Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Vogrie Golf Course - Course no 254

I played this course on 23 February 2010. Vogrie is a pleasant 2530 yard 9 hole parkland course owned and operated by Midlothian Council, within Vogrie Country Park. This is a view of the 5th fairway. The full course was in play, but there had been a frost earlier in the day and although the top of the ground had thawed out, the conditions were far from ideal and the greens were pretty slow and bumpy. I enjoyed the course and went round twice scoring 39 and 37 against the par of 33. That made the round 76 gross, or net 64 against a par of 66, so scoring was pretty good, despite the conditions.

I thought the best hole at Vogrie was the 7th, a 180 yard par 3, shown here, with good bunkering and a 2 tier green. My 7 wood on the first round just caught the front bunker and I took 4. Having been waived through at this hole on the second round, the 7 wood caught the bottom half of the green, pin high and I just missed the 20 foot putt. The 8th was another very good hole, an uphill right dog leg 373 yard par, stroke index 1, with a blind second shot to a small green. The fairway bunker at the corner of the dog leg doesn't really come into play and could be moved another 40-50 yards closer to the green. On both occasions, I had a 7 iron to the green and got my par each time. For reasons not immediately obvious, this hole was called Ha Ha Ditch, but there's no ditch, so maybe that's the joke.

The last hole, shown below, is also a bit odd. The card said 149 yards, as did the yellow tee box, but the hole is slightly downhill and looked far shorter. I hit an 8 iron each time and each time finished 10 yards through the green. I didn't have my laser range finder with me, but I suspect the yardage is seriously wrong. Anyway, Vogrie is a good little course, well worth a visit. Not difficult at all, and I imagine would be popular with beginners in particular.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Portobello Golf Course - Course no 253

I played this 9-hole course on the afternoon of 18 February 2010. Portobello lies a couple of miles to the east of Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh and is 2210 yards, par 32 off the yellow tees. It is owned and operated by the City of Edinburgh Council and is a fine little course, made all the better by its excellent and friendly Starter, Johan. As I mentioned in my 25 November 2009 entry, Johan had also played the only course in Sweden that I'd played. It's a small world. I also met another equally friendly council official whose job appeared to be checking that I'd paid my green fee. He'd a tricky job, I guess, but I did wonder whether I looked so shifty that he approached me on the first hole. I was just glad I'd managed a good opening drive, lest he also mark me down for ability!
Given the slight frost earlier in the day, I was pleased that the full course was in play and that the greens were pretty good. Indeed, the course as a whole was in very good condition, with well-raked bunkers and some really good holes. This is the 8th , a 320 yard downhill par 4. I managed a par there, just missing the 30 foot birdie putt. I'd missed a far easier chance on the 7th, having been waived through by a father playing with his 3 young sons. As any golfer will know, being waived through can be a mixed blessing, fraught with hazards. The occasional frustration of playing behind someone slower is relieved, but is replaced by the pressure of having to hit the tee shot before an expectant gallery. Indeed, there is little more embarrassing in golf than being let through only to duff the tee shot, or worse still, lose it, with those who had been kind enough to let you through questioning their wisdom (and your ability). The 7th is 160 yards uphill, played into a low winter sun. I took my 7 wood, swung easily and hoped for the best, since the low sun meant I had no idea where it went. The swing felt OK, but it was only the welcoming cry of "good shot" from the father that led me to hope that the ball lying 10 feet to the right of the flag might be mine. Thankfully it was, but the rushed putt missed narrowly. Perhaps that was just as well though, since I suspect that it is equally poor etiquette to birdie a hole when let through, and risk the golfing gods ensuring that your next teeshot is a shank!

The best hole at Portobello is the last, an outstanding par 3 of 193 yards fit to grace many a nobler track, as shown here. The green is long and narrow and is surrounded by 4 deep bunkers. My 7 wood finished just short of the front right bunker and a (rare!) good lob wedge was needed. Sadly, I just missed the 15 foot putt. I'd gone round in 37, not bad at all.
I thoroughly enjoyed my round at Portobello. Craig and Stu are in for a treat.

