Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Lilliesleaf Golf Course - course no 288

I played at Lilliesleaf after my 26 April 2010 rounds at Galashiels and Melrose. The somewhat quirky course was deserted when I arrived apart from 2 lady members having a refreshment outside the modest clubhouse. I'd noticed a small and tired looking platform of the kind normally used as a winter tee, but there was no sign of a men's first tee. My apologies to the ladies for asking where the men's tee was. The said platform was indeed a communal tee, but my timing could have been better, as one of the ladies was about to choke on her crisps such was the apparent daftness of my question.
Lilliesleaf is a 9 hole par 34 course of 2545 yards off the yellow tees. The scorecard shows a medal course of 2735 yards, but I couldn't find any white tees, or space for them. I didn't check with my laser range finder, but given some of the club selection issues I faced, I suspect that the yellow tees had been laid out over the medal course. That oddity aside, Lilliesleaf was great fun to play. Scoring was tricky, as the greens were lightning fast and being so early in the season, the greenkeeper had put all of the flags near the edges of the greens (and on slopes!). For example, here's the pin position on the 8th. I can't recall ever seeing a pin position within a putter's length of the edge of a green before. Nor can I recall seeing anything quite like the Local Rule relating to dogs on the course "Poops must be scooped off fairways, tees & greens (sand wedge)." I didn't need to take this action, nor did the Local Rule define the penalty for using a different club. The best hole at Lilliesleaf was the 3rd, a 185 yard par 3 played over a wall requiring absolute accuracy. My 7 wood went through the back, just short of the burn and a bogey followed. A good hole, though. I also enjoyed this, the 7th hole. This is a tricky 160 yard uphill par 3 with a viciously sloping green. I'd been concerned that my car was also within range behind the modest clubhouse, had I sliced anything off the tee. I even holed this putt for my first birdie of the day. Trickiest hole was the 9th, a 325 yard par 4. Although there's ample space for the drive, the last 100 yard or so of the hole is about 20 yards wide, with the green nestling at the top of a hill between 2 dense pine tree plantations. My second shot was just off line and was never found, so a disappointing 7 meant I'd gone round in 41 strokes, with only 13 putts (despite the greenkeeper's pin positioning).
Lilliesleaf is an enjoyable course, well worth the effort to find it!

Melrose Golf Club - course no 287

This was a super little 9 hole course of 2628 yards, par 35 off the yellow tees, full of character and challenges, which I really enjoyed playing on 26 April 2010 after my morning round at nearby Galashiels. Although Melrose is a bit hilly, it is quite easy walking, with accuracy more than length being the basic requirement. For example, here is the somewhat intimidating view from the 3rd tee. The 3rd is a 149 yard par 3. There's actually tons of room on both sides of the green, but for the visitor, this is a scary hole. I thought the 5th was the best hole, a short downhill 254 yard par 4, with a pond to the left and a stream and bunkers in front of the green. Here's the view from the tee. I'd played a 3 wood to lay up short of the stream, but a hard first bounce took the ball into the water hazard, a few inches short of the stream as shown below. My only shot was to stand with my back to the hole and play a lob wedge back handed with my right hand onto the bank to the right of the bunker and hope the ball would trickle onto the green . Miraculously, this shot came off exactly as planned, impressing a local member who had been practising his short game nearby. I just missed the 20 foot putt for a lifetime birdie, but a par was pretty good from that lie. Being realistic, I could have stood there all day and not bettered that back-handed shot!
Accuracy is also essential on the 9th, a short 259 yard downhill par 4 as the clubhouse and car park look to be within range for anything mishit off the tee or from the second shot. Here's a view from halfway down the fairway. My 3 wood had finished 20 yards short of a pond in front of the green and the pin was right at the front of the green. A lob wedge over the pond to a narrow strip of rough in front of the green was the obvious choice. However, I must have used all of my Melrose luck on the 5th hole, since although my ball landed where I'd planned, it hit a clod of earth and bounced back into the pond. A double bogey followed for a round of 42, but I didn't mind. Melrose is one of the best 9 hole courses I've played in recent months, with great views and a really interesting lay out. It was also in great condition, with true and fast running greens (as I found out on the 2nd, after putting right off the green and down a hill!)

Galashiels Golf Club - course no 286

I played the Galashiels course on 26 April 2010. Galashiels now has 16 different tees to 9 greens so is really an 18 hole course in disguise, and at 5412 yards par 68, off the white tees, is a pretty good test of golf. I'd played off the medal course by mistake, since the men's tees were blue rather than the more normal yellow (I'd mistakenly assumed that the blue ones were the junior tees!) The course was in excellent condition and for the most part was really great fun to play. The course is hilly in parts and I'd noticed that some members missed out the first 3 holes for that reason. This is a view from halfway down the 2nd fairway, giving some impression of the hill involved in playing the 1st, 2nd, 10th and 11th holes. Although it would be tempting to miss the climbs involved in playing those holes, it would be a pity to miss the 3rd/12th a difficult blind uphill par 3 requiring accuracy (or at least avoiding a hook) off the tee, given the proximity of a large house to the playing line. I was glad to play away from the house, but doing so cost me 3 strokes over the round. Some locals I met on the 4th tee told me that the course had originally had 18 separate holes and had gone far higher up the hills than at present. The views had been great but the upper holes had not been popular or easy walking. Best holes on the course were the 4th/13th, par 5's of around 520 yards to a small plateau green.

