PAUL CARRIGILL’S quest to play all the Royal courses in the British Isles remains unfulfilled, but he managed to add a couple of Antipodean classics to his tally during a recent trip to Australia.
The idea was hatched back in 2012 when he was working as a referee at the Italian Open and picked up a magazine that had a feature about the Royal courses in the British Isles. Since then he has played 34 of the 35 to have been granted Royal designation, but the Royal Household course at Windsor Castle still eludes him.
The former Yorkshire amateur champion got very close last November. “I knew it would be the toughest to arrange, but through a few contacts I managed to get hold of the chap who arranges everything at Windsor Castle and, in a rather hurried phone call, we arranged a date of November 11 as it was one of only two days we could both make.
“I had literally just put the phone down when he rang back and very apologetically cancelled as he had forgotten it was Armistice Day and would be rather busy.”
Royal Melbourne had long been on Carrigill’s bucket list not least for the fact that it was designed by fellow Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Wakefield, pupil Dr Alister MacKenzie. During his time as a pupil at the school in the 70’s Paul and his brother Bill introduced the MacKenzie Cup, a trophy to be played for by the junior school and held for the first three years at Low Laithes, which MacKenzie designed in 1925. And he was impressed by the work of the Normanton-born doctor.
“Visually it is very impressive especially the shots to the green,” said Carrigill. “The bunkering is spectacular and severe, and it was a real treat to play.
“Through his role as a tournament administrator/referee with the European Tour he received the Aussie version of royal treatment during his time in Melbourne.
“Andrew Langford Jones runs the Australian PGA and his brother Bruce took me round all the courses in Victoria and looked after me unbelievably well,” Carrigill explained.
“He must be the most well-known man in Melbourne because wherever we went everybody knew him. It really was a case of ‘G’day, Bruce’.
“They even knew him in the greenkeepers’ shed when we had to take shelter there during a heavy rain shower. That was some place in its own right. I have never seen so much machinery and each with its own parking spot, so nothing has ever to be moved to get a machine out and onto the course. It was like an aircraft hangar.”
He stayed at Victoria Golf Club where he describes the statue of five-time Open Championship winner Peter Thomson, who was born in the northern Melbourne suburb of Brunswick, as the “best I have ever seen. Incredibly lifelike”. The manicured courses in Melbourne’s sandbelt, like Victoria, Kingston Heath and Metropolitan, are a far cry from some of the ‘royal’ courses Carrigilll has encountered like Royal Tarlair in Aberdeenshire.
“It is literally a field with fairways, semi-rough, greens and a few bunkers,” he recalled. “It must be the least royal ‘royal’ course you could ever play, but the greens are like Augusta and there’s one stunning par-3 down to the sea which is breathtaking.
“I even had to go in search of the greenkeeper on his tractor to pay the green fees. But it is a must play and I would recommend it to anybody”.
Carrigill’s Australian sporting adventure started when he got off the plane from the Hong Kong Open, where he had been working, and made straight for the last day’s play at The Gabba only to see England skittled out in an hour and a quarter. Luckily, he managed to fill his day by fixing up a game at Royal Queensland in the afternoon in the company of the club’s vice-President Andrew Greville, followed by dinner with former European Tour player Mike Clayton who redesigned the course when the government decided to build a second bridge over the Brisbane River thus affecting the original layout.
“Playing Royal Melbourne and attending an Ashes game in Australia have been on my list for a while,” he said. “My late father George also loved cricket and talked about going to an Ashes series many times, but never made it over there and I’m glad I had the opportunity to do both and to add Royal Queensland to my list. I had a wonderful time. It’s a fantastic country. It would be even better if it was in Yorkshire.”
When he arrived at his hotel that night he was greeted by a union jack proudly displayed by the Elland & Brighouse section of the Huddersfield Town Supporters’ Club, who were in Brisbane to watch the cricket. He then headed to Sydney for a sightseeing trip and a game of golf at another MacKenzie classic, the NSW Golf Club in Botany Bay, which he fixed up through a contact of his sports master at his alma mater.
PAUL IN A BUNKER AT ROYAL MELBOURNE
Then it was back to Brisbane for the next episode of his sporting jamboree with a day at Doonben racecourse followed by the Rugby League World Cup Final where he sported a Dewsbury Rams scarf in honour of his fellow Dewsbury-born England forwards Sam and Tom Burgess. But for all of his majestic travels, Carrigill feels that the best golf has to offer lies right here on our doorstep.
“If I was told I could only have one more day of golf in my life then I would spend it at Ganton,” he revealed. “For me it has the best of everything in the course, the clubhouse, and even the pub at the end of the road. Magical."
And he hasn’t given up hope of fulfilling the challenge he set himself some six years ago. It will be a tough nut to crack as the Royal Household is arguably the most exclusive golf club in the world, where members don’t pay initiation fees or dues. The most privileged members are born into the club.
It does not appear in any guide books or telephone directories. Nor are the members allowed to talk about the club to outsiders. When they sign their scorecards at the end of a round it is tantamount to signing the Official Secrets Act. The course at Windsor, officially called Windsor Home Park, was laid on the instructions of King Edward VII in 1901 by Muir Ferguson.
The nine-hole layout has 18 tees and the fairways are much narrower after several acres were fenced off for grazing by the Queen’s much-loved horses. One tee shot can be particularly intimidating, as the drive must carry the Royal family’s pet cemetery in which are buried all kinds of animals, from horses used by the Queen in ceremonial occasions to her beloved Corgi dogs.
CARRIGILL’S TOP FIVE ROYAL COURSES
1 Royal St George’s
2 Royal Aberdeen
3 Royal Birkdale
4 Royal County Down
5 Royal Portrush
CARRIGILL’S MUST-PLAY ROYAL COURSES
1 Royal Wimbledon
2 Royal Montrose
3 Royal Burgess
4 Royal Tarlair
5 Royal Ashdown Forest
BEST FIVE ROYAL COURSES CLOSE TOGETHER
Duff House Royal
BEST FIVE NON-LINKS ROYAL COURSES
1 Royal Burgess
2 Royal Wimbledon
3 Royal Ashdown Forest
4 Royal Winchester
5 Royal Worlington and Newmarket
Best 1st hole: Royal Birkdale
Best 18th hole: Royal Troon
Best hole: Royal St George’s 15th
Best short par-3: Troon 8th
Best long par-3: Royal Ashdown Forest 11th