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.