Less than 20 years old, it may just be that those who have not yet had the good fortune to be invited to Loch Lomond have missed their best chance. In its short yet unexpectedly turbulent history, champions of the Scottish Open here have been of the calibre of Lee Westwood, Retief Goosen, Ernie Els and Martin Kaymer as perhaps the most photogenic course in these isles took centre stage for one week in July each year.
But things changed when the former owner, Lyle Anderson, ran into problems as the recession gripped in America, and the club officially passed over to RBS and therefore by extension the British taxpayer at one stage. Now it has been bought back by the members, who have moved away from the spotlight.
They feel that they have done their stint as a tournament venue and the club should concentrate on its primary function – as a special place where its members can relax and enjoy themselves in seclusion. The Barclays Scottish Open went to Castle Stuart (whereupon the sponsors quickly withdrew).
So, for the foreseeable future, it is members and their guests only. You might suspect that there was a feeling it had become a little too easy for non-members to receive invites, and that there was a perceived loss of the ultra-exclusivity that makes it so appealing to the membership.
It is hard to separate Loch Lomond the course from Loch Lomond the experience. There can be little doubt that the latter is in the once-in-a-lifetime category for most golfers. First, the gates sweep open and the half-mile drive through the estate begins.
It is hard to separate Loch Lomond the course from Loch Lomond the experience. There can be little doubt that the latter is in the once-in-a-lifetime category.
Then you leave your car in the hands of the staff while your bags are unloaded and enter a locker room that is more luxurious than your average five-star hotel suite. There is even draught beer on tap, ready to refresh you after your round, while in the time it takes you to shower your shoes will have been cleaned and polished.
By now you will have got the idea – it is pretty much impossible to depart the Bonnie Banks with anything other than the warmest of glows and special memories. But that is not to mention the course, so let us try to do so in isolation, even though this does to an extent miss the point of what the club is all about.
Loch Lomond is ultra-manicured parkland. The site, while achingly evocative, is not an ideal one for a golf course. Without phenomenal investment in the irrigation system, it would be unplayably boggy for much of the year. Even as it is, you should not expect to get much run.
So there is a certain dichotomy between the stunningly natural location and a course that is anything but. A little like Augusta, Loch Lomond is greener than green, and the bunkers whiter than white. Designed by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish, it has some wonderful holes, and almost each one is played in isolation of the others.
The loch is in view, if not necessarily always in play for much of the front nine and then again at the end. Highlights are many but arriving on the tee at the short 5th, played downhill to a green that seems to melt into the loch behind, takes some beating.
The next hole, a par 5, is played alongside the water and is also outstanding. Arguably the hardest hole, if not also the best in terms of strategy and challenge, is the 10th, a long par 4 where the drive should be laid up short of water to set up an approach, with at least a mid iron and most likely rather more, that must carry lots of trouble to find the well-defended green.
It is stunning in every respect, as also is the finish. The 17th is perhaps the best known hole, a par 3 with the loch tight up the left, and the same is true on the last, where Rossdhu House is in the background and the ruins of Rossdhu Castle stand behind the green.
Off the regular tees, Loch Lomond is certainly not unscoreable and is set up sympathetically for the club player. Probably the greatest challenge is becoming comfortable on greens that are much, much quicker than you are used to. Loch Lomond’s greatest advocates will argue that it is the finest inland course in Britain, and certainly Scotland.
That is quite a claim. Taking the course in isolation, the heathland likes of Sunningdale, Woodhall Spa, Ganton, Walton Heath and Gleneagles, to name just some, would certainly have something to say about that. In terms of setting alone, it would clearly have a fair claim.
But if you judge a course by the experience in the widest sense, rather than just the holes themselves, then it is fair to say that Loch Lomond is in a class of its own.