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Any truly memorable trip starts with a disaster. That's what was
running through my mind as I stood panting in Heathrow Airport,
two minutes late for the connection my wife, Sally, and I had
hoped to catch to Inverness, glowering at the supercilious smile
of the British Airways agent who had just told me--a barefaced
lie, by the way--that the plane had already left the gate. It
would be five hours before the next flight. She had this
attitude that nothing was anyone's fault. Flight delayed an hour
from Boston? Are you sure? No one to help with your transfer?
Well, it's Sunday, you know. No buses? How peculiar. A
quarter-mile line at the security gate? Bad luck. Why don't you
pop up to our lounge and pass the time by enjoying a spot of tea?

Which is how my tee time at Royal Dornoch came and went. If I'd
been smart, of course, I'd have gotten us to Dornoch two days
early, as our friends Charlie and Barret Sawyer of Cambridge,
Mass., and Kim and Susan (Q) Montgomery from Middlebury, Vt.,
had done. They had flown into Glasgow and traveled to Dornoch by
rail, getting in an additional round on that magnificent course.
Other friends, Jim and Marcia Hooper from Dover, Mass., had been
in Ireland before catching the Inverness flight that Sally and I
had just missed. The eight of us had rented a barge, the Spirit
of Loch Ness, for $2,600 per person and were going on a
five-night, six-day trip on the Caledonia Canal, with an
additional night at the Gleneagles resort. The package included
six rounds of golf at some of the finest courses in central

The barge trip was Charlie's idea. He had read about it in an
airline magazine. Barge trips are popular on the rivers of
Europe, but golfing in Scotland by barge is a fairly new
concept. I'd never even heard of the Caledonia Canal, a
70-mile-long waterway that runs diagonally through Scotland,
connecting the west coast to east via lochs Dochfour, Ness, Oich
and Lochy. The canal was completed in 1822.

The Royal Dornoch course is quite a bit older than that. Golf
has been played there since 1616, and Tom Watson, a five-time
British Open winner, once called it his favorite layout in Great
Britain, a compliment that immediately upped greens fees,
according to the locals, so that they now stand at 50[pounds].
Before Watson's pronouncement, Royal Dornoch was something of a
well-kept secret. It's not on the British Open circuit because
of a dearth of hotels in the region. Dornoch was the birthplace
of the prolific architect Donald Ross, who designed more than
300 courses in the U.S., including Pinehurst No. 2 and Seminole,
incorporating Royal Dornoch's finest features--subtle contours,
hidden bunkers and open approaches to the greens that encourage
bump-and-run shots--into most of his designs.

I wanted at least to see this great course, if I couldn't play
it, so after finally arriving at Inverness in mid-afternoon, I
beseeched the cook of the Spirit of Loch Ness, the talented
Annelise Bjornseth, to drive Sally and me up. Though the course
was an hour away, she did so with a smile. It was a beautiful
afternoon, and with little trouble we found four of our fellow
bargers on the 15th hole and walked along as they finished their
round. Surrounded on three sides by the deep blue of Dornoch
Firth, the course lived up to its billing and ended up being
everyone's favorite.

Afterward we were driven back to settle into our rooms on the
barge, our home for the next five nights. We wouldn't have to
pack and unpack every day and constantly check in and out. The
barge was our mobile hotel, and a van would drive us to the
course each day. Built in the Netherlands in 1930, the barge had
been used for transporting timber, peat and coal before being
converted into a passenger vessel in 1987. One hundred and five
feet long and 18 feet wide, the Spirit of Loch Ness felt more
like a small inn than a boat, with a capacious galley, small
bar, dining area, den and four guest cabins belowdecks, each
with its own shower.

We awoke in the morning to the sight of an old man in a Sherlock
Holmes hat and tweed jacket giving a fishing lesson to his
grandson on the canal. We were told that the canal, which is 15
to 20 feet deep, holds northern pike as large as 30 pounds, as
well as brown and rainbow trout. For some reason I had pictured
the canal as straight and devoid of wildlife, when in fact it is
gently curved, like a river, and has Scotch pines growing along
its banks. The canal rises 106 feet from beginning to end by
virtue of a system of 13 locks. Each series of locks is overseen
by a gatekeeper, and each gatekeeper's cottage has a
meticulously tended flower garden, the best of which is awarded
a prize each year. In short, it is a lovely stretch of navigable

Six of us were scheduled to play the Carnegie Club at Skibo
Castle at noon, while the two nongolfers--Barret and Q--made
plans to go for a bike ride. Only four miles from Royal Dornoch,
Skibo, as the course is called, was a nine-hole layout when it
was built in 1898 by American industrialist Andrew Carnegie. The
Carnegie family allowed the course to grow out after World War
II, and it wasn't until 1995 that architect Donald Steel
refurbished and expanded the course, turning it into a
world-class 18 holes. The Carnegie Club hosted a Shell's
Wonderful World of Golf match between Fred Couples and Greg
Norman last July, when the wind was gusting to 40 mph, and
Couples outlasted Norman 76-78 over the 6,671-yard, par-71 layout.

Even without a big breeze, I lost at least eight balls during
our round and nearly broke my ankle in the thigh-high rough by
stepping in a rabbit warren. I also backed into a gorse bush,
which had thorns like spiny sea urchins'. This was survival
golf. As we walked up the 18th fairway, one of the few that I
had hit all day, my caddie, John Bray, showed me a pocketful of
balls he'd found while stomping around the heather after my
errant drives.

