Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Spey Valley Golf Course - course no 347

Polly and I had been due to play the Spey Valley championship golf course in Aviemore a few weeks ago, but we'd a minor problem with the car, so thanks to the guys in the pro shop for switching our tee time to 29 August 2010. The forecast had been for a warm sunny day, but this is Scotland so we took our wet suits, just in case. We'd also taken the Pro's advice to hire a buggy, as the course is well spread out, with considerable distances between some of the holes. Wet suits and a buggy were the right choice, since although it was sunny lower down the country, once we got up to Aviemore and into the mountains, it was cold and raining. Indeed, it was only 4 Degrees C when we arrived at around 1100 hrs! The excellent Spey Valley course is a hefty 6653 yards, par 72, off the yellow tees and is a moorland course, set high in the foothills of the Cairngorm Mountain range. The mountain views were terrific, spoiled only by increasingly frequent cloud cover and squally showers. This is me, ready for action by the 1st tee, before the next shower arrived. Polly had opted to drive the buggy rather than play. The wind and rain was coming in from the north west, and with the steering wheel on the left of the buggy and the layout of the course and timing of the showers, Polly got a regular good soaking whilst I was relatively sheltered. I don't think she saw the funny side of that and to be fair, she looked freezing cold!

I thought that Spey Valley was a fantastic layout in great condition. Despite the heavy rain that was falling the greens remained lightning fast. OK, some of the fairways were getting pretty saturated and there was no run on the fairways, so the course played its full length. Given the poor weather conditions and Polly's obvious discomfort, despite her wet suit (we should also have packed waterproof warm hats!), I was playing as quickly as possible. The course was pretty quiet and I was waived through by a couple of 4 balls, all walking the course with pull trolleys or shoulder bags and looking thoroughly drookit (Jay - another of the many Scottish words for being wet). Indeed, I got through the front 9 in little over an hour, playing far too quickly, to be honest. This is a view down the 4th, a really good 189 yard par 3. I'd found the green with my 7 wood, but most of the greens are huge and I 3-putted this one from 60+ feet. The camera was stowed away after this hole, since for the next 12 holes or so, the rain was really nasty. I was out in 45 (only 2 pars!), playing too quickly and getting colder and wetter by the minute.

I managed to slow down my swing on the back 9 (difficult to do when you're going round by buggy rather than walking!) and played better, despite the wind, rain and cold. This is the excellent 173 yard par 3 16th, played in a rare spell of watery sunshine. I cleared the water hazard in front of the green OK, but the wind took the ball way right into a bunker. Another bogey followed, but I was 3 under 5's on the back 9, stood on the 17th tee, so not too bad given the conditions. The 17th is a tricky 489 yard par 5 with magnetic bunkers. I found 2 of them during my poor double bogey. However, some semblance of respectability was restored on the last, a 405 yard par 4, which I parred after a rare single putt. I'd gone round in 88, net 78, or 6 over par after my handicap. Not too bad really, but I'd like to think I could better that score considerably, given more reasonable weather. On some other lesser courses I can think off I would have been thoroughly miserable, but I really enjoyed the round, and the course. Thinking back, there wasn't a weak hole at Spey Valley and some were just outstanding. For example, I particularly liked the the monster 608 yard (635 yards off the Blue championship tees!) 5th with a blind drive and second shot. Driver and 2 good fairway 7 woods and a short pitch from the side of the green to within 4 feet gave me a good chance for par, but I missed the short putt. Great hole, though. I'd already decided half way round the course that I'd like to play Spey Valley again and even after her soaking Polly loved the look of the course and is mad keen to play it next year. Spey Valley is a very challenging layout and is a great test of your game. Play it if you get the chance but think seriously about hiring a buggy. The holes are well spread out and it's a very long walk!

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Balmore GC - course no 346

I played this excellent parkland course to the north of Glasgow on 25 August 2010, in the club's Balmore Gents Senior Open. The course was in great condition despite some recent heavy rain and at only 5517 yards, par 66 off the white Medal tees and no long par 5's, Balmore was ideal for a seniors event. OK, there are a few hills to contend with, but these features are well used in the course design and anyone reasonably fit wouldn't have any trouble getting round. Whether they score well here is another matter, as accuracy off the tee is important, as is avoiding the many trees. This is a view from the 1st tee, giving a good indication of the layout. I'd got there a bit too early, and after hitting some practice balls I scared myself silly on the practice green, which turned out to be (thankfully) much faster than those on the course itself. I like fast greens, but some of the slopes and pin positions on the practice green were almost impossible.

The 1st at Balmore is a 375 yard par 4 with a stream 150 yards out that some of the more elderly competitors found with their drives. I found my first bunker of the day with my 7 iron approach shot, and ended up with a bogey. The 2nd is an uphill 188 yard par 3 played into a light wind. I'd been playing my 3 wood pretty well of late, so it was a nasty shock when I hit the ball low and left off the heel of the club into the one spindly tree that obstructs the view to the green. The ball cleared the tree and a wall that runs across the hole, but was in a heavy rough and completely unplayable. A penalty drop onto a road and relief from that took me to some bare earth on the hole side of the wall. However, I'd hardly enough room to take a back swing and skulled my 3rd shot into the same area of heavy rough I'd just escaped from under penalty. This time, I couldn't find the ball, so definitely not the start I was looking for. I'd also let the group behind play through so the 2nd hole took 15 minutes and an inglorious 8 strokes. I dropped another 3 shots on the 3rd, the longest hole on the course at 448 yards, after finding an almost completely buried lie directly below the lip of a deep greenside bunker. Another bogey on the 4th after 3 putting the green and my handicap had gone after 4 holes. Had we been playing a Flag Competition, my round would have been over (first person out carries a flag and plants it where his last handicap stroke lands, the winner being the player who takes the flag furthest round the course, even up the 20th etc if he's playing under his handicap).

