Monday, 26 July 2010

Aberfeldy GC- course no 329

Polly and I were due to play at the Spey Valley GC in Aviemore on 25 July 2010 but when we got there, we noticed a growing puddle under our car. This turned out to be only waste water from the air conditioning unit, but as we're not mechanically minded, we decided to head home rather than risk playing and getting stuck so far from home on a Sunday. As we had no warning lights appear on the dashboard, we decided to play at Aberfeldy on the way home, leaving Spey Valley for another day.
Aberfeldy is a lovely little course, located right in the heart of the village and at only 4903 yards off the men's yellow tees, par 67, is pretty short. I'd need to check carefully, but I think that Aberfeldy is pretty rare in being significantly longer over the ladies' Red Tees than off the men's Yellow tees. Polly was not amused. The course is also very flat, so is easy walking. However, it is far from easy, since water comes into play on 16 of the 18 holes, so there's lots of potential for lost balls and penalties, as we were to discover. I started with an easy 7 wood at the 170 yard par 3 1st hole, with the ball trickling agonisingly past the hole. The greens were even-paced but tricky to read, hence my missed birdie putt. I bogeyed the next 2 holes, both simple enough par 4s if you avoided the water (which I did). Here's the approach to the excellent 4 hole, a 492 yard par 5, played into a strong headwind. I parred the hole but my round at Aberfeldy was the typical curate's egg. After 7 holes I was only 3 over par and swinging well. I'm therefore not sure where the hooked drive on the 8th came from (or went!), but a triple bogey was the result. 9th hole, double bogey after another hooked tee shot. I misjudged the wind on the tight 10th hole, a long par 3 with AOB and water down the right, went AOB and had another triple bogey. It was a warm enough day, but by this time I was pretty getting more than a little frustrated. I'd hit a stonking drive down the middle on the 11th, a short 297 yard par 4 and had only half a sand iron to the green. Maybe that's what led to the sh--- towards yet another water hazard. Being annoyed by now, I dropped another ball, with the same result, even closer to the water. However, I wasn't going to be beaten and finally got the third ball onto the green, only to 2 putt from close range for an 8. Holes 8-11 had been played in 12 strokes above par, so my score was heading rapidly south.

Thankfully, my game returned just as quickly as it had deserted me on those holes and I birdied the short 291 yard par 4 12th hole. I should also have at least parred this, the 13th a narrow dog leg 299 yard par 4. I only had a short wedge to the flag, but completely overhit it, almost ending up in the water behind the green. A bogey there, but I also birdied the difficult 16th, 349 yards into the wind, with water in front of the green. Meanwhile, Polly had found water (again) on that hole and was quietly seething (something about a damned silly place to put a river). Regular readers will be familiar with my preference for final holes with some theatre to them, my aversion to car parks near greens and my occasional ability to sh--- with no advance warning. I'd commented to Polly when changing into our golf shoes before playing here that the last tee was alarmingly near the car park and that although it was only 100 yards, finishing right in front of the clubhouse (and the centre of the village!) the 18th looked pretty testing. This is the view from the tee, our car being the black Honda CRV. By the time I played, a small public gallery had appeared. Little did they know I'd been in good sh---ing form earlier in the round, but I played it cool, hit an easy wedge to within 6 feet and tried to give the impression I'd not been worried. For good measure, I even holed the putt, as shown here, but the ghouls hoping for a good laugh had just as quickly vanished from the scene. I'd gone round in 82, net 72 (5 strokes over the par of 67), so not bad at all, apart from the nonsense on holes 8-11. Aberfeldy is a good holiday golf course and I'd strongly recommend it. No frills, just a good local village club in great countryside surroundings. You'll also enjoy the 100 yard long suspension footbridge spanning the River Tay that splits the course. The bridge is incredibly springy, as you'll find out!

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Clydebank and District GC - course no 328

I played in the Gents Seniors Open at this excellent parkland course on 20 July 2010. Clydebank and District is a 5612 yard par 68 off the yellow tees we played over and is a gently undulating course, with no serious hills. Easy walking in normal conditions, but the forecast had been for heavy showers and right on cue, the skies opened as I got ready to play. Thankfully the torrent stopped before I teed off, but this only served to increase humidity levels, with the sun burning off surface water. I'd never thought of the West of Scotland producing near-sauna conditions, but boy, was it hot and sticky all through the round! This is a view of the first tee and clubhouse, as taken from the 3rd fairway.

Given all of the rain immediately before I teed off, the greens were really slow and on the practice green it had been difficult to even get the ball up to the hole. I'd been used to much faster greens of late and it took some time to get used to the pace (such as it was) and line of putts. Accordingly, I 3-putted three times on the outward 9 holes, with my only par (and single putt) being on this, the excellent 312 yard par 4 5th hole. My other excuse is that the club had run out of proper score cards. We were using a card with no hole yardages on it and in keeping with this being a Seniors' Open, I'd left the flimsy photocopy of hole yardages we were given in the car! The tee boxes had yardages, but since some of the holes are semi-blind (at least from where my drives went!) and the humidity was boiling my brain, club selection was a real lottery. Best example was the 9th, where my drive ended up in trees to the left of the fairway. This hole was steeply uphill so I could only see the top of the flag and the green looked to be a long way away. However, there was a gap in the foliage and I reckoned my 7 wood would be about right. Sure enough, my ball looked at the green on its way past, ending up on the other side of a steep hill in rough close to the 18th tee. The 9th turned out to be 280 yards, so I guess a wedge would have been the right club! I was out in a disappointing 46, with 20 putts and nowhere near contending.

