Glenmorangie and Golf – Unseen Connections

Fergus Bisset samples one of Scotland’s finest golf courses and some of its finest whisky!

Kingsbarns 10th tee - I hope you're keeping an eye on this one boys!
Kingsbarns 10th tee - I hope you're keeping an eye on this one boys!
(Image credit: Kenny Smith)

Fergus Bisset travelled to Fife to sample one of Scotland’s finest golf courses and some of its finest whisky!

1843 was an important year in the development of two of Scotland’s most famous, and by far and away my favourite products: golf and whisky. In St Andrews that summer, the great Alan Robertson won the celebrated “Grand Challenge Match,” an event contested over 10 days and 20 rounds. It’s widely regarded as an important precursor to, and inspiration for, The Open Championship, (the inaugural instalment of which took place in 1860, with the 144th instalment set to take place in St Andrews this July.)

Meanwhile, also in 1843 and some 120 miles north on the banks of the Dornoch Firth, William Matheson established the Glenmorangie Distillery. Using the pure waters of the Tarlogie Spring and the tallest stills in Scotland, he set about the task of creating a whisky that surpassed all others in terms of smoothness and refinement. He did a pretty good job and 170 years later Glenmorangie has an international reputation for producing whiskies of the utmost elegance and complexity. The distillery produces an impressive range: differing ages, differing maturation processes. But, for me, the simple 10-year-old Glenmorangie Original is hard to beat: so relaxed and soft. I don’t think any single malt rivals it in terms of pure drinkability – remember though: enjoy responsibly!

So it seemed fitting to me when Glenmorangie became “The Spirit of The Open.” Representatives for two of Scotland’s great inventions coming together; products that share a great deal in terms of precision, patience and artistry.

I travelled to St Andrews recently to find out about Glenmorangie’s involvement with The Open Championship, to learn some more about the whisky itself from Distillery Manager Andy MacDonald and to meet with one of the whisky’s ambassadors, and an old friend of Golf Monthly, the renowned golf photographer David Cannon.

David Cannon spanks one away

David Cannon spanks one away, Credit: Kenny Smith

This year as, “Spirit of The Open,” Glenmorangie has been working on a project with their ambassadors – Sir Nick Faldo, Tony Jacklin and David Cannon, to look at the “Unseen” side of golf and, in particular, The Open Championship. The idea is to tie in with the “Unseen” side of Glenmorangie – Basically to describe the details that go on behind the scenes at both the Distillery and the world’s greatest golf tournament to make the magic happen.

Closer to The Open, David Cannon is going to talk through (on this website) a selection of “Unseen” photos of St Andrews that he’s taken over the years. And, in the August issue of Golf Monthly, I’ll be writing a feature with David on the Unseen side of golf photography – the epic amount of work and preparation that takes place to get some of golf’s most iconic images into newspapers and magazines.

David Cannon clips an approach off the tight Kingsbarns turf

David Cannon clips an approach off the tight Kingsbarns turf, Credit: Kenny Smith

I met the guys and girls from Glenmorangie, together with other journalists, at Kingsbarns on a beautiful spring morning. This was an appropriate place for this short trip to begin. Most golfing visitors to St Andrews find no cause to leave the “Auld Grey Toon” – there are seven fabulous courses run by the Links Trust plus further courses at Fairmont St Andrews and The Dukes. But, the East Neuk of Fife is brimming with other, fabulous but more “unseen” tracks and, just a 10-minute drive along the coast; Kingsbarns is surely the best of them.

Kingsbarns before the haar

Stunning Kingsbarns before the haar, Credit: Kenny Smith

Kyle Phillips has amassed an impressive portfolio of course designs but Kingsbarns remains his finest achievement. Making use of the incredible natural golfing terrain, (golf has been played on this land since 1793) the holes cross the undulating links, many clinging precariously to the edge of the sea. Standing on the tee of the monstrous par-5 12th or the striking par-3 15th, I challenge even the most cynical golf course analyst not to feel a tingle of excitement.

Unfortunately for us, by the time we reached these fabulous holes on that day, they were pretty much “unseen.” The sea haar had rolled in and turned a fine, warm spring day rather cold and damp. Such is the quality of this track though; it didn’t spoil the fun too much. In fact, after the game I agreed with my playing partners Chris and Craig that we’d rather enjoyed the challenge of battling into the ominous, encroaching greyness. We were probably buoyed by the fact we managed to win the team event!

Fergus Bisset tees off into the encroaching haar

Fergus Bisset tees off into the encroaching haar, Credit: Kenny Smith

Part two of this superb day out took place in the Royal and Ancient clubhouse where we were hosted for a fabulous dinner and treated to a Glenmorangie tasting session with Andy MacDonald. It was rather a privilege to enjoy a meal in this historic and emotive place, also to admire the incredible paintings, trophies and other items of memorabilia that live within the iconic sandstone building.

Andy MacDonald talks whisky

Andy MacDonald talks whisky, Credit: Kenny Smith

Robin Bell of the R&A and Michael Atkinson of Glenmorangie talked eloquently about the history of The Open Championship and of the whisky, and of how pleased both organisations are to have established such a close and appropriate working relationship. There was general consensus in the room and this was solidified when Andy MacDonald began an enlightening and enjoyable tasting, describing the subtle and complex flavours of the whiskies – Notes that, without a little prompting, might have remained “unseen” to me but were clearly apparent when I was nudged in the right direction.

Yes, I'm getting vanilla...

Yes, I'm getting vanilla... Credit: Kenny Smith

After a post-dinner digestif (a rather large slurp of the excellent Glenmorangie Signet,) the group retreated for the night to our lodgings at the highly comfortable Fairmont St Andrews. It’s fair to say that, lifted by the experiences of the day (on course and off,) we stayed up a little later than we should to discuss our golfing triumphs (and woes) and the incredible range of whiskies Glenmorangie produces. Fortunately the bar at the Fairmont was well stocked with more than a few of them, so we were able to put a taste to the name! Some of us were “unseen” the following morning. It was quite a day.

David Cannon enjoying the tasting

David Cannon, Glenmorangie Ambassador enjoying the tasting, Credit: Kenny Smith
Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly. 

Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?