We recognise (and never fail to appreciate) at ScottishGolf that ours is, in so many ways, a pampered and fortunate existence. We get to see most of the latest gear as it comes off the production line, attend big events and, biggest treat of all, play some great courses.
But even for our potentially jaded and cynical palates, playing Murcar, just outside Aberdeen, was a particular pleasure. The course itself would always be worth a 150 mile round trip but in addition to the layout, which offers a genuinely good yet enjoyable test of golf, Murcar has that intangible something else - a homely, welcoming and relaxed atmosphere.
Okay, we were there to research an article, so we perhaps hoped that Barbara Rogerson, the secretary, Gary Forbes the pro and Derek Mortimer, our host for the day would be welcoming, and so they were, but some clubs have an extra ingredient, and Murcar is one of them. Club members in the car park smiled and nodded good morning as they passed, even if they didn't know us from a bar of soap. Having arrived early, the only people in the clubhouse when we got there were catering staff but they offered us a coffee from the pot they were enjoying.
And a little later a few of us gathered at the clubhouse window to watch two stalwarts tee off on their regular weekday grudge match. When both found the fairway we cheered and waved so they doffed their caps in casual recognition of our (deserved and justified) adulation.
It may not sound like much but places and organisations develop a character and feel of their own - there's just something in the ether - and Murcar's atmosphere is characterised by a laidback sense that this is somewhere you go to have fun and enjoy yourself. Would that all golf clubs felt the same.
Your degree of enjoyment may have something to do with the way you play but even if you have a stinker and couldn't hit a cow's backside with a banjo, the chances are you'll want to go back when your game can meet the many challenges that Murcar has to offer. First and foremost among these is the weather. Situated as it is on Scotland's north east coast just five miles from Aberdeen's town centre and adjoining Royal Aberdeen, it will always be prey to the vicissitudes of the climate, as we discovered.
As Scotland was enjoying a week of proper winter weather - cold but sunny - Derek Mortimer, Steve Fenton, a ScottishGolf colleague and I were foolish enough to believe the forecast and venture out with hardly an umbrella or rainsuit between us. So when a bit of a breeze picked up around about the eighth we were casually dismissive but when, two holes later, the fine mist had turned into heavy, persistent and extremely cold rain all three of us, to use the Scots vernacular, were drookit (drenched) and far less likely to look as if we were having fun.
And yet, perverse as it may sound, we were. Okay, Derek was there to show us the course and answer our questions so perhaps he was remembering sunny days and balmy breezes but it says a lot for Murcar that, while inclement weather might soak the clothes and equipment, it couldn't dampen the spirits.
We rather subscribe to the Lee Trevino philosophy of golf course design. He once said that every course should have 21 holes. The first should be a downhill par four of no more than 300 yards and the first three holes shouldn't count on the scorecard. Murcar goes some way towards achieving this ambition by offering a gentle, inviting start with two relatively straightforward and short par fours, just the thing to get you away from the clubhouse in close to par figures. But once you get to the third tee the fun really begins and the stretch of holes from 3-7 are the heart of this course.
It includes three par fours in excess of 400 yards (yellow, or visitor tees) and a mid-length par three (152 yards) that cannot be ignored. Resident pro Gary Forbes cites it as one of the best holes on the course and it's easy to see why. It's slightly uphill, to a well bunkered green with a big fall off to the left hand side so, despite having only a mid iron in your hand the ante is upped because if you don't hit the green you're dead. It reminds me of a woman with whom I used to work - short and snappy.
But two holes later comes the seventh, a 411-yard par four. It's played from an elevated tee with a burn, or stream across the fairway although that shouldn't really come into play unless you top the ball. But there's also water on the right, in a natural hollow, and gorse and heather covered mounds on the left. As with the par three 5th, the only solution is to trust your swing and go for your target with absolute commitment.
One of the many pleasures of Murcar is the sense, when you're playing a hole like the seventh, of isolation. You can hear the sea crashing or rolling ashore within a few yards of the right of the fairway but not see it, and the mounding and natural contours mean that virtually every hole is its own oasis, separate and distinct from the rest of the world. In places the course resembles a lunar landscape, a wild and forbidding and punishing place to be - but perhaps that was just the way it seemed to Steve when he (frequently) strayed off the fairway.
There are many other good holes at Murcar - especially the 15th and 16th but what you will probably feel most strongly, walking off the last, is a sense of disappointment that it's all over. If you want a feel and flavour of the course, go to www.murcar.co.uk where Derek Mortimer's revamped and updated website shows, among other things, some pictures that will give you a real taste of what lays in wait if you're lucky enough to visit, along with all the information you would need on accommodation, green fees and directions.
And don't just take our word for Murcar's pedigree. Peter Alliss, the daddy of golf commentators, described it as: 'A hidden gem' and Paul Lawrie, the 1999 Open champion who lives just a few miles away said: 'Murcar is as fine a links course as you could wish to play.'
Amen to that.
To book a time at Murcar
Pictures courtesy of Angus McNicol
|| 12 - MARCH 2003