Sunday, 1 September 2019

Maverston Golf Course - 9 Hole Par 3 Course - Course No 672

When Craig, Stu and I played the then new Maverston 18 hole course in 2014, a 9 Hole Par 3 course was under construction inside the full course layout.  We'd obviously need to play that sometime so my trip to play the new Kings course in Inverness provided an ideal opportunity. I'd played at Hopeman on the morning of 30 August 2019 and it's only a short drive from Hopeman to Maverston, near the village of Urquhart in Moray.  The wind had really increased dramatically in that time and I was soon chasing my golf shoes and other golf gear blowing away across the car park.  Whatever I was going to play next, it would be a real test. 

The 9 Hole course is only 1250 Yards long, Par 27 but one look at the card suggested that even without the gale that was now sweeping across the exposed site, this little course would have some teeth.  The holes range form 101 to 187 Yards, but the wind and the elevated nature of most of the very small greens meant that my choice of clubs would be critical.  I'd put my putter, 58 degree lob wedge, 9 iron, 7 iron and 20 Degree Rescue into a light carry bag and enough balls to survive the evil looking heavy rough that looked ready to swallow anything hit or blown offline.  I'll not detail every hole, since this is one of the small courses that have to be visited if every course is to be played, rather than a significant course in its own right.  Truth be told, it's probably just for beginners and short game practice but with that gale blowing it was still pretty formidable.  I went round in 31, with a birdie 2 at the 135 Yard 5th and 5 bogeys on some of the longer holes.  Here are some photos of the course

31 shots, including 14 putts in a little under an hour.  No food in the clubhouse unfortunately and my drive home took well over 5 hours.  A long day, but I'd finally got back to Maverston.  I don't think I'll go there again, though, either to play the 9 or the 18 hole layout.  There are many other and to me at least, more enjoyable courses in the Moray area.   

Hopeman Golf Club

When I was planning my trip to play the new Kings GC course in Inverness, I knew I'd need an overnight stay, since it's a good 4 hour drive from home.  I'd also been wanting to play the 9 hole Par 3 course in Maverston GC, so I factored in playing one of the other local courses on the morning of 30 August 2019.  Hopeman was the choice, a course I was very familiar with.  Way back around 1985 my group of golfing buddies started what would become an annual golf trip to Elgin, staying for a week and playing twice a day at local courses, from Nairn to Cullen.  There are some really good courses up there, such as Nairn, Nairn Dunbar, Old and New Moray, Buckpool, Strathlene, Forres, Cullen, Spey Bay, Garmouth & Kingston and Elgin itself.  My favourite, though, was always Hopeman, a small unheralded village links course but for those in the know, a real gem.  I guess I'd played it about 20 times before my visit last week.  I'd kept a duplicate scorecard from my round there on 30 August 1998, when I played in Hopeman's Gents' Open, for their Andromeda II Trophy, in memory of a local fishing boat disaster.  I shot gross 77 back then, net 65 on a course that in some places was very tight, with perils aplenty, bouncy narrow fairways and more gorse than you'd ever see in a golfing nightmare.  I don't think I actually won but I do remember getting a substantial prize voucher and getting my handicap cut!  Maybe 2nd place, I don't really remember.

So, and by sheer coincidence, I was back at Hopeman exactly 21 years after that epic round.  I'd previously played Hopeman with the same group of golfing buddies, so it was really strange to be fronting up, early morning, to an almost empty car park, without Graham, Donald, Brian M (still missed terribly by all of us, one of life's unique characters. RIP my friend), Martin, JD, Chris, Brian B and other regulars.  Guys, it just wasn't the same this time round.  No banter, "stewards' enquiries," jokes, silly and heroic shots.  Just fond memories on every hole.  

Hopeman is a short 5368 Yard Par 68 links course off the yellow tees (5265 back in 1998).  The 1st is a 342 Yard 4 with a semi blind tee shot played slightly uphill to a heather and gorse lined fairway.  Avoid the bunker and you'll have an easy short iron to the green.  Except, the green is super slick and unless you're very precise you may just be paying it a fleeting visit with your approach.  Bogey here is entirely predictable and that's how I started this emotional return round. The next is where the fun really starts. 301 Yards, Par 4. Sounds easy enough?  Factor in gorse both sides and behind a ditch in front of the small elevated green with gorse behind and it's far from easy.  I'd hit a good straight drive (an essential element if you're to play well here) a short 9 iron pitch and a couple of putts, for a first par.  Next comes the first of the five Par 3s.  153 Yards, blind, to a green shared with the 6th Hole.  Hook it here and you might still be on the green, but 80 or so feet away.  A bunker protects the front right of the green so fly that and hold on tight and you'll be OK.  I got away with another par after 2 good putts.  

