And I’ll climb the hill in my own way
Just wait a while for the right day
– Pink Floyd, Fearless
There are many factors that contribute to the greatness of a golf bench. Some are quantifiable, such as design. Some are more subjective, such as location, views, and personal experience. A bench can be great with just one of these things, but often it has a combination of them. A design can be fantastical, like the benches at Comrie in Perthshire. A design can be elegant and simple, like the benches at Brora in northeast Scotland. The majority of my golf over the years has been played in Scotland, which has contributed to my love of a good bench.
History and memory can also play a role. The green “Cruden Bay” sign on the bench behind the 8th tee of that wonderful links, with its’ simple Art Deco font, automatically recalls the glorious days of the old Cruden Bay Hotel – when golf across Scotland was promoted as an adventure to be enjoyed via railway. It doesn’t hurt that the view is also looking straight down one of the great short par fours in golf.
A memorial bench located in someone’s favorite spot on a course is a lovely way to honor their life. I always take time to read the inscription and spare a thought for the person being honored. One of the nicest of these I’ve ever seen is at Isle of Harris Golf Club – a combination of peaceful solitude, elegant grey granite and an otherworldly view of Scarista Beach.
Thankfully, golf remains a walking game in the UK. In the case of a difficult climb, such as to the stunning 9th tee at Cruden Bay, benches provide a valuable service: physical recovery. Most of the great old courses, like Machrihanish, are designed with the next tee only a few steps from the green. The holes were laid out with walking in mind. Benches provide a place to rest, especially as we get older, and walking becomes a bit more tiring. It can be quite jarring, like at Machrihanish Dunes, when the layout dictates a half-mile walk between a green and the next teeing ground. It is a beautiful course, but one that could perhaps use a few more benches for resting purposes.
In my experience, there are several courses in Scotland that have a great collection of benches. Brora, Dunaverty, Shiskine come quickly to mind. Fortrose & Rosemarkie, about 30 minutes from Inverness, may take the crown in this overall collection category. It is a wonderland of golf benches, especially if you are fortunate to be there when the gorse is blooming and a rainbow spans over the Moray Firth. The dolphins may even be leaping and playing out on Chanory Point.
At Sweetens Cove, in South Pittsburg, Tennessee, there are some very nice benches. There have been times when I have visited that beautiful valley and walked out to the third tee with a book in hand – never hitting a single golf shot. This will seem ridiculous to some golfers, but a bench in a secluded spot on a golf course is the perfect place for quiet reflection. For a few minutes at least, you can escape the unhinged political discourse which has overtaken the United States. There is a bench on the 1st tee at Sweetens Cove that is dedicated to my late son Jordan. Whenever I visit, I always make sure to throw away any trash that might have been inadvertently left around it. I think about Jordan launching a 320-yard drive from that great elevated tee. It means a lot to my family that it is there.
Like with many things in life, the love for a certain bench can be totally subjective. At Boat of Garten, there is a wonderful bench situated with a panoramic view of the Cairngorms beyond and glen below. On a lovely May morning earlier this year, I noticed a narrow footpath near the 14th tee and decided to walk down it. The path led to a bench. A few clouds floated over the grazing sheep below – who called out loudly to each other in a nonstop chorus, in a language known only to them. There were no golfers behind me, so I sat and listened to the wooly choir for ten minutes.
I think about that bench a lot. There is nothing extraordinary about its’ design, but I think about the person who cared enough to put a bench in such an out of the way spot. It makes me happy that something like that exists in such a transitory world.
In my new book, When Revelation Comes, the bench on Mt Zion at Dunaverty plays a pivotal role. It is a place I have rested and reflected many times over the years. It is a view I never tire of seeing.