The first line of text is certainly appropriate: "Not another golf book, you might say."
Authors Craig Morrison and Andrew Ross spent a year journeying through Scotland to select 18 individual holes as "the greatest", the definition of which became a matter of stupendous and frequent debate.
"Admittedly, few matters can be more pleasant to discuss than the merit or otherwise of a golf hole," writes PGA pro Colin Montgomerie, in the foreword. "But few can be fought over more ferociously and in truth few can be more subjective."
In speaking with golfers ranging in experience from touring professionals to life members to greens keepers, the writers were left to appreciate the maddening versatility of the definition. Some of their interview subjects described greatness as the framed picture of the perfect shot toward a green framed by the mind's eye; some preferred a par-4, others a par-5; some trumpeted the links course, while others "would rather play on a wooded hillside."
The result, a 258-page book laid out exquisitely on glossy stock, is written with a mixture of journalist's detail and golfer's passion, and photographed gorgeously by John Kernick with an eye for the raw beauty of the landscape. They aimed for consistency and quality, and each of the selected holes receives 14 pages of treatment, in text and pictures. Ultimately, they determined that a great hole "will always have something emblematic about it that makes it long-anticipated."
No.3, Castle Stuart Golf Links / photo John Kernick
While history and tradition would inevitably influence a book about courses in golf's birthplace, tracks from 21 century courses also made the final cut. Those holes – nine going out and nine coming in, 10 par-4s and four par-5s and four par-3s, were selected from these courses: Gleneagles, Turnberry, Royal Aberdeen, Loch Lomond, Royal Dornoch, Kingsbarns, St Andrews, Hopeman, Castle Stuart, The Carnegie, Royal Troon, Gullane, Prestwick, Spey Valley, Cruden Bay, Machrihanish Dunes, Carnoustie, Moray.
The North American tourist gets to sample – breathe in, gaze upon, dream of – Scottish golf, while gaining an education about the historic evolution of the courses and the holes as the authors take us up the fairway. For instance, we learn the 13 hole at Gleneagles is named Braid's Brawest, Scottish for beautiful and best. On the 423-year par-4, a bunker called Auld Nick or "the devil himself" was built into the middle of the fairway 175 yards out, a hazard that caught many a tee shot before technology took it out of play for low handicappers. So steep and deep is the bunker, a shot back toward the tee is sometimes required to find escape. With a second bunker added to the right of the fairway, the perfect tee shot for the right-handed golfer today is a draw between the two hazards.
Railway tycoon Donald Matheson built Gleneagles to lure English and European tourists into northern Britain. In stressing the visual spectacle, his concept was to make the test appear to be more difficult that it is actually is. Opened in 1919, Gleneagles played host two years later to the precursor of the Ryder Cup, then a contest between British and American pros. Today, the King's and Queen's courses are accompanied by The PGA Centenary, a layout chosen to host the Ryder Cup in 2014.
No.6, Cruden Bay Golf Club / photo John Kernick
And so it goes. We learn the second hole at Royal Aberdeen was carved over time by the retreat of the North Sea, first leaving a river and today a splendid fairway set between dunes thick with gorse or wirey grass, bordering both sides. The picture on the facing page provides the view from the tee. A long and wide slice luring the golfer to the top of a dune may bring sight of the sea, otherwise "it is rarely seen, though its roar is often heard." At 507 yards from the club tees, to make the downhill par-4 reachable in two a well-placed tee shot into the prevailing wind is required to gain a favourable bounce from the right side of the fairway. The club was founded in 1780 and the course built in 1888, so not surprisingly the "clubhouse has something of a Pall Mall about it." Until recently, the main clubhouse was restricted to men, with the women segregated in their own building. These days, "things are happily less regimented though the ladies still have their own clubhouse to use when they wish, no doubt because the conversation is better and they do not have to wear ties."
Only in Britain, you say?
Little about the first 11 holes at Hopeman Golf Club prepares the golfer for the "big reveal." The tourist follows a footpath set between high gorse bushes "before, quite suddenly, the hills of Sutherland and Caithness, the Moray Firth, the North Sea beyond and the far-off curve of the horizon, unfolds in all its glory. Herewith, the photo of the 137-yard 12 displays a hole that might have been yanked from tranquil Pebble Beach and transported to a harsher Scotland to be surrounded by a craggy, forbidding landscape. With golden heather on the hillside to the left, sharp sandstone on the right, and the shore of Clashach Cove beyond the green, the hole is a "single-shotter."
No. 6, Royal Dornoch Golf Club / photo John Kernick
Montgomerie praised the book as paying proper respect to lesser-known holes that deserve mention in "the same breath as the Postage Stamp and Road Hole." The authors aimed to capture holes whose "image will linger long after stepping off the green." The North American reader, scratch golfer or 20-handicapper, is left to wonder in awe, and perhaps to plan a trip.
It is part of a so-far two-book set, the other being 18 Greatest Irish Golf Holes, available with free shipping via this website: 18greatestholes.com.
- 18 Greatest Scottish Golf Holes is published by Gene Brooks, Craig Morrison, Andrew Ross ($199.00)