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.