Michael Alexander speaks to Fife golfer Susie Robertson who, after 15 years, has played all 556 registered golf courses in Scotland. Here, she shares some of the adventures she experienced along the way.
Fife-based golfer Susie Robertson will never forget the day she decided she wanted to become the first woman to play all of Scotland’s 556 official courses.
The Elie and Earlsferry Ladies Golf Club member was standing in pea soup fog at the 3,199 feet summit of Stuc a’Chroin near Loch Earn in August 2005 when she realised she was more suited to a much more down-to-earth challenge.
She set herself the target of playing every course listed in Visit Scotland’s Golf in Scotland guide and, after a Covid-19 related delay to her progress, recently finished playing her final round at Gleddoch in Renfrewshire.
“My husband Brian came out of the army in 2004 and he had to have a challenge in life – he decided he would climb all the Munros,” recalls Susie, an 18-handicapper.
“I at the time said I would do them with him.
“But I was on the top of Stuc a’ Chroin in pea soup fog one day and I was absolutely terrified and I said ‘this is not for me I’m going off to play all the golf courses’.
“I did it as an aside. I honestly didn’t think I’d ever achieve it.
“But as time went on I realised it was definitely achievable!”
Young golfer in Fife
Born and bred in Edinburgh, Susie’s family had connections with Elie through a holiday home owned by her grandmother which was later bought over by her father when he retired.
Coming from a golfing family, she became a junior member at Elie and Earlsferry, although if she’s honest she admits she was not the most enthusiastic golfer at that age – instead she just wanted to play with ponies!
A “long gap” in her pursuit of golf followed when she went to study at St Andrews University.
Graduating with a degree in psychology, she went on to work for the former Presto supermarket chain then married into the army.
Her husband served as an infantryman with the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers and they lived “all over” including three tours of Northern Ireland as well as Berlin, Canada and the rest of the time in England.
Raising her two boys, she enjoyed the lifestyle with the exception of a posting to Sevenoaks in Kent where, for 18 months, she could “hear, smell and see” the M25.
As the boys got older, she picked up her golf clubs again. She latterly joined Tidworth golf club and enjoyed a mix of competitive and fun golf with them. They had a good ladies’ section, she recalls.
When her husband came out of the army in 2004, they moved back to Scotland – initially to Bridge of Earn so that her husband could have access to the mountains.
But having spent her whole married life away from the sea, Susie persuaded her husband to move to the coastal town of Leven in Fife in 2012.
New appreciation for golf
Having re-joined her old Elie and Earlsferry club just a few miles along the road, it also gave her the opportunity to pick up a new appreciation of the courses she’d played before which, by this time, she’d started to tick off as part of her challenge.
“When I started off trying to play all the courses I was quite gung-ho,” says the now 65-year-old grandmother of three.
“I decided I’d do it from where I was. I’d kept scorecards from ones I’d played in Fife previously, so when I started I had something like 550 ahead of me.
“In those early days I went to the Perthshire and Angus ones first.
“But then gradually I started to spread my wings. We started to arrange holidays so that I could play a course and Brian could go up a hill.
“We’ve got a touring caravan. We’d go away for a week or a fortnight. I’d drop him at the end of a path – he’d go away and climb a mountain or two and I’d go and do three or four nine-hole courses in a day.
“I’d then pick him up and that would be our day.
“Others I did with friends. We’d go away and stay in a B&B and we’d play three or four courses and come home. I got a lot of pleasure out of it as well.”
Remote island courses
As time went on, Susie became more confident that she could actually achieve the challenge she’d set.
However, some courses were easier to reach than others with the Scottish islands throwing up their own challenges.
“I’m not good on a boat and obviously the islands involved ferries,” laughs Susie as she thinks back.
“That was really quite a challenge. I did two different trips up to Orkney.
“The first trip was ghastly on the ferry. The second trip wasn’t quite as bad but it was quite an effort to get back on another boat.
“I also went up to Shetland and having got to Orkney then flew to Shetland because I didn’t want to do an overnighter on a ferry bobbing away.
“But also in the Western Isles I was very lucky with the weather. It was beautiful. I’d go back over there actually.
“The courses are cattle type fields but the islands are beautiful.
“I’d never been there before.
“I’ve been to parts of Scotland now that I’d never ever have gone to otherwise.”
Susie says one of the most pleasant things she enjoyed was the warm welcome she received from members and the wider communities as she played courses around the country.
In fact, her reputation often preceded her.
This was no more evident than the day she travelled to Whalsay half way up Shetland – the most northerly golf course in the British Isles.
“Two of us went up and stayed with a friend on Orkney,” she smiles.
“Then we flew to Shetland, we hired a car, and we played the 18-hole course on Shetland. There’s a nine hole course on Asta, then we did another ferry crossing 20 minutes to Whalsay.
“I was on the boat with the hire car, wound down the window, and the wee man comes over to take the money and he says ‘oh you’re the wife that’s here to play the golf’.
“I said ‘how on earth do you know that?’ He replies, ‘Oh the whole island knows you are coming!’
“I felt very important that day! It’s one of the best stories!
“We were met by a lovely lady at the golf club who let us in and walked round with us.
“The weather conditions that day were dire. It was 45 mph winds and hail stones.
“She said ‘do you really want to do this?’ I said ‘I’m never coming back so I’m going out to do it now!’
“It was dire but it was done!”
Playing in all weathers
Covering more than 40,000 miles in total, Susie played in hail, wind, rain and, of course, lots of sunshine.
She estimates that during her around-Scotland challenge she must have played an estimated 15,000 holes of golf.
Her best round was a gross 80 at Murrayshall, Scone.
She’s disappointed that she wasn’t able to hold the “big party” she had planned for the original finale last summer.
But the rest of the time she loved it.
Asked what her favourite course is and she replies instantly that it’s the recently opened Dumbarnie Links not far from her home.
“It’s just lovely,” she smiles.
“It’s absolutely beautiful. Ok, it’s very local for me. I don’t hit the ball very far anymore. The bigger tougher courses are quite a challenge.
But Dumbarnie – the first nine are not easy but playable, and the back nine are quite a bit more difficult.
“But the holes are different, the scenery is stunning. I’ve played it five times! I just love it!”
She rates her experience on how she played, what the weather was like, the scenery, the welcome – the whole package.
But would she play them all again?
“Not the whole lot!” she laughs.
“I would certainly like to play a lot of them again.
“I really liked the ones up in Aberdeenshire, Moray Firth. I would love to go back up there once we get a bit more ‘freedom’ shall we say.
“I will go back up and play some of them – because they are lovely, and very underplayed the ones up in that area. They are superb! Overall it’s been quite an experience!”