Friday 11 August 2023

Golf-It! Glasgow - Course No 675

If you know where to look, Facebook has been awash with comments, all positive, about the R&A's new initiative to promote family orientated golf in Glasgow, including a new 9 hole golf course.  The new course is a combination of re-modelled holes from the former Lethamhill Golf Course (see Blog entry No 544) and completely new holes. After I'd played the old Lethamhill layout in October 2012, I commented in the Blog that the course and related buildings needed serious investment and that since Glasgow City Council were strapped for cash, it seemed highly unlikely that that would ever happen. In other words, I thought that the course had little going for it and faced a bleak future.  

I'm glad I got that completely wrong and now that I've played the course, I'm equally pleased to agree with the many Facebook comments that have been made. As the R&A have described it -

Golf It! is the R&A's new community-based golf and entertainment facility located on the south bank of Hogganfield Loch, following the redevelopment of Lethamhill golf course. The vast new indoor and outdoor attraction is a new innovation and marks a significant financial investment by The R&A towards its purpose of making golf more accessible and inclusive. The new facility  features a range of introductory golf formats including a twist on pitch and putt, adventure golf and community putting greens plus a double decker floodlit driving range and a new look 9 hole course for all the family to play.  These  sit alongside other attractions and activities such as padel tennis courts, nature trails, bike hire and a street food-style dining and drinks area.

The state-of-the-art development is creating more than 100 jobs and offer a range of apprenticeships that will boost employment opportunities for those living locally.  The facility includes something for everyone new to the sport as well as those golfers who already play. The new nine hole golf course incorporates four sets of tees and an integrated ‘Go Golf It!’ par 3 tee position on each hole to encourage people of all abilities to play. Other features include:

  • A short game area with three adventure golf courses, Park Golf pitch and putt and a family putting green for people of all ages to enjoy.
  • A 55-bay floodlit double-decker Top Tracer driving range, including bespoke family bays and simulators.
  • A golf equipment library with easy access to hire equipment for anyone who wants to try before they buy.
  • Seven Lochs Visitor Centre with nature trails that link to Scotland’s largest urban nature park.
  • Street Food by The Big Feed. 
  • Fit, Build, Play retail area by Scottsdale Golf. 
  • Three Padel tennis courts by Game4Padel.
  • Early Years Nursery operated by Lullaby Lane.
  • A long-term education programme across Glasgow with the aim of providing in-curriculum golf experiences to 42,000 children across the city.
  • A community orchard and gardens.
  • Free bike access in partnership with St Paul’s Youth Forum.
Golf It! opened officially on 5 August 2023 so I'd arranged with Douglas and his son Stuart to play the new 9 hole course on 15 August 2023.  As regular readers of the blog will know, Douglas is still trying to play every course in Scotland and only had one course to go before Golf It! was added to his target.  Anyway, we were booked to play at 1600 hrs  but the weather forecast had been for occasional showers - not the monsoon that began around 1530 that threatened to flood the whole development! The course was still playable by the time the deluge abated but with more ominous towering clouds on the horizon, we'd have to play quickly and be very lucky if we were to get round without a real soaking

Facebook comments had highlighted the outstanding quality and smoothness of the greens and the imagination shown in providing 4 sets of tees for golfers of differing abilities. This is a view of the 1st tee, showing the different yardages that were available. I'm still just about hanging on to my 8.6 handicap index, so we chose to play off the pink tee markers, making the course play at 2431 Yards, Par 33. The former Lethamhill layout had poor drainage and would have been completely flooded by the deluge. The new course was very wet underfoot but had stood up remarkably well, the only real difference being that the greens were slower than we'd expected from Facebook comments.

Our 1st hole was an uphill 335 Yard Par 4, with green surface not visible for second shots.  We'd rushed on, had no warm up and agreed to play ready (and speedy!) golf in an effort to beat the next downpour.  Predictably, my drive only went as far as the trees to the right of the photo above.  I've had a foot injury for a while that's only now clearing up so that's my second excuse for an opening double bogey.

The 2nd hole is a really good downhill 141 Yard Par 3, as shown below, complete with background rain.

I'd hit my tee shot to within 15 feet dead on line for an easy 2-putt par, only to be beaten by Douglas's tee shot to 3 feet for our only  birdie of the evening. A good hole though!

The 3rd hole is an uphill 381 Yard Par 4, and the Gents' Stroke Index 1, parts of which  I recognised from the former Lethamhill layout. I'd hit a decent enough drive but I was playing too quickly and after missing the green and 3 putting, it was a poor 7 on the card.  Much the same story unfolded on the 4th, a 517 Yard Par 5 played steeply downhill from the tee.  The fairway dog legs sharp left after that and heavy rough on the inside of the dog leg adds to the difficulty.  

The 5th is a 162 Yard Par 3 that played longer than it looked, so a bogey for me on that one.  The 6th is a 288 Yard Par 4 played from an elevated tee with ball losing rough and trees to the right.  The second shot is uphill to an awkward highly contoured green, as shown below. Readers with good eyesight may be able to spot my ball in the bunker!  Another bogey but we were making decent progress in under an hour for 6 holes and staying dry!

Our 7th was a short 102 Yard Par 3.  It looked easy enough but there's steep fall off slope on the right so my par was decent in the circumstances. 

And so to the 8th, which for me was the best looking hole on the course, as shown below. This is a 303 Yard Par 4 played from an elevated tee with an uphill semi-blind second shot to a green well protected by trees.

I just missed the green, played a poor pitch and run and ended up with another bogey.

This is a view of the 9th green , with the double decker driving range in the background.