This is a view from the 5th medal tee, giving some impression of the slopes to be found at Galashiels. Generally, the fairway grass had been kept moderately long to hold the ball on such slopes. Even so, there were some pretty unusual lies, reminding me of my former playing days at Lothianburn. Below is a view from the 17th tee, a formidable 208 yard par 3 that plays longer than it looks due to the prevailing wind. I took a bogey there and also had trouble up the 9th/18th as the second shot is longer than it looks and is played semi-blind uphill to a small green. A difficult finishing hole that cost me 3 strokes on my round in total. I managed to get round Galashiels in 86, net 75, which wasn't bad under the circumstances. I enjoyed the course and was thankful that it was not too windy, as I can imagine that the course would be an even more stern physical test when there's a gale blowing.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Rutherford Castle Golf Club - course no 285

I played this excellent parkland/moorland course on 21 April 2010, a cold and sunny day with a strong northerly wind. Rutherford Castle is a relatively new course, but it has recently been bought by a major property developer and in addition to some large houses already under construction, a major luxury hotel is planned. Indeed, I was advised by a couple of members in the car park that the course was about to close for a couple of years to enable the hotel to be built. They and other members were currently considering options to join other clubs. Although there was cold wind blowing, I'd expected the course to be busier and apart from those 2 members and a greenkeeper (doing a great job, as the course was in super condition), the only other people I saw were a couple of guys teeing off at the first as I finished my round. I thought that this was a seriously good and interesting course, so it was disappointing that for whatever reasons, the course was almost deserted. Accordingly, there were no witnesses to one of the steadier rounds I've played recently. Rutherford Castle is a par 72 of 6199 yards off the yellow tees and has some really goods holes. After a quiet start with an easy par 4 and a modest par 3, the course opens out and the 3rd hole is a downhill par 5 of 479 yards, with a generously wide fairway. A good drive, solid 3 wood and a short pitch to 15 feet was followed by a single putt for (of late!) a rare birdie. Here's the view from the fairway.

Rutherford Castle already has the flavour of a good resort course. Modern design, water, wide fairways, excellent greens, interesting holes and great views of the Pentland Hills and surrounding countryside. I don't know whether the hotel construction will take land from the course and require some redesign. There is certainly enough spare land in the middle of the course if that proved to be necessary, but I hope the developers can leave the course relatively untouched, as it's a pretty good test already. It is, however, very exposed to the elements and is likely to be wet under foot and prone to frost damage (if not snow-covered) in the winter months. This is a view back down the 11th, an uphill par 5 of 509 yards, with a hidden bunker (as I found!) in front of the green. That cost me a bogey, but there's a nice bench beside the next tee and that seemed a good spot for my packed lunch! I certainly can't imagine that the bench takes much traffic, since at the time I was the only golfer on the course (the other 2 having done only 9 holes).

Water comes into play on several holes, not least the 383 yard 14th. Although the fairway is generously wide, the northerly wind pushed anything remotely wayward into a water hazard on the right. I know this since that's where my drive ended up, but another single putt meant I'd only dropped one shot. The 15th was even more tricky. The greenkeeper was cutting the fairway so I baled out to the left into the short semi-rough. A wiser choice would have been to go right, since I'd left myself stymied by trees. Even my pitch back to the middle of the fairway, avoiding the greenkeeper once again, left me with a stream crossing (twice!) in front of the green. I limped off with my second double bogey of the round (the other being at the very difficult 4th hole, an uphill 398 yard par 4 played straight into the wind).

Rutherford Castle finishes with a couple of good par 4s, with the last finishing in front of the clubhouse still being built. Here's a view up the last fairway. Perhaps I'm wrong, but the building's design does not appear to offer very good views of the course. Maybe I'll get back to find out one day. I went round the course in 83, net 72, so not bad. I'd taken only 29 putts so there were still a few unforced errors from tee to green, but thankfully nothing on the scale of recent rounds.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Aigas Golf Course - course no 284

Aigas Golf Course is primarily a pay as you play 9 hole course that forms part of a country estate with holiday cottages etc. near Beauly. The course had been developed in 1993 as a land management diversification project and is now a quality and profitable commercial development within the Mains of Aigas estate. We'd not been sure what to expect at Aigas. We'd heard that the course was a "hidden gem" but we're always wary on that over-used phrase, which more often than not indicates a marketing strategy rather than an objective assessment of course quality. However, Aigas really was a lovely little course, nestling on a valley floor between a forest and the River Beauly. This is a view from the 1st tee, somewhat unusually at the highest point on the course. The 1st was a 515 yards downhill par 5, so with the whole of the course to aim at going left wasn't the clever option. I just about stayed on the course, but since the hole developed into a dog leg left, a dodgy double bogey followed. A 139 yard par 3 followed, with the tee shot having to clear a wall in front of the green and stop pretty quickly before the out of bounds fence. An impressive 7 iron, pin high to 20 feet and a couple of good putts and I'd parred the hole, much to Stu's surprise, who I suspect had predicted another sh--- (see my Ullapool and Stornoway blog entries in particular!). I did hit a few dodgy shots, but I wasn't going to let that spoil such a good course.