My game improved on the back 9, and only a poor short pitch prevented me from parring the excellent 11th, a slightly downhill 437 yard par 4, Stroke Index 1, with out of bounds down the right and a narrow cambered fairway. I also came to terms with the greens, which ran a little faster as the course gradually dried out during our round. Indeed, I came back in 40 for a gross 86, net 76 and a mid-pack finish. I suspect the back 9 is the easier half, but even so, there are some tricky holes. How about this, the "view" from the 15th tee? The green lies 330 yards away, straight through the gap in the trees. There's out of bounds and a busy road to the right, and a pond over the trees to the left. I'd hit my drive to the left and narrowly missed the pond leaving myself with an awkward lie on the side of a hill. The green is hidden by another hill and there's some houses immediately behind the green, just to make it even more difficult. I sneaked a good par here after an excellent up and down from a greenside bunker.

The club had organised the event very well and had some excellent prizes for nearest the hole, including at this, the short 300 yard par 4 18th. I managed to get on in 2 OK and get my par but was well outside the closest measure. Still, at least I'd gone round with no sh---s and missed the houses that border the right side of this good little finishing hole. I was also soaking wet from the humidity but despite that discomfort, I really enjoyed the course. I'd recommend Clydebank & District as well worth a visit.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Braemar GC - course no 327

Polly played this excellent 18 hole moorland course on 11 July 2010 in the club's Mixed Greensomes Open on a cool and increasingly windy and wet day. At only 4935 yards par 64 off the men's Medal tees, this is an extremely short, flat and easy walking course. Being so short and compact, a round here should take well under 3 hours and as a holiday course, it sees a lot of visitors during the summer and is a strong focal point for the local village community. Winters in Braemar can be severe, even by Scottish standards, so I congratulate the local members and staff for keeping the course going and presenting it in such great condition. However, Braemar is no pushover, as water hazards have to be crossed 14 times during the round and come into play on various other holes. The 1st provides a gentle start, but with a river right behind the green to swallow anything overhit, extreme care is needed. The 2nd hole is by far the most difficult on the course, though only Stroke Index 2. Anything remotely sliced goes into the River Clunie and the second shot has to be long and straight to a small green perched on top of a hill. Anything right ends up in the aqua or trees, anything left is lost in gorse and heather. This is the view from the back of the 2nd green down to the tee. We had a double bogey here, and also made a mess of the 3rd, a 144 yard par 3 played to a small green perched on the side of a hill. We steadied a bit to play holes 5-9 in 2 over and got to the turn in 42 (against the par of 32). Here's the 6th, a 103 yard par 3, a good example of a short hole at Braemar that requires absolute accuracy off the tee. Accuracy and patience is needed to play here. Don't get suckered into blasting the ball off the tee. Just find the fairway, avoid the aqua and fiddle your way round quietly, enjoying the fantastic views up and down the valley and across the mountains and hills on either side. Take in the wildlife and have fun, because this is "just" a fun holiday course. And some further advice. Leave enough time to go round again. It won't take long and you'll enjoy it even more, once you know where you're going and where the trouble is most severe.

The weather took a turn for the worse on the back 9, with squally showers and gusting winds. One such gust lifted a park bench and tossed it aside and for 5 minutes, we were back in the storm at Fraserburgh. 5 minutes later, dazzling sun and flat calm. This is the 15th, where finally came to grief. The 15th is a 421 yard par 4, Stroke Index 1 and is simple enough until a bottleneck in front of the green, where a stream cuts across the fairway. We had avoided all of the other water hazards on the course but found this stream easily enough and
ended up with an 8. We'd also bogeyed the last, a 122 yard par 3 that plays longer than it looks, since the green is well above the tee. There's also a hidden gully at the back of the green, so be warned. We ended up with a gross 89, a poor score on such a short course.
If you ever play at Braemar, I'd be interested to have your comments on the layout. The current 18th finishes beside the greenkeeper's shed, out of view of the clubhouse. I'd prefer to see the course starting from the 9th tee and ending with the 8th, a good short par 4 of 253 yards that finishes in front of the clubhouse windows. This hole is actually quite tricky, as the river runs right in front of the tee and there's a smaller stream in front of the green itself. I prefer final holes that have some element of theatre to them and I think there's scope here for some re-ordering. Having said that, I'd still recommend this course as well worth playing.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Aboyne GC - course no 326

