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Rod Hammond, Pharmacist
24 Eliza St.,Black Rock, Victoria, 3193, Australia.
Phone: 61-3-9598-8147. Mobile: 0438571912.
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THE AUSTRALIAN CHEMISTS GOLF ASSOCIATION – A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE EIGHT TOURS TO ENGLAND, SCOTLAND & IRELAND – 1995 TO 2017.

PREAMBLE

In 1990, John Fregon & Rod Hammond, members of the ACGA, together with their wives, embarked on a round-the-world holiday. Along the way, the boys played eight games of golf in Scotland and Ireland, and came to the conclusion that no serious golfer should go to the great course in the sky before playing the links courses of the British Isles where the game began.

In 1991, Rod amalgamated with his immediate opposition pharmacy, which gave him more leisure hours than his previous sole proprietorship. With his 12 years as a director of the Amcal co-operative coming to an end, a new stimulus was needed, so he mooted the idea of a tour to the U.K. & Ireland to members of the ACGA in January 1994. An encouraging response ensured a decision to go ahead.

AUGUST 1995 – THE FIRST TOUR

In the first half of 1994, comprehensive research was undertaken. 13 other tours were looked at; 30 courses were investigated; 40 possible accommodation venues were considered, plus 13 coach companies, 8 Tourist authorities, 3 overseas chemist golf clubs, 4 airlines and 2 ferry companies.

The courses were chosen before anything else with a universal desire to play the best courses, no matter what the cost. First picks were all seven courses on the British Open roster at that time – R. St. Georges, R. Birkdale, R. Lytham St. Anne’s, St. Andrews Old, Muirfield, R. Troon and Turnberry (R. Liverpool and Carnoustie returned to the roster after this time). We wanted to play the courses we had watched or were to watch on TV back home, as it is far more enjoyable to watch golf on a course you have played yourself. Subsequently, the best of the rest were added, together with the best in Ireland.

Not being comfortable with choosing hotels from brochures, and not knowing travel times between hotels, courses etc, Rod decided on a whirlwind two week tour (with ever supportive wife Pam) in September 1994, and was so glad he did – personal inspection resulted in nine of the thirteen hotels being changed, and accurate travel times were recorded, although Pam was frustrated at having to restrict her driving speed to that of a coach!

Participants were not as weary at the end of the three weeks as expected – the use of coach drivers as baggage handlers, pre-arranged porterage, registration in advance with hotels, comfortable coaches (all tours have had coaches with tables, toilet, fridge, bar with unlimited refreshments), pre-navigation, known travel times, only one early start, pre-arranged tee times without the need for handicap cards, left all participants as fresh at the end as at the beginning.

We were blessed with sensational weather (not encountered again until 2013) with rain on only two days, temperatures averaging 25 degrees, and not all that windy. Affable & helpful coach drivers added to the harmony of the group, most of whom had known each other for years.

Some of the highlights in addition to playing wonderful courses included:

  • walking the streets of the old town in Sandwich
  • Evensong at Canterbury Cathedral with choirs
  • traditional roast lunches at various golf clubs as part of the green fee
  • walking the streets of Aspley Guise
  • the steak meal at The Black Horse, Woburn, paying according to the weight of the steak (Graham Lake had a chateaubriand just for himself!)
  • the garish resort of Blackpool
  • the beauty of the Lakes District
  • lunch at the Wateredge Hotel on Lake Windermere
  • the beauty of the “low” highlands of Gleneagles
  • the variety and history of the town of St. Andrews
  • the spectacle of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo
  • the hospitality of the combined Scottish Chemists Golf Clubs
  • the beauty, ambience, quality & service of the Gleneagles & Turnberry Hotels
  • the thirteen collectors’ bars of the Golf Course Hotel, Portrush
  • the Magherabuoy Hotel Saturday night disco, Portrush
  • our coach touring the streets of Belfast infamous for violence during the “troubles”
  • O’Donoghue’ s pub and the Guinness Brewery Tour in Dublin
  • Golfing, Dining, Wining, Talking & Singing with the Irish Chemists at Portmarnock
  • Dining, Wining, Talking & Singing with the locals at O’Looney’s seafood restaurant overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in Lahinch
  • the singing pubs of Killarney.

The friendliness of the locals seemed to increase in proportion to the distance from London. Generally also, they dislike the Americans but like their tips, the Europeans are tolerated, the Asians are not popular, the Scots are not enamoured with the Brits, and the Irish hate the Poms, but once it was realised that we were none of the above but Australian, then the warmth and welcome was great – they all have been Down Under or want to go, and they all have a relative there (“You must be knowin’ Harry – he’s a tall guy with a beard”).

ACGA UK Tour group 1995

AUGUST 1998 – THE SECOND TOUR

Once the success of 1995 was known, we now had more than 20 wanting to go to the next one, so the luxury for Rod of having a waiting list was guaranteed.

