Monday, 22 November 2010

Renaissance Golf Club - course no 364

In our travels around Scotland playing all of the courses we can find, we've played some pretty ordinary courses, of the "seen it, played it" category. We've also been lucky to play some absolutely outstanding courses, where it is a genuine privilege to play. Renaissance has had fantastic write-ups since it opened for play in 2008 and there is currently widespread speculation that the Barclays Scottish Open will come here in a year or two's time. Does the Renaissance course merit all the praise it's been getting? Without a doubt, yes! I've yet to play at Castle Stuart, another new course that has been so highly praised since it opened recently, so I can't offer any comparative view, but Renaissance is certainly up there with the very best links experiences that Scotland has to offer. If the Scottish Open moves away from Loch Lomond there will no doubt be some who will lament the loss of a familiar friend, even one that they have never played. To such commentators I'd simply say if you like Loch Lomond, you'll love Renaissance. We'd really been looking forward to playing here, despite not knowing quite what to expect, since the course is not really visible from the Gullane-North Berwick road. Like the excellent neighbouring Archerfield courses, the Renaissance is tucked away down a quiet access road with only a small road sign to suggest that there is space for such prestige developments. Even close up, the impressive gates to Renaissance offer little insight to what lies beyond. However, the whole experience was simply jaw-dropping, so on behalf of Craig and Stu, I thank again the member who helped us to play here and all of the friendly club staff and other members who made our visit so memorable. As Craig so aptly summed up his day in one word, "Wow!"
We played the course on 20 November 2010 with the member (an old friend of mine) playing a friendly fourball against Craig and Stu. With typical bravado, Craig opted for the Blue tees, a formidable 7426 yards par 71. Recognising our limitations, the rest us opted for the (still testing) Yellow tees, at "only" 6244 yards, par 71. Suffice to say that Craig and Stu footed the bill for Breakfast and Lunch!

I actually parred the first 2 holes, but struggled after that to get the pace of the huge undulating greens, three-putting holes 4-6. There are plans to build 3 new holes on land closer to the sea, with the current 4th hole becoming the new 1st. The 4th is a 488 yards par 4 off the Blue tee, so will be a really tough opener if and when big tournaments come here. I managed a 7 after following my good drive with a 3 wood into the trees and 3-putting. Even so, I had 4 pars on the front 9, to go out in a respectable 42. Here's the tricky 8th, a 323 yard par 4 that will be a definite birdie opportunity for big-hitting professionals (assuming they avoid 3-putting the rollercoaster green!) The pin position we had was back-right, in a hollow that meant Craig couldn't even see the bottom of the flag from his position at the front of the green - another hole to the good guys.

It had been an overcast morning with occasional light showers, more annoying than causing us any real playing problems. Still, it was definitely on the cool side of comfortable, so the unexpected arrival of a waitress on the 9th tee, bearing bowls of hot soup was welcome indeed, allowing us time to savour this, one of my favourite views on the course. The 9th is only 125 yards off the Yellow tee, but the green is tricky and the bunkers are cavernous. I had a bogey after visiting one of them. The front 9 had been a joy to play, but as our genial host so accurately put it, "If you think that was good, wait till you see the back 9!"

The 10th is where the fun (and the rain!) really started. The course wasn't busy, so we took a wander up to the Blue tee to watch Craig tackle the fearsome 593 yard par 5, directly into what for a while looked like a major storm. I parred the hole off the 464 yard Yellow tee before tackling the amazing 11th, quite simply one of the prettiest holes I've played in ages. The 11th is a gently uphill par 4 of 406 yards off the Yellow tee (but an amazing 514 yard par 4 off the Blue) with a wickedly sloping green. Tom Doak, the architect who designed Renaissance, has made great use of an ancient dry stone dyke running through that part of the course and an old gnarled pine tree to create what will, I suspect become a much-photographed signature hole. This is one of the many photos I took around this part of the course. The old wall visible here also cuts in front of the 12th tee. It's barely 3 feet high, but did I clear it? Only a 40 foot single putt (getting longer every time I think about it!) saved the bogey, but another great hole. The 13th tee marks the top of the course and overlooks a stretch of land, hard against the sea far below, where 3 new holes are to be built. The views here will be simply outstanding on an elevated part of the course that is completely exposed to the elements. I took a photo looking down from that tee, but it's not for me to offer any preview via this blog. Let's just leave it that I'm looking forward to seeing what emerges in due course.

The course turns back inland at the 13th, but if it's a slight disappointment to leave the coastline behind, that's more than compensated for by the remaining holes. Play the last hole off the Blue tee (as we all did) if you ever get the chance. From there, it's a 485 Yard Par 4, avoiding fairway bunkers and over old field walls that cross the hole. Here's Craig and Stu on their way. I did the back 9 in a slightly disappointing 48 after taking 4 to get down from the side of the 18th green, turning a reasonable score into a 90 overall, net 80. Still, that's my personal target set if and when I ever get the chance to play here again.
Renaissance is already an outstanding golf course but the thing that staggers me most is that it's really only "work in progress." There's a temporary clubhouse here that would grace many a lesser course, but the permanent clubhouse has still to be built, along with additional residential property for members and of course, the new holes. I'm not a great fan of walking for it's own sake as it just wastes time that could be spent golfing but now that Renaissance is open, there's now an almost unbroken coastal walk taking in the Longniddry, Craigielaw ,Kilspindie, Luffness New, Gullane 1, 2 and 3, Muirfield, Renaissance, Archerfield and North Berwick courses, ending at my own Glen GC clubhouse. If I ever have the urge to do that unique walk, I know I'd need a good pint after it! I'd also know what lies behind the beach that passes the Renaissance course and remember fondly the day that Craig, Stu and I played there. Indeed, when we've all completed our challenge of playing every course in Scotland, I expect that we'll look back on 20 November 2010 as "one of those perfect days." Renaissance will certainly be up there amongst the best courses we've played in our quest to play every Scottish course. If you ever get the chance to play here, take it and think yourself lucky (and privileged), just as we were.


