Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Girvan GC course no 241

I played this municipal course, run by South Ayrshire Council, on 26 December 2009.

Polly and I had booked to play at Dundonald Links GC on Christmas Eve 2009 to celebrate my 60th birthday, but snow, ice and frost put paid to that idea. We'd also booked to play at Ayr Bellisle on Boxing Day, but again, the weather made the course unplayable. We soldiered on down the coast a bit and although the whole country seemed to be cloaked in snow and ice and sub-zero temperatures, conditions had eased by the time we got to Turnberry. There was no-one around there and the car park was empty so we didn't bother going in to ask if the Ailsa course was open and pressed on to see what Girvan was like.
I'd read that the first 8 holes there were down by the sea, so we were planning to at least walk some of the course and perhaps take some photographs. Amazingly, there was no snow or frost on the course and the starter confirmed that it was indeed open. He was quite proud that on a day when travel had been seriously disrupted across the country, his course was one of the few that were open. As it turned out, there was only one player several holes in front, so I had a clear run and went round in just over 2 hours. Polly was still getting over a cold, so she carried the camera and took great delight in refusing a few short gimmies on the temporary greens.
Girvan GC is only 4590 yards, par 64 off the yellow tees, but was playing shorter, because of the hard ground and temporary greens. I went round in a net 67, thanks to some missed short putts as the greens were, at best, pretty poor. The first 8 holes are indeed right down by the sea on a narrow strip of links land. The first hole was playing about 290 yards downwind with out of bounds hard on the left. I nailed the drive and had a lob wedge back to the green, missing a short putt for par. As Polly said, I'd come a long way to play the course, so gimmies were out.

The views on the first part of the course were terrific, with the Mull of Kintyre, Ailsa Craig and Arran all clearly visible. On the left is me on the 2nd tee, with a (rare!) fine drive that led to the first par of the day. Best holes on the seaward side of the course were 5, a 115 yard par 3 with out of bounds to the right and behind the small green and 6, 289 yard par 4 into the wind, with out of bounds all down the right side.

The photo below was my tee shot at 6. I managed a birdie at the 8th, which had been aptly named as "Right Scunner" a difficult 218 yard par 3. That turned out to be the highlight of the round, as the last 10 holes, up the road and down behind the clubhouse were pretty uninspiring by comparison. Gone were the magnificent views out to sea, replaced by the dismal view of the back of an Asda supermarket and a caravan park, closed for the winter. The best hole on that part of the course was 15, a 364 yard par 4 over a river, with a blind second to an elevated green. I also liked 16, a short downhill driveable par 4. However, I can't think of many other courses that finish with 2 par 3's and poor ones at that. Number 17 required a 213 yard carry to an uphill green (aye right!), and 18, a 125 yard hole, involved a blind shot over some trees. I played my 9 iron, went through the green but got my par with a good putt.
Girvan starts off strongly but simply peters out, leaving a long walk back over a bridge and up a path round the back of the clubhouse. A pity, because the opening holes are really good fun.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Scoonie GC and Falkland GC course nos 239 and 240

I played these courses on 13 December 2009 on a cold, clear and windless day with a heavy frost lasting all day. By the time I got to the Forth Road Bridge there was dense freezing fog and it looked as though golf was pretty unlikely. I pressed on to Leven, where the fog cleared and to my amazement Scoonie was actually open, though with winter greens and frozen ground. This is a view across the course to the sea and the sunrise. It really was as cold as it looks!

Scoonie is on the main road to St Andrews and is another excellent course operated by Fife Council. It is 5133 yards off the yellow tees and a par 67. With winter greens in play, it was playing a bit shorter but the unpredictable bounces off the frozen ground made the course quite tricky. I birdied the short par 4 second hole and particularly liked the 5th and 6th on the front 9. Both of those holes run alarmingly close to the main road and care was needed to avoid a hook off those tees. This is the 5th, a 282 yard hole.

The back 9 is pretty good too, with greater variety to the holes. The 13th was totally bizarre and the shortest hole I've played in a long time. At 104 yards normally, a winter tee and temporary green had reduced it to 55 yards accordingly my state of the art laser range finder. I missed the tiny green and took 4 - though the extreme slope on the green didn't help. I thought the best hole on the course was the 15th, a 412 yard par 4, with a downhill dog leg second shot. I managed to get round in 78, net one under par. Although the normal greens were out of play, the surfaces looked really good and I really liked the layout and enjoyed the walk. The clubhouse was pretty basic, but very welcoming for all that and the hot soup and sausage rolls afterwards were a treat on a bitterly cold day. Scoonie is well worth playing and a real bargain at £10. There are many other courses to play, but I'd happily go back when thermals and a woolly hat could be left at home and the full course was at its best. Another good local course, unpretentiously nestling over the fence the more famous Leven GC.

Falkland Golf Club was simply great fun and one of the best 9 hole courses I've played in a long time. Being out in the countryside, it was even more frosty than Scoonie, but I was assured in the clubhouse that it never closed and yes, "it was perfectly playable."

I was also invited to choose whether to play to the greens or to the temporary ones nearby. One look at the frozen course and it was obvious that the responsible option was the temporary greens. I really liked Falkland, from the cosy and warm little clubhouse, the genuine welcome and interest in what we were doing to raise funds for cancer research, to the course itself. Any club that puts up fairy lights around the first tee at Christmas time deserves a visit.

