Saturday, January 28, 2006

Royal Troon

Royal Troon (ranked #38 in the world) is not one of my favorite courses. The course itself is an out-and-back layout that didn't really grab me as being that special. The Postage Stamp 8th hole is a notable exception. It is a fun, interesting and challenging hole, but otherwise I would rank Troon last among all the Open Championship courses in the British Isles. Sometimes you might not like a course because you played poorly on the day you played it. I can't blame that for my dislike of Troon. I shot the second lowest score of any course in the top 100 so far and played well. We played the course several days after the 2004 Open Championship and I played the 10th (Sandhills) and 11th (Railway) holes, which were the two most difficult in the Championship, in one under par. Since my handicap is in the low double digits, I did alright.

First I would like to go on the record and say that I respect the history of Royal Troon: formed in 1878; the importance of its past professionals: Fernie and Strath, in golf history; host to the Open Championship with Watson, Palmer and Weiskopf as winners; its Royal patronage. However, the current guardians of the course aren't exactly playing up to par.

A true measure of a club's worth is how well it treats its visitors, and Troon doesn't treat you very well. First, it is difficult to get onto; they have many rules to make it hard to schedule a tee time, which is fine. It's their course and they get to make the rules. They limit guest play to only a couple of days a week and for a short time only each day. It appears to me like they are trying to be a Muirfield wanabee, although frankly, they are not even in the same league.

In any event, I was only able to schedule a twosome instead of the full foursome that was on our Scottish trip, so we split our group in two that day. This is primarily because they lost our initial request for a reservation made 11 months in advance; I had an email confirming that they received it. They were quite snooty nonetheless about their error. So a dear friend and I made the drive over from the East Coast of Scotland to play. We had a late afternoon tee time but were scheduled to play the Troon Portland course in the morning. Unlike all other courses in Britain which let you play their championship course only (often times twice), at Troon they pretty much force you to play, or at least pay for, their shite course as a revenue raising venture. We played the Portland course in the morning and it may be the most unimaginative course every built. When they decided to build the course the mandate to the architect must have been "make every hole ruler straight with flat greens and put only two greenside bunkers on each hole." The total budget to build this piece of crap was probably 100 pounds.

The Postage Stamp hole at Troon

After our morning round we went into the clubhouse to have lunch. Our afternoon tee time was scheduled for around 3:00 and the weather was predicted to worsen as the day went on. I went politely to ask the caddy master/starter if we could move up our tee time and he said no, even though there were two-somes going out earlier. Our caddie from the morning round had warned us that he was a jerk and was known to be looking to have his palms greased any way possible. I disappeared for a short while until several members standing nearby left and then slipped him a 20 pound note and said we would appreciate it if he could help us. This was honestly the first time at any golf course worldwide where I have done this or even thought about doing it. The way they have organized the place makes it part of the decorum.

The lunch itself was a terrible joke. They put visitors off in a back room of the clubhouse and the food was pitiful. It was a bad buffet. Bad to the point of being inedible. I almost never skip a meal but did on this day. I couldn't even eat the cookies, which were stale. Although only halfway through my 100 course quest I am now declaring it the worst food to be had anywhere on the journey. Even the state-run Bethpage Black offers a better menu and more ambiance. And for that matter, the Rikers Island prison probably has better food.

How hard is it to treat guests with respect? It's not like playing Troon was cheap compared with the other courses we've had to pay for. In fact, aside from Shadow Creek and Pebble Beach, it may be the most expensive course on the list at 185 pounds. At EVERY other single course I have played in the British Isles including Royal Portrush, Royal County Down, Prestwick, Muirfield, North Berwick, Carnoustie, Sunningdale, Ganton, Woodhall Spa, Wentworth, Kingsbarns, Cruden Bay, Turnberry and Royal Dornoch I was treated well. At two of the most storied, traditional and historic courses in the world (Muirfield and Prestwick) they allow you to sit in the members dining room and have a full course meal. At many of the other courses, the meals may not be elaborate, mostly simple sandwiches to order and a bowl of soup. But at least they give a damn to see that you experience some level of hospitality and don't treat you like a second-class citizen.

Troon with the gorse in bloom on a brilliant day

Back to the golf. Miraculously the caddy master came and found us and said he could indeed get us off earlier. What a surprise! So we played the rather boring layout and were underwhelmed. As a final insult at Troon they make you play from tees that are set at about 6,200 yards. While most courses won't let you play from the tips, they will at least let you play from a reasonable set of tees. Although, given the overall tone of the place, I'm sure it's another ploy to get more money. I'll bet if you slip the caddymaster another 100 pounds you can play further back, but that's just wrong.

So in summary the charms of Troon include:

1. Poor hospitality
2. World-class pompousness
3. Having to play their shite course in addition to the old course
4. The worst food in the golf world
5. Playing from tees way up
6. Being overcharged for the experience

If you're going to play a 6,200 yard course on the top 100 list, my personal vote is to remove Royal Troon entirely from the list and replace it with either Prestwick or North Berwick which are great courses. At those historic gems, you are treated with respect and as an added bonus you don't have to eat dog food or deal with the attitude.

My unsolicited advice to the R and A is drop Royal Troon from the Open Championship rota and add back in Royal Portrush or Kingsbarns, two courses that are worthy.

Post Script

We would note that the original creator of the top 100 worldwide list and a learned golf writer, also believes that Royal Troon is one of the top 10 overrated courses in the world. George Peper's description is more eloquent and concise than mine: "Six dull holes - six interesting holes - six dull holes."

Royal Troon's web site:

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