Musselburgh Old - Course no 252

I played this course on 18 February 2010 after careful thought about which course to play for such an important milestone on the long road around every course in Scotland. The Old Links are certainly steeped in history, as the score card makes clear, with references going back as far as 1567 and the course producing 5 Open champions. I'm not particularly well-versed in golfing history, but it was a real thrill to tackle the course and to realise that golf had been played for hundreds of years on this old course. The Old course is now a 9-holer of 2668 yards off the yellow tees, par 34. I managed to go round in 41, due mainly to the bumpy and slow nature of the temporary greens that were in play. This is a view from the 6th tee back to the 4th green. The 4th is Stroke index 1, and is a difficult 412 yard par 4, with the green set tight against the out of bounds and Mrs Forman's pub, where in days gone by "refreshments" could be sold through a hatch to passing golfers. It's a great pity that such quirks are not allowed by current licensing laws. However, I thought that the 6th was a stronger and more interesting hole. As the club's website states, "usually played into the wind. The exposed tee can be very troublesome in windy conditions. Be very careful with your tee shot as two hidden bunkers await. Best line is down the left side of the fairway which will give a straight shot to the green. The green has a very steep step in the middle. Any shot too far right, left or long will find trouble. Probably the very first two- level green." I played it down the left as instructed, leaving myself with a 9-iron pitch to 20 feet. I holed the putt for my only birdie.

Below is a view across the course to the Racecourse stands. I'd originally tried to play the course yesterday, not realising that the Racecourse was being used. I did, however, get a good view of the last race of the day! I liked the Old course and would happily play it again in warmer weather, when the fairways are burnt by the sun and running fast, though sadly a refreshment from Mrs Forman's would need to wait until after I'd finished playing. Ah, the price of progress.

This is a view of

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Melville Golf Course - course no 251

I played this course on 16 February 2010. The Melville golf course is part of a golf complex (including a good driving range) to the south east of Edinburgh. It's a 9 hole course of 2057 yards, par 33 and is a pretty good beginner's course, with holes ranging from 104 to 415 yards. This is the approach to the second, a short par 4 of only 273 yards.

I thought the best hole on the course was the 5th, a 330 yard uphill par 4, with a tricky undulating green. I took a 5 after missing the small green with my wedge. This is a view back down the 5th, with the Pentland Hills in the background. However, I made up for that mistake at the 6th, a 121 yard par 3 with good bunkering to protect the green. My 9 iron landed a few inches directly behind the hole and stuck there, such was the dampness of the green. An easy birdie that impressed the 3 old guys watching me from the nearby 7th tee, but that first hole in one remains as elusive as ever, after almost 43 years of trying. One day, Alan, one day! I went round Melville in 36 strokes and would hope to do better in summer conditions, when the greens were faster. Although the full course was in play, the conditions were pretty damp underfoot and the greens were painfully slow. A good beginner's course, and thoroughly enjoyable. I'd happily play here again and try to break par next time.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Fidra Course, Archerfield Links - course no 250

Craig, Stu and I played this absolutely excellent course on 15 February 2010. Considering that some of the courses I'd played recently had been using temporary greens, it was a relief to get back to proper golf, on a full course in such great condition. The Fidra course is 6560 yards, par 72 off the blue tees, which I played (Craig played the black tiger tees and Stu played the white tees, somewhat shorter than the blues). I'd been playing reasonably well recently on courses in much poorer condition than Fidra, so I was really looking forward to seeing how my form would hold up. Overall, not bad, as I went out in 43 and a 5 at the 395 yard par 4 15th would have given me a respectable 87, or 3 over net par. Sadly, my course management let me down, yet again. The middle 6 holes had been played in pretty persistent rain, such that the grip of my driver was soaking wet and even an all-weather glove didn't do much to inspire confidence off the tee. The final straw was a duck hook off the 15th tee, into some wet clinging rough. The lie was not too bad, so my trusty 7 wood seemed a sensible club selection. Wrong! Had I accepted my punishment and taken the wedge, I might have escaped with a 6. I ended up with a 10, so my score ended up as a 92, net 80. I'd hoped that this photo would also show the score, but you'll need to take my word for it!