The 9th is a 202 Yard Par 3 that looked likely to play longer than it looked, despite being downhill. And so it proved and my final bogey of the round meant I was round in a poor 44, with 20 putts. Still. it was new course for me and one that I really enjoyed, despite the conditions and the threat of further heavy rain.  Our only negative comment was that there were no bunker rakes (yet?) and that the greenside bunker by the 9th looked to have  particularly well-visited, given the many footprints on show.

Congratulations to the R&A and all concerned at Golf It! I really liked the course layout and in time I hope this becomes a model for the future promotion of golf to all ages in local communities. 

We'd all played pretty poorly but for my buddy Douglas this was his second last new course in Scotland, with only the Castle Course in St Andrews remaining. As I know only too well, it takes stamina, determination and a peculiar form of madness to even attempt to play every course in Scotland, from the world famous championship courses to the really obscure ones, tucked away, seemingly miles from anywhere familiar.  Paths less well trodden for both of us, but an unforgettabe journey.  My first round with Douglas was at Glenburn Golf Course (where's that, you might wonder!) in August 2013, (Blog entry 614) and since then we've been on some real adventures, helping each other find new courses and experiencing their unique challenges.  He's a fine man, great company and story teller, and the only St Mirren supporter I know.  Douglas once told me I'm the most sane person he knows.  I'm not sure about that, having just played my 675th course in Scotland, but although his journey is nearing it's end, we two pals will doubtless be back together soon, playing our own interpretations of the sport we love so dearly.  We may even have a beer or two afterwards - stranger things have happened, believe me.

Here's to you Buddie! (a rare Paisley joke)

Saturday 20 May 2023

Royal Musselburgh GC

The Royal Musselburgh Golf Club is the 6th oldest in the World and has the distinction of owning the oldest trophy still played for in the World, the Old Club Cup, dating back to 1744.  The club moved to its present site close to Musselburgfh and Prestonpans in East Lothian in 1926, to a new parkland course designed by James Braid.  The clubhouse building is also one of the oldest, if not THE oldest in Scotland, with parts dating back to the 12th Century.  I'd played the Royal Musselburgh course a few times before, and certainly years before I started writing this blog, which explains why the course is listed in my Blog entry No 1. I'd have been content to leave it at that, as nowadays I much prefer links courses and I have no current connections to the Royal Musselburgh club.  However, the course is one of the venues for the 2023 US Kids Golf European Championships.  The American kid that I've been caddying for over several years in US Kids Tournaments is playing there in this year's 13 age group competition, so I played the course again on 18 May 2023 to remind myself about the layout and check out the condition of the course and any issues that young Ayush might have to face.

The course layout is pretty flat on the Front 9 and relatively straightforward, but is far more demanding and undulating on the Back 9.  Overall, it's a modest 5880 Yards, Par 70 off the Yellow Tees and a far more tricky challenge of 6254 Yards, Par 70 from the Whites.  The 1st Hole is a modest 309 Yard Par 4 opener.  Avoid a couple of fairway bunkers on the right and it's just an easy short iron to the green.  Greenside bunkering is fairly strong throughout the course although I have to say the depth of sand was poor, as I was to find out later in the round.  However, I'd an easy opening par.  The 2nd was even shorter, at a mere 280 Yards, but there are 4 fairway bunkers to avoid.  I took a 3 wood off the tee to ensure I landed short of that trouble and another easy pitch set up a 6 foot birdie putt, which I made, just!

The Tee for 349 Yard Par 4 3rd Hole offers this good view of the old Clubhouse, though I'm not sure about how the (1970's?) flat roofed  extension ever got planning permission.  I 3-putted the 3rd green from under 30 feet for a bogey.  The next couple of holes are of similar length and difficulty so even par after 5 holes wasn't too shabby.

The 6th is the first Par 3 at Royal Musselburgh, as shown here.  The green is small and well protected by bunkering that makes the hole look shorter than it really is.  I took the Course Guide's advice to take one club more and another comfortable par was on the scorecard.

The 7th is a really good hole and a sign that the course is about to become a more serious challenge.  At 363 Yards, fairway dog leg lef and the green is well defended by good bunkering.  A further par was really encouraging.  I'd remembered from years back that scoring was easier on the Front 9, so level par after 7 would certainly do for me. The 8th is a dog leg right Par 4 of 410 Yards with a generously wide fairway, which I missed quite comfortably, finding my first bunker of the day off the tee.  A double bogey 6 was disappointing though.  Next came the 465 Yard Par 5 9th, named after the course designer, James Braid.  The front of the green is well defended by strong bunkering.  I found a narrow gap but found heavy rough at the back of the green, so another bogey followed and I was out in 39, in barely 90 minutes of easy walking.

The course was about to get more challenging and I was glad to have had that decent start.  The 10th is blind off the tee and is a dog leg left 351 Yard Par 4.  I'd sclaffed my drive barely 170 Yards and was left with a long downhill second to a narrow well-defended green.  A bogey was about the best I could do and bunker trouble on the 11th led to a double.  The Course Guide warns that you "cannot go left off the tee" on the 12th.  Well, that's wrong for a start, as my hooked drive was to prove!  Trees on the left meant I'd almost no shot but  a low running 7 iron at least got me back into play.  Bogey there and my 3 over par after 9 was now 7 over after 12.  My playing handicap off the Yellows was 9 so I needed a run of pars to keep the round going my way. The 13th is the Stroke Index 1 hole at Royal Musselburgh, and at 435 Yards this Par 4 is a formidable test.  The tee shot is blind and from the landing zone the fairway runs significantly downhill to another well protected green.  More bunker issues and another bogey. 