Here's the 6th hole, a 323 yard par 4 dog leg right, with the river along the full length of the hole. I played safely out to the left, found the front of the green with an easy 7 wood (well, my ball was pretty new and with the river so close, it was the conservative shot). An easy 4 followed, but this was a dangerous hole. I can't remember what the other guys scored, but Craig did hit an old practice ball (not his ball in play) to just short of the green - a great shot. however, we're still not sure where young Craig's ball went on this, the 9th hole. To be fair, the small clubhouse is well within range off the tee (as was my car, parked behind the clubhouse!). Craig's 3-wood soared away in the general direction of the clubhouse. The somewhat metallic dull thud which followed was not reassuring so it was with some relief that we found no damage in the car park. We didn't find the ball either, but we concluded that the ball may have hit the clubhouse roof. I scrambled a final hole par for a 42, which was 9 over the course par of 33. Not impressive, but Aigas was a fittingly enjoyable end to our West Highlands and Western Isles trip. We'd played 11 good courses in 5 days, enjoyed each other's company and had a great laugh. I was only £2 down on our 3 putt challenge over the trip (a 50p penalty for each 3 putt, the penalty to be cancelled out by a birdie scored on the same day as the 3 putt). Some of the shots I'd played were poor, but many others were either very lucky, imaginative or skilfully played. We'd enjoyed the golf and we'd raised some further cash for our charity, so a successful trip all round!
As a final postscript to the trip itself, my 9 iron has been successfully repaired by Jim Affleck, a local club maker, with his £10 fee being added to the Justgiving website. Thanks Jim!

Gairloch Golf Club - course no 283

We played this lovely little course on the morning of 15 April 2010 on our way home from Ullapool. Gairloch is pretty remote as Scottish golf courses go, but it is surely one of the prettiest 9-hole courses in the country, with outstanding sea views from all of the holes and not a weak hole on the whole course. Indeed, each hole was memorable in its own right and this was clearly a course that could be played and enjoyed again and again. This is the outstanding 6th hole, a demanding 194 yard par 3. We'd filmed play on the hole with our camcorder, so look out on You Tube for yours truly driving the green and hitting a couple of solid putts for a par. A bogey at the short 91 yard par 3 7th followed and I was level 4s for the first 7 holes. I'd really wanted to play a punched 9 iron at the 7th, but my 9 iron was still in bits following the Taynuilt incident, and the punched 8 iron was clearly too much and only just stayed on the golf course.

This is my drive at the 8th, a tricky 488 yard par 5, played to a narrow ridged fairway atop an old sand dune, with out of bounds all the way down the beach to the left. This was actually one of my best drives all week, but things went downhill thereafter and I ended up with an 8. The last hole is a 139 yard par 3. We'd been asked not to play to a green if the flag was not in place and the greenkeeping staff were working on the green. When we reached the 9th, 4 guys were spreading sand onto the green but we had come a long way to play the course and we really didn't think we could afford to return to play the whole course since no 9 was closed temporarily. We asked the greenkeeper for permission to play the hole and he readily agreed, but this left me with a problem. I'd been having difficulty with my irons and feared another sh--- in front of the greenkeeping audience and there was also a ladies' 3-ball within range to my right. Having seen me in action all week, Craig and Stu were lurking behind me, doubtless guessing where my (new) ball might end up and whether I would scatter the ladies' 3-ball. We didn't want to delay the greenkeepers, so I played first. Unusually, I actually felt comfortable over the ball and my easy 7 iron sailed majestically (well, you had to be there!) straight over the flag, finishing 20 feet or so behind the hole. Craig hit a wedge to a similar distance and Stu also played a good shot. Our audience were suitably impressed and the ladies played on, oblivious to the situation. The 9th green was by now dressed with unbrushed sand so was slower than the other greens and my 20 foot putt stopped an agonising inch short in the jaws of the hole. Craig got his birdie, Stu finished strongly and to the greenkeeping staff we must have passed as pretty competent golfers. I'm just glad they hadn't been around at Ullapool, or Stornoway, for that matter.
I hope to play at Gairloch again, but in the meantime, thanks to all at the club for their friendly welcome and generous support for our golfing challenge.

Ullapool Golf Club

We played this excellent course on the afternoon of 14 April 2010 after coming over from Stornoway after our trip to play all of the Western Isles courses. I'd played the Ullapool course during a downpour in March 2006, when some of the fairways were almost under water, so it was a real pleasure to play it again in warm sunshine and little wind. Ullapool is a 9 hole course of 2699 yards off the yellow tees and is great fun to play, with several really interesting and testing holes. This is the second hole, a 181 yard par 3 played from an elevated tee, with a typical cross wind from the right. We filmed this hole with our camcorder, so my bogey 4 might one day be on You Tube. At least a bogey here is a decent score! Thankfully, we didn't film play at the 3rd hole, a fiendishly difficult par 4 of 338 yards, with surely one of the narrowest fairways anywhere in Scotland, with gorse to the right and Loch Broom to the left. The only sure way to play this hole appeared to be to aim at the narrow shingle beach with a fade, but since I struggle enough to hit the ball straight, moving the ball like that is not something I practice, so I was happy enough with another bogey as this hole is a genuine card wrecker.