We all agreed that Fidra was an excellent course and a really stiff test of our abilities. The rain didn't help, but such is the quality of the course that we didn't really mind. We'd played Archerfield's Dirleton course in November 2009, but despite considerable debate over a pint afterwards, we couldn't really decide which was best. Of the two, I think that Fidra is more linksy in nature and is marginally my favourite, although some design quirks that took me by surprise. For example, I thought that the manicured waste areas on the 6th and 12th holes, despite their plantations of coastal maram grass, were a bit out of character for a Scottish links links course. And although the upturned saucer greens provided some tricky run off areas e.g. the 9th, I thought that that design feature was perhaps a wee bit overdone. However, I don't want to sound too critical as overall, this was a really excellent course.

Despite my reservations over the waste area to the right of the green, I thought that the best hole on the outward 9 was the 6th, a 467 yard par 5. I managed my par, but the best shot on that hole was Craig's impressive recovery from a fairway bunker. I doubt I could have got myself into that stance but who cares, that particular bunker didn't really come into play for me - my drive finished 20 yards or more behind this bunker! My favourite hole on the course was the 11th, a 471 yard par 5. I'd pushed the tee shot short and right due to my hands slipping on a wet grip, but a good 7 wood recovery over some high Scots pines left me with a wedge to the green, which unfortunately trickled back off the green into a pot bunker. A bogey followed, but what a really pretty hole.

Below is the 17th green, a formidable 189 yard par 3. The last hole on Fidra is an absolute gem. At 563 yards for Craig, it looked well beyond my meagre ability and I was grateful that it was only 518 yards from the blue tee. Even so, I took 7 rather than the 5 I'd been hoping for to restore some respectability to my round after the debacle on 15. However, it was not to be. Perhaps another time, because this is a course that I would love to play again (and again!)

Friday, 12 February 2010

Bothwell Castle GC - course no 249

I played this excellent course on 12 February 2010. From the bleakness of Auchenharvie to a course that, from its impressive red sandstone archway to its great looking clubhouse, just oozes class. I'd been looking forward to playing here since reading its impressive website and was not disappointed, because this is one of the best parkland courses I've played in ages. Bothwell Castle is a par 70 of 5955 yards off the yellow tees. Unfortunately, temporary greens were in play, but even that did not detract significantly from the quality of the course and the enjoyment it offered. This is a view up the 4th hole, a lovely 378 yard par 4. I really should have birdied that hole, having hit my wedge to within a 3 feet - what great views the owners of the big houses behind the green must have!

I did manage a birdie on the 6th a good 323 yard par 4 with a blind tee shot and was out in 40, 4 over par. I played even better on the back 9, with 6 pars and 3 bogeys. The best hole turned out to be the 13th a dog leg to the right, aptly named "Curler" of 375 yards. This is a view from the tee. I also liked the 15th "Silverwell" and here is the well in question, which didn't really come into play from the tee, but a formidable obstacle, I guess.
For me, one of the great satisfactions in golf is seeing the shot and executing it precisely. The 16th at Bothwell Castle is a right dog leg of 391 yards, par 4, requiring a slight fade off the tee. I went down the shaft of my 3 wood and faded the ball around the trees to put the ball precisely in the middle of the fairway, leaving a short shot and a couple of putts. Job done!
I would love to play Bothwell Castle again. There are no poor holes on this course but there are many good ones that will stick in the memory for a long time.