The 14th Hole had stuck in my mind over the years, so I knew what to expect.  As the photo immediately below shows, there's nothing to suggest that this 127 Yard Par 3 hole is particularly tricky.  As the subsequent photo shows, there's a deep and steep-sided gulley right in front of the green.  Anything short risks a bogey or far worse.  I was barely a yard short and faced an awkward lie just to be able to hit the ball at all, so yet another bogey and I'd used all of my 9 handicap strokes, with 4 of the most difficult holes on the course still to come.

The 15th is easily the most difficult of the closing holes and although its a meaty 419 Yards off the Yellow tee, deep gulleys running across the fairway mean that you can have 2 or more blind shots and a Par 4 hole playing nearer to 500 yards, uphill. The Course Guide states "be happy to make 5."  I was, but I was now 10 over and mindful that young Ayush might also be happy to make 5 when the tournament starts.

The 16th is a downhill 148 Yard Par 3 that offers some relief and would be my sole par on the Back 9. 17 is a blind Par 4 of 334 Yards running in the opposite direction to the 15th, with similarly tricky fairway gulleys to contend with.  I'd hit a really good drive, blind over a ridge,  but my  approach shot was also blind and as it turned out, really overhit into heavy rough at the back of the green.  Bogey again.  The 18th is an uphill 377 Yard Par 4 that plays longer than it looks.  I'd found this bunker 50 yards short of the green but there was almost no sand in it, which was disappointing.  I got the bunker shot onto the green and 2 putted for yet another bogey.

I'd played the Back 9 in 43 for 82 overall, a net 73 with 33 putts. Not bad I suppose, but 8 bogeys out of 9 holes on the Back 9 was poor.  However, at least I'd gathered a better understanding of how this course should be managed.  I'll be trying to keep young Ayush out of the bunkers and making sure he takes enough club on particular holes.  He's a talented lad, so I don't think my 82 will be much of a target for him.

Royal Musselburgh was good test and I'd recommend you give it a try and good value for money.  The fairways were in really good condition, the  greens were medium paced and smooth and the lack of bunker sand is easily remedied  If you've played Newbattle or Ratho Park, some of the holes here might look very familiar!

Wednesday 25 January 2023

Muirfield - The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers

Muirfield.  Golfers all over the world will know the home of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers in Gullane, East Lothian as one of the finest links courses in the world.  I'd played it a few times and had never got remotely near playing to my handicap.  That didn't really matter since the experience of walking and playing such a prestigious layout was what it was all about.  The golf society (SEDGC) I'm still a member of used to go there every year until around the mid 1980s and if memory serves I first played Muirfield in 1981, when my handicap would have been around 18.  I didn't beat 100 net (!) and in particular, was completely beaten up by the severity of the bunkering.  Some years later I managed a gross 89 by avoiding most of the bunkers, hitting straight(ish) and putting reasonably well, but that was my best and over the years I'd harboured ambitions to try to play Muirfield again and beat that score.  

Fast forward to earlier this month when Colin, my buddy at Dunbar GC, asked me whether I wanted to play Muirfield on 24 January 2023.  His son in law Stuart is a member of the Honourable Company and had invited Colin to bring along a couple of friends for a morning fourball, followed by a leisurely lunch and light permitting, a few afternoon foursomes holes.  Suffice to say I jumped at the chance, as did Gordon, one of our other Dunbar buddies.  January in East Lothian has been typically cold, wet and pretty miserable, so much to our delight 24 January was a perfect day for golf, a bit cloudy but otherwise mild, with just a light breeze across the links.  I'll get to the actual golf, but first some history and context.

In 1744, Edinburgh Town Council agreed to present a Silver Club to the winner of an annual golf competition over Leith Links.  The Gentlemen Golfers of Leith, later renamed The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, codified and wrote the original Rules of Golf as a precondition of receiving the Silver Club, which remains the oldest trophy in world golf. From the 1820s onwards HCEG members played more at Musselburgh and by 1836 the club had relocated.  A dedicated clubhouse was built in Golf Place Musselburgh in 1865 and as one of the original subscribers for the Claret Jug, along with Prestwick and the R&A, the HCEG hosted 6 Open Championships between 1874 and 1889.  Due to overcrowding on the Musselburgh Links, the HCEG moved to Muirfield in July 1890. The Muirfield course, designed by old Tom Morris, opened in May 1891 and in 1892 the course hosted the first 72 hole Open Championship. In 1922 the HCEG purchased the existing links and added a further 50 acres of land.  The layout was redesigned by Harry Colt with advice from a past HCEG Captain and since 1892 it has hosted the Open Championship 16 times, together with the Ryder, Walker and Curtis Cups and numerous other international and national competitions.

Muirfield is different from the classic 9 out 9 back links layout, with the opening 9 holes circling clockwise around the perimeter of the course, and the closing 9 holes running anti-clockwise inside the first 9. Although there are fine sea views on some holes the course is separated from the sea by trees and natural dune land and wind can be a significant factor here. We played from the Red (front 9) and Yellow (back 9) markers, meaning the course played to 6457 Yards, Par 71, with a Course Rating of 72.5 and a Slope Rating of 139.  Note that the Red tees aren't "for Ladies'" play.  It's just another of the ways that the ECGC does things- Red out, Yellow back. At Dunbar GC our comparable numbers are 6196 Yards, Par 71, Course Rating 70.4 and a Slope of 124.  My 8.6 Handicap Index converts to a Playing Handicap of 9 at Dunbar and 11 at Muirfield so it was obvious that Muirfield would be a significantly more difficult challenge.  However, I was still hopeful that I'd manage to beat that 89 from many years before.


A view from the first tee back to the clubhouse.  The first hole is almost a flat dog leg right 420 Yard Par 4, played directly into the prevailing wind (such as it was).  We'd had coffee in the clubhouse rather than a warm up so I wasn't surprised to find myself still 80 yards short of the green in 2. The greens would prove to be faster than they looked (stimping around 9.5?) and after misjudging the pace my 3 putt double bogey wasn't ideal. 

