Thursday, April 17, 2008

Live it, Visit Sam’s Scotland

As one of VisitScotland’s official ‘Golf Ambassadors’, former Ryder Cup captain Sam Torrance is proud to fly the flag for his country all over the world. Here, Sam reveals exactly why he thinks Scotland, its people and its golf courses are so special:

S if for Social Scene. It’s no secret that Scottish people are renowned for being very amicable. We’re always up for going for a pint or a dram in the 19th hole and always good for a chat. In fact, we’re always good for anything sociable, really. Why is that? Well, we’re easy going people with good natures. Golf clubs in Scotland are social scenes themselves.
You will always find someone sitting in a clubhouse chatting with friends, enjoying the stunning scenery outside or mulling over the game they’ve just had or are about to enjoy. The social scene is an important part of everything in life, whether it’s to do with work or sport and leisure, and Scotland certainly scores big time in that department.
C is for Character. The biggest reason why Scotland has so much character when it comes to golf is mainly down to one thing – links golf. It is just so different to parkland golf that is played by the majority of the people the world over. With seaside golf, you have to use your brain so much more and, personally, I just love that. So, too, does Tiger Woods. As he’s often said, he loves to think and plan his way around a links course.
Another aspect of the character these courses have is that they are just so natural. So much so, in fact, that you often look out of a clubhouse window and ask yourself, ‘is there actually a course here?’ Yes, there is and, what’s more, you’re going to enjoy playing it, too.
O is for The Open. To me, The Open is the biggest individual event in golf and, without question; it’s the event all British and European players really want to win. Like so many people, I just love the Open and that’s because it has everything, including great crowds and a wonderful atmosphere.
I personally love when The Open returns to St Andrews. Don’t get me wrong, I also love Troon, Turnberry, Carnoustie, Muirfield and all the other courses that are on the Open rota these days. However, there is nothing that can compete with the feeling you get when you are walking off the first tee or coming up the 18th on the Old Course at St Andrews. The atmosphere, the feeling . . . it is just out of this world.
Just think of Seve Ballesteros when he holed the putt to win there in 1984. Just think of Doug Sanders missing a short putt at the last in 1970 or Constantino Rocca holing out from down in the Valley of Sin in 1995. So many of the great moments in Open history have come at St Andrews and, you know what, I get goosebumps just thinking about them.
T is for Tee Times. On my travels over the years, I have often overheard people saying that it must be difficult to get a game on some of Scotland’s leading courses. I’m always quick to correct them because that’s simply not the case.
One of the great things about golf in Scotland, you see, is that there are hardly any courses at all where a visitor can’t get a game. Sure, you have to try and book well in advance at The Open venues, but you can get the chance to follow in the footsteps of the game’s greatest players and there aren’t many sports which can offer that huge thrill.
L is for Leading Links. The Old Course at St Andrews is definitely my No.1, without question. I also think the Balgownie Course at Royal Aberdeen is awesome. Then you’ve got Western Gailes down on the Ayrshire coast between Troon and Irvine. It’s not long at all but it’s a course that is a perfect example of how a short course can still provide a superb test of golf. And, you know something; the weather is another factor that makes playing these sorts of courses so enjoyable. Sure, it can be a bit blowy at times but that’s what makes the challenge of playing a links course such a thrill. When you are out on a golf course in Scotland, you can sometimes experience all four seasons – and, occasionally, that can even be the case in nine holes. It’s all part of the fun, though.
A is for Accessibility. I love the idea of the Golf Passes that are available to visitors when they come to Scotland. There is an openness about Scotland when it comes to golf and that’s exactly how it should be in my book. By using these passes, people can book week-long trips to Scotland and enjoy great value for money, both on and off the golf course.
In fact, I still can’t believe how cheap it can be to play, say, five rounds of golf on some of the top courses in Britain, if not the world. It’s just fantastic and, what’s more, these passes are available all over the country. The people I talk to who often go on these sort of week-long golfing breaks just have a ball.
N is for Next Generation. The future for Scottish golf is definitely bright, both in terms of new courses and also new talent. Colin Montgomerie’s course at Rowallan Castle in Ayrshire is due to open soon, as is the Castle Course at St Andrews, which just happens to sit right next to the Torrance Course at Fairmont St Andrews.
David McLay Kidd is also designing what should be a cracking course at Machrihanish, while up in the north-east Jack Nicklaus and Paul Lawrie (not to mention Donald Trump!) are involved in separate course ventures.
While Monty, Sandy Lyle and I have done our bit to fly the Scottish flag on the world stage in the past, we can’t go on forever. It’s encouraging, therefore, that, in the likes of Marc Warren, Lloyd Saltman and Richie Ramsay, it looks as though we have stars in the waiting, too.
D is for Dream Day. My dream day in Scotland would actually incorporate the night before as well. I’d come home on a Friday night and meet up with my mates for a few pints. I’d then get up on the Saturday morning for a game of golf, probably down on the Ayrshire coast somewhere, Barassie, Troon or Western Gailes. I’d have a spot of lunch after coming in off the golf course before heading up to Celtic Park in time for an Old Firm game between Celtic and Rangers to kick-off.
After watching that, I head out for a meal and a few drinks, getting home in time just to see the last session of Stephen Hendry, one of Scotland’s favourite sporting sons, winning the Snooker World Championship. Now, that’s what I’d call a dream day. And, if Celtic won 3- 0, then it would be even more perfect.
Sam Torrance’s summing up of Scotland in one sentence:
It’s God’s Country . . . and awfly friendly!



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