Saturday, 25 September 2010

Earl of Mar Course - course no 354

This is a new 18 hole parkland championship course that opened for play in the Spring of 2010, complementing the excellent luxury Mar Hall hotel and spa complex by the River Clyde, only a 15 minute drive from Glasgow Airport. Polly and I played the course on 24 September 2010, so thanks again to Steve, who works for the course's owners, for getting us on. We played a friendly match against Steve and his pal Bill, who are both members at the nearby Buchanan Castle club (a very good parkland course near Loch Lomond that's also well worth a visit).

The tees and greens had apparently been in place for around 4 years and had settled in really well but the fairways had been sown more recently and bad weather had delayed the opening of the course for play until this Spring. In places limited fairway growth led to difficult lies for second shots, so preferred lies were in place through the course. Even so, iron play from the new fairways (for me at least) was occasionally tricky. The fairways will improve significantly after further feeding and (I hope!) a more reasonable winter than we had last year. The design is outstanding, with some really good and interesting holes, particularly along the side of the river. Course drainage appeared to be very good too, so overall I thought that this new course would mature very well and in time become an excellent parkland course. With a luxury hotel on site, I'm sure that the Earl of Mar course will become an important and welcome addition to golf tourism in the Glasgow area. Although the course and hotel are so close to the airport and motorway connections, the openness of the site and the tremendous views of the river and the hills beyond gave the course a real countryside feel. For example, this is a view of the 8th green.

At 6259 yards par 70 off the yellow tees, the Earl of Mar course is not particularly long, but on the evidence of the game we had, it will set as stern test for most amateur golfers. The course is relatively flat and starts with a tricky 482 yard par 5, dog leg left. I was just short in 3 and thinned a chip through the back for an eventual double bogey, with the thinned shot being the first sign that the fairways had still to thicken up. Next was a really good 198 yard par 3, and another double bogey - I really must try harder to warm up before playing! The 3rd is a 387 yard par 4, dog leg left. The big hitters will cut the corner, leaving a short downhill pitch to the green. More normal folk like me will be content to hit the ball straight and tackle a blind shot over a small ridge down to the green. I played that way and had my first par, just missing the birdie putt. The hole is overlooked by the Erskine Bridge, as shown here (making the course easy to find by road!) The 4th is a long 439 yard par 4 (Stroke Index 2) with a lateral water hazard all the way up the left of the fairway. What the bigger hitters won't see from the tee is that this hazard becomes a wide pond 260 yards out. I only dream of hitting drives that far these days, so I was OK and managed a good bogey. I played the front 9 relatively steadily thereafter, going out in 45, with 18 putts. None of us could get the pace of the greens, which varied from slow to medium fast, but at least they ran smooth and true. Like the fairways, they'll improve.

The back 9 starts with a deceptively short 130 yard par 3, nestling between mature trees. However, there's a bank in front of the green that is hard to see due to the shadows from the trees and we all under-clubbed. I hit a pitch to within a few inches so at least I got the easy par I was looking for from the tee. However, I really struggled with anything off the fairways after that hole and as a result my scoring went south, with a series of bogeys and worse. Polly and I had been leading at the turn in our match against Steve and Bill but they went a couple up on this, the excellent par 4 335 yard 14th. I hit an 8 iron to the green but again found that a precise hit was necessary on the new fairway, so another bogey followed. I did at least par this, the 187 yard par 3 17th, but we were still dormie down stood on the 18th tee. The last hole is a really difficult 407 yard par 4 dog leg right, with an uphill second to a plateau green. The dog leg turns at 250 yards, but I'd caught a steep bank beyond a fairway bunker to the left and had 180 yards to go, over a large tree, off a silly steep hanging lie in semi-rough. I managed to clear all but the highest branch of the tree, but was still short of the green in 3. I'm really not sure how I took another 4 from there, but it would not have been nice to watch. Meanwhile, Polly had got snagged in heavy rough to the right of the fairway, so we lost the match by 2 holes. Well done guys! I'd gone round in a poor 94, net 84, well adrift of the par of 70, but as with any new course, the playability will improve as the layout matures. We'd not really noticed the stroke indexing too much on the way round, but we did wonder how the 18th could possibly be Stroke Index 15 i.e. one of the easier holes. The dog leg requires a drive of 250+ yards, avoiding the bunkering that I found, to leave an uphill 150 yard shot to the green. I think the best score between the four of us was a 6 and it will be interesting to see how the SI changes in years to come.