The second was shorter at 346 Yards, with OOB close to the left side of the green.  Bogey there, but at least I was warming up.  Next, a 370 Yard Par 4.  The last 60 yards of the fairway is squeezed between mounds that reduce it to a narrow strip, with the mounding also restricting visibility of the green itself. Gordon on his way along the 3rd fairway.

A decent drive and a 6 Rescue to within 15 feet set me up for an easy par, but any thoughts of a continued scoring trend were ended at the 4th, a 180 Yard Par 3.  The pin was mid-right on the plateau green close to deep bunkering and grassy hollows.  I missed my "brave" target line by a couple of yards and had a blind shot up a 10 foot bank for my second.  However, a double bogey was poor from there.  

The 5th is slightly uphill and is a short 487 Yard Par 5.  Easy enough if you keep to the fairway.  Stuart's advice was to avoid the 5 bunkers to the right of the fairway and target my tee shot short of the second of 3 bunkers on the left. Unfortunately my drive went right of the right side bunkering, leaving a hugely awkward stance. I was happy enough with a bogey in the circumstances.  Next came the 419 Yard Par 4 6th, which the Course Guide describes as "probably the most demanding hole on the course." Flying the 4 bunkers on the inside of the bend in dog left left fairway wasn't deliberate but somehow I managed what for me was a long drive, setting up a 4 Rescue to the green, a mere 44 Yards long!  Bogey again but I suspect I've scored worse there. 

This is the 7th, a slightly uphill 147 Yard Par 3, played to a plateau green with heavy bunkering and grassy hollows waiting to gobble up anything remotely wayward e.g. my tee shot. I was only a few feet offline to the right but ended up 20 yards right and 15 feet below the green.  My lob wedge to 6 feet was given rightful applause by my playing partners but any hopes of a stunning par didn't last long and a tap in bogey was scant consolation.

The 8th is the Stroke Index 1 hole, for good reasons.  It's a daunting 430 Yard Par 4, requiring a good long drive, left of the 5 bunkers that hug the inside of the dog leg right fairway.  I got that bit right but I still had around 190 to the green.  Three bunkers protect the approach to the green from 58 to 17 yards out, so I tried to steer a 3 wood left to avoid them.  I hit a reasonable shot but at Muirfield the catchment areas for bunkers are often quite considerable and my approach shot rolled sideways into the biggest and deepest of those bunkers, as seen below. 

I'd a hugely tricky shot just to get out, but it was disappointing that I ended up in another bunker on my way to a snowman 8.  That meant I was now 12 over after 8 holes!  The 9th offers no relief and for me, is probably the most tricky hole on the course.  This is a 474 Yard Par 5 that plays directly into the prevailing wind.  I'd hit a decent drive but had an awkward stance in light rough.  My weakest shot of the day dribbled into a fairway bunker (again!) and after 4 shots I still had  to avoid another 5 bunkers protecting the green.  Another 8 for a poor outward 51.  This is a view of the 9th green, clubhouse in the background.

The Back 9 starts with a whopping 446 Yard Par 4 with, for me at least, a blind second shot over deep twin fairway bunkers.  I'd come up just short of the green in 2 and just missed my par.  The 11th has the only completely blind tee shot on the course and is a short 332 Yard Par 4. Thankfully the pin was at the front of the green and an easy wedge helped me avoid the 6  deep bunkers that almost surround the green.  A rare par!  The 12th is a downhill 366 Yard Par 4 that looked deceptively easy.  Avoid  fairway bunkering and it's a simple hole, if you also avoid the 6 deep bunkers around the green.  I managed to miss the fairway entirely on this hole and had the rough been at "Summer" length, my bogey would have been considerably higher. 

This is the 13th, a tricky 156 Yard Par 3.  The Course Guiide says " The green should be an easy target but but is never more than 15 paces wide and angles off to the left in a hollow in the dunes.  On top of that, it is severely bunkered on both sides, drops sharply from back to front and falls away to the right.  You just have to stay out of the sand."  And that's an easy target?

I tried a 7 iron, which thankfully stuck on the bank just short of the green, leaving around a 100 foot putt.  Aye, right, a bogey 4 would have to do, and I know I've scored far higher on this hole.  The 14th is a 432 Yard Par 4, slightly downhill and played into the prevailing wind, this is another daunting hole.  Only 8 bunkers to avoid this time.  The Par 4 15th is almost equally formidable, at 393 Yards, with a remarkable 13 bunkers and significantly sloping green.  I double bogeyed both of those holes!  16 is the final Par 3 and at 179 Yards and almost totally surrounded by 7 bunkers and grassy hollows is a severe test.  The pin was on the right side of the green and after just missing  the green, I'd yet another bogey. 

And so to the 17th, a 478 Yard Par 5 that normally plays downwind and should be fair;ly straightforward.  I'd hit a reasonable drive down the right avoid the 4 bunkers but leaving a semi blind second over another 4.  I just found this bunker, had a poor lie and was daft enough to try to play over the bunker just beyond it as shown here.  I then had an almost impossible lie and had to play back down the fairway. Another double bogey was on the card! 

The last hole at Muirfield is one of my favourite closing holes in golf.  402 Yards for club amateurs like me but a formidable 471 Yards from the tournament tees.  2 bunkers to the left of the fairway were out of range but the one on the right was worryingly well within range.  By this time I'd  seen enough of Muirfield's bunkers to last me a while.  The next challenge was to avoid another couple of fairway bunkers and 2 greenside ones, in an effort to close the round under 100.  I opted to lay up and hit a short pitch to the green.  I'd forgotten just how steep the slopes were on that green and my 12 foot putt for par was quicker than I'd really want, but I was happy with a closing bogey and delighted with the morning's golf. Great company, some really good and bad shots by all 4 of us, no lost balls in my 97 gross, 86 net, with 37 putts. A very poor 26 over par, so my personal record score of 89 remains intact for another round at least.  This a view of the 18th green.