The first hole turned out to be devilishly tight, with out of bounds tight on the left, and with all 5 of the members in the clubhouse looking on, I managed to hit the fairway, to a round of applause from my indoor audience. Needless to say on such a cold day, I'd the course to myself, as none of the members felt the need to be out there. I parred the first 3 holes and birdied the 4th. The second hole was odd as the wide fairway was shared with a full sized football pitch, complete with changing rooms and a small shelter. At 476 yards par 5 and stroke index 1, it was formidable indeed, but I did wonder how things were on match days. There was a notice politely asking footballers to avoid walking over the teeing ground and the footprints in the frost showed that golfers avoided walking on the pitch, but is golf suspended when the football is on? I wonder....

the photo above is a view of the 6th green - a lovely winter scene.
By the time I got to the 9th tee, I was still on par and headed for a pretty good score, even on a shortened course with temporary greens. A good straight drive later and I had 90 yards to go, except I'd forgotten about the sunken stream traversing the first and ninth. I nearly fell trying get my ball and took a 6, to finish the round in 2 over par. My first tee audience had gone home by now and the clubhouse was closed. A shame, since I wanted to tell them that I'd really enjoyed playing their lovely little course. I'll maybe go back sometime, hopefully avoiding the water on the 9th. This is a view up the last hole, with Falkland Palace in the distance.

I wandered around the old village for a while. Falkland Palace was closed, but it looked stunning in the frost and fading light and the narrow streets were deserted apart from the odd tourist lingering, like me, to enjoy the last of the day.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Kinghorn GC and Lochore Meadows Golf Course Course nos 237 and 238

These are another two of the municipal courses managed by the Fife Council. I played them on 5 December 2009, a wet but mild day (for a Scottish winter!), with no wind. Craig and Stu had recently played Kinghorn and reckoned it was surprisingly good. I agree and thoroughly enjoyed the course, despite the wet overhead and underfoot conditions. Kinghorn is a par 65 of only 4587 yards off the yellow tees and was playing even shorter, from some forward winter tees. However, the greens are small and although most holes are on the short side, it is still a good test and was in really good condition, despite the rain which had affected other neighbouring courses (Lochore Meadows for example!). Although the course is set well above the village and on top of a cliff quite far back from the sea, it plays as a links and has very good drainage. I managed to go round Kinghorn in a net 60, with 30 putts, ignoring a rare navigational mistake at the second - well, it was raining, I got lost, and didn't score the penalty. The 2nd is called Braeside and is a 189 yard par 3, which from the name, I took to be on the side of a hill. True enough, straight in front of the 2nd tee, about 190 yards away, was a hill side green, with 3 golfers on it that I assumed were in front of me. I played the hole, got a 4 and followed the 3 golfers down to what emerged was the 6th tee. After going back to the 2nd tee, it turned out that it should have been played over another hill, to the right, with a blind tee shot.
I managed a 4 there too, then wandered around some more, looking for the 3rd. This is the view from the 3rd winter tee, the green being partly hidden by the right side of the wall. A clever little hole but a hesitant start to the round, 3 over after 3 holes. The best hole on the front 9 was undoubtedly the 8th a 461 yard par 4, stroke index 1. I managed a 5 with a long putt after a poor drive that left me with a blind 3 wood over another hill.
The back 9 was even better, with 5 par 3's and a couple of short par 4's. This is the 12th, a downhill par 4 of 399 yards, showing the excellent new clubhouse. By this time, it had stopped raining and the outstanding views over the Forth estuary and beyond could really be appreciated.

The golf was also improving and although the back 9 is really short, with a total length of only 2186 yards and with 5 par 3's it was great fun. This is a side view of the 15th, looking down the 16th. Overall, I thought that Kinghorn was a really good course, ideal for a summer's evening. Well done to Fife Council for presenting this course so well, even on a wet winter's day. A real bargain at only £14 for a weekend round.

With a couple of hours daylight left, I drove over to Lochore Meadows Golf Course, within a large country park. Like Cowdenbeath earlier in the week, Lochore Meadows was soaking wet, with standing water almost everywhere. Indeed, I was really surprised that the course was open at all.
One local clearly thought that the conditions were pretty poor, having chalked onto the starter's hut door the request that he move the hole at the 6th, which was under an inch or so of water.

The course was deserted apart from me and Jamie, a lad of 13 or so, mustard keen to play his third round of the day, so we played the course together in the quickly fading light. The course was not at its best due to the wet conditions but it looked to be a good layout with tree lined fairways and some pretty good holes. Good value at only £8 a round. My favourite hole was the 3rd, a good 529 yard par 5, Stroke index 1, uphill to the green. I took 6.
This a view of the 8th, a 521 yard par 5, where I managed another 6. By then the mist was coming in and we finished the 9 holes with a few minutes of light remaining. Jamie was tempted to play some more holes, but reconciled himself to the practice putting green. He was still there when I drove out of the car park in the dark!

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Canmore GC and Cowdenbeath GC Course nos 235 and 236

I played these 2 courses on St Andrew's Day 2009, a bitterly cold but thankfully dry and sunny day. Canmore was first and a nice course it was too, despite being almost surrounded by housing. At barely over 5100 yards off the yellow tees, it is pretty short, but I really enjoyed it despite the fairways and rough being icy or soaking wet and the greens having been recently hollow tined. The bunkers were also frozen solid, although luckily I was only in one of them. I went round in a net 64 against a standard scratch score of 65 over the yellow course, with a birdie at the first, so the golf was pretty good. This is a view up the hill at the last, aptly called "Up the Hill" - makes a change from "Home" I suppose.

