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?