Southerness Smackdown: I compete in a medal, confirming my game lacks mettle

Southerness Smackdown: I compete in a medal, confirming my game lacks mettle

Scenic But Sinister -- Don't let Southerness' benign looks fool you. The 12th hole, pictured here, serves as an object lesson. Lovely views. But those white OB markers lurk just behind the putting surface.

Scenic But Sinister -- Don't let Southerness' benign looks fool you. The 12th hole, pictured here, serves as an object lesson. Lovely views. But those white OB markers lurk just behind the putting surface.

I have hit the wall. And its name is Southerness.

A month after the reunion at Machrihanish, filled primarily with attempting to turn our 200-year-old leased house into a home, I got the chance to play in an open competition (which is UK for an amateur tournament that’s “open” to the host club's visitors as well its members). The name of this particular event was the Oswald Cup. I should have known that—like November 22, 1963—this would end up being a day that would live in infamy.

But I simply couldn’t resist: 1) the chance to play a first-rate links course for the bargain rate of £12/$18; 2) a day out with my friends, both old and new; and 3) an opportunity to put my game to the test in a medal, where every stroke counts.

Put a big check mark next to those first two points. The third? If I knew how, I’d redact it in a thick swath of black ink. Embarrassing doesn’t begin to describe the emotional impact of it. Soul crushing? Much closer.

A Promising Start

First, though, let’s focus on the pleasantries. The day started with my friend, Mark, picking me up in his zippy Mini Cooper convertible, which he drove zestfully along the two-lane country roads between Kelso and Southerness, mostly deserted on a sleepy and somewhat dreary Sunday morning. Two hours later we arrived at the club, situated on the Scotland side of the border opposite England’s idyllic Lake District. In retrospect, a hike through its deep forests and along its glacial lakes would have been far more life affirming. But, foolishly, I had golf on my mind.

Fortified by a full Scottish breakfast and joined by five other friends, we loosened up our middle-aged muscles at the adjoining practice net and chipping area. At links courses, a full American-style driving range is very much the exception to the rule.

And then we were off, the seven of us scattered among multiple tee times. I was the last out, paired with Stewart, an amiable 24-year-old Glaswegian who sported a snappy 4 handicap. The powers that be at Southerness kindly assigned me a 10 handicap even though I’ve yet to establish an official track record in Scotland. Through four holes, I managed to match Stewart with two pars and two bogies. “Hey, this could be my day,” I thought to myself.

Gorse of Course -- And plenty of it. Start hitting it sideways here (which is easy to do when the wind is up) and your golf ball supply is guaranteed to take a hit.

Gorse of Course -- And plenty of it. Start hitting it sideways here (which is easy to do when the wind is up) and your golf ball supply is guaranteed to take a hit.

Before the Deluge

Then came the 5th hole, a 496-yard par 5 from the white medal tees, directly into a 25-mph wind. A weak but straight tee shot put me in the fairway, though with little chance of reaching the green regulation. “Just get there in four shots, with a putt for par,” my inner voice advised. After which I promptly topped a 5-wood off a downhill lie into a fairway pot bunker. Six shots later, I informed Stewart that he needed to draw a little snowman on my scorecard. Worse yet, doubts about my game began to seep in, a par at the 6th notwithstanding. I made the turn in 45.

Then the seepage turned into a steady stream. Double bogies at 10 and 11, followed by a triple at 12 (thanks to yet another devilish pot bunker capped off with a three-putt). And then, at the 13th, the levy gave way: first drive into deep gorse, never to be seen again; second (third with the penalty) in play but in rough; fourth hacked out to the fairway; fifth over-clubbed past the green to the left; sixth a downwind chip that kept rolling, past the pin, off the green into a bunker; seventh, eighth and ninth slashes in the sand; then a routine two-putt for…wait for it…an 11!

Why, exactly, was I so keen to play in a medal?

Bizarrely, I managed to par the next two holes. But my condition was more akin to that of a soldier in the trenches who’s had his legs blown off by an artillery shell. In the moment, he can’t feel a thing. “I’m OK,” he thinks to himself. “I’m going to survive this.” And then a bright light at the end of a tunnel gradually obliterates all of his other senses. OK, perhaps I exaggerate just a wee bit. But you get the point.

As my friend Brad’s then-young son used to say, “I’m binished.”

Post Round Revival

The good/bad news?  Southerness chewed up and spit out all but one of our crew. And even he came nowhere within range of the event’s prize giving.

Stewart, however, did manage to ignore my flailing about and was just four over par through 14 holes. But on the 217-yard par 3 15th, a pot bunker jumped up and bit him, leading to a triple-bogey. A careless double-bogey at the 17th didn’t help either. Still, he finished with a gross 79, net 75—perhaps still good enough to win something. Though, with a three-hour drive back to Glasgow, he didn’t have the luxury of hanging about to find out.

Meanwhile, our sorry lot revived itself with a few bevvies, afternoon tea, a sweet or two and lively conversation. When it was all said and done, my implosion on lucky old No. 13 had already begun to lose its sting.

And I was grateful to spend the afternoon on such a challenging, well-groomed and pure links course. Southerness is one of those gems that doesn’t turn up on the itinerary of most Americans who make the trek to Scotland to play golf. It doesn’t have the Open pedigree of a Carnoustie, Muirfeld, Troon. It doesn’t have the historical significance of a St. Andrews, North Berwick or Musselburgh. Yet it’s a damn fine golf course that is well worth making a special effort to track down and experience.

One recommendation, however: When you do play at Southerness, opt for the yellow tees (6,110 yards) rather than the whites (6,566). And avoid the medals. A casual match among friends or, perhaps, a Stableford competition is far more forgiving.

For me, it’s back to the drawing board. For some reason, that Taylor Made advertising tagline from a few years ago—delivered in a faux Scottish accent—keeps ringing in my ears: “Find your game!” At the moment, it’s definitely MIA.

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