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  • The Up and Downs of a Life in the Sky: Marching From Links to Links

The Up and Downs of a Life in the Sky: Marching From Links to Links

16 May, 2023
Alex Frolish

Alex Frolish has been a pilot for approaching 20 years and now travels to all corners of the globe in his role as a commercial airline pilot. His passion for flight is only equalled by his passion for golf and golf travel. Having picked up a golf club over 35 years ago when aged just 3 years old, Alex has played over 550 courses across every continent on planet earth furnished with a fairway. Over the next few months you’ll be able to follow Alex’s golfing travels as he brings you anecdotes of his life both in the air and on the course.

As I entered March, little did I know that it would end up being a month of golf played clinging to the shorelines of two continents. My flying roster featured trips to Tokyo, Mexico City and Oregon, however the first two trips were not very fruitful in terms of playing golf. Tokyo was in the midst of a brutish winter storm and Mexico City proved problematic in securing a game over the weekend of my visit. This was particularly disappointing as the flight into Mexico City is one of the most technically challenging anywhere in the world. All that effort and no golf! The city is at 7000 feet elevation above seal level and surrounded by a ring of mountains and volcanoes. That lofty altitude means the air is thinner, which consequently means the aircraft travels faster over the ground than it would at sea level. Where that thinner air can make flying aircraft more challenging, it has the adverse affect on golf. Altitude and thinner air mean longer drives and a boosting of one’s golfing ego. There’s a reason I try and make it out here at least once a year, normally when my game is in need of an injection of confidence. As a side note, the food is some of the best I have tasted anywhere on my travels.

Finally, the weather and the tee sheets turned in my favour and my trip to Oregon resulted in my second trip to possibly the greatest golfing resort in the world, Bandon Dunes. There will be many of you who have visited this wondrous place and more that have it very firmly placed on your golfing bucket list. I had visited once before, playing Bandon Trails and Pacific Dunes. This time, it was my turn to tackle two more of the iconic courses, Sheep Ranch and Bandon Dunes.

Photo credit: Patrick Koenig

The Sheep Ranch holds a special place in the hearts of those who knew it in its earliest form; a place with few rules, few players, long on vibes and crafted with enjoyment in mind. It may be more formal now with its regular tee times and standard booking format, but it is still a place with a special aura, a place to take in the view and a most importantly, a golf course that is a tonne of fun to play.

To say any course at Bandon is truly a links course is a stretch for a Brit who happens to love links golf in its rawest form. The definition of a links golf course is always a thorny subject, but I think the most important elements are that the turf is naturally firm and sand based and that the land the course is laid across is naturally undulating and directly ‘links’ the beach to the better land that could be used for farming etc further from the coast. This clifftop setting here with its partially manufactured contours does a good job of getting close, but it isn’t a pure links in my eyes. That being said, it plays very much like a links and although it is not the longest, nor the most testing at Bandon, Sheep Ranch is course to play with friends, to play for fun and to test and reward all facets of your game and most importantly, I absolutely loved it!

Then it was on to a PM tee time at Bandon Dunes. David McLay-Kidd builds golf courses that fit my eye and strike a chord with many of the qualities I identify in a good golf course. His headline grabbing layout is one of the founder courses here and it feels like that when you arrive at the clubhouse. Pacific Dunes and Bandon Dunes share much of the same stretch of clifftop dune land, and for that reason, share many similarities aesthetically when compared to the other courses at the resort. This is a quite brilliant golf course, routed across one of the richest pieces of golfing land I have seen in the USA to date. Comparing the courses at Bandon is like comparing fine wines, they are all excellent and it is only personal preference that really separates them markedly. Pacific Dunes and Bandon Dunes share similar feels and qualities and I agree with the rankings that Pacific Dunes probably just eclipses Bandon Dunes. We are splitting hairs though, and you won’t be disappointed whichever course you play here.

My end of March took me back to the U.K. for a trip to my home course, Saunton (where both courses are in fine fettle right now) and then on to play three new links courses with very different feels. Firstly, Wallasey is one of the richest golf courses I have visited in England. Not rich in a financial sense necessarily, but more so in the history of our game and in terms of the links ground which resides within the course’s boundary. The dunes here are quite something to behold and are some of the finest links dunes I have seen in England to date. In John Mcloughlin, Wallasey have one of the most forward thinking Course Managers in the British Isles. His vision and continual strive for improvements has seen the course establishing a reputational upward trajectory in recent times. The club have engaged Clayton Devries & Pont to advise on a course improvement plan. Having seen details of some of the suggested work, I genuinely think this might be one of the most exciting and potential filled renovation projects in the U.K. over the next few years.

Photo credit: Wallasey Golf Club

Finally, a Welsh double header completed my month of links golf. Conwy is another fine course in the midst of a comprehensive upgrade programme, this time under the guidance of architects Mackenzie & Ebert. The project is a little under half way completed, with a target to finish the works in another 3-4 years time. This is a golf club full of ambition with a clear road map in place to reinvigorate the golf course. All in all, I think this project is a very worthwhile investment and one that should future proof the golf course for generations to come.

Later that afternoon, we headed only a few miles across the bay to North Wales Golf Club. Initial impressions were underwhelming with the 1st hole partially out of play, but this is a golfing experience that grows on you as the round progresses. There is plenty to love about this place, whether you are an avid lover of course architecture, or somebody who likes playing golf with a wondrous view to keep you enthused. The round starts slowly and doesn’t really sparkle until the latter part of the front nine. It’s worth the wait though and over the next few holes, there is some truly magical links golf to be played. There is a valuable lesson in there for every travelling golfer. Sometimes playing the understated neighbour of a big name course can reward you with an unexpected and good value for money experience.

So on to April, which is looking as long on course miles as it is in air miles. Visits to Hong Kong, Dubai and Singapore are in the diary and there is also the small matter of a six course golfing trip to Ireland to fit into the mix! The season is really beginning to take off and over the next couple of months I’ll be playing a number of golf courses I’ve dreamt of playing for many years. In the mean time, wherever you are and whatever you have planned, I wish you the straightest of drives, well negotiated four- footers and happy rounds.


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