After an exceptionally mild, easy winter, Scottish spring has sprung. For me, that means on-the-road taking pictures. There are two prime periods for Scottish golf course photography; late May to mid-June then again in September and early October. I’ve noticed it getting earlier each year and this year is almost alarmingly advanced. It’s only the 2nd May, about 3 weeks early for this sort of activity. Global warming is indeed exerting its influence.
Gorse encrusted links - there’s no finer sight on a spring afternoon. The May photo season is all about the gorse, that lovely yellow flowering shrub that attracts so many bees, yellow-hammers and golf balls. Gorse, or ‘whins’ as it’s also known in Scotland, is a factor on most Scottish links courses. When I see a picture taken following the flowering for instance in July when it turns a dark, impenetrable green, I get a twinge of disappointment knowing what it is like in all its glory. So there’s a big effort on my part at this time of the year to capture it.
Newburgh-on-Ythan Golf Club
On the East Coast of Scotland, Newburgh-on-Ythan Golf Club is a relative unknown in the great links scheme of things. It’s tucked away down a track off the main route between Aberdeen and Cruden Bay. The area’s more famous for bird-watching on the Ythan Estuary where you can see up to 225 species of birds. On the north side of the river, there are also dunes large enough to shoot a Lawrence of Arabia movie, massive mobile dunes of the sort Donald Trump was so determined not see leave the property just down the road at Balmedie. And gorse, lots of gorse!
From a lofty outlook, Newburgh-on-Ythan’s clubhouse commands all of this, a Par 72 course that I think more travelling golfers really should visit.
One of the more interesting visitors to Newburgh-On-Ythan Golf Club was the King of Siam. In 1897, Crown Prince Vajiravudh of Siam stayed for a month in The Udny Arms overlooking the golf course, learning to play golf on the Forvie links before returning home to rule Siam, now of course known as Thailand. I’m sure you knew that!
Back then Newburgh-On-Ythan Golf Club was a crusty, gorse-lined 9-holes by-the-sea. The original 9 is still pretty much as was, a great stretch of gorse-land with the River Ythan separating the relatively flat links from the high dunes of the Forvie National Nature Reserve.
In the pro shop, I met with the club treasurer doubling up as the club pro (they don’t currently have one - probably the treasurer saving money) and he was taking a couple of quid off early evening sweepstake golfers. “Take a walk out to the beach and you’ll see thousands of seals,” he informed me. My mission was to photograph the golf course, not seals but I made a mental note to come back, play the golf and take the walk along Forvie Sands, especially on the lookout for remains of the village that once was here. The tiny fishing village of Forvie was obliterated by a sudden sandstorm in the 1400s and local legend has it that, to deny them their inheritance, three sisters were driven out to sea in a leaky boat in the hope they wouldn't come back. The sisters survived and laid a curse on the village, whereupon a storm raged for 9 days until it was buried under the sands. If Donald Trump isn't careful down at Menie, same thing might happen!
The golf club commandeered some higher sandy ground back in the 1990’s to give them the full 18 which is still fairly linksy and gives great views. I didn’t play the course this time round but I could tell the gorse-lined fairways would call for all the feel and finesse of playing this style of course. From the photographic point of view, the most scenic holes are the 7th and 8th looking over the estuary with the Forvie Sands in the background. The 7th hole is called ‘Funs Gap’ (Funs being Doric for gorse - I never knew this), a downhill Par 4, short with a second shot through a gap in the gorse over a slight rise to the green. Long hitters can, with a favourable wind, no doubt go for it – though not many I contest are daft enough.
The back nine plays over the Forvie Links proper. This is a relatively flat expanse surrounded by water, the holes delineated with gorse. The 18th is 548 yards from the back tee and looks a formidable finish, exceptionally well bunkered with the additional feature of an old ice curling pond that forms a lateral water hazard. I’m definitely coming back up once the photo-frenzy finishes but I did notice my favourite hotel in the area - The Udny Arms is now closed and up for sale. The former owner, Guy, told me they invented Sticky Toffee Pudding here. I just hope he hasn't come to a sticky end.