Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

August 16, 2017

© Anita Draycott

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Putt it here

Four European spots where you'd least expect fabulous golf and are guaranteed to find it

We golf fanatics love to add trophy courses to our brag and bucket lists. And while the Old Course, Pebble Beach and Banff Springs are obvious contenders, I’ve started a new list — hidden treasures in obscure places. Would your envious golfing buddies believe that you scored a birdie at Verbier, or swam between holes in the rugged waters of Corsica?

I’m sure there are plenty of courses in places you’d least expect to find them, but in order to qualify for my new “Golf where? You’ve gotta be kidding!” list, both the courses and the destinations have to be sufficiently enticing for both avid swingers and those who would rather shop, eat, sightsee and relax.

Outer Hebrides, Scotland

In search of candidates for my quirky new hit list, I recently braved a one-tract road about the width of a pencil covered with suicidal sheep on the Outer Hebridean island of South Uist. My destination? Askernish Golf Club (tel: 011-44-7900-387-167; askernishgolfclub.com).

Adjacent to a white shell beach on South Uist’s west coast, Askernish was originally laid out by Old Tom Morris in 1891. Old Tom was the most influential person in golf prior to the 1900s. Born in St. Andrews, he apprenticed under Allan Robertson, considered by historians to be the first golf pro. Over the decades Old Tom won four Open championships. In 1865 he returned to St. Andrews as greenskeeper and clubmaker until 1904. Morris was one of the first truly great course designers. A few of his masterpieces include Royal Dornoch, Muirfield, Carnoustie, Royal County Down and Crudent Bay — all worthy of your trophy list.

So you'll understand the thrill of playing the recently refurbished Askernish. The local community of keen golfers, with some financial and technical aid from abroad, has painstakingly brought Old Tom’s vision back to life. In fact, Gordon Stollery who owns Angus Glen Golf Club in Toronto invested some Loonies.

The club's aim is for the course to remain as authentic to its 1891 condition as possible. This includes prohibiting artificial fertilizers or herbicides, a practice that has received great plaudits from environmental bodies who have branded Askernish "the most natural golf course in the world.” And during the winter you share the course with grazing sheep and cattle belonging to the local crofters.

When renowned golf course architect, Tom Doak, was asked what he considers to be the most innovative course design that he has ever seen, he replied, “Askernish. It's innovative because all they did was mow the golf course and it's still fun to play.” The official re-opening was August 2008; green fees are £35 per day. A steal!

It was well worth the harrowing drive to play this classic. Most memorable is the 17th hole called Old Tom’s Pulpit — a 359-yard par-four with dogleg right approach shot to a green perched high on top of a looming dune. I can just imagine Old Tom chuckling to himself when he masterminded this bit of tomfoolery. Another gem is number eleven — a par-three requiring a tee shot over a deep gully to a completely blind large green. When you stand on the tee it looks like you're hitting the ball straight into the Atlantic Ocean — give it a bit of a slice and you just might!
WHEN YOU GO
The Outer Hebrides archipelago is 50 kilometres off the northwest coast of Scotland and is Britain's last remaining wilderness. Lewis and Harris make up the largest island in Scotland. Stornoway on Lewis, the largest town in the Outer Hebrides, is the liveliest place to stay. The Royal Hotel (tel: 011-44-1851-702-109; royalstornoway.co.uk) on the main street, built in 1845, affords fine views of the town’s castle ruins. You will also want to take a swing at the hotel's Stornoway Golf Club where you deposit your green fee in an honour box.

Harris, at the south end, is more mountainous with a stark barren landscape. From Stornoway, the drive to Askernish on South Uist isn't far, but the narrow roads with protruding rocks demand prudence. South Uist’s west coast is known for its brilliant white beaches and lofty dunes — ideal for links golf.

It may be remote but you’ll dine very well here. In Stornoway, I recommend the Digby Chick (tel: 011-44-1851-700-026; digbychick.co.uk), where oysters mussels, langoustines, scallops and crab, fresh from the sea are creatively prepared. Stornoway is also famous for its lamb, which takes its sublime flavour from the heather upon which it grazes.

Your best bet is to fly from Glasgow to Stornoway (Note: to cross from Harris to North Uist you must take a ferry at Leverburgh.)

Bonifacio, Corsica

A series of volcanic eruptions formed Corsica making it the most mountainous island in the Mediterranean. I’ve always been fascinated by this wild and somewhat mysterious region of France, birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte (in Ajaccio), where French flare and Italian gusto meet raw natural beauty.

