I see that the LET are in the Middle East this week, at the Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies’ Open in Abu Dhabi. Some of the women warmed up in the Liwa Desert, which is proper desert, one never-ending bunker with massive dunes that look suitably spectacular in the publicity shots and give you an inkling of how awesome the place must be. The golf course is on the coast as the name – Saadiyat Beach – would suggest and there there’s plenty of grass flourishing in the middle of all the sand.That got me thinking about the weird and wonderful places where golf rears its head, the unlikely venues for courses, which, of course, were originally developed on scrubby old linksland that wasn’t suitable for much else. When Dai and I wrote Beyond The Fairways, we included a bit on golf in the desert and I was dispatched to talk to Tom Weiskopf, who won the Open at Troon in 1973 and later, based in Arizona, moved into golf course design with Jay Morrish.
A bit of a crosspatch at the best of times, Weiskopf was even grumpier than usual when I spoke to him because he’d just had a double bogey at the last hole of whatever seniors event he was playing in. Not many players are in the best of humour after that sort of finish and I’ve still got the cassette tape of the interview somewhere. The sound track includes the clack clack clack of metal spikes as Weiskopf, a tall man, strode up the hill to the clubhouse with me scuttling after him trying to ask vaguely sensible questions of someone who couldn’t wait to be somewhere else.
“How easy is it to build a golf course in the desert?”
“Very easy. Some grass seed, some water, then stand back and watch it grow.”
“Ah.” Clack, clack, clack. Puff, puff, puff.
A couple of efforts to extract some more info were relatively successful as it turned out and it’s amazing how you can expand on a curt answer when you’re desperate enough. However, the tape reveals that the interviewer located her own inner crosspatch – never all that difficult – when she asked what lessons the golfer-turned-architect had learned over the years.
“What?! Nothing at all?”
The irritation was undisguised.
The “interview” was at an end.
Not that I hold grudges but I have to admit that that encounter may be one of the reasons why I find it so hard to like Loch Lomond, a much-praised Weiskopf creation in one of the wettest parts of the British Isles, a place where, if the loch doesn’t get you, the water table will and where it was only relatively recently that anyone dared to build a golf course. It’s a beautifully crafted course in a spot that’s beautiful on a sunny day. I may have been there on one of those but usually it’s been raining and soggy – see the underwater Solheim Cup in 2000 – and the first time I played there we were put off the 10th and, well, the relationship has never recovered!
I am partial to a bit of high desert, home of the magnificent saguaro cactus, the one with the arms, a symbol of the American west and a staple of many a Western. The Tradition, a senior major, at Desert Mountain, north of Phoenix, was always a treat, not least because of the drive up to the course as the houses became scarcer, if grander and the landscape took over. Done well, desert courses are wonderful and a pleasure to play – as long as you can hit it straight enough to keep it on the grass and away from the rattlesnakes, the prickly pear, cholla and assorted scrub – but some of the less accomplished are, in the words of a well-travelled Scot, “a waste of a perfectly good desert”.
Back in Abu Dhabi, Saadiyat Beach looks recognisable as a golf course and there’s the added bonus of a member of the Woods family playing decent golf, a treat in itself. Cheyenne, Tiger’s niece, had her first hole-in-one as a professional in the second round and was sharing third place at the halfway stage. Game on.