I'd clearly put myself completely out of contention in the competition, but respectability was still a realistic and achievable target on such a short course. Howewver, I staggered to the turn in a pathetic 48, a mere 14 over par. It was also remarkable that I was still enjoying the course given my error strewn front 9 (Balmore must be really good if I can say that after such a start!) The par 3's are particularly good, the best being the 16th, as shown here. This is a 150 yard hole, played from an elevated tee. I'd reckoned a 7 iron, but that was far too much club, as my ball hit the top of the big tree to the right of the flag. Luckily, I ended up at the front of the green and escaped with an easy par. I'd played reasonably well on the back 9 and needed to par the last, a 346 yard par 4, for a homeward 37 (5 over the par of 32). This is a view up the 18th fairway. I split the fairway with my drive and had only an 8 iron to the green. However, I thinned the ball into a stream in front of the green for a closing 7 and a total of 88, a remarkable 22 over par. Balmore is a really good course, well worth playing and I plan to enter next year's competition. After all, I've not got much of a score to beat! However, I think I'll not spend much time on the practice green next time and be more careful in club selection.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Isle of Skye GC - course no 345

I played the excellent Isle of Skye course at Sconser on the morning of 17 August 2010, before travelling over to Raasay for the official opening of its new ferry terminal. This is another of the small courses that have 9 greens and 18 tees, so like the other course on Skye at Skeabost, the course at Sconser counts as an 18 hole course. The score card indicates that the club is awaiting the re-measurement of the course, but at present, the card gives the course as 4746 yards, par 67. Although there had been heavy rain since the previous afternoon, the course was in remarkably good condition and obviously drained pretty well, with lush green fairways and excellent small greens. Although the Isle of Skye course sits right by the sea, it is not a true links and plays more like a moorland course. It is also one of the prettiest courses I've played in a long time, with great views across Loch Sligachan, out to sea, across to Raasay and to the surrounding Skye mountains. Above is a view back up the 1st/10th hole to the clubhouse with Glamaig, the mountain that towers above the course, in the background. This is the view out to sea from the 2nd/11th green. I had the course to myself apart from the greenkeeper and his 2 collie dogs. It had stopped raining earlier in the morning, but the air was still damp and when I arrived at the course it was warm and sultry, with no wind. Scottish readers will immediately recognise the ideal conditions for swarms of midgies to appear and sure enough, I'd been attacked even before I'd teed off. I'd packed an aerosol repellent but it was already too late. Thankfully, the sun came out after a few holes and a freshening breeze minimised the problem. Three days later, writing this blog, the itching has finally eased!
At least I was playing well and as at Skeabost the night before, there was little run on the fairways and the greens were soft and receptive, so target golf again. I was out in 37, or 4 over par. Indeed, I had a run of 7 straight pars on holes 8-14, admittedly with some single putts, and with each passing hole the course got drier and the sun got warmer. Perfect weather for golf on a cracking little course. My good run came an end on the 15th, a 301 yard par 4, after I missed the green with a wedge. Worse still, the greenkeeper was working on the 142 yard par 3 16th and had put the flag in a temporary hole to the front and right side of the green, near to some tall rough. My 8 iron missed by only a few feet and I parred with my second ball, but the first ball may still be there, unless the collie dogs found it after I'd gone. I came back in 37 for a gross 74, net 64, or 3 under par, but this good score might have been even slightly better. Here's a final view from the course, this time out to sea from the 4th/13th green. Even if you're not playing well, you'd not tire of this course. The setting is simply stunning and if you ever get the chance to visit Skye, for goodness sake take your clubs and play this excellent course.

Skeabost GC - course no 344

This is a very short 18 hole moorland course in the grounds of the Skeabost Hotel on Skye. Skeabost only has 9 greens but with 18 separate tees, providing very different holes in some cases, this is still an 18 hole course under our "challenge" rules. The course is normally only available for play by hotel guests, so thanks to Janet, the General Manager, for letting me play on the evening of 16 August 2010. I'd actually have been even more pleased had there been only 9 holes, since heavy rain had been forecast for late afternoon onwards and boy, was that forecast spot on! The course was pretty flat and was based on heavy peaty soil that would clearly not take much to become saturated, with a number of streams and crossing the fairways (and more joining the party once the rain really got going!) The greens were tiny, adding to the difficulty, but with the (essential) preferred lies to overcome standing water, there was no run at all and I was playing target golf. Above is the 4th green, surely one of the narrowest I've played recently!

