How golf and cruise are the perfect pairing

How golf and cruise are the perfect pairing

Peter Ellegard joins One Ocean Expeditions on board RCGS Resolute for a golfing cruise around Scotland and Ireland that takes in so much more than just the links

There’s nothing like going to bed on a cruise ship and waking up in a new destination, ready for your next adventure.

Having set sail from Dublin under unseasonal slate-grey June skies on One Ocean Expeditions’ RCGS Resolute, the next day dawns to find us moored off Campbeltown, near the tip of Scotland’s Mull of Kintyre. 

Pulling on the water and windproof bib-trousers and bright red jacket and the insulated green wellies provided in my cabin, I grab a lifejacket from the mud room and, with my shoes, camera bag, water bottle and other necessities for the day packed in a large yellow waterproof backpack, I clamber down the gangplank to the waiting Zodiac for the short ride to the harbour – thankfully on calm seas.

However, the majority of us are not about to explore the delights of the Kintyre peninsula, made famous by Paul McCartney and Wings in the 1977 hit song. We are here to play golf, the near 80 golfers split into
two groups to play the two renowned golf courses on the western side of the peninsula. Having previously played the Machrihanish Golf Club seaside links designed by legendary Old Tom Morris and opened in 1879, I choose its neighbour, Machrihanish Dunes, a traditional style links 130 years its junior that uses a herd of wandering black sheep to keep its fescue grass under control. 

Back in Campbeltown, there’s an optional visit to one of three distilleries that remain of the 30 that once gave it the title of “whisky capital of the world”. Instead, I join some fellow golfing passengers for a well-earned pint and haggis nachos at the waterfront Black Sheep pub.

The seven-night Scotland & Ireland Golf Expedition – which is being extended to eight nights from 2020 – is the second dedicated golf cruise operated by the Canada-based cruise company, better known for its polar expedition cruises, augmenting the company’s East Coast Canada Golf Expedition first run in 2018. That was aboard the 96-passenger Akademik Ioffe, one of two chartered Russian icebreakers and ex-research vessels no longer in the fleet.

Also an icebreaker, the 26-year-old Resolute joined One Ocean Expeditions last November and is a very different proposition. A five-star cruise ship previously operated by Hapag-Lloyd Cruises as the MS Hanseatic, it carries 146 passengers in far more luxury and style, with a high staff-to-passenger ratio. 

Six different cabin categories range up to spacious suites, all featuring outside views and all renovated last year. It also offers aft and forward observation lounges and bars, a “business casual” a la carte dining room and bistro dining room both with open seating, a theatre-style presentation room, gym, wellness centre with massage therapists, sauna and steam room, a Jacuzzi, salt-water plunge pool and a large relaxation deck. 

While both golf cruises – the East Coast Canada one won’t run next year, but returns in 2021 – are aimed at golfers and the itineraries are planned around playing golf at top courses along the voyage, they also cater to non-golfers and golfers who want to do other activities as well.

Passengers are provided with a trekking pole and binoculars in their cabins, while the ship carries sea kayaks and paddleboards, with expedition leaders taking tours on those and on mountain bikes, as well as hiking excursions. The 14 Zodiacs are also used for sightseeing trips besides ferrying passengers ashore.

Unlike the Canada golf cruise, which involves some beach landings and jumping off into the sea, all the Scotland and Ireland landings are at ports and harbours. At Inverness, that involves a 10km Zodiac ride from where the Resolute anchors opposite Castle Stuart Golf Links – one of two options, my choice being the celebrated Royal Dornoch Golf Club an hour away by coach. It makes for a wet journey back to the ship for some when the wind whips up waves, but I stay dry at the bow.

From Campbeltown, we cruise back to Ireland and moor off Greencastle on Lough Foyle to play golf at Ballyliffin Golf Club. From there we visit South Uist in the Outer Hebrides to play on the historic Askernish links course created by Old Tom Morris in 1891 and long lost until it was restored in 2008. Non-golfers on a nature trek see a pair of sea otters on the beach.

At our next stop Stromness, on Orkney, I decide against golf or a day-long coach tour to work until lunchtime and then get a local taxi to take me to see some of the area’s historic sights, among them the 5,000-year-old Skara Brae settlement and two ancient stone circles – the Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stennes.

Docking in Aberdeen, there is golf at either of two more celebrated courses, while non-golfers visit a distillery. The cruise ends the next morning, docked at Edinburgh’s Leith Port adjacent to the former Royal Yacht Britannia.

Throughout the cruise, I don’t see my golf clubs until I arrive at my chosen course. They are whisked landward on Zodiacs from storage early each morning and returned once we are back onboard.

Musicians serenade us ashore at several ports of call and entertain us at night while under way. Evening recaps and briefings for the following day’s activities are a chance to mix and swap stories with the other passengers, who hail from countries including Canada, Australia and the UK. 

For me, both the cruise and ship are well above par. 

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