I was also delighted to chip in for a birdie at this, the 5th hole, a short 251 yard par 4. However, my tee shot had been just short of the green and an sh--- with my lob wedge took the ball perilously close to gorse on the right of the hole, narrowly missing Stu in the process, so a chip in was barely what my play had warranted. Tiredness had clearly set in again and I was level 8's for the next 3 holes, leading my playing partners to position themselves behind me whenever an iron came out of my bag. Stu actually became quite good at predicting where my next iron shot would go, but as anyone who has ever hit successive sh---s will know, the player has no idea where the ball will go, or how to remedy the fault. I was keen not to practice the fault, so contented myself with 9 holes round the course, despite the fact that Ullapool has 18 tees played to 9 greens and is therefore an 18 hole course. As I remember it, when the played the course in 2006, only the yellow tees were in play for bounce games. However, on this latest visit, holes 1-9 were played off the white tees, so I guess I've now finally played from all 18 of the tees. This is a view of the 8th hole, a good 486 yard par 5, where a bogey would have been acceptable. I'll spare you the gory details of my 9, en route to a score of 50 for 9 holes. Not my finest round of golf, but enjoyable nevertheless, since Ullapool is a fine course. I just wish my golf had done it justice. Another time, perhaps!

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Stornoway Golf Club - course no 282

We played the Stornoway course early on 14 April 2010 before catching the afternoon ferry to Ullapool and although my game sunk to new lows, this was a magnificent course in excellent condition, with fast running fairways and smooth quick greens. This is a view of the 5th hole and the moorland upper part of the course, which barely does justice to the quality of the fairways. It would be difficult to play badly in such surroundings, but I managed it with some style. Almost every middle iron shot played on the front 9 had been an sh---, so it was with some trepidation that I approached this, the 9th, a short 142 yard par 3, requiring accuracy off the tee. An easy 7 iron found the green and a couple of good putts later and I'd parred the hole and gone out in 45 against the par of 35. So, I'd one stroke of my handicap left and surely I couldn't play as badly on the back 9. The 182 yard 10th hole is an uphill par 3, surrounded by bunkers. I (eventually) finished this 10th hole at 10.10 on a sunny day in 2010 and yes, I took a 10. I'd played a good 7 wood from the tee but found an awful lie in the back left bunker, took my lob wedge rather than sand iron and generally footered about before missing a 12 inch putt for a 9. Here's the view from the tee. Not my finest hole, but we all had a good laugh at my expense. In times gone by, I would have reacted less charitably to such a pathetic performance, but I think I've finally realised that golf is a game and what matters most is the enjoyment of it and the respect for the game. Throwing a tantrum wasn't going to change the score, but it might change my partners' enjoyment and there's no fun to be had in playing with someone who's lost patience with himself for no good reason. So, bad golf or not, I really enjoyed the Stornoway course and even parred the last 3 holes as some kind of reward for persevering. I'd certainly love to play Stornoway again, but that was the end of our trip around the Western Isles.
We were moving on to play at Ullapool, Gairloch and Aigas but we took with us some outstanding memories. We'd had great weather and thanks to The Vatersay Boys, Karl Denver's "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" will never be the same again, everyone we'd met had been so kind, welcoming, friendly and generous, we'd seen the outstanding Hebridean landscape at its best and we'd played a succession of very good golf courses. We'd also learnt that golf's survival in the occasionally harsh Hebridean climate depends crucially on voluntary effort and that the game here remains strong, despite the various challenges each club faces to attract and retain members and remain financially viable. Being familiar with joint golf course marketing schemes that operate in the mainland, we also wondered whether the establishment of a Western Isles Golf Pass would help to generate golf tourism, with spin off benefits for bed night accomodation, restaurant and other traders. Our trip had started through Barra because the ferry timetables meant we could minimise our travel time that way. Even so, we'd needed 3 overnight stays to play the 6 courses and had seen more of the islands and their culture than we'd initially expected. Golf tourists primarily want to play golf, but few may have thought about the Western Isles as a short golfing tour destination. They don't know what they're missing but in our view, it's a lot!
There's a richness and depth of experience to golfing in the Western Isles that for each of us beats conventional trips to some of the more recognised golfing holiday destinations hands down. Playing on anonymous and contrived so-called championship (i.e. long and often tedious) courses has its place but this was natural golf, unpretentious in nature and all the better for it. Here, the people we met were clearly pleased to see us and we'll not forget Angus, Ralph, Hugh and Norrie and the many others who helped us in so many ways. When we met Councillor Donald Manford by chance on the MV Loch Portain, he was quick to see the potential of such a golfing parallel to CalMac's Gaelic Rings initiative, as were the various golf club officials we met on our travels. I plan to write to Donald in due course (having worked with him over many years in my former job in ferry operations for the Scottish Government) setting out how such a scheme might operate. As Craig commented so wisely as we walked off the Solles course, "if you don't understand why we're here, you don't understand golf." Maybe that's a wee bit simplistic, but having played every Western Isles hole with him, Stu and I understood fully what he meant!