The course is a mere 3114 yards, par 62 and with little real rough and only shallow bunkering, it is relatively easy. Even a missed fairway off the tee left only a short pitch, so scrambling wasn't particularly tricky. I was out in 36. Sounds good, but that's still 5 over par, so definitely nothing to shout about. The holes on the landward side of the hotel are not particularly memorable, but holes 8/17 and 9/18 by the shore of Loch Snizort were simply stunning, despite the worsening deluge I played them in. This is the view from the 17th tee, a 100 yard par 3 requiring an accurate wedge over mature trees that block anything miss-hit. Hole 18 deserves a couple of views, first from the tee and second, looking back to the tee, which has been built on top of an old harbour jetty. I may have retired, but it seems I can't get away from harbours! This is a really good and testing 121 yard par 3, well worth the soaking to get there! I didn't really notice the pin position at the time, other than that it looked a bit tight, but from my 9 iron tee shot as above, I'd an easy par. I went round in 69, or a net 59, compared to the par of 62. However, the course didn't appear to be very difficult - or was I just hitting the ball straight and avoiding the basic blunders that I've learned to live with over the years? Time will tell!

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Spean Bridge GC - course no 343

I'd been invited to attend the official opening on 17 August 2010 of the new £12 million ferry terminal on Raasay, just of the island of Skye, so this was the perfect opportunity to play a few more courses. It's a 5+ hour drive to Skye, so Spean Bridge, near Fort William, was a good break-point. The Spean Bridge course is a short moorland 9 hole course, measuring only 2271 yards, par 34. The excellent new clubhouse, shown here, sits adjacent to the village railway station. There's a small car park, but I'd wondered what the access was, as the footbridge over the railway line looked improbably narrow and flimsy to take my car. However, a local guy assured me that it would be OK, with care, but that was an interesting start to my visit.

Anyway, Spean Bridge was pretty undulating, with good views to the surrounding mountains. Being moorland, it was heavy going in parts and looked prone to becoming boggy in wet conditions. Being quite high up, the course is also exposed to the weather, so it was no great surprise to find that the fairways and greens were slow running and a bit bumpy. Indeed, there was little run at all on the fairways, so the course was playing longer than it looked. Local knowledge would also help, as there are a few blind shots to contend with, such as the drive at the 4th, a short 254 yard par 4, and Stroke Index 1 on the card. The Local Rules mention that "all burns, streams or watercourses shall be treated as hazards." However, none of the margins to such features are defined. This is the view from the 4th tee. I'd hit a driver over the marker pole, expecting to find the ball on or near the green. However, there's a stream surrounded by ferns and bushes in a dip hidden over the brow of a hill on the fairway, so the right choice would have been to lay up short. The course map on the card does nothing to indicate the trouble ahead, so as I couldn't see my ball entering the hazard, it was lost. Luckily, I single putted the green with my second ball and escaped with a bogey but this is an awkward little hole, so be warned!

I particularly liked this, the 7th, a 287 yard par 4, played from an elevated tee over a small gorge to a narrow fairway . The ground slopes from right to left, but although I thought my drive was OK, I eventually found it in heavy rough, stymied by trees and had another bogey. There are exposed rocks near where I thought I'd landed - at least I've not used that excuse in a while! I managed a couple of pars on the last couple of holes. Oddly, No 8, a 312 yard par 4 is the Stroke Index I hole, but a good drive, solid sand iron and a couple of putts was enough. The last, a tough looking 178 yard par 3, was just a 7 wood and a couple of easy putts. With my good break on the 4th, I'd gone round in 39, net 34, matching the course par. Spean Bridge was an enjoyable and a relatively easy short walk, despite the odd hill (and I'm only guessing that it was an odd number!) The air was clean and fresh, I saw some deer and an eagle soaring above a nearby forest and was round the course in little over an hour. A good break from the drive across to Skye. I'd also made it round Spean Bridge before the forecast heavy rain came, but I was not to end the day dry, or bite-free!

Crieff GC - Ferntower Course - course no 342

Polly and I played this excellent course on 14 August 2010, with Louise, another Glen GC member, who had qualified for a major amateur competition to be played over this course in few weeks' time. This was Louise's only chance to play the course before that competition, so we had all of the yardage books, course planners and Skycaddies deployed and as the course was quite busy anyway, we could take our time going round. This is the larger of the 2 courses at Crieff GC, west of Perth, and is 6091 yards, par 71, off the yellow tees. This is a view of the clubhouse and part of the massive practice putting green (in fantastic condition, such that we couldn't wait to play the course itself). Ferntower is a parkland course with superb views to the south over miles and miles of rural Perthshire and although moderately hilly in parts, is easy walking.

Ferntower starts gently enough, with a short uphill par 3 and this, the 370 yard par 4 2nd, a really pretty hole with a blind tee shot over a small hill. A mirror half way up a tree behind the tee shows whether the fairway is clear, though I'm not sure we looked at this from the proper angle! The 4th is a fiendishly tricky 115 yard uphill par 3. I'd hit an easy wedge onto the front of the green but the ball ran through into rough, and the green sloped back downhill, so that cost me a disappointing bogey. The course had been remodelled in 1980, one of the results being that the front 9 is a par 37, with the back 9 a more manageable 34. Indeed, there are 3 par 5s and a very long par 4 between holes 5-9, which could clearly have a pivotal influence on scoring. As each of the holes is generally tree lined, it's important to find the fairway from the tee, but some of the fairway slopes carry balls towards the trees. I'm normally a fairly straight driver, but even so, I was finding Position Z too often, hence my dismal 45 to the turn.

