Panmure Golf Club: Where the Wee Ice Mon worked, the Wee Egg Mon plays
After much too long a break, it’s with a grateful heart that I step back up to this digital podium and share my experiences with and thoughts about links golf. Grateful, because I do so while physically ensconced in the thoroughly landlocked realm of Texas—the Design District just on the outskirts of downtown Dallas, to be precise.
“Say what!? I thought you were living every golfer’s dream in Scotland?” you’re probably wondering.
I was. And before this month is out, I will be again. But for now, I’m afraid I find myself in the clutches of the evil day job master—which must be served. Now, having said that, I’m quite aware that if not for my clients’ steady stream of assignments and the much-needed cash flow that ensues, Scotland wouldn’t be financially feasible. So perhaps I ought to willingly embrace rather than grudgingly endure my time here in the Lone Star State. There are worse fates. Much, much worse.
Besides, all I need is my imagination to escape this table-top urban landscape, tapping into recent fond memories of plush greenery, gently rolling hills and world-class links that beckon to me to come out and play.
Take, for example, the seniors open competition at Panmure Golf Club about 2.5-hour’s drive north of the Scottish Borders. Two of my local golf buddies decided to enter then invited me to tag along. Aware of the role Panmure had played in Ben Hogan’s lone appearance—and victory—in the Open Championship at nearby Carnoustie, I happily accepted.
You see, in 1953, Hogan had claimed the season’s first two majors: the Masters and the U.S. Open. That compelled him to make the then much more arduous journey across the Atlantic and take a shot at three-for-three, a feat that Jordan Spieth had hoped to accomplish at the Old Course in St. Andrews this summer. Hogan recognized that golf in Scotland (including, back then, playing with the smaller British ball) was a different animal than that in the States. So, in true Hogan fashion, he arrived two weeks ahead of the start and spent the majority of that time at Panmure, preparing with his caddy to compete on this unique stage. That hard work paid off in in a four-shot victory, propelled by a then-course-record 68.
More than that, the steely-eyed performance earned the diminutive but determined Hogan the adoration of the Scots as well as the nickname the Wee Ice Mon. Some 50 years later, the ring leader of my adoptive Scottish clan modified that moniker for me—now shared with all who visit this obscure corner of the blogosphere. How could I not visit the place where it all began?
As fate would have it, the day of the competition was a beautiful one, bathed in sunshine and mostly devoid of wind. The latter, in particular, gave everyone in the field a bit more of a fighting chance on this tough, tight though not especially long layout. If I could keep the ball in play, I thought, I just might post a reasonable score. But, from the very first hole, deep rough and—unusual for a links course—groves of trees, threatened to sabotage that game plan. With danger looming, especially in a medal format, you can tell yourself to simply trust your swing. But if you’re not completely convinced that the motion is trustworthy, your unconscious mind will invariably kick in and try to “save you” by attempting to steer the club through the ball.
I managed to get away with that muddled approach on the first two holes, posting pars. But on the par four 3rd hole (404 yards from the white medal tees), my lack of commitment caught up with me: the heel of the driver clipped the top half of the ball, skittering it into the deep stuff behind a stand of trees on the left of this dogleg right. Miraculously, I found my ball and it was playable. Just thread the next shot through a small opening in the trees, I told myself, and I could minimize the damage. Instead, I drilled my ball into a deep thicket at the base of the trees. Nothing less than a chainsaw (or a penalty drop) would be required to extract it. Minutes later, I was on the green gasping for air and tapping in for a dreaded snowman (aka an 8).
The next five holes were a veritable freefall, with the lone exception of a regulation par on the three-shot 5th. By the time I staggered to the 9thhole’s tee, I was 14 over—even though I’d parred three of the eight holes. Surely, the ghost of Ben Hogan was looking on in utter disgust! And with 10 holes still left to play, my mind simply couldn’t resist doing the math: Keep dumping shots at the current pace and a triple-digit total is in your future.
Now, I’m a big believer there’s much more to golf than the number on the scorecard. But, as a born-and-bred Westerner, I have my limits when it comes to maintaining a Zen-like state and letting go of results. I mean, I’m not the Dalai Lama. I have an ego. And, in this particular eternal moment of now, it was taking a royal beating.
So the question arose, as it inevitably does whenever I lose my way on a golf course: Where do I go from here? Two options quickly emerged: 1) search through my Rolodex of swing thoughts in hopes of finding one that would restore some semblance of mediocrity; or 2) power down the brain and power up the body, swinging the club freely and hitting the ball with abandon while letting the chips (and the strokes) fall where they may. Given that it was still a beautiful day and I was smack dab in the middle of a wonderful golf course that, quite possibly, I’d never get another chance to play, I opted for the latter. Rather than change the thought, I would attempt to play without a thought.
I won’t bore you with a blow-by-blow description of what transpired over the next 10 holes. But after parring the 180-yard par-three 9th to go out in 49 (with four pars no less), I managed to come home in 41—narrowly missing some makeable putts down the stretch that would have allowed me to break 90.
More importantly, I was able to relax. And that, in turn, allowed me to enjoy the unique challenges of Panmure as well as the amiable company of my two playing partners—who, in keeping with Scottish hospitality, would wind up offering to buy me a beer in the clubhouse after the round. By the time I walked off the 18th green, I felt good about the experience, this wonderful game and—dare I say it?—myself.
Unfortunately, the dour faces of my two friends who followed in the group behind made it clear that, for them, this four-hour adventure hadn’t been nearly as life-affirming. A check of the results a day or two later confirmed they had plenty of company: more than a third of the field didn’t turn in a scorecard (aka “No Record”). I wound up in the top third, even with my six-hole descent into golf hell.
The lesson? Results do matter. Especially in a competition. But it’s helpful to remember that, in the end, golf is just a game. As such, it’s meant to be played. As opposed to worked. Unless you’re Ben Hogan or something. Rather important, I think, not to lose sight of that distinction.
And, in keeping with that theme, I am happy to report that Panmure is one heckuva playground. Unlike the adjoining Carnoustie, which is closer to the sea, this track is more of a links-parkland hybrid. By that I mean its softly rolling terrain is blanketed in the bouncy fescue turf of an authentic links. But its trees, dotting both sides of most of the holes, are more typical of an inland layout. As such, it’s a bit claustrophobic and—with its many blind shots—on the quirky side. A little local knowledge goes a long way here, especially when it comes to the confounding tee shot on the 414-yard par-four 6th, allegedly Hogan’s favorite. In the heat of a medal competition, such traits might take on a negative connotation. But bring a playful mindset to the task and you just might see Panmure’s oddities as—dare I say it?—fun.
I’d certainly welcome the chance to go back and play. The Wee Ice Mon’s approach was one-and-done. But the Wee Egg Mon’s? It’s the dream of more and more—made all the more alluring while stuck in a desolate and dehydrated Dallas.
That dream will resume in due time. For now, please excuse me as a drift along with the tumbling tumbleweeds…