UPPER LARGO, SCOTLAND
| Before he set out for Scotland, Mike McCoy, the captain of the ’23 U.S. Walker Cup side to play Great Britain and Ireland at St. Andrews this weekend, talked to Golf Channel. Based on the enthusiasm with which Jack Nicklaus had been speaking about his two Walker Cups, in 1959 and ’61 – the great man can still reel off the names of his teammates – McCoy was prompted to say, “I want them to have one of the best weeks of their lives.”
He certainly got his men off to a good start. Their first stop on this side of the Atlantic was Dumbarnie Links, the much-heralded new Clive Clark design southwest of St. Andrews along the North Sea coast. Robbie Zalzneck, the USGA’s senior director of championships, had been no different from such as Gary Player, Bob Charles and Ian Baker-Finch in choosing to play there around the time of last year’s Open and, to a man, they all revelled in the experience. (Among those three major winners, incidentally, the words used to describe the links included all of “exciting,” “entertaining” and “heartwarming.”)
Zalzneck asked David Scott, the general manager of Dumbarnie, if he could bring his Walker Cup players with him next time around.
Of course he could. The deal was sealed a month later and, ever since, Scott's staff has done everything in its power to arrive at the level of perfection the links enjoy at the moment. And what a moment it was for all when, after the meeting and greeting on Saturday, the visitors handed over their new Walker Cup bags to the top Dumbarnie caddies before taking to the range.
Every day, Dumbarnie Links’ stated aim is one of treating guests as members from the moment they turn into the car park. Everything is consistently good, from the welcome to the food.
Over the winter, Dumbarnie’s remaining patches of heavy rough were replaced with the fescue grass which is everywhere apparent and accounts for 100 percent of the fairway turf. Because of it, the club had no trouble in fulfilling its novel idea of turning a very prominent championship tee at the first into a tee-cum-green. For Saturday's purposes, two putting holes were ready and waiting on its right side where the Walker Cup players could have a couple of putts before launching into their opening tee shots. How come no one appears to have thought of a first-tee-cum-green before?
For another of Dumbarnie’s more recent ideas, what of the barrel of Loch Lomond whisky which usually stands on the regular first tee – the Blue edition as opposed to the Championship model – from 7 in the morning as against the usual 10 a.m. opening hour at a Scottish pub. The club’s starters ask all visitors if they would like “a wee dram” while pointing out that it serves as “a swing loosener” or, as Clark sees it, “a putting mix.”
Apparently, 80 percent of the visitors avail themselves of this little treat. In the case of the U.S. Walker Cup men, it was up to Zalzneck and McCoy to decide whether or not to give the team the go-ahead. Had we been talking about the GB&I side, 17-year-old Connor Graham, the Scottish Open Amateur champion, would not have been allowed his “wee dram” whatever the circumstances. In Scotland, it is illegal to drink alcohol in a pub or any other licensed premises for those younger than 18. (In America, the minimum age is 21, though many states have exceptions.)
For the moment, the halfway hut is sited at the 10th. However, there is a new version in the making which, when in place at the ninth, will boast the finest views across the Firth of Forth from North Berwick to Edinburgh, with Inchcolm Island and its abbey in between. Yet however tempting it might be to sit and stare, golfers will be encouraged to scoff the odd Scottish pie at a pace in keeping with the rest of their play. (The club takes aim on 4½-hour rounds.)
Dumbarnie is the 33rd of Clark’s designs across Europe and the U.S. He was heading back to California last Thursday, but before he left, this former Walker Cup and Ryder Cup player recalled a couple of his own favourite moments from the 1965 Walker Cup at Baltimore Country Club in Maryland.
Of the first 19 matches in the biennial series, GB&I had won one and lost the other 18. At Baltimore, they were in danger of losing again and Clark, who was joint third with Player in the ’67 Open, was as badly placed as 2 down to one John Mark Hopkins with three to play.
“If I lost,” he said, “GB&I lost.”
He made a couple of 3s to get back to 1 down playing the18th and, when his opponent shanked into the trees, he felt he was well on his way to saving the day for GB&I. Alas, it was not that simple. The opponent kept his head and Clark had to hole from all of 33 feet for the win, which provided the first halved match in the history of the contest.
For another fascinating point from Baltimore, Clark was playing with the 1.62-inch-diameter ball while Hopkins was playing with the new 1.68 size. And for yet another, Clark and Michael Bonallack, the former secretary of the R&A who is now safely back in St. Andrews following a stay in a London hospital, went 1-0-1 in their foursomes matches.
Every day, Dumbarnie Links’ stated aim is one of treating guests as members from the moment they turn into the car park. Everything is consistently good, from the welcome to the food. Mind you, the same hardly applies to scores at the three drivable par 4s: the third, 11th and 17th. For the purposes of the Walker Cup men, Scott suggested to Zalzneck that they should be played from the Black tees – they were measuring 300-330 yards – in order to bring the risk-and-reward factor into play.
Eagles and double bogeys probably occur in equal measure at this deceptive little trio of holes, though you can guarantee that either will make for the best of chatter in the bar.
Top: The first of Dumbarnie's trio of drivable par-4s (No. 3) that invite risk and reward.
gary singer, dumbarnie links