No visit to Muirfield would be complete without their truly sumptuous lunch and a tour of the iconic clubhouse and its priceless golfing artefacts.  Although the course is open to visitors on Tuesdays and Thursdays, only 3 fourballs were booked for the hole of the day, including ours and Stuart was the only member among all 12 of us. A round at Muirfield is not cheap but is an experience that goes far beyond "18 holes and there's the door" which I'm afraid I've experienced elsewhere at other major tournament courses I'd better not mention.  From start to finish this was an unforgettable experience so if you ever get an invite to play here, jump at it.  Failing that, just make a tee time reservation for the low season rate if the peak rate is a bit steep for your wallet.  Be prepared to book well in advance and remember, every hole will be challenging and you will need to be extremely skillful to miss all of the bunkers and avoid 3 putting on the huge greens. The course was in truly remarkable condition for late Winter, with full tees and greens and no matts, firm fairways and fast running smooth greens.  Even our weather was kind.  We even went out again at 1545 to play the 10th and 18th and with few lights remaining in the clubhouse and daylight fading fast, I took this final photo of our day at Muirfield.  

Thank you again Stuart for your hospitality and  kindness in making our day so very special.

Wednesday 18 January 2023


Regular readers of this blog and indeed all those who have gone back to the first entries will know that I started my quest to play every course in Scotland in 2009, with the idea that I'd go round by myself.  A change of plan was made late that year when I was joined by a couple of younger guys, Craig Watson and Stu Fleming.  Craig was a Scottish Government auditor at the time and we'd met some years earlier through him working on financial records associated with my Scottish Government work.  Craig and Stu had been best friends since early school days but I first met Stu when we got together for a bounce game at the Glen GC in 2009.  Our first new course was at Archerfield Dirleton in November that year, for what would be many rounds the three of us would have together. 

This is Craig and Stu, inseparable buddies.

Being old enough to be their fathers, I'd thought there might be a slight disconnect between myself and these lads, but golf and more generally the enjoyment of life and touring round the country together meant we were quickly good friends sharing a common goal.  Craig and Stu had young family responsibilities and busy jobs that limited the progress they could make towards our target of playing every course and as the blog shows, most of my new courses were solo trips.  However, we'd a great time together playing remote courses on the Western Isles, Orkney, Shetland, Fair Isle, Stroma and at Dundonald, Loch Lomond and umpteen lesser known places.

I mention all of this because a few days ago Craig phoned me with the terrible news that Stu had died. The circumstances aren't relevant to this blog. Suffice to say that his family have lost a truly good son, husband and father and Craig has lost his life long best friend.  I'd not seen much of Stu in recent years, apart from when he did some electrical work at my then new house in 2019.  He was so happy then, full of life and plans for the future and it's really tragic that for all the fun the three of us had, Stu will not be around to share in any of our further adventures.  Craig is a member at clubs in Carnoustie and Panmure (playing off 0.5 having got down to scratch!!!) and we'll be playing together there later this year, and hopefully also at Dunbar and the Glen where I'm still a member.  I'll maybe also join Craig when he's playing what for him will be new courses in his own continuing quest to complete the journey around every Scottish course, but it just won't be the same without Stu. 

This is the three of us, Stu on the right, on our way to Fair Isle, the remotest and one of the oddest golf course in Scotland. I hope that one day another golfer will find some of the balls that we lost that day and wonder who was so wayward...... for the record, it wisnae me!  Use the search box near the top left of the blog, key in Fair Isle and open the You Tube links about that particular trip.  One of our best golfing experiences!

I also hope that when you read this particular blog entry, you will look back to some entries that include Stu e.g. Stroma, North Ronaldsay or Scarista on the Isle of Harris.  He was such a good guy and I treasure the memories I have of the three of us playing together and sharing the journey. 

Stu and I on the final green of the North Ronaldsay course. The clubhouse had seen better days many years before and the course no longer exists, having been abandoned and lost to the ravages of the weather.  I suspect that ours was one of the last rounds to be played there.

The lads in action at Askernish, trying to retrieve a ball from one of the many rabbit holes there.  

Note too the distinctive yellow golf bag that served me so well for most of my journey around Scotland.  It finally fell apart a few years ago but after a few indifferent bags since, I've recently tracked down a similarly bright bag that will hopefully last a good few years, starting at Muirfield next week, weather permitting.

No prizes for guessing where this photo was taken! (3rd Tee, Dunbar GC)


Thursday 2 June 2022

A Podcast about my golf travels and caddying

It's been quite a while since my last posting!  Although I've played all of the "official" Scottish courses and many more besides, there's still a handful of pitch and putt courses to do and I'll need to play any new courses that are built, so watch this space for more course write ups.  In the meantime, I've been busy playing at the Glen and Dunbar, my "home" courses and nursing my handicap (now 8.6) and playing abroad (particularly in Turkey - and sometime I might write something about the terrific quality of golf courses over there).  I've also been working  for Scottish Golf, revising clubs' course and slope ratings.  If you've ever wondered why your home course is rated e.g. 124, or even higher, it's folks like me who go round, taking tons of measurements and trying not to get in the way of folks playing the course, before arriving at figures that reflect the relative playing difficulty of each course, so that handicapping can be fair to all concerned.  