In 1998 we had 11 of the originals come again, plus 9 first trippers, so some variation to the course selections was appropriate. In Kent (England), Royal Cinque Ports replaced the inferior Princes whilst Open course Royal St. Georges was retained. In the greater London area, Walton Heath replaced the inferior Woburn. In north west England, Royal Lytham & St. Anne’s plus Royal Birkdale were unavailable, so Formby & Royal Liverpool replaced them. In Gleneagles, first trippers played the retained King’s course, whilst the originals took on the Queen’s course for the first time. Whilst St Andrews Old was naturally retained, St Andrews New was replaced by “back on the Open roster” Carnoustie. We did not return to the Scottish Chemists’ choice Duddingston in Edinburgh, nor to the “difficult to get on with” Muirfield east of Edinburgh. In Ayrshire, Royal Troon & Turnberry were retained and the historic Prestwick added. In Northern Ireland, Royal Portrush & Royal County Down were retained. In the South, Ballybunion was retained, Portmarnock and Lahinch were left out in favour of Adare Manor and Druids Glen (these two substitutions were later admitted to be a mistake), and Waterville replaced the inferior Killarney (Killeen).

With accommodation, leaving out Muirfield & Duddingston in Scotland, and Lahinch in Ireland, the number of stops reduced from 13 to 11. In north west England, the Royal Clifton Hotel in Southport replaced the County Hotel in Lytham St. Anne’s, and the classy Piersland House Hotel replaced the ordinary South Beach Hotel in Troon. Already we are seeing the beginning of a lift in the standard of accommodation.

Both coach companies were changed as the originals could no longer provide all our requirements (tables, toilets etc), but the overall route taken varied little from 1995.

Many of the experiences listed above for 1995 were repeated, but getting together with the Scottish Chemists proved to be too hard. We have never had a reply from the pharmacist golfing group in England. New experiences included:

  • dinner outdoors at the George & Dragon in Sandwich (Harvey Pearce offered an attractive waitress 50p to ring her mother to tell her she would not be coming home that night. The reply - “just tell her yourself – she is sitting over there!”)
  • afternoon tea at Walton Heath GC – two platters of ordinary sandwiches for £75 (=$220)!
  • Johnny Fox’s theatre restaurant in the hills south of Dublin – terrible food but great entertainment.
  • the Literary Pub Crawl in Dublin.
  • dinner at the Huntsman’s Hotel in Waterville with the Irish Chemists.

SEPTEMBER 2000 – THE SECOND RESEARCH TOUR

Because of major changes to the 2001 tour (see below), and being anxious to find new hotels in person, and to find other golf courses in the hope we might discover some “hidden gems”, another whirlwind research tour in September 2000 was organised, but rather than Pam, my personal assistants this time were tour legends Graham Lake, Harvey Pearce & Terry McNamara. We played several little-known courses but decided that golfers who nominate hidden gems are too easily pleased. We played eleven courses in all, some of which were chosen for the next year (Murcar, Cruden Bay, Nairn, Royal Dornoch and Portstewart) plus some too far out of the way for a tour (Machrihanish, Enniscrone, Rosses’ Point (Co. Sligo), Donegal and Ballyliffen), as well as the forgettable Ladybank inland from St. Andrews. We had difficulty fitting into our station wagon (people movers were yet to hit the market). Highlights included Graham finding an early opener down a laneway in Inverness at 9 am and meeting the dregs of the earth therein; complementary single malts from our hotel host in Campbelltown near Machrihanish (he had a daughter living in Melbourne), and seeing Cathy Freeman at the Sydney Olympics winning gold whilst we lunched between nines at Ballyliffen.

ACGA UK Tour group 1998

AUGUST 2001 – THE THIRD TOUR

As for 1998, we had 20 willing participants. Only five were first trippers, and nine of the other fifteen were coming for a third time, so a significant variation to the previous itinerary was adopted – substituting northern Scotland for all of England. We started in Aberdeen, playing Murcar and Cruden Bay then further north for Nairn and R. Dornoch. Our traditional route was then resumed, with St. Andrews Old and Carnoustie, then on to Ayrshire for Western Gailes, Turnberry and Prestwick (R. Troon was unavailable). The Gleneagles resort was omitted. With northern Scotland taking much less time than England, we had an extra five days in Ireland. In the north, Portstewart with its great front nine was added to R. Portrush and R. County Down. In the south, new to us courses were added – Portmarnock Links, Co. Louth (Baltray), Tralee and Fota Island (all since dropped!). Retained were Ballybunion and Waterville, and Portmarnock Old was re-introduced. The inferior Adare Manor and Druid’s Glen were omitted.

New and changed accommodation outnumbered old favourites, but by 2011 and 2013 these in turn were replaced by better options, but the process of upgrading to higher standards had continued.

Unfortunately exchange rates were most unfavourable at 36p to the dollar compared to earlier trips 42p to 46p. Whilst the major expenses had been prepaid, it was most noticeable when buying drinks and meals – a pint of beer was $2 in Australia; in Britain it was £2 = $6!

Non-golfing highlights included:

  • the free tour with samples at the Glen Fiddich Distillery.
  • a day off touring the Highlands with local guide Clem Watson
  • golfing, eating, drinking, singing with the Irish Chemists at Portmarnock.
  • being entertained by the head waiter at the Newton Hotel in Nairn, who was a dead ringer in both appearance and mannerisms of Manuel in Fawlty Towers.
  • Peter Turnbull was knocked unconscious by a hooked tee shot from John Fregon at Waterville, but afterwards we judged this a positive as he was less grumpy from then on.