Auchenharvie Golf Course - course no 248

I played this course on 11 February 2010, having played well earlier in the day at Lochgreen. Auchenharvie is basically a 9 hole layout with 2 separate tees for each hole to create an 18 hole layout. Auchenharvie is 5203 yards off the back tees, which I played, and has a par of 66. I played very well, going round in a gross 70, including a birdie at the short 275 yard par 4 4th hole, but I didn't really enjoy the course. There were some pretty good holes, the 3/12th and 8/17th being the most challenging. For me, the course was dominated by its surroundings, which were pretty dismal at best, with a couple of holes played between the local abattoir and the back of an undertaker's premises and others wedged between a railway, the main road and a housing estate. This is the only scenic view I could find on the course, looking back up the 3/12th fairway.

With so many excellent courses in the area, I wondered how Auchenharvie survives. I certainly don't feel the need to play it again any time soon, given the immediate surroundings. I played it in good sunny weather, but it must be a pretty bleak place on the kind of wild weather that can beset even the best of Scottish courses.

Troon Lochgreen Golf Course - Course no 247

I played this excellent course on 11 February 2010. Lochgreen is operated by South Ayrshire Council and is one of three links courses served by a single clubhouse, the others being Fullerton and Darley. Lochgreen is a 6459 yards par 74. The course was set for temporary greens, so was playing a bit shorter than normal but any benefit that provided was negated by the random bounces on and slowness of the greens. Overall, Lochgreen is a formidable test, deserving its reputation as a tricky course to score well on. I'd played very poorly on my own course a couple of days previously, so I was not expecting anything particularly good.
I pretty much had the course to myself, so took my time and for once, concentrated well. I had to, since after an easy bogey on the first, the next 5 holes were played into a low winter sun, and with some frost on the ground, it was very difficult to see where shots went. Much is written about the excellence of the 5th hole, but at 392 yards, I don't think it merited being classed as Stroke Index 1. I duly took a bogey after a pulled drive, but on the front 9 I preferred the short 285 yard par 4 4th hole, the 181 yard par 3 6th and the 417 yard 9th. I was out in 41, to the par of 38, striking the ball pretty sweetly. The weather had also turned springlike, with the thermal vest and wet suit trousers being shed by the 7th hole. It was pretty unusual to be able to swing without several layers and my thoughts were turning to even warmer days on well kept courses.

Lochgreen is primarily a links course, but has string of good parkland holes from 11 -15. This is a view of the 13th a lovely little 302 yard par 4, the mountains of Arran in the background.

Lochgreen's back 9 was also good, with the only significant blemish being a double bogey on the 16th, thanks to a cunningly hidden bunker in the folds of the fairway that, had I played the second properly, I'd have been nowhere near. I finished Lochgreen with a solid par 5 up the last for a total of 81, net 69. I thoroughly enjoyed the course, a good strong test and if the other 2 courses here are of a similar standard, I'm in for a treat.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Pumpherston GC - Course no 246

I played this course on 8 February 2010. I'd originally tried Bathgate GC, but it was badly flooded, with temporary greens. Pumpherston was wet underfoot, but perfectly playable and the mat provided for fairway play not only helped the course but avoided any risk of standing water affecting the ball. Pumpherston is 5716 yards off the yellow tees, par 70, but was playing slightly shorter due to the use of forward winter tees. The normal greens were in really good condition considering the wet weather and although the greens were slow, my putts ran pretty true.

I was really impressed by Pumpherston. It had originally been a 9 hole course, first laid out in 1895, but more recently an extension to 18 holes with interesting water features and excellent sand based greens has made this an excellent course. I really liked the second hole, a tricky par 4 of 408 yards downhill dog leg to the right. A good drive left me too far back to attempt the green safely, so a lay up with a 9 and a wedge to the green seemed wiser. A bogey on this Stroke Index 1 hole was OK. Above is a view up the third hole.

