Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Dunning Golf Club - course no 314

I played this short 9 hole, 2199 yard (off the yellow tees) par 33 course on 29 June 2010 after my round at nearby Whitemoss. Dunning is generally pretty flat apart and is a very easy walk. This is the 1st hole, a drivable par 4 of only 252 yards. As at Whitemoss, I hit a tree but managed a par with a good single putt. I almost went out of bounds on the long par 3 2nd after a sliced 3 wood but ended up completely stymied by a tree (take me back to links courses!) and ended up with a double bogey. The 3rd was a silly short 242 yard par 4, protected only by bunkers to the front left of the green. I found a bunker but still parred the hole, but was less lucky on the 4th and 5th, where bunkers cost me a bogey each time.

I thought the 6th was Dunning's best hole and a worthy Stroke Index 1. At 311 yards, it's actually the longest hole on the course and is a gentle dog leg left, slightly uphill. The second shot is completely blind, with trees, bushes and out of bounds immediately behind the green. I hit an easy 9 iron to 15 feet short of the hole, but missed the birdie putt. By then I'd caught up with a couple of local members and spent a few minutes practising my putting. The green slopes upward from front to back and from above the hole was scary fast, so I guess being short of the hole was the right play.

I also found bunkers at the 7th and 8th for further bogeys but just missed a really serious sand pit on this, the last, a good downhill 290 yard par 4. The pair in front were going round again and asked me whether I wanted to play though. I was seriously tempted as there were a couple of bunkers I'd missed first time round, but declined their kind offer, as I'd only paid for 9 holes. Dunning is an enjoyable walk and well worth a visit. The club is also one of the main social hubs of the village and is currently building an ambitious and very attractive new clubhouse. I hope to visit Dunning again sometime once the new clubhouse is open.

Whitemoss Golf Club - course no 313

I played at Whitemoss near Perth on 29 June 2010 on yet another hot and sunny day (and again forgot the sun tan cream!). Whitemoss is an 18 hole parkland course, measuring 5639 yards, par 69, off the yellow tees. Whitemoss is easy walking, though the side slopes of some modest hills come into play on the front 9, adding to the interest (and difficulty!) of the course. The fairways are also pretty narrow, but the rough was short, so missing the fairways wasn't really a problem on most holes. I'd bogeyed the first couple of holes after missing the greens in regulation, but was really pleased to get away with another bogey at the 3rd, a 438 yard par 4. From the tee, it's obvious that the hole is a right angle dog leg, but it was tricky to judge the distance to the corner, since all you see is trees to the right and a hill some distance ahead, with the 8th green shelved into it. I suspect the right club would have been a 5 iron, but my 3 wood cleared the 8th green and was almost out of bounds. Where was the usual duff to the right that would have saved me from apologising to the threesome approaching the 8th green? My 9 iron recovery shot hit an out of bounds fence and rebounded back into play, leaving me here, some 150 yards short of the green, with a water hazard in front and out of bounds behind and to the right of the green. Thankfully, a solid 7 found the green and 2 good putts meant I'd only dropped a single shot.

I also made a mess of the 8th, an innocent looking 315 yard par 4. The fairway was even narrower than others, with a line of trees up the left side separating it from the 5th. Both fairways were on the side of a hill, so the plan was to knock the ball up the 5th and let it run down beyond the line of trees. I discussed this idea on the tee with a local member who had waived me through and should have taken more heed of his doubts and the advice that the green was tiny and was almost impossible to hold unless the approach was from below the green itself. I hit a decent drive but was blocked out by the line of trees. I should have played my next back onto the 8th fairway, leaving a simple wedge up to the green. Instead, I stuck to the 5th fairway strategy and had an almost impossible lob wedge from above the green which, as I'd been told, duly ran through the green. I managed a double bogey and made a mental note to listen more carefully to advice from local members in future! Some credibility was restored on the 9th, the Stroke Index 1 hole, a 588 yard par 5 (617 yards from the medal tee!). A good drive and a couple of 7 woods almost made the green but an excellent pitch and run and a single putt rescued the par. I was out in 43, but as I'd only had 13 putts my outfield play was clearly not at its best and my course management was pretty woeful.
Whitemoss probably has the greatest difference I've yet seen between the longest and shortest holes. The 8th is 588 yards, but the 13th, as shown here, is only 95 yards, a difference of almost 500 yards. I'd not really thought about that contrast before, but since the previous par 3s at Whitemoss had been 193, 160 and 197 yards, the tiny 13th comes a complete surprise. Since the course was so dry and sun-baked, this hole was also extremely difficult. The green sits on a small shelf with a deep bunker in front and gorse bushes behind. Banking immediately behind the green looks as though it acts as a back stop, but since that ground is rock hard, chances are that a ball would simply bounce through to the thick gorse. There are probably many ways to tackle the hole, from a pitch and run in off the hill to the right of the green, or a solid sand iron played with some spin to hold the green (aye right, Alan!). Instead, I opted for the somewhat unconventional sh--- into high rough way right, a lucky lob wedge around the banking and a couple of putts for a bogey. The course was quiet around me and my embarrassment had not been witnessed. I'd found an old Pinnacle (a poor choice when spin was required!) in my bag so I went back to the tee, determined to par the shortest hole I'd seen for a long time. I hit another sand iron and the ball certainly hit the green this time but bounced on into the gorse, where it will doubtless lie until some desperate soul with skin like leather finds it. I hope his find is worth the effort. There is ample space behind and to the right of the 13th to lengthen the hole, but I also hope that the club never considers such a move, since although the hole is quirky and silly short, it is great fun to play!