This is the 17th, a really good par 4 of 421 yards, requiring a fade off the left side of the sloping fairway and a good strong second. I took 6, trying too hard to avoid the bogey 5 that I should have settled for after my poor second shot! A pity, since I'd managed to keep a 6 off the card until then. Typical course management, Alan.
I was also impressed with the friendliness of all of the members I met, who went out of their way to either let me play through, or tell me about the course. Indeed, it was offered that I should play for free, since I was doing all of the Scottish courses for charity. I really appreciated that gesture, which will go towards future petrol costs etc. There was nothing pretentious about Canmore. Just a local course for local people and none the worse for that.

Cowdenbeath GC is a municipal course, run by Fife Council and known locally as Dora. I must find out why sometime! Dora was even wetter than Canmore, with most of the fairways completely saturated or with deep puddles. The fairways were wide, suggesting that Dora would be a good course for beginners and I passed a couple on the 4th, a good 104 yard short hole. I also liked the 3rd, a 295 yard uphill par 4 with a blind shot to a small green. I almost managed the birdie, foiled only by an outrageous crown around the hole, a feature of most of the holes.
Below is a photo of the second, a short, plain and unmemorable hole typical of much of this course. The setting sun and the boggy conditions made some of the holes on the back 9 more tricky to play, but I'm afraid I didn't take to Dora. I soon gave up trying to find relief from the standing water. My Footjoy Aqualite golf shoes will dry out soon and my golf trousers are already in the washing machine. Been there, done it, but unless the course was fully dried out and the greens were in better condition (and the bunkers showed some modest sign of being cared for e.g. raking) I would not rush to play it again.


Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Swanston New GC - Templar and Templar Medal Course nos 233 and 234

It was disappointing to find that the Portobello Course was closed. I also forgot to ask the Swedish starter what had brought him to a small municipal course in Edinburgh, particularly as he'd obviously played the one Swedish course I've played (at Norkopping, in July 1992) - it is indeed a small world.
We still had a couple of hours of daylight, so Craig and I nipped over to Swanston New, his home course. I'd been a member from 1980 to 2001 at Lothianburn, immediately adjacent to Swanston, and I had known several members there. The original Swanston had been a very hilly course and not a personal favourite, despite it being one of two courses where I'd broken 70 (once!). It was until recently firmly on its uppers, with falling membership and rising costs and with so many courses in the Edinburgh area, Swanston was never likely to be hugely popular for visitors.

However, with major investment in recent years from the land owner (and a huge risk in my opinion) Swanston has clearly turned the corner. The old clubhouse has gone, replaced by a really comfortable restaurant and bar open to the public that remarkably still retains the feel of a golf clubhouse. The top part of the course has also been abandoned and replaced by some flatter and much improved holes. Around this time last year a group of friends and I played the old course for a final time, playing the old 15th, a short steeply downhill hole with our woods. Why? - because I used to always do that to tease an old friend and former Swanston member, Dave Tyndall, who used to despair every time I took a huge but half-speed swing with my driver, only to chip the ball onto the green (or more often, into the gorse bushes behind the green!) I haven't seen Dave for a while as he's given up golf, but I still smile thinking back to the many rounds I had with him, Graham (Sconnie) and Donald (Squeaky) who were also members at the time. Happy days indeed.

We also played the new 18 hole layout earlier this year and what an improvement. Swanston is still moderately hilly, but now has some good new holes and is deservedly more popular with visitors and has a growing membership. I'm not sure how the financing worked but the owner's gamble has paid off, so good luck to him and to the club members who braved the lean years and are now rightly proud of what they have.

When I played the new 18-hole course, there was clearly an interesting development going on at the bottom end of the site. A driving range and short course had been added, using previously scrubby farmland between the old course layout and the Edinburgh By-Pass. As I found out when Craig and I dropped by on 20 November, the short course is in fact a 9 hole par 3 layout, with holes ranging from 80 to 146 yards, named the Templar Course. This was really good fun to play, with fast running smooth greens built to USGA standards. I managed 6 pars, restoring some confidence after my dismal performance at Archerfield earlier in the day.

We also had time to play the Templar Medal Course, which Craig told me is for members and their guests only. This course was set out within the Templar course and consisted of 6 holes, played 3 times when a medal competition was being held. The first hole was played from the first tee to the second green, the second hole was the third on the normal Templar card, the third hole was combination of the fourth tee and the 5th green, and so on. Since we had to miss out every second green and play over or around golfers playing the normal Templar 9-hole course, I had no idea where we were going and relieved that Craig was not simply having a laugh at my expense (though I'm sure that time will come as our travels progress!) With the light fading and a storm blowing up, we finished the Medal Course as quickly as we could, but what a practice facility. The Templar is ideal for beginners as well as better players seeking to practice their iron play and short game and was in great condition. The creation of an 18 hole layout is easily done by using separate tees within an otherwise 9-hole layout, but I'd never seen anything quite like the Templar courses. I assume that when it is busy everyone needs to play the same 6 or 9 hole layout, though.

This is me, after the Templar medal course, and just before the storm arrived! The hole above is the 4th on the Templar course - but you drive over it when playing 212 yard 3rd hole on the Medal course! See what I mean about confusing?

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Archerfield - Dirleton Course no 232

This simply a superb links course within an outstanding premier golf development in East Lothian, complementing the excellent run of courses along the coastline, from Longniddry to Dunbar. Although it is clearly a modern development, it resurrects the playing of golf over the Archerfield that began several hundred years ago and petered out after the Second World War.

