One of golf’s most compelling attributes is the opportunity it affords amateurs to play on the same course, off the same tee positions, as the world’s leading professionals.
Few other sports offer enthusiastic amateurs a similar chance – it’s impossible to turn up at Lord’s, Wimbledon, Twickenham or Wembley and expect to get a game.
These exalted stadia are reserved solely for the world’s best, impossibly well-kept places where sporting excellence is lauded and glorified. No wonder they’re often likened to cathedrals.
Yet the golfer, even an 18-handicapper like me, can follow precisely the same route, albeit taking a few more shots, as professionals who have secured major titles on the same track.
Last year, as part of our annual three-day tour, myself and around 20 golf-playing mates trod Hoylake’s famous links.
It is a truly majestic, if incredibly windy, setting and as the course had hosted the Women’s Open a few days beforehand, the stands were still in place, which added to the sense of playing somewhere special.
This was where Tiger Woods won the 2006 Open; in fact, the Open has been contested 11 times at Hoylake – it was like playing in an FA Cup final without the crowds.
I was at it again last week after accepting an invitation to play the magnificent Castle Stuart course prior to the Scottish Open, which gets under way today.
The whole place was infused with a sense of urgency as preparations were made for a European Tour tournament, which acts as the traditional curtain-raiser to next week’s Open at Muirfield.
Castle Stuart is dominated by a magnificent, multi-tiered Art Deco clubhouse affording the greatest view over the Moray Firth and Kessock Bridge imaginable. Like Hoylake, this is a golf club built on a grand scale.
It was an honour to play on it and as we neared the end of our round, I was mindful of the comments on the course’s website describing the 18th hole: “However you’ve played, you’re only a few steps and a couple of pints away from feeling good about it.”
That’s the other great thing about golf: it doesn’t take long to forget the lousy drives and missed putts, although after a few pints, the day’s best shots linger long in the memory.
I’m sure the pros feel the same.
* Peter Sharkey is playing in the Farmfoods British Par 3 Championship, staged at Nailcote Hall between 6-9 August. We’ll be following his progress as he prepares for the event.