There are many other good holes at Whitemoss, but my favourite was the 14th, as shown here, a scarily narrow 256 yard par 4, with a water hazard some 200 yards off the tee, ready to swallow anything mishit. I cleared the hazard, but my short pitch was uphill, with only the top of the flag being visible. The green is also on 2 levels, but a good pitch and a 20 foot putt yielded a rare birdie (for me anyway!) I also made a 50 foot putt (Craig - witnessed by 2 guys I'd caught up with) on the next hole for a bogey after yet another collision with trees. However, my scoring had been better on the back 9 and a bogey/par finish on the last 2 short pars 4s would get me to net par. There's tons of room on the right from the 17th tee. All you need to do is avoid a line of skinny looking trees to the left. What do I do? I'll spare you the details, but you'll be right to think that wood was involved. Double bogey and an easy par up the 302 yard 18th meant I'd gone round in 80. Not bad, but with only 28 putts my newly regripped Ping Anser 4 (did it myself!) took most of the credits. Whitemoss was in really good condition and was an interesting layout, well worth a visit.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Glenrothes Golf Course - course no 312

I played the excellent Glenrothes Golf Course on 24 June 2010 on yet another hot and dry sunny day. This was the last of the 7 municipal courses operated by the Fife Council that I had to play and I must say, the Council does a fantastic job to promote golf in local communities through these courses. Glenrothes Golf Course is a 6223 yard par 71 moderately hilly parkland course. I can't remember the details now, but on a previous trip to play in Fife I'd been discussing courses generally with a local golfer when the subject turned to hilly courses. I'd mentioned a few that are pretty hilly, but these were dismissed by the comment "just wait until you play Glenrothes, that's really hilly." Either that was a wild exaggeration or I must be getting fitter, because I thought that apart from a couple of hills, Glenrothes was pretty easy walking. This is a view of the 1tth,12th and 13th fairways, the most physically demanding section of the course.

The Starter had kindly put me together with a 3-ball of local players since the course was quite busy. Andy, Craig and Jock were great company and we had a good game together, with Craig and I just sneaking a victory over his other pals. Glenrothes was playing pretty short, like all other Scottish courses affected by the recent weather, so scoring should have been easy, particularly since the greens were also in very good condition and had been well watered. However, it was pretty much bogey time on the front 9 for an outward 42 (7 over), the only real highlight being the 6th hole a par 5 of 564 yards. This hole is pretty flat, but with the wind behind and a dry fairway, a good drive and 3 wood meant I'd only a 20 yard pitch and run to the flag. That shot stopped a couple of inches a way, so I had an easy birdie on Glenrothes' longest and best hole.

A mishit drive on the tricky 357 yard 13th led to a double bogey, but at least I parred the hole with my second ball. We'd been playing nearest the pin on the greens at the par 3s for £1 a head, but such was the moderate standard of the golf that no -one was out of pocket by the time we got to the last par 3, the 160 yard 15th, as shown here. This hole was played from an elevated tee into a strong head wind, but luckily my 7 wood hit and held the middle of the green, so that was another £3 into the Cancer Research UK kitty. Funny how golf quickly brings you back down to earth though, as my drive at the next hole sailed wildly out of bounds!

The last hole at Glenrothes is called "Hell's End" as if to suggest that "you've suffered enough, now it's finally over!" The 18th is a good finishing hole which, though only 359 yards, plays much longer, as the second shot (and the walk to the green!) is steeply uphill. There is also a stream cutting across the fairway about 200 yards from the tee, a lateral water hazard to the left and woods to the right, so there's lots of scope for a weak finish. Thankfully, I'd not even noticed the stream and good straight drive, an easy 8 iron and a couple of putts meant I'd finished with a par. My 86 total, net 76, was 5 adrift of par, but I'd lost a couple of balls and 3 putted the 14th, so overall, the result wasn't too bad. I'd really enjoyed the course and met some good guys, topped up the tan and won another few quid for the cause, so a good day on a very good course.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Dumbarton Golf Club - course no 311

I played this good and interesting course on 17 June 2010 with Grant, our son in law and father of our now 2 grandchildren. Polly had been due to play but had strained her back lifting our 2 year old first grandchild. This was Grant's first game for a while, but he soon got his swing back, largely thanks to some excellent tips from Peter, a local member who had joined us for the first 7 holes and saved us from getting lost on a couple of occasions. Dumbarton is a flat and easy walking 5724 yard par 70 parkland course. We'd played it after a long dry and hot spell of weather (yes, in Scotland!) and the day got progressively hotter as we played. Like many clubs in the west of Scotland, Dumbarton is more used to dealing with too much rather than too little water, so with no fairway or greens sprinkler system in place, the course was really dry. In fact, some of the greens were showing signs of real stress. The greenkeeping staff were all out watering the greens as much as possible, but with only a water bowser to hand, they clearly had their work cut out to get sufficient water onto the course during the current dry and hot weather. This is a photo of Grant on the 16th fairway, with the greenkeeper hard at work in the background watering the green.

I'd started very poorly with a wild hook off the 1st tee, converting a straight easy looking 319 yard par 4 into a dog leg with blind second shot over high trees to a green protected by a water hazard to the front. A scrambled 7 was disappointing, but all I deserved and bogeys on the next 3 holes added up to a very hesitant start. Some pars and bogeys followed, but I'd used all of my handicap in the first 9 holes, going out in 44 to the par of 34. Still, we were enjoying the course, which despite being very flat is interesting, thanks to good design, water hazards and an abundance of mature trees lining the fairways. Here's a typical view (the 17th green).

Thankfully, my game improved slightly on the back 9, which I did in 40 for a total of 84, less 10, net 74. So, with some dodgy ball striking I'd gone round in 14 over. I'd also parred the last, a scarily narrow 329 yard par 4 requiring a long and accurate drive over a swamp, as shown here. There is a fair gap between the back of the green and the houses behind, but my 9 iron had to be very carefully played to avoid trouble. One of the houses had just been sold, so I hope the new owners enjoy the view of the course (and have toughened glass in their windows). Dumbarton is a very good course, well worth a visit.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Kilmarnock (Barassie) Golf Club - course no 310