The 4th is a very flat 506 Yard Par 5, dog leg left.  Aim at the right side bunker and get past the trees on the dog leg corner to set up a long approach shot.  I missed the green on the left, leaving an awkward pitch over a greenside mound, but a bogey there was acceptable.  It was a long Par 4 back in 1998 and lengthening it by almost 50 yards has put further pressure on the tee shot.  Overall, an improvement I think.  The 5th is an awkward little hole, at 328 Yards, dog leg right.  The temptation is to try to cut across the dog leg but heather and gorse await anything short on that side.  I'd gone straight up the middle, forgetting that  the bouncy links fairways here can deflect even the best shots into trouble.  An outrageous bounce left me with a totally blind wedge shot over gorse to a hidden green.  I'd had that shot before, so knew it only too well.  Easy 4 after a good wedge and a missed birdie putt from 10 feet!  The tee shot for the 6th never really appealed to me.  The fairway looks wide enough, but the little bunker on the left caught me out, again! Bogey there was actually a good result.  The 7th is called "Ditches" so be warned.  This is a flat Par 3 of 178 Yards.  Go over the green at the back or miss it left or right and you may find a deep water-filled ditch, which is just lost ball territory.  I hit 20 Degree Rescue, 58 Degree lob wedge from just off the right side of the green and a 2 putts for another bogey.  This is the 8th, a 337 Yard par 4 that narrows considerably towards the green.  Just avoid the heather and gorse! 

Hopeman's 9th is an uphill 281 Yard Par 4 that plays a bit longer than you'd think.  Find the fairway and it should be a short pitch to the green.  This is one of the easier holes and par is important, given what faces you next.

The Back 9 is simply great fun if you've got enough golf balls on board. Think narrow, gorse, trouble, straight and don't panic.  The 10th is only 294 Yards, but is gorse lined and bumps in the fairway will deflect your tee shot one way or the other.  Get lucky here and you'll have a totally blind shot downhill to a sloping green, as shown here.  Get unlucky and you could easily run up a big score. I fluked a par after finding heavy rough from my straight drive, 6 iron to 15 feet and 2 putts.  

Next, comes the 11th, another narrow gorse lined fairway and more humps than a herd of camels.  350 Yards this time.  Driver, 6 iron, pitch from just off the green and 2 putts.  I've had far worse over the years here, believe me.

Is there a better Par 3 in Scotland than the 12th at Hopeman?  Indeed, I guess I've played around 900 courses in Scotland, England, Ireland, Wales, Sweden, Cyprus, USA, Morocco, Spain, Portugal, and Turkey.  At  4/5 Par 3s each, that's around 4000 Par 3s.  This is in my Top 3.  If you've played a better hole than this, you're a lucky and probably well-travelled golfer.  The 12th is called "Priesach" and is a 137 Yard hole, downhill, to a small green surrounded by gorse and/or sea.  Hit the green and don't 3 putt is all you have to do.  Factor in the exposed tee, high above the sea, the likelihood of a strong wind in your face and the sheer drama of the hole and you might be starting with an old ball! A view from the medal tee and below, and below that, a view back to the green from what is now the 15th tee.

Just a terrific hole that I wanted to play all day.  There was no-one behind so the temptation was definitely there.  I managed bogey with both balls! Back in 1998, the course routing followed a very long and steep path behind the 12th green, so it was quite a walk to the 13th tee.  I gathered from talking to the greenkeepers repairing a nearby path that the layout changed around 15 years ago, with the 13th tee being relocated to the left of the 12th tee, meaning that the 13th was rerouted and the 12th now sits on its own.  Once you've finished the 12th, you now have to walk back up the same path you went down, leaving your clubs at the top. Personally, I preferred the original layout, but it's still a truly great hole, well worth visiting Hopeman to enjoy.

The 13th is now a 382 Yard almost flat Par 4, rather than a 339 Yard partially uphill hole.  I think I prefer the old layout.  However, I'm splitting hairs there as this is still a strong hole, played into the prevailing wind. The 14th as shown here, remains much the same and is a 370 Yard downhill Par 4, with a generously wide fairway, played downwind.   I like this hole, and if you play it sensibly, there's no difficulty in getting par.If like me you miss the green with your approach, bogey will probably be your best bet.  I'd 4 holes left to scramble a score, but I'd need 4 pars to equal the 1998 score of 77 gross.

The 15th is a delightful little Par 3 of only 122 Yards as seen here from the tee. With the wind helping, it was only a flick with a wedge to clear the bunker in front of the green and let the ball carry down the slope to the green.  Most times your ball will land on a downslope so holding the green is actually quite difficult.  My tee shot just ran through, but 2 easy putts from there and another par on the card.  The 16th remains a beast of a hole, uphill into the prevailing wind, its 367 Yard plays more like 430.  I played Driver, 3 Wood and 6 iron to reach the green in 3, but a good 15 foot putt rescued the par.  77 still on.

The 17th is the last of the Par 3's and is an uphill 191 Yards, gorse on both sides and at the back, a wall and more trouble.  Only the top of the flag is visible from the tee and i needed a solid Driver to reach the side of the green.  A great little 9 iron pitch and run to a few inches and 77 was STILL on!  The last at Hopeman is a really testing hole.  Your drive will be blind, through a chute of gorse and over a rise in the fairway and there's really nothing to aim at, as shown below.  388 Yards of trouble, with water in front of the green. 
I hit a good straight drive but I was mindful of the watery ditch in front of the green so a 27 Degree Rescue to 70 Yards was my choice, leaving a short pitch to the green as shown below.
The green is tiered and my pitch didn't quite make it to the top tier.  I'd an awkward 15 foot putt, double breaking uphill.  I could probably try 10 times and hole it once but first time was good enough!  32 putts on those excellent greens was good.  A closing par 4 is a Hopeman rarity for me and over the years I've had 6-8 at least.  77 on my return last week matched what I scored in 1998.  40 out and 37 back this time, 37 and 40 back then.  My handicap then was 12 and it's now 11 so I guess I'm not doing badly, 21 years later.  I'd really enjoyed playing Hopeman again, despite the ghosts of past memories intruding on every hole.  We all had great times there over the years and overall, the course is as good as ever.  To any readers who haven't played there, please give it a try if you can.