I'm still doing course ranking for various golf magazines, offering thoughts on the relative merits of Scottish courses.  If you've ever come across lists of the best/most fun/value for money etc courses in Scotland, it's guys like me who contribute their thoughts to such lists.  It's all very subjective, but for anyone who's planning a golfing trip to Scotland, such lists can help to identify what's available beyond the big championship courses. Just bear in mind that for every Muirfield or Renaissance, there's a Glen GC almost next door that's probably more playable and enjoyable at a fraction of the price! 

I'm also back caddying, now that COVID travel restrictions have eased and golfing tourists are able to visit Scotland again.  Regular readers of this blog will know that I've been encouraging visitors to go beyond our big courses and search out courses that might offer greater value for money while still providing quality experiences.  I recently did a podcast for a US-based golf travel company, touching on that very issue amongst other ramblings about my own golfing travels and caddying.  Here's a couple of links to that podcast, which I hope isn't too boring!

Wednesday 28 October 2020

Poloc Winter Golf Club - Course No 674

Shortly after I'd published my report on Dumbarnie Links I was contacted by Adam, a Glasgow-based reader who advised me that I'd not played the Poloc Winter Golf Club, which he described as a "forgotten course and the second oldest course in Glasgow."  I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that despite spending years 2-20 of my life living within a few miles of that course, going to school barely a couple of miles away and travelling literally thousands of times past its entrance, I'd never known that such a golf course existed. Internet research confirmed that the Poloc Cricket Club laid out a 6-hole course each year across their cricket pitch so that members could play golf outwith their normal Summer cricket season.  Their cricket ground is located within Pollok Park, a truly remarkable countryside park, yet within a few minutes drive from  Glasgow's city centre

The cricket club was founded in 1878 and is clearly still thriving. I know very little about cricket, having only played it twice at the most basic amateur level in the 1970's.  I somehow got roped into being volunteered to play in a charity match in Gloucestershire by Barry, the best man at my wedding to Polly.  If I recall the match properly, I was last man to bat and never got to face a ball, since the other batsman was bowled before I got the chance.  Other than that, I stood where I was told and tried to field any balls coming my way.  We lost, but the beer was good. Next time round, when I was living in Guildford, Surrey, I reluctantly made up the numbers for a nearby village team in a friendly match in Brixton, South London.  I got to bat this time, or, more accurately, tried not to get clobbered by 3 balls coming my way at an alarming speed.  I dodged the first 2 without actually seeing them coming and somehow connected with the 3rd, after trying to duck out of the way.  From what I later gathered was a top edge, my first and last ever connection with bat and ball somehow evaded the wicket keeper and rolled gently towards the boundary.  I'd scored a 4 and the over was over, if you get my drift.  The other batsman was bowled out during the next and final over and we lost. So, that's all I know about actually playing cricket.  Played twice, not out twice, 4 runs. I'll settle for that. 

The Poloc Winter Golf Club's Facebook page records that "Founded in 1889, Wee Poloc is possibly Glasgow’s 2nd oldest golf course behind Cathkin Braes Golf Club. Wee Poloc started off as a 9 hole course as was the fashion of the day, but the course was unfortunately reduced to 6 holes during the war. As other clubs of the era grew and the game evolved over the years almost all of the other clubs across Scotland expanded creating 18 individual holes. This would have been impossible for Wee Poloc as it was located within Sir John Stirling Maxwell's Pollock Estate. Making us the UK's only Royal & Ancient recognised 6 hole course."

A map and scorecard for the course is set out above, suggesting that the course could be played as 3 loops of 6 holes, to form an 18 hole course of 3225 yards, with a Par 63. It turned out that Adam, my "Dumbarnie" reader, was the greenkeeper and groundsman at the Poloc club.  I'd arranged with him to play the Winter Club course on 28 October 2020, with Douglas, a dear friend who as regular readers may recall is also playing every course in Scotland.  

We'd originally planned to play the full 3 loops to form an 18 hole round, but the weather was pretty poor driving through to Glasgow and as the course was still soaking wet from recent showers, we opted for a single loop of all 6 holes, hoping we'd dodge the worst of the morning rain. This is Douglas on the 1st Green.  If it looks small, you're not wrong!  All of the greens were about 15 feet across, so accuracy with tee and approach shots would clearly be important.  The course is surrounded by large trees so leaves at this time of year were an issue, as can also be guessed from this and the next 2 photos below.

Adam had very kindly set out the flags in advance of our round and, armed with a map of the course, it was easy enough to plot our way around - even though the 6th hole flag was placed on this, the 4th green, adding to the fun of our brief round.  We weren't sure about the lengths of the holes, as listed above.  I'd only taken a half set of clubs, leaving my Driver in the car but I'd expected that my 3 wood would be enough club to reach all of the greens, despite the heavy underfoot conditions.  The photo below is from the 4th tee.  My solidly-hit 3 wood tee shot was still short of the green, but it didn't matter, were just enjoying the novelty of the layout for what it was. 

There are more than enough full length golf courses in Scotland presenting  serious physical and technical challenges but there will always be a place for short courses like Wee Poloc, where a 6-hole round can take well under an hour.  I read somewhere that golf is supposed to be fun (I still try reminding myself of that when ankle deep in wet rough, rain trickling down the back of my neck, searching for that errant drive) and Wee Poloc is a great reminder of that vital aspect of the game. The course is bordered by a riverside path and it was fun to stop and chat to the various walkers we met on our way alongside that path. Too often in these nervous Covid 19 days we offer only a brief nod of acknowledgement to passing strangers, so we both really appreciated that contact.  It's easy to forget how friendly Glasgow can be.

