Monday, 31 May 2010

Linlithgow GC - course no 300

I played this excellent course with Polly on 30 May 2010 in the club's Mixed 4's competition. Linlithgow is a moderately hilly parkland course of 5851 yards, par 70, off the white medal tees and a pretty modest 5245 yards, par 72 off the ladies' red tees. The clubhouse and car park nestle snugly between the 2nd and 18th holes and this is a view down to the 2nd green from the 4th fairway. The 1st tee is right outside the clubhouse windows and although the drive should be easy enough, the clubhouse was busy, so I'd a sizable audience when teeing off. We scrambled a bogey at the 1st, but it didn't take long for the wheels to come off. Polly hit a decent drive at the second, leaving me an easy 7 into the green. Thankfully the car park is protected by a high fence, but although my quick hook avoided hitting anything valuable, it stayed out of bounds. After more faffing about we ran up a 10, so any ambitions about winning were gone. Respectability was our only remaining target so anything under 95 would do!

The front 9 is pretty short, apart from the 420 yard par 4 9th, a roller coaster of a hole from a high tee played down to a deep gulley, leaving a blind uphill shot to the green. We managed a double bogey there to go out in 48. Barring our disaster at the 2nd and better luck on the greens and we'd have been healthily placed. The greens at our own course are running very fast, so it was difficult to come to terms with those at Linlithgow. Unfortunately, Linlithgow's greens had also been affected by fusarium fungus, so the surfaces were pretty bumpy, making putting something of a lottery. We gathered that the greens were still pretty tricky to read when in good condition, so at least we'd a reasonable excuse for the occasional missed short putt.

The back 9 is markedly longer, with a couple of long par 5's back to back at the 12th and 13th. We were still 3 over 5's after the 13th and a good birdie at the 14th gave us hope that we could get under 90. Here's a view up the 15th, a short 279 yard steeply uphill par 4. By then the wind had got up, so I'd only a small target to aim at. We scrambled a bogey, but our playing partners, having been in contention until then, took an 8, killing off their chances. The signature hole at Linlithgow is the 17th, a 172 yard par 3 played from an elevated tee down to a tiny green at the side of the Union Canal. As shown here, the slope to the right of the green is semi-rough and does not allow the ball to run down to the green, so the only shot is to go for it. I eased back on a 7 wood but still went through the back and we managed to 4-putt the green (my fault!) for a triple bogey. The last hole was also pretty testing. Remember how the clubhouse windows looked over the 1st tee? They also looked over the 18th green, so when I was left with an 80 yard pitch and being prone to the occasional sh---, my thoughts were not entirely positive! Thankfully a good pitch and a couple of putts followed, and we'd gone round in 93 for a net 77.5. That was "only" 9 strokes behind the leaders, with most of the scores in, so we'd finished mid-pack and had had yet another "if only" round. We'd also won a bottle of excellent wine in the raffle, though sadly that one didn't survive the night! We agreed that Linlithgow was a very good and interesting course and we'll certainly play it again sometime, hopefully once the outbreak of fusarium has been overcome.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Blairbeth Golf Club - course no 299

I played in the Senior's Open at Blairbeth to the south of Glasgow on 27 May 2010. The weather forecast was for heavy showers and these really got going just before I was due to tee off. Blairbeth is a 5537 yard par 4 off the white tees we were playing. Blairbeth was a surprisingly hilly parkland course and was in great condition. Ronnie, my playing partner, commented that the new greenkeeper had done wonders for the course and that this had had a beneficial effect on membership numbers. Some of the changes the new man had introduced were controversial, such as allowing light rough to grow on slopes where balls would previously feed down to greens, but as a visitor, I thought the course was excellently presented. Blairbeth celebrates its Centenary in 2010 and with all of the rain we had going round during the medal, the course should be in perfect condition for the Centenary Open to be played on 29 May. I hope that the celebrations go well since this is a really good course and an excellent friendly club.

My customary camera work had to wait for a few holes, such was the rain at the start of the round. I managed to par the first couple of holes, but a hooked drive at the par 4 3rd cost me a bogey. Another wayward drive at the 369 yard par 4 5th should have cost me another bogey, but I somehow managed to miss a tiny putt. A redeeming birdie at the par 5 496 yard 5th should have followed, but my easy putt stopped just short (yet more rain affected play!!) I almost drove the 266 yard par 4 6th during another heavy shower, but my rushed lob wedge fell of the back of the green amidst a confusion of hats, umbrellas wet suits and anything to stay semi-dry and I ended up with a 6. The 9th hole had previously been an easy par 5 but was now a par 4, stroke index 1. The tee shot is over a tall tree from an elevated tee and down into a deep hollow, requiring a carry of around 200 yards to clear the hill on the other side of the tree. I managed a bogey to go out in 41, 6 over par. I'd dropped silly shots at the 4th and 6th, but maybe the buffer zone was still in reach.