Isle of Harris Golf Club

The course at Scarista has been described as one of the most picturesque 9-hole courses in the world and after playing it on a beautiful sunny spring day, I wouldn't disagree. I actually played the Harris course in March 2006 so this was not a new course for me, but my blog entries covering our trip to the Western Isles would not be complete without full coverage of this lovely course. From first to last, this course is an absolute joy to play, with fantastic views of the Sound of Taransay, the Atlantic Ocean, other smaller islands and the Harris mountains. Even before we played, we'd had a great welcome from Hugh MacLean, so here's a photo of himself and me, to the side of the extensive new works to develop the new clubhouse. From the brief tour we made, this looks set to be a super addition to the club's facilities.

My favourite hole on the Isle of Harris course was the 2nd, a short 254 yard par 4, with the whole of the island on the right and only water to the left. I took a bogey 5, but I did wonder about the new coffin bunker going in at the front of the green as it looked too small to even swing a club in the direction of the green. Thankfully, I didn't go in it to find out! Here's my somewhat over-aggressive tee shot at that hole. I really must shorten my backswing and slow the swing down to a blur. Below is a view of the 3rd, a difficult uphill 215 yard par 4 with a blind tee shot that plays far longer than it looks. At only 2094 yards, par 34, the Harris course is short by any standards, but what it lacks in length it makes up for in character and even the odd poor shot (and there were many!) didn't seem to matter in such beautiful surroundings. Indeed, I was even able to laugh off an alarming outbreak of the sh---s, though I suspect my new nickname of Armitage might stick for a while! However, my score did suffer and 43 was pretty poor, given the ideal conditions. Craig and Stu also thought the course was superb and despite all of the golf we'd had, they went round the course again, with Craig even getting within sight of the course record. I've great memories of the views from this course, but I'll also remember the remarkable birdies all 3 of us had on the 6th hole, a short uphill par 4 of 247 yards. We all drove the tiny green, and here's part of the celebrations.

Solles Golf Course course no 281

It's difficult to know where to start, but in summary, this was one of the most enjoyable and fulfilling rounds of golf any of us could remember. Solles does not feature on any of the conventional lists of Scottish golf courses and we only discovered its existence after extensive Internet research and a reference to "an 'unofficial' course at Solles on the west coast of North Uist, which has been set up by the local community and is a 9-hole course. It is open to the public, but opening is seasonal as it is on common grazing land - so please check first." After some difficulty we tracked down Angus Johnston, a local man who agreed to meet us at the Solles Co-op to show us where the course was. As an indication of how obscure this course really is, the Co-op shop assistant we asked said she didn't think there was a course locally - and Solles is a tiny community. Angus took one look at my Honda 4x4 and said it should handle the "road" to the course, but soon after we'd turned off the single track road at Middlequarter and gone through a cattle gate, we were onto a deeply rutted dirt track, skirting a field. I'd never overtaken a cow before, but the formidable beast in front was not to be rushed, so off the road I went, carefully avoiding ruts that even my 4x4 might struggle with! Angus eventually stopped in the middle of a large field, saying it would do as our car park. He passed us a hand-written course map showing a rough layout of the course. There had been a course card at one time, but as the lay out of the course changed regularly, there was no current course card. As it turned out, there were flags at each hole, but we'd brought our own flag, just in case!
We'd not expected a manicured course, and it soon became obvious that Solles had been created by local enthusiasts for the love of golf. If there still exists in 2010 a course that mirrors how golf may have begun, then it is to be found over the machar at Solles. Here, the tees are to be found near to the previous green with the greens located on flat pieces of ground, one or two good shots distant from the tees. We saw no evidence whatsoever of the kind of ground preparation and intensive maintenance that is so typical of most conventional golf courses. At Solles, the course had been laid out where the land lay. A couple of half bricks formed the tees and some old flag sticks, some with elderly yellow flags attached, provided welcome assurance that we had indeed located the greens. This is a view of the green on Punchbowl, the 6th hole. I imagine that Solles would not be understood by the golf tourist looking for a North Uist Augusta, but for us, it was a privilege to share a unique golf experience, which we imagined must be akin how the game originally developed. Admittedly, the condition of the course was not what might be expected (as the above photo of my ball on the 1st green shows) but as we got deeper into the machar, the influence of livestock on the course conditions lessened. The map Angus had given us was pretty accurate and course navigation was fairly easy, aided by my laser range finder, an incongruous intrusion of technology into such a natural golf course. However, the range finder did enable us to develop a course card as we went-

Hole 1 - Pancake 276 yards par 4
Hole 2 - Seaward 360 yards par 4
Hole 3 - Maram 212 yards par 3
Hole 4 - Dunes 282 yards par 4
Hole 5 - Wee Flick 82 yards par 3
Hole 6 - Punchbowl 146 yards par 3
Hole 7 - Quantum of..... 139 yards par 3
Hole 8 - The Three Putters 340 yards par 4
Hole 9 - Graveyard 157 yards par 4

We named these holes ourselves, though some of the names may require an explanation

Pancake - Scottish cow dung (see above photo)
Quantum of... - could make a good starter for a title, should this course ever be filmed!
The Three Putters - our good selves
Graveyard - after the many elderly pieces of agricultural equipment rusting away in a nearby hollow.