"Are you sure none of those are mine?" I asked.

"Ah, nye," said Kim Montgomery's caddie, rising to Bray's
defense. "He'll get yours tomorrow, young sir."

The next day was a cruising day, with no golf on the schedule,
and at 8 a.m. the sound of rain on the roof and the grumbling of
the barge's engine woke us. The night before, we had sampled
five of the 13 single-malt whiskies that Capt. Robin Black had
stored in the ship's bar, so the pitter-patter of greased
pistons was not as pleasant as one might imagine. A full
breakfast of eggs, toast, bacon, sausage, black pudding and
coffee soon put everything right, however, and afterward I
staggered to the deck to get my first view of the infamous Loch
Ness. It's 24 miles long and 800 feet deep, surrounded by
steeply sloping hills--a body of water large enough to cover
every human being on the planet, according to Black, and easily
large enough to hide one silly little monster. "There are too
many credible people who've seen something for there not to be
something there," the captain said, "although I've not seen
Nessie yet."

I had originally dreaded this nongolfing day when looking over
our schedule, but now that it was upon us, and drizzling, all of
us were content. Loch Ness is stunningly beautiful, and as we
crossed it, we could hear the mournful strains of a lone
bagpiper playing for tour buses, his pipes echoing across the
loch. We also got a start when someone pointed at what appeared
to be a tentacle thrashing above the water. Binoculars were
raised, and after some study we determined that the tentacle was
in fact a cormorant trying to swallow a huge eel that was at
least four feet long and as thick as a man's arm.

Once we crossed Loch Ness, we passed through the five locks at
Fort Augustus, a procedure that took an hour and a half. The
delay enabled us to do some sweater shopping in town. The
nine-hole Fort Augustus Golf Club--we'd be playing it the next
day--runs alongside the canal, and as we passed it, Barret,
who's one of the top ice-dancing coaches in the U.S., asked,
"Isn't there a famous tournament held there?"

Charlie looked at his wife to determine if she was joking.
"That's Augusta," he said dryly. "Augusta. Not Augustus."

"Oh, right," Barret agreed cheerfully.

Before dinner we took a hike halfway up the mountain of Glen
Nevis, walking in the rain past meadows of grazing Highland
cattle, leaping over cascading rivulets that streamed down the
mountain's granite flanks. It was easy to see why the Highlands
had never been conquered. Later, after a delicious meal of
venison, rumbledeethumps (cabbage and potatoes mashed together)
and a dessert called syllabub-under-the-cow, Black led us to a
pub boat, the Scot II, which was tied up near the locks. Its
owner, whom Black knew only as Terry, was a folksinger of
considerable talent, and Terry and his friend Ian MacCloud
entertained the dozen patrons with stirring renditions of
Scottish folk songs.

The next afternoon the Fort Augustus course, which was laid out
by James Braid, a famous Scottish architect of the early 20th
century, harkened us back to the origins of the sport. Golf was,
after all, first a shepherds' game, and the fairways of Fort
Augustus were kept perpetually trimmed by a flock of sheep that
grazed the grounds. A local ground rule: "A ball lying on sheeps
wool or made dirty by sheep droppings may be lifted and cleaned
without penalty."

Our last day on the barge we played Nairn, where the Walker Cup
will be played in 1999. It, too, is a gem. The following day we
would be driven the three hours to Gleneagles, where rounds at
the Monarch's and King's courses would complete our expedition.
The flavor of the trip would change once we left the barge,
because we would be surrounded by other golfing tourists. For
our last dinner on the boat, Black, who had outfitted himself in
a kilt, had ordered up a traditional Scottish haggis--sheep's
stomach stuffed with minced offal, onions, suet, oatmeal and
spices--over which he recited Robert Burns's Address to a Haggis
in a virtually unintelligible Scottish brogue.

As Black spoke, he pulled a dirk from a sheath attached to his
left stocking and pierced the haggis with a loud pop, inhaling
the steam as it gushed forth. Never has a man looked so content.
He then hoisted a dram of Glenmorangie single malt, and we
joined him in drinking to the glorious haggis. Most of us,
anyway. Marcia had had a bad experience with one as a wee lass
and was green at the sight of our dinner. "Lips that touch
haggis will never touch mine," she warned her husband.

To top off our final evening on board, Black had asked Ruairidh
MacLennan, the 20-year-old chief of clan MacLennan, to come by
and play the bagpipes for us. By this time we were well into the
single malt. When we awoke on the morrow, we would feel like the
haggis--simply offal--but just then morning seemed far away. So
at 11:30 p.m., in the fading light of early July in Scotland,
young MacLennan stood on the prow of the barge and regaled us
with Speed Bonnie Boat and Scotland the Brave. The spirit of
Loch Ness was upon us, and the drone fell sweet on our ears.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHRIS COLE [Barge Spirit of Loch Ness on loch]

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHRIS COLE Most golf trips to Scotland are frantic, but ours called for only six rounds, including Fort Augustus. [Golfers playing on course at Fort Augustus Golf Club]

THREE COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHRIS COLE The sights included quaint gatekeepers' houses, a course groomed by sheep and a pub that floats. [Barge on canal in front of house; sheep grazing on golf course; men and woman drinking beer]

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHRIS COLE Our premeal ritual aboard ship: All hams on deck and a toast to captain Black (with blond beard). [Robin Black and others seated at table on barge]