June 2022

I indulge myself a bit in this month’s issue of Home On The Course. In 2018, I had intended to make an annual pilgrimage to Crail, Scotland after joining the Crail Golfing Society as an overseas member. I organized a nine-day stay for this past May. My hopes for repeated golf rounds on my favorite courses were dashed during my first round. Please don’t feel sorry for me, but understand that although golf may seem like everything on a golf trip, it isn’t the only thing.

Oh Sod It: My Aching Back in Scotland

Last month I wrote about my excitement about my first visit to play Scottish golf since before the pandemic.  Here is how the nine-day trip went.

My Scotland golf vacation started off innocently enough, with a “practice” round at Hartsbourne Golf Club north of London.  I had stopped in London to visit with my family and to be introduced to a nephew and niece I had not met, thanks to the pandemic.  The friend who invited me to play and I teed off in early afternoon on a drizzly Sunday in mid May. The rough was rather wet and thick but otherwise the round I played with perfectly fine borrowed clubs was uneventful in all regards. I considered the round a good warmup for my first Scotland round two days later.

My friend Bob arrived at London Heathrow Airport on Monday morning, and we met at Kings Cross station in London. The Big Yellow Taxi Company had promised to be waiting for us on arrival Monday at Leuchars train station mid-afternoon; the station serves both St. Andrews, about a half-hour drive, and Crail, 15 minutes farther.  James, the driver and part owner of Big Yellow Taxi, was on time and waiting for us outside the station.  His taxi would be easy to miss in midtown Manhattan but not in Fife Scotland. (We learned later in the week that he started the company a year ago and named it because he was a fan of the early 1980s American sitcom Taxi.  His yellow taxi received nods and comments throughout the week wherever he took us.) James, a former website designer, ferried us around the Kingdom of Fife during the week.

My Obsession with Crail

I had booked a three-bedroom apartment in the Balcomie Farmhouse in Crail, about a 15-minute walk from the golf courses.  About an hour after we arrived at the Farmhouse, we were due at my Crail friends’ house for an early dinner.  I met George and Dorothy online in 2008 when I listed our vacation condo in South Carolina on a home exchange website, and they did the same with their Crail vacation cottage. (They have since moved to Crail from Glasgow permanently.) We arranged an exchange; they spent two weeks that April in our condo, and my son Tim and I spent a glorious week in 2008 at their cottage and played both Crail courses as well as The Old Course at St. Andrews, The New Course, Elie Golf Links and Lundin Golf Club.  After that I returned on my own to Crail for golf weeks in 2012 and 2017, staying at George and Dorothy’s home both times, once on my own, once with them in residence. 

By the end of my third visit, I was so besotted with the postcard-perfect fishing village of Crail and the two golf courses – Balcomie and Craighead – that I joined the club as an overseas member, expecting to return in 2019 and, I hoped, every year after.  The pandemic made that impossible until this year. (Annual fees for an overseas member are so reasonable I did not mind subsidizing the club through the pandemic years. For my membership, I receive 8 rounds of golf on each course and for any guests I bring, I am assessed the equivalent of $26 per round.)

Delayed Start

Our week in Crail got off to a dubious start.  We awoke on Tuesday morning to fog so dense I could not see the field of sheep just 70 yards beyond my bedroom window.  Yet fog would become the least of my problems that day.  The fog did not clear for our tee time at 10 a.m., and since Crail Golfing Society sends golfers out starting at 7:30 a.m., I figured tee times would eventually be pushed back four or five hours and we would not start our rounds until mid to late afternoon.  That isn’t a problem in mid-Scotland in May; the sun does not go down until almost 10 p.m.

But Crail and other heavily trafficked Scottish golf courses handle delays quite differently than do public courses in the U.S.  They cancel all tee times affected by the delay; if you have, say, a noon tee time and that is when the first group goes off, you and every succeeding group are in luck.  If you have the tee time just before noon, or earlier, Sorry Charlie.

We were lucky, though, because we had some local knowledge going for us.  George, a longtime Crail member, called the pro shop after he awoke that morning and saw the fog; he made a conditional tee time for 2:30 pm.  As the fog began to lift late in the morning, he was able to move that up to 1:10. That gave us enough time for after-round drinks in the clubhouse which, because of staffing shortages, closed at 6 p.m. every day of our visit.

The first hole on the Balcomie course is a downhill, rather short par 4 with the North Sea beyond and off to the right; a gaping bunker guards almost the entire front of the left-to-right green.  What the hole lacks in distance it more than makes up in a challenging approach shot. In every pin position, the bunker obscures the bottom of the hole and half the flagstick.  Even with a short iron in hand, and mindful the turf on the green is firm, if not hard, the temptation is to bail out to the left edge of the green.  Faced with such shots when I am away from home, I typically mutter to myself, “Cmon, you’re on vacation,” and go for the pin.  This time, I came up just short, rolled back into that yawning bunker and, when all was said and done, started my round with a double bogey.

Bad Back, No Back Nine

That approach shot was not the most painful of the day. That occurred at number 10, an uphill par 4 with fairway bunkers left and right.  Earlier I had felt a twinge in the right side of my lower back but figured the walking would help work it through.  But by the fifth hole, I knew I was going to have to play with some pain; the ibuprofen was not providing much relief.  Long shots – driver and fairway woods – were only a slight problem, and I was actually hitting them pretty well. But it was the shorter shots – oddly the shortest chip shots – that made me wince.  My bending to the proper position for chip shots had found the perfect point of pain.  On the 10th hole, I pulled my drive well left and faced a straight uphill six-iron into the wind.  I hit it as solid as I ever do – and almost fell to the ground in pain.  I was sure my golfing day was over – even though that final shot wound up pin high, six feet away.  I could not bend over for the putt, shanked it and my friend Bob picked up the ball for me.  I walked the remaining holes with my group.