The course layout at Renaissance changed in May 2013 to incorporate 5 new holes and is now 6110 yards, par 71 from the Yellow Tees and a mighty 7303 Yards from the Blue back Tees.   The original first 3 holes and holes 12 and 13 have been replaced and the new layout is a great improvement, bringing in some holes right by the coastline, with spectacular sea views.  The first 3 holes are now part of general practice area facilities at the course, so Renaissance now starts at the original 4th hole, an outstanding 393 Yard Par 4 (a meaty 488 from the back tee!).  New Hole 9 is a 180 Yard Par 3, as shown here, with an infinity edge to the green, with the sea as a backdrop.  There's more depth to the green than you'd think, but the green slopes wickedly and a par here is a great score.  I managed a 4 after coming up just short from the tee.
New Hole 10 will be the new signature hole at Renaissance.  This is a 370 Yard Par 4 dog leg left played along a narrow shelf in the cliff.  Your drive needs to be around 200 yards to reach the fairway, leaving a short iron in.  However, there's really very little to offer encouragement for your drive, since you won't see much of the fairway itself, as it's above you.  Your best bet would be to go for the end of the tree line and trust your swing and abilities.  By all means try to cut off more by going for a longer carry but beware that anything short is dead and your ball is lost.  The green has some wicked slopes on it and if you miss to the left, as I did, you'll struggle to make even a bogey, hence my 6.  From there, it's a climb back up a path to the top of the cliff to the new 11th Hole. 

The 11th, as shown opposite, is a downhill 134 Yard Par 3, played into the prevailing westerly wind.  A deep bunker protects front pin positions.  The hole looks easy enough on a calm day, but you might wait long enough for that, so be prepared for a tricky tee shot that could easily sail away on the wind onto the 10th fairway or worse, be lost down the cliff.  Another bogey there for me. The new 12th is an uphill 392 Yard Par 4 (484 Yards from the back tee!).  The prevailing westerly wind should help, but don't go near the right side of the fairway, as enough bunkers await, hidden from view, ready to kill your score (assuming you've still got one by then).  The new 12th uses the old 13th green and is still tricky to read - there speaks the experienced caddy!  I was on the green in 3 and 3 putted from no great distance.

This is the new 15th, a terrific 160 Yard Par 3, playing to 214 Yards from the back tee.  The plateau green runs off into well-placed bunkering and awkward little hollows that, if found, make a par extremely difficult. Chances are you'll be playing this hole into a stiff head wind.  A pin position on the right of the green will also be very demanding, since a line of deep bunkers will be perilously close to your line of play. Par here will be a good score for most players. I 3-putted again for a bogey.
I played the new layout on 4 June 2013 and went round in 88 with 35 putts and the odd poor shot.  The new clubhouse is now almost fully open and is a hugely impressive building befitting such a prestigious and ambitious course.  The new layout has greatly improved the course and if you ever get the chance to play it, or even get inside the massive front gates, you'll be mightily impressed. 

Friday, 19 November 2010

Prestwick St Cuthbert GC - course no 363

I played this good parkland course on 19 November 2010. I'd previously turned up on spec during the Summer, only to find that the tee was reserved all day for an Open competition (I played at Barrassie instead), so I made sure I phoned in advance this time! St Cuthbert is an easy walking flat parkland course, 5993 yards Par 70 off the yellow tees. It's a good course to play and was in excellent condition, but of the 3 courses in Prestwick, it doesn't have the trickiness of the St Nicholas course or the difficulty and historic status of the Old Prestwick course. This is a view of the 11th green, showing just how flat the course is. The bank behind the green is just about the biggest hill!

I'd met Bobby, a life member of the club on the 1st tee and we played the first 10 holes together. He'd obviously been quite a player in his younger days and although now well into his 70's was still outdriving me and finished his 10 holes in around 3 over par. Neither of us was concentrating much, but Bobby at least knew where he was going. I took 5 at each of the first 6 holes, dropping 5 strokes in the process (and half of my handicap). Another bogey at the 163 yard 7th, but at least I'd moved to one under five's. A first par on the 162 yard par 3 9th and I was out in 42. Thankfully the back 9 was much better, starting with a birdie at the short 308 yard 10th after a good lob wedge to 2 feet. I should also have birdied this, the 11th, but I missed the short putt. The greens were generally quick slick and true. Indeed, I only had 24 putts in total, but much of that was down to missing the greens in regulation and some good wedges etc around the greens. Still. it's a long time since I've had 12 single putts in a round.

I thought that the 18th was the best hole on the course, a 475 yard par 5, finishing in front of the clubhouse windows, as all good closing holes should (Downfield and certain others please note!) This is the view from the middle of the fairway. I needed a par on the last for a 1 over total of 36 on the back 9. Driver, 3 wood, Sand Iron and a couple of putts (one from off the green), job done. I'd gone round in 78, net 68 or 2 strokes under net par. A good round which should have been even better. Still, I'd enjoyed Bobby's company and had a good stroll around the course in warm sunshine and some valuable practice before tackling Renaissance the following day!

