OH so mortal. That's what I think of myself when I open James Finegan's "Where Golf Is Great: The Finest Courses of Scotland and Ireland" and try to imagine teeing off at St. Andrews, Connemara or some other ancient course. What right would I have to be there? How could I possibly pollute those sacred greens with my silly orange Maxfli ball? Could I even make it to the 18th hole on Royal Berwick's West course?
At 6,317 yards, this course outside Edinburgh harks back to the 19th century and contains enough long rough grasses, beaches, dunes and stone walls to break any hacker's confidence. And heart. Would I have the good sense to just give up and admit that these scapes are meant for immortals?
Finegan's book is such a treat: a guide to courses as well as to the pubs, castles and ruins that any traveler might want to visit. And it owes an enormous debt to photographers Laurence C. Lambrecht and Tim Thompson, who give us crisp, rich images of such venerable Scottish courses as Royal Aberdeen lighted by a late-afternoon sun and the perilous, pocked approach to the ninth hole at Dundonald.
Try not to feel a pang of despair when you close this book and visualize the wretched municipal links you know: courses wedged between condo developments, golf-cart paths that cross busy streets, greens with ugly brown patches that sprinklers can't reach. Hey, there are no sprinklers sticking up on Machrihanish (say that three times fast).
In some ways, Finegan's book makes you think that it's a bloody waste of beautiful land to hand it over to a madman's sport. On the other hand, if the looniness of humans in chasing after a dimpled little ball helps to preserve these lush lands, then so be it. *