I'm also a member of the Rhodes Golf Club, a club for local artisans that has playing rights over the East Links at North Berwick, where the Glen Golf Club is also based. The Rhodes GC is over 100 years old and in the centenary book highlighting its history, there are occasional references to the Archerfield GC, which used to be based at the Archerfield Estate and played its golf over the land that was used to create the new Dirleton course. In fact, the Rhodes first played a friendly match against the Archerfield club in 1907 and there were various other connections between the 2 clubs. I wonder whether the current Archerfield GC, with all of the investment in its excellent facilities, would welcome the resurrection of those matches, since at the Rhodes at least, I expect that there would be fierce competition to get into the team for the "away" fixtures!

Craig, Stu and I had the great pleasure of playing the Dirleton course on 20 November 2009, on a crisp sunny morning that belied the horrendous flooding being endured in Cumbria and South West Scotland. The course had obviously been hit by lots of recent rain, but was in superb condition, with well-maintained fairways, deep bunkers (lots of bunkers) and fast-running greens. Being such an exclusive club, access for non-members can be difficult and very expensive, but we were extremely grateful for the generosity of a local member who paid our green fees, ensuring we had a great day at this exceptional course. Thanks Andrew, we really appreciated your very kind gesture.

This is the 7th hole, a difficult par 3 of 191 yards from the Black Tees (Craig played from these), well protected by bunkers and a stream. I played off the Blues (167 yards) and Stu, who has only been playing for a couple of years, played off the Whites (156 yards). I three-putted for a 4, but managed my first par at the next hole, a short 339 yard par 4. There were many outstanding holes on the course, but our favourite had to be the 10th, a shortish par 5. The drive is to a narrow fairway with bunkers awaiting anything even remotely wayward. However, Craig found the middle of the fairway and hit the best shot of the day, a swinging draw out of the screws with a 4-iron into a stiff right to left breeze, which found the undulating green and stopped 14 foot 8 inches from the hole (yes, he did measure it and rightly so!) An unerring putt found the middle of the cup for an outstanding eagle 3. I managed a reasonable 6 after managing not to fall into the burn with this, my 4th shot. Sadly, my golf went downhill from there. In the last medal of 2009at the Glen GC, my handicap went up to 12, so it was with some relief that I finally walked off Dirleton with a 108, net 96. I didn't find every bunker, but it just seemed that I'd drive to the wrong side of the fairway, or find the wrong slope around the greens, or end up 5 feet past the hole, missing the putt back. Even when I did hit an occasional good shot, such as at the 6th, the wind and the slope took the ball straight of the green into a deep bunker. However, such was the quality of the course that somehow I didn't really mind. At some other courses I can think of, the odd expression of disappointment might have passed my lips, but not here. I did have an 8 on the card (5 times!) but did I care? I was enjoying the challenge of the course too much to do that. OK, so a dismal failure, but great fun and excellent company on the first of many rounds with Craig and Stu.
Here was my drive at the 18th, a lovely 409 yard par 4 for me, something less for Stu, who comfortably beat me with a creditable 97, net 75. Next time, young Stu, next time! Craig ended up with a magnificent 77 off the black tees - a great score.
Archerfield has a second course, the Fidra, so we look forward to returning there and to enjoying the considerable comforts of the clubhouse. Foolishly, we thought we'd try to squeeze in a round at Portobello, a 9 hole municipal course in Edinburgh. From the sublime to the ridiculous in one sense, since although Archerfield had been in great condition, some of the Portobello course was under water and the "Course Closed" sign was on display.

A Change of Plan

When I started this blog, I'd imagined that I'd go round the remaining courses in Scotland alone or with Polly, my wife. However, when I told a few friends and work colleagues what I was intending to do after I retired in a few weeks' time (hooray!), one came forward to say that he and his friend were doing exactly the same, but for a Cancer Research charity. We quickly saw the advantages in teaming up our efforts and to use our various friends to obtain access to individual courses when necessary and more generally, save on travelling expenses. Accordingly, look out for references to Craig Watson and Stu Fleming, both of whom are members at Swanston New GC, in Edinburgh. Although I'm still intending to play all of the courses that I've not yet played, Craig and Stu have started from scratch and intend to play every course in Scotland, keeping photos and score cards as evidence of their progress, with postings on their own website.
We know that Ernie Payne has already done 611 courses, basing his own definition of a golf course as a course with at least 9 holes, of which 2 or more must be par 4s and including courses on private estaes that are not normally open to the public. We intend to try to play any course that has its own score card, irrespective of the minimum number of holes, so we'll be trying to play all of the pitch and putt courses we can find as well as private courses and those with less than 9 holes.
We expect that one of the challenges will be to identify all of the courses and where they are in private hands to persaude the owners to let us play them. However, that is the challenge and we are determined to do our best to achieve our goals. Craig and Stu are also developing their own website where donations to help cancer research can be made. This blog will in due course connect to that site and highlight my own progress round those courses I've not yet played.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Kelso GC Course no 231

I first visited this course in June 2002 with Graham, Donald, JD, Brian and some of the other regular Humpties. We'd decided to play somewhere on our way back from a golfing holiday in Northumberland and had been trying to get on at The Roxburghe just outside Kelso. We were all pretty worn out after a hectic week of golf and late nights but the Roxburghe was busy and expensive. By contrast, Kelso looked refreshingly flat, easy walking and more within our remaining budget, but all we ended up going home, with some of the guys not keen on playing what had at the time they thought looked a pretty uninspiring course.

