tracks, I really didn’t take the time to appreciate how good the courses actually were. But now, with no ‘shot’ to occupy me I really can admire the quality of courses like Carnoustie, Hilversum, Kennemer and Wentworth. They all offer a specific challenge and it’s a theme I always encourage my students to embrace – how best do I ‘play’ each hole? Where is the ideal angle to a particular pin location? How does the fairway slope? What’s the ideal curve on my shots to take advantage of the natural terrain? It’s amazing when you watch really good ‘course managers’ like Gareth or Graeme McDowell, how they manage to let the shape of the course work ‘for’ them. It’s certainly been a learning curve for me.
It was also cool to stand on ‘Hogan’s Alley’ (Par 5 6th hole at Carnoustie) and remind myself of the 4 ‘laser-beam’ tee shots the great man he hit during the 1953 British Open.
The Old Course, St Andrews would be where we would spend the final practice day of Wednesday. The weather forecast said that it would rain until about 9am then break into a pleasant day. It proved to be dead right! Although this was little consolation when you are on the 8th hole at 9am! A very early start was necessary to beat the sheer volume of people playing practice rounds due to the fact that it’s a very large pro-am format and most amateurs want to play their practice rounds naturally where the game of golf began – the Old Course! So Gareth, Basile and I discussed how best to solve the puzzle that is the Old Course and we finished up walking the last hole in autumn sunshine with the town alive with the anticipation of the even to come. It has to be one of the most iconic golfing sights and it reminds you why you are involved in golf.
After lunch and before I headed for home and left the two lads to get ready for ‘real time’ tournament business, we made use of the cross winds on the range and ‘played’ a few simulated holes. Gareth also began to ‘break in’ some new wedges – just checking the feel, flight and spin compared to his old ones. And for anybody interested in the equipment side of the game, he also tested some new rescue clubs that were proving popular on the range as they were easy to ‘pick’ from the tight links turf and managed to fly fairly ‘flat’ through the wind. This design of club is becoming very popular among all the players, even the ones that would be considered the top ball strikers.
So, it came my time to journey back to Edinburgh and return to my normal teaching duties. I enjoy the variety of my work as the knowledge & experience I gain at these premier events really helps my teaching at home and hence, I always look forward to any coaching trips I’m asked to make.
Catch up with me again, this time in warmer surroundings at the Portugal Masters in Vilamoura! The tour moves on….