The back 9 is potentially easier, with a rich variety of interesting holes and elevation changes, but it helps if you can keep the ball straight and avoid being blocked out by trees. There are also good birdie opportunities, such as this, the 129 yard downhill par 3 17th. I'd hit my 9 iron to within 4 feet, pin high, but missed the easy birdie chance. The last hole looks pretty easy from the tee and at only 270 yards is a very short par 4. However, there is OOB on both sides of the fairway and within 3 yards of the back of the green, so care is needed to avoid ruining a good round. I'd put my tee shot into a shallow bunker 30 yards out and hit what I thought was a good second shot to the front of the green, but the ball bounced straight through to the OOB. We stood at the side of the 18th for a while watching some players behind us have similar problems. I suspect that the 18th might be better as a long par 3 with bunkering behind the hole to protect the Pro Shop area, but it would have been interesting to hear what the members think of that hole. I'd gone round in 85, net 75 and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Ferntower is a good test and was in amazing condition. Play it if you're in the Perthshire area, you'll really enjoy it.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

King James VI GC - course no 341

I played this excellent and thankfully very flat parkland course on 10 August 2010 after our exertions over the nearby Craigie Hill course. The course is 5684 yards, par 68 off the yellow tees and is situated in the centre of Perth on an island on the River Tay. The King James VI course is well drained with a wide variety of trees bordering lush fairways. The River Tay surrounds the course, although water is not always obvious as trees line the river banks and define most of the fairways. Accordingly, straight hitting is required and anything hooked on some holes will find a watery grave. This is another of the many Scottish courses designed by Old Tom Morris, and the club was named in tribute to King James VI's encouragement of "gowf." Access to the course is also unusual. The course did not come up on my car's sat nav, nor did the phone number, but at least I could key in the post code. However, within half a mile of my destination I was still in the city centre shopping and business area and when the sat nav told me I'd arrived, I was already past a car park, heading out of town. The only option was to park and go exploring along the riverside. I found a footbridge over the river running perilously close to the main railway line, leading to Moncrieffe Island. Ten minutes later and I'd found the course hidden behind trees at the end of a well-worn footpath. It was amazing to find that an 18 hole course could be so close to the city centre, yet so well hidden.

The afternoon forecast was for heavy showers and by the time got to this, the 2nd green, it was clear that rain was on the way, so as there was no-one in front, I opted to play as fast as possible to minimise the potential soaking. I played reasonably well on the front 9, but although the course was in great condition and had superb greens, it was tricky to score well. Either I'd be slightly out of position from the tee or just miss the greens in regulation, leaving awkward pitches over bunkers or the ever-present trees. Thankfully, my putter saved me from real problems. I'd got to the turn in 42 (with only 13 putts and in just over an hour!) and was still dry. It was time to slow down and risk getting wet, and this certainly had the predictable effect. Yes, it started raining! Nothing much, but enough to get the umbrella out. I bogeyed 10 and 11 in an effort to stay semi-dry, and my handicap was all but gone. I was therefore relieved and surprised to par holes 12-15, by which time the rain had stopped and the sun was out again. As the course area is restricted and the design is old, some of the holes here are pretty modest in length e.g. hole 12 is a 266 yard par 4 and although hole 15 is a 238 par 3 from the yellow tee, it is a modest 270 yard par 4 from the medal tee. It might be sacrilege to suggest a change, but I think hole 15 would be better as a shorter par 3, with stronger bunkering. See what you think if you play here one day.

I was 9 over par standing on the 16th tee (another mistake looking at the score?) and by that time I'd caught up with players in front, breaking the rhythm of the round again. I'd also developed a hook from somewhere and with trees all the way down the left side of the last 3 holes, trouble lay ahead. Indeed, I hooked my second shot at the 393 yard 16th into trees to the left of the green for a bogey. An easy 6 iron at the 158 yard par 3 17th into a bunker led to yet another bogey and 11 over. The last hole is a straight 423 yard par 4, with trees and the river, all the way down the left. With loads of room on the right, my drive bounced off the trees into a deep divot and just as I thought things could not get any worse, the skies opened (just as I took this photo!) and getting off the course was a priority. In the circumstances, the double bogey was reasonable, but I'd gone round in a disappointing 81 overall, net 71 and a net 3 over par. I suspect I could have scored better had I taken my time and if I play here again, I'd certainly plan to beat 81 by a good few strokes.
Perth is a really attractive city and a great base for any golfing trip and I'd recommend the King James VI course as well worth playing. It's an easy walk once you get there, assuming you can find it!

Craigie Hill GC - course no 340

Craig, Stu and I played this extremely hilly course on the outskirts of Perth early on 10 August 2010. We'd suspected that any course with "hill" in its name was unlikely to be flat, and as parts of the course is overlooked by the main M90 motorway, we'd seen some undulating fairways countless times on our way past. However, this course is seriously hilly and we'd concluded after a only few holes that despite the excellent condition of the course, we preferred flatter courses. Craigie Hill is only 5131 yards par 66 off the yellow tees and is a seriously physical and mental test, being both hilly and tight. For example, the 377 yard par 4 1st hole (played in torrential rain!), requires an accurate and long drive to get beyond a hill in the fairway. We'd not warmed up much due to the rain, so my weak 190 yard drive meant I'd a blind shot to the green (the first of 13 such blind shots during the round!) Luckily, I managed to find the shelf to the left of the small plateau green, as shown here, while Stu struggled with his umbrella. From there, my second blind shot was well played, but the green was bordered by wet clinging rough, so a double bogey start in the pouring rain was disappointing. The run of 3 consecutive pars was better but the 5th, a 301 yard par 4 and the Stroke Index 1 hole was next. Another blind tee shot up and over a hill led to the green, perched precariously on top of another hill. I'd put a (blind!) pitch to 4 feet, but missed the par putt. Still, the rain had stopped by then, so Craig and I had the chance to dry out. Stu delayed that pleasure by sliding down the hill on his backside on his way to the 6th fairway. Nice one, Stu!