Polly was busy looking after our granddaughter on 16 June 2010, so I had the chance to play another new course before visiting Kirsty and her new son in Hospital later in the day. I'd booked to play at Ayr Bellisle but my sat nav crashed en route and Bellisle is not the easiest to find without that guidance, so I had to find another course. Fortunately the Ayrshire coast is blessed with an abundance of quality courses. I knew vaguely how to get to Barassie so that's where I ended up. Kilmarnock (Barassie) has a championship course that has hosted final qualifying for the Open Championship and many other important tournaments and is now a 27 hole complex, used in different configurations through the year to allow maintentance and improvements. This results in the club being able to offer its members and visitors three 18 hole layouts with an additional nine available for play. The Championship layout is the Barassie Links with a Par 72; the Traditional Course is played over the original 18 holes with a Par 71 and the less frequently used third layout, The Dundonald, offers a shorter but equally challenging Par 69. I played the championship layout over the Barassie Links course, a Par 72 of 6484 yards off the Yellow tees. The Links Course, as re-built in 1997, now consists of 9 holes from the Traditional Course and 9 newer holes. If this sounds confusing, it's really easy to plot your way around, thanks to excellent signage. Given the location of the 9 holes added in 1997, the Barrassie Links course involves play on 3 separate sections of the complex, with well-signed pathways between holes 3-4 and 12-13. Although all of the holes are links in nature, there is an obvious difference in design and construction between the "Traditional" and "1997" holes. However, this doesn't detract at all from the enjoyment and I thoroughly enjoyed playing the Barassie Links course, which was in absolutely amazing condition, with firm and fast running fairways and greens.

I'd arrived in good time to tour the excellent clubhouse, containing an impressive display of trophies, paintings and antique clubs etc and absorb something of the history of this famous old club. I'd also tried the practice putting green and was really looking forward to playing the course. The Barassie course starts with a 501 yard par 5 running parallel to a railway line followed by a 376 yard par 4, both of which I parred after reaching the greens in regulation and taking a couple of putts each time. However, any sense of comfort was soon removed at the 3rd, a 365 yard par 4. I'd split the fairway with an excellent drive avoiding the out of bounds that runs down the right of the hole and had a 7 iron to the green. The green was well protected to the right by a bunker and trees so I tried to run the ball in from a bank to the left of the green, skirting some bushes. I was only marginally offline but lost my ball somewhere in those gorse and whin bushes and ended up with a 7. The 400 yard walk to the 4th did nothing for my composure. Did I have enough golf balls if even a marginally offline shot was so heavily punished? Should I risk another new ball or use an older one? And was it really such a good idea to take only a couple of energy bars onto the course?
The 4th was a great little 149 yard par 3, made all the more remarkable by the deer running across the hole just as I took this photo from the tee. If only my timing off the tee had been as good, as my 7 iron was pushed slightly, missing the green to the right. Still, an excellent recovery lob wedge left me with a tap in for par. At least I'd avoided the water hazard, where I'd later see some other visitors come to grief. Note how dry the course looks on this photo. If there are any readers who have yet to play a Scottish links course in dry summer weather, just add 40-50% to your normal distance for each club in your bag, throw in the odd crazy bounce and get up to 10-12 on a stimp meter on the greens and you're getting there. Factor in the wind and our links courses can become maddeningly tricky! Thankfully, there was no wind when I played the Barassie but even so, scoring was difficult. I'd struggled to the turn in 43, having parred 4 holes and although I also parred the 10th, that was as good as it got, amidst a flurry of further bogeys (or worse!) as my score melted away in the heat.

I thought the best hole on the course was the 13th a 355 yard par 4, with a water hazard running all the way down the right, with the fairway banked to allow any ball hit remotely near the hazard to roll into it. I flirted with that ditch twice on my way to double bogey, a score I'd also take on the 16th and 17th holes. I'd also run out of dry gloves by then and was pretty tired, putting it politely. In fact, I've decided that energy bars don't really do it for me. I'd hauled myself onto the 18th tee, needing a rare par to enable me to break 90. The 18th is a 365 yard par 3 dog leg right (at least it was the way I played it!). After a decent drive my 8 iron went an unimpressive 50 yards (I blame the wet glove!) The last hole finishes away from the main clubhouse windows but near enough to the Pro Shop windows to require me to sneak past, head down, given my scrambled bogey for a disappointing 90, net 80 or net 8 above par. I'd really enjoyed the course, hit a few good shots and some less memorable ones, but this is a seriously good course, which I'd strongly recommend to anyone. I don't know when I'll get back to Kilmarnock (Barassie) GC to play the other course configurations that are available and would score as different courses under our Scottish golfing challenge, but I'm certainly looking forward to it.

Strathendrick Golf Club - course no 309

I played this excellent 9 hole moorland course on 15 June 2010 after all of the excitement earlier at Helensburgh. Strathendrick is a lovely little course, measuring only 2399 yards from the yellow tees, with a par of 33. The course is on the road to Drymen from Balloch, at the south end of Loch Lomond. From the quaint little wooden clubhouse dating back to the opening of the course in 1901 (with original polished wooden panelling inside) to the mixture of interesting and well-designed and maintained holes, the course was a joy to play. The Starter advised me that the course was in great condition and that I was in for a treat, regardless of how I played and how right he was!

Strathendrick starts with an uphill 132 yard par 3, requiring the tee shot to be played in from a bank to the left of the green. The green was fast running so I was warned not to go direct for it. I took the Starter's advice, but found some rough to the left of the green, leading to a bogey. I'd been discussing the prospects for a midgie attack as we'd both noted the cloudy, hot, humid and windless conditions. My insect spray was in my other golf bag and my windcheater was in the car. Sure enough, the first swarm arrived as I walked through some trees to this, the second tee. The 2nd is a downhill 334 yard par 4 played from an elevated tee over a deep ravine and a first chance to get the driver out. I managed a solid par but any joy from that was quickly tempered by the poignant sight of a bunch of freshly cut flowers by the side of the ladies' tee at the 3rd hole. I remembered vaguely that a lady had been killed on the Strathendrick course some years ago by a stray golf ball. She was only playing the game we all love and my thoughts turned from our new grandson to the poor woman, her relatives and whoever had struck the ball. The 3rd hole is a short uphill par 4 of 268 yards lying between the 2nd and 4th fairways and vulnerable to anything wayward from those tees. The course was almost deserted when I played it, but this was a tight section that I was glad to get through. I bogeyed the 3rd, but had an easy par at the 4th, a 262 yard downhill par 4.