When I finally got round to playing Kelso on 16 October 2009, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and excellent condition of the course. The fairways were a delight and although the greens had been treated in readiness for winter and were not cut as closely as they would be in summer, they were still very good, if a little slow and bumpy. We'd clearly missed a treat some 7 years ago! Uniquely, the Kelso course is completely surrounded by a racecourse, with the racetrack cutting across several holes. Indeed, the first tee is only 20 yards or so behind the track, with the railings looking as though they'd come into play for anything miss-hit. I was joined on the course by Mike, a former Club Captain, who explained that when the hurdles track that surrounds the course was built, much of the soil required was taken from inside the railings, meaning that the golf course now sits below the level of the racetrack, which drains onto the golf course. A large open drain "The Stank" runs through the course to improve drainage and provides a real hazard on several holes, as a couple of Mike's shots proved! Another feature of the course is that most of the trees and bushes are trimmed to about 10 feet, to maintain lines of sight from the grandstands to the racetrack, with the track owners keen to tackle some silver birch trees that at present add character and definition to the course. I got the impression that the relationship between the racecourse and the golf club could be interesting at times!

There are a number of really good and interesting holes at Kelso, but Home Strait, the 11th, was my favourite a 497 yard par 5 off the back tee, with an out of bounds all the way down the right. Mike explained that the club was not allowed to put down a white line or posts to define the out of bounds and relied on a road beside the racetrack for definition. Creosote had been used to mark the boundary, but this was discontinued on health and safety grounds, lest jockeys land on the creosote. I'm not sure I understand that, given the greater risks associated with falling off a galloping horse!

I also enjoyed the 12th, 13th and 14th, a good stretch of holes, and the 18th deserves mention too. An uphill 466 yard par 4 played into the setting sun, with the racetrack coming into play a few yards in front of the green. Sadly, my wedge to the green found a bunker to the right and after getting a lob wedge to within a couple of feet, my missed putt was an anti-climax for what had been a very enjoyable round in the great company of a man steeped in the history of his club and rightly proud of it. Thanks again, Mike.
Mike also had the shot of the day, a 60 yard pitch and run at the 10th, which being deadly accurate but slightly overstruck hit the flag and bolted off to the right, straight into a greenside bunker. We both laughed and it was only some time later that I realised that golf is the only game I know in which you can laugh at the misfortune of a stranger and not get thumped or told in no uncertain terms where to go.
I went round in a creditable 84, but a good handful of shots were down to the trickiness of the greens. I'd missed a short putt on the 3rd for a par 3 and had 6 or so practice putts from inside 3 feet, all without success. I'd go back to Kelso one day to play that hole in particular. It owes me and I reckon I must have seen everywhere not to go by now.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Brunston Castle GC Course no 230

– Polly and I played this on 8 October 2009 having been impressed by the high quality of the club’s website. This was clearly a course to be played in dry summer conditions, as some parts were quite low lying and looked to be prone to flooding. Unfortunately, we’d played it too late in the year, forgetting that inland courses in the West of Scotland can be less well drained than our own seaside course in North Berwick. Although there had not been any heavy rains of late, parts of the Brunston Castle course were quite boggy, with preferred lies in operation. As a result, it played quite long and as the greens had also been hollow-cored and sanded very recently, scoring was difficult. That’s my excuse anyway, having lost to Polly by a couple of Stableford points in what, to borrow the football cliché, was a low-scoring match.

Although we thought that Brunston would undoubtedly look and play better in the Summer months, we struggled to spot a signature hole. Perhaps it was just that the course wasn’t busy and was clearly being made ready for winter that put us off, but it just seemed that none of the holes were inspiring, with several medium length par 4s either looking or playing similar to each other. I liked the 10th, a shortish par 4 played from an elevated tee down to a generously wide fairway, with the second requiring a longer shot than you think, over a hidden river some 20 yards wide. Having missed the fairway to the right (requiring some skill given the width of the fairway!) I also had a large tree to contend with, managing a rare par after a good wedge from heavy, wet rough over the tree and the river to within 20 feet. Polly’s second shot came to grief amid dark mutterings about a silly place to put a river anyway, and she much preferred the 18th, mainly because it was the last.

Brunston may have been slightly disappointing, but we did discover a real gem on the way home, in Balbir’s Indian Restaurant, near Symington on the A77. Outstanding, and a place to be visited again and again, as there are lots of courses in Ayrshire still to be played.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Charleton GC Anstruther GC and Drumpellier GC - Course nos 227-229

I played the Charleton and Anstruther courses on 22 September 2009 in bright but very windy conditions. Charleton was surprisingly good fun as I’d not been expecting anything special. The course was in great condition, with fast greens made all the more tricky by a gale force wind that made club selection an absolute lottery. What made it even more remarkable was that I played to my handicap, despite the weather. I was also amused to be asked on arrival whether I qualified for the senior citizen’s discount. Come on, I’m 59 for sure, but not quite eligible for the free bus pass yet! It was also refreshing to be waived through by 3 separate groups, since if there’s one thing in golf that I really dislike, it’s getting stuck behind a group of players who completely ignore you. I know that the Rules of Golf say that a single player has no status and that by implication has no right to expect to be waived through, but I’m sure I’m not alone in becoming frustrated on occasions.

For example, when I visited Drumpellier GC recently, a fine golf course by the way, I found myself playing behind a couple of guys. Not bad players, but painfully slow. They were then joined by a third player on the 3rd tee and by a fourth on the 10th, by which time I’m really being held up on every shot. I was also playing reasonably well, and had it occurred to those in front it would have been obvious that I would have played through quickly and not held them up. But no, it seemed as though every effort was made to ignore my presence. By the time I got to the first par 3 on the back 9, two of them had lost balls, but still I was not called through. At that point my lack of status on the course should in my view have been set aside, since as any golfer should know, the Rules also state that those searching for a ball should not delay those behind them. I finally finished that round and whilst I liked the course and loved the 18th, I’m afraid that Drumpellier will not be on my list to visit again any time soon.

