Following in the footsteps of Old Tom…
Stephen Proctor, a golf storyteller and author, recently began his journey along the Old Tom Morris Trail in the footsteps of one of golf’s most influential characters, Old Tom Morris. After studying his work for many years, Stephen got the chance to experience the work of the legendary man himself by taking on the Old Tom Morris Trail, 18 beautiful courses across Scotland.
We caught up with Stephen to learn more about his overall experience of the trail, his favourite courses and holes, and his recommendations for anyone looking to take on the trail…
Could you describe doing the trail in 3 words?
“Magical, testing, glorious!”
How have you found the trip while you have been on the Old Tom Morris trail?
“Well of course I have loved the Old Tom Morris trail for a couple of different reasons. One of them is that it offers a rare opportunity, even for a person like me who’s spent years and years studying the life of Old Tom Morris to immerse yourself in the work he did is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
“18 golf courses over the span of one month is very impressive, even more so that each course has been influenced by the great work of Old Tom Morris. As a lover of golfing history and the game itself it has been wonderful to see the many places that played a role in Old Tom’s life.
“Another thing which I loved about the trail is that it stretches the length and breadth of Scotland, allowing you not only to play some great golf but also explore the true beauty of the country. Scotland contains some magnificent scenery and is full of really lovely and interesting people. From the breathtaking highlands to small fishing villages such as Anstuther, it’s a fantastic opportunity for any golfer to get their golfing fix while exploring this wonderful country.”
Which course out of the 18 courses has surprised you the most?
“Without a doubt, Askernish. It has always been particularly appealing to me from the start and gives you a true sense of what it’s like to travel back in time and see the game from the very beginning – simply a time capsule. The conditioning of the course is what makes it so unique, as they condition it by mowing irregularly and don’t use any chemicals, giving a true sense for the way the game would have been played back in 1890. Having spent so much of my time studying the history of golf, specifically before the great war, I found this course immensely appealing.
“The course itself is spectacular; hilly, windswept and with grass flying everywhere. The journey to Askernish was equally as incredible, the Outer Hebrides has such a wild and interesting landscape – unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.
“I think overall, the reason I loved Askernish so much was because it came as a big surprise to me, it was so unique and unlike anything you’d experience anywhere else in Scotland, let alone anywhere else in the world.”
How was the journey over to Asknernish?
“Despite being a long way, the trip itself presents a lot of fun. The plane journey to Benbecula was spectacular and I was lucky enough to have a lot of beautiful weather when I was here in Scotland.
“Even the car journey from Benbecula to the golf course was exciting, the cab driver himself felt like a character from a movie. The single track roads, the sheep grazing in the fields and the rugged landscape all added to the harsh environment. I think it’s worth the trip, if even you were only going to see the beauty of the Outer Hebrides, having the golf course as well is definitely the cherry on top.”
Which course did you enjoy the most and why?
“I loved Cullen Links the most because I’m not a golfer that can play an overpowering course and score well, I typically enjoy just being out with friends on a beautiful landscape enjoying the game.
“Cullen was just sporting golf at its best which I tend to be more drawn to, particularly the smaller courses such as Crail, Moray, Tain and Montrose. Out of the smaller courses, Cullen was definitely the most interesting, it was fantastic being able to play around the incredible rock formations – something that makes Cullen so rare.
“I found the course to be a unique experience and just adored it, from start to finish. We also met some classic characters along the way including Boris the proprietor of Jack Whites shop in Gullane. . With his crazy socks and yellow hickory bag, he was a stand out character during my trip to Cullen.”
What do you think would be your favourite hole out of all the courses you’ve played on the trail?
“Probably the first at Machrihanish as it’s such a classic Old Tom hole and I know it’s reasonably intact too, not many of which still exist. It starts with a dramatic shot across the sea and we were grateful that the day we played the tide was out. This was the first course of the trip and was a wonderful way for me to start my experience.
“I think what made it even more special for me was the fact I’ve dreamed of playing this shot for a long time after reading about it in Micheal Bamberger’s book, which I have always admired. In the book he mentions that if he could play one course for the rest of his life it would be Machrihanish, so I was always looking forward to experiencing this course for myself. It felt like an honour to play with two past captains and to hit that amazing opening shot, despite feeling a bit nervous following the Captain’s impressive swing.”
Which holes were the most challenging?
“There were some holes that were more difficult than others for sure. I remember there being a par five at Askernish where you were supposed to hit the ball up over this giant dune however, I had to try to go around it and it took me more shots than I cared to.
“I played hickories at Crail which I love doing playing hickory golf the par 3 I think it’s the 13th gifts very steep hill not a club in my hickory bag to get us up that hill so I just lasered it right into a gorse bush so that was hard for me.
“I mostly found some of them to be more holes than I can play, which is not that unusual for a person like me. However, if I went back and played it again, I think I could have a different strategy. Overall, I would say that the 13th hole at Crail was a tough one for me but there were holes all over that were great and very testing.”
Keep your eyes peeled for part 2 of our Stephen Proctor Q&A series.
If you’re interested in following in Old Toms footsteps, find out more about the trail via our website
You can also re-watch Stephen Proctor’s trail dispatches on twitter @OTMTrail