The 5th hole is a 348 yard par 4 and the Stroke Index 1 hole, for obvious reasons when you stand on the tee. A steep bank 150 or so yards out has to be carried, with woods on the left and out of bounds on the right. I'd just missed the narrow fairway and still had a long way to go, but by this time the humidity had got even more intense, the sweat was running into my eyes and the midgies had picked up my trail again. A double bogey there, a difficult par 5 to follow and I was wishing I'd refilled my water bottle before teeing off. The 6th is a 497 yard par 5 with great views of Ben Lomond and other local mountains. This is the view from the tee. I mishit my 3 wood second shot and somehow scrambled a bogey to lie 5 over par after 6 holes, but with 3 par 3's to finish the round, I was hopeful of rescuing a decent score. The 7th hole is a blind par 3 of 198 yards, played over a hill with out of bounds to the right and beyond the small green. I was happy enough with a bogey, having only just kept my tee shot on the golf course at the back of the green. The 8th is also a blind par 3, which 2 local elderly members assured me played far shorter than its 178 yards. Indeed, I was assured that a wedge (over the same ravine as at the 2nd hole) to the top of a hill about 60 yards away would run down the other side of the hill to the green. This seemed highly improbable and sure enough, my easy wedge shot stuck at the top of the hill, leading to much baffled discussion by the locals, who assured me that my next shot should be a putt (of around 120 yards!) I have to concede that these 2 old boys were right. I solidly hit putt went over the brow of the hill and ran all the way down the hill onto the green, but another bogey followed.

And so the last, a hole described in the course guide as "Arguably the best hole on the course, the hole is 193 yards long and follows the tree-lined curve of the River Endrick. With a greenside bunker and out of bounds to the right of the green [and behind it!] and accurate tee shot is not just a luxury, but essential." This is the daunting view from the tee. A solid 7 wood and I was just short of the green, but I took 3 putts from there for yet another bogey. I'd gone round in a disappointing 41, 8 strokes over par and somehow avoided being bitten during my first sight of midges this year. Strathendrick is well worth a visit!

Friday, 18 June 2010

Helensburgh Golf Club - course no 308

I played this excellent moorland course on 15 June 2010 on a momentous day for our family. Polly and I had gone over to Renfrew to look after our granddaughter while our eldest daughter was in hospital having her second baby by elective section. We knew the day of the operation in advance, so the best place for me as grandad was well out of the way, preferably on a new golf course. Thankfully, Helensburgh has good mobile phone reception! Polly phoned just before I teed off to say that Kirsty would be operated on within the hour, so although the course looked great, my mind wasn't really up to playing. One of those anxious times when no matter what you're doing, you want the time to pass quickly and the phone to ring (and for once, my mobile was switched on during play!)

Helensburgh is 5609 yards, par 69 off the yellow tees and is simply a superb course, well designed and maintained, with excellent views requiring only modest climbs. The fairways were lush and green and the greens were smooth and fast. This was clearly a course with a good greenkeeper and a ready supply of irrigation water to counter the recent hot and dry conditions. Helensburgh is clearly a quality course and offered me an outstanding welcome, from the pro to ordinary members. There was even a Lady Captain's Day starting just as I was finishing, with funds raised going to a local hospital specialising in cancer care, with all competitors dressed in school uniforms - quite a sight!

Anyway, my concentration was pretty poor, with a bogey or worse at each of the first 7 holes. Despite the outstanding views across the Clyde estuary to Arran and across Loch Lomond and the Trossach Hills, I was more concerned about events elsewhere. Then a short text message at 10.37 from my son in law "Baby born OK...more details to follow" (from which I rightly assumed that Kirsty was also OK). A double bogey at the 8th was next, but some semblance of order was restored by a first par on the 9th. I'd become a grandfather again and gone out in 44 (in that order!) The golf wasn't much better on the back 9, but that wasn't the point. I was simply playing on a good golf course with the sun on my back when something infinitely more important had happened. Accordingly, this will be a round that I'll never forget. I'd been waived through on the third hole by a friendly group of club members. Riley Robert Parker had been born at 09.50. Thinking back, I was playing the 3rd hole at the time.

There are some outstanding holes at Helensburgh, my favourite being this, the 165 yard par 3 11th, played from an elevated tee to a sloping green (away from the tee) well protected by bunkers. I took 5 after missing the green to the right and falling foul of the ridiculously slick green. The 12th is also good, being an uphill 282 yard par 4 dog leg left. The fairway falls away on the right, so my safe shot favoured the left side. However, that left my approach to the green blocked by high bushes, with the narrowest of greens tucked away in a dell between more bushes and trees. My blind sand iron over the bushes was well hit but only barely found within the 5 minutes (honest!). I managed a good (and rare) par with a long putt.

I subsequently caught up with Andy, a local member and we played the last 5 holes together. Andy was great company and quite rightly was proud of his club and the quality of the course. This is the excellent 139 yard par 3 16th hole, named "The Quarry." There is dead ground in front of the green which makes it difficult to judge the distance, but the hole looked to be far closer than 139 yards. I eventually settled on an 8 iron, but missed the green and took bogey. A good hole, but I'm really surprised that it's the Stroke Index 18 hole, as anything but a well hit shot risks a bogey or worse. The last hole at Helensburgh is simply magnificent, as shown here. This is a 389 yard par 4 requiring a well placed tee shot to an uphill fairway and a long second shot over a hidden gully to a large green on a shelf immediately below the clubhouse windows. I was too far back to go for the green from my poor drive, so an easy 7 wood to 80 yards was the plan. From there, my sand iron landed pin high and spun left towards the flag, finishing within a few feet. An excellent closing putt and I'd parred the hole, in front of a growing assembly of lady members dressed in school uniforms. This was a rather surreal sight and I began to wonder whether the excitement of the morning and the baking hot sun were taking their toll. Thankfully there was a simple explanation! Craig and Stu are in for a treat when they play here and I'd recommend Helensburgh to anyone. Great course, friendly members and a course that should not be missed in favour of the more famous courses nearby.
I'd gone round in 86, net 76 well adrift from the par of 69, but the day was all about this wee fella (and part of Kirsty's foot!), so welcome to your world, Riley.