I played in the Men's Open at Aboyne GC on 10 July 2010 on a cool and showery day. Polly had played the course some years ago, so she caddied for me and was a great help (particularly in spotting where my ball went on some holes!) Aboyne is an excellent 18 hole parkland course and although relatively short at 6009 yards par 68 off the White medal tees, it's a stern test. The front 9 is pretty flat parkland but holes 10-13 are more moorland in nature, with tight bouncy fairways and lots of gorse and heavy, clinging rough. I'd been advised by the starter to make my score on the front 9 and hang on thereafter, taking what I could on the back 9. I started only reasonably well and was 3 over par after the first 4 holes. There was a prize for a birdie 2 and I only narrowly missed one on the 160 yard 4th hole, my 10 foot putt stopping an inch in front of the hole. At least I'd got it in line, as the greens were almost impossible to read. In my 3-ball, none of us holed anything of any distance and although the greens looked in great condition and were only of moderate pace, there were all sorts of borrows we didn't read. This is the view from the 5th tee, where my outward 9 really came unstuck. I'd hit a good drive, but a crazy bounce took the ball to the left of the fairway and I was blocked out by some trees. All I had to do was hook the ball around them and surely I could get no worse than a bogey on a 395 yard par 4. How I got a 7 I'm still not sure, but that lapse led to a stumbling 44 to the turn, including an outrageous sh--- on the 9th. I felt fresh enough, but this was my 11th round in 8 days. I'm pretty fit nowadays, having played well over 100 games since February, but I needed a real improvement on the apparently difficult back 9 if I was to make even the buffer zone.

Holes 10-13 came as an unwelcome surprise. The 10th is the longest holes at Aboyne at 512 yards, but plays much longer, being a right dog leg over a swamp and a lake. The tee shot can run out of fairway and the rest of the hole sits between gorse and a lake (used for water skiing, so noisy and a distraction to the relative peace on the course. I managed a good bogey, but took a double on the 11th, a narrow long par 4 played between rows of unforgiving gorse and heather. And then the rain started, here on the 178 yard par 3 12th. I'd hit a good tee shot, just short of the green and just missed a short putt for par. Another shot gone and the rain becoming heavy. The 13th is Stroke Index 1 and although only 419 yards off the back tee is a tough hole. The fairway landing area is small as the fairway throws anything remotely mishit away to rough on the right. The club had kindly provided spotters on holes 11-13 and it was hard not to feel for the bedraggled juniors perched amidst the wet heather/gorse and ferns, dodging our feeble attempts to find the fairway. At least we were all still midgie free, but I lost a ball and ended up with a 7. Then the rain stopped (now that my score was finally past recovery)and yes, my game improved, or more accurately, got less bad. I managed to play the last 5 holes in level 4s and single-putted the last 4 greens, for a total of 87, some 8 strokes above the SSS of 69. My handicap will be up 0.1 to 10.2 but I'd really enjoyed playing here. Aboyne was in great condition and was a good test. Perhaps I was too tired and i certainly took my time to get to grips with the greens. Aboyne is great value for money. I'd strongly recommend that anyone playing in the Norther-East includes this course in their programme. If you do, please feel free to take revenge on my behalf at the 13th!

Dunecht House GC - course no 325

Craig, Stu, Polly and I played this excellent 9 hole parkland course on 9 July 2010. The Dunecht House golf course forms part of the Dunecht Estate and is a private club, with club membership restricted to Dunecht Estate workers and their close relatives and people living within the catchment area of 3 local schools. Visitors are only permitted when playing 1:1 with members, so thank you to Stuart and the 3 other members who helped and played with us on the day. We all really enjoyed the course and thought it was a real asset for local people to enjoy and an excellent example of a private country estate working to support its local community. This is a view of the 4th green, with the impressive Dunecht House in the background.
I'd normally go through my play on 9 hole courses hole by hole, but since my golf reached new lows, with an alarming variety of errors, I'd rather not. Suffice to say that the course was a modest 3097 yards off the medal tees that I played from, par 35, which I did in a remarkable 48 shots. I actually had a par on the 322 yard par 4 4th hole (albeit with a single putt), but otherwise this was a score to forget and to attribute to a tired and over-golfed body. Polly and I played a second round, but my score was even worse, so she easily took the honours in our Summer Cup, taking the score to 7-3.
The fairways were mostly generously wide, but even after the recent dry weather they were lush and pretty slow, which was just as well, as the rough was penal. There was a generous band of semi-rough, but such was my game that I seemed to find the real tiger stuff and any balls missing the semi-rough could be (and in my case were!) lost. The feature and Stroke Index 1 hole at Dunecht is the 8th, a 422 yard par 4. This is the view from the tee. The fairway is dominated by a huge and ancient copper beech tree that draws shots to it due to the left-right slope, leaving a semi-blind long shot to a small fast green that is difficult to hold. This is an excellent hole which I double bogeyed on both occasions. The 314 yard par 4 9th hole is equally difficult. The fairway (shared with the 1st) is at least 60 yards wide, but there's a tarmac road in front of the green (which would make the last hole at Rosehearty look flat) that makes the second shot even more tricky. This photo doesn't really do justice to the difficulty of this green, which was just silly fast. Anything above the hole was likely to go through the green. I actually had a putt from the fringe above the green that involved a 90 degree break, missed the hole and ended up in the rough below the hole. I bogeyed this hole (twice) and despite my lamentable scoring, thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. Thanks again to all concerned in helping us to play this lovely little course.