We also took the liberty of making a 10th hole of 261 yards, played from beside the 9th back to the car park, so our flag came in handy after all! Solles is pretty quirky, so why not add a 10th hole? I scored 43 for the 10 holes, but Craig holds the course record with his lower score. I must ask him what he shot, next time I speak to him! For anyone visiting Solles as a consequence of this blog, the course has another absolutely stunning surprise in store. We'd noticed some walkers high on the dunes that dominate the seaward side of the course and we'd heard the gentlest of surf lapping on the shore, so we left our golf bags in the custody of a nearby sheep and went exploring. This is what we found. If there is a more beautiful sight from a Scottish golf course, I've yet to see it. If and when that day comes, I'll be a very lucky man. Angus, it was a privilege to play Solles. Thanks for all of your help.

Benbecula Golf Club - course no 280

We were all pretty tired by the time we arrived at Benbecula GC at around 1830, some 10 hours after we'd started at Barra GC. We'd been expecting to play a short 9 hole course and although we're all committed golf enthusiasts, ready to play in all weathers etc., we were a bit disappointed to find that Benbecula had 18 separate tees, played to 9 greens, making it an 18 hole course. The obvious solution was to play from the 1st and 10th holes, and so on, rather than go round the course twice. Being adjacent to the local airport, the course was very flat (thankfully!) and although that was a welcome relief, we were really disappointed in some aspects of the course. The Benbecula course is laid out over an older and disused part of the airport, with runways and taxi ways an integral and unusual course feature. However, the layout also featured some less desirable elements that detracted from the quality of the course, as this view clearly shows. We weren't sure how long these buildings had been in that state, but a bulldozer seemed the only solution and we just did not understand how a bunker could be allowed to become so overgrown. Although the Benbecula course had many other more attractive features, that is the impression that visitors like me will most easily remember.

But back to the golf and here's a far more attractive view of the course, highlighting its flatness and the seemingly random and very welcome appearance of spring flowers. I'd never tried playing a 9 hole course with balls from separate tees. Sounds easy enough in principle, but after our long day it became increasingly difficult to remember which ball had been played from which tee! Scoring was certainly easier from the front 9 and with halves of 36 and 41, I went round in 77. Benbecula is a par 62 course of only 4359 yards, so a 77 was not great. However, it had been a long day and as we finished on the 9/18th, the sun set. We'd completed our first day's golf on the Western Isles, the weather had been kind and seemed set fair for the rest of the week. We found our luxurious B&B and even managed to get to a nearby hotel for a pint and an outstanding meal (barely 5 minutes before the kitchen closed for the night). The steak pie was absolutely delicious and I even managed the portion of cauliflower and cheese (and I really dislike cauliflower!)

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Askernish Golf Course - course no 279

We'd only just made it to the Sound of Barra ferry, but the rest of the travelling on 12 April 2010 was by road and causeway and with Askernish and Benbecula to play, we needed lunch. We found a petrol station and chip shop (surely a rare combination!) near to Askernish, but the shop was closed. Thankfully, there was a visiting party of students from Elmwood College at the Askernish course, so we were able to polish off the remaining soup and sandwiches from their lunch. Our thanks must also go to Ralph Thompson at Askernish for allowing us to play the course before it had opened for the season and for his other help to ensure we had an enjoyable round. Askernish is of course already famous as a rediscovered Old Tom Morris course and seems set to become even more respected as golfers like us experience its outstanding qualities and encourage others to play it. At 6164 yards par 72, Askernish is not overly long, but the holes are well spread out over the dunes, so the course was very demanding physically. We all agreed that Askernish was a superb layout, with all sorts of lies, requiring expert shot making and a modicum of luck to achieve a respectable score, hence my gross 98! Askernish also poses some other questions, as we discovered on the magnificent 7th, the 438 yard par 4 Stroke Index 1 hole. My drive was pretty good but with one bounce went straight down a rabbit burrow. Thanks to Craig for retrieving it with his driver. Here's the intrepid Craig in action, with Stu offering moral (I think!) support.

