The Country Club of North Carolina in Southern Pines and Royal Dornoch Golf Club, situated in the highlands of Scotland, are separated by approximately 3,680 miles, the Atlantic Ocean and vastly different climates.
They are, however, bound together by golf and, more specifically, by an ongoing series of team matches between the clubs that have been inspired as much by camaraderie as by competition.
For the first time since 2019, the matches are being played this week at Royal Dornoch, offering a renewal of friendships that have grown over the years.
“While Royal Dornoch is a name known around the world the club is still very much about community and the sharing of the game of golf with everyone a friend,” Royal Dornoch general manager Neil Hampton wrote in an e-mail.
“Each team is handpicked to ensure that the spirit of the game is maintained and all who play are honored to do so and make friends for life as a result. The outcome of the match is nowhere near the enjoyment that everyone takes from playing.”
So how did two golf clubs, an ocean apart, find themselves sharing more than annual tee times at one another’s club?
“It is all about the bonds of friendship that grow between the players, some who only ever see each other during the matches. The players are handpicked and like a game at Augusta if you ask to get in then you won’t be getting picked.” – Neil Hampton
It began more than 20 years ago when Dick Urquhart, who founded the Country Club of North Carolina (whose two courses annually rank among the best in the state and the region), visited Dornoch and developed a fondness for the place.
When CCNC member Ziggy Zalzneck was at Dornoch later, he and his wife were having coffee in the clubhouse on a rainy day. By chance, they met club captain Roly Bluck who suggested they play the next time Zalzneck was in town.
Click on images of the clubhouses at Royal Dornoch (above, left) and the Country Club of North Carolina to enlarge.
Later that year, the Zalznecks returned and found a note on their rental house with a tee time already arranged for a Tuesday. On the day before, Zalzneck’s caddie pointed to Bluck who was on a ladder about 10 feet high trimming an evergreen.
The next day, they played their first round of golf together and a friendship blossomed.
When Bluck was in the States, Zalzneck took him to Raleigh where they met Urquhart and talked golf for a couple of hours. The idea of matches between the clubs developed there, and Zalzneck says CCNC leads, 6-3, with two matches having been canceled.
The clubs now have reciprocal agreements, the only such agreement Royal Dornoch has with a club in the United States. Zalzneck was president of CCNC when the reciprocal invitation was offered, essentially allowing members of one club to be treated like a member of the other.
“It came out of the clear blue to me,” Zalzneck said. “We are honored and we have used it quite a bit.”
The matches themselves are like the Ryder Cup, minus the edginess. The teams play foursomes, four-balls and singles, but they don’t go their separate ways when the play ends each day. Instead, they gather together.
Through the years, the stories and memories have collected as the 12-man teams play for the Roly Bluck Putter, a wooden-shafted trophy.
“As players participate in several editions of the match then ‘rivalries’ grow and none more so that Ralph Ronalter and Sandy Fraser. They could not be more opposite with Ralph the tall, high-ball, long hitter with Sandy the small typical low ball Scottish running shot player,” Hampton wrote.
“It is great to watch how they bounce off each other as soon as they meet.”
Royal Dornoch is one of the game’s greatest links, as natural as a golf course can be and possessing one of the greatest sets of par-3 holes anywhere in the world. It’s where Donald Ross, born just a short walk away, began to develop his architectural style, and the influence can be seen at courses around the world today.
CCNC’s Dogwood course has hosted the U.S. Amateur and the USGA’s girls’ and boys’ junior championships while the Cardinal course blends the characteristics of golf in the North Carolina sandhills with rolling terrain and tree-lined fairways.
Regardless of which side of the Atlantic the matches are played, the essence remains the same.
“It is all about the bonds of friendship that grow between the players, some who only ever see each other during the matches. The players are handpicked and like a game at Augusta if you ask to get in then you won’t be getting picked,” Hampton wrote.
“In most matches once the play and prize giving is over everyone goes their separate ways but in this both teams practice together most will have breakfast and lunch together and then how much beer can we share on the course.
“At the last match in CCNC, a pool party (was organized) one afternoon following play as it was so hot. Needless to say, that involved more beer.”
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