Even worse, when Polly (my wife) and I played Troon Portland earlier in the year, we were held up from the very first hole by four foreign visitors with caddies . After some 3 hours, we walked through at the 10th and to be fair one of them apologised that as visitors, they did not know how to play our links courses and were finding it difficult to make progress. Fair enough guys and the apology was accepted, but etiquette is as important as ability and an awareness of the pile up of players in your wake should have rung some alarm bells! We also found it odd that one of the caddies commented that he could not advise his player that his party was holding up play and should let people play through, a comment that did not accord with the Caddie Master when we met him by chance at the end of our round. We were delighted to be invited to have a courtesy round when next we were in the area – a really generous and helpful offer that confirmed our view that the set up at Troon was absolutely first class, befitting its status as an outstanding golfing venue.

But back to Charleton. I’d recommend that course to anyone who wants to play a really good inland course in great condition. Not long, not overly difficult, but some really good holes. The 17th was my favourite. A short par 4, with the green set above a ditch immediately in front of it. I carry a Cleveland 60 degree lob wedge, often for no apparent reason since it requires a really committed shot to get anything out of it, and on the 17th I had a 30 yard shot to the flag for my second. I hit one of those rare things (for me at least), a perfectly hit shot landing precisely where I’d aimed, taking into account the slope of the green and the strong wind - and into the hole it went on its last roll. The group in front had just left the green but didn’t see it go in for an Eagle. Still, that shot restored my belief that if you give a monkey a paintbrush and enough time….

Anstruther GC 
is a short 9 hole links course that was particularly enjoyable in the gale force Westerly that day. Anstruther’s main claim to fame is that its 5th hole is regarded as the most difficult par 3 in the UK and rightly, in my humble opinion.
About 240 yards from an elevated tee requiring a slight fade to steer the ball between the sea and a cliff made it a test that I failed miserably, with the wind dead against. I ended up with a lucky 8 with my third ball. This is undoubtedly a hugely difficult hole, but is it a good hole and fair test? In my opinion, no. I doubt whether many Anstruther members will relish the prospect of that hole appearing twice in their medal rounds or that any course should have a hole that is simply unplayable to par for the huge majority of golfers likely to play it. Let’s have Par 3 holes that can be played with good shots and a couple of putts if needs be, not ones that simply wreck cards and would be better as Par 4s. I’d play Anstruther 
again though, if only to try for a 7 next time!

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Machrihanish Dunes GC Course Number 226

This is from the new course at Machrihanish, which promises to be a superb addition to Scotland's many links courses. I played it on 9 September, in glorious sunny weather, well worth the £60 green fee!

The first challenge is finding the course itself. Uniquely in my experience, the first tee is over 3 miles from the Pro Shop! I'd turned up around 45 minutes early to book in at the Pro Shop. A great welcome, but after a 5 hour drive to get there, I wasn't really anticipating going back 2 miles, turning down a single track road, going past Campbeltown Airport, going on past the old RAF base, turning off down a farm road, going through a farm yard, over the cattle grid and down another single track road to get to the Starter's building. By the time I got there, I was neat for timing, but the welcome was pretty memorable. I'd arrived just as the course manager, starter and others in the management team were having lunch. I'd brought my own, but it was insisted that I join them. An hour or so later, after a fascinating chat about the history and development of the course, I was given a free bag tag and course guide and escorted up to the first tee. I'd asked for directions, but was slightly taken aback by the suggestion that I follow 2 sheep dawdling along with no great purpose over a hillock. By now, it was obvious that signage was on the modest side, and with 5 separate tees to choose from, finding my way about was to be a real challenge. I'd also made a big mistake by taking my full bag on a pull trolley. Because the course is built on a Site of Special Scientific Interest and is so new that pathways have not been fully trodden down yet, so getting to tees and from there to fairways was pretty interesting at times!

The course design is simply outstanding, with only 7 acres or so disturbed to create the tees and greens, with fairways simply mown out of the natural folds of the dunes. I was hooked on this course from the first hole, a 366 yard par 4 from an elevated tee, straight into the wind, with the Atlantic in the far distance. A downhill iron to the green finished just short, but I managed a 4 despite the most undulating green I'd seen in a long time. Indeed, I spent a few minutes putting from various positions up and down slopes and across great swathes of the finest quality turf I'd seen on any new course. The cut was quite long, but my ball rolled true and fast. There was a skylark aloft and the crashing of the sea a few yards away over a huge dune, but other than that, not a sound. Heaven after 10 minutes! Another thing I noticed was that the course was almost deserted. Over lunch, the Course Manager commented that although business had been encouraging, the course was a bit quiet that day. I counted 10 other souls, but 2 of them were caddies so the experience was a bit surreal, as I was bursting to tell somebody how much fun I was having.

I guess that some of the holes will be tweaked a bit as the course settles down, but I hope they don't change the 8th, a real test. I'd played the Dunes off the White tees, so had a daunting blind drive over a dune followed by what looked like an impossibly long uphill second to a green fronted by huge evil looking bunker, of the magnetic kind! Needless to say, that's where my ball went, but thank goodness I'd cleared the hidden swamp tucked below a huge fold in the fairway. Two attempts to get out of the bunker and a lucky long putt later, I'd escaped with a 5, but I shudder to think what this fearsome hole could be like on a really windy day. By contrast, I think the 9th is bit too severe. After a decent drive down the right, I had a 7 wood uphill blind shot of around 180 yards. I'd no idea what the line was but hit it plumb where I'd aimed. No idea where it went from there, but as the fairway petered out some 50 yards short of the green into a mixture of deep bunkering and rough, I was reduced to hoping that I'd at least found a bunker. Not so, hence the (eventual!) 9 on the scorecard. I think that the approach to the 9th green needs to be opened out with closer mowing, making it more playable for hackers like me! I'd also suggest changing the existing putting green into a par 3 as a 19th hole, to add even more quirkiness to the course and allow maintenance or any future changes to be made without an impact on the course. The European Club in Ireland has 20 holes (the space is there, so why not, was the explanation!) and as the Dunes course has ample land available, why not there too?