I was out in 41, relatively dry and becoming increasingly frustrated by the relentless rise and fall of the course and the number of blind shots (I'd started with a new ball!), so it was good to take revenge at this, the 150 yard 13th hole. A good 7 iron to within 10 feet was followed by an equally steady putt for a rare birdie. Predictably, I took a double bogey at the next. What the golfing gods giveth, they soon take away! I ended up with a 37 for the back 9, for a total of 78, net 68, or 2 over the gross par. I suppose I was happy enough to have got within the buffer zone and to finish dry, having lost only one ball. On the plus side, the course was in fantastic condition overall, with truly superb fast running greens and the designer had done well to fit 18 holes into such a compact area. However, there were just too many hills and blind shots for our liking. This is a view of the last green, with Craig and Stu waiving their goodbyes to a course that I suspect we'll not return to any time soon. I'd predicted as early as the 3rd hole that there wouldn't be a flat hole on the course. Sadly, I was right, but if you don't mind hills and blind shots, this would be a good fun course to play. Like us, you'd be mighty impressed by the excellent condition of the course.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Strathtay GC - course no 339

I played this excellent parkland/moorland course on 3 August 2010 after my quick spin round the Kenmore course. I'd thought that Strathtay was a moderately hilly 9 hole course, but the members had put in 9 additional tees last year, making it a full 18 hole course, albeit played to 9 greens. I was also wrong about the course being only moderately hilly, as I found out on my way to the 3rd tee! Strathtay also has the distinction of being the shortest 18 hole golf course (apart from par 3 courses, such as Kaimes) I think I've ever played. From the yellow tees, the course plays to only 3601 yards, par 63 and is great fun to play. The course is very hilly, but because it is so short, (or am I just getting fitter, after so much golf recently?), it is not particularly tiring. Indeed, I got round in just over 2 hours and would like to have gone round again, such was the fun nature of this wee course. The villagers certainly have a great community asset here and at £135 a year, get fantastic value for their money! Who needs a gym when a walk round here is such fun?

Holes 1/10 are flat and short, and easy par 4s. Nevertheless, I bogeyed the 1st, all of 241 yards to a small green. Holes 2/11 are gently uphill, but the real fun starts at the 3rd. A direction sign pointed me up an improbably long and steep path, leading to this view of a tiny green set far below between stands of mature trees. I'd tried to swing easy with a 7, but only succeeded in creaming the ball onto the far side of the 1st/10th fairway in the distance, much to the bemusement of an elderly couple playing that hole. A good wedge and a single putt later and I'd escaped with a par. The 4th was a short uphill par 3 and another good par. I stood for a while on this, the 5th tee, trying to convince myself that the hole really was over the hill in the far distance. Indeed, the fairway was so improbably steep I really had no shot. My 9.5 degree driver was no good and my 3 wood wouldn't reach the top of the hill. However, 3 wood it had to be, but a great wedge played blind over the hill to within 20 feet helped me to rescue another par. As shown below, Stroke Index 1 was next on the 6th, a downhill 318 yard par 4. Thankfully, I slightly mishit my 3 wood, or I'd have been through the fairway to the right amongst the trees, but remarkably, another par went onto the card. My Houdini act was on again on the 8th, a seriously difficult 279 yard par 4 played from an elevated tee to a narrow gap between trees, for another par. At the 9th, a short 106 yard par 3, I caught up with a 4-ball and 3 other members waiting to tee off at holes 1/10, all of whom stood just in front to my right, with the clubhouse veranda beyond them. To the left, the car park and OOB. Anyone who's read this blog will have shared my suffering with the odd sh---, so it was a great relief to hit my wedge straight (through the green!) I actually had a putt for an outward 34, but missed it in a rush to take advantage of the offer to play through at the 10th. Good excuse that!

And so to the back 9, with different tees to the same greens as before. Thankfully, the 12th tee was level with the green, rather than (as the 3rd hole), halfway up a mountain. However, well done if you can see the 12th green! It's actually immediately behind the trees 167 yards away from the tee, where this photo was taken. Again, I was halfway down the 1st fairway, but made a bogey. I'd actually thought that the back 9 might be less hilly, but no, back I went, up to the 3rd/13th tee to play down to the 4th/13th green. At 14, I'd yet another slog up the hill. I thought I'd seen it all until I came to this, the 17th, as shown below. If the 8th tee shot was narrow, this was even more so. I hit a good drive down the left and was lucky to find the ball a few yards from the OOB, only a short (blind) wedge over a hill to the green and another par. I got to the 18th tee needing a 3 for a gross 69. I'd only broken 70 twice before on 18 hole courses (at Cullen and the old layout at Swanston) but a pulled wedge that almost went OOB led to a disappointing bogey and a round of 70, net 60. Still, that's 3 under the par of 63 and as one of my friends is donating £1 for each stroke under par on any new course I'm playing, that's another £3 for Cancer Research UK. Every little helps! I suspect that this will be one of THE most enjoyable and satisfying rounds in my own Scottish golfing challenge. This course is simply superb fun to play. There's not a weak hole to be found and although it's ridiculously short, Strathtay really is a gem. There's really no need for golfing tourists to concentrate only the big "trophy" courses in Scotland. Play them by all means, but little gems like Strathtay (at £15 a round!) offer something different and something far more positive for the ego. It's a long time since I went round a course in 70 and I suspect I'll remember this round for longer than any of my 90+ scores on big championship courses.
5 3 3 4 4 4 3 4 4 - 34
4 4 4 3 4 5 4 4 4 - 36
looks good written down too! I'm going back there sometime to try to beat it.

