Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Leitfie Links Golf Course - course no 270

Leitfie Links is the smaller of the 2 courses at the Strathmore Golf Centre and at 1666 yards, is a 9 holes par 29. It's not a links course, being set in Perthshire countryside, but that apart, it's great fun. I played it on 29 March 2010 after playing the adjacent Rannaleroch course. Leitfie looked to be a particularly good course for beginners, such as the 2 somewhat elderly ladies I caught up with. They really were hacking about, but they were enjoying themselves and good on them for trying. This is a view of the 5th, an 83 yard flick with a sand iron (and a wedge out of the trees behind!) I managed a par with a superb wedge to within 6 inches but I guess there must be a simpler way to play the hole. If I ever play it again, I'll maybe try to avoid thinning a sand wedge 110 yards to within a few feet of the course boundary.

My favourite hole was this, the 9th, an uphill par 3 of 110 yards that plays slightly longer.
I ended up with a bogey and went round in 33, but the highlight of the day was still to come. The 9th green is to the side of the 1st tee and I'd found an old discarded ball between the green and that tee, about 10 feet in front and outside of the 1st tee markers. There was no-one around and I couldn't resist one last shot, so out came the wedge. The 1st hole is 117 yards downhill, so a solid shot was required. I didn't really line the shot up very carefully, but a full swing and away it went, straight for the hole. A couple of bounces, a roll, and in it went. I've still never had a hole in one, nor would that shot have led to one. Even had I played it from the tee, it might have ended up 10 feet past the hole, but such are the daft things that happen on golf courses!

Rannaleroch Golf Course - course no 269

This is a view of the 1st green at Rannaleroch, the larger of the 2 excellent courses at the Strathmore Golf Centre. I played both courses on 29 March 2010, having driven through rain and snow to get there. Indeed, the snow stopped when I got to Perth and amazingly, no rain or snow fell when I played the courses, though it was pretty cold. Rannaleroch is a fine parkland/moorland course of 5848 yards, par 70, off the yellow tees, with outstanding views of the Perthshire countryside. Usually "outstanding views" means more hills to climb (the last thing I needed, having struggled round my home course off the medal tees at the day before in a howling gale!) and although the course is far from flat, it is pretty easy walking. The course was also in great condition and I thoroughly enjoyed playing it.

It's also a great design with many interesting holes and surprises. For example, this is the 4th, a 173 yard par 3, with water on both sides and trouble behind. I almost got an elusive birdie after a good greenside pitch, but was happy enough with the par. By then, I'd caught up with a couple of guys using a buggy. Progress was slow, as the course was busy with girls practising for next week's Under-16's Scottish championship competition. The guys in front soon gave up waiting, and I found myself behind a couple of fine young golfers and their caddies. I didn't mind them taking 2 or more balls at every shot and it was a pleasure to see such good golfers at work. Later, I found out that one of the girls was only 12 - a very impressive player for her age.

I'd somehow done the front 9 in 41 against the par of 35, despite having a near-shank at the 7th and some poor play on the 8th. I also hooked my tee shot at the 10th out of bounds for a double bogey, so I needed to steady the ship and quickly. The 11th turned out to be a lovely little dog leg 280 yard par 4. Here's a view of the green. I should have birdied it, missing a short putt, but golf is full of "should have" "could have" etc. A really good hole though. From there, the course has a succession of really good holes, culminating in the 18th, a hugely difficult 440 yard uphill par 4 finishing, as all good 18th holes should, right in front of the clubhouse windows. I'd played some pretty indifferent shots with my short irons, so a 40 yard pitch over a bunker to the flag was not easy. At least I hit it straight, if a little long and played a second ball to within 20 feet. I missed both putts, but this was a super hole and a great end to a lovely course. I went round in 82, net 71 or 1 over net par, so that wasn't bad, considering the battering I'd taken over The Glen the day before. I hope that Craig and Stu can play this course in warmer weather, when the course is in peak condition. They're in a for a treat!

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Kames Golf Course - course no 268

This is the shorter of the 2 courses at Kames Country Club and at only 3394 yards, par 62, looked to be pretty easy. However, it is quite hilly and accuracy off the tee is essential at most of the holes. The Kames Course is also more moorland in nature, lying on land above the bigger course. The greenkeeper had just cut and rolled the greens and although they didn't look 100%, the roll was very true, hence my 5 single putts in the front 9, to go out in 36. This is the 9th, a good 111 yard par 3. The pheasant to the right of the green, was, however, the only birdie I was to get all day! I particularly liked the 11th, another very short hole of only 91 yards. However, the hole is built in a fire break within pine woods, so absolute accuracy is needed, as the view from the tee suggests. I managed a good 3, but what a scary little hole! I managed a gross 70, net 59 and had a great time, despite being a wee bit tired due to the hills and having played the longer Mouse Valley course earlier. If there's a better short 18 hole course in Scotland, I've yet to see it. I loved this course, a great companion to Mouse Valley.
Over a Diet Irn Bru (honest!) in the bar, the Pro told me he'd once had a putt for a gross 59 at the Clober course. He'd told himself not to be short, but had over hit the ball so much it went off the end of the green into a bush, turning a lifetime best score into a 63 and losing the chance of winning. A sad tale that led me to think that it's not just us amateurs who do daft things on golf courses. The difference, is, I suspect, that we're not as good at learning lessons. Overall, this was the best day's off-season golf I'd had for a long time. I hope to play both courses again (and again!)

