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Alone with your Creator

"Golf is a game in which you are alone with your Creator. The course may be crowded with opponents, caddies, spectators and, in the case of Dunaverty, my home course, also with sheep, cattle and dive-bombing terns.” —Angus MacVicar, Golf in My Gallowses

What’s your plan for the afternoon, Jim?, asked Mr. David Baxter, the proprietor of Ardell House, as I met him walking on the gravel drive in front of his bed and breakfast, located on the 18th fairway at the mythical links of Machrihanish. It was a stunningly clear summer day in August 1994 on the Mull of Kintyre, western Scotland. My father was waiting in the clubhouse to meet me for lunch. We had already been in the village for five days.  “Well, I’ve already bought a day ticket,” I responded. “I think I’m just going to play here until dark,” as I gestured toward the magnificent linksland across the B843. The Atlantic Ocean was impossibly blue, as if trying to outdo the sky. In 1994, a day ticket for Machrihanish was £18. In August, it never seems to get dark. “Aye, you could do. This is certainly the day for it,” said my friendly landlord. “Why don’t you drive over to Southend and play Dunaverty? It’s only £5. I think you and your dad would really enjoy it. It’s a lovely wee course only a few minutes from here.”

The gravel car park at Dunaverty Golf Club was empty when we arrived. I walked over the small, unassuming clubhouse to find that it was locked. There was a sign by the door:

“Green fees £5. Place in Honesty Box."

This brought a smile to my face. My dad placed two £5 notes in the small box by the tee, and we looked around to find the fairway, but all we could see were grazing cattle and a few sheep. There were a few scorecards in the box, so we each studied one for clues. The course was a par 66 and a mere 4799 yards. Starting to feel a bit skeptical of Mr. Baxter’s recommendation, I saw a flag on the hill in the distance, with Dunaverty Rock and the Isle of Sanda stretching beyond. An entire herd of cows were grazing in the 1st and 18th fairways between us and the green.  “I think we are going to that flag up on the hill,“ I said. We then noticed another somewhat ominous sign to right of the first tee: Warning electrified fences at 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 17th and 18th greens, please take care.

cows at Dunaverty Golf Club

Dunaverty Golf Club

Electric fences around the greens at Dunaverty Golf Club

Our opening drives somehow avoided the massive, black-and-white cattle that were completely oblivious to the small projectiles flying among them. Other than the herd of cows, which were kept off the small, square greens by the electric fences, the first two holes were straightforward. When we reached the third tee, I started to understand why we had been sent here. From the 3rd to the 11th, we played the most fun and scenic stretch of golf holes that I had ever seen. The blind punchbowl, par three 4th hole was a particular highlight, with my dad nearly holing out from the tee. On the 5th tee, I said quietly, almost to myself, “I can’t believe this place.”  Hole after hole was like my perfect ideal dream of golf. Greens were located in dells and hollows, high above the golden beach, often hidden by massive dunes. The ball rolled and rolled along the ground, only stopping when it ran out of energy.

My dad played inspired golf, adding a birdie on the par three 7th to go out in 32 strokes. After he made yet another birdie two on the 10th hole, called “Mt. Zion,” we were both having the day of our lives. Reaching the oblivious cattle again on the 18th fairway, my lifelong playing partner only needed a par four for a career best round of 66. After his textbook par, we shook hands, and I looked at my watch. I realized it was only 3:30 pm. We had just played Dunaverty in less than three hours, yet it had never seemed like we were in a hurry. I wanted to go back around again. We did. The first tee was a mere few steps from the 18th green.  “Should we put 10 more pounds in the box?,” my dad asked.  “Yes, we better,” I said. I saw David Baxter at breakfast the next morning. He came up and asked me, “How did you get along at Dunaverty?” “We loved it. It was so much fun,” I answered. “Just a beautiful place.”  “Aye,” was all he said, with a smile.

Dunaverty Golf Club

Muneroy tearoom at Dunaverty Golf Club

Scottish tea rooms are often the social hub of small communities like Southend, Machrie Bay, or Corrie. They are a place to sit with a small, restorative pot of tea—maybe have an impromptu conversation about the weather or the local golf course—and perhaps even a piece of cake. Muneroy’s Tea Room is full of memories for me. My dad and I had stopped there on our first visit to Dunaverty looking for a Coke and wound up staying for an hour. Frances, the owner and pastry chef, makes cakes and desserts that defy logical description. People come from all over Argyll for their afternoon tea at Muneroy’s—or to get a piece of takeaway pastry. I ordered tea and chocolate sponge cake.

Words by Jim Hartsell from his book 'When Revelation Comes'

Photography by Graeme McCubbin


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