Alan Johnston had to pull out because of knee problems, but the last-minute withdrawal of Vin Doquile was more complex – going through a nasty divorce, the hearing was listed for August – he requested of the judge a deferral claiming he would be overseas playing golf, but such a naïve request was firmly refused!

ACGA UK Tour group 2001

AUGUST 2004 – THE FOURTH TOUR

With a reversal from 2001, we had fifteen out of twenty as first trippers, so including England was appropriate to include Open courses R. Birkdale and R. Lytham & St. Annes. However, returning to Kent (which is closer to France than London!) was rejected because of all the extra coach travel, and starting in Southport (north west England) meant we could fly into Manchester and avoid Heathrow. A few of us did this via Frankfurt, but initially the BA flight to Manchester would not include our clubs; however we told the staff we were hitting off at Formby at 11.54 am, and they relented. Hillside was added in this area, and what a great back nine.

Other courses added for the first time were Glasgow Gailes, chosen by our Scottish Chemists hosts, and optional Kingsbarns in Scotland; and Irelands East Clare, chosen by our Irish Chemists hosts but most of us played only nine holes because of the rain, The European Club and optional Doonbeg.

Age should not weary them, but after attending the first three trips, those to not to put their hand up again were Dick Flanagan, Peter Hodgson, Graham Lake and Peter Murphy.

Accommodation improvements continued, staying for the first time at the satisfactory Scores Hotel in St. Andrews (bigger than The Russell, and did not smell like the St. Andrews Hotel!), the fabulous Bushmills Inn out of Portrush, and the luxurious Malton in Killarney. However, we were at the Liscannor Hotel near Lahinch for the first and last time – Laurie Litaize’s foot went through his bedroom floor.

Some of us made the trip home a tiring drawn out affair by leaving our Killarney hotel at 7.30 am for a morning game at Ballybunion, then 2 hours to Shannon airport for flight to Heathrow, then transferred to Terminal 4 for a flight all the way home to Oz – never again!

Also worthy of mention:

  • We stumbled on the awards night at our Southport hotel for the Lancashire Amateur Musical Theatre Society – after their last few musical numbers, we bought the most attractive performers a few drinks and they rewarded us back in the auditorium with an encore performance just for us. Joanne pressed the best tits in Southport against Rod, whilst Peter Crump chatted up her mother.
  • Gary Smoker assumed the role of head chorister for our song book on the coach. # Phil Jones, being slightly vertically challenged, standing on tip toes to survey bars for attractive females led to him being labelled “The Meerkat”.
  • We gifted all the Scottish and Irish Chemists with an engraved silver Breathe-Ezy for decanting wine – it was a valuable thank you for their hospitality.
ACGA UK Tour group 2004

AUGUST 2008 – THE FIFTH TOUR

This tour commenced from Manchester Airport on August 19th and concluded in Dublin on September 7th. In between, 17 rounds were played on top links courses, and because 17 out of the 24 of us were first trippers there was very little change in courses selected from 2004. Seven of the nine courses on the Open roster were included, being Royal Liverpool (Hoylake), Royal Birkdale, Royal Lytham & St. Annes, St. Andrews Old, Carnoustie, Royal Troon and Turnberry. Participants are looking forward to seeing them on television over the next few years. Other courses included Hillside in England, Kingsbarns and Western Gailes in Scotland, plus six of the best in Ireland, being Royal Portrush, Portstewart, Royal County Down, Lahinch, Ballybunion and The European Club. At St Andrews Old, all but the four who got into the ballot, and the three who played with five-time Open winner Peter Thomson, had to queue at the starter’s box at 5.30am to get a game there and all were successful. Despite heavily overcast skies almost every day, only 6 holes out of the 306 played needed the umbrella – it rained overnight and during coach travel frequently, so we felt blessed in a year of no summer to speak of in all three countries. Golf balls were given away daily for best four ball score and two best individual scores, plus overall winners in A, B & C grades at the end. On two days interstate matches were held – Victoria and Tasmania (the Vivacious Tarts) lost to New South Wales and Queensland (the Nubile Queens) and had to pay for all drinks at our penultimate dinner. On the final day, Australia, resplendent in their team shirts, once again defeated the Irish Chemists to retain the CRAIC trophy (Chemists Recurring Australia v Ireland Cup), but this was soon forgotten at the dinner and singing into the wee small hours that followed. For this tour, we provided an impressive silver cup suitably engraved with the dates and winners of all previous encounters with the Irish Chemists both in Ireland and Australia. To date, Australia is yet to lose, and the cup was circulated around the 2008 participants over the next year.

The coaches had at least four tables plus toilet, bar and unlimited refreshments; card playing and general hilarity made the miles disappear without pain.

Accommodation was of a high standard - spacious, with ambience, and with great variety from boutique hotels through to the grandeur of the Turnberry Hotel. We returned to the now refurbished Aberdeen Arms Hotel in Lahinch, replacing the collapsing Liscannor Hotel. We stayed the last two nights at the modern but sterile Marriot Hotel, Druids Glen next to the resorty golf course we played in 1998, but chose The European Club for our match against the Irish.