Mouse Valley Golf Course - course no 267

This is the longer of 2 excellent courses at the Kames Country Club in Lanarkshire. I played both courses on 25 March 2010. When I asked the Pro if I could play them both, he asked if I was sure (giving the first hint that I faced a demanding day's golf!) and recommended I play the longer course first. The Mouse Valley course is 6077 yards par 70 off the yellow tee and although some forward tees were in operation, the course was playing long, very long, after some recent rain. I bogeyed the first, a short par 5, and parred the next 5 holes, missing an easy birdie putt on the par 5 5th hole. These opening holes had been pretty straightforward and with no-one in front or behind, it seemed I had the whole course to myself. The 7th was a good reality check, a strong uphill 444 yard par 4, which cost me a double bogey after a poor drive. The 8th was a 171 yard par 3 and at 239 from the medal tee, was formidable hole. I managed a bogey there and at the 9th to go out in 41.

Not bad at all, but I was to need that good front 9, as the back 9 was simply awesome and made all the more tricky by mist on some holes that made yardages really difficult to judge. The 10th was a tricky par 3 over a river to an elevated green. I left the tee shot short and took 5. the 11th was called "Gang Warily" and with good reason. From the tee, a bridge over a river looked ominously close, so I laid up with the trusty 7 wood. This is the view for my second shot, played left to avoid the river (again!), leaving what looked like a wedge to the green through mist that had just rolled in. Try 8 iron, Alan! A poor double bogey at the Stroke Index 1 hole. The next few holes were played in thick swirling mist. A sign at the 12th tee said "Bottom Green" but since I could find neither that or what I assumed must be a Top Green, I eventually ended up with another double bogey. The 14th was an outstanding par 4 of only 98 yards, ominously named "Oh Dear!" with water in front, to the right and behind a shallow plateau green, barely visible through the mist, as this view from the tee shows. I managed a bogey, but this was a super little hole. I also had a bogey at the 17th, primarily because I played to the 10th green by mistake, due to the mist. This is a view of the last, a good par 3 of 160 yards, with the clubhouse windows beckoning behind for anything over-hit. I was happy enough with a cautious bogey and a round of 86, net 75 or net 5 over par. I guess the mist made things more difficult but this was an outstanding parkland course, far more testing than its near neighbour at Carnwath. It can be difficult to really enjoy a course when the weather is poor but I thoroughly enjoyed this course and would recommend it to anyone. Beat net par here and you've played well.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Torvean Golf Club - course no 266

I played at Torvean in Inverness on 19 March 2010. Torvean is a municipal course, operated by the Highland Council and is 5421 yards, par 69, off the yellow tees. A couple of winter greens and tees were in operation so although the course was shorter in yardage it was pretty tricky, due to the howling gale that was blowing. This is a view of the third green, with the second tee and a boat on the adjacent Caledonian Canal in the background, showing the effect of the wind on the flag.

There are a good few courses in Scotland that are split by a road, such as the Merchants of Edinburgh, or Uphall, but I can't think of any other that, like Torvean, is split into 3 sections by 2 major roads. The first 8 holes are on the south side of the main road to Fort William, holes 9-15 are to the north of that road and the last 3 holes are to the west of a major road intersection. Some of the holes in the first 8 are pretty good, and I particularly liked the 2nd, a 346 yard par 4 set hard against the Canal, with a very narrow approach to the green, with the Canal and one side and woods on the other. Such was the strength of the wind that after a driver and a solid 3 wood I was still 20 yards short of the green. On the short 255 yard par 4 4th hole, even more exposed, I hit a driver and 9 iron and somehow managed to hole the putt. The greens had recently been hollow tined and were very slow and bumpy and even a well hit putt was affected by the wind, so my 30 foot single putt from just off the green was really unexpected. Level 4s after 4 holes was pretty good. However, a monster 560 yard par 5 was next, straight into the gale. Thankfully, a temporary green was in play that shortened the hole by 150 yards or so, and I escaped with a bogey. I thought the best hole on the course was the 8th, a 272 yard par 4 with a lake to the left and various large trees that really made accuracy off the tee essential. Throw in a 40 mile an hour tail wind and the hole became hugely difficult. I lost the first ball, which hit a tree and could have gone absolutely anywhere. The second ball was stymied behind a huge tree guarding the green and I was lucky to take double bogey. Another bogey on the 9th meant I was out in 6 over par, not too shabby, given the conditions.

