Jedburgh Golf Club: Sometimes, a little guilt—and a lot of rain—is a good thing

Jedburgh Golf Club: Sometimes, a little guilt—and a lot of rain—is a good thing

Fall Fading Fast -- Here's a view of the 14th green from the 8th fairway, picturesque even on a gloomy late November day.

Fall Fading Fast -- Here's a view of the 14th green from the 8th fairway, picturesque even on a gloomy late November day.

It was a reasonable request. If only the weather hadn’t been so unreasonable.

Please allow me to explain.

After six weeks camped out in the Scottish Borders, one would have thought that—certainly by now—I’d have ventured onto the Jedburgh Golf Club, just five miles south on the A68 from our self-catering cottage. But when the cottage’s owners asked if I’d familiarized myself with their pride and joy, I had to admit—rather sheepishly—that I hadn’t found the time.

Too much day job, I pleaded (there’s no escaping clients, not even with a buffer zone of 5,000 miles and eight time zones). Too many chores (foraging for food at the local Sainsbury’s, recycling my limited array of clothes through the wash and figuring out how to beam U.S. college football games onto our Scottish TV—not necessarily in that order). And, whenever the opportunity presented itself, too deep a need to return to the linksland (even if it meant driving past landlocked tracks like Jedburgh to get there).

Time flies when you’re on a mission.

But then the couple in question very graciously invited my wife, daughter and I to join them for dinner at their home. Suddenly, I had a deadline. After all, I wasn’t about to show up on their doorstep with only a bottle of cabernet in my possession.

So about six hours before the aforementioned engagement, I traded my laptop for a golf bag (the primary tools of my two trades) and braved the elements that—even to this American’s semi-trained eye—appeared decidedly dodgy. After the brief journey through Jedburgh’s town center and then up a steep hill past its historic jail, I was heartened to find a handful of vehicles in the club’s car park. If the locals were out frolicking about, then no reason why I shouldn’t be, too. Right?

Happy Ending -- Spoiler alert: The weather improved by the time I arrived at the 18th green. The number above the entry way to the clubhouse is 1894, the year the club was founded.

Happy Ending -- Spoiler alert: The weather improved by the time I arrived at the 18th green. The number above the entry way to the clubhouse is 1894, the year the club was founded.

The ‘Honestly!?’ Box

Actual sightings of humans, however, were another matter. The clubhouse was closed for the winter, save for a side door that led to the gents and a rather complicated version of the time-honored Scottish “honesty box,” a means of paying your green fee when no one is around to collect in person.

A sign above the slot offered step-by-step instructions:

  • Fill in the date, your name and your home club in the ledger book below
  • Grab a paper bag tag and remove the perforated end piece that contains a number
  • Check a chart on the wall to determine the fare due (just £10 on this late fall weekday), then write that onto the piece of paper with the number
  • Write the number next to your name in the ledger
  • Place the appropriate legal tender, along with the numbered tab, into an envelope
  • Write your name and number on the outside of the envelope
  • Drop the envelope into the slot
  • Attach the balance of the paper tag to your golf bag
  • Take two Tylenol to beat back the headache generated by all this stress
  • Proceed to the first tee

Blimey!

Thankfully, the course is far more straightforward than that. In fact, as you emerge from a tunnel formed between the clubhouse and a maintenance shed, many of the holes appear before and below you panoramically—somewhat akin to Augusta National. Well, OK, you might have to squint your eyes just a wee bit to make that visual connection. But it’s an inviting view, no matter what.

Roll With It -- The downhill 4th, a short par 4 that follows the uphill 3rd, often yields a good score and always a heckuva view.

Roll With It -- The downhill 4th, a short par 4 that follows the uphill 3rd, often yields a good score and always a heckuva view.

Doggone It!

Feeling better about my decision to give Jedburgh a go, I set down my trusty carry bag next to the first tee, dug out a ball and some tees, pulled the driver and made a nominal attempt to loosen the muscles that, an hour before, had begun to tighten while hunched over a keyboard. Then I put a peg in the ground, took aim at the center of the fairway as it tumbled out of sight ahead of me and fired—my ball carving a thoroughly pleasing trajectory through the moist air. Lost in my self-satisfaction, it wasn’t until I’d reached down to retrieve my plastic orange tee that I realized I was not alone.

“Hey, little fella,” I said instinctively as I offered the back of my hand in friendship to a small scruffy black dog of indeterminate breed. The motley mutt responded with a sniff of his nose and a swish of his tail.  A look back confirmed he, too, wasn't flying solo: a second dog, larger but no less amiable, and their apparent owner were making their way toward the clubhouse. But when I shouldered my bag and headed down the first fairway, my gallery of one trotted along with me.

“Off you go there, buddy,” I suggested, gesturing back to where his entourage had just passed. But there was simply no shaking him. So I set down my bag again and retraced my steps to the clubhouse—this time with a shadow on this sunless day—until I’d found the others.

