Last week, my birthday week, was a good one. My better half and I decided to eschew a few days away in the sun, opting instead to turn the car north and head to the land of his birth. We had booked a cottage up in the north-west highlands intending to get in a bit of walking although the forecast didn’t look promising. As we were firing walking boots, waterproofs, woolly hats and mitts into the car he challenged me when he saw I had set ready a pencil golf bag with five clubs in it.
“You taking your clubs?” he queried. “Well,” I said, “You never know. You sometimes find lovely little nine-holers in these remote places and it’d be awful to miss out.” So, when the boot was finally packed I noticed that he, too, had put in a handful of clubs, tucked away in at the back. The next time we look at those will be when we get back home, I thought.
Our home for the next few days was a tiny little place called Badachro away up, an hour or so south west of Ullapool. It’s the land of the wild, and usually horizontal, wheelie bin. If these frisky beasts aren’t securely tethered with ropes and chains to stop them roaming, they are lying quietly down behind dry stone walls out of the gales. I grew quite fond of them, so much more interesting than our own which do nothing but stand sullenly beside the oil tank, never moving independently or taking on a life of their own.
On our first exploratory foray we went in to the village of Gairloch and couldn’t believe it when we chanced upon Gairloch Golf Club, nine holes of challenging beauty wrapped around a stunning bay with the most beautiful sandy beach. Gale force winds kept us from getting out our clubs but on our last day there the wind abated and we went to have a game. It was 1100 on a Sunday morning and we could see a fourball out on the course. Apart from that it was virgin territory. It was more than a little nippy and the little clubhouse was unattended and locked up but welcoming notices abounded and we were invited to leave our money in the honesty box. Cards and pencils were there and everything else you could need, so off we set.
There’s nothing more exhilarating than being transported back to your childhood and long, happy days before you were introduced to the insidious poison of keeping stats and monitoring every performance in search of trophies and success. There were short holes (91 yards), long ones (526 yards!), blind ones, ones through the bushes and ones along the beach, a veritable pot pourri of delights. A variance of tees in the second nine provided some different angles and the whole added up to something in the region of four and a half thousand yards.
It set me thinking back to other times I’d put my money in an honesty box at a golf course. Many moons ago I played Portsalon in north-west Ireland and it only took a couple of coins in those days to allow you to step on to the links. I’m not even sure there was any sort of a clubhouse in those days. I think a local hotel was the centre of operations. Portsalon is now a proper grown-up course hosting national championships but back then it had fences round the greens to keep the sheep off. Bala, in Wales, is another where, years ago, we put our money in the box but, for the life of me I can’t think that I’ve ever had that experience in England. Surely there are still some of these remote little gems around somewhere? Please let me know if you know of any.
And so it’s back to normality, back to being contactable by the outside world and back to the news that Patricia has had the second hole-in-one of her long, not-so-illustrious golf career. It happened at the 13th hole at Whittington Heath, a hole she announced to me only a matter of months ago was, for her, one of the hardest of the course. Ringed with bunkers it requires a carrying shot and if she takes a big enough club to fly it all the way she can’t keep it on the green. No doubt there’ll be a tale there of some sort of pinball wizardry – or perhaps even skill. In the meantime, I think I may just have found myself a new hobby – finding more gorgeous little “honesty box” golf courses to play.