Skibo was Carnegie's getaway, and a fantasyland for his far-flung
friends: King Edward VII, Rudyard Kipling, the Rockefellers. They
came to Skibo to unwind on the golf links, to hunt deer in the
meadows, to try their hand at falconing or fly-fishing.
Carnegie wanted to offer a true "highland" experience, so he hired
a bagpiper to rouse his guests every morning at 8. The tradition
lives on at Skibo today. So does Carnegie's insistence that his
guests dine together each evening, be they kings or common men, to
encourage a spirit of community.
Fancy as they are, meals at Skibo are famously unstuffy. One
evening, the story goes, former Charlie's Angels star Cheryl Ladd
had a few glasses of wine and slipped into song around the dinner
table. A visit- ing Japanese businessman was impressed with the
"You're pretty good," he told her. "Have you ever considered going
into show business?"
"This way, sir."
Dinner is served.
My butler leads me into an ornate hall, graced with portraits of
distinguished-looking gentlemen and a dining table long enough to
run laps around. There are 10 of us altogether, including a group
of London executives on a corporate retreat and a couple
celebrating their anniversary.
The appetizer is a helping of haggis, a traditional Scottish sheep
dish. But before we dig in, a castle staffer instructs us to raise
our wineglasses. It's another Skibo tradition: Before dinner,
everyone drinks a toast to Andrew Carnegie.
Fair enough. I'll drink to anyone who allows me to enjoy a day like
Early that morning, I'd waked to the strains of the bagpipe and
sauntered downstairs for a hearty breakfast. I'd strolled the
grounds, received a Swedish massage at the castle spa, and enjoyed
an introduction to clay pigeon shooting. Then I'd hitched a ride
with a chauffeur to the nearby town of Dornoch, the home of Royal
Dornoch, an ancient links-style course that PGA legend Tom Watson
supposedly called his favorite in the world.
After touring Royal Dornoch, a must for any golfing purist, I
returned to Skibo to see how the castle's own links compared.
When it first opened in the late 1800s, Skibo's course was highly
respectable. It now ranks as one of the best in the world. British
business mogul Peter de Savary, who bought the castle in 1990,
hired famed architect Donald Steele to transform the course into an
18-hole championship layout. In 1996, PGA stars Fred Couples and
Greg Norman played a celebrated match here. I can only assume they
scored better than I did.