Skelmorlie Golf Club - course no 307

I played this hugely enjoyable wee course on 14 June 2010 on my way back to Renfrew, where Polly and I were based for a few days. Skelmorlie Golf Club lies on the east side of the Firth of Clyde and is a short moderately hilly parkland/moorland course playing to 4746 yards, par 65, off the yellow tees. The course was in great condition with fast running smooth greens. It was a warm dry and largely sunny afternoon and although the course is quite hilly and physically demanding in parts, the clever design minimises the severity of the climbs. This is a view of the 1st green with the Bute and Arran islands in the background. The views to Dunoon and the Argyll mountains the north are equally impressive.

I'd started with an easy par at the 323 yard 1st but messed up on the second to take double bogey after a poor drive. Although a run of 7 consecutive 4s followed to take me out in 38, I was already 6 over par. I'd also been held up by a couple of guys who were having a bad time keeping their shots in play, and their bags seemed be getting lighter by the minute. I was finally waived at on the 10th, to let me play through (or to borrow some balls?). I never saw this pair again, even after a quick Coke at the 19th hole, so I trust that they made it back OK. My golf on the back 9 was pretty steady, but came badly unstuck on the short par 4 13th, a tight driving hole, with gorse on both sides. At only 275 yards, I should have played safe with my 7 wood, but my driver had been effective thus far, so out it came again. My second ball, with my 7 wood this time, helped to minimise the damage to double bogey, but what a waste of 2 shots. This is a view of the 14th green with the CalMac ferry from Wemyss Bay to Rothesay just visible in the background (I've many happy memories of working in the ferry business for much of my career, so it's always good to see one of CalMac's ships on my golfing travels).

I also managed a 38 on the back 9 for a 76 gross, net 66, or 1 over net par. For most of the round the only sounds were the occasional skylark and sheep and with the weather being so kind and the course in great condition, I'd thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I'd also made it round (just!) before the midges came out to feed on unsuspecting golfers! I'd recommend Skelmorlie as well worth playing. The views are superb and there are some really good and interesting holes, such as this, the 17th, where your second shot to a 364 yard par 4 needs to find a tiny green. Maybe I'll be more successful next time, since I missed it by miles!

North Gailes Practice Course - course no 306

I played this 7 hole par 3 course on 14 June 2010 after my round over the main North Gailes course. I'd been advised that the practice course was at the end of the 300 yard driving range. 600 yards later, I realised that it was actually behind the range! Although the longest hole is under 100 yards, this course is actually quite difficult and being bordered by the driving range, clubhouse a restaurant and hotel, is quite claustrophobic. The course was even faster than the main course and the tiny greens meant that precision was vital. Scoring over the practice course could either be by strokes played or by a complex points system based on the golfer's ability. Each green had a target circle around the hole, with scoring based on which scoring zone was achieved, with penalties for losing balls, or going into bunkers or water hazards. I opted to play the course according to strokes played. I'd also not read the score card closely enough or even studied the lay out to realise that I'd only need a couple of clubs, hence this photo of the 40 yard 1st. I quickly tired of lugging my full bag around!

I managed to go round in 20, with good birdie putts on 5 and 6, but playing this course was quite scary. Some gentle applause from the nearby hotel balcony was welcome for the occasional good shot, but I was wary of doing anything daft in such a public arena. This is a side view of the 3rd. Looks simple enough to hit a green only 50 yards away and avoid trees, water, a bunker and rough, but with a sloping fast green, I was happy enough to bogey. The 5th hole is around 70 yards, with a pond to the left and clubhouse windows within a few feet of the green, lying behind some bushes and trees. Indeed, I had to walk forward to check that this was the shot that I was expected to hit! My lob wedge came up short, but I chipped in for an unlikely 2. The last hole was equally tricky. Around 70 yards to a tiny elevated green, with a windows (and faces!) seemingly only a few feet beyond. I managed an easy wedge to the green after convincing myself not to thin the shot. Scary stuff. I'd escaped with a 1 under par and avoided breaking any windows. This is an entertaining little course, but don't go thinking it's easy.

North Gailes Golf Course - course no 305

I played the North Gailes course early on 14 June 2010 at the start of a very eventful 4 day trip to play some West of Scotland courses. North Gailes has 9 holes and 2 sets of tees, yellow and red and measures a short 4445 yards in total, with a par of 65 and a more realistic standard scratch score of 62. Being adjacent to the excellent Glasgow Gailes and Western Gailes links courses, North Gailes has a links feel and appearance and was running incredibly fast due to the recent hot and dry weather. This is a view of the clubhouse, adjacent hotel and golf shop. I'd waited until a ladies 4 ball cleared the 1st green before teeing off. Just as well, since my drive finished within an easy lob wedge of the green. The 1st was 320 yards, so that gave me a clue that the course would be silly fast. An easy wedge at the 2nd held the green, but I 3 putted from 20 feet. I'd regripped my putter the previous day with a softer grip which might take some getting used to!