When I saw photos of Sperone (tel: 011-33-4-9573-1713; www.sperone.com), the island’s only 18-hole golf course near the town of Bonifacio at the southern end of the island, I was compelled to make the journey.

Sperone, designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. and opened in 1990, is a ravishing drama queen. Turquoise waters, limestone cliffs and views of Sardinia (less than 11 kilometres away) will all vie for your attention.

The front nine plays over an undulating terrain with sneak previews of the coast, but the series of fairways from numbers 11 to 16 clinging to cliffs and running parallel to the impossibly blue sea have earned Sperone the moniker of “The Pebble Beach of Europe.”

By modern standards, Sperone is relatively short at 610 metres from the tips, but when the wind howls in from the Straits of Bonifacio you’ll need to club up. The 11th begins with a blind dogleg left. As you approach the crest, the hills of northern Sardinia spread out to frame your approach. On the par-three 12th your tee shot must carry Corsica’s wild ground cover called maquis for most of the distance. I played with a local who gathered sprigs of wild myrtle, mint, rosemary and more into a heady bouquet for our golf cart. “It's the smell of Corsica,” he said.

You can walk Sperone but be prepared for a workout. The 13th is a short par-four that continues along the coast, drivable if the wind is cooperating. Between 13 and 14, you’ll pass the walking path down to private Sperone Beach, a secluded crescent of white sand lapped by turquoise. Make sure you’ve packed a swimsuit for a return dip at the end of your round.

Just when you're thinking, “Wow, does it get any better than this?” Yes. You’re about to see why Sperone’s signature par-five 16th was named “one of the top 500 holes in the world” by the editors of Golf Magazine in 2000. Tee off in front of an abandoned lighthouse over white cliffs to a serpentine fairway that winds its way along the cliffs to another marvelous seaside green.

Alas, it’s time to head inland back to the clubhouse but not before the tight downhill par-three 17th and a long 450-metre par-four uphill finale. The modern clubhouse features a terrace offering grand views of the course and sea, plus superb food.
WHEN YOU GO
Bonifacio is situated on two levels: the port/marina which is surrounded by cafés and shops upscale enough to appeal to the mariners who moor their mega-yachts here; the old town, perched high on limestone cliffs. I stayed at the three-star Solemare (tel: 011-33-4-9573-0106; hotel-solemare.com) conveniently located within a short walking distance to the port and upper town.

Back at the marina, Kissing Pigs (tel: 011-33-4-9573-5609) is a favourite wine bar and eatery among sailors and locals alike. They serve only authentic Corsican fare, such as charcuterie made from indigenous black pigs. Chestnuts are another staple from which the chefs turn out bread, pastries and a slightly sweet liquour.

Another way to be awed by Bonifacio is via the sea itself. Take an excursion out of the marina around the spectacular cliffs, past fanciful rock formations and into deep grottos. Now you’ll be tempted to sign up for a scuba or snorkelling session.

Bonifacio is most easily reached from the Figari Airport, half an hour away. There are also ferries from Marseilles and other Mediterranean ports.

Verbier, Switzerland

“Golf on top of the world” or “extreme mountain golf” might be the slogans at Verbier, one of Switzerland's top ski resorts in the southern Valais region.

Golf began here in 1969 with a pitch-and-putt course in the heart of the resort. In 1984, the 18-hole, par-69 Les Esserts (tel: 011-41-27-771-5314; verbier.ch) was completed 1600 metres high above Verbier village.

Your ears might pop as you tackle this challenging gem that traverses winter ski runs. So steep is the terrain that the club captain introduced sheep to “mow” the grass.

Number one is a seriously uphill par-three to a waterfall to the left of a green that teeters over the village of Verbier over a thousand metres far below.

Accuracy is crucial as many tee shots are blind. Aim for the striped “barber pole” and cross your fingers. Some holes require a billiard game strategy: bank your Titleist off the side of a ski hill with the hopes that you will get a favourable bounce onto the fairway or green. The 10th green is like an island floating in the sky with the peaks of Mont Blanc and Grand Combin in the distance. Take a photo then aim for heaven.

