DALLAS – It’s my favorite memory of Scottish golf - a moment etched in my mind forever.
Strolling down a fairway on a delightfully cool and blustery summer day, our friendly caddy pointed to a huge rock in the distance, a noticeable land mass near this little town perched on the shores of the North Sea.
In his thick brogue, he proclaimed, “that’s Treasure Island!”
“What?” I was more than a little puzzled.
“Ah, you see,” he replied. “Robert Louis Stevenson grew up here as a wee lad and never forgot that island there.”
Wow - that’s cool.
The town and golf course of North Berwick (the w is silent) lay about 12 miles from St. Andrews, the home of golf, as the crow flies over the Firth of Forth. Driving there is more like a couple of hours.
On one occasion, we pulled up to play North Berwick and the man behind the counter taking our green fees said they almost closed the course earlier that day. What, we asked.
“Too easy,” he said. “With nay wind, the course was playing too easy!”
Just down the road from North Berwick is the town of Gullane. It is tiny but has three courses that wind around the prominent Gullane Hill and into the valley below. Golf has been played there for 200 years and a golf museum celebrating the heritage of the game sits near the clubhouse. It is open to visitors by appointment and the tour guide is Archie Baird, a fascinating man 92 years young.
Texas golfing icon Ben Crenshaw was present in 1980 when the museum opened and his picture is featured near the entrance. The opening was the same week the British Open was being played at close-by Muirfield, aka the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers.
Crenshaw is much loved in Scotland and the feeling is mutual. Gentle Ben is a golf history buff who appreciates the evolution of the game on courses replete with some “quirky” holes.
At North Berwick there is “The Pit” where your second shot must carry over a stone wall in front of the green. At St. Andrews, there are the rolling and rollicking double greens and the famous Road Hole that requires a tee shot to be hit over the corner of a hotel to properly reach the fairway.
Such is the compelling charm of links golf not seen much in America. Those courses were an obvious inspiration for the design work by Crenshaw and his architectural partner Bill Coore at the Trinity Forest Golf Club in South Dallas.
A joint venture of the City of Dallas, AT&T and SMU, the club and the course opened with much fanfare last fall. Jordan Spieth is a member and his coach Cameron McCormack is the teaching pro with an ultra-modern practice facility at his disposal. The property is located on Loop 12 just east of Interstate 45 and a neighbor to the Trinity River Audubon Center.
Crenshaw and Coore worked their magic so that there is now a Scottish style links course on the banks of the Trinity River. Often described as “different,” Trinity Forest just hosted the Veritex Bank Texas State Open.
Not a breath of air stirred during my walk around the back nine last week. Following Logan Lockwood of Van during his first round, I was wearing a state of the art golf shirt with moisture wicking features as I made the trek. The course was intriguing but I soon noticed that every stitch of my shirt was soaking wet. After the round, I quickly retreated to the full-blast air conditioning of my parked car. The clubhouse at Trinity Forest looks promising but is still under construction.
Without the challenge of winds that are common to Dallas, Trinity Forest was blitzed by the field of top players at the state open. Fort Worth’s Brax McCarthy found the course to his liking by shooting 18-under par to win by eight strokes. His 262 included rounds of 65-65-65-67. A former University of Texas teammate of Spieth’s, McCarthy is still working to get on one of the pro tours.
McCarthy’s performance begs the question, what will Spieth and his PGA Tour colleagues do to the course when it hosts the AT&T Byron Nelson next May?
Crenshaw and Coore were forced to be creative when awarded the challenge of creating a championship course on a site formerly occupied by a huge land fill. Part of the remediation plan involved covering the land with sand and not allowing trees to be planted. The stark landscape has the feel of a golf course on the moon. Yet while there are no trees in play on the course proper, its perimeter is heavily wooded so that many holes have a scenic backdrop. There is also a rustic feel with crushed rock cart path areas and small decorative fences made of tree branches.
As I walked the course I could not help but notice the similarity to the courses previously mentioned in Scotland. There is a huge double green used by holes three and eleven and deep bunkers lurk hidden on most fairways.
And then there is the “quirky.” I thought the famous “Himalayas” hole at Prestwick Golf Club, the Western Scotland site of the first 10 British Opens, was the only blind par-3 in the world. Well, now there are two. For the 17th at Trinity Forest is essentially blind. You can see a flagstick but it appears to be sitting somewhere on the fairway and not on a green.
The Northern Texas PGA runs the state open and they mercifully had the 17th playing only about 140 yards instead of its maximum length of about 200 or 210. The size and undulation of the green is so immense that it seems surreal. The standard critique would be “where is the windmill?” With the 17th at Trinity Forest, I think two windmills might be appropriate.
But goofy is not necessarily bad. Harkening back to North Berwick with its “Pit Hole,” I remember talking with Martin Huish, the head golf professional.
“We have some holes here that are very quirky to say the least but people love it,” he said. “Why even Phil Mickelson took a 7 on our 16th hole. It’s a diabolical green.”
It seems Phil was beset with an episode of Ante Over one day at North Berwick and certainly we amateurs can relate to that.
So, the putter or “Texas Wedge” can be a friend when negotiating such challenging green complexes. That was my lasting impression during my visit to Trinity Forest during the final round of play.
I was on the 10th tee awaiting the leaders when I glanced back toward the 18th green in front of the modernistic clubhouse being built. Finishing up play was a twosome with an early tee time and little chance of winning or even placing high in the final standings.
One of the players approached his ball sitting some 20 yards left of the green and without a hesitation dropped his bag and pulled out the Texas Wedge. Eschewing a practice stroke, he whacked his ball and watched it roll up and then down the huge mound and onto the green.
I couldn’t see the final result but it looked pretty good. The golfer seemed pleased as he took off to finish the hole. It occurred to me that embracing links golf in South Dallas is a good idea.
It should be fun.