However, that ambition quickly came unstuck on the 12th, a 299 yard right dog leg. A short drive (surely not, Alan!) left me with a wedge over some high trees (why do dog leg holes have elbows?) I hit the top of one tree and ended up out of bounds for a triple bogey 7. Another 7 followed at the tricky 550 yard par 5 13th, with out of bounds all the way up the right side. As this photo shows, the green sits on a shelf, hard by the out of bounds. At best, a 6 was on offer, but a chip from 50 yards was badly underhit and caught the semi-rough. The green is actually tiny but there's enough space to make it bigger (Ronnie - a hint!) I was now 12 over, so I needed to par the last 5 holes to be in with a chance of the buffer zone.

The 14th is a remarkable hole and by far my favourite on the course. At 303 yards off the back tee, it is short, but the tee shot is blind, with the white stone some 50 yards from the tee on top of a hill looking to be too far to the right. I was only slightly left of the "stone line" but ended up way left of the fairway in light rough. An easy pitch with a 7 iron and a couple of putts made for a satisfying par, but what makes this hole remarkable is the astonishing panoramic view of Glasgow and surrounding areas from Paisley to Motherwell and beyond. We could see for miles, including the next line of heavy showers.

A couple of bogeys at the next 2 holes were disappointing, particularly since they were short and pretty easy. Next, we were back down to the clubhouse to play the last couple of holes. These had until recently been the opening holes at Blairbeth, but changes had been made for the Centenary to make the difficult former second into a really challenging last hole. This idea seems to work well. However, a really heavy shower started on the 17th tee, as this photo shows. The 17th is a 268 yard par 4, with the green perched on a steep slope. Ronnie eagled it and I birdied it, despite us both missing the green. Not bad, given the deluge we played in. The last hole is a 356 yard par 4, with a bank half way up a steep hill that has to be cleared to have any chance of reaching the green. I managed that OK, but the second shot is blind over the hill and I just missed the green. An easy lob wedge should have given me a chance of a single putt, but I fluffed that and a bogey followed. I'd gone round in 83, net 73, a couple of shots adrift of the buffer zone. Still, I'd enjoyed the course despite the weather, thanks largely to Ronnie. It turned out that we'd gone to the same school and had lived near to each other in the south side of Glasgow when we were kids. I'd not thought about school days for years, so it was bizarre to recall teachers that are now probably long since retired or deceased. We'd enjoyed each other's company so in truth, the scores didn't really matter. For Ronnie, it was a day of what could have been. An 8 and a 7 on par 4's and he still had a net 69 - not too shabby and if he's playing in Blairbeth's Centenary Open, he'll no be last.

Port Royal Par 3 course - course no 298

This is a 9 hole par 3 course situated behind the Port Royal driving range beside Edinburgh Airport, which I played on 26 May 2010 on my way home from Saline. This is the airport control tower from the 4th hole. I guess the architect might have been a golfer!

The Port Royal holes range from 45 to 81 yards so a wedge, lob wedge and putter were all that was required, plus my umbrella, as the skies had opened en route back and some ominously dark clouds were around. The holes are short, but the greens are tiny and were running pretty fast. The holes were also cut on slopes and close to bunkers, so scoring was not as easy as I'd expected. For example, here's the 1st hole, requiring a 66 yard chip. I was only marginally off line, but ended up in a bunker, with the flag only 15 feet away on a downslope. A bogey followed, redeemed by a birdie 2 at the 45 yard 6th. I parred all of the other holes to go round in the par of 27. This is a good practice facility and an ideal place to introduce young kids to the sport. It was nice to see a couple of youngsters hammering away at a bag of balls on the adjacent driving range, but I hope they also tried the par 3 course, where accuracy in the short game is really important.

Saline Golf Club - course no 297

I played at Saline to the north west of Dunfermline on 26 May 2010. I'd thought the course had 9 holes, but through the clever use of 18 separate tees and 12 different greens, it's actually an 18 hole course of 5011 yards, par 68 off the yellow tees. Saline is a hilly parkland course with amazing views and was in superb condition. One of the best village courses I've played in ages. There's nothing fancy about Saline, but in terms of the quality and design of the course and value for money, it's got to be pretty hard to beat. This is a view back down the 1st and 10th holes, showing the village and the Ochil Hills in the background.

