There is one golfing area of Scotland that is still waiting to be properly discovered, and that's the Borders, as Martin Vousden discovers
Let's be honest here, Scotland misses few opportunities to tell the world that it is the home of golf, has over 500 courses - many of which are renowned throughout the world - and is the ultimate golfing destination.
But despite this understandable lack of modesty, one part of the country - The Borders - has been rather absent from all the hype and has just quietly gone about its business of providing good-quality courses at bargain prices for both residents and visitors. The residents know they're on to a good thing and have tended to keep quiet about their own wee corner of golfing nirvana, while the visitors who make the trip to this area south of Edinburgh wonder why they haven't heard of it before.
One reason is that golfers on holiday tend to fly into Glasgow or Edinburgh and then head north but in so doing they deny themselves the opportunity to visit a particularly picturesque part of a country that doesn't have a shortage of natural beauty.
Whereas the Highlands has the natural majesty of mountains and lochs, The Borders is more rolling hills and scenic valleys. It is quiet, with few large centres of population, so even driving becomes part of the relaxing, peaceful holiday experience.
And then there's the golf. First up, it has to be said that few of the courses in The Borders have the high profile of St Andrews, Turnberry or Carnoustie but then again, they're all links and are therefore eligible to host the Open Championship, so they would be better known for that reason alone. Yet Scotland is not all about links golf and for those unaccustomed to regularly playing in a strong breeze on a seaside course with few natural features like trees, and unlucky bounces the attractions of links golf can (but whisper it quietly) quickly pall.
Seaside golf, in short, requires its own attitude (to accept that a well-struck drive can kick off a fairway mound into deep rough) and style of play - keeping the ball low under the wind, learning to avoid bunkers at all costs and learning to play bump-and-run shots to the green, rather than always flying the ball the whole way. Therefore, for many visitors it involves adapting their game to the course, whereas in The Borders, which almost exclusively involves parkland courses, they are much more likely to face the sort of challenges with which they are familiar - and subsequently play better, and enjoy themselves more, as a result.
And nowhere is great parkland golf better exemplified than at The Roxburghe (pictured above and over), an excellent course designed by Dave Thomas who has, among others, the Belfry on his CV. His courses tend to be characterised by wide fairways and large greens but if that makes you start dreaming of course records and fabulously low scores, then dream on. He also loves bunkers, particularly in the fairways, and invariably builds mounding to the back of them, so going for the green is nigh on impossible.
The Roxburghe follows the contours of the hills in which it is set so there are a lot of changes of elevation and quite a few walks between green and tee, so even if you're the sort who tends to shun electric buggies, on this layout you might make an exception. But the heart of the course is the par threes - play those well and you'll likely make a good score as three of them are around the 190 yards mark and, because of water hazards on two and bunkering on the third, the ball has to be long, high and straight to have any chance of reaching the putting surface in regulation.
But The Roxburghe isn't just about golf, it's a working country estate, owned by the duke whose name it carries, and also boasts a 22-room country house hotel. If you shun modern, soulless, corporate accommodation in favour of quietude, tranquillity and a bit of up-market sophistication, this is the place. If you're so inclined you could try clay pigeon shooting, fly fishing (the hotel has its own trout pond), falconry, archery or croquet. And for the non-golfing partner the hotel is happy to organise afternoon tea at Floors Castle in Kelso - the largest inhabited castle in Scotland and the ancestral home of the duke and duchess of Roxburghe - visits to a cashmere mill, River Teviot Water Gardens and local historical houses and sites, of which there are many.
About a 45-minute drive from Roxburghe is Cardrona Hotel and Country Club, which represents the newest addition to both golf and accommodation in The Borders - the golf course opened in 2001 and the hotel took its first guests in May 2003. The course is also designed by Dave Thomas and bears many of his characteristics and is therefore reminiscent of The Roxburghe - which is no bad thing. Where it differs is that, although surrounded by hills it has been laid out across a valley, along both sides of the River Tweed, so walking (with the exception of a bit of a trek between the eighth green and ninth tee) is considerably easier. To stand alongside the river, while trying to select the right club for your next shot, looking at the purple, mauve and brown of the heather on the hills is quite magical.