Monday, 15 November 2010

Ballochmyle Golf Club - course no 362

Craig and Stu had played Ballochmyle earlier in the year and really liked it, so I'd been keen to play it myself. When I finally managed that on 15 November 2010 (Happy Birthday, Claire!) the course was in great condition and a real pleasure to play. My only concern was that, like some other courses I could mention, Ballochmyle had taken most of the course signage away for the Winter, leaving visitors like me to plot their own way around as best they could. For example, the nearest tee to the 1st green turned out to be the 10th, with the 12th and 2nd located side by side 30 yards away through some trees. The nearest tee to the 5th green turned out to be the 8th, with the 6th tee located over 100 yards away, past the 7th green. Confused? - join the club! I'd managed to catch up with a couple of elderly ladies playing on the 3rd and had hoped to follow them round. However, they dodged the 6th and 7th holes, adding to my confusion. I had to ask other players and greenkeeping staff for directions four times. The 50% reduction in green fees in place over the Winter by the Ballochmyle club is a bargain, but I was trying to play golf rather than go orienteering with luggage. Some simple tee markers would have helped, but enough of that, because this is a really good golf course.

Ballochmyle is a 5672 yard par 70 parkland course, a few miles inland from the Ayrshire coast. As such, it's a wee bit off the golf tourist track, but don't let that put you off. The course starts with an easy downhill par 4, with OOB on the right, followed by a series of good parkland holes, with lots of mature trees waiting to catch anything wayward off the tee. I'd started pretty steadily and was only 3 over after 8 holes, with the short downhill 275 yard par 4 9th to come. OK, the club had moved the tee about 20 yards forward and to the left, opening up what would otherwise have been a slight dogleg over high trees. However, there's a deep ditch down the right and a stream in front of the green to catch anything off line. This is the view from the tee. It was a cold and windless morning and the ball wasn't flying far, so how I managed to drive the green I don't quite know! I'd have been happy with a birdie, but I holed the 12 foot right to left putt for a rare eagle. This is a view of the green. A really good hole. I'd gone out in 36, only 1 over par and made an easy birdie at the 10th. The 11th is a 387 yard dog leg right par 4. the drive is either through a narrow gap in the trees before turning sharp right for a downhill approach, or a blast over the trees, cutting off some of the distance. I took the cautious approach after watching the 2 elderly ladies footering about by the stream that lies half-hidden in the gap between the trees. I bogeyed that hole after a poor approach shot (and also bogeyed 4 of the last 5 holes!). I'd let a really good round slip away and needed a par up the last, a tight 487 yard par 5, for a 41 on the back 9. By the time I got to the 18th, the temperature had dropped alarmingly, and the first flurries of snow blew over the course. I hit a good straight drive and an equally good 3 wood through a narrow gap in the trees, leaving me an uphill wedge to the green, with the clubhouse windows (hopefully toughened glass!) lurking worrying close on the right. Anyone who has ever seen me play will know how easily a sh--- can appear without warning, so it was relief to get the wedge pin high, as shown here. I missed the putt, but I'd still gone round in 77, 3 under the net par of the course, so a good round on a very good course. Play it during the Summer, when the signage returns!

I'd been hoping to play at nearby Muirkirk on the way home, but by the time I got there it was raining hard and a sign on the closed clubhouse advised that scorecards could be obtained in several shops in the nearby village. I decided to press on to Douglas Water, a small 9 hole course deep in the South Lanarkshire hills. It was hidden under several inches of early Winter snow, but at least I now know where it is!

Friday, 5 November 2010

Loudon Gowf Club - course no 361

After the rather dismal round at St Fillans, it was time for a really good course. We'd contacted a number of courses earlier in the year to advise them about our challenge and Loudon amongst others had offered us a courtesy round, to help us to keep our costs down and more generally, support our fund raising. I'd also investigated the club's excellent website and was intrigued by the following entry "the first question usually asked about Loudon Gowf Club is why 'Gowf Club'? It would appear that the Gowf Field of Loudon, so called as far back as records are available, was the private golf field of the Campbell family of Loudon Castle and had been in existence from the early 16th century. Golf or gowf (the old Scottish word for golf) has been played on these fields for over 400 years. It is believed that the ground has never at any time been under the plough in all these years. One can therefore appreciate why the turf at Loudon is unique and probably among the finest of any inland course. Hampden Park, the legendary home of the Scottish national football team, was returfed from the rough along the road side around 1920." The present Loudon club dates back to 1909, but it seemed pretty clear that this was a course with real history and a club worth an early visit.

I visited Loudon, a few miles east of Kilmarnock, on 5 November 2010 on a day more suited to being indoors with a good book and an old malt. Indeed, I nearly turned back on the drive through, but gambled on the weather improving during the day. Indeed, a few minutes away from the course the rain eased to a fine drizzle which was to go on and off during the round. Loudon is a pretty flat parkland course with tree-lined fairways and at 5740 yards, par 67 off the yellow tees, is not particularly long. When I played it the fairways were pretty saturated and I soon gave up trying to find a lie away from standing water. That the course was still open was real tribute to the greenkeeping staff and the quality of the turf. Even so, the course appeared to have some new and temporary water features, such as here on the 12th fairway. The 12th is a 290 yard par 4, aptly named "Marsh", with a lateral water hazard running the length of the fairway. I'd hit a really good drive up the left side and had only a short sand iron to the green. The green is well protected and hidden by a large bunker, so I was pleased to hit a good shot to within 10 feet and hole the putt for my single birdie, hopefully impressing the 4-ball waiting to tee off on the 1st! They'd been spared my splashing about on some of the previous holes - out in 41, or 6 over par. The 14th-16th are pretty daunting, since the main A71 road runs close to these holes, so I was careful not to slice anything. This is the 17th, a good 145 slightly uphill par 3, which I bogeyed (although it is the Stroke Index 18 hole). I'd parred the 7th, the Stroke Index 1, so make sense of that if you can. I went round in Loudon in 81, net 71, or 4 adrift of the course par. Not bad given the underfoot conditions. Although there are many other quality golf courses in the area, it was no surprise to learn from the Club Secretary that Loudon has over 900 members and a lengthy waiting list to join. That probably says a lot more about the course than I ever can, but this is definitely a course well worth seeking out if you're in the area. However, if you play the course just be sure not to slice a ball onto the busy main road alongside the 14th-16th!