A hot bath that night and another dose of ibuprofen did little to relieve the pain, but I resolved to give it a go the next day at Lundin Golf Club, aka Lundin Links, about 45 minutes south of Crail and the only course other than the two Crail layouts that we were scheduled to play during the week.  I had fond memories of the course from 2008 and was looking forward to the round.  But beside the first green on the seaside links course, I pretty much knew my clubs and I would be walking the course rather than playing.  (Note:  I rented battery powered carts for every round during the week; at least I couldn’t blame self-caddying as a source of the back problems.) I tried a few more shots but, by the 7th hole, I was done for the day – and the week.  The rest of the week I walked the courses at Crail with my friends as they played.  On the Craighead course, designed by Gil Hanse in the mid-1990s and a perfect complement to the Old Tom Morris-designed Balcomie course (circa 1898), I made sure to take photos from each hole, incorporating the views of the North Sea.  In golf circles, Balcomie and Craighead are acknowledged as the only pair of 18-hole golf courses on one site with views of water from all 36 holes. 

Compensation

I was disappointed that my remaining week would not include golf, but Crail is my favorite place on earth and the views from the golf course are unmatched in my experience.  Our lodgings were wonderful, the middle part of a former 16th Century castle with parts of the structure still intact.  The ability to walk to the clubhouse in less than 15 minutes – we did so a few times to have our morning coffee and scone – and the couple hundred acres of surrounding verdant farmland and grazing sheep and their lambs relaxed every part of my body – except my back. My friend Bob, an inveterate walker, was out every morning by 5:30 a.m. to scale the fence that separates the golf course from the farm and walk down to the rocky beach. (A few miles of the 63-mile Fife coastal walk runs along the edge of the Crail Golfing Society courses.). He would repeat those walks a couple of other times each day and must have logged at least 75 miles during the week, golf courses included.

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Postscript about my back:  When I returned to London a few days before my flight back to the States, I visited an osteopath. He diagnosed my back pain as a “strain” and did some gentle manipulations.  He said I would feel better in a few days but should visit a chiropractor for just one session when I returned home.  After lugging my bags through airports, I regressed a bit.  By the time I arrived in Vero Beach, FL for my granddaughter’s first birthday celebration, I felt the need to visit a walk-in chiropractor who confirmed the London osteopath’s diagnosis. On his first visual inspection, even before he laid a hand on me, he said, “Yup, you’ve twisted something back there.”  He added that it wasn’t serious.  He lay me face down on a padded table, moved the table in such a way that it stretched my back, and then pushed on my legs twice, both times somewhat aggressively. 

As I write this, it is two days later, and the back feels a lot better, although not quite good enough to swing a golf club yet.  Tomorrow is my last day in Vero Beach before driving north with wife and dog; depending on how I feel, I will either head to a local practice range before we leave or to the chiropractor for one last manipulation. (Further update and praise of bone and muscle manipulators in sidebar.)

Larry Gavrich
Founder & Editor
Home On The Course, LLC

In praise of an osteopath and a chiropractor

I am not a big fan of chiropractors.  Three decades ago, I thought one I had been seeing literally broke my back.  As I staggered out of his office, I vowed never to darken the door of a chiro’s office again.

But 30 years is a long time, and the osteopath in London who treated my recent back issues treated me gently and effectively enough to ease my pain slightly. 

“You should see a chiropractor in the States for one more treatment,” he suggested.  An osteopath is pretty much the British version of a chiropractor and I was skeptical…until the pain of lugging my bags through London Heathrow and JFK and hoisting them into the overhead compartment on the plane convinced me to follow through on the osteo’s advice.

After an overnight in New York, I flew down to Vero Beach, FL, to celebrate my granddaughter’s first birthday. My daughter-in-law told me about a local chiropractor she had used who ran a walk-in service.  After I filled out some paperwork and waited just two minutes for him to treat a regular patient, he inspected my back, had me lay face down on his moving table, stretched me out, had me turn over and bend my right leg up, and then he made an aggressive push on the leg – more violent than the London osteopath but, at that point, I just wanted to get back on the golf course and was willing to endure some momentary pain. He told me I would be playing golf within two or three days.

He was right.  A few days later in South Carolina, I swung a mid-iron rather tentatively, fearful of reinjuring myself.  But it felt fine.  I made a tee time for the following day and got through 18 holes with just a mild ache.  Except for favoring the back a bit and pulling more drives than usual to the left, my 74-year-old body felt normal.  The exhilaration at being back on the course – and back on course physically – more than compensated for the ache, as did the 400 mgs of ibuprofen. Two days later I made it through another 18 holes with no damaging effects.

My faith in chiropractors has been restored.  Thanks to both.

By the Sea, Craighead Course, Crail Golfing Society

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Starters hut, Hole #1

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3rd green, North Sea to the right, Balcomie Farmhouse through the trees.

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Behind 7th green, former WWII concrete defensive naval gun emplacements

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My friend Dorothy, taking aim at the dogleg left 12th hole, the North Sea beyond. 

18th Hole, Craighead Course, Crail Golfing Society
18th Hole, Craighead Course, Crail Golfing Society