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