I didn't think that holes 9-15 were particularly memorable, as they were largely flat and featureless, set amidst a major road, playing fields, housing and a caravan site. Given the wind conditions, damage limitation was the order of the day, keeping the ball low into the wind and under as much control as I could manage. I'd been fearing more of the same on the last 3 holes, but I thought that they were some of the best holes on the course. The 16th was Stroke Index 1 and deservedly so. At 412 yards off the yellow tees, it did not look hugely formidable, but it was 471 yards of the medal tee, which was almost where the winter tee was positioned. The wind meant my drive did not clear a large hill, so I had a blind second shot of around 300 yards, with a lake on the left and a major road on the right. I laid up as best I could but this is the position for my 3rd shot, still 140 yards out. With the wind whipping across the fairway towards the road, I waited for a gap in the traffic and somehow scrambled a 5 iron onto the green and 2-putted for a good bogey. Yes, there is such a thing, at my level anyway.

I also liked this, the 17th a short par 3 played over a lake. My drive finished a couple of inches away from falling into a greenside bunker, with the hole lying within 6 feet on the other side of that bunker. I e-mailed Craig and Stu "a what happened next question" with the options of -
A -I hole the lob wedge pitch and get a birdie;
B -I thin the ball into the bunker;
C -I thin the ball into a hidden bunker on the other side of the green;
D -I pitch to within a few feet but miss the putt when my clubs and the trolley blow into the bunker during my back swing.

My game is such that any of these is possible but rather uncharitably, Polly opted for B. The right answer is of course D and another bogey on the card. The last hole involves a blind tee shot and a second to an elevated shelf green cut into a hill, with the main road to Fort William alarmingly close behind, awaiting anything over-hit or caught by the wind. I managed a bogey 5 to go round in 80, only 1 over net par, a pretty amazing score, given the circumstances.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Polkemmet Country Park - course no 265

I played this course on 18 March 2010 in a strong swirling wind that made scoring very difficult. Well, that's my excuse! I'd tried to play it earlier in the month, but it was still covered in snow, but the wait was certainly worthwhile. Polkemmet has a few simple holes, e.g. 1, 3 and 8, but the others are very demanding and would certainly not be out of place on a top parkland course. The course is 3247 yards, par 37 (only 1 par 3 hole) and played every yard of that, as there was absolutely no run on the fairways and the greens were slow and bumpy and still recovering from winter. After a gentle start, Polkemmet comes alive on the 4th hole, a 492 yard par 5 that runs parallel to the west carriageway of the M8. The green is dominated by "The Horn" a remarkably ugly piece of sculpture that will be familiar to M8 users. I'd expected the hole to be named after "The Horn", but West Lothian Council has gone for the even more elegant "Motorway." This is a very good hole and deserves better than that. Here's a view of the green and the aforementioned sculpture. Hideous.
I started this hole with a nearly new Titleist, but finished it with an old Top Flite, thanks to a couple of playful Spaniels, out for a walk with their master. One of the dogs lifted my ball in its mouth and after 5 minutes of being chased around around, finally dropped an old Top Flite. The dog obviously thought this was a great game, so I played the Top Flite, hoping that I could negotiate another swap further down the hole, but it was not to be. I managed a par, given that the dog is an outside agency.

The 5th hole is called "MSC" and I hesitate to speculate about what that has been taken to mean over the years. It could easily have been "my score collapsed" as the hole is 503 yards uphill, dogleg to the left, with a stream crossing the fairway, played directly into the wind, by now almost at gale force. However, I managed an excellent par, with a driver and 2 solidly hit 3 woods, a greenside chip and a single putt. This is a view from where my second shot finished. The next hole was Stroke Index 1, a tough 464 yard par 4. I missed a 3 foot putt for par, but given the lack of run on the fairways, this hole was almost a 5 anyway. The 7th was another long par 4 uphill into the wind. My second found the stream 50 yards short of the green and I ended up with a double bogey, but that stretch of 4 holes was really tough.

The 8th was an easy 255 yard par 4, leading to the only par 3, a teasing 119 yard hole over a deep gully, requiring an accurate drive. Here's the view from the tee. This was lovely little hole, finishing a course that was far better and certainly more demanding, than I'd expected. I played reasonably well and went round in 43, or 6 over par, but I really enjoyed this course.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

St Andrews Strathtyrum - course no 264

I played this fun course on 16 March 2010 and thoroughly enjoyed it. Strathtyrum is only 5004 yards off the yellow tees and complements the longer and more testing courses at St Andrews. I imagine that it is particularly popular with higher handicap players, since it is relatively trouble-free and has generously wide fairways, but Strathtyrum is still a good test, with really well-designed undulating greens. Most holes are relatively short, but the effective use of hollows and all manner of undulations around the greens means your short game has to be in good shape if the shortness of the course is to be used to your advantage. Strathtyrum is a par 69 off the yellow tees, but significantly, the Standard Scratch Score is 63. I went round in 76, net 65 and was pleased enough with that. I'd missed some makeable putts on the front 9 to go out in 40 but the putter warmed up on the back 9, thank goodness.

