Tartan Golf

Turnberry Travel Blog

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It was one of the single most embarrassing moments of my life. I’m standing on the first tee of the Royal Golf Course in Marrakesh. The rest of my high-powered four-ball have all teed off gloriously down the centre of the fairway. They’re all waiting for me now. Worryingly they’re not the only spectators. The course at this time of the morning is incredibly popular and there are about forty proper golfing types hanging around waiting for their turn. All is silence. Everyone watching this sweating idiot tee his ball up. I wiggle my bum, clammily clasp the club tighter, wiggle my bum again and swing…..I connect, but only just. The ball flies off at almost ninety degrees nearly decapitating my Moroccan caddy. It rolls pathetically onto the ladies’ tee. There is total awkward silence from the crowd. I walk the walk of shame the twenty or so yards towards my ball. I’ve got to get bloody lessons. I’ve got to get better at this game…
Three months later and our Ryan Air flight lands at Prestwick Airport, the crew having amazingly managed to stay awake for the short flight from London. We’re picked up and driven the to the Westin Turnberry Resort where the future of my golfing career hopefully lies. I’m slightly nervous if the truth be told. I’m a potentially quite good golfer but don’t get nearly enough practice apart from the odd jolly (excuse the pun) and have never really had any lessons. What’s worse is that I’d agreed to play golf with my dad in France in about two weeks and he’s incredibly good. He’s so good in fact, that I’ve never dared play with him before as I’ve been too nervous. He seems to be quite excited about the prospect and that’s great as we are not incredibly close. I really don’t want to let him down.
As we round the final corner and actually see the resort I start to relax. Looming above us on a hill overlooking the sea is an unbelievably long, imposing looking white building that immediately lets you know that it is confident of its’ place in the world. It looks like the sort of place that Queen Victoria might have spent a couple of months a year in playing with her Scottish confidante, Mr Brown. As we climb up the winding drive the view is amazing. Looking past the clubhouse and over two of the resorts’ three golf courses, the horizon is dominated by the extraordinary looking Ailsa Craig: a huge semi-circular rock that is also known locally as Paddy’s Milestone as it’s approximately halfway across the sea to Ireland. The barman tells me later that once a year a party lands on the rock and quarries a small amount of granite that is used to make curling stones. Apparently seventy per cent of the world’s curling stones are made with granite from this imposing landmark.
This is a family trip. I’m with my wife Stacey, my one-year old son Jackson, my five -year old daughter Parker and our Polish au-pair Kashya. Everyone is very excited, especially Parker. Parker, you see, is something of an expert on Scotland due to that age-old reference bible, Scooby Doo. On long car trips Parker likes to watch one particular DVD: “Scooby Doo and the Loch Ness Monster,” she has seen it approximately five hundred times and has gleaned several rock-solid facts about Scotland from the film. Firstly, all men in Scotland wear skirts. Secondly the Loch Ness Monster lives in water somewhere in Scotland. Thirdly everyone in Scotland says “Hoots” at every possible occasion. Lastly, Haggis is to be eaten at every meal, no excuses and Parker is slightly worried about this. What will she eat if she doesn’t like Haggis?
Her little face beams with delight as our car sweeps into the elegant courtyard entrance. The recipients of her delight, two eager doormen simultaneously opening our car doors, resplendent in their kilts. “Daddy, daddy, it’s true, they do wear skirts,” she squeals as she gives one of them her small red battered suitcase. “Hoots” she hollers before marching through the revolving doors with a level of sophistication quite advanced for a girl of her age. She greeted the manager of the hotel with a regal wave. She’s going to be trouble when she’s older.
We’d had two choices of accommodation. There were large family “lodges” down near the golf course that are self-contained and more family orientated but I opted for a gorgeous two-bedroom suite in the main building as this meant that we could easily walk to the Spa. This meant that Stacey could spend all day having obscure treatments done to her face whilst Parker could spend all day in the swimming pool as she is technically a fish.
I opted to visit the bar and sampled a breathtaking variety of whiskys as I ploughed through a fantastic new book by Robert Fisk that I’d been meaning to tackle for some time. The barman gently guided me away from my more obvious first choice of a Glenmorangie ten-year old single malt to something a little more sophisticated and local. I wish that I could remember the name but I found it difficult enough to remember my own children when I eventually crawled back to our suite to join the family for a traditional afternoon tea with all the trimmings. I was definitely relaxing.
The next day and we were ready(ish) for some golf. Stacey and I had purchased some garish pastel coloured clothes at the elusive “Golf Sale” shop that is endlessly advertised by bored looking Bosnians leaning on long poles in Oxford Street. Looking at ourselves in the mirror we both burst out laughing at how ridiculous we looked. We were definitely not going to look out of place.
We were motored down the short ride to the Academy by one of the men in skirts. Chris Brown the head teaching professional could tell as he looked us up and down that he had his plate full. He seemed pleasingly undaunted. He took us straight out to the driving range and asked us to hit a couple of balls each so that he could see where the problems lay. I completely missed my first two balls and Stacey made a hole in the side partition so the main problem became immediately apparent. We were both hopeless. Chris didn’t appear too concerned and immediately set about adjusting our grips and stances. I’ve always found it very difficult to have lessons as I do try to listen, really I do, but, the moment they are over, I revert back to my original awful habits. Chris was way ahead of me. He’d met loads like me before and we were soon inside in a very hi-tec camera room where I had to hit a couple of balls into a net and then join him at his computer. He showed me my swing from three angles at several speeds. As I sat shocked at the sheer ugliness of my swing, he split the screen and showed me swinging at the same time as Ernie Els. It was a rude shock but it really did help. After a couple more sessions and some patient advice from Chris, I was actually hitting the ball with some competence and a satisfyingly loud “thwack”.
Stacey and I were booked to play the nine-hole course first and then the lesser of the two eighteen hole courses the next day. After a couple of hours of lessons he encouraged us onto the nine-hole. We were very hesitant but my very first drive smote the Highland air majestically and nearly went into the hole. I didn’t look back. It was amazing what such a short amount of time could do to my golf. I felt infinitely more confident and actually had something of a system to fall back upon when frustration set in. Stacey felt the same and we both enjoyed one of the most productive rounds of golf in our short careers.
Just to make me feel better Chris even sized me up for clubs and told me that mine were an inch and a half too short for me. Thank God, I knew it was the clubs and not me. I’m now saving up for a gorgeous, personally tailored set of Ping clubs that he recommended to me. Sadly I won’t see much change out of a grand for these beauties but it’s obviously what the problem is.
To complete the service Chris emailed Stacey and I our sessions in the video room so that we can recap some of his advice when things start to get a bit hazy
The day before we left Turnberry we managed to prize ourselves away from golf and took the kids to the Falconry Centre where some extremely menacing looking birds were put on our arms as we all tried to look calm and collected. Three of the birds could have individually made off with both Parker and Jackson together. They loved it and Parker is now hassling to me to get a couple of falcons for the country pad. I think she felt a lot safer with them around as they could give Nessie a good run for her money.
We left, unbelievably relaxed and extremely well fed on a whole lot more than Haggis. A month later I have finally joined a local golf club and my play really is significantly better. It was just what I needed, a good shot in the arm. As for my dad: well, let’s just say that he whipped me but I didn’t do a “Marrakesh” and I did manage not to completely embarrass myself.
As we drove out of the resort on our way to the airport, the sun was just setting over the Craig and her last golden fingers were stroking the 18th hole. “Hoots” said Parker for the hundredth time. We flashed past a roadside sign: “Haste Ye Back” it proclaimed. I might just do that.
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