The hotel is modern but the public areas such as bar, lounge and dining room still manage to create a cosy and intimate atmosphere, which is quite a hard trick to pull off. It has 100 rooms which have all the facilities that hotel guests desire nowadays - such as tea and coffee-making, mini-bar, safe and shower separate from bath. It is modern and functional, with a swimming pool, gym, beauty treatments and a relaxation zone, and has an excellent menu and attentive staff and hotel guests get reduced green fees. In addition, it offers discounted breaks in which you can get a room (DB&B) round of golf or beauty treatment.
Elsewhere in The Borders you will find a plethora of nine-hole courses, which are perfect for either a day when you want to do other things as well as play golf, or for that late evening bit of exercise and tranquillity. The keen golfer who wants to test his or her ability against a challenging course will also want to play Eyemouth, West Linton and, for something different, St Boswells. Of the area's 21 courses, 13 of them extend to 18 holes and the other eight are nine-holers.
All the courses in The Borders are listed here and all participate in the Freedom of the Fairways Scottish Borders pass, valid for three or five days, April-October. It represents just about the best value deal in golf as the three-day passport allows up to six rounds for £65 (£30 for juniors under 17 years) and the five-day pass is for up to 10 rounds for £90 (£45 for juniors). Further information available on +44 (0)870 608 0404 or www.visitscottishborders.com.
Senior pass now available for golfers over the age of 55 years offering three rounds over three weekdays for £40 and five rounds over five weekdays for £52. Also, new for 2004 will be the use of the passport at the weekend at 18 of the courses in the Scottish Borders.
Many of the larger courses will offer club hire, electric buggies or caddies but there a few nine holes courses that will not - some will not be staffed all the time and will have an honesty box - a little like a mailbox - where the golfer is on his honour to leave his green fee. Equally, some will not have dining, changing or shower facilities so it's best to check in advance. If you have any doubts, all the courses, and a description of their facilities, can be found on the ScottishGolf course database, which is on the home page.
Where caddies are available, fees are usually between £20-£30 with tips or gratuities being discretionary. If you do not tip, however, there would be an assumption that you were unhappy with the service received. An acceptable tip would be £5-£10.
Few courses require a handicap certificate or proof of ability and when they are requested it is more likely that the course wants to know you are aware of etiquette and tradition rather than playing to a scratch golfer's standard. In Scotland golf is every man's activity, with little of the snobbery or elitism sometimes associated with the game.
Pace of play
Almost all Scottish golfers prefer to walk, and to walk briskly, so the only offence likely to earn you disapproval would be slow play. Therefore, if you're with a friend or in a fourball and quite happy to meander, remember to call through any players who catch you up. This is especially true as the most popular form of golf in Scotland is matchplay, in which golfers are competing against each other, and is therefore quicker than strokeplay, in which every player has to hole out on each hole.
A dress code of 'smart casual' applies at almost all Scottish courses and what this means in practice is no denims, trainers or collarless shirts. Shorts are usually permissible but some of the more 'up-market' courses ask that these be tailored, and worn with knee length socks.
Although still in the minority, increasing numbers of course are making soft spikes compulsory so if in any doubt, have them fitted to your shoes before travel.
The courses in brief (all green fees are 2003 prices)
Cardrona CC: 18 holes, 6,555 yards, Par: 72
+44 (0)1896 831971
Directions: Three miles east of Peebles on A72
Green fee: £50 weekdays; £75 at weekends
Comment: Classic par 72 with 10 par fours, four fives and four threes. Back nine more varied among mature trees. Excellent course. CLICK ON THE GRAPHIC BELOW FOR 1/2 PRICE GREEN FEES AT CARDRONA (BUT ONLY IF YOU BOOK ONLINE)
Duns GC: 18 holes, 6, 209 yards, SSS: 70
+44 (0)1361 882194
Directions: Half a mile west of Duns off A6105
Green fee: £22 weekdays; £22 at weekends
Comment: Upland course with good views and a burn that comes into play on several holes.
Eyemouth GC: 18 holes, 6,400 yards, Par: 72
+44 (0)18907 50551
Directions: Four miles north of the English border, off the A1
Green fee: £22 weekdays; £27 at weekends
Comment: Extended from nine holes in late '90s; challenging, with several dogleg holes and usually in excellent condition - superb views over North Sea, hills and coast.