Eleven dinners were included, one of which was the Mystery Activity – a formal dinner in the Gleneagles Hotel. Other non-golfing activities included visits to totally tacky Blackpool, to the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland, and a few hours doing the touristy thing in central Dublin. Tours of the Bushmills Distillery, and the Waterford Crystal Factory were also included.

For the record, from Queensland we had Gerry Cain, Stephen Hughes, Greg Keily, George & Robert Prineas, Greg Stehn; from New South Wales we had Bob Grant, Peter Haynes, Allan Japp, Karl Landers, Tony Lloyd, Peter McBeath, Bryan & Michael Sidgreaves; from Victoria we had Stuart Baker, Joe Cerra, Ken Green, Rod Hammond, David Norton, Geoff Smith; and from Tasmania Peter Bond, Chris Johnson, Phil Jones and Doug Will. The friendships and camaraderie developed from annual carnivals rose to new levels amongst these 24 ACGA members in constant company for nearly three weeks.

A post tour comment was made – “After only two weeks back home, our sojourn seems like a distant dream – how different to our normal lifestyle was that glorious, albeit sunless, three weeks. Now there is no-one to blast you with “good morning boys” at 9am; no-one to suggest a few rounds of 500 at 10am, no-one asking “anyone for a Stella?” at 11am, no-one to call you to a tee at 12noon, no-one shouting Guinness at 5pm nor the losers buying your wine at 8pm. No McBeath at 11pm suggesting that another whisky will do you no harm. Life has returned to banal, boring normality – post tour depression is a distinct risk. Cheer yourselves with the fact that in three or more years’ time, for some of you, it will all happen again”.

Organiser Rod Hammond judged it the best trip yet, but after five tours and two research trips dating back to 1994 he contemplated a successor to organise the next. However, by the end of 2009, he realised how good he felt in providing the trip of a lifetime to so many chemist golfers, so began planning for 2011.

ACGA UK Tour group 2008

AUGUST 2011 – THE SIXTH TOUR

“If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it”. Because first trippers made up 18 of the 24, then only minor changes were made to the successful itinerary of 2008. Stephen Hughes, Ed Johnson, Robert Prineas, Barry Shepherd and Neil van Epen were each on their second trip. Our golf booking at R. County Down was delayed by one day, so we played a second round at Turnberry. One participant who shall not be named said after the second round “All the courses we have played have been so different to each other, but today’s course was a lot like yesterdays!” Despite our fears that he was not quite with it mentally, we had to tell him the truth. To reduce the hours of coach travel, we decided to leave out Portstewart and (regrettably) Royal Portrush, staying in Dublin instead on our way to the west coast of Ireland. The day so gained was spent playing the spectacular Old Head of Kinsale, staying in Kinsale that night, and concluding the tour at Cork Airport. Once again, we were unable to play Waterville because of a tournament, but we did have a non-golf day travelling the Ring of Kerry, with an extended and increasingly loud lunch at the nearby Smuggler’s Inn, the drinks paid for by the southern team who lost at Turnberry.

Some of the more interesting things that happened along the way included:

  • Several of the group gained genuine scalper tickets for a premier league soccer game between Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspurs – quite an experience.
  • Most of the group went to the Cavern Club in Liverpool for a Beatles nostalgia night, with excellent look alike, sound alike bands. James Prineas organised both activities. Richie Wight was sick on the bus – must have been something he ate. Kenny the coach driver was not amused. This was Kenny’s fifth trip with us (and he fronted up again in 2013) – a dour Scot with little to say, but he has a heart of gold, attends to all requests for extras without complaint and is the best safe and competent driver I have ever encountered. His wife has died, and he looks after a disabled daughter, but still maintains a cheery outlook. I’m sure he appreciates his tip of several hundred pounds each time.
  • We again visited the garish Blackpool holiday town on our way to R. Lytham, and for a change had dinner at Lytham at the Grand Hotel.
  • On our travel day to St. Andrews, had dinner again at the magnificent Gleneagles Hotel. One of Mark and Andrew’s horses had won in Australia that day, so French Champagne all round. This dinner was not the mystery activity this time – it was to have been a two-hour cruise off Kinsale at the end of the tour, but was cancelled due to 90 km/hour gales.
  • Denis Luibinas had a shank attack, but his St. Andrews Old caddie corrected him – it is a “hozzle fade, sir” – with that assurance, Denis played much better.
  • Dave Gorr eagled the ninth at the Old, but sliced his tee shot on the Road hole, just missing the Old Course Hotel. He asked his caddie where it might be – “In amongst the Bentleys, sir”.
  • Robert Prineas had TWO eagles at The Old Course.
  • The twelfth at The Old has hidden bunkers in the middle fairway. A caddie suggested to Rod to aim for the church spire in the St. Andrews township, which he successfully did, only to be informed by the caddie that he was bunkered because he had chosen the wrong church.
  • It was great to catch up with Irish Chemists for dinner at Elm Park GC after they had played one of their monthly events. Old friendships renewed, and new ones made. There was no singing this time, but later on the trip, three of them turned up at Ballybunion where they are members, and Jim Brosnan, despite fearing the potential of being expelled from the club, agreed to sing “The Fields of Athenry” on the club patio – not a dry eye in the house!
  • At Cork Airport, Andrew, standing at the check-in counter with Ken Gray, asked if it was legal to export leprechauns.
  • Old Head of Kinsale sits on the edge of sheer cliffs, and with 90 km/hr winds, more than one of us suffered vertigo to the extent that one player hit off a lady’s tee because of the sheer drop at the edge of the pulpit men’s tee.
ACGA UK Tour group 2011

AUGUST 2013 – THE SEVENTH TOUR.