Meldrum House GC - course no 324

Craig, Stu, Polly and I played this hugely impressive and difficult 18 hole parkland championship course on the outskirts of the village of Oldmeldrum on the afternoon of 8 July 2010 in hot and windy conditions. Craig opted to play off the Black tees measuring 7010 yards, par 70 (SSS 75!). I went off the White medal tees 6418 yards, par 70 (SSS 72). Stu played off the yellows, a more manageable 5867 yards and Polly played off the ladies Red tees, a "mere" 5492 yards. This course is owned and operated by the excellent Meldrum House Hotel, and play is restricted to club members and hotel guests. Polly and I had been staying at the hotel and our thanks go to it for allowing Craig and Stu to play it with us. We'd been expecting the course to be fairly easy, as a holiday venue, but Meldrum House turned out to be a hugely challenging track for each of us. Craig and Stu played pretty well, but it was their 3rd full 18 hole course of the day and in hot sultry conditions, it's probably fair to say their energy wilted towards the end. No criticism guys, I'd have been on my knees long before the back 9! Above is a view down the 1st hole, as an example of the water hazards that feature on many of the holes.

I thought the best hole was the 8th, a 334 yard (for me anyway) par 4, with the drive played over a lake to a fairway bending 90 degrees to a small green surrounded by trees. This is the sand iron shot I had to the green for a very satisfying par. I'd played the front 9 in 42. OK, a few mistakes and mishits, but overall, I'd played pretty well. the front 9 is pretty flat but it was hot, we were tired and thankfully there was a refreshment hut by the 10th tee. I also liked the 182 yard par 3 10th, played over another lake, but there is not a single weak hole on this course and my only regret is that I didn't take a photo of every hole. We'd also been expecting that the course would be pretty easy walking, but the back 9 is hilly, with a succession of energy sapping climbs. Thankfully, the last 2 holes are flat. Below is the view from the tee of the 17th, a 318 yard par 4. The carry over the lake is longer than it looks and I only just made it with my 3 wood. The second shot is blind over a small hill. I should have checked the course guide before playing, as there are deep hidden bunkers just over the top of the hill, one of which Stu, Polly and I found, much to the amusement of the gallery on the sun deck of the clubhouse nearby. We also entertained the gallery on the last, a really tricky 178 yard par 3 played over a lake to a small plateau green wedged between tall pine trees. I was stymied by one of those trees after my tee shot but spotted a small gap in the branches. I played an excellent wedge through the gap but missed the 20 foot putt that would have given me a miraculous par. I didn't score so well on the back 9, but I was still pretty happy with an 89 total, net 9 over the 70 par (7 over the SSS). Now 7-2 in my match with Polly.
We'd commented during the round that Meldrum House GC would make a great venue for a professional tournament and it was no surprise to hear on our return from the trip that the Northern Open is to be played there for the next 3 years. No doubt the pros will take some of the holes to bits, but for mere amateurs like us, it's a tremendous test of your game and plays longer than it looks. Meldrum House is not cheap to play as a visitor, but the hotel is excellent and is a good base for travelling around the North-East of Scotland. Take the chance to play here if you can. It's a great test and if you ever find a Scottish parkland course in better overall condition, I'd be amazed.

Oldmeldrum GC - course no 323

Craig, Stu and I played at Oldmeldrum GC at 0930 on 8 July 2010. The timing is significant as my 2 intrepid chums had driven up from Edinburgh and played the excellent 18 holer at nearby Kemnay before meeting me and the 3 of us plus Polly were due to play at Meldrum House GC later in the day. It was going to be a long day. Craig and Stu were understandably tired already and I was beginning to feel the effects of all of the games I'd had in recent days. This is us near the first tee at Oldmeldrum, ready for yet another new course. Oldmeldrum was a super parkland course, in excellent condition and, thankfully, easy walking. At 5683 yards, par 70, Oldmeldrum is not long, but we thoroughly enjoyed it and I thought it was a refreshing contrast from the faster running links courses I'd been playing so far on this trip.

My own golf was pretty indifferent. 45 out, 44 back, for an inglorious net 79, or 9 over net par. The course was in great condition, with well manicured fairways and fast running greens. Truth be told, none of us could master the subtleties of the greens and I also had trouble with club selection. For example, here at the 172 yard par 3 11th hole, I tried to improvise with my trusty 7 wood, rather than take a 6 or 7 iron. This hole is aptly named "Dinna Duff" (Jay - "don't mishit") as there is water both in front and behind the green. The tee said 172, but there was a blustery wind and my ball didn't even land before the 14th tee, some 20 yards beyond the green. The 14th is called "Groaner" and as I'd nearly hit the 3 senior members on that tee, maybe the name derives from such an incident. My apologies (again!) to the gents involved. Another double bogey on the card!

By the time we'd got to the 18th, a strong wind had got up and was straight into our faces. This is the view from the tee. the last is Stroke Index 7 and although only 309 yards, is a dangerous little hole. There's out of bounds on the left and the clubhouse is only 190 yards from the tee. The 1st and 18th fairways are shared, so with a 3-ball on the fairway, out of bounds to the left, a steeply downhill shot into the wind and around 20 guys hanging around the clubhouse for a competition that was already underway, we'd not much to aim at. Craig hit a magnificent drive, splitting the fairway well beyond the clubhouse and had only a short pitch to the green. I gave myself a bogey after a cautious approach (trying not to land an insurance claim, as I'd already hit a sh--- earlier in the round). Stu was equally cautious and we wondered later how many scorecards (and clubhouse windows!) had been wrecked on this closing hole. Oldmeldrum is well worth a visit and was fun to play, but take extra care on the 18th.