Saturday, 31 August 2019

Kings Golf Club - Course No 671

In post No 266 about my round at Torvean Golf Course in March 2010, I mentioned the disjointed nature of that course and how it was split into 3 distinct sections by the main road from Inverness to Fort William and a very busy local road (General Booth Road). I also said that some of the holes weren't particularly memorable. Looking back, the layout really wasn't great and the road crossings involved were difficult and disruptive. I also wondered about the safety aspects, particularly for young (and older!) golfers crossing those busy roads. The course wasn't in great condition back then and the clubhouse was tired, so when I heard the Highland Council were going to change the local road layout and would need much of the Torvean land, I was pleased to hear that they would be building a replacement course as part of the overall development. 

The Kings GC website ( advises that "The Kings Golf Club was established in 2019 and designed by Stuart Rennie. Originally the Torvean Golf Club, due to Highland Council investment in the Inverness West Link and redevelopment of the area, a new clubhouse was built, and an 18 hole Championship golf course, driving and practice area." The website is pretty informative and attractive but I really didn't know what to expect when I visited the new course on 29 August 2019.

The course is easy enough to find, even if my car's sat nav had never heard of it, or the new road the clubhouse sits on. First impressions were hugely positive. I would be playing the course on a weekday in very dodgy weather, but the large car park was almost full, the club house impressively busy and lots of golfers out there, despite occasional heavy showers. The club pro was very welcoming and told me that club membership was expanding and that, despite the course only being opened a for a few weeks, it was settling down well and the club was delighted with early progress on the new site.  This is a view of the clubhouse from the first tee, and a look across to the 18th green (and more about that excellent hole later!)

The "yellow tees" course starts with a 364 Yard Par 4.  My tee shot was blind, over a ridge in the fairway, or would have been, had I actually hit it far enough. I blame the 4 hour drive to get there!  Thankfully, I'd been cautious enough to take a walk forward to see what was hidden beyond the ridge. There's a small burn on front of the green, enough to persuade me to lay up short, as shown here.  An easy chip and a couple of putts and a first new hole completed. The 2nd hole is a short slightly downhill 303 Yard Par 4.  A reasonable drive, a punched 7 iron into the strong wind and the first of many heavy showers, and my first missed birdie, but an easy par. The next couple of holes are just over the 390 mark, but played much longer in the wind and rain, so double bogey, bogey wasn't too surprising.  Much of the 4th is uphill, with another burn to cross and a blind shot to the green so it's Stroke Index 1 status wasn't a surprise. The 5th, a "short" but uphill dog leg left 493 Yard Par 5 is a really good hole.  Played downwind, it was still a good test.  I laid up short of the dog leg to give way to one of the greenkeepers working on the fairway.  They're doing a great job!  

This is the approach to 5th green, slightly uphill and depth perception is limited. I'd caught up with a couple of members by then, who invited me to join them from the 6th, and were clearly enjoying their new home course. The 6th is a meaty 406 Yard Par 4, played across a side sloping fairway.  The bold line is over a fairway bunker, leaving a longish shot to a plateau green. I played a 23 Degree Rescue just short of the green, but a good chip and another missed short putt added another bogey to the card.

The 7th is the first of three Par 3's and at 159 Yards, downhill and downwind, played much shorter than it looked. My easy 7 iron looked very close but turned out to be all of 10 feet.  The green surfaces were outstanding throughout the course.  Medium paced but very true and smooth as you'd ever like to see, just a delight to putt on. That said, I misread the swing and a good birdie chance.  One of the guys had to walk in to go to his work, so Willie, a recently retired police officer and now school janitor (a safer task, methinks), set out to play the rest of the course.  Willie had only played the course a few times since it opened but it was clear that he and other members were delighted with their new surroundings.  The 8th hole is an awkward uphill Par 4 of 397 Yards that plays longer than it looks.  It's also side on to the prevailing westerly wind so it was no surprise that our tee shots found light rough to the right of the fairway.  A hillock of gorse bushes makes the approach shot from there totally blind and I really didn't have the energy to walk up the hill to get a feel for the shot.  Predictably, I missed the green with my 6 iron shot and a bogey followed.