For the last five tours, first preference had been given to first trippers (we were all first trippers in 1995!). Repeat trippers usually got a spot, but not always, so they were given first preference. An initial list of over thirty reduced to twenty-nine with six months to go meant the group size was raised to twenty-eight, with no first trippers. It was feared this number would be somewhat unwieldy, but it was not a significant problem, aided by the fact the coach had two entry/exit doors.

Having repeat trippers enabled us to depart from our usual trail and visit ten courses new to us, whilst none of the other seven had been visited since 2001 or earlier. Having listed them in England and Scotland, we were surprised to find they took three weeks, and so for the first time Ireland was omitted (we would have had trouble in finding new courses up to our self-imposed standards anyway). Six courses were inland (parkland, heathland), and the rest were on the North Sea, Firth of Forth, & Firth of Moray (pure links and links style). Some were less well known, but were absolute “gems”, so this did not diminish the quality & enjoyability at all, despite omitting the more famous ones such as St. Andrews, Turnberry, Ireland’s best etc.

With ten new courses and two new accommodation locations, Rod & Pam added 8 days to their holiday overseas in May 2012 to choose the best courses available (would have missed out on Royal St. Georges without our pleading in person), the best suitable hotels (four of the six were changed after personal inspection), and to research travel times, restaurants, and to explore possible touristy activities. The cost for the eight days was largely offset by deals done for golf and accommodation, and there is an intrinsic benefit, not measurable in dollar terms, in choosing hotels ranging from very good to excellent.

Twenty-eight pharmacist golfers gathered in WINDSOR for the opening dinner, some having played Sunningdale New in the morning. First course was the well-known Walton Heath, followed the next day by a little-known gem Worplesdon. Then off to SANDWICH on the English Channel for Open venue Royal St. Georges. A conducted walking tour of historic Sandwich preceded another gem, and former Open venue, Royal Cinque Ports. A travel day to YORK, with lunch en route at the Greetham Valley resort took all of the following day. Sunday was at the highly rated Ganton, followed by another gem, Dr. Alistair Mackenzie’s first design, Alwoodley, then the impressive Woodhall Spa, home of English golf organisation. We then crossed into Scotland to NORTH BERWICK, playing the enjoyable but sometimes quirky North Berwick that afternoon. All but four of us (due to handicap restrictions) played Muirfield, the venue for the recent Open the next morning in fog which restricted visibility to 150 metres – disappointing to not enjoy the visuals of each hole in full whilst on the tee. Alternate course was Luffness New. Enjoyable Gullane #1 completed this area east of Edinburgh. Interspersed with travel to NAIRN the next day was an hour and a half by speedboats from the bottom end of Loch Lomond to the top end, walking from the pier to lunch at the Ardlui Hotel. A game at the quirky Boat of Garten in the highlands was followed next day by the acclaimed Royal Dornoch, with some playing foursomes at Brora before dark. The impressive new venue for the Scottish Open, only four years old, Castle Stuart followed, then a very good member’s course, Nairn. En route to ABERDEEN was the spectacular and weird in places Cruden Bay. The wonderful links at Royal Aberdeen (since chosen for the Scottish Open) preceded our final round at the spectacular, but difficult, controversial Trump International. The farewell dinner marked the end of the tour, but a few of us were fortunate enough to play Sunningdale Old back in London. (Hotel TOWNS in bold; Courses in italics)

If this all sounds hectic & tiring, then it didn’t seem like it. The miles on the coach flew by with card games on several of the six tables on board, the occasional quiz, jokes, and unlimited refreshments. Our driver and porters handled all the luggage and we were pre-registered at each hotel. A minimum of two nights (and up to five) at each hotel minimised packing & unpacking. Two of the hotels were luxurious five star - Cedar Court Grand in York & Marcliffe in Aberdeen - and, with occasional drawbacks, the rest were more than satisfactory. One dinner was included at each of the six hotels and at three of the golf clubs.

Two restaurant dinners were included, a highlight being at the 2 Michelin star La Potinière in Gullane. For the core 17 rounds of golf, it rained for a total of 20 minutes – incredible given the reputation for bad weather in The British Isles. The fog at Muirfield and some windy days was all we had to endure. “The best three weeks of golf I have ever had” was a common theme. And all for half the price from a commercial organisation!