I usually pack a camera in my golf bag when playing a new course, but seldom have I taken over 30 photos. The views to sea are simply stunning, in stark contrast to the rather forbidding and bleak views of the closed air force base inland. I really hope that this development succeeds. I was told that there are great plans to expand the facilities, but for me, the Dunes course is already a real gem. I actually prefer it to the long-established but over-hyped Machrihanish Golf Club nearby.

I'd played that course a few years a ago on a dreich November afternoon, when even the seagulls were grounded and no amount of clothing was likely to keep out the damp and cold. I'd been down at Campbeltown on business and had only that afternoon to spare. There were 2 cars in the car park, mine and the Professional's. I'd been hoping for a quick start as I'd a long drive home to tackle, but was told that I'd need to wait just in case a member turned up. Indeed, just as I received that bad news, a single car emerged through the gloom a mile or so away, which the Pro took to justify his caution. Some 15 minutes later, 2 elderly members dragged themselves wearily up to the first tee and promptly invited me to play through, but the Pro was having none of that, encouraging Methusela and his pal to play away. By this time, I was regretting my decision to donate anything to the club's coffers, but I held my tongue.

As you may know, Machrihanish is famous for its first hole, and the drive over the Atlantic. The tide was out, but I did manage to find a puddle on the beach, which was either rain or ocean. Methusela and his pal let me through on the second and with nobody else in sight, I decided to see just how quickly I could play the course. There were some great holes and tricky lies out there, but for me, the course seemed to just dribble away, with the last 2 holes being pretty forgettable. A pity, since a course of that quality needed a truly great finish.

What really made my day was finishing the round in something well under 3 hours and meeting the Pro, locking up his shop. I'm not sure he saw the intended irony in my remark that the two-ball in front were probably now reaching the turn, but it kept me smiling for a while. I think I warmed up somewhere east of Inveraray.

I'd somehow managed to get round the Dunes in 91, with only one lost ball (Titleist 4 with a single black dot). I hope that whoever finds it gets to play with it for longer than I did and takes equal pleasure from playing this superb new course. I'll go back to Machrihanish one day to play the Dunes again and will try to beat that 91, but I think I'll give its more illustrious neighbour a miss.

Saturday, 12 September 2009


I'm 59 now and have been hooked on golf since I my early years. My first memories are of the putting green at Largs, as a very young boy. We were only on holiday there, from a small tenement flat in Glasgow, but I'd spend hours, trying to beat my best score. Much later, I graduated to pitch and putt at Queen's Park and Rouken Glen in Glasgow. both public parks. There were golf clubs near to where I lived (Cowglen and Pollok), but football was the only real sports outlet at school in those days. Golf was for folk with more money than we had, though ironically, I remember an old leather golf bag and hickory clubs living in a store cupboard in our house. My Dad never played, so I've no real idea where they came from. Perhaps they were his father's, making them pretty old. I used to play with them with no real idea what golf was about and I can still remember their shapes and the way the grips were too big for my small hands. One of those old clubs had a leather grip which would come loose and needed occasional renailing. Wierd the things you remember. Must have been 50 or more years ago.
My first full game of golf was a public course at Alexandra Park in Glasgow. I was 17 (in 1967) and a first year student. I'd dodged an accountancy lecture and that was me, hooked. Years later, I'd join Lothianburn Golf Club in Edinburgh and realise that I liked playing new courses and trying to work out what the architect wanted me to try to do in the test he'd set. We had a golfing society at work, which meant that we'd play outings at various courses around Central Scotland, but I was always keen to go further, to try elsewhere, to find out for myself what lay behind the golf flag symbol on the map.
Now, 40 years or so after my first thrashing around at Alexandra Park, I'm approaching retirement and thinking about what to do next. Having played what seems to be hundreds of different courses already in Scotland, Ireland and elsewhere, I've been inspired by the thought of playing all of the courses in Scotland. I don't plan to start from the beginning or keep meticulous records. My aim is only to know that I've played all of the courses in Scotland, so in this blog to relate some of the tales, experiences and incidents that will arise on my journey. I'll list the courses I've already played and as my journey progresses put down some thoughts about the friends I've met - there are no strangers on a golf course, just friends you've never met, with which you have much in common - the frustrations, laughs, missed putts, heroic pars, shanks and wonder shots that combine to make a round of golf (for me at least) such an adventure and constant pleasure.
I've also been inspired by Tom Coyne's marvellous book "A Course Called Ireland." To anyone with a love of golf, read it and try to stop wishing you had the strength, commitment and stamina to do as Tom did, walking the Irish coastline, playing all of the courses he came across. A remarkable book and a remarkable achievement.
As this blog progresses, I plan to cover my own journey around Scotland and write about my experiences, good and bad. It would be tempting to try to give each of the courses a personal rating, based on some pretty wide ranging criteria. On reflection, I don't intend to do that, as I don't think that it would be entirely fair to judge a course and the club attached to it on the basis of one visit. Where praise is due, I'll give it, but I'm always mindful that however basic a club, and however well or poorly it is maintained, golfers like me call it their home course and are proud of it. I will confine myself to commenting on whether I would happlily return or play a particular course again and let you draw your own conclusions. The last thing I'd want to do is criticise unfairly what others who play this great game call their home and as such know more than I ever will about its history and unique attractions.