The 9th is called "Rest in Peace" presumably because it is a potential score killer of a Par 4, played slightly uphill but for us, directly into the prevailing wind and a heavy rain shower.  I'd hit a decent drive followed by a 3 Wood but was still 20 yards short of the green.  A great 9 iron pitch to 2 inches (yes, really!) led to an unlikely par.  I was out in 43, or 7 over par, so not great, but I was already loving the course and having fun.  Buffer zone would be the target!  The 10th is "Rennie's Legacy" in tribute to the course designer and a 142 Yard Par 3 that's deceptively tricky. A burn cuts across 20 yards in front of the green and shouldn't really come into play, unless like me, you sky a 7 iron into the strong wind that was by then howling across the course.  A meek bogey, before the course turns sharply uphill.  The 11th is "Cemetery Hill" a 337 Yard Par 4 that played more like 390.  Driver, 3 Wood, 58 degree lob wedge and another missed putt added yet another bogey.  Par there might be a rare beast though. The 12th takes you up to the top of the course, with great views over to the city and surrounding hills.  Your tee shot needs to avoid a cleverly placed fairway bunker (which I missed by at least a yard!) to set up a slightly downhill short iron to the green, as shown above.  Yes, another bogey after just missing the green.  

This is the 13th, a really good 171 Yard Par 3, played directly into the wind.  Driver, would you believe? 9 iron pitch from just short of the green and a tap in putt for par.  The 14th is a really good downhill dog leg right 433 Yard Par 4 that plays shorter than it looks.  After the climb up the 11th and 12th, this hole comes as welcome relief.  Ground preparation works are currently underway for a housing development that in due course will lie mainly between the 14th and 2nd fairways, so maybe those folks will have good views over the course!  The 15th is the Kings' longest hole at a meaty 570 Yards off the White tee and a more manageable 524 off our yellow tee.  The fairway is generously wide, for now at least, and I managed an unlikely par after a good putt - the excellent greens again!

16 is the last of the Par 3s and a stiff test in that wind.  This is a view from the tee.  Another slightly missed green and a saving single putt meant I was 1 over for the four Par 3s. Not too shabby, Alan! The penultimate hole is another really strong hole, at 452 Yards, uphill, with a penalty area water hazard to the right of the fairway.  a left side bunker comes into play, narrowing the tee shot landing zone and I needed a really good Driver and 3 Wood to leave a short pitch to the flag. I missed the 4 foot putt for par but I just needed bogey up the last to make my buffer zone (gross 83).

The course designer had used some of the original land on the previous course for the new 1st and 18th holes. The busy local road runs alongside the right of the 18th but isn't too intrusive.  Indeed, I'd forgotten how close the course is to roads and housing, since holes 2-17 are played in a peaceful countryside setting. Maybe that'll lessen once the housing development is built. I hope not, because Kings is already a really impressive course and it's last hole is probably my favourite, a 355 Yard Par 4. Your tee shot will be blind and slightly uphill over a hump in the fairway, ideally avoiding trees to right and left.  I'd hit a decent drive but was left with a downhill sloping lie for my 145 Yard approach shot to the green.  Normally no great problem, but the design had made clever use of an existing pond, by locating the green immediately behind it and in front of the clubhouse windows, as shown here. Rather than go for the green, and doubtless risk a lost ball, I opted to aim short of the bunker to the right of the green and take my chances from there.  The wind was gusting strongly across the hole so my approach shot ended up 20 yards wide of the green in light rough.  An easy pitch with my 9 iron, 2 putts and I'd gone round in 83, less 11, for a net 72.  Buffer zone with 31 putts, so not bad really, in difficult playing conditions.

I'd really enjoyed the course, which was in amazing condition, considering it had only opened for play a few weeks previously. The greens were simply outstanding.  There are lots of really good courses in the Inverness area already and this is another.  I really liked the set up and with club membership already increasing markedly, I suspect that Kings will quickly establish itself as one of the best courses in the area. £40 a round for a Scottish Golf member and £27 a head for outings are great deals, so what are you waiting for?  Get along to Kings and see for yourself.

A final word for my playing partner, Willie, who's wife is currently battling cancer.  My best wishes for her future health, Willie. I really hope that it's good news next week. Cancer hits most of us sooner or later, directly or indirectly and I'm just glad that Craig, Stu and I have done a tiny bit to raise funds towards research efforts.

Sunday, 25 August 2019

New Courses

Regular readers of the blog will know that I've previously recognised that playing every course is an evolving process, as new courses open and others close.  So, I'm excited by the challenge of playing a couple of new courses next week and returning to play an old favourite.

I played the Torvean golf course in Inverness in 2010 (Blog entry 266)  a municipal course that was operated by the Highland Council.  Since then, the Council has changed the road layout in the area, using land from the Torvean course.  Part of the deal was that the Council would replace the Torvean course and the new King's GC opened earlier this year on land adjacent to the original layout.  Early reports are that it is a great improvement on the original so I'm looking forward to playing the King's.

When I played the 18 holer at Maverston in  2014, a 9 hole Par 3 course on the site was still under construction.  It opened a while later so after I've played at the King's, I'll drive over and play that 9 hole course. 

I'll also be playing the terrific course at Hopeman GC, for around the 20th time.  This is a real gem and a truly great test as well as one of the most enjoyable courses I've played in my travels around Scotland's golf courses.  The first time I played it was around 1982, long before I started my blog, so entry No 1 simply lists it as a course I'd played before the blog was created.  I'm looking forward to seeing how the course plays these days and to try to complete the round without losing a ball, something that is very easy to do on the Back 9!  Narrow gorse lined undulating links fairways and treacherous rough abound, but some of the holes are simply outstanding, none more so than the epic Par 3 12th, one of the most photographed and spectacular holes I've played on my travels.I just hope the weather is as good as it was when this photo of that hole was taken!