Thursday, 4 November 2010

St Fillans GC - course no 360

Polly and I played this 9 hole course to the west of Crieff in Perthshire on 3 November 2010 after our round at nearby Comrie. I suspect we'd just turned up a few weeks too late, as the course had been set for the Winter, with Winter tees and temporary greens. As ever, we can only play the course that has been set by the club, but it was a pity that we had to find our own way around the course, in the absence of any map on the card or hole numbers on the tees and flags. The rain showers and cold wind simply added to the frustration (was it really only 6 miles east and an hour previously that we were playing at Comrie in Autumn sunshine?) St Fillans is a 2760 yards par 34 course, but was playing shorter than that. However, the lamentable signage (one tee per hole, set by a yellow and a red marker, meaning Polly had to play from the same tees as me) gave us no clues on direction or distance. It may of course be that this small club does not attract many visitors in the off-season, but it needs to do a bit more to help casual visitors such as ourselves to enjoy the experience.

That apart, St Fillans is flat, easy walking and a pleasant enough course, once we'd worked out where we were going. There are a couple of decent holes, but the overall impression was pretty underwhelming, despite the excellent views of forests and hills. This is the 4th, a left dog leg 357 yard par 4. My drive left me an 8 iron to the green and a couple of putts gave me an easy par. I thought the best hole on the course was the 5th, a 265 yard par 4 named after the bothy, as shown here, on the left of the fairway. I duffed a short chip on this hole and dropped a shot, but I went round in 38, or 4 over par. Maybe the course plays better in the Summer. If I'm in back the area then I'd give it another try, but I think there are better courses in the area.

Comrie GC - course no 359

Polly and I played this excellent 9 hole course near Crieff in Perthshire on 4 November 2010. Comrie is pretty short at only 2699 yards, par 35, off the yellow tees and is a moderately hilly course that reminded me of Strathtay or even Crieff Ferntower. The many trees in and surrounding the course made Comrie look spectacular in the Autumn sun. Although the course was pretty wet underfoot after recent heavy rain, the course was in great condition for the time of year, the only problem being the many leaves and pine needles on the greens that made putting quite tricky. I'd been advised by a couple of locals some weeks before that Comrie was really good and well worth playing and how right they were. The course is certainly short, taking Polly and I only just over an hour to go round, but this is a must play course if you're in the area.

Comrie starts with a short right dog leg 320 yard par 4 with a blind tee shot over a small hill. Anything right is dead and the line is just to the left of a marker in the trees above the second tee. The steeply sloping green is set in a hollow and was only a short wedge for an easy par. The 2nd, as shown here, is a good 238 yard par 4. A decent drive left a lob wedge and I managed a good birdie after a 10 foot putt through the ever-present pine needles. However, the green is tiny and sits on a shelf in the hill, so although the hole is short and drivable, the 2nd deserves respect. The 3rd hole is an awkward uphill par 3 of 146 yards that plays its full length. As it was cold and the wind was against us, I played a punch with a 5 iron and ended up with a bogey. This is the view from the tee. The 4th is a 355 yard par 4 played into a valley from an elevated tee, with an uphill second shot that I completely overhit into the trees beyond the green for another bogey. The 5th is a good par 3 of 152 yards, requiring an accurate drive to a small green well protected by bunkers. Another good putt rescued my par so after 5 holes I was only 1 over. The 6th is a really good 476 yard par 5 played directly into the prevailing wind. The recent heavy rain meant there was no run on the fairways and after a poor fairway wood I was on in 4, over 20 feet from the hole. However, another good putt secured an unlikely par and another par at the downhill 7th, a 310 yard par 4, meant I was still on track for a good score.

However, and it seems there's always at least one, I lost concentration on the 8th, a tricky 335 yard par 4 into the wind. I'd had a good drive and had only a 7 iron to the green, but blocked the shot way right, leaving myself completely stymied behind a large tree. I then compounded that error by hitting a duffed pitch and run, ending up with a pathetic triple bogey 7. Lunch was beckoning and another mistake off the tee at the 397 yard par 4 9th led to a closing double bogey. I'd dropped 5 needless shots on the last 2 holes, ending up with a 41, or 6 over the par of the course. A disappointing finish, but I really enjoyed the course. This is a view of the 9th and the homely clubhouse. Play Comrie if you get the chance.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Lochgelly GC - course no 358

I played this good and interesting 18 hole parkland course on 19 October 2010 - a bitterly cold day for the time of year! Lochgelly is a former mining village in western Fife and although the Lochgelly club still has a strong village base, it faces considerable competition from the many local golf clubs, both private and municipal. Indeed, the club professional had been made redundant recently and like many other Scottish clubs, Lochgelly faced considerable financial challenges. I liked the layout of the course, with some seriously tight holes on the back 9, quick greens and good quality fairways. At 5329 yards, par 68, Lochgelly is pretty short, but there's still some very good holes. The course starts with a relatively easy par 5, but the 2nd, an uphill 433 yard par 4, Stroke Index 1, removes any thought that the course can be beaten easily. I managed a couple of opening 5s on these holes, so not too bad a start. The 3rd, as shown here, is an uphill 212 yard par 3, but the green is hidden behind some trees, so a formidable hole which I did well to bogey, after a wild hook of the tee. The 4th is a downhill 303 yard par 4, with a 90 degree right dogleg after 250 yards, with the second shot played to a small green well protected by a gully and bunkers. A good hole.