I played the front 9 with Mark, a maths student from China, who had only started playing golf a year or so ago and enjoyed his company. Mark had the most amazingly quick swing and after a few holes asked me what he was doing wrong. I'd no idea what the correct translation of "slow it down to a blur" was, but I hope I helped to encourage him to give his body enough time to hit the ball. Mark had to leave at the turn to attend a lecture, but what a joy it must be to be a student at St Andrews.

I did wonder about some of the Stroke Indexing on Strathtyrum. For example, the Stroke Index 1 hole is the 5th, a 451 yard Par 5 that normally plays downwind. There was a healthy westerly wind helping me, but a par 5 that I can reach with a driver and an 8 iron is pretty generous. The 5th is 497 yards and significantly more demanding off the white tee, but off the yellow tee, it is really just a decent par 4. The 11th is also a par 5 on the card despite being only 442 yards off the yellow tee, but since it plays into the prevailing wind it was a sterner test and I needed a good second putt to escape with par. I particularly enjoyed the back 9, which I played to 1 over par, including a birdie at the 13th and a careless 3 putt bogey on the 17th. This is the view of the 13th, a good 143 yard par 3, defended by 3 of the few bunkers on the course. My 8 iron dropped dead in the swale in front of the green, but a 60+ foot Texas wedge from there led to a good birdie.

I also liked the 120 yard 16th, despite hooking an 8 iron played into the wind 20 yards wide of the green, leading to a very poor dropped shot. This is a view of the 18th hole, a 385 yard par 4, with a typically flat fairway and good undulations around the green. I enjoyed Strathtyrum and would recommend it to any visitors wanting a more gentle introduction to links conditions before facing the more testing courses at St Andrews. I'm also looking forward to seeing what Craig and Stu make of it. With Craig's current form (6 under par at Broomieknowe!), he'd probably take the course apart.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Bishopshire GC - course no 263

I played this very hilly course on 12 March 2010, hard on the heels of Cupar that morning and Langholm the day before. Known as "Coronary Hill" to some members, it was even hillier than those others and somewhat to my dismay, I had to play the 9 holes twice. Bishopshire plays to 2017 yards and a par of 32 off the yellow tees, but there are separate tees for the 3rd and 12th, which play to 92 and 109 yards respectively, so the back 9 holes are different to the front 9, making Bishopshire an 18 hole course under the course definitions that Craig, Stu and I play to. This is a view down the spectacular 4th/13th hole, with Loch Leven in the background. This hole is allegedly 385 yards but plays far longer, despite the slope. I took 6 both times, after 2 poor drives and 2 lost balls.

Below is a view from the 6th/15th tee, with the 5th green in the foreground. The 6th/15th green turned out to be hidden behind the large mound, requiring a solid 4 iron tee shot both times. The 7th/16th is almost as daunting as 4/13. I managed a bogey and a par, then slogged my way back up the hill, again, to play 8/17 surely the smallest and narrowest permanent green I've played for ages. I managed par both times, but it was with some relief that I finished the 18 holes. I'd forgotten to put a water bottle in the bag, so I blame it on dehydration. I'd gone round in 78, less 11, for a net 67, or 3 over net par. The views are superb, but as I've said before, for every spectacular view there is a climb. As one of the local members said to me after the round, Bishopshire is pretty hilly, but dedicated voluntary effort keeps the course going for the village as a whole. It must be hard work keeping the course in such good condition, as I thought the course was in great nick.

Cupar GC - course no 262

I finally played this course on 12 March 2010, having chickened out the previous week after playing at nearby Elmwood. I took one look at the far off top of the course and told myself that another day would do. Cupar is another of Scotland's hilly 9 hole par courses and plays to 33 off the yellow tees. I was really lucky here meeting Jim, a retired fireman, on the first tee and playing the course with him. We had a good laugh going round and despite the exertions at Langholm the previous afternoon, I didn't really notice the hills, until I tried to get out of the car later in the day! This a view from the 3rd tee that gives some idea of the slopes. Cupar plays to 2376 yards a par of 33 off the yellow tees and was great fun to play. Here is the view from the 7th tee, a tricky par 4 of 348 yards that I managed to bogey, after finding my original ball in heavy rough. Below is my approach to the green, ever so slightly downhill, with the town in the background. I managed to go round in 38, or 6 over par. No Birdie, despite a number of chances. Good course though. Cupar is also somewhat odd as being the only course I've played so far in Scotland that involves a walk through the local cemetery to get to the clubhouse. as Jim said, there's many a former member lying there who'd happily settle for the bad golf that is sometimes played over the course. Surely a reality check for anyone who's game is off or who has missed the buffer zone in the monthly medal!

