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.