Rosehearty GC - course no 322

I played this course after our round at Inverallochy on 7 July 2010. Rosehearty is a short 9 hole links course measuring 2077 yards par 31 off the yellow tees. The clubhouse is pretty basic, but this is a modest course run by volunteers in a tiny fishing village, so good on the guys that put in the work to keep it going. Greens fees are payable in the public bar of the Masons Arms Hotel opposite the clubhouse, but if you want to play here on a bright sunny day, take your time entering. I'd not allowed time for my eyes to adjust to the relative dark of the bar and missed the small step, careering across the thankfully near-empty bar in a somewhat drunken fashion. Not the "play it cool" entrance I'd planned, but at least the few golfers and locals in for their liquid lunch had a good laugh.

The course was in reasonable condition, but I guess the club does not have the same range of equipment as other more affluent clubs. What it does have is excellent views out to sea and some of the smallest greens I can remember seeing anywhere recently. Add to that, the wispy grass on the narrow fairways and light rough and the generally fast running greens and Rosehearty was not as easy as it looked. Indeed, I bogeyed the first 2 holes, a couple of easy looking par 3s. Putts would also take unpredictable bounces, meaning that even short ones were a challenge. I also bogeyed the 3rd, an excellent dog leg par 4 with a blind uphill 2nd shot to a tiny green. A small plaque by the tee pays tribute to Bert Stoopman, who died there in August 1992. I wondered for a while about a man who had simply gone out for a game and had never returned. It's possibly a crass comment to make, but perhaps that's not a bad way to go. This is the view from the tee, with the road into the village on the left. I managed to par the next 4 holes with single putts on each green (I'd missed the green each time but my chipping was good). I'd forgotten to take any water onto the course so by the time I got to the 8th I was pretty weary and was lucky to only bogey the hole after a poor drive. I actually drove the 9th green with my 7 wood, only to find that the ball had run off into the rough. I found out why when I got to the green. As shown here, the slope on this green is just silly. I managed a bogey after 2 putting from below the hole, for a 36 stroke total, 5 over gross par. Not bad, but I spent a few minutes putting from above this hole and never even got close to holing out. I'd not seen another soul on the course, but the 2 full sets of clubs on the pavement outside the public bar of the Mason's Arms when I started were still there. Now that's something I'd not expect to see in certain other parts of our lovely country!

Inverallochy GC - course no 321

Polly and I played this very good course on 7 July 2010. Inverallochy is a small fishing village just east of Fraserburgh and at 5131 yards, par 66 off the yellows, its easy walking 18 hole links course is pretty short. First impressions are that it is an easy looking course, but don't let first impressions fool you. The rough was penal, with a wedge back to the nearest bit of fairway being the most sensible option on most occasions. The course was in great condition and like so many we'd played on this trip, the fairways and greens were running very fast. Inverallochy was great fun to play, with some good views out to sea and a series of interesting holes, particularly on the back 9. This is me on the 13th tee (probably slightly too far away from the ball - and yes, the drive did go way right!) Indeed, I didn't hit many fairways and ended up with an 85, or 9 over the net par. Polly didn't score any better and after a close contest, I (just) won the game, taking the score to 6-2. Polly and I were really pleased we played here, as it was a welcome relief from the "bigger" courses we'd played at Murcar Links etc. Inverallochy has no frills or pretensions. It's just a good village links course with friendly members and a welcoming atmosphere, with excellent value golf in a great setting. This is the view up the 15th, with the 14th green in the foreground - inviting or what? Indeed, what more would you need for a relaxing bounce game during a golfing holiday?

Murcar GC - Murcar Links Course - course no 320

Polly and I played this outstanding championship links course on 6 July 2010 on yet another hot and sticky day in sunny Scotland. Murcar Links is a modest 5875 yards par 69 off the yellow tees, but it is a hugely difficult course, full of subtlety, complexity and all of the other aspects that you'd expect to find on a traditional links course. The course was very dry, so the fairways and greens were running fast. Murcar also had some of the most undulating fairways I've seen on any course, so even a well struck shot to the middle of a fairway could bounce unpredictably towards bunkers or rough. The first couple of holes gave us a flavour of what was to come and was a fairly gentle start. The course really came alive on the 3rd, a tricky downhill 401 par 4. This is the view from the middle of the fairway, which somewhat unusually I'd found after a great drive over a large hillock (that is all you see from the tee!) I hit a 7 iron from here to the green and made par with a couple of good putts, but note the undulations and the narrowness of the entrance to the green. Royal Aberdeen Golf Club lies immediately behind this green and I gather it's not unheard of for visitors to keep walking rather than turn left for Murcar's 4th tee. Although it's normal to use a pitch and run rather than a higher approach shot into links greens, particularly on windy days, this low shot is simply not possible on some of Murcar's holes. This is a view to the 8th green from around 120 yards. The course was quiet, so we spent some time trying to figure out how to manoeuvre a ball over these mounds, but however hard we tried various shots, the final result was quite unpredictable. Great fun, but I don't think I've ever seen such large ripples and folds in such a small area. Murcar just didn't let up, with one difficult and/or bizarrely challenging hole after another. I particularly liked the 15th, a stormer of a hole, particularly into the strong wind that had got up. The 15th is only 351 yards, with the tee shot played from an elevated tee over gorse and heavy rough. This is the view from the tee. The fairway slopes away to the left, with the second shot played up a steep hill with a water hazard at the bottom of it. I'd 156 yards to the hole after my tee shot, but the green was 60 or so feet above me, so my trusty 7 wood was required to reach the green. A couple of putts and I'd got my par, but this hole was too much for Polly, who came to grief in the water hazard and up the hill. I don't think I'd ever tire of playing this course, but is it fair, could I ever master its slopes and greens, or score well? I very much doubt it. I played very well and hit most fairways. I also had only 31 putts (including a 3 on the 8th) but still only scored 84, or 5 over net par. I was only playing off the yellow tees and it wasn't blowing the kind of gale that can be found on our links courses. Polly thought that although the course was in great condition, it was hugely difficult for her off the ladies tees. She tried her heart out, but I sneaked another win to take the score in our Summer Cup to 5-2.