Langholm GC - course no 261

I played this hilly 9 hole course on 11 March 2010. This view of the 3rd green gives some indication of the terrain. Langholm is 2936 yards, par 35 off the yellow tees and the full course was in play apart from the 6th, which played to a temporary green and was so short it was really a par 3, rather than the 410 yard Stroke Index 1 hole. The greens were pretty slow and a bit bumpy, but this is March, several hundred feet up in Scottish moorland so overall, I thought the course was in pretty good condition. I particularly liked the 5th, a blind 300 yard par 4. I hit my best drive of the day and then met Arthur, a local member who immediately he heard why I was playing his course, donated £10 to the cause, a hugely generous gesture to a complete stranger. I should have birdied the 5th, but missed a 10 foot putt by some margin. This is a view of the 5th green, with my new somewhat garish double strap carry bag making its debut. Well, I like it and it should help to make the hillier courses in particular more manageable. I'll certainly not lose it and yes, it really is that yellow! This photo also gives some idea of the fabulous scenery around Langholm generally, a real walker's paradise that the villagers are rightly proud of, if comments from some folk I met later are anything to go by.

I managed a 3 at the par 4 6th hole, but I can't really score that as a genuine birdie since the temporary green was well under 200 yards from the tee. I'm afraid I got carried away at the 7th, an inviting steeply downhill par 4. I thought the green looked drivable, but sadly not. I managed to find my drive, well left and short of a deep gorge in front of the green. A full 9 iron and a couple of putts and I'd escaped with a par, but what a dangerous hole. I'd been playing reasonably well until the 9th, a par 3 of 130 yards. I confess I didn't actually look at the scorecard to check the distance, but to me it looked like a 9 iron and here's the view from the tee. I ended up a few feet short of the green and from there, amazingly, I chipped in with my 9 iron. My short game tends to get me out of trouble and I can putt reasonably well, but in all honesty my final score over Langholm was a bit flattering. I'd gone round in 37, 2 over par (or 3 over since the 6th scored as a par 3 on the day). I'm not a great fan of hilly golf courses and tend to view anywhere that claims to have "spectacular views" with some suspicion, since hills are invariably involved and for every outstanding panorama, there's a steep climb. However, from the villagers I met later in the day and from the golfers I met on the course, there was genuine friendship and a real sense of community in Langholm. Despite the hills, I really enjoyed playing at Langholm, from the cool clean air to the superb views and the warmth of the people I met. I hope this little club continues to prosper and I would recommend it to any visitor lucky enough to have the time to play here. Just don't get suckered into thinking you can drive the 7th, though! A final tip. Try the mince and tatties at the Crown Hotel, or the roast beef!

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Dalmahoy West - course no 260

I played this course on 9 March 2010, as Rutherford Castle GC, my original plan, was still under several inches of snow. The West course at Dalmahoy is far shorter than the Championship (East) course and at 5051 yards, par 68 off the yellow tees, is far more manageable for most club golfers, myself included. Both courses had just re-opened after several days' closure due to snow. Some of the greens were a bit bumpy, but I'd certainly no excuses as the West course was in generally fine condition, with only a few temporary greens in play. Dalmahoy West is a parkland course to the west of Edinburgh. This is the 3rd hole, a short 121 yard par 3, with the Forth Bridge in the background.

The front 9 holes are all relatively straightforward if your drives are reasonably straight. I birdied the 2nd, a short 269 yard par 4, after a good drive, lob wedge and single putt and got to the turn in 36, only 2 over par. Under CONGU handicap revisions, my handicap had been cut by a stroke and was back to 10.6, playing 11, and this was the first serious test, so things were looking good.

I'd been following a 3-ball and caught up with them on the 11th tee, only to find that I'd been following Eddie and John, 2 brothers I'd know for many years, and their friend Denis. They had a Stableford competition going, but invited me to join them, nevertheless. We had a good laugh going round the remainder of the course, though I suspect my concentration may have lapsed, as I racked up a succession of bogeys and an out of bounds double bogey, on the way in. This is the 13th, an excellent 531 yard par 5. I under-clubbed my blind approach shot, leading to the first 6 of the day. As 6's tend to go around in two's (at least!), a wild hook off the 14th tee led to another 6 and my hopes of beating net par looked to be going downhill pretty fast. The 15th, a 327 yard par 4 was not only my favourite hole, but took the longest to play. I'd hit a long and straight drive, but Eddie and John had sliced theirs over a river into some trees. Both guys played provisional balls but in due course their first balls could clearly be seen in the woods on the other side of the river, in spate due the recent snow. After much debate about lateral water hazards, both guys took the long walk back and over a bridge to play their seconds. This is Eddie, playing his second shot. If anyone reading this blog ever finds the ball, just remember who it belonged to. The 16th was another good hole, a 116 yard par 3 over the same river. I hit a soft 8, just to be sure I'd get there, but my ball spun back down the slope into the water hazard. Eddie's did exactly the same and after another rules debate I escaped with a bogey.