The par 4 2nd/11th is steeply downhill and at 279 yards is driveable and was an easy par both times round. The 3rd/12th looks easy enough, but out of bounds on the right and some tricky bunkering caused me problems and I took double bogey, bogey here. Back uphill for the 4th/13th to separate greens, side by side. Accurate placement up the left side of the fairway off the tee helps, as the hill throws anything even slightly wayward down behind some trees. The greens are well above you for your second shot and club selection is difficult, so another couple of bogeys followed. The 5th and 14th par 4s are stroke indexes 1 and 2. From the single tee, all you see is a steep hill and a marker pole. Hole 14 is called Quarry, so even playing the 5th leads you to wonder whether a deep gully awaits over the marker pole. However, there's "only" more hill, with both greens looking improbably distant and near to out of bounds walls. I was happy enough to take bogeys at these holes and enjoy the superb views of what seemed to be half of east central Scotland from the top of the course (and get my breath back!) The par 4 6th and 15th holes have separate tees to a common green and both tee shots are steeply downhill. These holes play considerably shorter as a result, but the green looks very shallow from above and is well protected by a front bunker. Bogey and par here, so not bad. Walking down those holes, the ominously steeply uphill 7th and 16th are to your right. But a piece of advice. Leave your bag by the 6th/15th green, as the next tees are 50 yards downhill from there! Both of these holes play much longer than they look, so be warned. What goes up must come down, but I really struggled on this, the 8th, a 150 yard par 3. This photo doesn't really do justice to the downslope, which looked as though an easy wedge would be enough. I found the green with such a stroke i.e. the 1st green, lurking behind the trees to the left. A lob wedge over the trees and a couple of putts and I'd escaped with a bogey. Worse was to come on the 9th, a 340 yard downhill par 4, with the fairway falling away to the right, towards the clubhouse and car park. I'd seen the scope for calamity on this hole even when walking to the 1st tee, so the stategy had to be to keep to the left of the fairway off the tee. I managed that easily enough, but I'd still left myself with an awkward 9 iron shot and a sh--- was a distinct possibility. True to form, I ended up close to out of bounds down by the car park and an ignominious double bogey followed. I'd still a chance to redeem myself when playing the 18th, but a closed face wedge left me short and left of the green and another bogey followed. I'd gone round in 81, net 71 for a 3 over net par score. Saline was a joy to play and I'd recommend it to anyone and remember, the 8th is a wedge, but make sure you hit the right green!

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Oatridge Golf Course - course no 296

Oatridge is owned by the Oatridge Agricultural College, is located within the college's estate near Ecclesmachan in West Lothian and is home to the Binny Golf Club. Oatridge is a 9 hole course of 2770 yards off the yellow tees, though there were 18 separate white tees for medal rounds only. The College's website mentions that Oatridge has been described as the best 9 hole course in Scotland. Craig and Stu had already played the course and I agree with their view that Oatridge is one of the best 9 holes courses we've played. Indeed, I suspect that by the time my own journey around Scotland is complete, Oatridge would still be one of my favourite 9 holers, alongside the likes of Scarista on Harris.

I played at Oatridge on 24 May 2010, the day before a Seniors' Open competition. A power of work had been done to present the course at its best. The tees, fairways and greens were in immaculate condition and with a stiff wind blowing and the greens fast and tricky, all seemed set for a good round. The 1st hole is a downhill par 5 played to a slightly elevated green. Being a parkland course, I thought that a high pitch to the green would be better than the low pitch and run shots that I'm more used to playing at The Glen. However, my wedge made only the briefest visit to the green before bouncing off into the high rough to the left of the green. I lost that ball and ended up with a triple bogey 8. This is the 2nd, a good 151 yard par 3. My 6 iron tee shot finished in a ridiculous and almost unplayable lie in the left bunker. Another triple bogey followed. The 3rd is a drivable 229 yard par 4, but the 3rd is named "Water Hole" and the course guide recommended a lay up. An easy swing with my 7 wood and I had a short chip over a stream. However, the greens were remarkably quick and firm, so my sand iron shot bounded through the green, costing me a bogey. This is the 3rd green, looking back to the tee and the greenkeeper, still hard at work! The 4th is a 272 yard par 4 with a flat elevated green. I persevered with the high approach pitch, but again it bounced through for another bogey. The 5th is a great driving hole, a 277 yard right dog leg around some high trees. I finished 30 yards or so short and (you'll have guessed by now) another pitch went through the green. This time, the ball stopped just short of a lateral water hazard and I was able to get a short pitch and run almost stone dead for an easy 4 and my first par.

The 6th requires a good drive to catch a down slope on the fairway to leave an easy pitch to the uphill green. Another easy par followed, but by now the wind had really strengthened and some dark clouds were gathering over the course. My wet suit and umbrella were in the car, so it was time to speed up! The 7th is Stroke Index 1, a long uphill 416 yard dog leg par 4. The course guide warned of the need to avoid some large oaks guarding the right side of the fairway and a burn crossing the fairway. I flirted with the biggest tree before settling for yet another bogey. The 8th is a 219 yard par 3, played directly into the wind. At last I had the perfect opportunity for a low pitch and run from 20 or so yards, a 9 iron played off the back foot, hands forward and almost holed. A tap-in par, but the score card was still looking pretty ugly overall. This is the view from the 9th tee. The course guide alerted me to the big chestnut tree to the right of the fairway and predictably, I almost managed to get it between my ball and the green. The guide also said "aim up the left side from where the ball will gather onto the green" missing "the deep bunker to the right of the green to be avoided at all costs." However, the guide had made no mention of the shallow left side bunker that stopped my ball from "gathering onto the green." Yet another bogey followed, accompanied by the start of the heavy rain that I hoped would make the greens a bit more receptive for the coming Open competition.
I'd staggered around Oatridge in a disappointing 45 but really enjoyed the course nevertheless. I'd recommend Oatridge and the Binny Golf Club to anyone looking for a quick game on a well-kept and well-designed course. Oatridge is not easy and as I found out, you need to take great care around the small and mostly elevated greens. Best hole? - probably the 5th, with the 3rd not far behind, but don't take my word for it, go and play (and enjoy!) Oatridge yourself.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Crow Wood GC - course no 295