The course wasn't busy in front of me, but I caught up with 2 couple of 3-balls on the 2nd and 5th holes and was impressed by their friendliness and offers to play through. These kids had been well schooled in golfing etiquette and were a credit to their club, so thanks again, lads. I was also relieved to hit my drive at the 146 yard par 3 5th to within 10 feet of the holes, with my young audience watching. For once, I almost looked like a golfer! The 6th is where Lochgelly gets tight. This is a short par 4, but anything right is OOB onto the local railway line and likewise on the 7th. I really liked the 8th, a deceptively straightforward 336 yard par 4. The drive is played over a small hill and I'd only just over 100 yards to the flag. However, there's a large pond protecting the right of the green, as shown here. The sensible approach is to aim for the left of the green and take advantage of the slope from left to right and for once I did just that, escaping with an easy par. I'd gone out in 38, only 4 over par, but I'd been advised by one of the juniors that the course was tighter on the back 9, with tree-lined fairways that were tricky to hold from tee shots even slightly wayward. A pity that my young course adviser didn't tell me about the OOB to the right of the 11th, as that cost me a double bogey. The narrow 13th is a potentially tricky short par 4, but as the course was by then quiet behind me, I took the option of hitting my drive back down the wider 12th fairway, leaving a simple wedge to the green.

The tightest hole on the course was the 15th, an uphill left dog leg 273 yard par 4. This is the view from the fairway. My strategy here should have been to lay up in front of the ditch, rather than blast a driver into the trees to the right beyond the ditch, but I'll know better the next time! The back 9 at Lochgelly is pretty testing, hence my score of 42, making a gross 80, net 70, against the par of 68. Not bad, but I'd hope to avoid more of the trees, next time.

Lochgelly is only £10 for 18 holes and is either outstanding value or seriously under-priced, depending on your perspective. I'd gladly have paid more to play this course. Signage at Lochgelly is pretty good, but one thing I did wonder about was the lack of a direction marker for the tee shot at the 16th. This is the uninformative view from the tee (the line is straight over the narrow stripe of whins in the middle of the photo, so hopefully that will save you a 200 yard walk to find out!). Good course, though, and well worth playing.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Campsie GC - course no 357

I played this hilly moorland course on the slopes of the Campsie Hills just north of Glasgow on 15 October 2010, fresh from a narrow win in the Howard Leedale Trophy at my home club, which saw my handicap cut by 0.6 to 9.8, so I've been playing pretty well recently. Campsie is a short 18 hole course measuring only 5173 yards, par 70, from the yellow tees. The par 4 holes range from 230 yards to 402 yards and the 2 par 5's are only 470 and 448 yards long. The ground was pretty wet underfoot and there was no run, so the course played longer than I'd expected. Even so, the short irons really come into play here. What the Campsie course lacks in length is compensated by the tricky small greens and the sometimes steep hills. For example, this is the 8th, the shortest of the par 4's. The hole is only 230 yards but is steeply uphill. I'd a short sand iron left for my second, but the green is tiny and like most of the holes, slopes down to the valley floor. I managed the par OK, just missing the right of the 2 bunkers. I'm not sure whether any of the bunkers were under repair in preparation for winter, but none of them had been raked recently and there was no sand in them. Thankfully, I only found one on the way round as these looked to be serious hazards.

I liked the 13th, a short 255 yard uphill par 4, played to a fairway split into several small hillocks, with a steeply sloping plateau green. This is the view to the green from my tee shot. I'd gone out in 41, 5 strokes over par, and was playing pretty well on the back 9 until the 15th, a tricky uphill par 4 with a fairway sloping steeply from left to right. I found a bunker to the right of the green and was lucky to escape with a bogey. The 15th green is just about the highest point on the course, so it was a surprise to find the 16th tee was a good par 5 away, back down the hill. The 16th is an easy par 5 if you hit the ball straight (which I did!).

Best hole at Campsie is probably the 17th, as shown here. This is a 159 yard par 3, steeply downhill and requiring absolute accuracy off the tee to avoid the trees and a nasty bunker guarding the left of the green. I was pin high with my 5 iron and only just missed the birdie putt (uphill for once!) I did the back 9 in 38 for a total of 79, 1 under the net par. I'd enjoyed the round, but I preferred some of the other nearby courses.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Foulford Inn Course - course no 356

This is a 9 hole par 3 course of 916 yards, par 27 on the quiet country road between Crieff and Dunkeld. The Inn is now closed, the owners having recently retired. The course is very much still open, but the greens hadn't been cut when I played it on 30 September 2010 and from the lack of footprints in the morning dew, I was the first player on the course. This is the 1st hole, an uphill 94 yarder. An easy wedge, being careful not to go out of bounds (10 feet behind the green!). I missed the tiny green but almost chipped in for a birdie. The greens turned out to be ridiculously slow, with lots of worm casts, thanks to the heavy dew and overnight rain. I also parred the next couple of holes quite easily, but the owner had advised me to be very careful on the 4th as the green was almost surrounded by a small pond. This is a view of the hole from the 6th tee (with the 4th tee back beside the brown road sign). The hole is only 90 yards long, but only the top half of the flag is visible from the tee. I should have walked forward to have a look at the pond and even played to the right of the green as a result, but I was keen to get home to see the Ryder Cup opening ceremony live, so didn't bother. The pond isn't even marked as a water hazard, but as my ball was clearly left of the flag, it was definitely in the aqua. I ended up with a double bogey 5, but a really good hole. Here's another view of the pond! The 5th hole is also very tricky, being a steeply uphill 86 yard hole, with the tiny green set alarmingly close to the OOB fence. I bogeyed that hole and was lucky not to go OOB. Foulford is fun to play, though a bit frustrating due to the lack of pace on the course generally. Nearby Crieff had been completely different. I wonder how long this little course will survive, now that the Inn has closed. Maybe the owners will keep it going for visitors and their own entertainment. I hope so, as the 4th is worth the £6 green fee on its own. I went round in 31 less 5 for a net 26, or 1 under the par. I parred 6 of the holes and next time I'm back that way, I'll be trying to get the better of the 4th.