This is the 18th hole on the West course, an uphill 303 yard par 4. I managed a par, finishing with a 78, less 11, net 67. I'd just beaten net par, had a birdie and met 2 friends I hadn't seen in years. A good day's golf, and a good course too.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Kingsfield Golf Course - course no 259

I'd been planning to play the course at Polkemmet Country Park, but it was still under several inches of snow, despite the mild weather for the past few days. So I ended up at Kingsfield, a pay as you play 9 hole course that forms part of an impressive new driving range and family golf facility near Linlithgow. I'd seen the course being built a couple of years ago from the train to Glasgow, and it's certainly an excellent addition to golf in West Lothian. The course itself is 2857 yards, par 34 and was in really good condition, despite the recent snow and frost.

I think I'd need to play the course again in summer conditions to form a real view on the difficulty of this course. I certainly enjoyed playing it, and the greens were in particularly fine condition, but with so much of the rough grass being cropped short and fallow, none of the dog legs on the course appeared to be relevant. Indeed, the shortest line to the green, through the rough, seemed the obvious route. This was particularly the case on the 1st, 5th and 7th holes, where the dog legs could be ignored with confidence. This is a view of the 5th hole, though why anyone would risk playing twice over the lake escapes me, when the direct shot through the rough is safer and significantly shorter. I hit driver and wedge at that 357 yard hole, taking the direct route, for an easy 4. It may of course be that the rough gets pretty formidable in high summer, and if so, I certainly caught Kingfield at its most benign. I thought the best hole was the 7th, shown here. This is a downhill 351 yard par 4, with a huge waste area bunker, only a few inches deep, dominating the fairway. However, there was ample space between that feature and a lateral water hazard, meaning the dog leg could be ignored, leaving a 9 iron to a very wide and shallow plateau green, well protected by more formidable bunkering. I three-putted for a disappointing bogey. I ended up scoring 38 to the par of 34, but I do wonder whether Kingsfield is more of a test when the rough is more evident. As a new course, the few trees and bushes are pretty small and do not appear to affect playing strategy. They may in time become more significant, but being devilish, I'd feed the rough and toughen the test.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Panmure GC - course no 258

I played this fine links course on 5 March 2010 with Polly. Since we found the new ladies Ping 30 degree rescue club she'd been looking for in the Pro Shop, the trip was worthwhile on its own, but even although the course had clearly suffered over the winter, I thought Panmure was a really excellent course. Some temporary greens were in operation, so the course was playing slightly shorter than the normal 6113 yards par 70, off the yellow tees. Our only reservation about the course was the lack of numbering on the tees, doubtless due to work being done off-season to refurbish or upgrade the tee markers. However, it did mean that our round had elements of guesswork that slightly detracted from our enjoyment of the round.

One of the features of my golfing travels around Scotland is to try to get at least one birdie on each new course. The first hole at Panmure is only 288 yards, so my drive left only a short pitch to the normal green. My dodgy iron play at Elmwood the day before had been forgotten, so after the pitch finished some 10 feet away, I managed to hole the putt for a birdie. Pressure off I thought, but after the first three holes, Panmure became a lot more testing. The 4th hole, shown above, is an absolute beauty. At 389 yards it's not long, but the green has a wicked slope at the front. My 7 iron second shot had been slightly pushed, missing the green to the right and although my pitch and run started OK, it caught the slope and finished a good 60 feet away from the hole and 6 or more feet below it. I did pretty well to get down in 2 for the bogey.

At 2 over 4's stood on the 6th tee (once we had found it!), I thought I'd settled into the round OK, but the 6th was Stroke Index 1, despite being only 369 yards. Polly found the narrow fairway OK, but my drive was hooked way left, into the heather. A wedge back into play was the sensible option, leaving an 8 iron to the raised green. As Panmure's excellent web site advises "the fairway narrows into the slight dog-leg at the landing area. An accurate approach aimed just inside the mound front left is required as the green is on a shelf and falls off on the right. Hogan's bunker is well positioned to gather the fading approach and ruin your score. Once on the green your problems are not over because a couple of ridges up the green make putting difficult. Try to leave yourself an uphill putt in dry conditions. It's not surprising this hole is stroke one on the card." My 8 iron finished behind a bush to the left of the green and from there, I managed a 9. A good par followed at the 7th, but I found trouble again at the 8th, a tricky short par 4 with a blind tee shot over gorse (magnetic, as ever) and a second normally played over 2 small dunes in front of the green. I struggled to a 6 and after another bogey at the 9th , an excellent par 3 with a raised plateau green, I had limped out in 45.