ACGA UK Tour group 2013

A.C.G.A. – THE EIGHTH TOUR TO THE BRITISH ISLES, 2017

Commencement date: Monday 14th August 2017 to Wednesday 6th September 2017

Inclusions:

Green Fees for 18 rounds of golf
Accommodation twin share in 3 to 5 star hotels including breakfast
Coaches with drivers Tips to drivers and porters Ten Dinners
Four Lunches
Coach refreshments (excluding Ireland)
Ferry Scotland to Ireland
Souvenir logoed shirt and vest
Daily golf ball prizes
Airport pick up Manchester and drop off Dublin
Magicians at two dinners
Clay pigeon shooting at Gleneagles
Whisky tour Clynelish

Exclusions:
Air fares to and from UK
Drinks with included lunches and dinners
Travel insurance
Other meals
Cart, caddie and trolley hire
Green fee St. Andrews Old

Cost: $12,000

The above reads like a promotion for a commercial operator, except that their cost would be more like $24,000. It was drawn up as part of an invoice for Denis Liubinas to make a travel insurance claim, as he had to pull out 3 days before the tour started to look after injured wife Yura. He was refunded in full. That meant 23 participants, with a three ball at the start of each game, but the luxury of a single room each night – this was spread around.

THE PARTICIPANTS

Legends returning were Stuart Baker, Peter Bond, Neil Chandler, David Gorr, Andrew Grant-Taylor, Stephen Hughes, Ed Johnson, Mark Kleimeyer, Tony Lloyd, Peter McBeath, Keith Nance, and of course Rod Hammond.

First tripper members of the ACGA were Mark Gowans, John Neilson, Dale Roseburgh, John Scott and Bart Vanarey.

Also on board were Arun Amarsi and Livio Marrone, both on the 2016 USA tour, and friends of Geoff Belleville and Denis Liubinas respectively; Peter Dundon (friend of Dale), Terry Longton (friend of Stuart); David O’Brien and Tony Scott (friends of Andrew and Mark K).

THE TOUR.

All arrived by car, train, plane and coach for the Monday opening dinner at the Ramada Plaza Hotel at Southport. The hotel proved to be a great improvement from earlier tours at the ageing Royal Clifton Hotel for the aged; good rooms with two double beds in each, satisfactory food at dinner and breakfasts, and great staff. Our first game was at Formby on Tuesday,, followed by the Open venues of Royal Liverpool Wednesday, Royal Lytham & St. Annes Thursday, and Royal Birkdale Friday, to complete the first week.

Saturday was a travel day to Scotland, lunching on sandwiches on the border at Gretna Green, and arriving mid-afternoon at The Gleneagles Hotel. We dined in the brasserie instead of the main restaurant (hotel stuff-up) but the food and service were very good, as was breakfast. Rooms were most satisfactory.

After Gleneagles Kings the next morning, we transferred to The Scores Hotel at St. Andrews. Rooms varied in size, breakfast was only ordinary, but the location 50 metres from the first tee of the Old course was ideal. With ballot results, known for the Monday and Tuesday, the group split into three groups of eight, eight and seven for Open courses St. Andrews Old and Carnoustie plus St. Andrews Castle from Monday to Wednesday.

Thursday we played Royal Aberdeen before transferring to The Marcliffe Hotel, the only 5-star hotel in Aberdeen. Excellent rooms, dinner and breakfasts. Friday was a return trip to Cruden Bay.

Travelled to Brora Saturday, playing Castle Stuart en route. The Royal Marine Hotel was a new choice, but its old-world charm was excellent. Brora followed a distillery tour Sunday morning, with dinner in the clubhouse. Played Royal Dornoch on the Monday, with the James Prineas “rebel” tour group joining us for dinner at the Royal Dornoch Hotel.

Tuesday was a travel day, lunching at the Ardlui Hotel on the shores of Loch Lomond, before arriving in Troon at an old favourite, Piersland House Hotel. Dined in the “Garden” room because Rod omitted to order the “Conservatory”, but all up to usual standards. Short return trip to Prestwick Wednesday, and walked to Open course Royal Troon on Thursday.

A mid-morning round Friday at Open course Turnberry before walking up to the magnificent Turnberry Hotel. Dinner and breakfast no longer in the grand dining room, and breakfast no longer the grand affair it used to be, but refurbished rooms were excellent.

On Saturday, farewelled Kenny, our driver for the last six tours, at Cairnryan for the two-hour ferry crossing to Belfast, then a new coach down to The Slieve Donard Hotel in Newcastle. A grand hotel, far superior to anything else in the area. Sunday was a return trip to 2019 Open course Royal Portrush, followed by two rounds, Monday and Tuesday, at Royal County Down. An excellent private room dinner with speeches, plus probably too many drinks in the bar afterwards completed the tour, before the coach transfer to Dublin and its airport the next day.

Descriptions and history of each of the Courses listed above are available in a separate document. Our favourites were Birkdale, Turnberry and County Down.