Galashiels GC: 18 holes, 5,309 yards, SSS: 67
+44 (0)1896 753724
Directions: Just north of Galashiels off A7
Green fee: £10 weekdays; £16 at weekends
Comment: Extremely hilly and requires stamina but the view from the topmost point is stunning.
Hawick GC: 18 holes, 5,993 yards, SSS: 69
+44 (0)1450 372293
Directions: Off the A7 heading north out of town
Green fee: £20 weekdays; £24 at weekends
Comment: Founded in 1873; clubhouse refurbished in 1996. Will test both your stamina and tactics - not overlong but puts a premium on accuracy. Hilly with good views.
Innerleithen GC: Nine holes, 6,052 yards, SSS: 69
+44 (0)1896 830951
Directions: Half a mile north of Innerleithen on Heriot road.
Green fee: £11 weekdays; not available weekends
Comment: A fun challenge on a moorland course that won't suit big-hitters who stray off-line
Jedburgh GC: Nine holes, 5,492 yards, SSS: 67
+44 (0)1835 863587
Directions: Nearly a mile south of Jedburgh on the Hawick road
Green fee: £20 weekdays; £24 at weekends
Comment: Located at the top of a hill but in a natural amphitheatre, so not as undulating as you might suppose.
Kelso GC: 18 holes, 6,066 yards, SSS: 69
+44 (0)1573 23009
Directions: A mile north of Kelso, inside the town's racecourse
Green fee: £15 weekdays; £27 at weekends
Comment: Flat, usually in superb condition and characterised by friendly staff and service.
Lauder GC: 9 holes, 6,050 yards, SSS: 69
+44 (0)1578 722240
Directions: Half a mile west of Lauder
Green fee: £10 weekdays; £10 at weekends
Comment: Most famous for the electric fences around the greens that keep the sheep out - which might also explain the excellent condition of the putting surfaces.
Lilliardsedge GC: Nine holes, 5,386 yards, SSS: 66
+44 (0)1835 830271
Directions: Just off A68 between Ancrum and St Boswells
Green fee: £10 weekdays and weekends
Comment: New course on a holiday park.
Melrose GC: Nine holes, 5,562 yards, SSS: 68
+44 (0)1896 822855
Directions: At the southern end of Melrose, off the A68
Green fee: £16 weekdays; £20 at weekends
Comment: Circular layout offers fine views, tree-lined fairways and a good test.
Minto GC: 18 holes, 5,542 yards, SSS: 67
+44 (0)1450 870220
Directions: In Denholm, six miles from Hawick off A698
Green fee: £25 weekdays; £30 at weekends
Comment: Few bunkers but plenty of trees lining the fairways. Front nine is gentle but back nine hillier and more taxing.
Newcastleton GC: Nine holes, 5,491 yards, SSS: 70
+44 (0)13873 75257
Directions: In the southernmost tip of The Borders, east of Newcastleton, off B6357
Green fee: £7 weekdays; not available weekends
Comment: Short and not too taxing parkland course.
Peebles GC: 18 holes, 6,160 yards, SSS: 70
+44 (0)1721 720197
Directions: Off A703 to Edinburgh
Green fee: £18 weekdays; £34 at weekends
Comment: Established in 1892; refurbished clubhouse. Hilly with a great variety of holes and extremely fast greens.
Selkirk GC: Nine holes, 5,575 yards, SSS: 68
+44 (0)1750 20621
Directions: Half a mile south of Selkirk off A7
Green fee: £16 weekdays; £16 at weekends
Comment: Testing moorland course that demands accuracy with gorse, heather, ditches and a quarry all looking to snag your ball.
St Boswells GC: Nine holes, 5,274 yards, SSS: 66
+44 (0)1835 823527
Directions: Quarter of a mile off A68 at St Boswells Green
Green fee: £15 weekdays; £15 at weekends
Comment: Delightful holiday course - flat, picturesque and the main hazard is the River Tweed. Players of all abilities will enjoy this layout.
The Hirsel GC: 18 holes, 5,876 yards, SSS: 70
+44 (0)1890 882678
Directions: Just west of Coldstream off A697
Green fee: Daily tickets only; £24 weekdays, £30 at weekends
Comment: Situated on the family estate of former prime minister Sir Alec Douglas Home, extended to 18 holes in 1990s. Manages to be both testing and enjoyable.