The 12th was one of those holes where, on a new course, it sometimes helps not to know the dangers lurking unseen, ready to snare anything under hit. I'd noted that the hole was called "Buddon Burn" but this is what I couldn't see from the fairway. I'd taken the precaution of taking a bigger club, since the approach shot looked to be all carry, and was happy enough to escape with a bogey 5 on what could be a real card wrecker of a hole.

I thought the best hole at Panmure was the 14th, a really strong par 5 of 519 yards, with the railway to the right coming into play for anything wayward. This was my tee shot, long and straight for once. A good 3 wood and wedge left me looking at a 10 foot putt for birdie, but the putt was slightly downhill and slicker than I'd expected. A poor bogey followed, but the 14th was a really good hole, for all that. I also finished the round weakly, ending up with a 90, net 78, and I'd lost the match to Polly, but somehow I didn't mind. I'd enjoyed the Panmure course, another of the excellent links courses we have in Scotland, with some really strong holes. I'd love to play this course again, perhaps in high summer when the course generally is playing faster, but next time I'd take a stroke saver and take greater care not to go left on the 6th!

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Elmwood Golf Course - course no 257

I played this course on 4 March 2010 on the first really Spring like day we've had this year. Only one jumper and no hat! Elmwood is a pay as you play course and is linked to Elmwood College in nearby Cupar, which offers green keeping courses, with the students learning their trade over the course. This is the approach to the first hole, an interesting 353 yard par 4. My 8 iron second from a downhill lie was my first shank in many months and the return of an old fault (hopefully fixable!) as this, for me, is easily the most destructive shot in golf. I will say no more, lest I disturb the golfing demons.

Elmwood is 5697 yards off the yellow tees and a par 70. I'd expected a parkland course, but Elmwood is largely sandy based and plays almost like a links course. I thought the best hole on the front 9 was the 4th, a 127 yard par 3 with deep bunkering and water to the right and behind the green. My tee shot found the front bunker, but with the sand still frozen, my second shot skimmed out, over the green, into a lateral water hazard. My fourth was pretty good but I had to laugh when a passing cyclist shouted the somewhat ambitious "get in the hole!" He's obviously not seen me play, but I appreciated the thought, making the double bogey more palatable.

The course had obviously suffered over the Winter and needed some warm sun (don't we all!) but the greens were pretty true. I also liked the sensible positioning of the holes, tucked away in corners to save the greens, but boy, how the putting suffered. The surfaces were good, but my 35 putts was way more than my normal 31-32 average. I three-putted three times, which is really poor by any standards. This is a view of the 10th, with the hole tucked away back left.

My most enjoyable hole was the 11th, a 290 yard uphill par 4. My drive easily cleared the fairway bunkering, leaving me an 8 iron to the hole. As anyone who has ever sh----ed a ball, the temptation is to try something (anything!) different, whilst desperately trying to avoid a repeat. I'd caught up a couple of ladies by the 11th, who were clearly intent on letting me play though, so I had an audience. Great, just what I didn't need! It was therefore something of a surprise that the ball flew straight for the hole and quickly dug in, leaving me a 15 foot uphill putt. I missed, but at least I'd played the hole reasonably well. The ladies stopped to let me play through on the 14th, probably the best hole on the course, a 174 yard par 3 over a stream. I'd wanted to play a 3 or 4 iron, to test my swing, but unfortunately the ladies had chosen to sit on a wall 30 yards to the right of the tee. Rather than risk the sh---, I played safe with the trusty 7 wood and managed a bogey. Not bad, but a good hole that I should have photographed.
Although there was no real rough to speak of, Elmwood still had a sting in its tail. The 17th and 18th are both over 400 yards, but are played over deep gulleys that I certainly couldn't clear. A couple of bogeys was the best I could do, so I'd gone round in 88, net 76, well adrift of an acceptable score on such a benign day. I enjoyed the course despite the poor play. Elmwood is certainly worth the effort to play it, but if I do visit it again, I'd hope to play a bit better.
I'd planned to play Cupar in the afternoon, expecting a short and flat 9 holes. Wrong! One look at the precipitous slopes of a course that started 100 feet above the town cemetery (the access road cutting right through it) and appeared to climb for a good few hundred feet thereafter was enough to convince me that this was not a course to be trifled with after a dodgy 18 holes at Elmwood. Wisely, I left Cupar to be played another day.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Crail GC Craighead Course - course no 256

I played this course on the afternoon of 2 March 2010 in wonderfully calm and almost warm early Spring conditions after the coldest Scottish winter since 1962 (so I'm told!). Crail Golfing Society is the 7th oldest in the world having been founded in 1786. The Balcomie is by far the older of the 2 Crail courses and is surely one of the most beautiful, with this, the 14th an outstanding example of the wonderful links landscape. But back to Craighead, a relative newcomer that was opened in 1998. I played Craighead off the yellow tees, so the course was 6221 yards, par 72, but greens were in operation, so the course played slightly shorter.