Murcar is an extremely difficult and testing course and is a great example of Scottish links golf at its best. Royal Aberdeen is probably more famous, but it's next door neighbour is also well worth playing. Don't expect to score well here unless you've brought your A game and get some lucky breaks along the way, but you'll enjoy it, for all that.

Murcar GC Strabathie Course - course no 319

I played this course on 6 July 2010 before Polly and I tackled lunch and the Murcar Links course in the afternoon. The Strabathie course at Murcar is a 9 hole 2672 yards par 35 links course, ideal for juniors, seniors and general practice. The fairways are generously wide, but the course was baked dry by the recent good weather and there was no middle cut rough. Anything off the fairway was in deep trouble, assuming you could find the ball at all. With the fairways and greens running very slick, it was easy to run out of fairway even after a good drive, so although most of the holes were relatively short, good course management was needed to avoid lost balls and high scores.

The 1st hole was really burnt dry so although the hole was a 299 yard par 4, my drive was just short of the green. An easy par there, but reality reared its ugly head on the 2nd, a 313 yard par 4 with the drive played into a gulley, and the green perched on a shelf half way up a hill. I only narrowly missed the fairway, but could only hack the ball a few feet, resulting in a double bogey. Another missed fairway on the 3rd and a bogey scored. The best hole was the 4th, a 298 yard par 4 with a blind tee shot over a marker pole at the top of a hill, with a river in front of the green on the other side. The river looked drivable, so a prudent 7 wood, easy sand iron and a couple of putts was good enough for a solid par. I hit a good drive at the 299 yard par 4 5th hole and had only a wedge to the green. Easy, but a disgraceful sh--- into high rough followed, resulting in a double bogey and some injured pride. An easy par 4 at the next, the longest hole on the course (357 yards) restored some order, but another sh--- on the par 3 7th hole led to another bogey. A single putt on the par 4 8th rescued my par. I'd not really noticed the 9th green, other than to note it lay close to the 1st tee when I started the round. At 355 yards, it was not long, but the fairway was particularly dry looking, as shown here (with Polly going forward to check the distance from the 9th green to our car). As it turned out, anything really wayward was likely to end up in the car park, so my 8 iron second shot had to be nailed. I'd already been wayward earlier in the round and one sh--- tends to follow another, but my best shot of the day found the middle of the green. A couple of putts later and I'd gone round in 41, or 6 over par. Not too shabby given the fast running conditions, but we moved the car to safer ground even before I'd packed away the clubs. Strabathie is a good primer for the big course, but as we were to find out in the afternoon, nothing could have prepared us fully for the challenges it set. Play to warm up for the big course if you have the time, but watch where you park the car!

Peterhead GC 9 Hole Course - course no 318

I played the 9 hole course at Peterhead after lunch on 5 July 2010. Polly had decided, wisely as it turned out, to read her book in the clubhouse. The 9 hole course is primarily for beginners, juniors and general practice and measures 2178 yards, par 31. Indeed, juniors are not allowed on the main course unless accompanied by an adult or have a handicap of 12 or less. The junior I met on the 1st tee thought this was an excellent idea and he liked the progress he was making on the short course, both in terms of scoring and club selection. We agreed that the best hole on the course was this, the short 3rd, a tricky uphill 140 yard par 3. The ground falls away to the left, with a water hazard in the middle of the short fairway and heavy rough to the right. I also liked the 4th, a downhill 171 yard par 3, played over heavy rough with AOB behind the green. My young playing partner boldly took an 8 iron and put his ball on the green. With a blustery wind to contend with, I missed long and left, narrowly avoiding a bunker and the AOB and lost the hole with a bogey.
By now, it was clear that it was raining all around us and if we wanted to stay dry, we'd better step up the pace. We got as far as the 8th, where this ominously wet and dark cloud awaited us. The 9th was a 191 downhill par 3 with AOB on the left. I did it in par, inside 2 minutes, but still got a good soaking! I'd gone round in 37 in something just over an hour. This wee course is an excellent practice facility for all ages and it was nice to see the juniors being encouraged so positively, with their "own" course and scorecard.

