Alabaman Jim Hartsell represents the best of golf. A strong statement, to be sure, but one that is backed up by a resume that includes almost 30 years of his love affair with Scotland, the joy of finding and playing lesser-known courses, and a writing career that finds him contributing to some of the best golf literary magazines and websites we have (The Golfer’s Journal, The Links Diary and NoLayingUp.com among them) as well as authoring the best-selling book The Secret Home of Golf — The Authorized History of Kings-Collins Golf and the Creation of Sweetens Cove.
For these reasons and more, co-hosts Mitch Laurance and Darin Bunch chose Hartsell as the perfect guest for their “Talking GolfGetaways” year-end podcast, and the resulting episode reflects a connection the three share for all things Scotland, a love of Sweetens Cove and a belief in the pure friendships the game gives us all.
The episode begins with Darin asking Hartsell to dive right in to how he found two of Scotland’s great, off-the-beaten path courses, Machrihanish Golf Club and Dunaverty Golf Club. Hartsell, a general architect by trade, recaps his first trip to Scotland with his father in 1994, and explains in detail how the two came to love Machrihanish for its wild, beautiful, true links on the southern tip of the Mull of Kintyre. He shares how they had planned to play the links, originally laid out by Old Tom Morris, again until they got word of nearby Dunaverty. Hartsell waxes poetic about their first encounter with a course he now considers among his favorites, one that by modern standards is short at 4,800 yards with a par of 66, and having seven 3-par holes. Hartsell explains, as he also did in a remarkable and beautiful ode to Dunaverty in The Links Diary, the many reasons he fell in love with the course, its setting and its people, so much so that he’s visited many times since and has become a member.
Mitch asks Jim to share his connection to some of the other courses he values, what he calls the “fringe courses of Scotland” — courses like Anstruther (a nine-holer near St. Andrews that he and his son Jake found almost by accident when their plans to play the Old Course were cancelled), Cullen, Covesea, Carradale and Shiskine. Mitch urges listeners to find Hartsell’s feature article written for his continuing series for No Laying Up on the this subject, Hidden Scotland: The Fringes of Scottish Golf. By the time Jim finishes extolling the virtues of the many courses that often go under most traveling golfers’ radar, you’ll want to get on a plane, pass on the more famous courses and spend your time pursuing the true essence of the game.
Mitch then asks Jim about an element of golf and travel that so many of us have experienced, an unexpected connection to someone in the game that becomes an integral part of life going forward. Mitch mentions that he’d become aware of Robbie Wilson on Instagram (@linksrobbie), most likely after following Jim’s Instagram account, and that he’d become fascinated by the friendship between a native of Alabama and a true Scotsman. Jim then details the full journey between the two men, beginning (as often happens) with a love of Scottish golf and progressing through a number of visits together to Macrihanish and Dunaverty to Jim’s staying at Robbie’s house for a number of weeks after the tragic death of Jim’s son, Jordan. Recounting those weeks and the bond that formed between the two men, Jim unabashedly and emotionally acknowledges the value of their friendship, and his gratitude for the game that brought them together.
Mitch then asks Jim about his publication of a 2022 Scottish Calendar, with photos taken on his last trip with Robbie, and Jim explains that he decided to publish it in honor of Jordan, with all proceeds going to a charity that NLU’s Tron Carter suggested, the worthy Youth On Course.
Darin then dives into Jim’s connection to Sweetens Cove in South Pittsburgh, Tennessee, the nine-hole creation of architect Rob Collins and his partner Tad King that has become an award-winning American destination for golfers from around the world. Jim details how he first heard about Sweetens through his son Jake, and how they visited the course, a relatively short drive from their home in Alabama, when it was largely unknown to golfers. They immediately fell in love, not only with the course but with its surroundings and with the people involved in keeping the early iteration of Sweetens alive. After numerous visits, Jim finally got to spend some time with Rob Collins, their friendship grew, and Jim decided the story of Sweetens needed to be told. With Rob’s okay, and after hundreds of hours of interviews, Jim put his talent and his writer’s soul into The Secret Home of Golf, a book that is now a must-read for anyone who loves the spirit, the creativity and the passion of the game.
This episode is a most fitting finale to a year that saw challenges and victories, an episode filled with optimism, thanks to Jim Hartsell, and our hearts full of gratitude for our 2021 Talking GolfGetaways guests. Here’s to a safe, peaceful and golf-travel-filled 2022.
Follow Jim on social media @JimHHartsell on Twitter, @JimHartsell on Instagram and visit his website at JimHartsellGolf.com
—Words by Mitch Laurance