The ladies kindly let me play through on the 3rd tee. The 3rd is a 307 yard right dog leg. I managed a fade off the tee, but even so, I was nearly out of bounds to the left of the green, such was the dryness of the course. This is the 92 yard 5th hole, aptly named "The Lob." The green is quite shallow and undulating but I managed a long putt for birdie after a good sand iron had held the green. Another birdie followed at the 6th, a 433 yard par 4 so my newly regripped 20+ year old Ping Anser 4 was on good form. I'd got to the turn in 34, only 2 over par but to be fair, I like fast greens and the course was playing pretty easy and amazingly short.
The back 9 is even shorter than the front and although the 15th stretches to 505 yards and is a par 5, it should have been reachable in 2. I scrambled a par there and at this, the 290 yard par 4 16th. I needed a par on the 89 yard 18th for a gross 68. An easy sand iron came up just short of the elevated green and I took bogey for a 69, net 59. Not too shabby, but North Gailes is not a difficult course and was playing pretty easy. Sterner tests lay ahead in the next few days.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Minto Golf Club - course no 304

I played this excellent parkland course near Hawick on 10 June 2010. I'd not thought to book, as village courses are usually pretty quiet on Thursday mornings, but as it was the Hawick Common Riding that day, it was a local public holiday and the course was very busy. A visiting party of senior golfers was about to go out, so the steward/starter very kindly took me down to the 14th tee, where a couple of local members, Gerald and Gordon (both retired school headmasters), were about to start their game. I was delighted to accept their invitation to join them and thoroughly enjoyed their company and the crack on the way round. Minto is a short 18 hole parkland course of only 5393 yards off the yellow tees, with 4 par 3s, 13 par 4s from 255 to 414 yards, and a solitary short par 5 of only 476 yards. The course is only moderately hilly and looked to be in fine condition. There had been heavy rain for the past few days, and my playing partners advised me that the course was playing longer than usual, with very little run off the drives. As it turned out, the course had stood up well to the rain, but the greens were really slow. This was a mixed blessing, since I 3-putted 2 of them from no great distance. On the other hand, their slowness kept me out of trouble when I got out of position, so I'm not complaining!

Since we had started at the 14th, I'll continue from there too. The 14th was a downhill slight dog leg 393 yard par 4, with a blind second shot. I missed the green to the left, but rescued my par with a good pitch and a decent putt. At the 15th, a ridiculously slow downhill putt from just off the green led to a bogey 5. Likewise at the 16th, where I 3 putted from under 20 feet. This is a view of the excellent clubhouse from the 18th green. I'd done the first 5 holes in 2 over par. Could a decent round be taking shape, despite the odd mistake and slow green? The shortness of the holes meant that even a poor drive would not be a serious problem, but I was continuing to hit fairways and greens. I bogeyed the 1st, 3rd and 7th, but even after missing a series of putts for birdies, I was only 3 over for holes 1-9. This is the 161 yard downhill 4th, missed from 15 feet after a good 6 iron. Worse was to follow at the 166 yard par 3 6th, where I missed a birdie putt from under 6 feet. Still, I was happy enough hitting irons well for a change after some struggles earlier in the year with the dreaded unmentionables.

I'd hit a decent straight drive at the 245 yard 10th and had only a flick with a lob wedge to the flag, over a greenside bunker. However, a poorly hit shot left me at the back of the green, with a 30 foot downhill putt that in drier conditions would have been almost impossible to hold short of the bunker I'd flirted with earlier. A poor 3-putt followed for a silly bogey on an easy hole. Still, I was only 6 over after 14 holes. Sadly, I missed my second fairway of the round at the 11th, trying to blast a drive from an elevated tee when a more easy swing would have done. The 11th is a 369 yard steeply downhill par 4, but I bogeyed the hole after finding a bad lie in the rough from the tee. And so to the 12th, aptly named "Everest" a 255 yard steeply uphill par 4. This is the view from the tee, which I'm afraid doesn't do justice to the hill that awaited us. The rough in front of the tiny green is kept long to hold balls on the slope, but from close to the green the upslope is silly steep, with only the top of the flag visible. Thankfully, my lob wedge finished short of the pin, leaving me an uphill 15 foot putt. A 10th par on the scorecard, with only the 301 yard par 4 13th to come. I hit a really good drive and had only a short iron to the green, which I pulled left from an awkward upsloping lie. However, a good pitch to 4 feet gave me a good chance to save par. Gerald and Gordon had similar putts, but we all missed to the right. Still, I'd gone round in 77 in total, with 10 pars and 8 bogeys. I'd had 31 putts, including a couple of 3 putts and made some silly mistakes, as you do on a strange course. Still, It's a long time since I've avoided a double bogey or worse, or a 6 on my card. A net 67, 2 under net par was pretty good. My playing partners had been great company and I'd really enjoyed the course. Minto may be short but you need to find the fairways and stay below the holes. I'd recommend Minto to anyone. It's maybe a wee bit too far out for outings from Edinburgh but I'll still be suggesting this as a possible office golf club outing for 2011.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Dundonald Links - course no 303

Craig, Stu and I played Dundonald Links on 4 June 2010 on another blisteringly hot day (well, 25 degrees, clear sun and no wind). I'd been to an excellent dinner in Glasgow the night before and had only a couple of hours' sleep and the guys had also had a late one after their own 100th course the day before, so we were not at our freshest for our 0930 hrs start. Dundonald is the sister course to the world famous Loch Lomond course and was designed by Kyle Phillips, the architect who created the fantastic Kingbarns course. At Dundonald, most of the holes are screened from others by the contours of the land, so it felt as though we had the course to ourselves. Indeed, we only met the 4 ball who'd started 10 minutes after us when we came off the 17th green (though they were still on the 12th tee at the time!) Even before we started playing, it was obvious that the course was in great condition and Craig and I jumped at the chance to play off the medal tees. From there, Dundonald is a 6725 yard par 72, (with a standard scratch of 74). Stu played off the White tees, which at 6340 yards in total, still provide a stiff test. I'd played pretty well at Prestwick the day before, despite not scoring very well, and that pattern was to continue at Dundonald. Another feature at Dundonald is the large undulating greens, which we found were slower than we'd expected. Indeed, our first few holes were pretty forgettable for that reason. I started with a Boeing (747) for the first 3 holes, a couple of strong par 4s and a 530 yard par 5. My third 3 putt of the day was on the 4th, a tricky 195 yard par 3, with a silly pin position hard against the left of the green on a slope.