Water also comes into play on the 9th, a short par 4 of only 314 yards. If anyone finds an almost new Titleist 4 in the pond in front of the green, it was mine. A disappointing 6 and I was out in 42. The back 9 was great fun, with 3 par 5s, 3 par 4s and 3 par 3s. This is a view of the 13th, a 132 yard par 3, with another pond in front of the green. A super little hole. Indeed, all of the back 9 holes were good, with 2 tricky par 5s to finish. Below is the last, a 456 yard par 5 with yet another pond. I managed a 5 to go round in 81, net 69. Note the dark cloud to the right of the photo. That was the blizzard that started on the way back to the car park. Excellent timing! I'd love to play here again and will be encouraging my friends to try it out as well. An excellent course.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Wellsgreen Wee Course - Course no 245

In deciding the format for our challenge, Craig, Stu and I decided that we'd also try to play any course that had its own card, including par 3 courses and those with less than 9 holes.

Wellsgreen is primarily a driving range and restaurant, just outside Kirkcaldy, but it also has a 6 hole par 3 course, all of 740 yards. This looked to be a great beginners course, particularly for young children to enjoy. I played the course on 5 February 2010, after playing at Dunnikier Park and what a fun experience this is. For an inland course in the middle of winter, it was in amazing condition, with well defined fairways and freshly cut true running greens. The driving range was busy for a winter's Friday afternoon but the Wee Course was completely deserted. The holes range from 65 to a healthy 181 yards, so it's a lot more than a pitch and putt course. The greens are also tiny, so par 3s at the 4 holes over 100 yards are far from easy.

I managed to go round in 19, or 1 over par, coming to grief on this, the 3rd hole. 81 yards, with a big pond in front of a tiny, upturned saucer of a green, requiring absolute accuracy. A notice asked that I played off the mat and an easy sand iron was the obvious choice. I'd not allowed for the hardness of the mat, so I didn't get under the ball properly and my low thinned tee shot ended up in the water hazard. An easy 5 though, redeemed only by my long putt for a birdie 2 at the 6th. I thoroughly enjoyed this little course and would happily play it again, ideally on a hot summer's day. Given the superb condition it was in today, it must be quite a course in high season. And I look forward to trying to get under 19 next time!

Dunnikier Park GC - Course no 244

I played this course on 5 February 2010. The weather had been cold in the past few days, but today it was pretty mild, but no sooner had I got across the Forth Road Bridge than the rain came on. I thought about turning round and looking for a course that was at least playable in the dry, but decided to press on, and I'm glad I did. Dunnikier Park is a municipal course owned and operated by Fife Council and is a really good layout. Think Ratho, Newbattle, Haggs Castle, because this was the equal of those excellent inland courses. When I arrived there were a few other cars in the car park, so at least there were a few other idiots in Kirkcaldy that day, determined to eek out another round in the February rain. One of the members, Dave, kindly invited me to join him for the round and I had a great time, with Dave taking obvious pride in helping me with directions and club selection. I thoroughly enjoyed his company and despite the wet conditions and the occasionally boggy ground, we had a good laugh going round. Below is a typical view of the wet conditions, from the 7th tee.

As Dave commented, Dunnikier Park does not drain very well, so the temporary winter greens were a bit of a lottery. Indeed, on one of the early holes we were tempted to wait for the tide to go out, but at least our golf balls got a wash at every hole, since they were invariably full of water. The course is normally 6091 yards off the yellow tees with a par of 71, but was playing a bit shorter than that due to the winter greens. I went round in 81, a net 69, and I'd be happy with that score over the full course.
Below is another view of the conditions, this time showing the 8 iron approach to the 8th green.
I thought the best hole on the course was the 18th, a fearsome looking 476 yard par 4. elevated tee, with the drive played over a gully, leaving (for me at least, a 3 wood and a short iron to the green, avoiding the bushes to the left and that out of bounds to the right. A genuine card wrecker and whoever thought it was fit for stroke index 17 must have been a far better player than me!
I'd happily play Dunnikier Park again, hopefully in drier conditions. A good course though.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

St Andrews Balgove - Course no 243

I played this 9 hole course on the afternoon of 1 February 2010. Polly had more sense and went into the Eden clubhouse for a warming coffee. The Balgove is a beginner's course of only 1,520 yards, par 30. It is almost perfectly flat, with a few shallow bunkers and a couple of par 4s of 220 and 219 yards that would normally be par 3s on bigger layouts. However, it would be a good warm up for the adjacent Eden course.

