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.