Peterhead GC Craigewan Course - course no 317

Polly and I played this really good links course on 5 July 2010 in warm sunny and breezy conditions, a far cry from the previous day at Fraserburgh. Craigewan is an 18 hole traditional links course measuring 5704 yards, par 69 off the yellow tees. The 1st hole is a short but deceptive par 4 with the River Ugie to its left and has a small shelved green set into the side of a hill. This and the next 2 holes are not particularly inspiring and are overlooked by housing on the other side of the river. Indeed, for me the course was relatively ordinary until the tricky 6th, a 154 yard uphill par 3. I managed a good par here with a couple of good putts, taking a positive mindset to the par 4 349 yard 7th, one of the best links holes I've seen for a while. This is the view from the tee, the drive needing to be long and accurate to set up a short iron to the green, avoiding the many bunkers that surround it. I hit a great drive but my 9 iron was pulled enough to catch one of the 7 pot bunkers that are largely hidden from view from the fairway. The sand was surprisingly heavy and lob wedge was not the best club selection, hence my 7 at what should have been a relatively easy hole after my drive. I got to the turn in 45, parring only 3 of the front 9 holes, so an urgent improvement was needed.

Surely I could par this, the 118 yard par 3 10th hole and get the scoring back on track. The 10th is very deceptive, as the raised green starts only 90 yards or so from the tee. However, the front slopes down towards a hidden stream and the 2 tier green is difficult to hold. I underhit a wedge and took 5, but at least I got the ball washed in the stream. I parred 3 of the next 5 holes, before coming to the difficult par 3 16th. The hole is only 148 yards long, but the wind had increased after a rain shower and from the tee, all you see is the top of the flag and some mounding that hides bunkering surrounding the plateau green. I hit a 4 iron to within 10 feet and actually holed this putt for birdie. The next hole was downwind and at only 262 yards was drivable. However, it is also blind, played over a hillock with a raised dune to the left and lots of sky to the right, avoiding the sheer drop down a cliff behind the green. A prudent 3 wood, lob wedge and a couple of putts was enough to get the par, but Polly drove the green off her tee to secure a good birdie. Here's her approach putt. Note the rain in the distance. We only just made it to the clubhouse in time, after some adventures on the last. The 18th is an excellent 486 yard short par 5, with a cliff and the sea to the left of a left hand dog leg downhill holes, exposed to the wind (taking drives out to sea!) I hit a great long drive but stumbled to a bogey after a 3 putt. Polly had even more difficulty amidst dark mutterings about the stroke indexing on difficult long holes. I went round in 85, net 75 to sneak a narrow win in our Summer Cup match, taking the score to 4-2. Peterhead is well worth playing and was in great condition. Play it if you enjoy links courses - it's great value and from the 6th, the course is excellent.

Fraserburgh GC Corbie Hill Course - course no 316

Polly and I had entered the Mixed Greensomes Open at Fraserburgh held on 4 July 2010. Driving up there from Carnoustie, the wind and rain had increased in intensity, so by the time we teed off, with some doubts about whether we'd complete the course, the wind was absolutely howling. Founded in 1777, Fraserburgh is the 7th oldest club in the world and has been on its present site since 1891, with the course being redesigned by James Braid in 1922. We wondered how many competitions had been played since those times in such extreme summer weather! I'd omitted to pack my thermal underwear and double lined winter woolly hat and have no idea what the temperature was, but we were shivering in the car park and our wet suits and summer hats did little to keep us warm. The Course Ranger at Carnoustie had been right and the local weather was warning of structural damage to buildings, so what on earth were we doing, with a pair of equally daft golfers from Inverallochy, waiting to play? Our first hole was a sign of things to come. I hit a great drive, and after choosing that ball, Polly hit an equally impressive 3 wood. I then absolutely creamed another 3 wood to reach the back of the green. Admittedly we 3-putted, but a 6 was a pretty good start. Nearly forgot, the hole was a 404 yard par 4, into around a 60 mph wind. The 2nd hole was stroke index 3, an uphill 363 yard par 4, again into the wind. This time we needed driver, 3 wood (twice!), wedge and 2 putts for another 6. Jim and Victoria, our new friends from Inverallochy, had advised us in advance that the 3rd tee, the most elevated part of the course, was "pretty exposed" a masterly understatement. Above is a remarkably good photo from the plateau tee on the 3rd. The wind by then was difficult to even stand up in and as we waited to tee off, calls were being made by mobile to ask the organisers whether the competition should be suspended. Much to our surprise, play continued and in a perverse way, we were actually enjoying ourselves. Any ambitions to score well and compete were displaced by a grim determination to complete the course, accepting anything the weather could throw at us. Our spirits were also raised by a remarkable par at the 5th a 183 yard par 3, my driver finding the green, straight into the wind.

