September 26, 2007

Know Before You Go

Advice for visitors from an actual Scot

Heading for the heart of Scotland, off the well-worn trails and out among the true locals? You are most welcome here. I offer just a few morsels of advice to help ease your way.

When you arrive, get ready to make the seismic switch from driving on the wrong (right) to the right (left) side of the road. If this is too complex, just drive down the median with the Stars & Stripes flying through the sunroof. You'll get many an enthusiastic gesture from the locals—and a big wave from the police.

One of the first things you'll notice about Scotland is the cool temperature and our lovely low humidity. In parts of the States you absolutely need an air-conditioned home, office and car—whereas Scotland is an air-conditioned country. This partly explains our lack of showers, the vast majority of which are experienced in the open air below rain clouds.

You might also notice—it's hard not to—that in summer our seaside links go brown. This is not a failure of greenkeeping. It's nature. The greens will be kept green by watering, but we believe the fairways should be allowed to brown up as they've done for thousands of years. You'll recall that Tiger Woods made a particular point of congratulating the staff at brown Hoylake last year as he cradled the claret jug. Indeed, many of us believe that the only fairway watering of Scottish links should be by the Almighty: the original, and best, head superintendent.

Some American guests find the food and drink tricky.You all know what to do with our smoked salmon and Aberdeen Angus steaks, and you certainly enjoy our scotch on the rocks, but what about the porridge on the clubhouse breakfast menu? My advice is to try it—and to take it, like this article, with a pinch of salt. Porridge puts hair on your chest, fire in your belly and iron in your soul. It might look like moistened plasterboard and taste like it, too—but porridge fueled the men who crossed oceans to open up Canada and Australia and who, about 650 years ago, brought to birth what they called "The Anticient and healthfull Exercise of the Golf," perhaps the greatest field game molded by the mind of man. It is thus a dish of pure character. Enjoy.

Pronunciation is important. Our capital city is pronounced "Edinburra." Do not call it "Edinburg" unless you come from Pittsburra.

American ranchers should be cautious about describing their property, because in the Scottish Highlands the average size of a farm, or croft, is about four acres. "I can be in the car all mornin' and still not reach the other side of my spread," a visiting Amarillo rancher declared to a golfing crofter, who said sympathetically, "Aye, I know just how ye feel. I had a car like that myself once ... "

If at all possible, hire a caddie.He will carry your bag, but he does not carry subtitles, and the Scots dialect is powerful. So when he says, "Ach, ye've left yerrsel a gey besom o' a pitch fae therr," just nod wisely and extend your hand, palm up. The correct implement will be inserted into it. Never, ever, argue with a Scots caddie over club selection. The raising of just one eyebrow by a fraction of an inch will be taken as a mortal insult with potentially fatal results.

Most important: Remember that in Scotland, you are not, repeat not, in England. We had a War of Independence with England, too, culminating in 1314 with a home win in a massive stroke-play event at a place called Bannockburn. Mention this daily and your popularity among locals will soar.

I'm pleased to have been asked by Golf Digest to share these observations. I'm also pleased to have been born at all because in 1944 my father, as he lined up an approach, was near-missed on an Ayrshire golf course by a crash-landing Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. The American crew got out, shaken but unhurt, only to be confronted by Dad, who enquired, "Did you not see that I was about to play?" Welcome to Scotland—all of you.

Dr. David Purdie, a former medical professor, is a speechwriter for members of the U.K. Parliament. When not playing the game near his home in Edinburgh, he's a leading after-dinner speaker on the golf circuit.