Kenmore GC - course no 338

I played this interesting little 9 hole course on 3 August 2010. This is a short 2751 yard par 34 course which forms part of an up-market holiday centre on the edge of Kenmore, a really pretty wee village on the River Tay in rural Perthshire. The Kenmore course was in really fine condition and is on the other side of the Tay from the more famous Taymouth Castle GC (well worth playing, by the way!) This is a view of Kenmore's excellent 1st hole, a 392 yard par 4 requiring an accurate drive to avoid trees on the left and OOB on the right. A good drive, easy 9 iron played to the front of the elevated green and a couple of putts and I'd started with a good par. That form continued on the next few holes and I was only 2 over par after 5 holes. However, normality was restored on the 6th, a tricky 421 yard par 4. I'd found the left side rough off the tee and was 25 yards through the green in 3. The green sits in a dip between 2 stands of trees and the flag looked a long way away (I'd forgotten my my laser range finder - again), so I ended up with a double bogey 6. I thought that the best hole on the course was the 7th, as shown here. This is a really tricky 145 yard par 3, with a small plateau green well protected by bunkers. I found the bunker on the right off the tee and had a good up and down for par. I'd found the green with a second ball and also parred with it, just for good measure. I really liked the course and would recommend it as a good holiday course. It only took me just over an hour to play it and it was really easy walking, so an ideal track for a quick 9 holes! The 9th was a good finishing hole with a severely sloping green and although it's only 360 yards, a 4 here is a good score. I made a bogey with an excellent pitch from behind the green, though whoever put the hole on the steepest slope on the green was surely having a laugh. I ended up with a gross 40, net 35, compared to the par of 34, so not too bad overall. There's a duck pond to the left of the fairway, hence this family out for a morning stroll! I was in no hurry and was happy to share the fairway for a while. A peaceful place, this golf course and well worth playing before you tackle the excellent 18 hole course at Taymouth Castle GC later on.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Sanday GC - course no 337

Craig, Stu and I played this small 9-hole links course on 30 July 2010. Sanday is the third largest of the Orkney islands and was reached after a 2 hour ferry crossing from Kirkwall (with our all-time best bacon rolls en route!) Sanday's course is 2600 yards, par 35 and was well marked out, with tees, yardage markers and flags. The greens were all surrounded by 2 strands of barbed wire, but the fairways had not been cut. We later discovered that the local farmer did not allow the fairways to be cut, since that affected livestock grazing on his land and food for his animals had to come before golf. Fair enough, but this necessary restriction meant that parts of the course were overgrown and from a golf perspective, nearly unplayable.

We suspected that the restriction on cutting parts of the course may account for some of the rather bizarre Local Rules on the scorecard. For example

"Lost Ball: a replacement ball should be played from a preferred lie close to the area where the ball is deemed by agreement to have been lost, under penalty of one stroke."

"Out of Bounds: On the 9th, the ball should be placed within 2 club lengths of the boundary fence, inside the course, in line with the out of bounds ball, under penalty of 2 strokes."

"Putting Green: the ball may be lifted, cleaned and replaced anywhere on the green, but not nearer the hole, in order to avoid interference from rabbit scrapes, hoof marks, stray daisies or detritus."

We wondered what a "stray" daisy might be since the whole course appeared to be covered in daisies, as shown in the photo of the 2nd green above. Anyway, we struggled our way around the course, using whatever old balls we still had in our bags, rather than lose something more decent in the rough or down one of the many rabbit holes. I scored 43 in total to finish tired but happy. This me on the 9th after completing our golf on Orkney after our 8 courses in 4 days. We'd taken the local bus to the golf course, around 13 miles and had hoped to organise a dial a bus or taxi back to the nearest pub, to while away the hours before the return ferry to Kirkwall. However, we couldn't raise the taxi service by phone and the bus connection was only available at ferry times. So, after the many miles we'd already walked, we had another 5 mile walk to the nearest pub at Kettletoft. Thankfully it wasn't raining (yet!), but all of the walk seemed to be uphill and we'd already drunk all of our water. We found a shop after 3 or so miles, but only one of us noticed that it was selling beer and he assumed that the others would see the stack of cans by the door. Sadly not and those of us who were beerless did not have the energy to walk back. Shortly afterwards, Craig and I saw a ruined church in the distance and someone in a red coat climb the outside stairs and seemingly go into a doorway. There was no traffic around and when we got nearer, there was no car parked near the church. Stranger still, the outside stairs led to a barred door and there was no floor beyond that door. Weird or what? We clearly needed a beer and as if by magic the missing taxi driver turned up, offering us a lift to the pub at Kettletoft, where we spent a couple of hours playing pool and watching the heavy rain that started shortly after we got there. Stranger still, the taxi driver declined payment!
We'd really enjoyed the courses at South Ronaldsay, Stromness, Orkney and Westray GCs and would recommend them as well worth a visit. Orkney as a whole was great place to visit, full of interest and we found the people to be very helpful and incredibly friendly. However, we doubt whether we would want to play the other 3 Orkney courses again unless they improved dramatically (which we fear is unlikely).

