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  • Alistair Tait

An Honesty Box? Only in Scotland

Two things happened while I was on holiday last week that reminded me, yet again, why golf is the greatest of all sports. One took place on the PGA Tour, the other took place in a quiet corner of the highlands of Scotland.

Few who plays this game were surprised Scottie Scheffler assessed himself a two-shot penalty for taking too long searching for his ball during the Northern Trust Open. The American lost a ball on the 15th hole of the opening round and a search ensued. The ball was eventually found, but Scheffler wasn’t sure how long the search had taken. To eradicate any sense of doubt, Scheffler opted for too long and took the two penalty shots, an expensive deduction considering it is the FedEx Cup playoffs and players are trying to make it to the Tour Championship.

“We couldn't figure it out,” Scheffler said. “They didn't have ShotLink data or anything, so just went with it was over 3 minutes. Just too long.”

Well done Scottie Scheffler. He could have argued the ball had been found within the three minutes, but his conscience obviously got the better of him and he took the two strokes when some, thankfully a small minority, would have argued the other way.

Scheffler’s not the first player to call a penalty on himself. He certainly won’t be the last. If there’s one truism about this great game, it’s that 99.9% of those who play are as honest as Scottish summer days are long.

And so to the Scottish Highlands, where legions of golfers over the years have done the right thing by voluntarily paying their green fees even though they could happily have played free and probably got away with it.

I’m talking about the “Honesty Box.” Surely this means of paying green fees is unique to the Home of Golf?

After a leisurely lunch in the Mustard Seed restaurant beside the River Ness in Inverness – highly recommended, by the way – we decided on an evening’s 9-hole golf at Strathpeffer Golf Club, not far from the holiday home we had rented for the week. It would be the ideal way to bring the day to an end. A phone call to the club ensued only to be told the clubhouse closed at 6pm, but no problem if we wanted to play after that time thanks to the Honesty Box system. So we turned up at 6:30pm, put our money in the envelope provided and slipped it through the letter box.

No one would have challenged the four of us during our 9-holes if we hadn’t paid our money. We only saw a father and his son when we were there. Yet, as with Scheffler and the majority of those who play this great game, we didn't take advantage of the club’s largesse.

I first encountered the honesty box system many years ago when I played Comrie Golf Club for the first time. I next experienced it a Machrie Bay Golf Club on Arran. To think the system still exists to this day is perhaps not surprising considering how hard it is to get staff at many golf clubs in the Highland and Islands right now.

We only played nine holes at Strathpeffer. It was perhaps fitting that we played it on this trip, considering it was a golf and Munro bagging trip – by the time you get to Strathpeffer's 7th green, you feel as if you’re halfway up a Munro!

This wee course set into the hillside above the Cromarty Firth is mountain goat country. Pretty sure those who play this on a regular basis are fitter than those who play nearby Fortrose and Rosemarkie, a lovely wee links played over undulating links terrain that you could probably play three/four times in one day. As for Strathpeffer, this course may be short but it is an exhausting walk. Even for Munro baggers.

But Strathpeffer is well worth it. Yet more proof that you don’t need courses over 7,000 yards for the game to be enjoyable. This Highland highlight has seven par 3s and only measures 5,001 yards off the back markers to a par of 67. Par 65 and 4,617 if you play it off the yellows.

Scotland is replete with wee courses like Strathpeffer, Comrie, Machrie Bay, layouts off the beaten track every much as enjoyable as the Open venues. So, go ahead, pop your money in the honesty box, prepare for a good bit of exercise and play something just a wee bit different like Strathpeffer.

An Honesty Box? Only in Scotland.

#JustSaying: “You might as well praise a man for not robbing a bank as to praise him for playing by the rules.” Bobby Jones

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