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TIME was when to cross into Scotland wielding a lump of iron would be an invitation to a beheading – normally the invader’s.

Happily nowadays you can travel to the Scottish Borders fully armed with irons – and woods and a putter – and the only topping will be the occasional shot out on one of the area’s many inviting courses.

My invasion of the area lasted only three days, long enough though to establish that here we have, within three or four hours’ drive, more than enough to keep the would-be Tiger Woods – and the will-never-be Tiger Woods – both challenged and charmed.

St Boswells Golf Club, in a village close to Jedburgh, does more of the latter than the former but is nonetheless a real gem.

Those who would scorn nine-hole layouts will miss out on a picturesque course, thoughtfully laid out on an attenuated piece of land, which hugs the River Tweed so closely that its peaceful gurgling accompanies many a stroke.

Its challenges lie mainly in their emphasis on accuracy, with the Tweed offering a siren call to anything hit left on the outward stretch and out-of-bounds trees and fields doing likewise on the way back.

The clubhouse is welcoming, as are the members and staff. This also applies to Peebles Golf Club, although the course offers a contrasting test. Where St Boswells is flat, Peebles is hilly, its physical demands more than made up for by the stunning views it affords of this tranquil ancient Royal Burgh, once favoured by Scottish monarchy. At 6,138 yards it is not unduly long, but factor in some severely uphill shots and it plays more than its yardage. It was remodelled some 70 years ago by Harry Colt, whose handiwork can also be seen at Wentworth, home of the PGA and World Matchplay championships.

Peebles has played host to many national amateur championships in its 114-year history. While Peebles is firmly established, Cardrona is embryonic.

Situated just a few miles away, it is clear this course will offer the golfer a keen challenge since its designer is Dave Thomas, renowned for his laying out of the Ryder Cup venue, The Belfry. Sadly, the real challenge on the day I played it was the weather and after five holes I succumbed, but I had seen enough to know this is a track demanding accurate driving and approach shots and one worth returning to in more clement conditions.

Three days only allowed for three rounds, but a fourth course was visited during my stay.

Woll, a parkland layout in the valley near Selkirk and Hawick, looked bewitching as I flitted around in a buggy after an excellent meal at its clubhouse restaurant, as a pleasant evening faded to dusk. Woll provides luxury, self-catering cottages which would provide a perfect base to combine a daily round of golf with exploration of the area.

While your head may no longer be under threat during a visit to the Borders, the bookies will happily relieve you of the contents of your wallet at Kelso Races.

The odds of finding me on a racecourse are long, but Kelso provided a welcome opportunity to lose a few pounds instead of a few golf balls.

An intimate track – spectators can stand so close to the finishing line you can hear the flap of the jockeys’ silks as your horse trails in last - it caters for a wide class of clientele and it is not surprising to learn it was voted Britain’s friendliest racecourse.

If golf and racing do not combine to satisfy your sporting appetite, a night watching Border Reivers rugby union side can be added to your itinerary.

It was a treat to be able to share the same bar as the players after the match, and fascinating to watch their ‘WAGS’ gather in a corner of the clubhouse to keep an eye on their men as they took the congratulations of, and signed autographs for, a host of admirers.

The area provides a variety of accommodation. The Macdonald Cardrona hotel is luxuriously appointed, and as well as the golf provides a driving range, swimming pool, gym and spa.

Burts Hotel, Melrose, and Tontine Hotel, Peebles, are more mature – Tontine was built in 1808 – and offer a more traditional feel.

Newly built or well established, all offer visitors a warm welcome.


Published: December 9, 2006

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