Orkney GC - course no 336

Craig, Stu and I played this excellent parkland course on 29 August 2010, after our rounds at South Ronaldsay and Stromness earlier that day. The 18-hole Orkney GC course is located on a hillside on the outskirts of Kirkwall, the main town on the Orkney islands. The course is short, at 5411 yards par 70, but is a good test and was in great condition with really good fast-running greens. We'd teed off around 1700 hrs in front of a large crowd assembled on the patio outside the clubhouse to celebrate the Captain's Invitation Day shotgun competition, just as the speeches were in full swing. Thankfully, we all hit decent drives and got out of their way without incident. In fact, I was playing pretty well until we got to this, the 6th, a downhill 323 yard par 4 with a burn in front of the green and OOB behind it. My drive found a fairway bunker, but in an effort to make sure I got over the burn with my third shot, I ended up hard against the wall behind the green. I played the ball against the wall and escaped with a tired-looking double bogey. From that stutter, I parred or bogeyed the remaining holes, finishing with an 84, net 74, or 4 over net par. Not too bad, but we are all pretty tired by the time we'd finished this, the 18th hole, a 290 yard dog leg par 4 which finishes worryingly close to the clubhouse. The post-competition barbecue (and bar) was still going strong, and from where I played an easy wedge to the green, it looked as though anything even slightly overhit could scatter the audience we had. We'd been planning a quick exit back to town for dinner and a beer or three, but that plan was quickly ditched when the Club Captain, no less, invited us to join the party. It turned out that the Captain was originally from East Lothian and had gone to school with one of my friends at the Glen GC! We were far from home, but Scotland was still a small place. Thanks again to all concerned at Orkney GC. We thought your course was great and really enjoyed it, and the post-game barbie and beers were a real life-saver, as it had been a very long day. If you ever have time to play golf in Orkney, do not under any circumstances miss this excellent course and the friendliest club members you'll meet for a long, long time.

Stromness GC - course no 335

Wow! Craig, Stu and I played this absolutely excellent 18 hole course on 29 July 2010. Stromness is the second largest town in Orkney (to Kirkwall) and is on the west side of the Mainland island in the archipelago. The Stromness course straddles a gently sloping hill on the edge of the town, by the sea, and looks out to the island of Hoy and beyond that, to the Atlantic Ocean. As might expected, the views are amazing and if your golf lets you down, there's still lots to see in all directions, not least the wartime fortifications that protected Scapa Flow from enemy ships. It was also good to see NorthLink's ferry sail by, on its way from Scrabster to Stromness, as I'd spent the past 10 years working on various aspects of ferry operations in Scotland, including on that route. Here's the ferry going past the 3rd green. The Stromness course is a very modest 4804 yards, par 65 off the yellow tees that we played, but don't go thinking that this is an easy course. We played it in flat calm conditions, a rarity in Orkney I can assure you. The course is on a very exposed site and when the wind blows on Orkney, it really blows! Don't even think about packing a golf umbrella. Just take a wet suit and a woolly hat, just in case. We were lucky to avoid some light rain showers and the conditions could not have been better. The course was also in superb condition, so we'd no excuses. It would be difficult to pick a "best hole" from a first visit to such a course, but what about this, the short 251 yard par 4 16th, supposedly the easiest hole on the course? OOB on the left, a burn 200 yards off the tee and an old building blocking the view to the green (at least from where I drove to!) I laid up short of the burn and had a full wedge uphill to a sloping green, over the building. This hole would normally play straight into the prevailing wind, so must be a real challenge in a gale. To the right is a view of the 9th green, with Hoy half-hidden by clouds, but no amount of photos would do full justice to the course's setting. Just go and find out for yourself and take your time. All 3 of us are fairly quick players and we got round in under 3 hours, but there was no-one in front or behind us and we would gladly have taken longer to go round, just to savour the views and the course itself. Perhaps another time. I hope so, since this is simply a superb little course and I'd like to try to beat my score of 80, net 70 (5 over net par). Play it if you can and hope you get good calm weather. If the weather's not great, you'll still enjoy the challenge!

South Ronaldsay GC - course no 334

Craig, Stu and I played this excellent 9 hole course on 30 July 2010 after a ferry trip from Westray to Kirkwall and a drive down to the village of St Margaret's Hope on South Ronaldsay, where the islanders built themselves a 9 hole course some 5 years ago. Since then, the course has matured into a lovely little course, full of interest and variety. The course was in great condition, with lush fairways and fast running greens and was a real treat to play, particularly after the difficulties we'd had the previous day. So, well done to whoever designed the South Ronaldsay course and to the members who continue to look after the place so well. This is a general view of the course and some of the village. Water and/or OOB comes into play on 7 of the holes, but the rough was pretty modest and the generous fairways helped to encourage good hitting. Just as well, since there wasn't a flat green on the course, with most having severe slopes. The course was playing to its full length (a modest 2623 yards, par 33) and was a pretty good test of our differing skills. We thought that the best hole on the course was the 434 yard par 4 8th, deservedly the Stroke Index 1 hole. This is played from an elevated tee, with a water hazard short of the green, as shown below. I took a double bogey, thanks mainly to missing the small green with a short pitch, but this is a really difficult hole. I went round in a disappointing 42, mainly as a result of missing some greens in regulation or finding one of the water hazards. As with most courses, I think I'd play it better second time round and we were sorely tempted to go round again, despite still having two 18 hole courses to play that day. South Ronaldsay is that kind of course. Once you've played it, you'll want to do so again. Don't miss it if you're ever in Orkney with your clubs and have around 90 minutes to spare!