Our scores weren't great but for the record, I went round in 23 shots, with 7 putts on the greens themselves.  Quite rightly, Douglas claimed the only birdie of the day on the 2nd, the 160 Yard Par 3 (even if the hole had been doubled in width overnight after a fox had dug around the hole!) Still, a birdie is a birdie and you can only play the course as it lies, I reminded myself.  Sadly, Douglas's birdie ball was lost among the leaves to the left of the 3rd green, or more likely sailed over the green and sank into the nearby River Cart, so his birdie joy was short-lived.  

We'd really enjoyed our brief visit to Poloc Winter Golf Club and a special thanks must go to Adam, our amiable host and groundsman.  Our green fees will be donated to Cancer Research UK in due course, so thank you for that generous gesture, Adam.  Adam also asked us, on a scale from 1 to 10, just how eccentric we were, as evidenced by our journeys around the country, playing every course we can find.  I suspect I rate a 10, but Douglas has now done 591 courses, so he's definitely heading in that direction. This is me with Adam after our round.  I'd been using my mobile phone camera and somehow switched it to video - and forgotten to clean the lense! 

The Wee Poloc golf course is open to the public and as the signs say, the club as a whole  is inviting inviting new members.  Readers of this blog are also world-wide so if anyone finds themselves with time to explore Glasgow beyond the well trodden paths, a warm welcome awaits here. 

Thursday 6 August 2020

Dumbarnie Links - Course No 673

As regular readers of the blog will know, I've now played all of the Scottish courses that are recognised by Scottish Golf, the body that administers the amateur game in Scotland.  I've a few unofficial and pitch and putt courses still to go but I've not managed to play any new courses since the Maverston 9 holer last year.  It was therefore pretty exciting to get the chance on 5 August 2020 to play the newest course in Scotland, Dumbarnie Links, a genuine new links course a few miles south of St Andrews.

I'd heard very positive reports about this course from a couple of Dunbar GC members who had played it recently and I'd also read rave reports on the internet and in various golf magazines, suggesting that Dumbarnie was the real deal, destined to rank alongside the very best courses that Scotland has to offer.  The course website, at, is really superb but I was keen to judge for myself whether Dumbarnie was as good as those reports had suggested.  OK, and I hope I'm not getting carried away here, but Dumbarnie easily met those expectations.  The design, construction, condition and setting were all outstanding.  One of my personal tests of a golf course is whether I'd really want to play it again.  For some of the courses I've played on my travels around Scotland, that'd be definite no, with some additional and unprintable comments.  For Dumbarnie, it's a definite yes and I can't wait to play it again.  Once the clubhouse and some further landscaping are complete this course will definitely be recognised as one of the very best links courses in Scotland and one of the top ranked courses we have. 

In recent years I've worked on assessment panels ranking courses for various golf magazines. Any Top 100 Course etc judgement is inevitably subjective, requiring careful consideration of factors such as architecture and design, conditioning and presentation, consistency, scenery and ambience of the course, playability, variety and challenge etc. but experience tells me that Dumbarnie is already a Scottish Top 20 course.  Fife is naturally the home to some of these and for me, Dumbarnie has joined the likes of the Old Course St Andrews,  Kingsbarns and Crail as must play courses for Fife-based golfing trips.  

Dumbarnie opened for play on 29 May 2020 and was founded and designed by Clive Clark, the well known course architect and former Ryder Cup player.  The 345 acre site rises from sea level to around 80 feet, with the clubhouse set to overlook the course.  Instead of a traditional out and back layout, contesting the prevailing winds, the design weaves its way through a myriad of newly created sand dunes requiring play under all points of the compass.  I particularly liked how the design made use of elevation changes, with a number of elevated tees.  Fairway widths were surprisingly generous.  I'd played Dumbarnie on a relatively still day, but I suspect that those wide fairways might be welcomed on the kind of windy days that can beset our links courses.

I played Dumbarnie with Chris, a sports journalist that I've done some occasional work for, and my close friend Douglas, another of the mad souls set on playing every Scottish course. 4 August had been a horrible windy and wet day when sensible folk like me sheltered indoors with a good book, avoiding the flooded roads and heavy downpours.  5 August had been forecast to be fair, but as we arrived for our early afternoon tee time, the rain started again. Dumbarnie stretches from 5901 Yards from the men's white tees to a meaty 6940 Yards from the black tees, with other tees that could extend the course to a really formidable 7620 Yards for pro tournaments.  Given the rainy conditions we opted for the white tees, making the 5901 Yards, Par 72 course more manageable - in theory!

Dumbarnie started with a south facing 363 Yard Par 4 from an elevated tee.  A burn running along the left side of the fairway and in front of the green made things interesting.  I guess that my home town, North Berwick, would have been visible in the distance but the rain and smirr put paid to that!  These were the views from the tee and for my approach shot, an easy 8 iron from 138 Yards.  I managed to just miss the green to the right but a 10 foot putt for par didn't go as planned.  The greens turned out to be impressively true, but were running a lot slower than they looked, after all of the recent rain.  Still, a bogey start wasn't too bad.

The west-facing 2nd hole was a 455 Yard Par 5 that suggested I'd need good course management.  A burn cuts the fairway into 3 sections, as shown below.  A couple of reasonable shots with Driver and 3 wood left an Approach Wedge to a slightly uphill tiered green, with the pin tucked into a low point on the front left of the green.  3 putts for another bogey from 30 feet reaffirmed impressions about the likely pace of the greens.  By then we'd also noted the impressive condition of the fairways. On some new courses I've played, fairway growth has been sparse but at Dumbarnie all the fairways were really good, with strong growth on sandy soils.

The 3rd hole is a short 294 Yard Par 4, dog leg left facing south-east.  We'd already noticed the architect's use of two different bunkering styles, either deeply riveted or more naturally shaped fairway bunkers with overhanging rough edging, and this interesting contrast is shown in this view from the 3rd tee. Driver, Gap Wedge and a couple of putts for my first par.