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Musselburgh GC

Also known as Monktonhall, this is an excellent 18 hole parkland course on the edge of Musselburgh, a small coastal town to the east of Edinburgh and is another of the 200+ courses that I'd already played when I started writing this blog. I played it again on 27June 2018 as part of my current work for a golf magazine, to identify and rank Scotland's Top 100 courses.

The Monktonhall course owes its origins to the Open Championship's long association with the town, which hosted the Open on what is now the Musselburgh Old Course 6 times in the 1870's and 1880's. Musselburgh as a town has had 5 Open Champions, winning a remarkable 11 titles between them, so Musselburgh has a uniquely important place in the history of golf. When the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers moved from their home at what is now Musselburgh Old to their current location at Muirfield in 1891, they took with them the local venue for the Open.  In an attempt to re-establish the town's link to the Open, the Musselburgh Town Council decided to build a new championship standard 18 hole course.  Unfortunately, land only became available in the 1930's and the 5 times open Champion, James Braid, who had become a renowned golf course architect by then, was commissioned to design the new course at Monktonhall, on the outskirts of the town.  The course officially opened in 1938 and has remained largely unchanged ever since, apart from some newer teeing grounds. Braid had commented at the time that "if you want a championship course, you need length."  That's the key word that still comes to mind, and as the Course Guide says, "to have any hope of conquering this course you have to be able to keep the ball in play while still being long off the tee."

The course can certainly be long, at 6842 Yards from the very back tees, but I played it again from the "more manageable" Yellow tees, at 6241 Yards, Par 69.  Interestingly, the course scorecard also provides a men's par and SSS from the Ladies' Red tees, recognising that for some (dare I say more mature?) members, even the Yellow tees provide an extremely difficult challenge.  This is a good idea that I wish more clubs would follow.

The course starts with a downhill tee shot on a 346 Yard Par 4, with OOB to the left of the fairway.  I'd not had time to warm up so it was no surprise that my tee shot, as overseen by watchful eyes from the clubhouse windows etc I suspected, headed hard left towards the OOB.  Missing that by a yard, I was happy enough to scramble an opening bogey on what was by far the shortest of the 13 Par 4s.  The weather had been  hot and sunny for what seemed like weeks on end, so the fairways were really dry and running a lot faster than might be expected of a parkland course.  Indeed, high spots on the fairways were clearly turning brown and crusty, with the course playing more like a links.  This is a side view of the front of the 2nd green with a ridge running at an angle to the green.  In typical parkland conditions, the front would be receptive to most shots but being so hard and dry, it was more difficult to judge how short game shots would play.  Indeed, my approach to the left side green had run 30 yards, almost finding the bunker on the right.  This was an early warning that although the course was playing shorter than normal, scoring well might still be very difficult.

The shortest hole is the 3rd, at a mere 124 Yards, but the target looked small from the tee, with bunkers aplenty to contend with.  Note the overhanging steep faces to the biggest bunker here.  I hit the green OK but my ball ran off a side slope, leaving an awkward pitch from bone hard fairway over a bunker.  Thankfully I managed a bogey. The 4th is a good and partially uphill Par 5 and by then I was noticing that the fairways were generously wide, such that a moderately mis-hit tee shot escaped real punishment.  However, length was still an issue and my trusty 3 wood was needed to get anywhere near to the green.  An easy enough par, but I bogeyed the next couple of holes after finding bunkers.  Next came the formidable 7th, a 441 Yard Par 4, requiring a really long drive if you're to have any chance of reaching the green in regulation.  If, like me, you don't clear the ridge in the middle of the fairway and don't bother to consult the Course Guide, you risk finding the large bunker some 60 Yards out from the green.  Some of the bunkers had extremely steep faces, and unusually, balls would hold on them, rather than run down to the bottom of bunkers.  I'd an awful lie in this particular bunker, with my ball at knee height, so another bogey on the card.  

The course is laid out in 2 sections, Holes 1-7 and 16-18 are separated from the rest of the course by an extremely busy railway line.  Holes 8-15 are on the other side of the railway and are also adjacent to the A1 main road from Edinburgh to East Lothian and beyond.  These holes were affected by rail and road traffic noise but were still very interesting.  The 8th, as shown here, played a lot shorter than its 386 Yards, the fairway was particularly dry and golden brown and lay slightly above the tee, so a good tee shot hit over the deep gully that found the fairway would run close to the green.  Similarly, the 9th, as shown below, was downhill and the only real concern was avoiding the little burn in front of the green.  A good hole!

I was out in an unremarkable 42, or 7 over par.  However, this wasn't too bad taking into account the length of the Par 4s.  From work that I do for our amateur golf governing body in reviewing the Standard Scratch Scores of courses for handicapping purposes, I know that a bogey golfer is considered likely to be able to hit a drive of 200 yards and a second shot of 170 Yards, including roll.  Of the 6 Par 4s on the Front 9 here, only the 1st hole is shorter than 370 Yards i.e. within range in 2 shots by a bogey golfer.  In other words, someone at my handicap level is likely to drop a shot at those holes unless they either hit longer than usual or can somehow scramble a par from short of the green.  For example, the 7th at Musselburgh is a meaty 441 Yard Par 4, so a bogey golfer might be expected to need 3 shots to reach the green.  Factor in the fairway bunker I'd found and this is a really difficult hole. 