Craig and Stu were also having their problems, but full credit to Stu for hitting the shot of the day. The 6th hole was a 135 yard par 3 for Stu. This is the view from the tee, with a stream to the left and front of the green and the green half-hidden by gorse bushes (does anyone think this ugly and prickly plant adds anything to links courses?) From the tee, the footbridge to the front of the green is tiny, but Stu's topped tee shot trundled all the way, clearing the path and running onto the bridge. The bridge is at an angle to the tee but Stu's ball bounced off the runner boards at the sides of the bridge and ended up just short of the green. An eventful bogey for Stu, but he really should have bought a lottery ticket after such a spawny (sorry Stu, I meant masterfully skilful) shot. I managed my second par of the day at that hole, but my putting woes continued and I was out in a disappointing 49, having hit almost every fairway with good straight drives. The back 9 was just as tricky, with a string of excellent holes with hidden problems. We'd forgotten to buy a course guide, but after negotiating the narrow 370 yard par 4 13th, with out of bounds (the main railway line) all the way up the left side, Craig and I narrowly missed the water hazard and bunkering that protects the green, as shown here. I overhit a lob wedge in an effort to clear the stream and the bunker, so a poor 7 was my reward. The railway line also features on the par 3, 205 yard 15th. As we commented at the time, the short stretch of line probably has the greatest concentration of golf courses anywhere in the world, including those at Troon, Barassie, Gailes and Irvine. For the golfing tourist arriving by rail, this must be a journey through golfing heaven. This is where my drive ended up, just short of the green. However, this photo does not do justice to the slopes around this green or the cavernous bunkering that Craig had found to the left and 30 or so feet below the green itself. Craig made a great bunker shot and ended up with a bogey, but I took another 4 to get down, after yet another 3 putt.

Bearing in mind the Standard Scratch Score of 74, I should have gone round Dundonald in 84. I'd already taken 89 after 17 holes, but a par up the last, a 545 yard par 5, would be respectable enough. I'd made a few mistakes and struggled on the greens, but I'd played well of the tees. Confidence was high, so where on earth did the fade that took me into some impenetrable gorse bushes come from? I blame the course management for leaving a longest dive competition marker on the tee and placing a marker improbably far down the fairway as a target, but seriously, the 18th is a tremendous finishing hole, so where better to record a tremendous 9? Even the approach shot to the narrow green has to negotiate a water hazard to the front and sides, so I'd have settled for a bogey. My 9 meant I'd gone round in 98, despite hitting the ball pretty well tee to green. I'd taken a ridiculous 40 putts, hardly the preparation I wanted for the medal competition at my own course the next day (I needn't have worried, as I played pretty well and got cut to 10.0). Overall, we thought that Dundonald was a really good course and I'd recommend it to anyone as a must play in an Ayrshire tour, where it stands well alongside many other superb links courses. I'd certainly want to play Dundonald again and hope that next time round the greens are as fast as they were at Prestwick.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Prestwick Golf Club - course no 302

Craig, Stu and I played the Prestwick course on 3 June 2010 at 1000 hrs. I mention the starting time because my 2 intrepid pals had already played 2 other courses that morning and had another 18 holes to play after Prestwick. What it must be to be young, fit and ambitious again. Prestwick was my 88th round since retiring on 29 January 2010, but I was content to do just the one round. After all, I'd a retirement dinner to attend in Glasgow that evening, so I needed to conserve energy and I'd certainly more than one further "round" in the day to plan for!

Prestwick was the original home of the Open Championship and has hosted the event 24 times, a number surpassed only by the Old Course at St Andrews. Prestwick is undoubtedly still one of the greatest courses in Scotland and a suitable venue to commemorate what would be my 300th Scottish course and the 100th played by Craig and Stu. We played Prestwick in perfect weather (23 degrees, clear sun and no wind). The Prestwick club were tremendously helpful in setting up our game and before going any further, I must thank the club for all of the arrangements, including the outstanding condition of the course, the weather and letting us out before a seemingly endless run of fourball visitors and their caddies. We weren't pressed from behind. Indeed, the fourball immediately behind us were just coming down the 15th as we left the car park after our visit to the 19th. Prestwick is obviously a "must play" for visiting golf tourists and whilst the resultant pace of play might occasionally be a problem for Prestwick members, those same members are highly privileged. I've already played some of Scotland's greatest courses, including the Old Course, Carnoustie, Loch Lomond, Kingsbarns, Muirfield and others, but I think that Prestwick is probably my favourite Scottish course so far. Quirky, complex, bizarre, unfair, amazing, silly and other less printable descriptors came to mind during the round, but my overall impression was one of sheer pleasure. If there's a reader of this blog who hasn't played here yet, I'd offer just one piece of advice. Play it and think yourself lucky to have the chance. The green fee is not for the faint-hearted, but Prestwick will present a challenge that is both formidable and subtle.

Prestwick is 6544 yards and a par 71 off the white medal tees that we played from. The par 4 1st hole is only 346 yards long, but looks improbably narrow off the tee, with a railway line and out of bounds all the way down the right. Stu and Craig had already carved their balls out of bounds, but although I'd hit a good drive, my wedge to the green had to avoid greenside bunkers. Here's the second shot I had. I decided to run my ball in off the left side, not realising that behind an innocent looking knoll lurked a devilishly deep bunker. I got the ball out, but the green was fast running, so a 7 was a disappointing start. The 2nd was a 167 yard par 3. My 5 iron found another hidden bunker, 10 feet to the left of the hole. An excellent sand iron to the top of the rise almost ran down to the hole, but trickled slowly back into the bunker. No problem, just a wee bit harder next time. Same result, back in the bunker. Still early in the round, no pressure, try yet again, same result. Play my 5th shot, hit the ball even firmer and it finally stays above ground. Miss a 15 foot putt, and I'm 7 over after 2 holes. There's a big black cloud in a hitherto almost cloudless sky and it's following me onto the 3rd tee. I try to stay composed but come on, level 7s after 2 holes, rated 11 and 17 on the Stroke Index? I was beginning to feel that it could be a very, very long day. The 3rd hole is simply magnificent. Shallow waste areas are commonplace in desert courses, but the scale and depth of bunkering on this hole is simply awesome. I played the hole well and escaped with a bogey. The 4th required a straight drive with a distant bunker as my target. I'll need to stop aiming at hazards, however far away they look, as the same ball that had found refuge at the 1st and 2nd had again ducked for cover. Still, at least I could hit the ball long and straight! A silly double bogey followed and my handicap had gone in the first 4 holes. A blind 206 yard par 3 (Stroke index 5) was next. Here's the view from the tee. Stu had been having an even more difficult start but if you enlarge the photo you'll see a white disc in the middle of the wooden wall topping the dune. Craig had suggested Stu aimed at the disc, but we hadn't expected such spurious accuracy. Stu managed to hit this target, no more than a foot wide, so I'll not be taking him on at darts any time soon. A bogey followed for Stu but I hit a decent 7 wood onto the green for my first par. However, that turned out to be the highlight of the front 9. I was out in 50, still had my first ball and was having a great time. My personal target, having been 81, had slipped to 99 or better!