The 4th is a 332 Yard Par 4, turning south west, into what would normally be the prevailing wind direction.  Short, but on a windy day.....!  Another par though.  The 5th is a really interesting risk and reward hole and the first  of the double fairway holes.  Going left off the tee to a narrow fairway leaves a more direct and shorter second shot.  Go right to a wider fairway and face a far longer approach.  Our choice of the white tees meant this hole wasn't quite as formidable as it would otherwise be but I got out of position on the left, had a really awkward stance inches short of one of the fairway bunkers and had to settle for double bogey after another 3 putt green.  Poor course management, Alan.

This is the 6th, and the first of the four Par 3s. We guessed there's a great view south west over Largo Bay.  An easy 7 iron, slightly uphill and an equally easy par. A very meaty 226 Yards in a pro tournament into the prevailing south west wind, though!

The 7th is a really good 477 Yard Par 5, slightly uphill.  Another good par after a couple of straight shots and an easy short iron to the angled green.  Next was the shortest hole on the course, the downhill 122 Yard Par 3 8th, as shown below.  Chris had taken a wedge but I tried an easy 9, didn't hit through the ball and skied it into the penalty area running to the right of the green.  Double bogey from there was disappointing, on what looked to be one of the easier holes.
The 9th was my favourite hole at Dumbarnie, as shown below.  This is a 351 yard Par 4, facing south from an elevated tee.  The line was just right of the fairway mound (and thanks to the small boat on that line in the distance!).  Ironically, one of my best drives left a short iron to a heavily contoured green.  Another par, albeit with a Mulligan from the tee, after a lost ball somewhere to the right of the nearest bunker!  With that Mulligan, I was out in 42.
The 10th is a really strong Par 4, at 423 Yards, played in the heaviest of the rain showers we experienced.  474 yards off the Blue tee and 524 off the tournament tee, facing south east.  What you don't see from the tee is that a burn, extending into a large pond, cuts across the hole at the landing zone for decent drives. I'd hit a straight drive and was glad that I'm not the longest off the tee these days! A 6 Rescue over the water veered right, into the penalty area so a double bogey from there was acceptable.  Good hole though!

The 11th is a short 247 Yard risk and reward Par 4 as shown below.  I managed another par after duffing my tee shot short and left into medium rough.  I'd a great and very lucky lie and a good 7 iron found the green for an easy enough par.
Next came the 12th, a 332 Yard Par 4, played in more heavy rain.  I'd hit a decent straight drive and managed a punched 8 iron to a yard for a rare birdie.  Go me!  The 13th is a formidable 488 Yard Par 5, extending to 603 for tournaments.  I hooked a drive into light rough but had a blind second over a fairway bunker, with trouble ahead.  I opted for a recovery wedge, leaving the choice between going for the left section of the fairway, with a shorter route in over nasty looking fairway bunkering, or a longer approach from the wider right section of the split fairway.  A poorly played wood found one of the bunkers and cost me a double bogey, saved by a rare single putt.  

14th next, a simple looking 147 Yard Par 3.  A 7 iron to the back of the green, leaving a 15 foot downhill putt, which I left in the jaws of the hole. The 15th was a 521 Yard Par 5 (603 off the very back tee!) and another of the split fairway holes. I could have gone right, leaving a daunting carry over rough and bunkering to set up a short approach to the green.  However,I opted for the safety of a the left section of the fairway, leaving 3 wood and an easy 7 iron to within 10 feet.  I missed the putt but an easy par.  
The 16th, as shown below, was the longest of the Par 3s at 159 Yards, slightly uphill to a heavily contoured and tiered 47 yard long green.  From the tee, the front of the green looked to be fairly shallow, but was deceptively deep.  Anyway, that's where my tee shot went, leaving a long putt, which I did in 3!

Next, the 17th, a sharply dog leg right and uphill Par 4.  The direct route would leave a short pitch to the green but I opted for the safety of the corner of the dog leg, leaving an 8 iron to the green.  Another 3 putt though after misjudging the pace of the green.

Finally, to the closing hole, a 393 Yard Par 4.  The drive landing zone is generous, leaving an inviting long shot to the green, as seen here, with the clubhouse still under construction. I missed the green short and right, finding a bunker.  Another 3 putt green and I was round in 85 with a remarkable 39 putts.  Net 73 but on a drier day, with more normal green speeds, I'd hope to do a bit better.  Next time though, I'd go for the more demanding blue tees, extending the White tee course by around 500 yards.

We were all very impressed by Dumbarnie and in parts, it reminded us of other courses.  The old wall on 17 had echoes of Renaissance, some of the bunkers could have been from Machrihanish Dunes and other parts brought Kingsbarns, The Castle and other courses to mind.  Indeed, we wondered whether, in time, golfers playing such courses would see reminders of Dumbarnie.  Dumbarnie has opened in the most difficult times facing Scottish Golf that we can remember, with almost no foreign golf tourists being able to travel, thanks to Covid 19 restrictions.  Despite that, the course was busy on 5 August, with Scottish and other UK national visitors. In time, it looks set to attract large numbers of visitors, particularly as an additional destination for those coming to play at St Andrews, Kingsbarns and Crail etc.  It certainly has the quality they'd be looking for and I have a number of friends in the USA and Canada who are already keen to try Dumbarnie for themselves.  Hopefully next year, Glenn, Scott, Mark, Chuck and the rest of you guys!

Finally, a  view from the back of the 17th looking roughly south towards North Berwick and Edinburgh. That dark cloud soon blew over to leave the course bathed in sunshine, just as we got back to the car park.  Next time maybe I'll time it better.