Crieff GC - Dornock Course - course no 355

I'd played the 18 hole Ferntower course at Crieff GC on 14 August, but didn't have time to play the Dornock Course, the club's 9 hole course. I finally played the Dornock on 30 September 2010. Dornock is a 2270 yard par 32 course and like it's bigger neighbour, was in fantastic condition. I've played many inland parkland courses this year, from the humble to the grand,but I think the 2 Crieff courses have been in the best condition. Indeed, the practice green at Crieff is a sight to gladden the heart, even before you step onto either course. Anyway, the Dornock is a joy to play and clearly gave the high handicap members, juniors and seniors somewhere to play, as well as provide a great practice facility, away from the challenges of the bigger Ferntower course. That's not to suggest that the Dornock is easy, though. You might not run up big numbers, but getting a par on some of the holes is a real challenge.

The first 5 holes run parallel to the main road from Perth and a sign at the 1st tee reminds players that a wayward ball may lead to legal action, so players are encouraged to hit their shots when there's gap in the traffic. The 1st hole is an easy 292 yard par 4. Driver, wedge you'd think. However, there's some dead ground in front of the green so I'd left my second slightly short and bogeyed the hole. There had been a heavy early morning dew as can be seen from this photo from the 1st fairway. I made a complete mess of the 2nd, a 196 yard par 3. The tee pointed me towards a ridge in the fairway, with a bunker on the left side, with the green hidden by the ridge. I hit a good 7 wood and was just short of the green. However, it was only when I got to the ball that I realised the green I'd just passed to my right was the 2nd and that I'd played to the wrong green. I was 80 yards away from the right green and completely stymied by a tall tree, but at least a chip and 2 putts saved me from real embarrassment.

The 3rd is a short 254 yard par 4, uphill and with the green hidden behind some trees to the left of the fairway. A 3 wood over the top and a short pitch to 8 feet led to my first birdie (yes, I'd more than one!). However, I bogeyed the excellent 205 yard par 3 4th, trying to force the trusty 7 wood. An easy par at the next, a good par 3 and I was only 2 over after 5 holes. Even better, I hit a good drive up the steeply uphill 6th, a 256 yard par 4. As shown here, my lob wedge was within 3 feet, so another birdie went onto the card. One over par and 3 holes to go, but sadly, that was as good as it got. The 7th is a downhill 382 yard par 4, but I hooked my drive into the left rough and had to settle for a bogey. This is a look back at the 8th, a tricky 135 yard par 3, from the safety of the 9th tee. I'd hit an 8 iron, but there's steep slope in front of the green and I was slightly short, so I was left with an awkward 30 yard pitch to an elevated green. A good lob wedge and a 20 foot putt rescued the par, but I came to grief on the 9th, the Stroke Index 1 hole. This is a tricky 383 yard par 4, played over a ridge. I hooked the tee shot way left into heavy rough and was lucky to find the ball, but a closing bogey followed, for a total of 35, 3 over the par of 32. This gave me a net 30, based on half of my 10 handicap, so not bad really. I'd really enjoyed the Dornock course and if you ever get the chance to play the excellent Ferntower course, try the Dornock first, even as a warm up to the Ferntower's challenges. Here's a closing view, the last green and the clubhouse. Nice place, Crieff.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Earl of Mar Course - course no 354

This is a new 18 hole parkland championship course that opened for play in the Spring of 2010, complementing the excellent luxury Mar Hall hotel and spa complex by the River Clyde, only a 15 minute drive from Glasgow Airport. Polly and I played the course on 24 September 2010, so thanks again to Steve, who works for the course's owners, for getting us on. We played a friendly match against Steve and his pal Bill, who are both members at the nearby Buchanan Castle club (a very good parkland course near Loch Lomond that's also well worth a visit).

The tees and greens had apparently been in place for around 4 years and had settled in really well but the fairways had been sown more recently and bad weather had delayed the opening of the course for play until this Spring. In places limited fairway growth led to difficult lies for second shots, so preferred lies were in place through the course. Even so, iron play from the new fairways (for me at least) was occasionally tricky. The fairways will improve significantly after further feeding and (I hope!) a more reasonable winter than we had last year. The design is outstanding, with some really good and interesting holes, particularly along the side of the river. Course drainage appeared to be very good too, so overall I thought that this new course would mature very well and in time become an excellent parkland course. With a luxury hotel on site, I'm sure that the Earl of Mar course will become an important and welcome addition to golf tourism in the Glasgow area. Although the course and hotel are so close to the airport and motorway connections, the openness of the site and the tremendous views of the river and the hills beyond gave the course a real countryside feel. For example, this is a view of the 8th green.

