(Editor’s note: All week long, Golfweek will celebrate the beautiful walk that makes this game great. We start the week with this piece by columnist Eamon Lynch.)
For those of us who don’t – and can’t – play golf for a living, the walking of a course is often more memorable than the score that results. The fatalist in me believes that golf’s most enjoyable walk is the one to the first tee, when unbridled optimism has not yet been overtaken by familiar despair, followed closely by the canter to the nineteenth in search of balm for the bogeys.
But over the years I’ve appreciated many a stroll in that battlefield between the starter’s hut and the bartender’s stool.
There was a solo round in the autumn gloaming at Cabot Links in Nova Scotia. The Cliffs course there gets all the love, but the original Links is a charmingly intimate experience that’s eerily evocative of Old Scotia, beginning and ending as it does right on the Main Street of a town you’d never otherwise have reason to visit.
Scotland looms large among my most memorable walks. Like the living history tour that comes with any round at Prestwick, where the first Open Championship was contested three weeks before Abraham Lincoln was elected. Or any walk around St. Andrews, regardless of whether one has a tee time on the Old. That never disappoints, even when the weather does. A few years ago, I wandered Links road alongside the 18th hole watching dogged golfers stagger home in a thumping hailstorm. And that was in summer!
The spirit of Scottish golf – the vagaries of the bounce, the unpredictability of the elements, the absence of carts – is the essence of Bandon Dunes in Oregon. The Solstice at Bandon was a long walk with a short friend: 72 holes over 14-plus hours, during which time we logged more laughs than birdies. The Solstice can now be 90 holes, 103 if you add the par-3 Preserve. I’ll be back before my short friend grows too short on years.
Bandon is home also to the hardest walk in golf: Heart Attack Hill, a steep gravel road that leads to the 14th tee on the Trails course, designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw (often it’s a van ride, but hoofing is an option). The suffering involved in getting to No. 14 pales in comparison to actually playing it. It’s the most contentious hole of the entire 103, one I have loathed since first seeing it 15 years ago. I once got a phone call from Coore minutes before I was due on the first tee at Trails. “I just wanted to remind you that No. 14 was Ben’s idea,” he said with a hearty laugh.
Some of golf’s greatest walks are also among its shortest. Like the path from 15 green at Cypress Point — the prettiest little hole in the world — to face one of the game’s most daunting tee shots at the 16th. Or the journey to the third tee at Royal Dornoch, where one emerges from gorse bushes to find the spectacular old links laid out below, hard against the Firth. They number among the great revelations in golf, where a few steps take us to something long anticipated.
Every golfer has a handful of those in the memory bank. Among mine: the ascent from the Punchbowl green on the 15th hole at Sleepy Hollow in New York to take in the panorama of the Hudson River at the breathtaking 16th, where I whisper as a blessing the name of Gil Hanse, whose restoration erased what Rees Jones had wrought.
I can’t tell you what score I recorded on most of those rounds, but I can tell you who I was with step for step on all of them. Because the most memorable walks in this game aren’t memorable because of where, but because of who.
This story originally appeared in Issue 3 2020 of Golfweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.