Although my par at the 5th was looking increasingly lonely with each passing hole, I was at least avoiding real disasters on the back 9. I'd hit a really good drive at the short 362 yard 14th and had got it to 3 feet and here's Stu's approach putt to that green. Sadly, I just left my par putt short, an unlikely outcome, given the pace of the excellent greens. The 15th at Prestwick is called "Narrows" and is a fearsome prospect from the tee, with gorse (never good news!) on both sides, requiring a blind drive over a rise in the fairway. I hit what seemed to be a great drive up the left side. I'm not a great fan of hidden bunkers, but this beast was 30 feet wide and much the same depth below the fairway, but at least I'd a lovely view of the sky (and nothing else!) Another bogey followed and my search for a second par continued. The par 4 392 yard 17th ("Alps") was my favourite hole at Prestwick. I'd hit another really good straight drive and had an easy 6 iron over yet another sand dune. Thankfully, I was a few feet short of the summit of this dune, as this was what awaited on the other side. Bunkers that have 70 degree walls and flights of steps to get into are never going to be easy so I was delighted to escape with a bogey, avoiding this massive pit. At only 284 yards, the 18th is weak by modern standards, but Prestwick is not about such modernities. It's a course steeped in history, tradition and good old fashioned values. Play to your handicap here and you've done very well. I was happy enough to reach the 18th tee with the same ball I'd started with, despite issuing it with a couple of stern warnings about its tendency to favour bunkers to fairways. The 18th is only 284 yards, but since it's played in front of the clubhouse windows, the sense of theatre is akin to the 18th at the Old Course or at the many other courses where an audience is so obviously present. Thankfully, another good drive saw me only 20 yards short of the green. An easy par and I'd gone round in 94, net 84, or 13 over net par. We'd also had a great time and had played one of the best courses we'd ever played, anywhere. I've now played 300 courses and am almost halfway to playing every course in Scotland, and although there are many still to play, I'm certain that Prestwick will be in my personal top 5. Prestwick is no longer part of the Open Championship circuit due to crowd control and course length concerns, but it remains, for my modest playing ability at least, a supreme test. Complex and subtle, full of surprises, full of joy. Just play it. Please.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Innerleithen Golf Club - course no 301

I played at Innerleithen, a 9 hole, 3033 yard, par 35 parkland course near Peebles on 2 June 2010. Innerleithen is (thankfully) one of the flatter courses in the Borders and is great fun, with water coming into play on most holes. Accuracy off the tee is essential, as I was to find out. This is the view from the 1st tee. The 1st is a 177 yard par 3, played over the 3rd green, a stream, avoiding the (hidden) river immediately behind the green and the road bridge (out of bounds). Avoiding the many other distractions (cars, tractors, greenkeepers and other golfers) also helps to make a good early impression as a visitor. I sliced an opening 7 wood and ended up stymied behind a tree beside the 9th green, to the right of the photo. A good chip and a couple of putts and my first bogey of the day, but it could have been much, much worse.

The 2nd hole should be a pretty simple 343 yard par 4, but a river runs all the way down the right of the fairway and anything to the left runs into heavy rough. I missed the fairway to the left, so settled for a buried rather than wet lie for my second, but as the ball was also 18 inches or so below my feet on a side slope, I could only hack out back to the fairway and another bogey followed. The 3rd is played from an elevated tee and I took the friendly warning from another visitor not to try to cut the angle of the dog leg. The 3rd is a 474 yard par 4 and Stroke Index 1 (and also played directly into a strong wind), so a third bogey went onto the card. The 4th required a good long drive straight into the wind, avoiding the clubhouse (and my parked car!) to the right of the fairway. I got that bit right, but another by now predictable bogey. Surely I could par at least one hole. This is the 5th, a 100 yard par 3 that looked as though a lob wedge would be enough. However, the green is tiny and sits well beyond the front of a hill and is also 30 or so feet above the tee. Given the strong side wind, a solid wedge was required. I missed the 20 foot putt for birdie, but at least the run of bogeys was broken (or simply interrupted!) The 6th, shown below from the tee, is a really tricky 485 yard par 5, played directly into the wind. The road and anything left of it is out of bounds and the stream to the right of the fairway collects anything not dead centre. I hit a good drive, or so I thought, but a cruel bounce took the ball into the stream (a lateral water hazard). I also found the muddy bank of the stream in front of the green and almost holed a great 30 yard lob wedge from there, but yet another bogey followed. The 7th is a 180 yard par 3. A hit a good 7 wood into the wind to the side of the green and had a couple of putts for a par. The last couple of holes were downwind, so at least I finally had that in my favour. The 8th is a 525 yard par 5, with a river to the right of the fairway and the main road (not out of bounds this time) to the left. A couple of good woods, a wedge and 2 putts and a second successive par. The last hole is a 372 yard par 4, but with the strong wind behind, I only had an easy wedge to the green. If I'd aimed correctly, that is. I got the distance OK, but also managed to miss a greenside bunker. A decent pitch to within a foot enabled me to scramble a closing third successive par. I'd gone round in 40, 5 over par, not bad. Innerleithen was in really good condition and is an easy walking course, well worth a visit. But remember, the 5th is longer than it looks!