I played Crow Wood with Polly on 21 May 2010 on a hot and humid (well, for Scotland!) airless day. Crow Wood is just outside the east side of Glasgow and is a parkland course of 5864 yards, par 71, off the yellow tees. The course was very busy, with a stream of 4 balls going out in front of us. Play was painfully slow as a result and despite sheltering under trees whenever possible, we were both overheating. I didn't think to take out the camera, but at one point we were passed by a guy using his umbrella to shelter from the sun. I'd seen this on television coverage of golf from Thailand etc., but that was a first in Scotland.

Anyway, I started brightly enough and was only 1 over par after 5 holes. This is the view from the 4th tee, a downhill 330 yard hole. A good drive and an easy 9 iron left me with a 30 foot putt. We'd already noted that the greens were very slow and bumpy, but our putts had previously been pretty short (and I'd single-putted the first 3 greens from pretty close in). I therefore hit the 30 foot putt far firmer than normal but was staggered that it stopped about 12 feet short of the hole. I holed out from there with another firmly hit stroke, but this was a warning of things to come, with the greens matching the pace of play! As regular readers of this blog will know, I've commented previously about the harshness of the last winter and its effects on courses, but most courses have recovered well, with greens overcoming the ravages of ice and frost. Sadly, Crow Wood's greens were several weeks behind and I suspect that there may have been particular problems outwith the club's control.. I was happy enough with my approach play, but I really struggled on the greens and after my bright start, I'd limped off the 9th (another 3-putt!) in 43 to the turn.

The pace of play improved slightly on the back 9, but that was the only real improvement. The heat was taking its toll and if anything, the greens were even slower and more uneven. I thought the short 314 yard par 4 16th was the most interesting hole on the course. From an elevated tee, a drive over a hump on the fairway left me with a wedge to the small green, well protected by bunkers. This is a view from the fairway. I missed the green with a hooked wedge, but an easy lob wedge and (predictably) 2 putts from only a few feet, led to a disappointing bogey. Polly was also unlucky to find a small stream to the left of the fairway and like me, was keen to get to the bar for a refreshing drink and never mind the score!
I finally ended up with a gross 90, net 80 some 9 shots adrift of par for the course. At least 6 of those shots were down to my inability to cope with the greens and it was clear from the struggles of the 4-ball in front and others on the course, that they were having precisely the same problem. The Crow Wood layout is pretty good and reminded me of Newbattle in parts, but would I want to play it again? Yes, and hopefully the existing weather-related problems will have been overcome.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Cluny Golf Course - course no 294

This is a 9 hole pay as you play parkland course forming part of an activity centre, including shooting and archery, outside Cluny village in Fife. There are 4 par 3s and 5 par 4's and the course measures 2312 yards with a par of 32. The course was surprisingly busy so thank you to the 3 ladies who very kindly let me play through on the 1st hole, a downhill par 4 of 265 yards. The course was running fast due to the recent dry weather, so a good drive left me with a lob wedge to the flag and a tap in for an early birdie. The second hole is an uphill 334 yard par 4 and requires an accurate drive and second to a small green. I missed the green and ended up with a bogey. The 3rd hole, aptly named "Growler" is a really tricky 160 yard par 3 over a river requiring an accurate shot between mature trees. This is the view from the yellow tee. An easy 7 wood, a couple of putts and I was still level par for the course. Could this be a decent round? Next hole was an uphill 152 yard par 3. My 6 iron was way left of the green and there was a bunker between me and the flag, set on a downslope running away from me. Another good lob wedge left me with a 25 foot putt, which I completely misread. However, the greens were fast and bumpy (due to recent tining) and my putt bounced off a small tining mark and veered hard left into the hole. Could be a lucky round too!

The 5th was an uphill 290 yard par 4 dog leg left. A good drive, easy wedge and a couple of putts, and another par. I over-clubbed at the 6th, a flat but downwind 176 yard par 3. My 5 iron was through the back of the green in light rough, within a few feet of being out of bounds. Luckily, my pitch and run with a wedge left me with a 10 foot putt for another scrambled par. So far, all of the par 4's had been pretty short, so it was a real surprise to find that the 7th was 454 yards long. By this time I'd also caught up with 3 other ladies, so I'd ample time to develop a plan to limit the damage after my good drive had left me with a blind second shot that needed to thread its way over a stream, avoiding a large pond on the right and out of bounds on the left. There was no way I was going for the green, since unless I found the putting surface chances were I'd lose the ball and ruin my score. So I laid up with a 9, leaving me with this shot to the green. Timing is everything in golf, and this was the time for a full wedge. This was also the time for my worst shot of the round as my ball hooked its way towards the out of bounds. There was a dry stone dyke under the trees to the left of the green. My ball hit it and bounced back into some light rough to the side of the green. A good pitch and run and a tap in putt and I'd escaped with a bogey 5.