AND ALSO

  • We had an excellent magician at our opening dinner, and a better one at the closing dinner.
  • At Gleneagles, clay pigeon shooting of 6+ rounds from each of 5 locations was a hit.
  • At Brora, most attended a tour of the Clynelish whisky distillery, with an explanation of how a single malt is made, plus three to taste.
  • A truck sideswiped our stationary Scottish coach whilst we were golfing.
  • Tony Lloyd was shamed in to discarding his Coles bag for a proper back pack.
  • Arun Amarsi proved to be the Nostradamus of meteorology giving a positive weather forecast each morning – apart from a few of our group getting a little rain at St. Andrews and Carnoustie, the rest of us experienced four drops in total. It rained almost every night but we were blessed. Post tour, those who went to the west coast of Ireland, and France, were drenched.
  • Gin and tonic was the most popular drink – as David Gorr will testify.
  • Rules of Golf: Equipment cannot be used if it has been damaged in anger; this is particularly true when a wheel is smashed off a trolley at R. Co. Down.
  • After-golf drinks on the balcony at R. Lytham St. Annes in glorious sunshine was most enjoyable.
  • The owner of the Marcliffe Hotel, Stuart Spence, and the Secretary/Manager of Royal Aberdeen GC, Ronnie Askell, enlightened us over dinner with the history of the club.
  • At the St. Andrews dinner, Stuart Baker enlightened us with some history of St. Andrews and its golf courses.
  • In the middle of one night at our Southport hotel, the fire alarm sounded, and everyone assembled outside except Hammond and McBeath, who opened their room door, could not smell any smoke, and so went back to bed. It turned out to be a false alarm.
  • The breakfast in the dining room at Gleneagles was excellent as were the wait staff. However the hotel’s administration was appalling.
  • Neil Chandler lost expensive glasses twice, only to be found by the rest of us.
  • Neil Chandler had new golf shoes which squeaked when walking. This was unnerving for some whilst putting.
  • Stuart Baker paused in his putting at Brora, being disturbed by the heavy footsteps behind him made by one of the cows (who graze on the course along with sheep, necessitating electric fences around every green) crossing the footbridge behind him. A change from Chandler shoes, he asserted.
  • It took a coach, driver, seven of us, and lots of gin and tonic to do a round trip back to Prestwick from Troon to retrieve John Scott’s “Tilley” hat. Whilst we were there, we failed to find John Neilson’s swing.
  • Everyone who wanted to play the Old course at St. Andrews got a game – six through the ballot, and the rest by lining up at the starter’s box as early as 2.30am.
  • The phone ap “WhatsApp” was installed on each of our phones, with a dedicated ACGA 2017 category – worked very well, better than texting.
  • Many excellent restaurants were found on our free nights. A group of three found a South American restaurant in Newcastle, run by a Turk. When he phoned two taxi companies at the end of our meal, they both had a 20 minute wait, so he locked up the restaurant and drove us back to our hotel.
  • Whilst playing R. Portrush, we enjoyed the concurrent air show with a wide variety of aircraft – Rod claimed this to be the second Mystery Activity (the first was the clay pigeon shooting).
  • The indoor pool and spa at our Newcastle hotel were well used.
  • With four tables on our England/Scotland coach, one was in permanent use for the card game 500, and another was for Bridge (not over troubled water as it did not rain) with David Gorr patiently teaching the other three the nuances of the game, whilst others learnt by looking on.
  • John Scott generously donated four dozen bottles of Australian shiraz which had been sleeping in a London warehouse for several years. Travelling on the coach was a rude awakening for them as the last dozen varied in drinkability. Rod convinced four hotels to allow them at our dinners with a £10 per bottle corkage fee.
  • Andrew Grant-Taylor was the handicapper, using our GA handicaps and the sometimes real/ sometimes guessed slope ratings to give everyone a handicap each day. The GA varied according to whether you were better than, equal to, or worse than, the fourth best score each day.
  • David Gorr was the captain (and did the draw in advance), and took great delight in announcing reasonable scores, followed by “and for that you get nothing!”.
  • A Calcutta was conducted based on an individual’s four ball scores over the last two and a half weeks. The winning “owner” and another winner donated a generous amount of their winnings for a bar tab on the final night. Spirit “doubles” were very popular and the tab was dissipated in a very short time.
  • The par 5 eighteenth at R. Birkdale was shortened significantly for safety reasons as stands from the Open were still being dismantled. Peter McBeath nevertheless rejoiced in having an eagle.
  • The par 5 tenth at Turnberry runs along the Irish Sea. Mark Gowans sliced his second onto the beach way below the fairway, found the ball, and from amongst shells, pebbles, fish carcasses etc, managed to reach the back of the green, then sunk a 50-foot downhill putt for a birdie – to be remembered. This was a just reward for his generous donation of a range of men’s’ Natio products.
  • Vodka, lime and soda did not work for Peter Dundon’s golf, but he maintained a cheery disposition to the end, for which he was presented a shirt.
  • In return for a small logo on the shirt sleeves, Ken Green made a financial contribution to the shirt and vest costs.
  • Rod Hammond was embarrassed by the generosity of gifts of a leather carry bag, and a long-matured bottle of Clynelish single malt whisky.
ACGA UK Tour group 2017

A SUMMARY.

Of the 18 courses, we played eight of the ten Open venues (Muirfield and Royal St. Georges were geographically impractical for our time frame). All courses are in the Top 100 of the British Isles, and 13 are in the World Top 100.