At 6259 yards par 70 off the yellow tees, the Earl of Mar course is not particularly long, but on the evidence of the game we had, it will set as stern test for most amateur golfers. The course is relatively flat and starts with a tricky 482 yard par 5, dog leg left. I was just short in 3 and thinned a chip through the back for an eventual double bogey, with the thinned shot being the first sign that the fairways had still to thicken up. Next was a really good 198 yard par 3, and another double bogey - I really must try harder to warm up before playing! The 3rd is a 387 yard par 4, dog leg left. The big hitters will cut the corner, leaving a short downhill pitch to the green. More normal folk like me will be content to hit the ball straight and tackle a blind shot over a small ridge down to the green. I played that way and had my first par, just missing the birdie putt. The hole is overlooked by the Erskine Bridge, as shown here (making the course easy to find by road!) The 4th is a long 439 yard par 4 (Stroke Index 2) with a lateral water hazard all the way up the left of the fairway. What the bigger hitters won't see from the tee is that this hazard becomes a wide pond 260 yards out. I only dream of hitting drives that far these days, so I was OK and managed a good bogey. I played the front 9 relatively steadily thereafter, going out in 45, with 18 putts. None of us could get the pace of the greens, which varied from slow to medium fast, but at least they ran smooth and true. Like the fairways, they'll improve.

The back 9 starts with a deceptively short 130 yard par 3, nestling between mature trees. However, there's a bank in front of the green that is hard to see due to the shadows from the trees and we all under-clubbed. I hit a pitch to within a few inches so at least I got the easy par I was looking for from the tee. However, I really struggled with anything off the fairways after that hole and as a result my scoring went south, with a series of bogeys and worse. Polly and I had been leading at the turn in our match against Steve and Bill but they went a couple up on this, the excellent par 4 335 yard 14th. I hit an 8 iron to the green but again found that a precise hit was necessary on the new fairway, so another bogey followed. I did at least par this, the 187 yard par 3 17th, but we were still dormie down stood on the 18th tee. The last hole is a really difficult 407 yard par 4 dog leg right, with an uphill second to a plateau green. The dog leg turns at 250 yards, but I'd caught a steep bank beyond a fairway bunker to the left and had 180 yards to go, over a large tree, off a silly steep hanging lie in semi-rough. I managed to clear all but the highest branch of the tree, but was still short of the green in 3. I'm really not sure how I took another 4 from there, but it would not have been nice to watch. Meanwhile, Polly had got snagged in heavy rough to the right of the fairway, so we lost the match by 2 holes. Well done guys! I'd gone round in a poor 94, net 84, well adrift of the par of 70, but as with any new course, the playability will improve as the layout matures. We'd not really noticed the stroke indexing too much on the way round, but we did wonder how the 18th could possibly be Stroke Index 15 i.e. one of the easier holes. The dog leg requires a drive of 250+ yards, avoiding the bunkering that I found, to leave an uphill 150 yard shot to the green. I think the best score between the four of us was a 6 and it will be interesting to see how the SI changes in years to come.

I'd strongly recommend this course as well worth playing. I suspect that it will mature quickly and become a really good test. Based on my first round there, I'd love to play it again in a few years' time, so when Craig and Stu visit in due course, I'd hope to tag along. Another good thing about the Earl of Mar course. If you're golf's not good, you can always watch the passing river traffic, such as this vessel passing the 15th green!

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Selkirk GC - course no 353

I played this moorland course on 23 September 2010 on a day when other parts of the country were being flooded by torrential rain. Selkirk is a 90 minute drive south from East Lothian and on the way down the rain got so bad that I was wondering whether the course would be playable at all. As it turned out, the rain eased after I'd waited around for an hour, just as one of the locals had predicted. The Selkirk course has 9 greens and 10 tees, so I had to go round twice, dodging the odd light shower. However, the course wasn't busy, as is clear from this photo of the clubhouse and car park from the 9th/18th tee! I guess I was the only one daft enough to be playing that day.

The course is 5331 yards par 68 off the yellow tees and is pretty hilly, with some quirky holes. For example, this is the 384 yard 5th/14th hole, a really awkward par 4. The tee shot is blind over a hill, leaving a long iron from a side/down slope to a tiny shelved green. Indeed, the front half of the green is on such a steep slope that no ball would stay on it. My 7 wood first time round hit the middle of the green but rolled back, right off the green. My putt from the fringe of the green almost made it to the top tier, but came all the way back to me, despite the course being very wet after the rain, resulting in a bogey. The key here is to hit through the green and chip back (as I did on the 14th to get my par) or at least be sure to take enough club to find the top tier. It's further than it looks!

Holes 7 (165 yards) and 16 (210 yards) have different tees and that's the only place where there is enough room to add a 10th tee to the course. However, the green is slightly above both tees, meaning that only a sliver of green and the flag is visible from the tees. I preferred the shorter 7th as from that tee it was at least possible to see that the land fell away to the right and that the safe line in was slightly to the left of the green. The restricted view from the 16th tee is pretty daunting and I took 9 strokes in total on these tricky holes. I particularly liked the 8th/17th, the 495 yard par 5 Stroke Index 2 and 1 holes. The narrow fairway runs along the top of the course (alongside a small practice ground on the highest and most remote part of the course!) The fairway sits in a shallow valley lined with heather and bushes, with the green lying in a hollow below a ridge that splits the end of the fairway. First time round I hit Driver, 7 wood to 60 yards or so and had a blind pitch over the ridge to the green, as shown here. I parred the hole both times after some good straight hitting, but it was certainly a difficult hole. Anything but straight could have led to a big score!

