Duddingston is a course I have never played. Situated at the south of Edinburgh, only a few miles from the city centre and right beside Arthur’s Seat and Holyrood Park. Fantastic spot so close to historic Edinburgh and rated as one of the top parkland courses in Scotland.
It’s most famous son was RDBM Shade, Scotland’s finest ever amateur player. Died tragically young but remembered fondly by all who saw him play. Nicknamed ‘Right Down The Bloody Middle’ by opponents – the legend is he never missed a fairway. (I saw him play once – some sort of regional teams’ event at Lanark. I was in a junior team. He was In the Edinburgh top senior team so, thankfully, we were not opponents!)
Duddingston is Gaelic for ‘sunny side of the hill’ which shows that although the Gaels were fantastic warriors and lyric poets they were shi.. weather forecasters. It is teaming when I get there and it chucked it down at the weekend as well. Members are being washed off the course.
I am here to play with Robert Montgomery who has recently been elected onto the Board of the Well Society, the body set up to take over the club from its current owner, and close friend of mine, John Boyle. I have been a director of the club since I moved back to Scotland. A huge privilege and honour for someone who went to their first game at 5 years old and has been a fanatical supporter from that day. (The Motherwell link and why John will pass on the club is another chapter).
Robert left Scotland as a twelve year old, qualified as an architect in Canada, and worked in Qatar for the last ten years before coming home. Now based in Musselburgh. He conducted a detailed survey of the local golf clubs before deciding to join Duddingston. I have only met him once but I get to know more over a light lunch in the clubhouse. One tip I pass on is that if pie, beans and chips are on the menu it is ‘good form’ to order them and not the sandwich and soup he selects. I can see the other members looking across at us as the food is brought out, nodding sagely at my selection but frowning when they see his. Robert thanks me for this advice.
The course is only 5 minutes from Amanda’s flat in the Meadows and she is joining us to walk / caddy for a few holes. So far I have managed to infect her with two of my addictions – Motherwell and bridge – golf is proving a bit harder but I am hoping today will tip the balance. An auspicious start – just as she turns up the rain stops.
A slight blip when she asks me what I had for my lunch and divines from my mumblings it was the pie and chips but we soon get over that, she greets Robert and readies herself to caddy.
The full round is included in the courses section. The first three holes were the most fun though.
No 1 – Deer Park. A true par 5 in the conditions. Bairds’ Burn on the left hand side coupled with rough trees and bunkers. So the shot is straight or up the right hand side on this right to left dog leg. Robert, a 20 handicapper, understands that and hits a very good ball, dead centre. He only took the game up recently to give him a sport he could play with his teenage son. I have played all my life and don’t. I pull my drive.
Amanda asks a slightly non-caddy type question. ‘Where did it go?’
I lead her to my ball which has bisected the two left hand bunkers but it is 250 to the green on a direct line which is littered with tall mature trees. I want to get her engaged.
‘What do you think caddy?’ I enquire encouragingly.
She looks at me for a minute. As if I am speaking a foreign language. ‘I thought you would just sort of hit it on!’
Her faith is in me is touching. I want to let her down gently so I explain that, although I could do, it is high risk in a damp atmosphere and so will play a 6 iron short and pitch on. Which I do. Well. Robert meantime has left the safety of the fairway and decided to attack the green from the trees, burn and rough on the left. Not a good choice. We have swooped positions. There is a lot of casual water on the green. My ball is 15 ft away from the flag and stuck in it. I move it. My caddy asks if that isn’t cheating. I give her chapter and verse on Casual Water Rule 25.1. She is apparently not aware of it. 2 putt par.
No 2 – Westward Ho’. I keep the caddy dialogue going by asking what club she thinks for this 160 yd par 3. Amanda hands me the driver. Might be a bit too much club I respond and pick out a 5 iron which I hit like a bullet. I fly the pin and only stay dry (the same burn as on the first snakes back again) because I clatter into a tree at the side of the hole. Wedge up into casual water. Again. Same debate again, same missed putt. Bogey 4.
No 3 – Abercorn. Longish par 4 back towards the clubhouse. Scratchy drive, left again but it runs round the bunker and leaves a nice firm 5 into a large looking green. Amanda tells me she will probably go after this hole. I settle down to the shot.
‘What would you like for dinner?’
I love Amanda. I love food. At virtually any other time during the three and a half hour round that would be an exciting / caring question. Not so much in the half second between transitioning from the top of my backswing and making contact with the ball. I do hit it. Just. It crawls 80 yds. I look at her. She is unaware of what has happened and smiles brightly.
‘That wasn’t very good but don’t worry you can get the next one in.’
I can. I hit PW but can’t save the par.
Amanda goes then. I have a great idea as she walks down the 18th and looks back for a final wave. Amanda caddying for Colin Montgomery. Perfect. A golfing marriage made in. ….
That keeps me smiling all the way round.
Robert is good company, and capable of playing to a lower handicap. I would never contemplate advising on his swing but there is an easier route to lower rounds, one I and every other golfer should concentrate on, course management. Not letting 5 s becomes 7s or worse. Not taking 4 to get down from 100 yds and turning 3 shots from 15 yds off the green into 2.
Although I manage my overall round and avoid any double bogies I am terrible on the greens. 36 putts in a round of 84 and I have to get up and down from the front bunker at the last for that. My joint worst round since I began this quest but I still enjoyed it in a strange way, particularly the early holes and Amanda’s caddying.
Overall this is a course which fully justifies its reputation as one of the finest parkland tests in Scotland. I didn’t see it at its best in terms of the weather but some of the later holes are magnificently scenic. The views of Arthur’s seat from the 13th and back up the 16th are worth the admission money themselves, the drive on the 17th is a classic high tee valley view, and cresting the slope at the last after a blind tee shot to see Craigmillar Castle in the distance behind the clubhouse is breath-taking. (More breath-taking than the 5 iron I thinned into the bunker).
Greens in regulation 8/18 -44% poor
Fairways 10/14 -71% good
Putts 36 – ridiculous
Birdies 0 pars 6 bogies 12. Steady but bad steady!
The sun is out when I drive back to The Meadows through Duddingston village, past ‘The Sheep’s Heid’ an iconic Edinburgh pub and then through Holyrood Park and round the bottom of Arthur’s Seat. No other capital city has anything to match these views. I am extremely lucky.