The less extreme back nine will give you a chance to shave down your score. Verbier, is a lark, complete with grazing sheep, Heidi huts and golfers who yodel instead of yelling fore. It's the longest 4825 metres you'll ever play!
WHEN YOU GO
Verbier, situated in the heart of Val de Bagnes, is the home of Switzerland’s raclette, a dish of cheese melted and scraped onto the plate and accompanied with boiled potatoes, pickled onions, gherkins and dried meat. They’ve perfected it and fondue (with truffles) at Le Chalet d’Adrien (tel: 011-41-27-771-6200; www.chalet-adrien.com). Verbier’s nightlife scene rocks all over town. For a nightcap, head to Crock No Name.

From the rail station at Martigny, take another train to Châble where you transfer onto a bus. I stayed at the family-run, chalet-style Hôtel de la Poste (tel: 011-41-27-771-6681; hotelposteverbier.ch).

Lyon, France

Lyon enjoys an exalted reputation as the gastronomic capital of France. The regional cuisine is steeped in tradition and known for its quality ingredients such as the blue-footed chickens from Bresse, the soft Saint-Marcellin cheese and robust Côtes-du-Rhône reds. The capital of the Rhône-Alpes region has also produced some of France’s finest chefs — Georges Blanc, Michel Troisgros. And what foodie worth his or her salt has not fantasized about savouring a dinner prepared by the pope of French cuisine, Paul Bocuse?

But golf? There are about a half dozen very decent courses in the Lyon area. Think of playing here as a way of justifying that yummy foie gras and tarte tatin on the 19th.

My favourite is Golf de la Bresse (tel: 011-33-4-7451-4209; golfdelabresse.fr), 45 minutes from Lyon in the enchanting countryside of Bresse et Dombes, where those pedigreed blue-footed poulets have their own AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée). Bronze sculptures of the famous fowl greet golfers at the entrance to the club and on various holes.

The front nine of the 6009-metre, par-72 tract, designed by Jeremy Pern, is a lovely French country romp. Bresse’s “Amen Corner” starts on number 11, a tricky par-four with an island green. Number 12, the signature hole, boasts more water than fairway and demands accuracy (or perhaps a few extra balls).

The par-five 18th lined by stately chestnut trees leads you back to the rustic clubhouse, its terrace perfumed by lavender and roses. Specialties of the house include poulet de Bresse in a cream sauce, garlicky frog’s legs and foie gras.

Should you decide to walk off a few more Lyonnaise calories before flying home, the Golf Club de Lyon (tel: 011-33-4-7831-1133; www.golfclubdelyon.com), just minutes from the airport, beckons with two championship courses: Les Brocards and Les Sangliers.

When I visited, there was an olive oil tasting in the clubhouse. And this brings me to mention the vast difference between dining at a golf club in France versus North America. In North America, you’ll probably get a microwaved hotdog at the halfway house. In France, golfers take the time to enjoy a proper gourmet meal served on fine china with crisp linen tablecloths — and not a Styrofoam take-out container in sight!
WHEN YOU GO
Downtown Lyon, a UNESCO World Heritage site, sits prettily at the junction of the turbulent Rhône and tranquil Saône Rivers. The old quarter is a vibrant maze of tiny passageways and medieval and Renaissance architecture, dating from the time when the city was Europe’s silk manufacturing capital. Now it’s crammed with bars, boutiques and bouchons (traditional bistros).

I stayed at the three-star Collège Hôtel (tel: 011-33-4-7210-0505; college-hotel.com)* in the heart of Old Lyon. The designer got a bit carried away with the college dorm theme (lockers for cupboards, antique desks in the breakfast room) but you can’t beat the central location, plus there’s a huge garden terrace.

If dinner at Paul Bocuse’s famed Michelin-starred restaurant is a bit too rich for your pocketbook, try one of the five more casual Brasseries Paul Bocuse (nordsudbrasseries.com).

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

Comments

Showing 1 comments

  1. On December 13, 2011, David Currie said:
    Enjoyed your article Anita. However, I must add a sad note to the Askernish story in that Gordon Stollery passed away a few days ago. Details are still sketchy but it seems related to a water accident in the British Virgin Islands. Gordon and I comprise the Canadian Overseas section of the Askernish membership and his enthusiasm for this hidden gem will be greatly missed. I would also like to suggest that anyone wishing to play the course will miss out on a wonderful experience by not taking the Glasgow to Benbecula flight (1 hour) and staying at one of the four small and cosy country inns on South Uist. They are all perfectly charming with welcoming hosts and plenty of good food and drink. Most are within 10 minutes of the golf club, thereby eliminating the torturous drive from Stornoway.

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