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!