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What other people may find in poetry or art museums, I find in the flight of a good drive," said golfing legend Arnold Palmer,  describing his love for the sport. If you are a golf enthusiast, you probably feel the same. So this summer, why not give museums, theatres, and beaches a wide berth and plan a holiday, or should we say a pilgrimage, to some of the greatest fairways across the world?

Start by booking a flight to Edinburgh, Scotland, and driving for an hour to reach the home of golf — the St. Andrews Links, where the game has been played since 1400 AD.

Today there are six public golf courses making St. Andrews Links the largest such complex in Europe. However, being one of the most famous also means that bookings are made almost six months in advance. But don't lose heart, the club realises that there are several pilgrims who land up in the hope of playing a round at the Old Course. As a result, nearly half of the total number of tee times on the Old Course are allocated through a ballot drawn just 48 hours before play. We suggest you book a hotel nearby for a few days and try for the ballot, if there are two or more of you. On the other hand, if you are going alone, you can play on the Old Course by approaching the Starter early in the morning of the day you wish to play. He will try to join you up with the first available two or three-ball.

While you are on the Isles, you must visit the Royal County Down in Northern Ireland. Set up in 1889, it has been rated No. 5 in the ‘Top 100 Golf Courses' by Golf magazine. Legendary golfer Peter Alliss, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame just last week, has said that the links at the Royal County Down were the best prepared ones that he had ever seen.

Royal County Down is situated to the north of the coastal resort of Newcastle, in the foothills of the Mountains of Mourne, about 50 km south of Belfast. The club maintains a high standard of play, and to tee on the Championship Links, you need a handicap of 5 or better for men playing the Blue Tees and 4 or better for women playing the Yellow Tees. 

Also check out the Ballybunion, in the south west of the island, set up in 1893. Tom Watson fell in love with the course and wrote, "After playing at the Ballybunion for the first time, a man would think golf originated here."

Of the 32,000 golf courses across the world, 50 of the top 100 (as ranked by Golf) are in the US, 24 in Great Britain, 8 in Australia and New Zealand, and 8 in Europe. However, most of these, such as the Pine Valley and Augusta National in the US and Morfontaine in France are exclusive for members.

With the maximum number of greens, the US is an ideal golfing destination. While you can play in almost every state, we suggest you start with California, more specifically the Pebble Beach Golf Links, San Francisco. Rated the No. 1 public golf course in the country, the course was designed by Douglas Grant and Jack Neville in 1919. Jack Nicklaus has said, "If I had only one more round to play, I would choose to play it at Pebble Beach."

Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic is considered the Caribbean's most complete resort and its Teeth of the Dog golf course designed by Pete Dye is the only one to feature in the top 100 from that part of the world. The added advantage is that you can take the whole family along, and for once they won't grudge you being on the greens, as with the sun, sea and sand, there is plenty for them to do as well.











Northern Ireland: ROYAL COUNTY DOWN is one of the finest golf links, and is nestled at the feet of the Mountains of Mourne (Pic Courtesy: Aidan Bradley)
Dominican Republic: CASA DE CAMPO has imposing coral shores and winding fairways, ideal for families, friends, and, well, golfers (Pic Courtesy: Casa De Campo)

You need to be a member of a golf club in India and carry a letter of introduction to play at any of these clubs. Also, each has a minimum handicap requirement and you need to carry your golf handicap card with you.

Golf clubs are real sticklers when it comes to dress code. So make sure you read the specifics on their website and pack your bags accordingly. For instance, the Royal St. Georges in England insists that visitors wear jackets and ties to the club house post 11 am. On the golf course, they may wear plain, tailored shorts but only in conjunction with long socks.

Cargo shorts are a strict no-no. The website does not specify the rules for women (not surprising, considering it's a men-only club and women are allowed to play only as guests). But other clubs such as the Royal County Down, while not specifying what women should wear, give a list of things they should not wear — jeans, short shorts and sleeveless, collarless tops.

So go ahead, enjoy the ultimate holiday. As, in the words of sports writer Bob Ryan, golf is a passion, an obsession, a romance, a nice acquaintanceship with trees, sand, and water. Happy putting!

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 21-05-2012)


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