Woll GC: 18 holes, 6,408 yards, SSS: 69
+44 (0)1750 32711
Directions: Quarter of a mile from Ashkirk off the A7.
Green fee: £16 weekdays and weekends
Comment: Challenging and flat course in natural parkland.
Torwoodlee GC: 18 holes, 6,209 yards, SSS: 70
+44 (0)1896 752260
Directions: Half a mile north of Galashiels off A7
Green fee: £25 weekdays; £30 at weekends
Comment: Picturesque and enjoyable - possible to have fun without being on top of your game.
The Roxburghe GC: 18 holes, 7,111 yards, SSS: 74
+44 (0)1573 450333
Directions: Three miles south of Kelso towards Heiton village off A698. Well signposted.
Green fee: £60 weekdays and weekends (£40 for hotel residents)
Comment: Hosts a European Seniors Tour event and Colin Montgomerie says one of the reasons it's a great course is that the mixture of tees means it is playable by all standards of golfer.
West Linton GC: 18 holes, 6,132 yards, SSS: 70
+44 (0)1968 660256
Directions: 18 miles SW of Edinburgh, off A702
Green fee: £20 weekdays; not available at weekends
Comment: 900 feet above sea level but not hilly heathland course. Has hosted Scottish Golf Union tournaments and offers good views but better golf.
For the non-golfer
Activities such as shooting, fishing, canoeing, cycling, diving, fishing and walking are well catered for. The area is also rich in museums, stately homes and castles - many of which reflect the centuries old cross-border battles with the English. Traquair (near Peebles), for example, is believed to be the oldest inhabited house in Scotland and has associations with Mary Queen of Scots, who has her own visitor centre in Jedburgh, while Manderston (Duns), has a unique silver staircase that was, for a while, concealed under a coat of paint. Alternatively, Mellerstain (near Kelso) is one of Scotland's great Georgian Houses and boasts a superb Robert Adam interior and his exterior design can be seen at Paxton House (near Eyemouth), which was furnished by Chippendale.
There is a wide range of accommodation, from the quiet luxury of The Roxburghe Hotel, to budget bed and breakfast. An excellent search facility, in which you specify the type of accommodation you need, can be found at www.visitscotland.com, the website of what was formerly the Scottish Tourist Board.
The Roxburghe Hotel and Golf Course
Roxburghshire TD5 8JZ
+44 (0)1573 450331
Guide price: £140pp for a suite; £115 for room with four-poster bed; £95 for twin/double.
Cardrona Hotel Golf and Country Club
Peebles EH45 9HX
+44 (0)1896 831144
Guide price: £60-70pp for a double room
The Borders is directly south of Edinburgh (so this would be the best airport to use) and covers the east of Scotland as far as the English border but only a small part of it takes in the coast - it is almost entirely inland. Car hire would be necessary to find your way around. From the airport follow the signs for the city bypass (heading south) and take either the A68 or A7 from the bypass. You would be in The Borders within an hour of leaving Edinburgh airport and at the southernmost point (the English border) within three. It is also accessible from Glasgow or Glasgow Prestwick airports but add on an extra hour to your travelling time.
Time to go
Generally, May-October are the best months, with the weather tending to be warmer in September/October than April/May. In midsummer (June and July) daylight can last until at least 10pm. It is unusual in Scotland for summer temperatures to rise above 80F (27C) and always make sure you have some sweaters and the sort of warm clothing that would be appropriate for an autumn walk.
The Edinburgh Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world and takes place in Edinburgh throughout August so this would be an excellent time to go if you wanted more than just golf.
www.visitscottishborders.com Comprehensive guide to the Scottish Borders.
www.visitscotland.com (formerly the Scottish Tourist Board). Comprehensive guide to food, activities, interests and accommodation.
www.travelscotland.com Another excellent search engine for everything Scotland has to offer the visitor.
www.scottishgolf.com Has a comprehensive searchable directory, listing all of Scotland's 540 courses, with green fees, directions and contact information. Also allows tee-times to be booked online at selected courses.
www.tartans.scotland.net Complete register of all publicly known tartans and information on the nation's national cloth and related gifts.
www.scotchwhisky.com Everything you wanted to know about the national drink, including information on distillery visits.
|| 13 - MAY 2004