James Finegan begins his Golfer’s Pilgrimage to the Courses of Scotland in Edinburgh, on a course called Braid’s Hill. Most aficionados of Scottish golf won’t mention Braid’s Hill, so this opening tip of the cap might be seen as curious by the under-informed. My sense is that Finegan wishes to recognize, in a way he doesn’t in Golfer’s Pilgrimage to the Courses of Ireland, the importance of the common-yet-uncommon course in the recognized home of golf. While many golfers travel to the auld sod to play the likes of St. Andrews, Dornoch, Carnoustie, Muirfield and others, a greater number play the Braid’s Hills of the kingdom. Before passing page ten, a note has been struck for common golf in the land of uncommon golf.
If you’ve read Finegan’s treatise on Irish golf courses, you might have come off with a sense that he is an insatiable cheerleader. He has very few words of criticism when it comes to courses of the emerald isle and he invariably pursues them with some manner of compliment. I’ll assure you that he is not so gentle when it comes to Scotland. He is not mean, mind you, but honest. Within the first 100 pages, Finegan sighs heavily when detailing Royal Troon and Western Gailes, or at least portions of them. Adjectives like “dull” and phrases equal to “what might have been” inform us that one should not get too giddy when playing Scotland’s courses. They are wonderful outings, but none is perfect.
As we progress with our intrepid guide around the kingdom, we are exposed to a bit different perspective. I won’t use the word acerbic, but there is a definite edge to James Finegan when it comes to rumors and bragadaccio. Perhaps he knew he was safe in the states when the book was published, or maybe he had drank his fill of pomp and bluster. What we have in these 279 pages is one who tells it as he sees it, truth and fiction be damned. I’ll not let the entirety of the secret slip, but the recently-irascible one even has a go at the most hallowed ground in the game!
One of the items to note in this tome is the emphasis on golf over food and lodging. In the Ireland tome, our author details each multi-course meal with exquisite precision; in Scotland, not to much. One might conclude that the gastronomy of Scotland isn’t as heralded as that of Aerie, and one might be correct. All is well, however, for we’ve not purchased this edition to learn of haggis and puddings (right?)
Scotland is about the golf, and the golf is stronger here than in Ireland. That’s not to say that the links of the emerald isle are in any way weak. They are not. Scotland has more of them and they are stronger. The Muifields, Old Courses, Ailsas, Machries and Cruden Bays, by a whisker, eclipse those across the wee burn.
If you think this reveals some sort of allegiance on my part, you’re wrong. I’ve eaten a few unfortunate meals in Scotland and I’ve played the Old and New courses. The golf is wondrous; the food was forgettable. If offered an opportunity to return to the isles, I’ll opt for Ireland over Scotland, for the golf and the food. Unless, of course, the third volume All Courses Great And Small, on England and Wales, convinces me otherwise.