To the Open on the Open Road
By Judie Schaal
The trip wasn’t supposed to be challenging. It was. It wasn’t supposed to be educational. We learned a lot. It wasn’t supposed to be friendship bonding. I’m so glad it was.
In 1992, I was part of three couples who planned to go to the British Open at Muirfield. Our husbands decided it would be amazing to go over a week early and play golf in the highlands of Scotland. That sounded great to me, except I was the only wife who played golf. But my excitement paled when I viewed the number of challenging courses on the men’s list. They included Dornoch, Nairn, Aberdeen, Carnoustie, St. Andrews, Lady Bank, North Berwick, Dunbar, Gullane and Dalmahoy. And I could just imagine the aching joints and burning muscles that would accompany that much golf. Plus, I realized I would never have been able to match their reported 300 yard drives through swirling incoming winds of 50 mph or their magnificent chips onto greens rolling 100 feet into barely seen cups. But, I am sure, if I had been there, I could have softened the embellishments that we heard repeatedly each night at the dinner table – when it comes to stories, golfers can out do fishermen to a tee.
So what would we wives do while our mates were triumphing over all these famous links? “How ’bout touring some castles?” ventured one wife. Sounded like a good idea to me. The men could play golf, the women could tour castles, and then we all could meet in the evening at the next scheduled Bed and Breakfast. That decided, each morning the three men would strike out in one of our cars for the designated course of the day. Hmm. That left the wives in the other car with all the luggage. My back still aches when I think of all the steep stairs and long winding hallways we traversed out one B&B in the morning and into another at night. Scottish inns do not have luggage trolleys or doormen to aide frail, helpless golf widows. One night, as we dragged in all those heavy trunks, we began to giggle at the absurdity of our plight. The halls were dimly lit, and we could barely see each other. Exhausted, we slumped down to the carpet, tired but radiant with our assumed accomplishment – until we realized we were not near our rooms. We were on the wrong floor.
The first morning I was designated as the driver while another wife sat to my right as the map reading copilot. The third wife became the back seat driver (in the future to be known as BSD) and she took her job seriously. But I soon wondered if I had been crazy to accept the position as driver. I realized I would be motoring down “wrong way” roads in a stick shift car. Consequently, we proceeded out of Dornoch at a fully determined snail’s pace. But as I gained confidence and speed, I began to feel elated that I was not even coming close to the cars heading toward me from the opposite direction. That’s when our BSD screamed, “Watch out you’re about to hit a pedestrian on the right!” So much for confidence!
But we all relaxed as we found the open road and were greeted by the splashing surf along the banks of the North Sea. The soft breeze and the bright sun lifted our spirits and gave us a feeling of emancipation. Here we were, three women in a foreign country, making our own decisions along paths of varying detours. We rolled down the windows and let the wind blow through the car, tossing our hair in a million different directions.
We loved our decision to tour castles. Each one was different. Each one had an interesting history. Cawdor Castle in Nairn had a secret dungeon that was only discovered in 1979. At Crathers Castle we learned that the inhabitants used a potty for their bathroom duties, and then disposed of the remains through a hole in the wall of an alcove. Their lucky servants got to clean it up outside. We toured the Falkland Palace which was the hunting lodge of the Scottish royalty. It remained so until so many trees were cut down that the animals disappeared. One of the very first tennis courts in the world was built there in the 1500s. Mary Queen of Scots wore kickers when she played and “had tongues wagging.”
Every day was filled with unbelievable experiences. Some of which made our BSD’s duties very demanding. One of the scariest was when I made a wrong turn in a crowded town and headed down a one way street – the wrong way. “Oh, my God,” she cried, “We’re going to be killed!” Then she saw a Scottish bobby coming toward us and screamed, “No, we’re not going to be killed, we’re going to jail!” Thankfully the bobby was nice, showed us where to turn around and then gave us directions to our next destination. I don’t know whether it was his accent or her hearing, but my copilot quickly directed me to pull over while she further examined the map. It was then that the bobby appeared once more. This time he was not so friendly and impatiently quipped, “Follow me.” He then quickly ushered us straight out of town. I’m sure he shook his head the rest of the day wondering why helpless American ladies were let out on their own.
The following day we had driving problems as well. We had successfully toured three castles and it was getting late. We checked to see where our lodging would be for that night and realized we had strayed far from our planned route. Our map reader couldn’t figure out where we were, so BSD tried. She had no luck, so I looked. Bottom line – we were lost! It sure would have been nice to have had a cell phone, but this was 1992! After driving around aimlessly for awhile, we found a little pub that had a public phone. Between the inn keeper and the pub owner (sometimes at odds) we finally received good directions and proceeded to our B&B. When we arrived it was after eight pm. No husbands! We weren’t too worried because this was one of their 36-holes-of-golf days (and probably a good many lagers downed afterwards) so we had dinner and waited. At 1:30 am, we heard them knocking on the front door. We learned later that they, too, had been lost. The knocking continued until we realized the proprietor must have gone to bed. No problem. We slipped on our robes and went to meet our glorious golf warriors. What a day!
Somehow we all made it safely to Muirfield, except for a few back aches among the men and leg cramps among the women – there are no elevators in Scottish castles! We settled into our lodgings, unpacked and then took a shuttle out to the golf course. It was an unusually warm day and the walkways along the fairways were packed with spectators hoping to get a glimpse of their favorite professional golfers. Little did we know that this major golf tournament would be won by an up and coming exciting pro by the name of John Daly. But – that is another story.
About this writer
- Judie Schaal lives in Murrells Inlet with Gary, her husband of 50 years. She has written for On The Green magazine, the Sun News as a tennis columnist and is currently copy editor and photographer of a local color 28 page newsletter.