A Few Good Walks Not Spoiled
Story and Photos by Rob Krieger – PGA Golf Professional
This July, my fiancée, Celece, and I cruised to Scotland, Ireland, and England to visit the hallowed grounds where golf began. I walked and played where the legends of the game made history, and walked and watched history happen by attending the 145th Open Championship at Royal Troon in Scotland.
My first walk was playing golf at the famous Portmarnock Golf Club, where they have been playing golf since 1894. It started a day earlier when I met our taxi driver, Dermott, who, when I told him it was my first time playing in Ireland, offered to chauffeur me back and forth to his favorite course. I couldn’t refuse his welcoming Irish spirit; I knew right away I would be in good hands. Just as promised, Dermott was there before the sun came up to take me to my highly anticipated round of links golf. He kindly gave me my own private tour of the area with commentary on the history of Dublin, its sites, and its renowned golf courses. It wasn’t long before he was dropping me off and wishing me luck with the spitting rain and gusty winds. My golf adventure in the homeland was about to begin.
The first hole had water on the right and high golden fescue grass – “hay” – in the left rough, so I hit it solidly favoring the left and was glad just to get it airborne after traveling 4800 miles. As I carried my bag up the left side of the fairway, Portmarnock welcomed me with my first four foot deep fairway pot bunker. As a matter of fact, I found bunkers on the first three holes. It took a few holes to adjust to the two to four club winds, the large, undulating greens, and the ball bouncing and rolling forever on the ground. It was odd hitting a 4-iron 150 yards into the wind and then a sand wedge 150 yards with the wind.
It couldn’t get any better than teeing off next to the sea with waves crashing in, the flagstick at full attention, with a little rain and cold all adding to the challenge and experience. This was where the fathers of the game and the legends have been, and now I was there. It was truly inspiring. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, after my round I warmed up in the historic members lounge with a traditional lunch of Irish Stew and a pint of Dublin’s own Guinness Stout. As I left, I walked back through the clubhouse one last time in awe of the great players’ achievements etched in time on the displayed trophies. As I told Dermott on the drive home, the golf gods threw everything at me, and regardless of how good or bad my shots were, I am forever grateful for an amazing day that I will never forget, and also for his warm hospitality.
So one would think that enjoying golf in the birthplace of my profession would be special enough, but then we attended the third round of The Open Championship at Royal Troon for another walk into history. We started on the range; players warming up included Jason Day, Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke, and Utah’s own Daniel Summerhays. Each shot they hit had real time launch monitor data (ball speed, launch angle, carry, and total shot distance) on a jumbotron. This was one of my favorite places and I felt right at home.
Later we walked among the massive crowds on hole #14 where Bubba Watson was scrambling for par, followed by Jordan Speith making a clutch 12-footer. We walked further out onto the course where the sea and course met and wind was at its strongest and coldest at #6, #7, and the “Postage Stamp” #8. We watched player after player be at the mercy of the wind as it threw golf balls into high fescue, pot bunkers, and off the hard greens. These conditions were difficult and any par was a good score.
After walking the course, we settled in the grandstand below one of the two distinctive yellow, hand operated scoreboards on #18 so we could watch groups finish. The wind and rain picked up, our umbrella was out again, and we watched players like Rickie Fowler fighting the elements to finish and head into the warm confines of the clubhouse. As we huddled under the scoreboard, we learned that the two scoreboards are actually operated by volunteer students from two London based high schools (not Scotland), which have been doing it for the last seven years, using 16 students for each scoreboard. They work in two shifts with eight students manually changing names and scores for the leaders and for each group coming down #18. What an incredible experience for young students to be a part of history as it unfolds.
Eventually, we returned to the range to watch the final group of the day, Stenson and Mickelson, warm up, and then followed them to Hole #1. We watched them battle on the green to see who would make birdie. It would be that way for the next 35 holes as they were both playing a different game than everyone else, and both setting records in the process.
In the end, Henrik Stenson would be crowned “Champion Golfer of the Year.” Regardless of the outcome or the weather, walking among the legends in the land where golf began certainly gave me a few good walks that were not spoiled.