Scotland is so attractive to the golfer not simply because it is stuffed with fabulous courses, which it is, but because golf is woven into both the physical and spiritual fabric of the country. The terrain and topography, the hills and the headlands, the wind and the wildness all combine to create a golfing paradise. Just as importantly, you can walk down any high street in Scotland with a set of clubs slung over your shoulder and not feel in the slightest bit self-conscious. Furthermore, you can walk into any pub, club or restaurant and it is almost certain that you will find golf spoken there.
Our favorite hobby is not an elitist sport in Scotland, it’s the people’s game – a fact that is dramatically demonstrated at Montrose, the fifth oldest golf course in the world. Any club that dates from 1562 could be forgiven for being slightly snooty but Montrose could hardly be less exclusive and more welcoming.
There are two courses (the Medal and the Broomfield), which are shared by three clubs (the Caledonia, Mercantile and Royal Montrose). That might seem a little strange, but remember this is Scotland where things are done rather differently. Up until 1986, there were five clubs, so three implies progress of sorts. Some would like there to be further rationalization and want the three to amalgamate into one. But there are quite a few who most certainly don’t.
Whether there are five clubs, three or just one matters not a soggy sporran to the visitor. What is important is they are made to feel most welcome and the courses are wonderful. The Broomfield is where juniors and beginners cut their golfing teeth. Although it is short and measures a little under 5000 yards, it provides a genuine challenge. The greens are quite small and, as well as an ideal course for novices, it provides a perfect loosener for visitors wishing to groove their swing and sharpen their game before tackling the mighty Medal.
A classic links, the Medal has everything you could possibly want and a lot of dazzling gorse, which you might not. With its imposing dunes, springy turf and immaculate greens, it provides an exhilarating examination from the moment you drive up the hill at the first to the fabulous final hole. Take a moment on the front nine to peep over the dunes and down onto the glorious stretch of golden sand in the bay below. Watching the waves break over the shore and listening to the murmuring surf might be just the thing to calm the nerves before the next demanding tee shot.
Sadly, it doesn’t always murmur and when it roars it threatens the dunes and the course itself. Although the sea defenses have been reinforced with thousands of tons of rock transported by ship from Norway, there is genuine concern that erosion might inflict real damage. The authorities, however, are quite philosophical. They understand that the course, having already lost land for industrial and housing development a couple of centuries ago, isn’t precisely where it was originally and that tomorrow it might not be exactly where it is today. Although Montrose cannot boast the permanency of, for example, the Old Course at St. Andrews, parts of the Medal Course have been played on for more than 350 years.
At one time in its history its proud boast was that it had more holes than any other course… 25! In 1866 they played an Open competition over these 25 holes and the winning score was 112 strokes and the first prize was £10 ($15).
More recently, the Medal course was used as a final qualifying venue for the 2007 Open at Carnoustie, which is about 20 miles to the south, and will be similarly employed when the Open returns to Carnoustie in 2018.
WHY WE LIKE IT
The Medal course is simply magical and the town of Montrose, which lies approximately half-way between Dundee and Aberdeen, is a thriving port that serves the North Sea oil and gas industry. It’s also an attractive town with a wealth of architecture, the widest high street in Scotland and the largest inland salt water basin in the UK. The Montrose Basin, a two-mile tidal lagoon, is a nature reserve of international importance and an important habitat for the mute swan. Altogether, well worth a visit.