I woke up in Carrbridge Golf Club's car park at 5am and already sparkling sunlight was slipping through the Silver Birches. Even at this early hour, it was bright...really bright! Carrbridge as it turns out was white with frost!
I climbed out the van rather stiffly, had a stroll, sticking to the path so not to ‘burn’ the grass which I’m told is what happens if you stand on a frosty green or fairway.
I have to say, Speyside is my favourite part of the Highlands, indeed possibly of all of Scotland and this little trip was confirming it yet again. I walked into Carrbridge village, a mere pitching wedge down the road and was delighted to note that this year (2017) marks the 300 year anniversary of the Carrbridge Pack Horse Bridge.
I made a mental note to find out when and if there were any celebrations to be joined in. I’d celebrate anything up here. I came here to Carrbridge on my first Highland holiday when I was maybe 10 years old with a pal and his family so have always had a soft spot for the place. Even then, so long ago, the Old Pack Horse bridge provided a precariously jumping off spot for local lads into a tiny but apparently deep pool below. I never tried it.
I stood there in the bright morning sunlight and simply ‘Watched the River Flow’ which is my rather tenuous link to a Bob Dylan story. Dylan and his younger brother, David bought a place just along the road from here back in 2007 and, some years later I was invited for coffee and cake. This is true! Don’t ask why! It was just one of the many crazy moments I’ve undertaken and ultimately enjoyed with my pal and our esteemed head of golf instruction here on the Linksland site, Roberto Borgatti. As we rolled up the drive towards a rather impressive French Chateau style mansion, there stood David Zimmerman.
"Bob fell in love with the Highlands on a tour that included Aberdeen," David told us. "Or maybe it was when he was given an honorary degree from St Andrews University back in 2004. I can't remember which one for sure but it certainly made an impression." Interestingly, the Dylan tune 'Highlands' on his 30th studio album, 'Time Out of Mind’ is his longest ever studio track at 16.31 minutes. He and his brother shelled out a cool £2 million for Aultmore Estate. When you see the views from the garden, I reckon they got a bargain.
The Zimmerman’s, so I gathered only come here once a year, flying their private jet from Minneapolis to Inverness. The extended family was here, two sons and various grandchildren; a plane-full, I presumed. After coffee, we had a tour round the policies; the views of the Cairngorms I have to say are quite stunning. “I think they build this place to take in that view,” David told me flicking away another butt into the aspidistras. "What do you think of this place for golf?" he asked. "How many rooms do you have?" I replied. “18 upstairs and the same again on the upper floor,” he said. “Yeah, well, if you can be bothered.”
It seems they could as I note Aultmore House is now available for rent for weddings, bar mitzvahs and golf parties. "Where are you guys playing tomorrow?" asked Luke, David’s son. We told him Castle Stuart and so the next morning he joined us. Luke was not the easiest guy to get along with or even talk to. I sensed a high wall of defence. His mother had mentioned he was going through a tough time so maybe that was it but as much as I tried, I couldn’t draw him into a conversation. Meanwhile, our round over Castle Stuart took close to 6 hours, something of a record certainly for me, mostly down to Roberto taking copious pictures and videos of us all on every hole.
The ‘Freewheeling’ Mr Dylan has only visited Aultmore a couple of times so I was later told by the barmaid at Abernethy Golf Club next door to the Zimmerman place whose mother worked in the house. He came one New Year is the only information I could glean. The Zimmermans by the way, own three golf resorts in Minnesota and so are quite involved in the game. Bob himself is a keen golfer playing off a 17-handicap at Malibu Country Club in California. That’s vaguely how we got invited. He’d seen Roberto’s book in New York City, borrowed it and made some kind of connection. I don’t know… Ask Roberto!
I drove on from Carrbrige towards Boat of Garten just a handful of miles down the road. It was such a beautiful morning, I thought I'd better look at 'The Boat' to see how the view up to the Cairngorms was looking. And sure enough, the snow was still on the mountains and the course covered in a hoary coat.