“Oh, nae bother,” said the man (not the other dog, though that would have made for a better story). “He’d have found his way back eventually.” Yeah, probably long before the heavy stuff set in. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Pull the Wool Over Their Eyes! -- Odds are you'll get a gallery behind the green at the uphill par 5 6th hole. Though, more often than not, the sheep would be wise to avert their gaze.

Pull the Wool Over Their Eyes! -- Odds are you'll get a gallery behind the green at the uphill par 5 6th hole. Though, more often than not, the sheep would be wise to avert their gaze.

Roller Coaster Ride

Back to the golf course. The night before, I’d learned from a quick tour of the club’s website that it dates back to 1894, when the muckety-mucks of that era pooled their resources and hired none other than Willie Park, winner of the first Open championship in 1860, to map out the initial nine holes. What do you know? The Tommy’sHonor connection strikes again. Suddenly there was much more to this venture than simply settling a social score.

And based on first few holes’ impressions, I’d have to say the Jedburghites got their money’s worth. The outward nine is a roller coaster. Downhill drive then an uphill approach on the first. After an uphill hike to the 2nd hole’s tee, back down to the par 3’s green. Uphill all the way on the 3rd. Then down all the way at the 4th. Adding to the vertical variations is plenty of horizontal tilt, making for some challenging shot making. Jedburgh isn’t particularly long. But don’t be fooled. It ain't easy.

The topsy-turvy terrain carries through from the old holes to the new, opened for play in 2006 when the club expanded to a full 18. But the firmer, better-draining turf of the 19th century gives way to the mushy (at least in November) converted pastureland of the 21st. Imagine a vast bed of saturated marshmallows. That about sums it up.

Self-inflicted Wounds -- Just couldn't resist snapping this shot along the back wall of the Jedburgh clubhouse. Those silver cylinders are beer kegs.

Self-inflicted Wounds -- Just couldn't resist snapping this shot along the back wall of the Jedburgh clubhouse. Those silver cylinders are beer kegs.

Scottish Rain Dance

That’s also, alas, when the rain I’d fearfully imagined began to fully materialize. Initially, just a few drops shook free from the general dreariness. Fish the rain jacket out of the bag, zip it up and continue on. Child’s play.

When the pace quickened, I brandished my oversized umbrella like William Wallace used to wield a sword and—for the first time on this trip—popped it open. OK. A bit more daunting, but I’ve got this.

But then the storm took the gloves off. Rain, obviously. But also wind, the golfer’s true nemesis. And plenty of it. Quickly, the umbrella became more liability than asset. So in the middle of the 12th fairway (how strange that I had the place to myself), I pressed the pause button and, with a sense of urgency, took evasive action:

  • Set bag down in the rising swamp, taking care to point it into the wind (place your bag perpendicular to the flow and, odds are, it won’t stay upright for long)
  • Collapse umbrella before the wind either: a) does it for me; or b) sends it airborne and/or tumbling away
  • Wriggle into rain pants, then transfer tees, balls, ball marker, etc. to the new outer layer’s pockets
  • Remove all head covers (way more trouble than their worth when they get wet)
  • Wrestle with and finally attach the bag’s top cover in a vain attempt to keep the clubs dry
  • Slip hands into rain gloves, then intentionally press them into the soggy sod (they’re designed to grip better wet than dry)
  • Regret wearing the water resistant shoes, rather than the waterproof pair
  • Remind myself why I love this game
  • Push the play button and enjoy! (?) 

If you play golf in Scotland, eventually you, too, will do all of this. If not more. Guaranteed. But later, when you take refuge in the clubhouse, warming your outsides by a roaring fire and your insides with a dram or two of single malt, you’ll be glad you did. Also guaranteed.

But I digress.

Something I Said? -- When I arrived at Jedburgh Golf Club, there were a handful of other vehicles in the car park. But not as I prepared to leave.

Something I Said? -- When I arrived at Jedburgh Golf Club, there were a handful of other vehicles in the car park. But not as I prepared to leave.

My Persistence Rewarded

Fit for battle, I slogged my way through the next three holes that, quite frankly, were unmitigated disasters. In fact, the thought occurred to me that if I were to plot my wayward shots on a graph and then extrapolate, I’d almost certainly run out of golf balls before I finished the round. They were disappearing at an alarming rate—rattling around in the trees on glancing blows and plugging into the bogs/fairways when fired straight ahead.

Fortunately, the storm passed and some semblance of competency returned. I completed my journey, rather enjoying the downhill par 3 16thand the uphill par 4 18th, my final blow a dead-center six-footer for par. By then, the quaint clubhouse was resplendent in the amber aura of a setting sun, its last gasps seeping through seams in the dissipating clouds. My persistence (or simply my over-developed guilt complex?) had been rewarded.

No matter the motivation, I’m glad I paid Old Jedburgh a visit—regretting only that I’d waited so long to do so. And, after a hot shower and a change into warm dry clothes, I arrived at our hosts’ dinner party with that bottle of wine—but also a clear conscience and a shaggy dog story to share.

Cheers!

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