My own favourite hole was the 191 yard 11th, an outstanding par 3. The green is hidden from the tee, with only the top of the flag being visible. accordingly a hollow in front and to the left of the green is also hidden, as is the run off at the back of the green, shown here, meaning that anything seriously long risks being on the beach. My 7 wood was 10 yards short of the green and I ended up with a 5. Craig found the green with a superb 6 iron and got his 3 - impressive stuff! I think Stu also had a 5, but what a hole! Even in the almost windless conditions, the 11th typified the difficulty of this course, so goodness knows what Askernish is like in the windy conditions that are more typical of our many links courses.
Askernish is already a supreme test, is every bit as good as I'd expected and will in time mature into a very fine course. My only reservation about the layout was the 18th, a 509 yard par 5. The definition of the fairway was poor, as this view from the tee shows. The line proved to be over a half hidden white cow, but a marker pole would have helped. Better still, a fence to keep the cows off the course would have allowed easier presentation of this otherwise strong finish to the course. However, I don't want that comment to sound too negative, since we all really enjoyed playing this excellent course. This was my 48th game of golf in 2010, so I'd built up a good fitness level beforehand. Even so, I was glad of a brief rest afterwards before moving on to play Benbecula, our third course of the day.

Barra Golf Club - course no 278

We'd arrived on Barra in time to see Phil Mickelson win the US Masters at Augusta and were delighted to mix with some locals, including some of "The Vatersay Boys" in a local bar. Those guys can really play (and drink!), so it was with some difficulty that we all mustered in time for an early start at Barra GC. It was also with some difficulty that we found the course, given the dense fog which was to persist for most of the morning. We found out after we'd finished the round that the club was awaiting delivery of some tee markers and scorecards and in the absence of such basics, our round over Barra was quite an experience. Visibility was about 100 yards, so Stu could find his ball easily enough most times (ouch! only joking, Stu) but we had no idea where we were going and I still have no mental picture of the course layout or hole distances. We found a white-painted stone a few yards from the Honesty Box (see above) and assumed that it must be the 1st tee, but it turned out to be the 8th. This is a view of the green, well protected from the many sheep that appeared to be our only company on the course. We then found another white stone, guessed the direction of play and eventually found the 9th green. More searching and we'd found the 7th hole. We'd taken woods and short irons at each of these holes so we assume that they were par 4's. I found an old score card in my bag from Torvean GC, so that had to do for record-keeping purposes. Amazingly, I had 4s at each of those holes. The fog cleared slightly and temporarily so we found holes 1-5 easily enough, with Craig's bright yellow trousers and my matching golf bag helping to keep us from getting completely lost. However, we came unstuck on the 6th (our last) hole. A sign on the fence surrounding the 5th green pointed us in the direction of the 6th tee, but with stones as the tee markers and the entire course built on rocky ground and the fog descending once again, we had to design our own last hole. We decided it should be a par 4 and having found our balls (within the 5 minute rule too!) we spotted a green which remarkably turned out to the the right one. Our scoring was pretty good, given the circumstances. We met the Club Captain after the round and asked him to post some score cards to us in due course, but lest I forget in the meantime, my scores in the proper order were 5, 6, 6, 5, 4, 4, 4, 4, and 4, for a total of 42, with 16 putts (singles on holes 4 and 9).
Given the amount of climbing we did (necessarily or not!), we think that Barra is a hilly course with spectacular views (we always beware any course that advertises itself as having such views, as hills are inevitably involved!) The course was great fun to play despite the physical and visual challenges and the disorientating effect of the fog (or was it the previous night's partying?) The improvements needed were obvious and are all in hand so we look forward to playing this course again at some future point, with proper signage, a course map and score card. Our adventures on Barra weren't quite over, though. We thought we'd allowed ourselves ample time to play the course, but we'd not allowed for the fog or blethering to the greenkeeper and Club Captain afterwards, so it was bit of a shock to find that our ferry to Eriskay was leaving from Ard Mhor inside 10 minutes of us leaving the course. The fog cleared en route, but with single track roads and a slow car in front, we only just made it and where to find lunch was another mystery en route to Askernish. A long day lay ahead and we were in need of sustenance.

Taynuilt Golf Club - course no 275

And so on to Taynuilt, which we played on Sunday 11 April 2010, before catching the afternoon ferry to Barra. Like its near neighbour at Dalmally, Taynuilt is a visually stunning golf course as this view from the second tee shows, with Ben Cruachan in the background. Although the Dalmally course was some distance from Dalmally itself, the Taynuilt course was an integral part of the village. It was also far drier than at Dalmally and the greens were also much faster, which we found very surprising, given that the courses are only a few miles apart and looked to be similarly low lying. Taynuilt is a 9 hole course of 2255 yards, par 32 off the yellow tees and was a joy to play from start to finish. We'd received great support from the club and were delighted to see that a notice had been put up beside the first tee about our trip and that the tee had been reserved for us, interrupting a club medal competition (and there are many clubs where that simply would not happen!) Highland hospitality at its best!