The Fraserburgh club had put up a prize for nearest the pin in one, on the green, at this hole, the 7th, a downhill 165 yard par 3. The green is almost surrounded by run off areas and bunkers and is apparently notoriously difficult to hold even in normal conditions. None of us were contenders for the prize (or even hit the green at all) and I wondered afterwards whether any of the 100+ competitors won the prize, such was the difficulty of the tee shot. Polly and I got to the turn in 50. The wind by then had dropped to a mere gale and the sun had come out. Wet suits off, our play was getting better (well, acceptable). We completed the back 9 in a remarkable 43, strokes, including a par at this, the tricky 198 yard par 3 14th. We'd survived and gone round in 93, less 14.4 for a 78.6. Our trip meant that we only got back home late on 10 July to a mountain of mail and newspapers, including vouchers worth £40 for coming 3rd in the handicap competition, so well done us! We finished the Corbie Hill course just as an ominously dark cloud filled the sky to the west accompanied a distant clap of thunder. I'd hoped to play the 9-hole Rosehill Course at Fraserburgh GC, but we didn't really have time. Just as well I didn't as within a few minutes of finishing the skies opened, with torrential rain and lightning for half an hour. Even then, some foolhardy souls were finishing play on the 18th and there was still no plan to suspend play. The Corbie Hill course was in fine condition and was a really formidable test in the bizarre weather we faced. My own favourite hole was the 2nd, but there were many others to choose from. This is a "must play" for anyone interested in playing quality traditional links courses. Think Cruden Bay, Carne, Rosapenna, Ballyliffin, Narin & Portnoo or even Gullane 1, as Fraserburgh is right up there with the best of them. In any tour of Scotland it is tempting to focus on the famous "trophy" courses and to talk about play at Turnberry, Troon and St Andrews and few golfers outside Scotland may know about Fraserburgh. But don't take my word for it, go and see for yourself. This is a great course (and the steak pies are pretty good too!). I've still to play the Rosehill course, but when I do, I'll be trying to squeeze in another round over its big brother.

Carnoustie Buddon Golf Course - course no 315

Polly and I played the excellent Buddon course at Carnoustie on 3 July 2010, our first game in a planned 8 day holiday trip to play some new Scottish courses. Each year Polly and I play for our Summer Cup, a small silver replica of the Claret Jug. I'm the current holder and am leading 3-1 after our earlier trip to Celtic Manor (see blog entries posted on 14 May 2010). We're both pretty competitive and Polly was on good form, having recently won the 2010 Ladies B Championship at our Club, so we were in high spirits for this game. This round also marked the halfway point of my personal journey around Scotland's courses, my 74th new course in 2010 and my 106th game since retiring at the end of January. The Buddon course serves as an excellent partner to the more formidable Burnside and Championship courses at Carnoustie, and although it's often described as an easier introduction to links golf, we were to find it anything but easy, on a hot day with a strong gusting wind into our faces for most of the front 9 and behind us for the back 9. The course was still baked dry from the recent weather, the fairways and greens were slick and fast and the greens were tricky to read (always a good excuse!) Add in some water hazards in a loop around holes 10-13 and this course becomes a difficult test of shot making and patience, but is great fun to play. At 5420 yards par 66, Buddon is not long and is pretty flat, but the conditions would probably have added quite a few strokes to par (another standby!) Buddon is wedged between the Championship course and a large military firing range, so although we'd expected a peaceful walk in the sun, the machine gun training during the front 9 was pretty disconcerting. Indeed, I swear I mishit a couple of shots when gunfire broke out during my backswing (now that's a more unusual excuse!) I'd started with a couple of bogeys on tricky par 4s played directly into the wind so this, the 172 yard par 3 3rd hole was my first chance to recover. The wind was probably about 25mph from green to tee so I was pleased to hit and hold the green with my 3 wood and just missed the birdie putt. A passing Course Ranger commented that although it was "breezy" the forecast was for 60-70 mph winds and rain for the next day, when we were due to play at Fraserburgh, another exposed links course. We'd better make the most of our Buddon game!

We both thought the best hole at Buddon was the 4th, a 390 yard par 4 played directly into the wind, with a lateral water hazard and out of bounds on the right and another water hazard in front of the green. Polly's drive ended up AOB on the adjacent Championship course, but she made a 4 with her second ball, thanks largely to this excellent fairway shot. I made a rare genuine par thanks to a 12 foot single putt, but I was finding the greens extremely difficult, as most were quite undulating and any stroke was affected by the gusting wind. A couple of 3 putted greens contributed to my outward 40 (7 over par) and although I was just ahead of Polly in our Stableford match, my putter was stone cold. I managed a good par at this, the 175 yard par 3 13th, after a good downwind 8 iron ran off the side of the green and I almost holed the chip, but more putting woes and a sh--- on 17 led to a disappointing homeward 47. I'd gone round a supposedly gentle primer for Carnoustie's more formidable courses in 87, net 77, or 21 over the course par of 66. I'd also lost to Polly, making our 2010 Summer Cup score 3-2. Fraserburgh and storms next day. Oh joy! Buddon was fantastic value for money, was in great condition and a real challenge. Don't miss it if you're in Carnoustie to test yourself on the Championship Links. Another tip - the local clubhouses welcome visitors and the food and friendship in the Carnoustie GC's clubhouse was outstanding, as was the impressive display of golfing memorabilia highlighting the success of the famous Smith brothers from Carnoustie who had won many a US tournament in their day.