Westray GC - course no 333

Craig, Stu and I played this good 9 hole course late on 28 July 2010 after our games on North Ronaldsay and Papa Westray. We were pretty tired by the time we got onto the course. We'd walked for miles earlier, trying to navigate our way around the other courses, so it was a great relief to find that the Westray course was in fine condition, with well defined fairways and medium paced greens. OK, there were a few imperfections here and there, but this is a small club on a small island exposed to some pretty tough weather at times. It was clear that the members had worked hard to maintain the course and good on them for that and their current work to improve facilities in the small clubhouse. This is a view of the 3rd green. The Westray course was only a mile or so from the excellent Pierowall Hotel, where we were staying for the night. If you ever get there, the Cullen Skink is fantastic! Anyway, the Westray course is only 1699 yards, has a par 0f 29, with 7 par 3s and a couple of par 4s and was fun to play after our earlier exertions. We all played pretty well at Westray and it was a refreshing change not to have to search for balls on every hole (after finding the right hole in the first place!) This is me trying to look relatively fresh on the 3rd green, the longest hole at Westray (at 374 yards). The truth is, I'd long since felt pretty knackered, so the photo below is me on the 9th green, with the 16th Century Noltland Castle in the background, looking every bit as tired as I felt. I'd gone round Westray in a respectable gross 36, helped by an excellent birdie on the 220 yard par 3 last hole. We'd finished at 2100 hrs, having been on the go since 0630, taken 2 flights and a ferry and walked umpteen miles to complete 3 short 9 hole courses. Thankfully, the walk back to our hotel and a well-earned pint was all downhill. Only 45 holes to play the following day! We really are mad.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Papa Westray GC - course no 332

Craig, Stu and I played here on 28 July 2010 after our depressing experiences on North Ronaldsay. We'd explained to a worker at the airfield that the North Ronaldsay had been in poor condition, but although the 9 hole course as Papa Westray was still being actively supported, the woman we spoke to said her son (who acted as greenkeeper) had been too busy recently to cut the course and that it was pretty overgrown. There's only one road on Papa Westray (or Papay is the locals referred to it) and as the island is only 3.5 Sq. Miles, it's difficult to get lost. We were told that the course was a mile or so down the road from the airfield, just before the ferry terminal. Thankfully, one of the islanders that we'd met briefly at the airfield gave us a lift for the last few hundred yards and gave us a map of the course that he'd sketched out after meeting us. That was a really kind gesture, which proved to be an aid essential to our efforts to play the course. This is me and Stu at the small shed that acts as a clubhouse, before our round. Note the disturbing length of the grass, a feature on the course itself. The course had probably been cut during 2010, but was now almost completely overgrown in parts. There were no tees visible on some holes and all of the flags had fallen over and in some cases had been partially overgrown. Still, the sun had come out, it was pretty warm and although we'd only had some chocolate bars for lunch, bought from the tiny shop on North Ronaldsay, we were in good spirits. Craig once again proved to be masterful in finding the holes and the map we'd been given was pretty accurate. Even so, some guesswork was involved and as there were no scorecards to help, we had to plot our way carefully across deep rough (there were no fairways at all on most holes) avoiding rabbit holes and other hidden obstacles. This is the 1854 yards, par 30 course we found on the day-
Hole 1 - 275 yards - par 4
Hole 2 - 167 yards - par 3
Hole 3 - 181 yards - par 3
Hole 4 - 172 yards - par 3
Hole 5 - 105 yards - par 3
Hole 6 - 115 yards - par 3
Hole 7 - 205 yards - par 3
Hole 8 - 304 yards - par 4
Hole 9 - 330 yards - par 4
The photo above is Craig and Stu on the 3rd green, one of the better surfaces on the course. This, believe it or not, is me putting on the 5th green, or what we found to be the most flat and short surface between the 5th and 6th tees, with a hole in it (we couldn't find the flag, and assume it's buried in the rough somewhere nearby). In reality, we had to concede putts to each other on this surface. It was a real shame that the course was in such disrepair, as the overall design was pretty good, with changes in elevation to small targets. With some restorative trimming and TLC, this could be a good course. Add in the unspoilt setting and views out to sea and this could be a really good course. Papa Westray is still pretty remote but is more accessible than other islands, so we hope its little course has a future. But for that to happen, someone needs to have time to tend to its needs.

Best hole? Definitely the short 4th, a 105 yard par 3 , as shown here, played over the beach to a small green, with the ferry terminal in the background. The flag is under the second tallest lamp post! Given the condition of the course and a liberal interpretation of the rule about lost balls, I went round in a modest 37, with pars on the 5th, 7th and last holes. And a lasting memory? On our short ferry trip over to the adjacent island of Westray, a fellow traveller commented to us that he had seen us and our golf bags on the hill nearby the ferry terminal, but hadn't noticed that there was a golf course hidden beneath the grass and weeds. This guy was actually walking on the road that goes through the middle of the course and at the time he was within yards of us. Regrettably, the course was so overgrown he and his family didn't even see the course, despite stopping to look at the flowers.