The Back 9 has 7 Par 4s, ranging from 367 (close to the limit of the distance a bogey golfer could expect to hit in 2 shots) to a formidable 463 Yards.  Musselburgh is a good course, but by the time I'd finished I was wishing there had been a little risk and reward Par 4, driveable for the big boys and giving us shorter hitters some much needed variety in second shots.  There's nothing wrong with the occasional 300 Yard Par 4, well defended by bunkers etc. as necessary, giving players the chance to hit an accurate wedge, but I seemed  to be reaching for my 3 woods or rescue clubs after drives on the majority of the Par 4s.  For example, the 12th was a 463 Yard Par 4.  I'd hit a good drive and 3 Wood but still needed a pitch over a greenside bunker to reach the green.  Note the crow in this photo of that bunker. I landed within a yard of it and it never so much as turned its head as if to ask if that was the best I could do! The only time I'd get close to a birdie, I thought.  

Oddly enough, I also thought one of the best holes at Musselburgh was the last, a 424 Yard Par 4 that climbs up to finish in front of the clubhouse, as shown here. Once again, It's important to hit your longest drive, but this hole usually plays into the prevailing wind so good luck if you're a short hitter.  There's also a ridge  across the fairway so your second shot might be blind.  This hole is also a Par 4 (at 474 Yards) off the White medal tee and I wonder how many members can regularly reach in 2.  I'd gone round in 84, net 74, with 31 putts, so not too bad, I suppose.  The course had been in really good condition, with the greens in particular being excellent and I'd enjoyed the experience, in hot sunny weather.  Musselburgh is well worth playing but be prepared for some long holes and a really stern test.  As Mr Braid said, if you want a championship course, you need length.  The same can be said if you want to play this course really well.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

West Linton GC

This is an excellent 18 hole moorland course south of Edinburgh in the Scottish Borders and is another of the 200+ courses that I'd already played when I started writing this blog. I played it again on 8 June 2018 as part of my current work for a golf magazine, to identify and rank Scotland's Top 100 courses.

I hesitate to use the old "Hidden Gem" cliche, but this is a course that's well worth seeking out.  If you get it on the kind of windless, warm and sunny day that I had, you'll be in for a treat.  But take your A game too.  West Linton starts quietly, with a short Par 4 of only 277 Yards, but the 1st green, like so many here, is quite small and well defended by bunkers, so take care.  I didn't have time for a warm up, so my hooked drive into the trees to the left of the fairway wasn't the best of starts.  Time to manage a bogey and that done, the next was the shortest of the 5 Par 3s.  An easy looking hole but I found one of the bunkers, so another bogey.

This is the view from the 3rd tee. The 3rd is a modest 334 Yard Par 4, with the green partially hidden behind mounding to either side of the fairway.  What you won't see is that the left of the green is raised above some fearsome rough so miss the green at your peril. I'd an easy par but I knew from past experience of playing here that West Linton was about to show it's teeth.  The 4th is a 509 Yard Par 5 and the green slopes steeply down to rough and bunkers on its left side.  The pin was on the left so muggins here tries to get cute with his 3rd shot, only to hook it into deep rough.  A bogey was actually not too bad from there!

The 5th is a huge 465 Yard Par 4.  Moorland courses can be quite damp at times, but the fairways were pretty dry, given our recent lack of rain.  Even so, a good Driver and 3 Wood meant  I was still well short of the green.  Another bogey, I'm afraid.  The 6th was an easy enough short Par 4 and next came what I thought was one of the best holes on the course.  The 7th is only 319 Yards, but your second shot will be steeply uphill, as shown here. Factor in the pin position I faced at the front of the green, 6 yards on, just beyond the start of a slope that, if you find it, might take your ball back down the hill.  I hit a really good drive and had a short pitch to the green, for an easy 4, but this is a seriously interesting hole.

Next, the formidable 8th, a 436 Yard Par 4 and the Stroke Index 1 hole.  Your drive will be blind over a hill.  Don't get suckered into playing too far to the right of the marker pole, since rough awaits there - as I found to my cost.  A dodgy double bogey was the best I could do, but I at least I parred the 147 Yard 9th, to go out in 41.  

The Back 9 starts with an easy looking 324 Yard Par 4, played slightly downhill.  However, the green is small (again) and I could only manage a bogey.  The 11th is another long Par 4, at 459 Yards, but if you struggle on that, the 12th is a downhill 191 Yard Par 3 that plays a lot shorter than it looks.  I missed my birdie putt, but got my revenge on the 13th, a 283 Yard Par 4.  The line off the tee is the small copse of trees to the right of the fairway, which slopes from right to left.  I really liked the variety of pin positions on the course, from easy to really testing.  The pin here was tucked away on the back right side of the green, with an evil looking pot bunker dead in line.  I could play safe or hit a Mickelson-type lob wedge.  Golf Truism No 1 is that most great shots go unwitnessed, while bad shots are often visible by crowds.  Suffice to say that my birdie was a tap in. Go me!