The 8th is a downhill 285 yard par 4 with a blind tee shot. A road runs down the left side of the fairway and my drive was heading for it before clipping a tree and bouncing on down the fairway. A lob wedge to 4 feet and a second birdie followed. I was back to level par with only one hole to go, a 196 yard par 3, as shown here. The wind had picked up and was right behind me and my easy 7 wood just trickled off the back of the green. An easy pitch and a 3 foot putt and I'd actually gone round a course in par! However, I'm not fooling myself into thinking this was entirely deserved, or somehow marked a watershed in my game. On another day I might have had fewer breaks and gone round in level 4s or worse. The truth is I'd only had 12 putts thanks to some good short game play and the shortness of the course had meant that most second shots were wedges etc. I'd also got lucky a few times, but maybe there's hope for me yet. Cluny is certainly a fun course which I suspect plays even shorter than it looks. At least if I play it again I'll have a decent score to beat!

Monday, 17 May 2010

Whitehill House GC - course no 293

I played this little-known 9 hole parkland course on 17 May 2010. Craig and Stu had played it last Autumn and raved about it and the extreme difficulty of the 8th hole, so I was really looking forward to playing at Whitehill, located in Rosewell, just outside Edinburgh. The Whitehill House course is only 5 years old and is built in the grounds of a fine old mansion house that regrettably has seen better days. The course is 3089 yards par 35 off the yellow tees and starts pretty tamely with a downhill par 3, a really good downhill dog leg par 4 protected by a greenside pond and a short uphill par 4. From there, the course gets progressively more demanding, with a 562 yard downhill dog leg par 5. The green is quite small (in other words, I missed it!) and scrambled a bogey. The 5th is also gently downhill and is another chance to really open the shoulders with the tee shot. A needless flirtation with a gorse bush miles away from the fairway cost me a bogey, when a more restrained tee shot might have been wiser.

The 6th is a really good dog leg 385 yard par 4. The tee shot has to clear a pond, avoid out of bounds to the left and be short of a row of 5 bunkers awaiting any attempt to cut the dog leg. This is the gently uphill approach to the green with the old mansion house in the background. My 8 iron missed the green completely and I ended up with another poorly played bogey. I was now level 5s for the round and with the 8th looming in the distance, the scorecard did not look too pretty. I managed to par the 7th in 3. As Craig had promised, the 172 yard par 3 8th hole was simply magnificent, played from an elevated tee over a deep wooded gorge and requiring absolute accuracy to avoid the tall trees that dominate the hole. This shot was taken from the yellow tee after my tee shot, which I'm delighted to report finished on the green. However, the green is probably also the most difficult on the course to read. My ball had finished in a hollow 25 feet from the hole, requiring a 4 foot borrow. I left the putt around 4 feet short, but holed that for a par at what must surely be one of the best par 3's I've played recently. There was only a breeze blowing, but since the tee is very exposed, I shudder to think what this hole must be like on a stormy day. And so to the last hole, an uphill 462 par 5. I was too bold with my second shot, ending up half-stymied by a couple of large trees, as shown here. The rough was quite short, so a 60 yard pitch and run with a 6 iron played low off the back foot got me onto the green. I just missed the long birdie putt, but I was happy enough with the 5. I'd gone round in 41 and thoroughly enjoyed the course, which was in great condition for the time of year and after the recent harsh winter. The greens were slower than I prefer and as the greenkeeper commented to me when I met him on the course, the greens will speed up and improve further with some more warm weather. Like Craig and Stu, I'd recommend this course to anyone with a couple of hours to spare who wants to test themselves on one of the most tricky par 3's they'll ever play. Like me, they might also enjoy this last look back at the 9th green. Lovely.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Lockerbie GC - course no 292

This was the last course on our May 2010 golfing holiday, played on 13 May en route back from Celtic Manor. Polly and I had booked to play at 1100 but since ours was the third car in the car park, we guessed we'd get off early. One look up the steep hill at the first suggested a buggy might be wise! Lockerbie is a 5334 yard par 67 parkland/moorland course, but the changes in elevation and small greens made it pretty tricky. The bitingly cold wind didn't help either, though I guess carrying the clubs might have kept us warmer.

Craig, Stu and I always target birdies in playing the Scottish courses, so it was great to start Lockerbie in that fashion. The 1st is a 351 yard steep uphill par 4. My 8 iron second had left a difficult downhill 25 foot putt, but I'd seen how quick the green was from Polly's first putt. Anything above the hole was very fast and the greens were a wee bit bumpy after all of the winter frost and snow. However, the gentlest of putts trickled its way into the hole. An easy par at the Stroke Index 18 2nd hole followed, but a series of bogeys or worse took me to the turn in a disappointing 43. The feature hole on the course turned out to be this, the short 118 yard par 3 8th. I missed the small green (a feature at Lockerbie) for another bogey.