These are the 225 courses that I've played so far, by area in Scotland -

The South West
1 Brodick
2 Dumfries and County
3 Glasgow Gailes
4 Oban Glencruitten
5 Inveraray
6 Lamlash
7 Largs
8 The Machrie
9 Machrie Bay
10 Machrihanish
11 Moffat
12 Portpatrick Dunskey
13 Powfoot
14 Prestwick St Nicholas
15 Royal Troon Portland
16 Shiskine
17 Southerness
18 Thornhill
19 Tobermory
20 Turnberry Kintyre
21 West Kilbride
22 Western Gailes
23 Whiting Bay

The Highlands
24 Boat of Garten
25 Brora
26 Carrbridge
27 Fort Augustus
28 Fortrose and Rosemarkie
29 Golspie
30 Grantown on Spey
31 Harris Scarista
32 Inverness
33 Kingussie
34 Loch Ness New
35 Muir of Ord
36 Nairn
37 Nairn Dunbar
38 Newtonmore
39 Royal Dornoch Championship
40 Strathpeffer Spa
41 Tain
42 Ullapool

The North East
43 Ballater
44 Banchory
45 Buckpool
46 Cruden Bay
47 Cullen
48 Duff House Royal
49 Dufftown
50 Elgin
51 Forres
52 Garmouth and Kingston
53 Hopeman
54 Keith
55 Kemnay
56 Moray New
57 Moray Old
58 Newburgh on Ythan
59 Peterculter
60 Rothes
61 Royal Tarlair
62 Spey Bay
63 Strathlene Buckie
64 Stonehaven

The Heartlands
65 Aberdour
66 Alyth
67 Arbroath
68 Auchterarder
69 Balbirnie Park
70 Blair Atholl
71 Blairgowrie Lansdowne
72 Blairgowrie Rosemount
73 Brechin
74 Burntisland
75 Carnoustie Burnside
76 Carnoustie Championship
77 Crail Balcomie
78 Downfield
79 Drumoig
80 Dunfermline Pitfirrane
81 Dunkeld and Birnam
82 Edzell Old
83 Elie
84 Elie Sports Club
85 Forfar
86 Gleneagles Kings
87 Gleneagles Queen's
88 Glenisla
89 Killin
90 Kingsbarns
91 Kinross Bruce
92 Kinross Montgomery
93 Kirkcaldy
94 Kirriemuir
95 Kittocks Fairmont St Andrews (formerly the Devlin)
96 Ladybank
97 Letham Grange Old
98 Leven Links
99 Lundin
100 Milnathort
101 Monifeith Medal
102 Montrose Medal
103 Murrayshall Old
104 Murrayshall Lynedoch
105 Piperdam
106 Pitlochry
107 Pitreavie
108 Scotscraig
109 St Andrews Jubilee
110 St Andrews New
111 St Andrews Old
112 St Michaels
113 Taymouth Castle
114 Thornton
115 Torrance Fairmont St Andrews
116 Tulliallan

The South East
117 Baberton
118 Braid Hills No 1
119 Braid Hills Princes
120 Broomieknowe
121 Bruntsfield
122 Cardrona
123 Carricknowe
124 Castle Park
125 Craigentinny
126 Craigielaw
127 Craigmillar Park
128 Dalmahoy East
129 Deer Park
130 Duddingston
131 Dunbar
132 Dundas Park
133 Duns
134 Eyemouth
135 Gifford
136 Glen
137 Glencorse
138 Gogarburn
139 Greenburn
140 Gullane No 1
141 Gullane No 2
142 Gullane No 3
143 Gullane Children's
144 Haddington
145 Harburn
146 Hawick
147 Hirsel
148 Kilspindie
149 Kings Acre
150 Kingsknowe
151 Lauder
152 Liberton
153 Longniddry
154 Lothianburn
155 Luffness New
156 Merchants of Edinburgh
157 Mortonhall
158 Muirfield
159 Murrayfield
160 Musselburgh Monktonhall
161 Newbattle
162 Niddry Castle
163 North Berwick
164 North Berwick Children's
165 Peebles
166 Prestonfield
167 Ratho Park
168 Ravelston
169 Roxburghe
170 Royal Burgess
171 Royal Musselburgh
172 Silverknowes
173 St Boswells
174 Swanston
175 Torphin Hill
176 Torwoodlee
177 Turnhouse
178 Uphall
179 West Linton
180 West Lothian
181 Whitekirk
182 Winterfield
183 Woll

184 Alexandra Park
185 Alloa
186 Biggar
187 Bishopbriggs
188 Braehead
189 Buchanan Castle
190 Caldwell
191 Callander
192 Cardross
193 Carnwath
194 Carrick
195 Cathcart Castle
196 Cawder Keir
197 Dollar
198 Dunblane New
199 East Renfrewshire
200 Elderslie
202 Falkirk Tryst
203 Gleddoch
204 Glenbervie
205 Gourock
206 Greenock
207 Haggs Castle
208 Hamilton
209 Kilmacolm
210 Kilsyth Lennox
211 Lanark
212 Littlehill
213 Loch Lomond
214 Lochwinnoch
215 Milngavie
216 Muckhart Cowden/Arndean
217 Old Ranfurly
218 Paisley
219 Ranfurly Castle
220 Renfrew
221 Shotts
222 Stirling
223 Westerwood
224 Whitecraigs
225 Douglas Park