14 and 15 were, by comparison, poorly played. The 15th is another of West Linton's long Par 4s, at a formidable 453 Yards from the yellow tee.  I guess I could play that hole quite a few times before getting a par! Anyway, on to the 16th, a really good Par 4 at "only" 429 Yards.  The tee shot is blind over a hill that straddles the fairway, leaving a long second shot to a plateau green, as shown here.  You also won't see the dip at the front of the green when playing your second.  You might get lucky with the pin position, but when I played it on 8 June, the pin was right at the front of the green.  Bump and run was the logical shot but after my great lob wedge on the 13th, I tried again. Remarkably, I managed to get that 3rd shot to within 3 feet, even with the 4ball in front of me watching from the adjacent 17th tee!  Sadly, my par putt missed, but hey, who's this Mickelson guy anyway?

The 2 closing holes at West Linton are unusual, both being Par 3s.  This is the 17th, a 189 Yarder played over a water hazard. Distance perception is difficult too, since the hole is slightly uphill.  I managed an easy Par 3, so I'd got as far as the 18th tee in 76 blows. Not too bad, considering my difficulties with some of the longer Par 4s.  The 18th, as shown below, is a really tough closing hole, at 222 Yards, slightly uphill, with OOB to the right and the car park behind (not really as close to the green as you might think).  I'd been watching a couple of 4balls play this hole, with nobody getting close to the green in regulation. Not encouraging but I managed to hit a really good Driver (!) to within a foot of the front of the green.  However, I'd failed to notice that the green sloped uphill from front to middle, so a 3 putt from there was a weak end to a pretty reasonable round.  80 shots, with 33 putts wasn't too shabby, given that I'd a really bad cold and wasn't feeling too great. 

West Linton is a really good course, well worth a visit!  There's a good variety of holes here, and great views of the surrounding farmland and hills. Every aspect of your game will be tested and be accurate in your approach shots to the greens if you can!

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Eyemouth GC

When I started this blog in 2009,  I listed all of the 200+ courses that I'd already played, with the intention of writing only about those that I had yet to play  Nine years, too many lost golf balls, thousands of miles and a huge number of shots on 400+ golf courses later, and I've actually finished playing all of the 587 courses recognised by Scottish Golf plus many more unofficial courses.  A few folk have asked whether I have any plans to revisit and write about the "missing" 200+. The short answer to that is no.  However, as I'm now doing some work for a prominent golf magazine that involves playing our best courses (yes, I know, but someone's got to do it!), I will be revisiting some of those courses again.  Accordingly, I'll be adding to the blog as and when I'm playing these courses again (not forgetting the few unofficial courses that I've still got on my "to play" list.

The first course that I've visited again is Eyemouth GC, an 18 hole gem sited on cliff tops on the east coast of Scotland, just 10 miles north of the border with England. Eyemouth was founded in 1894 as a 9 hole course but the construction of a new road to Eyemouth Harbour in 1997 created the opportunity for the course to be extended to 18 holes. Eyemouth has 3 main claims to fame.  It's the first course you'll pass on the way up the A1 road from England, it's 6th hole is recognised as the most extraordinary hole in Great Britain and its 13th is, at 656 Yards, the longest hole in Scotland. But it also has another claim to fame, namely that it's as welcoming a club as you'll find. At most clubs, the back tees are reserved for competition play, but here, visitors are invited to challenge themselves against the very back tees on these two special holes.  A refreshing change!

Anyway, I fronted up on 9 May 2018, on a cool, dry but increasingly windy day, when this little course was clearly ready to bare its teeth. The 1st hole is a straight 506 Yard Par 5, with a couple of blind shots over small hills.  Just take the mobile phone mast in the distance as your line and avoid hitting the guys on the 2nd tee, Alan!  That done, an easy par start.  The 424 Yard 2nd (as shown here) was the Stroke Index 2 hole but I was playing it downwind so that was another easy par.

The redesign of the course has created some really good holes, this downhill 146 Yard Par 3 3rd being one of the best.  This would be a tricky hole, in full view of the clubhouse windows, but the addition of a pond in front of the green makes it really challenging. Long is better than short but very long, when the Greenkeeper was passing by, was just embarrassing.  A bogey 4 was OK.  The 4th is why you need to buy a Course Guide before playing. This is a 289 Yard Par, and Stroke Index 18. First time I played it shortly after the course had been extended, I (naturally) pulled out the driver.  I later found the ball when playing the 5th, on the other side of the road that now bisects the course.  Please note - the 4th is a dog leg that requires a 7 iron at most to stay short of bunkers that line the edge of the fairway, before the road takes over!  I played safe this time, but the increasing wind came into play, I was short with my second shot and another bogey was on the card.