Selkirk keeps its best hole to the last and the 9th/18th is a gem of a par 3, played from an elevated tee to a small green set in a hollow 151 yards away. I played an 8 iron both times and even chipped in for a birdie from just off the green when playing the 9th. This is the view from the tee. I played the course in almost windless conditions but my guess is that this hole would be hugely difficult in windy conditions. I scored 41 first time round and 37 second time, for a 78 total, net 68, matching the par of the course, so a good round overall. Selkirk is quirky but good fun and well worth playing if you get the chance.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Hayston GC - course no 352

Hayston is another of the good parkland courses to the north of Glasgow. Polly and I played in the Hayston GC's Mixed Foursomes competition on 19 September 2010. Hayston is 6080 yards off the White tees (par 70) and 5246 yards off the Ladies tees (par 71) so it's not a long course by any means. Foursomes is always a "testing" format and it didn't take us long to be reminded of that fact. Polly had the drive on the 1st hole. We limped to a double bogey 6, so a bit disappointing. The 2nd turned out to be a tricky 502 yard par 5, played at the start of a heavy shower that was to last for all of the front 9. I hooked the drive into the trees, got the wet suit on, juggled with the umbrella and generally was the main contributor to our pathetic 11. The weather then closed in, the pace of play became equally dismal and we were already out of contention. However, amidst the wreckage of our round we had some rare signs that we'd actually played the game before. Above is a photo from the 3rd tee a short 264 yard par 4, the blurring being the heavy rain, rather than any fault of mine as duty photographer! Polly hit a great drive, I hit an equally impressive short sand iron to 7 feet and we were only just outside the "nearest the pin" prize marker, but an easy par followed. This is the 4th hole, a 118 yard par 3. My 9 iron tee shot left Polly an awkward 4 feet putt (if anything that short can be so described) but another easy par. Hayston is a mixture of parkland and moorland and although undulating in parts should be generally easy walking. However, with heavy rain, an independently minded umbrella and leaky shoes to contend with a hilly course would really have put the tin lid on the competition. As it was, we were out in a poor 52, with the prospect of beating 100 as our main remaining target. Thankfully the rain stopped after the 9th, a watery sun emerged (for all of 5 minutes!) and we could dry off our gear. We could also start to enjoy the Hayston course better, rather than just try to minimise our soaking. I particularly liked the 14th, as shown here, a 165 yard downhill par 3. We'd watched a couple playing in front of us get pretty close to our earlier 11, so looking back, our double bogey was relatively respectable. However, the shot of the day was on the 16th, a 489 yard par 5 playing its full length after the rain. I'd hit a decent drive, Polly had mishit her fairway wood and I'd left my 6 iron a few feet short of the green. Hayston's greens were really good but were pretty slow after catching of the rain that had actually missed us on the front 9. Therefore, Polly's 50 foot putt was pretty daunting, particularly as one of us (!) had been leaving most putts short. Just when you least expect it, the golfing gods intervene so when Polly's putt found the middle of the middle of the hole for an outstanding birdie, we could only laugh (although I also laughed when our playing partners 4-putted from inside 10 feet on the 14th, and that reaction wasn't the best in the circumstances!)
Hayston is well worth playing and has an interesting last hole, an uphill 145 yard par 3, with OOB on both sides and immediately behind the green and the clubhouse windows alarmingly close for anything hooked off the tee. I tried to hit a hard 8 iron, but only succeeded in finding the OOB in front of the clubhouse and we finished with a triple bogey. We'd gone round in 98, net 83, to round off a poor run in our mixed competitions for 2010. Still we'd enjoyed ourselves and I'd played some more new courses. Next year we're going to target some courses we know and have played well in the past, so Powfoot here we come and maybe Cruden Bay too (our only win to date!)

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Lenzie GC - course no 351

This is another of the good parkland courses to the north of Glasgow. I played the Lenzie course on 14 September 2010 in the club's Senior Open. There had been torrential rain in the Glasgow area on the previous day, but the course had stood up well and the fairways and greens were still pretty firm, aided by a gale force wind which made scoring extremely difficult. The weather forecast was for heavy blustery showers and sure enough, I teed off in one of those downpours. Thankfully the 307 yard par 4 1st hole was downwind and I'd only a short lob wedge to the green. A couple of putts and I was off and running, but the wind was a constant problem. I managed a good par 4 at the 350 yard par 4 4th, played directly into the gale. That's my ball to the left of the green, as shown here, so a rare single putt! The toughest hole on the front 9 is the 5th, a steeply uphill 343 yard par 4. The wind was howling from right to left, narrowing the fairway and with trees and OOB on the left, the drive was particularly tricky. I hit a good drive, but the second shot is blind with OOB on the left of the plateau green. I found the green in 3 but nearly went through the back onto the 6th tee. The exposed green is also far from flat, as shown here, so a 6 was just about acceptable. The short 140 yard par 3 6th should have been a chance to get the score back on track, but clubbing was almost impossible, given the windy conditions. I tried a 6 iron, but my ball went through the green, ending up barely inside an OOB fence, so another double bogey went on the card, followed by a triple bogey at the tricky 7th, where the wind again played havoc with the ball.

I was out in 45 and had an easy par at the downwind 10th, a 500 yard par 5 playing much shorter than its yardage. However, the back 9 is 440 yards longer than the front 9, making the par 4's in particular a real test in the windy conditions and a bad run of 6,6,8 on holes 11-13 (all long par 4's) left me struggling to break 90. This is the excellent view down the last, a 372 yard par with OOB on the left and a couple of water hazards to be avoided. I missed the first water hazard OK, but found the second, just in front of the green, and ended up with a 7, just as the skies opened. It's a long walk from the 18th to the car park and by the time I got there I was soaked. I'd gone round in 94, net 84. Disappointing in a way but I suspect that there would be many worse scores than that, given the conditions. I'd happily play Lenzie again, hopefully in less extreme weather!