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.

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