Scotland is a country that has shaped my golf career, it is a place where I have achieved many firsts. I’d love to talk you through why I love to visit and my highlights.
My first visit to Scotland
I was selected for an English Schools match against Scotland at 15 years old. I was expecting a tough rivalry but after two days playing Crail Golfing Society (one of the oldest courses in the history of the game, founded in 1786) I came away with a love of links golf and a friend for life. Clare Queen was the player wearing the blue and white of Scotland, the competition was fierce but it couldn’t stop the blossoming friendship. Our golf careers as an amateur and professional ran alongside each other from that day and even though we are both retired we remain good friends.
What I also remembered about that trip was location. I thought there was only one top course in the St Andrews area but this naive youngster was soon to learn that it was a golfing Mecca. I’d soon be lucky enough to tee it up around many courses along the east of Scotland. With a new venue of Dumbarnie Links added to my must play list.
Dumbarnie Links, St Andrews
It’s not all about links golf
Old Tom Morris described Blairgowrie as “the most beautiful inland green I have ever seen”. I made my first British Girls appearance at the Rosemount course, a beautiful heathland course in Perthshire. I shot 17 pars and 1 birdie to reduce my handicap to scratch.
A massive moment in my young career, this is where my love of Alister MacKenzie courses began. With some of his courses worldwide featuring in my favourites, I believe this event in 2000 led to my discovery of MacKenzie designs.
My first Women’s British Open & it’s the Home of Golf
The Old Course at St Andrews had never hosted a female professional event and as a newly turned tour professional in 2007 I was so used to playing the Old Course as an amateur that I never realised the magnitude until recently.
I had a high enough ranking to make my way through to final qualifying of the WBO in 2007. Eighteen holes at the New Course stood between me and the WBO. Imagine playing the course next to where the likes of Annika Sorenstam and Laura Davies are playing their practice rounds. I wanted it so much and lucky for me I had a local caddy to guide me round. I would always recommend taking a local caddy as not only do they have the course knowledge but their stories of the wonderful town of St Andrews are brilliant. I managed a solid 4 down the last to book my place in the first ever WBO at St Andrews Old Course.
My thoughts on St Andrews – there are so many great courses in the area (my favourites are Kingsbarns and the New Course) but the town itself is the star. As a teenager golf wasn’t cool and I didn’t fit in. But in this town I saw kids jumping on the bus with their golf bags, people walking the streets in golf shoes. You eat, sleep and breathe golf up in St Andrew’s and I felt at home.
Also be aware that you can golf until 10pm at night, I experienced this in my second round of the WBO. The joys of slow play in professional golf. The extra daylight means you can tee off around tea time and still get a round in before dark. Making it easier to plan your trip.
My best result on tour
I feel very comfortable playing the ball along the ground due to growing up on the east coast of England. I felt the Scottish Open was going to be one of my best chances to clinch a title. In 2010 the Ladies Scottish Open was played at Archerfield Links, the East Lothian landscape boasts a stretch of land which reminds me of Southport. Unfortunately, I bogeyed that final hole to miss out on a play off but it is all part of the unique challenge and experience of playing golf in Scotland.
East Lothian has the courses, the pubs and a choice of b&b’s or self-catering accommodation. It was a place my mum always wanted to come and watch me. She hates golf and could pick any destination on the Ladies Tour from Spain to Italy. But Scotland was always the first date she asked about when the schedule was released. The coastal stretch plus the short trip into Edinburgh meant she never watched more than 9 holes a day. She wanted to visit the Fringe festival and explore the local towns. Take it from Mrs Walker, it’s not just golf to why you want to Visit Scotland.
My tips on visiting East Lothian – check out the races at Musselburgh and make sure you visit Duck’s Inn to compete in their famous barstool putting challenge.
My first meeting with Rory
I received an email from Your Golf Travel offering me a trip to Scotland. It went something like “Hi there, I see the Women’s British Open is at Turnberry this year, fancy going for a two day filming trip?. I think it will be good preparation for this year’s event?”
Turnberry was one of the only Open venues I hadn’t played, I thought great, sign me up.
And this is where I first met Rory, Mark Crossfield and Coach Lockey. A group of guys that were taking YouTube by storm and I was going to make up their 4 ball.
We played The Alisa and Robert The Bruce course and never stepped foot on the driving range or practice putting green (this was a proper golf trip). The resort is premium with a fantastic spa and gym (I was the only one to visit this) in the grandest of hotels. The hotel stands 200 yards from the clubhouse so you really can eat your breakfast at 9am and tee off at 9:30. You know the food is good if Rory makes it down for breakfast.
This was the trip where I said on camera “is he even a pro” which has stuck. Sorry Coach.
The course has been altered to encompass the Turnberry Lighthouse which is now a halfway house and Luxury 2 bedroom suite. Thanks to the redesign in 2016 the lighthouse sits perfectly next to the 9th green and you can take the ideal photo for Instagram on the tee.
So if you are wondering how tour pro’s usually prepare for majors it isn’t in this way. Not surprisingly I missed the cut in the Open but I wouldn’t change that trip for anything. I visited one of the best golf resorts in Scotland and met some new friends along the way.
My first girls golf trip
As a tour professional I never booked golf holidays, my whole life seemed to be one of those. But after I retired in 2018 things changed. Myself, Naga Munchetty, Georgie Bingham and Sarah Stirk wanted a golf trip but wanted a competition element also. Naga’s favourite golf course is Castle Stuart, it is her haven. We found the Highlands Pro-Am which involved Castle Stuart, Nairn and Royal Dornoch. I landed at Inverness airport at 15:00 and was on the course by 15:25 playing my practice round with my friends.
We were very spoiled with these venues but the nice touches were what made the week so special. It was Georgie’s birthday and on the first tee at Royal Dornoch a piper played happy birthday to her. We tried whisky, local haggis and the drives between courses were full of carpool karaoke. Just four girlfriends enjoying a week away and playing golf on some of the best courses in the world. And for the record once you walk to the first tee at Castle Stuart you will understand why it is Naga’s favourite course.
My first on course commentary
East Lothian is a beautiful coastline and even though you are only a few miles from Edinburgh it’s really secluded. It can be great putting the phone away for a few hours for a digital detox but when your radio drops out live on Sky TV it is far from ideal. This is what happened to me on the first tee at the Women’s Scottish Open held at The Renaissance.
Now that’s a bit better. @LadiesScottish pic.twitter.com/1UdQDgT54x
— Sophie Walker (@SophWalks) August 13, 2020
I was doing my opening piece to camera and I had no audio in my ear. I just spoke when the camera man signalled and when he held his hand up to stop. A baptism of fire. That week was my first time in the covid bubble with the LPGA and LET, we stayed in the centre of Edinburgh and I wasn’t allowed to visit anything. It was 30 minutes from golf course to capital city and I can only imagine how much fun you can have in the city.
At the start of writing I stated that Scotland shaped my golf career but looking back it has done so much more. The memories I will cherish forever. Scotland is the most perfect place on earth, especially when the sun is shining.