We stayed at the best selection of hotels ever, and multi-trippers judged it the best tour yet. It is a gourmet golf trip like no other, and despite a longer gestation period than an elephant, it has been a pleasure to provide an opportunity for golfers to enjoy the golfing holiday of a lifetime in a way they would never do themselves.

EVOLUTIONARY CHANGES OVER THE YEARS

Thirteen hotels meant many one night stops in 1995. Subsequently, a majority view emerged that it would be better to radiate out from fewer locations to reduce the packing, unpacking, checking in, checking out etc. However, the top courses were spreadeagled in each country, so a compromise emerged, with eleven hotels in 1998, and nine in the four tours after that. In 2013, aided by the fact that for the first time we did not go to Ireland, there were just six stops, although radiating out to the best courses meant some lengthy return coach times. These six hotels were of a hugely higher standard than the early tours – adequate in London and Sandwich, very good in North Berwick and Nairn, and outstanding in York and Aberdeen.

In 2017, a compromise of eight hotels enabled Northern Ireland to return to the tour – from previous tours, we repeated Gleneagles, The Scores in St. Andrews, The Marcliffe in Aberdeen, Piersland House in Troon, Turnberry, and The Slieve Donard in Newcastle. New to us, and most satisfactory were the Ramada Plaza in Southport, and the Royal Marine in Brora – collectively the best standard of all tours.

In 1995, internet & email were in their infancy, and certainly unheard of at golf courses, hotels, etc, so snail mail, telephone, and facsimile were the laborious means of communication. From 2008 onwards, the internet had replaced snail mail requests for brochures, and emailing was the main avenue of communication. Facsimile had become “so 20th century!” This reduced postage costs, but the reduction in time spent on putting it all together was not great. Rod was still obsessed with confirming, re-confirming and last minute confirming again, of all bookings of courses, accommodation, coaches, restaurants, lunches, touristy activities etc.

In the early days, Rod sat on the jockey seat of the coach, with maps galore between his knees making sure we took the best route and did not get lost. Nowadays, the driver has a built-in GPS, leaving Rod to enjoy the journeys with everyone else.

Back in 1995, we did not feel welcome at Muirfield – we had to deal with the ultimate spinster, the bespectacled & strangely named assistant secretary Elspeth Mustard, and the ultimate rude grump secretary Major van Rennen. Nowadays, times can be booked on the internet, and the lovely Anne McCarthy looks after us.

It was easy to obtain advance bookings on The Old Course at St. Andrews for everyone in 1995. Since then, a third of tee times are allocated to the ridiculously expensive Old Course Experience (over $4,000 for 4 rounds of golf – The Old, The Castle, Carnoustie OR Kingsbarns, the New OR the Jubilee; plus accommodation, transport & a few other extras), Times are also reserved for members and university students, making it rare to get an advance booking or get in on the ballot. In 2011, the majority of us had to line up at 5 am at the Starter’s box to get a game – we all did, but George Simon had to wait until 3.30 pm! In 2017, 6 got in with the ballot, and those of the rest determined to “play the Old” all got a game, but by now, 2.30am was the beginning of the queue.

Exchange rates have varied hugely from 33p to the dollar in the nineties, to 64p in 2013. This meant that, despite better accommodation and more included meals, at around $8,500 the 2013 tour year was slightly cheaper than 1995, but much cheaper if inflation is taken into account. Thousands of dollars are now saved by using Ozforex to transfer money into pounds and euros instead of the original NAB. In 2017, lost of extra meals plus entertainment, plus 59p meant the cost was from $11,600.

On the first trip, most of us travelled both ways together in economy with British Airways with tickets from our appointed travel agent. By 2013, participants were all doing their own thing, travelling on ten different airlines, in economy, premium, business and first classes, some on points or points plus pay or paying, some arriving days earlier or leaving days later after the tour. So now, all Rod gives are the starting and finishing dates, locations and time of day – get there and leave there however you like!

For most tours, we had a draw for fours (or twos when the host club dictated it) for around two thirds of the rounds, the rest being free draw days. Initially, the old method of four columns, moved up and down against each other was used to try to make sure everyone was in a four with everyone else at least once – it “sort of” worked. By 2013, Stephen Hughes had devised a computerised draw in which all 28 participants played at least once with everyone else but no more than twice – brilliant! David Gorr repeated this exercise in 2017

Just like the hotels, our team shirts have greatly improved now that better quality materials are used, and the designs and logos are now more subtle. Logoed vests were added to the shirts in 2013 and 2017.

CONCLUSION

Ninety-three golfers have enjoyed the British Isles & Ireland under the ACGA umbrella. Of these, 20 have done it twice; 13 three times; John Fregon, Stephen Hughes, Ed Johnson, Terry McNamara & Peter Scurrah four times; Peter McBeath six times, and the organiser naturally eight times. I know of no-one who has not enjoyed it. More than one have labelled it the best three weeks of their life!

Sixty-two different courses have been played. There are more great courses over there, but they have proved geographically impractical for us so far – south west England, Wales and north west Ireland are three such areas; perhaps they will be included in the future.

Summary charts and photos to follow ......