My indifferent play continued on the back 9, culminating in a wild slice off the exposed 15th tee. By that time an icy wind was blowing from left to right across the hole and I only just managed to poke my tee shot back onto the fairway from the middle of some tall pines. I'd almost got used to the small greens by the but the 15th green was small to the point of comical, as was my attempted pitch, which took one bounce and scurried off to the shelter of the rough. A double bogey followed and I limped home in 43 for an 86, net 76, some 9 strokes adrift from net par. My golf was pretty poor and Polly easily took the honours in our holiday competition, leaving me with a fragile 3-1 lead. One outstanding aspect of this course is the friendliness of the members and its officials. From the time we entered the Secretary's office we were made most welcome. The Lockerbie club was a good test (which beat me on the day!) and it's obviously a strong focal point for the local community. I hope I'm less golfed-out next time I play it. I blame the long walk round the 2010 course, or was it just a hangover from much earlier in the week?

Celtic Manor Resort - the 2010 and Montgomerie courses

Polly and I usually try to play the Ryder Cup courses before the actual events in order to appreciate better the quality of the play during television coverage. We'd played the Belfry and K Club courses, so we jumped at the chance to play "The 2010" with the highly acclaimed Montgomerie course as a welcome add on. If the weather is kind, we think that the course will look great on TV and will be a supreme test for both teams. The 2010 course is an amazing 7493 yards par 71 off the back tees and with water hazards in abundance, it looked to be a real risk and reward course that would be superb for match play. Even off the yellow tees, the course measured a daunting 6570 yards (5654 for Polly). We'd bought a Strokesaver course guide, but I have to admit the profusion of blue water on the hole diagrams was quite scary and I regretted not taking the precaution of packing some more spare balls in my bag! Concentration was also difficult, since we'd started behind a large group of 4 balls on a corporate day out. Still, at least during our 5 hours 20 minutes round we had time to study the course and imagine how some of the world's best real golfers might fare. We also wondered what would happen if the weather was unkind during the Ryder Cup, as the Usk Valley is apparently prone to autumn morning mist and rain.

We both hit some pretty good (and bad!) shots over The 2010, the highlight for me being a 7 iron at the 144 yard 10th. I'd never had a hole in one, but after waiting an age for the green to clear (yes, the corporate day outing again!), it was finally time to go for the small plateau green, with the hole towards the front on a gentle slope between 2 bunkers. Amazingly, I'd managed to hit the shot almost exactly as planned but the ball passed an agonising inch or so to the right of the hole and finished a couple of feet behind it. So nearly a very expensive shot, given the bar prices back at the hotel! Polly had also hit a good shot and the guys ahead had seen us play, so at least there was the consolation that there were reasonable players (still) behind them. But to be fair, the guys had bought us a drink half way round and kept apologising for the pace of play. I suspect that the feature hole is the 14th, a scary 365 yarder par 4 with water and bunkers to contend with. I managed a creditable bogey 5. Here's a few photos that hopefully give a flavour of the hole.
I also liked the 15th shown here (from the Montgomerie course) and the 18th but there are so many very good holes I don't really have the space or time to mention them all. I'd gone round in 93, net 83, with some wasted shots (and 2 lost balls) and again, just sneaked home ahead of Polly in our holiday Stableford.

Please, do not miss it if you ever get the chance to play this excellent course! It's expensive, but you won't regret it.

We were both pretty tired after the 2010, so when we were advised by the Course Ranger that the Montgomerie was extremely hilly and had long gaps between holes, we accepted his strong advice to take a buggy. That turned out to be a very wise decision as the Montgomerie is undoubtedly one of the hilliest courses I've ever seen or played. At 5863 yards par 69 off the yellow tees it's not overly long, but we were agreed that it was even more enjoyable than the 2010. The views are just amazing - go and see it for yourself, you'll not be disappointed. The view from the tee of the 584 yard 3rd is of a wide fairway between high pine trees and the hint of a downward slope at around 200 yards, but the views from the middle of the fairway (yes, I actually hit it!!) are simply superb, as shown here.

However, the highlight of my round had to be the 390 yard par 4 10th, a tricky downhill dog leg left, with a large pond in front of the green. If you zoom into this photo you'll see my ball, some 12 feet pin high. A hugely satisfying birdie followed and I ended up with another 93 (and a 3-0 lead, which knowing Polly's considerable golfing abilities as I do, might quickly disappear!)

Overall, the Montgomerie is a great test and was in superb condition. Play it if you get the chance. There's an amazing deal on at present £99 for a night in the 5 star Resort plus 2 rounds over the Montgomerie and the Roman Road course (which also looked pretty amazing). Celtic Manor is a long way from East Lothian but we had a great time and although there's many other courses in Scotland to play, we'd love to go back there sometime.