As anyone who has seen me play could testify, my 9 iron is used for all sorts of short game play in addition to approach shots from around 110 yards. I'd had a poor drive at the 303 yard 5th, so out came the 9 iron for a pitch to the green. I hit the ball cleanly without taking much of a divot, but the shaft broke and the club head went almost as far as the ball itself. I can probably get a new shaft fitted in due course, but this incident was to plague the rest of the trip, given my heavy reliance of the 9 iron for chipping around greens. The greens had some severe slopes, as shown here at the 6th, so the loss of that club was annoying to put it mildly. We all thought that the best hole on the course was the 9th, a devilishly tricky 337 yard par 4, with a severe dog leg to the left and a very narrow entrance to the green, with out of bounds to the right, left and behind the green, as this photo shows. I managed a bogey after duffing a short chip and run that I would normally have played with my 9 iron. I went round Taynuilt in 39, but on reading the Local Rules after the round I saw that "any shot hitting overhead cables must be retaken." My tee shot at the 1st was deflected by overhead cables but I played the ball as it lay, so a rules decision would have been necessary had we been playing in a competition. I must look up the rules again to remind myself what the decision should be! Thanks again to the club for their generous help to ensure we could play the course, which we all thought was in superb condition, given the harsh winter now thankfully behind us (we hope!!)

Friday, 16 April 2010

Dalmally Golf Club - course no 274

This is the first course that Craig, Stu and I played on a Highlands and Western Isles trip between 11-15 April 2010. The plan was to leave Edinburgh early on the 11th, play Dalmally and Taynuilt, get the ferry to Barra, play the Barra course, get the ferry over to South Uist, play Askernish, drive up to Benbecula and play there, drive on to play Solles in North Uist, get another ferry to Harris to play the course at Scarista, then drive up to play at Stornoway, get the ferry to Ullapool, play there and play Gairloch and Aigas before going home for a rest. Eleven courses in all, needing good weather, lots of energy and the occasional liquid refreshment (in moderation of course!). We left as planned so here I am at Dalmally, with a swing as bad as the club's logo, pretending to be loosening up. We pretty much had the course to ourselves, even after I'd taken a wrong turning and ended up in the driveway of the big house next door, much to the surprise of the owner!

Dalmally is a short 9 hole course of 2084 yards off the yellow tees with a par of 32, but it's not an easy trek, as I was soon to discover. In setting up our visit, the club had advised that we take particular care at the 3rd, a lovely 159 yard par 3 ominously named "Orchy Splash." Water was clearly involved, but this was a fabulous hole to play and bonnie to see, as this view from the tee shows. Absolute accuracy is required and some luck to find and hold the small green. I managed neither and despite clearing the river with a chopped down 7 wood, I duffed an easy chip and ended up with a 5. The small Dalmally greens ran very true, but were quite slow and the heavy dew meant that the ball did not run much anywhere on the course. My pitching was erratic and alarmingly, I made my first proper sh--- of the trip on the 8th and ended up with a treble bogey 7. This is the view from the 9th tee, a lovely par 4 of 385 yards and the longest hole on the course, with Ben Lui in the background. I managed a 6 there, to go round in a poor 44, miles away from my expectations. We all agreed that Dalmally was a really good and testing layout and a hugely enjoyable start to our travels. We also noticed that there was ample space to the north and east of the course to add another 9 holes and we had some preliminary ideas by the time we'd finished. We did of course recognise that as a small village course heavily dependent on voluntary support and local membership such expansion would be impractical, but course design was to be a recurrent theme of this trip. Our sincere thanks go to the Dalmally club for all of their help.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Lilliardsedge Park Golf Club - course no 273

This course has 9 greens and 18 tees, making it an 18 hole course, which from the yellow tees measured 5179 yards, par 70. I played Lilliardsedge on 8 April 2010 after my round at nearby Jedburgh. Lilliardsedge forms part of a large caravan park with lots of log cabin type lodges as well as large fixed caravans and spaces for touring caravans etc. I don't know much about caravanning, but the standard of facilities looked pretty impressive and it was obvious that some serious money had been invested on site. This is a view of the second green, with some of the caravans in the background. I'd expected the course to be little more than a basic add on to the caravan park, but some of the holes were pretty challenging, particularly where there was a considerable difference between the front and back tees. For example, the 5th is a tricky par 4 of 412 yards, but becomes a 472 yard par 5 as the 14th hole.

I parred the 1st, 2nd and 4th holes easily enough as they were little more than driver, wedge and putting on greens almost as slow as at Jedburgh. The 3rd hole was more awkward, with a large pond on the right awaiting anything remotely wayward off the tee. My 8 iron approach was slightly short of the green, but an excellent lob wedge led to a birdie 3. However, I made a right old mess of the tricky 5th with a double bogey after hooking my drive out of bounds. This is the 6th, a short par 3 of 115 yards (which becomes 147 yards from the 15th tee). I also hooked a ball into a lateral water hazard at the 7th, the Stroke index 1 hole and ended up with a triple bogey. Not good. I eventually got to the turn in 6 over par for an unimpressive 40. The back 9 was longer by around 200 yards, but on most of the holes, there was only a few yards difference between the back and front 9 tees. I thought this was best hole, the 157 yard par 3 17th, from an elevated tee to a small green well protected by bunkers. After some furrther waywards shots, I did the back 9 in 41, for an 81, net 70. Lilliardsedge is an excellent facility for holiday golf and general practice and there are some pretty good holes. It is also mostly flat and easy walking, a welcome relief after the more physical challenge set by the windy conditions at nearby Jedburgh.