As a 17-year-old soon to enter college, I have had the lucky experience of traveling to England and Scotland three times to play some of the best golf courses in the world. I have played 26 different golf courses in Great Britain, including six courses that are in the current rotation for the British Open. These are courses that are incredibly different from anything that is available near Chicago or anywhere in the United States.
On a roll
The conditioning of golf courses is very different in England and Scotland as it is here. Because there is so much rain, the courses are not irrigated nearly as much as they are in the United States. The soil upon which the courses are built is also very sandy, so that the water drains very quickly from the surface. This is especially true for the "links" courses, ones that are next to or very near water. Because of this soil, and the fact that they are not watered nearly as much, the courses generally have a brownish cast, and the fairways, greens, and outlining areas are hard.
The different watering patterns also mean that a well struck drive on a British course seems to keep going forever. On my most recent trip, I hit my driver about 50 yards further per drive than I do in the United States. On downwind holes, at times I couldn't believe how far the ball went. This was a mixed blessing, however. While 350-yard drives are fun, it is very hard to keep the ball in the fairway. Even the "parkland" courses in the British Isles, which are courses that are inland and supposedly more heavily watered, the fairways and greens are much different than those in the United States.
Because the courses are so firm, it is impossible to hit a shot that lands on the green and stays on the green. Backing the ball up is out of the question, unless you are hitting into a very strong wind. You have to land everything short of the green, and then watch as it bounds up onto the green, towards the hole.
Two's a company
The attitude towards golf in Great Britain is also somewhat different than in the United States. Here, courses give priority to foursomes, and try to match up singles and twosomes so that they can get as many people as possible out on the course and make as much money as possible. In Great Britain, on the other hand, twosomes are given priority. At Prestwick, site of the first 12 British Opens, only twosomes are allowed on the course before 10 a.m. This results from the British being very fast golfers, which means that rounds of golf in Great Britain, even on the toughest championship courses, rarely take more than four hours. In the United States, a round of golf at a premier resort course will usually take up to five hours.
The wind in England and Scotland is also something that is truly a part of every links course there. It makes courses that would be benign on calm days fearsome challenges because of the regular wind that blows off of the water. For instance, at Royal Dornoch, Tom Watson's favorite course, the first nine holes are almost always downwind and downhill, so that they do not seem overly difficult and play very short. Eight of the next nine holes, however, are into the wind and uphill, so that they play incredibly long and are extremely difficult. The wind takes any wayward shots on these holes and throws them even farther offline. Holes that have the same marked distance as those on the front nine can play 200 yards longer, because the wind is so strong.
Royal Liverpool, where the British Open will be held in 2006, was extremely windy when I played it, with gusts near 40 mph. This course often has very strong winds, and they are what make it a difficult and interesting course. One of the most interesting things was that the wind only really seemed to help on a few of the holes. Most of the holes were either into the wind or with a quartering wind. This made the wind very hard to judge, both in how it would move the ball, and in how it would affect distance.
Michael McCormick played varsity golf at OPRF High School.