Dumfries and Galloway GC - course no 291

This was the first leg of the 2010 Polly v Alan golfing holidays matches, which are played on a Stableford basis over all of the courses we play during our various annual holiday breaks. We play for a small replica of the Claret Jug (which for the record is currently held by yours truly, though I have to admit that Polly usually wins). We were also planning to play at Celtic Manor (the 2010 Ryder Cup course and the Montgomerie course) and at Lockerbie, but more on those later). Dumfries and Galloway turned out to be a superb parkland course, full of variety and interesting challenges and at 5999 yards par 70 it's a good and fair test. The greens were in great condition, although slightly slower than at the Glen and overall, I thought this was an excellent course, which I'd recommend to anyone as a must play when you're in the area.

Polly had started brightly and was already some Stableford points ahead when we reached the 4th, a downhill par 3 of some 128 yards (for her). The greenkeeper stopped cutting the tee so that we could play and although it's always tricky to play in front of an audience, Polly hit a fabulous shot, almost holing in one and really impressing the greenkeeper, but sadly missed her short birdie putt! Meanwhile, I'd hit a dodgy hook, a neat lob wedge and sunk a fast downhill 20 foot putt for my par. It was to be that kind of round!
This is the 7th green, which I reached in a remarkable 8 shots. The 7th is a par 4 of only 394 yards but is aptly named "Devil's Elbow." The name alone should have told me that it might be wiser to avoid the right hand side of the fairway, but after a poor drive I was stymied by some trees and bushes. There was ample room to chip out of trouble and go for the green in 3, but no, I had to try for the tiny gap in the trees with a risky 7 iron. I finally holed out for a 10 with my third ball, thankfully managing to see the funny side of my "course management strategy." Some semblance of order was restored by a par 3 on the 8th and a great par 4 at the 401 yard 9th, the Stroke Index 1. This is a really tricky hole, with a large pond to the left of the green. The 10th is equally difficult and this is the view I had for my second, a tricky shot over another pond. As ever, half hit shots can be wayward and my 7 wood ended up to the right of the bunker, but a bogey here was acceptable. Holes 11-14 were also superb, but by the time we reached the 15th, a bout of stomach cramps had really set in (well, I'd been celebrating Rangers' latest league title the day before so it must have been something I ate!) and getting off the course in one piece became an increasing priority. That is my excuse for a poor 7 at the 16th and the speedy play of the last 2 holes. Thankfully, my drive at the 18th was straight and reasonably long, as shown below. After 2 bad holes (7 and 16) and a couple of 3 putts, I'd gone round in 90, net 80. Polly had also had some trouble on the back 9 and I somehow sneaked the match by a few points to go one up in our 2010 holiday competition. There was a long way to go and Celtic Manor was our next stop.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Falkirk Golf Club - course no 290

I'd played the Falkirk Tryst course in an office golf outing a couple of years ago, but at that time I'd not appreciated that there was another Falkirk course nearby. I'll be encouraging the office golf club guys to consider coming here sometime soon, because I thought that the Falkirk course at Carmuirs was amongst the best inland courses I've played in ages. I'd been due to play in the Falkirk GC's Seniors Open on 4 May 2010, but a late booking to caddy at Archerfield (well, the caddying cash helps to pay for my fuel etc costs!) meant I had to withdraw from that competition. I played the course the next day, and I'm really grateful that the Pro used his discretion to let me use my competition entry fee in lieu of the green fee that might otherwise have been payable.

Falkirk is a 5975 Yard Par 69 off the Yellow Tees and was in amazing condition, given the harsh winter just finished. There were a few residual signs of earlier flooding on some low-lying parts of the course, but the greens were almost perfect (only a tiny bit slower than I prefer) and by far the best of any inland course I've played this year. The contrast between Falkirk's greens and those of some other inland courses I've played could not be greater. Add in really well-designed holes and this course was an absolute joy to play. The greenkeeper here is doing a really great job!

There was a weekday men's medal on, but I started during a gap in the field and pretty much had the course to myself, taking care not to catch up a couple of guys some way ahead of me. This helped concentration and enjoyment but even a slow round here would have been great fun, such was the outstanding condition of the course. Here's what I thought was the feature hole on the front 9, a tricky 159 Yard Par 3 with enough stakes to confuse decision making. My 5 iron got almost to the top of the bank in front of the green, only to roll 20 yards back, but this was a great little hole.

The only surprising thing I found about the course was the rather odd stroke indexing. Balance is certainly needed in setting such indexes, but on the Front 9, Hole 6 was Stroke Index 2. This is a left dog leg Par 4 played to a shelved green with a steep grassy bank behind it. A good drive and a mid-iron played to hit the bank behind left me with a couple of putts for an easy 4. Similarly, Stroke Index 1 is the 192 Yard uphill 13th. As Par 3's go, it didn't look too tricky and a 7 wood to the side of the green left me with a pitch and a short putt for another easy par. By contrast, this is the intimidating view from the 15th tee. To be honest, the fairway is wider than it looks and you have to be pretty daft to find the fast-flowing stream indicated by the lateral water hazard posts. Daft I must be as that's where my tee shot went, quickly followed by a double bogey on the card.

