- Neil White
Skibo Castle - The Carnegie Club
“This is just like millionaire’s golf,” we often say at Chilwell Manor, my home course, when we are the only ones playing.
Today we actually meant it.
At Skibo Castle’s exclusive Carnegie Club, 60 per cent of the members are Americans and, therefore, have not been around for the past 18 months because of the pandemic.
Even when they are, they can expect the championship track largely to themselves because members of the public are only allocated one tee time a day.
For a premium price, they can experience what it is like to be one of the fortunate few.
This was concierge-style hospitality from the moment we drove through the understated brown gates which guard the property on which Madonna celebrated her nuptials to Guy Ritchie in 2000.
We may have only been guests but were treated as if we were superstars by a chap called Callum from the Carnegie Club’s professional staff.
He appeared as if by magic as we approached the entrance and guided us to the changing rooms where we had our individual named lockers with a substantial goodie bag.
After a relaxed cup of coffee, we practised alone on the impressive driving range and putting green before teeing off on the side of the beautiful Dornoch Firth.
Even on a dull day, the views at Skibo were superb. In the sunshine they would have been staggering.
And you really can hear the birds sing! We were literally the only people playing golf and we felt at one with nature.
This is a cleverly conceived course – a cracking layout with some memorable holes using natural terrain, dotted with 130 varieties of lichen, as well as long grass and dunes.
It was just as well that both Mrs W and I were driving well because misplaced shots off the tee would have either found the rough or the myriad deep bunkers which pepper the course.
My favourite holes were at the waterside – both on the outward and backward nines.
The 6th is a fiendish par three, hidden by a dune to the left with a steep bank to its right. I sent in what I thought was a perfect eight-iron but it ran through.
The 7th is an outstanding curving short par four to a high green framed by a glorious backdrop of hills and water. It demands adept course management.
The back nine brings water into play if tee shots leak to the right or greens are overshot and then there are risk-and-reward holes such as the 17th – a short par four over cavernous bunkers.
Skibo Castle’s course is good enough to be rated in Great Britain and Ireland’s top 100 – although there is much work going on to improve the greens which were frankly scratchy despite true lines.
However, let us be honest, the abiding memory will be the service.
For example, there is an upmarket halfway house which can be accessed after the fifth or 12th holes, offering drinks and snacks and the cleanest toilets I am ever likely to see on a golf course.
If this wasn’t enough, our host drove out to feed us bacon rolls, coffee and even offered us whisky after only seven holes.
We declined a wee dram then but accepted it from the young lady, in traditional Scottish garb, who greeted us with a warmer as we walked off the 18th green.
In the clubhouse, the standards of service were gobsmackingly good as we noshed through our mains and desserts.
And, with that it was all over. As the half British, half-American flag fluttered behind us, Callum gave us a hearty goodbye and said he hoped to see us back one day.
Only if have won the Lottery, will that be the case, I suspect. But was it worth pushing the boat out for one day? You bet.