Foxy, my favourite

Added on July 17th, 2013 by
Posted in book, General, New courses reviewed

Lorne Smith’s favourite hole as published in Golf Quarterly 2013:

“the simplest, most inspirational,foxy, royal dornoch golf club, pure beauty in the family of golf”

It is a warm honour to be invited, alongside golfing luminaries such as Dr David Marsh, Peter Dawson and Peter Bathurst, who featured in earlier editions of Golf Quarterly, to choose my favourite golf hole for Tim Dickson’s enjoyable magazine. 

I have elected to go to Royal Dornoch, 65 miles south of John O’Groats, where Tom Watson played prior to the 1982 Open and commented afterwards that it was “the most fun” he’d ever had on a golf course. 

The par-4 fourth (‘Achinchanter’) is a strong candidate, but for its sheer idiosyncrasy ‘Foxy’, the fourteenth hole, wins my nomination. 

Peter Bathurst has suggested (Golf Quarterly, Issue 12, pp28-30) that the very greatest holes are around 440 yards. I agree. ‘Foxy’ is 445 yards and its natural charm and quirkiness is such that it needs none of the small, deep, riveted, gathering-in bunkers that adorn all other holes on the Dornoch links. 

foxy, royal dornoch,

Helicopter view of Foxy

The back and ordinary tees are within five yards of each other and offer a strangely misaligned drive to a humpy fairway. From here, a drawn ball will find hillocky rough and a push will finish under the five-foot high escarpment that runs the length of the hole, zigzagging out into the fairway after 280 yards and forcing many players to accept bogey, or worse, rather than par. The green sits atop the end of the escarpment along which is more wiry rough. 

The second shot requires either a steepling mid-iron, if downwind, which might just hang on to the wide but shallow green if hit with backspin, or a low-iron with skidding fade to run up the closely mown five-foot high bank on the left half of the green. The subtlety of the green’s ledges and borrows are often overlooked by those euphoric at making the green ‘in regulation’. 

Two personal stories highlight Foxy’s intrigue. 

My old friend Gavin Gilbey and I played the Open Burghfield team event at Dornoch on the opening weekend of May for 18 years: it starts with a practice round on the Friday and concludes with the Open Medal on the Sunday. But in twelve years neither of us had hit Foxy’s green in two. A bottle of champagne, increased to a magnum three years later, was staked between us on the first to hit the target and I finally derived the satisfaction of offering Gavin a share of his liquor after 90 full-blooded combined attempts. 

Then there was my agony during last year’s Open Carnegie week, in the final of the Davidson Cup, a tournament that attracts entries from around the world and involves a 36-hole medal followed by a knock out for the best 32 scratch scores (Carnegie Shield) and the best 64 net scores (divided into low –Davidson- and high handicap categories of 32 each). 

For some extraordinary reason in almost five rounds of match play nobody had ‘found me out’ and, although I was driving well, I was only in the final because of some remarkable scrambling around the greens. When we came to Foxy I was only one down against a delightful, tall American called Kevin who promptly lost his first drive in thick rough. All I needed was a bogey to get back to even and after a fine drive and a mid-iron second, I was ideally placed some thirty yards short to play up the steep, mown, five-foot bank on to the triangular green that juts out into the fairway with a similar five-foot bank down the rear. 

foxy, royal dornoch, finest golf courses review

The pin in the middle of Foxy's green

Eoin Riddell, Dornoch’s head green-keeper, who is doing a good job in producing wonderfully firm, true, wiry turf, had put the pin at the left-edge of the putting surface which meant, I told myself, that all I needed was a bump-and-run up the bank to the middle of the green leaving, say, a 30 foot putt to the corner. 

Alas, my seven-iron that had trustily put the ball dead all week was a little weak and ran back down under the bank. Kevin, meantime, had pitched his fifth shot on and over the back of the green, still leaving himself a devilish chip back. The calm magic that had been with me all week now evaporated and the worry of putting up and over the other side of the bank befuddled my brain, and for the second time, rather than hitting safely to the middle of the green, my ball rolled back desolately to the bottom of the bank. 

With our next shots both safely on, the inevitable happened and Kevin holed from nine feet while I missed from five. We halve the hole in seven. I avoided eye contact with the small, spectating flock of family and friends but we all knew that

Foxy, the simplest, most inspirational, pure beauty in the family of golf, had wreaked her havoc on my running game. 

The only way of dealing with that is by enjoying the challenging experience and I managed to put it behind me with two bump-and-runs to within the putting handle at the 16th and 18th which took us into extra holes. Another horribly hit 3-iron halfway up the terrifying par three 2nd (our 20th) was enough to secure victory after Kevin’s first mis-hit iron of the day. “I reckon your name has been on that cup for some time”, the referee whispered conspiratorially. 

The nephew of ‘Flying Scotsman’ Ian Smith, who still holds the record of international tries for Scotland, Lorne Smith learnt his golf on the Ayrshire and East Lothian coasts. Remodelling his swing in his mid forties, he attained for the first time a category one handicap and represented Radley in the Halford Hewitt at the age of 50. He has played all the courses in Frank Pennink’s 1962 Golfers Companion and in 2008 set up www.finegolf.co.uk to review the finest 200 courses in Great Britain and Ireland, rating them on a ‘joy to be alive’ factor and uniquely identifying the agronomic differences between the running game and target golf. 

His FineGolf ‘Challenging Courses’ App is available from Apple and Google stores, and the inaugural FineGolf Enjoyment day on Sept 10th at Temple Golf Club (that has some of the finest greens around London) includes a panel and audience discussion on the recreational game with Donald Steel and other experts.

Reader Comments

On July 31st, 2013 michael estorick Said:

Although I have parred Foxy I haven’t been on in two. Once when I hit a wedge which I thought was perfect I found the ball had run through and couldn’t see how anyone could have held the green with a high shot.
I don’t think that a hole can be called great that calls for a perfect putt from off the green to get anywhere near the flag! I know the putter is as much a club as any other it just doesn’t feel right. As you say, your bump and run played perfectly, would have still left you a 30 footer!

Dear Michael,
It’s not impossible to be on the green in two, just difficult and needs two risky, great shots. Foxy does give up the odd birdie but the normal choice is the bump-and-run bogey from under the bank in two. I know of few other holes, without modern penal hazards, where most people feel totally elated with a par! Best wishes, Lorne

On July 31st, 2013 robin brown Said:

I agree with your choice! A unique hole which I have never reached in two or parred! An example of creating a great hole by not tinkering with the topography.I hope to par it next year!

On January 19th, 2014 Bill McBride Said:

I’ve played Royal Dornoch three times and agree Foxy is the best. I was happy to score two fives and a four; by my reckoning I was one under!

On October 25th, 2014 Gerald Stratford Said:

I am an overseas member and also rank Foxy as my favorite golf hole. One option is to play your second just wide of the green to the right. The rough area there holds the ball, and the green is more accessible for a chip. No birdies this way, but several pars.