In my role as UK courses editor at Golf Monthly, we are sometimes accused – slightly unfairly in my opinion – of devoting too much time to the premier courses that reside towards the top end of golf’s green fee spectrum.
It’s true - our Top 100 UK & Ireland Courses project does, naturally, include many top-end tracks, and we will often feature courses from that list in the issues between sets of biennial rankings. But a quick glance at my records (I like a spreadsheet!) shows that we feature far more courses in golf’s more affordable sector – the kind of places most of our readers are playing most of the time.
Some of those courses fit very nicely into golf’s ‘hidden gems’ bracket – that phrase describing those unexpected delights you stumble across on your golfing travels, for which no-one has yet found a better, or more apt, alternative name.
Yes, playing at golf’s premier-league courses can be a thrilling experience, as you get to tread where the greats of the game have trod, or stroll the fairways of some of our most highly regarded courses. Yet, while playing an eye-catchingly priced hidden gem offers a different experience, in many ways it most definitely does not mean you’re choosing to settle for second best.
They might not always exude manicured perfection and a highly polished visitor experience, with staff waiting on you hand and foot, but golf’s hidden gems deliver in a wealth of other ways - they’re actually often more fun, they almost always deliver in abundance on price, and they serve up a variety of different qualities on top, from ambience and friendliness, to spectacular views and the odd quirky hole or two.
I’m not denying that getting to play so many of golf’s top courses has been a huge thrill throughout my 16 years with the magazine. But I honesty don’t know if it’s been a bigger thrill than turning up at somewhere in the back of beyond, popping £9 in an honesty box and heading up into the moors as I did at Wooler in Northumberland last year while driving home from Scotland.
Growing up, my family never had any money, but at no stage did I ever feel I was missing out in my childhood. We had everything we needed to enjoy life to full, save perhaps for central heating in the bedrooms in the deepest, darkest winters when it took ten minutes of frenzied feet rubbing to make the sheets warm enough to lie in. As a result, I’ve never really yearned for material possessions and the finest things that money can buy… other, perhaps, than the Aston Martin that is likely to forever remain but a pipedream.
But I have to confess that on my travels I do occasionally find myself gazing wistfully at the vast watch posters you see in airports for Rolex, Audemars Piguet, Tag Heuer, Omega and others, and thinking, “Maybe, just maybe, if I have a really good year…” Then reality hits and I think, “I can get a decent-looking timepiece for a fraction of the price that does the one key practical requirement of a watch just as well – tell the time.”
When I first met Etiqus owner and founder, Gary Butler, a number of years ago now when he came into the Golf Monthly offices to present his concept for a watch for golfers to us, little did I know that a few years later, with a few modifications to the business model and rationale, he would be selling a comprehensive range of great-looking timepieces - with more than a passing nod to golf - via his very professional-looking retail website.
I’ve had my Etiqus Sport Pro for nearly three years now, and I have to say that it never leaves my wrist other than at night. I’m not even one of those who feel compelled to take it off to play golf – in fact, it would probably feel quite odd now to do so. It attracts a lot of comments too, especially on the golf course, and the odd raised eyebrow when price comes into the conversation.
I suppose Etiqus could quite legitimately be described as a ‘hidden gem’ of watch brands especially amongst those who use golf to promote their brand – ‘hidden’ in that you won’t find it on the High Street – you have to search for it on the internet – and ‘gem’ in that it really is a quality watch at an affordable price as a result of Gary cutting out the retail middle man who naturally pushes prices up.
Gary’s mission was to create an affordable, quality watch with a golf theme, so that golfers could have their ‘own’ watch in the same way that divers have long had. His thinking has always been that if everyone can afford a golf driver, everyone should also be able to afford an Etiqus timepiece, which is why you’ll find the prices ranging from £179 to £299. But while those prices may be hundreds or thousands of pounds lower than some of the watch world’s premier brands, each Etiqus timepiece features Swiss-made movements and sapphire crystal glass just as you would find on many more expensive watches
Indeed, Gary even knows some customers who wear their Etiqus as their everyday watch even though they also own a Rolex, perhaps choosing not to don the Rolex on occasions when it might just come across as too flash. Some owners have even found their Etiqus to be more accurate, courtesy of the difference between quartz movements and mechanical movements, but that’s another story!
Hidden gems exist in all walks of life, don’t they? We might enjoy fine-dining in flashy restaurants, but most of us will have somewhere way down the culinary league that we like to frequent just as much, for different reasons – perhaps when nothing but good old British pub fayre will do!
With my car example, the Aston Martin may not have happened (yet), but a few years ago we did buy a flame-red Mazda RX-8 on a whim when out looking for a sensible family saloon! It gave us enormous pleasure while we had it (eye watering fuel and insurance bills notwithstanding!) and we even christened it ‘our Ferrari’, which visually it was just about… if you squinted from a distance. But it was definitely a motoring ‘hidden gem’ at a fraction of the Ferrari’s price.
With watches, would I still like a Rolex one day? Probably. Do I feel I’m missing out in any way while the watch on my wrist is an Etiqus? No, I don’t. It's an affordable quality timepiece backed by excellent customer service, that tells the time accurately but uniquely tells everyone else I'm a golfer, which no Rolex does. Yes, an ETIQUS is a gem of a watch that I don't think will remain hidden from too many golfers for much longer.