The best hole is undoubtedly the 5th, a 155 yard par 3 played on the day into a stiff northerly breeze. I hit a 6 iron, the ball finishing 7 feet to the left, pin high. Not bad, so I played a second ball, this time finishing 8 feet to the right of the hole. Pretty good, but remarkably, I holed both putts for birdies. I don't remember ever doing that when practising, so well done me. This is the 5th green, with the 2 balls clearly visible. I also birdied the second hole, though at only 219 yards, surely the shortest par 4 I've played in a long time. I went round in 31 and was tempted to do a second 9 to see if I could break 60. Maybe another time!

St Andrews Eden - Course No 242

Polly and I played the Eden course on 1 February 2010 on the first Monday after my retirement. The recent bad weather had prevented me for playing any new courses since Girvan on Boxing Day and our golf was pretty rusty after the long lay off. I'd also been celebrating my retirement for several days, so it was good to get back to the golf. However, I must mention a great Saturday night out with friends at Mariachi's Mexican Restaurant and Grill, rightly voted the best Mexican restaurant in Edinburgh List Food & Drink Guide 2009 (http://www.mariachi-restaurant.co.uk/). Don't miss it if you're in town! Great food, service and atmosphere.

We'd got up at 05.30 to get to St Andrews in time and it was bitterly cold, such that tees would not go into the ground and the greens and bunkers were frozen solid. Polly had barely swung a club in weeks, and looked even colder than me. Still I enjoyed the course, despite the conditions and unpredictable bounces, accentuated by the frozen ground. I bogeyed the first 4 holes, having had trouble keeping the ball on the green with approach shots. For example, a good drive at the 4th left me with a lob wedge to the green, up a steep bank. Wrong club selection, my effort bounced through the green into another gulley and only a good pitch into the bank saved the double bogey.

Best hole on the front 9 was the 9th, a 484 Par 5. This is a good view of the 9th green, with the old town in the background. By then, I could just about feel my hands again and had stopped shivering. I'd struggled out in 44, holing some impressive putts, but with the easing conditions, my golf improved. Indeed, I was only one over for the first 6 holes on the back 9. This is the lateral water hazard at the 15th, a challenging par 3, despite being stroke index 18.

However, I made the fatal mistake of looking at the scorecard on the 16th tee to see what was needed over the last 3 holes. The Eden is 5,869 yards long off the yellow tees with a Par of 70, so 3 more pars would give me a net 68. Not easy, but very possible. A 3 putt on the long Par 5 16th led to a Bogey, so 2 more pars and a net 69 would still be pretty good. The 17th is in my view the best hole on the course. Only 407 yards, par 4, dog leg right, out of bounds all the way down the right, 3 bunkers on the left to catch your drive. Having hit the driver straight all day, poor alignment and a slight fade took me AOB. A second drive over the 3 bunkers on the left, a 6 iron to the front of the green and a couple of putts. Double bogey would have been acceptable, but my second successive 3 putt was to follow, leaving me needing a par up the last for respectability. Another fade off the tee would be ideal, not the low draw that found the first left side bunker. Remember the frozen bunkers? The ball was right up against a steeply rivetted face. Only three feet high, should be easy enough, but 5 shots in the bunker, a wedge and 2 putts later and I've finished 6, 7, 9, for a gross 89, net 77. Course management at its worst and a poor finish to a good course.