The 5th is an easy looking slightly uphill and downwind Par 4, but there's a blind dip in front of the green, just to get you thinking.  By now you'll be anticipating the famous 6th, the most extraordinary hole in Great Britain.  But you've not gone all that way just to play off the Yellow Tee, have you?  No, you go out to the White tee and turn to look at the apparently massive gap in the cliff, with the sea a good hundred feet below, the wall of rock facing you, that sliver of grass and the top of the flag, just visible a formidably long way away.  You're glad that you're at the far end of the course, with no-one watching, until a couple of walkers stop to take in the spectacle.  You're maybe also wondering whether they've seen your first feeble effort with an old ball or whether you can brass it out, claiming you've done the impossible and are now going to play another ball from the easier yellow tee, just for the fun of it.  Please do not wimp out.  The 6th is one of those rare unforgettable holes that you just must play from the very back tee.  Club selection is key, as you obviously need enough to fly the gap, but the green is considerably higher than the tee and there's the wind....!  My 20 Degree Rescue did the job, just, but I was way left, over beside the next tee, so a bogey 4 was the best I could do.  Here are a couple of photos that give a flavour of this terrific hole.

The 7th is a short 324 Yard Par 4, played slightly downhill into the prevailing wind, running along the side of the cliffs.  Club selection is vital off the tee, as a good long  drive runs the risk of running into a deep cleft in the cliff face or if slightly too far right, into a couple of nasty bunkers.  I was happy with my bogey after flirting with a sheer drop to the sea, far below, after a wayward drive. This was my view for the 2nd shot and a landmark photo in my travels.  I've been using a now battered and old Sony Cybershot 7.2 megapixel camera for just about all of my blog photos since 2009, but it's now jammed, with no signs of life, other than an invitation to turn it off and on again, which then repeats itself.  Looks as though it wasn't indestructible after all!   

The next couple of holes start the trek inland and are short Par 4's, up then downhill.  I was out in 39, playing not too badly, but I knew from past Eyemouth rounds that the Back 9 would be more challenging, being almost exactly 400 yards longer, considerably more hilly and with some quirky greens.

The back 9 starts with a really good short Par 5, dog leg right.  A good drive is essential, to leave a second shot that must finish between the burn that crosses the fairway and the pond in front of the 2-tiered green.  It should be an easy enough hole with careful course management, but the wind caught my pitch to the green and blew it sideways left, so I had to settle for a bogey.  The 11th was my least favourite hole at Eyemouth.  At 279 Yards, this Par 4 might look innocuous in the Course Guide, but it's very steeply uphill into the prevailing wind, the green is only 21 yards deep and half of that is so steeply sloped from back down to front that a ball is very unlikely to hold unless it makes the top tier.  I'd hit a decent drive but still needed a 23 Degree Rescue to reach the green, only to see my ball run back down into one of the 3 bunkers defending the green.  This is a really tough hole, so be warned.  The slope on the 12th green is a bit like the 11th, so although this is a short 165 Yard Par 3, you must find the back of the green with your tee shot, played over a deep gulley.  The wind again came into play and I needed a my Driver to get there.

The 13th is Eyemouth's second signature hole an epic roller coaster Par 5, played downwind and downhill, with a water hazard running alongside the left of the fairway, culminating in a large pond in front of the green.  It's pretty meaty off the Yellow tee, at 590 Yards, but there was ample land behind and above the Yellow and White tees when the course was remodelled, so there's now a tiger tee at the highest point of the course, turning this into a 656 Yard monster. The longest hole in Scotland? I think so and if you ever play Eyemouth, be sure to take the walk and play this hole from the tiger tee, just for fun.  The  panoramic view from the tee is stunning and if you can nail your drive and the wind is helping, you'll be hitting one of your longest ever drives!  The second shot might be blind but the fairway was generously wide and left me with an unlikely chance of reaching the green in regulation, or laying up short of the pond.  I took the conservative approach and was happy enough with a 6.  A great hole! The 14th offers some relief and is an easy enough short Par 4, dog leg left, slightly uphill.  Easy enough if you find the right level on the 2-tier green, that is!  I just missed birdie after a good short iron approach.  

The 15th is the Stroke Index 1 hole and at 441 Yards, is the longest Par 4 at Eyemouth.   Another hole played uphill into the prevailing wind with a steeply sloping green and just to make it even trickier, a burn splitting the fairway that comes into play for your second shot.  I managed a 5 but in truth, I could probably play this hole many many times without getting a par.  The 16th should be relatively straightforward, but in the 6 or so times I've played this course, I don't remember ever getting a par.  The key is to position the tee shot at or beyond the corner of the dog leg, leaving a short iron to a plateau green, well defended by 3 deep bunkers.  I got the first bit right but found an awful lie in one of the bunkers with my second shot and trudged up the hill to the short 17th debating how I'd managed a double bogey!  The 17th is an inviting short Par 3, played over a small gulley, with banking behind the green to catch anything overhit.  An easy par and on to the last hole, a really good 530 Yard Par 5, played downwind.  Keep your drive to the left side of the fairway and be careful not to over hit your approach to the green, as seen here (a photo "borrowed" from an internet source).  I was nearer to the practice putting green after doing just that, hence my closing bogey!

I'd gone round in 84, net 74, with 32 putts.  The composite course I played was around 6300 Yards, Par 72, so a pretty good round in the circumstances.  I'd bogeyed both of the signature holes, but they'll both live long in the memory. It's a pity that Eyemouth doesn't get the huge visitor numbers it deserves, as it's great fun to play, even if your game isn't up to the challenge of some epic holes and sloping greens.  Do yourself a favour and give it a try, with a spare ball or 3 for your shots from the 6th back tee!