The finishing holes at Falkirk are also really testing. The 17th is a 449 Yard Par 4, where I just missed a long putt and dropped a shot. The 18th, shown here is a 488 Yard Par 4 off the yellow tees and a 500 Yard Par 5 off the white tees. With out of bounds close on the left, water hazards to the right and across the fairway, and an audience watching from the clubhouse and practice putting green, this is a beast of a hole. I stumbled to a closing double bogey, but I suspect a par here is pretty rare for most mid-handicap players. Indeed, I intend to put together an 18-hole collection of difficult holes encountered during our challenge and this is a already a candidate. I'd gone out in 40 and come back in 42 for a net 72, some 3 strokes adrift from playing to my handicap. I'd had a couple of 3 putts as well so overall, a pretty good result. I'd strongly recommend anyone to play this excellent course. True enough some of the views around the course include the Falkirk Wheel (ingenious engineering but pretty ugly in my view), the back of an industrial estate and some railway tracks, but don't let that put you off. This course really is worth seeking out. I look forward to playing it again sometime.

Ralston Golf Club - course no 289

As Craig and Stu can testify, my golf has been pretty indifferent of late and it has to be said that I've been guilty of playing new courses to "tick a box" rather than concentrate on obtaining a good score. Accordingly, something had to be done and after a long practice session at my home course I tackled the medal on 1 May 2010 determined to concentrate better and avoid silly mistakes. After 5 holes things were not going well, as I'd somehow managed to drop 6 shots over the 4th and 5 holes. I staggered to an unlikely 45 at the turn but came back in 35, restoring some credibility and getting my handicap back down to 10. Polly had also played very well in a Glen ladies event the previous day.

So that was the backdrop to my visit to Ralston to play in a Mixed Greensomes event with Polly on 2 May 2010. No pressure, but we were cautiously optimistic. I guess that out of the Scottish 286 courses played previously, a handful had been in Mixed Foursomes or Greensomes events. Our ultimate golfing challenge is to play each course in Scotland, not necessarily play every single shot on each course. Although it is obviously better to play every shot, playing in a Foursomes or Greensomes event still counts as having "played the course." So Ralston joins a pretty short list, alongside Braehead, Largs, Cruden Bay (where we won!!!) and one or two others that I've only played with Polly in a Foursomes or Greensomes format.

Ralston turned out to be a really good course, which we both enjoyed playing. The Match Secretary told us before we started that the greens had suffered badly over the winter. However, such problems were clearly out of the club's control and whilst the greens were a bit bumpy and slow, it was obvious that this was a temporary problem, as the course and clubhouse oozed quality. We were really impressed by the welcome we had and the overall quality of the course and we really enjoyed playing with Dougie and Marie, both local members. One interesting hole after another and great use of elevation changes in the design meant that Ralston threw up surprises and really interesting challenges at each turn. We'd been doing OK over the first few holes and there was a bottle of whisky riding on nearest the pin at the 7th, a downhill 201 yard par 3. This is me carefully lining up my 7 wood tee shot. As Dougie commented later, mixed greensomes can be a real test of a couple's relationship, but we try not to take it too seriously and by now we're well used to the vagaries of each other's games. Suffice to say that there was no free whisky after my tee shot, which barely made it halfway to the green. We found Polly's drive after some searching, but we ended up with a double bogey. My fault. We'd limped out in 45, not great, but pretty passable. Keep it up and our final score would be mid-pack and respectable.

Our favourite hole at Ralston was the 11th, a 176 yard par 3, as shown here. I'd been having difficulty with my alignment and it was no great surprise that my tee shot ended up 10 yards to the right of the green, with a bunker between the ball and the pin. Polly had ended up in the front bunker, so I opted to play from there. I got the ball out OK, but we 3-putted for another double bogey. We managed a good par at "Leverndale" the 309 yard 12th hole, named after a former mental hospital that used to stand on the horizon at the end of the hole. I'd been brought up only a few miles away and had known the hospital (somewhat uncharitably!) as the "Hawkheid loony bin" so it was quite bizarre to see it redeveloped so impressively.

Sadly, the standard of our (or as Polly might testify, my) golf deteriorated as the back 9 progressed and we ended up with a gross 96, net 80. Still, we'd enjoyed ourselves and I'd love to play this course again. Ralston is a really interesting course, not long, but tricky for all that and I'd recommend it to anyone looking for a game in the area. Craig and Stu haven't played it yet, so who knows, I might even try to play it with them as our challenge continues its merry way around Scotland. However, I'd want to play the second shot at the last hole properly next time. Polly had put her great drive onto a flat lie in the middle of the fairway, but can you see the pink cherry trees by the clubhouse, with bunkers between them and the green, with out of bounds nearby? I'm afraid so! We ended up with a triple bogey, so my target next time will be to get a 4 at the last.