I liked the second hole, a difficult 364 yard par 4 with a sharp dog leg to the right, but otherwise I found the front 9 almost bland, despite the outstanding sea views. Most of the expected links features were there e.g. no trees, holes exposed to the elements, gorse, rivetted bunkering and fast running fairways, but for me, some more undulations and crumpling of the fairways would have added definition and authenticity. I birdied the 9th, but in all honesty the hole had been reduced to around 260 yards, so no big deal there. I'd gone out in 41, 6 over par.

By contrast, the back 9 was simply terrific, with a succession of interesting holes spanning ‘Danes Dyke’ - a 1200 year old defensive wall built by Viking marauders to keep out the local Pictish tribes. The 10th, a short downhill par 4 of only 300 yards offered a good risk and reward for a drive over the bunkers some 50 yards in front of the green. Surprisingly, I almost drove the green and got an easy 4. I birdied the 12th, a short downhill par 4 down by some remarkably ugly holiday homes(and whoever gave planning permission for them should hang their heads in shame). This is a view of the 13th, a lovely 139 yard par 3 at the bottom end of the course right above the sea. Thankfully, my tee shot just missed this evil-looking bunker.
To the left is a view of the 14th, a 402 yard par 4 played into the prevailing wind, with a really testing drive over Danes Dyke, which also came into play on 3 other back 9 holes. However, I thought the best hole on Craighead was the 17th, a 175 yard par 3 with a raised green and formidable looking bunkers. The last was also good and iI'd settle for a 4 there anytime. I took 5, but was happy enough to go round in 80, net 68 and to be fair, the course par was probably nearer to 68 than 72. Craighead is a good addition to the older Balcomie course and I enjoyed it overall, but for me at least, the second half of the course was far better.
Finally, I must mention the newly refurbished clubhouse, which is simply magnificent and has great views over the sea and some of the Balcomie and Craighead holes. As a member at the Glen GC, I'm spoilt by great sea views from my own clubhouse, but I have to admit that Crail's clubhouse just has the edge - by a mile.

Lundin Ladies Golf Club - Course no 255

I played this course on 2 March 2010. Lundin Ladies is the world's oldest ladies only golf club, indeed the only such club in Scotland, or the UK for that matter. I particularly liked the sign by the clubhouse door reading "Clubhouse for Lady Players Only." One of the members advised me that the green keeper was occasionally admitted to the clubhouse to attend meetings, but otherwise, there was a men's toilet round the back. Playing at Lundin Ladies certainly caused me to think about the attitudes that are so sadly prevalent elsewhere in Scottish golf, with certain clubs banning lady members or otherwise treating them as second class citizens. I don't know the detailed history that led to the formation of a ladies only club, but it is easy to imagine that there may have been some disagreement about playing rights. Whatever the true story, Lundin Ladies adds to the colour and diversity of golf in Scotland and is a fine little course, modestly concealing itself on the other side of the road from its more famous neighbours, Leven GC and Lundin Links GC. The view above looks back to the first green showing ancient standing stones that understandably, are an integral part of the course.

Lundin Ladies is a 9-hole course of 2365 yards, par 34 and was certainly busy enough on a cold but sunny morning. The full course was in play, but the greens were mostly very small, compensating for the shortness of the course. For example, this is the 3rd green, on a difficult uphill par 4 of only 355 yards that plays far longer and is rightly Stroke Index 1. I took 6, having under-clubbed my second shot and missed the tiny green. One of the best holes was the 6th, a 145 yard downhill par 3 with an awkwardly-placed mound in front of the green that certainly caught my 7 iron, leading to another bogey. However, honour was restored at the 7th, an uphill par 4 of only 234 yards, with a river meandering in front of the tee, ready to catch anything miss-hit. I imagined that some of the retired ladies on the course might not relish that particular tee shot. Remarkably, my tee shot, uphill and into the wind, finished well through the green, but a good pitch and run left only a tap in for the birdie. The 8th was also drivable had I not found a greenside bunker.

This is a view up the last, a tricky, blind par 3 of 186 yards. I played this hole conservatively, taking my 7 wood off the tee and doing my best to avoid the car park immediately to the right of the green. Apart from other considerations about the ladies in front of me changing at their cars, my own (new) car was also well within range. I was happy enough with a bogey, going round in 39 overall. Lundin Ladies was a really enjoyable little course and a credit to its members.