Out in Wisconsin, at Erin Hills, some of the players preparing for the US Open moaned about the rough and the USGA took the mowers to the fescue, much to the horror of Rory McIlroy. The Ulsterman didn’t seem to have noticed it, except perhaps for its aesthetic qualities, all waving wispiness. “We’ve got 50 to 60 yards to aim at,” he huffed. “If we can’t manage that, we might as well go home.”
Well, by now all will be on the way to be being revealed and we’ll see who’s avoiding the penal stuff most of the time and who isn’t. You have to be careful with rough, whether you’re the USGA, who specialise in lots of it or a day-to-day club who should bear in mind the relative lack of skill of most of its members and visitors. Those members and visitors may say they want to be tested but mostly they want to be able to get round the course without losing too many balls or straining too many wrists and if possible they want to come in and talk about their good shots and the odd par or birdie rather than the brilliant hack out of the rough at the 3rd.
I played at Castle Stuart, near Inverness, last weekend, in the Spire Trophy – as a resident of Lichfield I felt a bit bereft that there was only the one spire because we’re used to three – and I couldn’t have had a better time. In the fourballs my partner and I proved overmatched against superior opponents who played well and we were hammered, by the old dog licence. Even so I really enjoyed it. The weather was grand, so there were stunning views of the Moray Firth and the Black Isle, the company was good, I hit a lot of decent shots but I was clumsily clueless around the greens. The lines, read by my caddy Stuart, were fine but my inability to gauge the pace was frustrating. I nearly started laughing at one point because I thought of Bernard Darwin lamenting that his partner, the incomparable Joyce Wethered, was tied to a turd. Nothing like delusions of grandeur!
They’re very clever at Castle Stuart because they set the course up to appeal to every level of golfer, bar absolute beginners. There are plenty of hazards and rough but it’s not really what you see from the tee. You see a playable golf course that is not too narrow, with no wasp-waisted fairways, no monstrous carries and rough that is subtly graded. If you come from a well-grassed, parkland course (which I don’t), it’ll all be a bit alien to begin with but it’s worth persevering and discovering the joys of using putters and rescues from well off the greens to negotiate the ‘umps and ‘ollows. Bliss, really.
In the foursomes on Sunday, my partner, the incomparable Gillian Stewart, and I came back from two down with five to play to halve the match and the overall match was also halved, for the first time. Smiles all round.
Inverness is a long way up – more than nine hours on the train from Lichfield, though planes are an option if you can stand airports – so it’s worth considering staying a while and not just confining yourself to marquee names like Castle Stuart, Nairn and Royal Dornoch. Don’t overlook unheralded northern gems like Fortrose and Rosemarkie (all one course), Tain, Brora and Golspie, to name just a few. Scotland almost rivals Ireland as a golfer’s paradise….Play away please.