I'd strongly recommend this course as well worth playing. I suspect that it will mature quickly and become a really good test. Based on my first round there, I'd love to play it again in a few years' time, so when Craig and Stu visit in due course, I'd hope to tag along. Another good thing about the Earl of Mar course. If you're golf's not good, you can always watch the passing river traffic, such as this vessel passing the 15th green!

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Selkirk GC - course no 353

I played this moorland course on 23 September 2010 on a day when other parts of the country were being flooded by torrential rain. Selkirk is a 90 minute drive south from East Lothian and on the way down the rain got so bad that I was wondering whether the course would be playable at all. As it turned out, the rain eased after I'd waited around for an hour, just as one of the locals had predicted. The Selkirk course has 9 greens and 10 tees, so I had to go round twice, dodging the odd light shower. However, the course wasn't busy, as is clear from this photo of the clubhouse and car park from the 9th/18th tee! I guess I was the only one daft enough to be playing that day.

The course is 5331 yards par 68 off the yellow tees and is pretty hilly, with some quirky holes. For example, this is the 384 yard 5th/14th hole, a really awkward par 4. The tee shot is blind over a hill, leaving a long iron from a side/down slope to a tiny shelved green. Indeed, the front half of the green is on such a steep slope that no ball would stay on it. My 7 wood first time round hit the middle of the green but rolled back, right off the green. My putt from the fringe of the green almost made it to the top tier, but came all the way back to me, despite the course being very wet after the rain, resulting in a bogey. The key here is to hit through the green and chip back (as I did on the 14th to get my par) or at least be sure to take enough club to find the top tier. It's further than it looks!

Holes 7 (165 yards) and 16 (210 yards) have different tees and that's the only place where there is enough room to add a 10th tee to the course. However, the green is slightly above both tees, meaning that only a sliver of green and the flag is visible from the tees. I preferred the shorter 7th as from that tee it was at least possible to see that the land fell away to the right and that the safe line in was slightly to the left of the green. The restricted view from the 16th tee is pretty daunting and I took 9 strokes in total on these tricky holes. I particularly liked the 8th/17th, the 495 yard par 5 Stroke Index 2 and 1 holes. The narrow fairway runs along the top of the course (alongside a small practice ground on the highest and most remote part of the course!) The fairway sits in a shallow valley lined with heather and bushes, with the green lying in a hollow below a ridge that splits the end of the fairway. First time round I hit Driver, 7 wood to 60 yards or so and had a blind pitch over the ridge to the green, as shown here. I parred the hole both times after some good straight hitting, but it was certainly a difficult hole. Anything but straight could have led to a big score!

Selkirk keeps its best hole to the last and the 9th/18th is a gem of a par 3, played from an elevated tee to a small green set in a hollow 151 yards away. I played an 8 iron both times and even chipped in for a birdie from just off the green when playing the 9th. This is the view from the tee. I played the course in almost windless conditions but my guess is that this hole would be hugely difficult in windy conditions. I scored 41 first time round and 37 second time, for a 78 total, net 68, matching the par of the course, so a good round overall. Selkirk is quirky but good fun and well worth playing if you get the chance.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Hayston GC - course no 352

Hayston is another of the good parkland courses to the north of Glasgow. Polly and I played in the Hayston GC's Mixed Foursomes competition on 19 September 2010. Hayston is 6080 yards off the White tees (par 70) and 5246 yards off the Ladies tees (par 71) so it's not a long course by any means. Foursomes is always a "testing" format and it didn't take us long to be reminded of that fact. Polly had the drive on the 1st hole. We limped to a double bogey 6, so a bit disappointing. The 2nd turned out to be a tricky 502 yard par 5, played at the start of a heavy shower that was to last for all of the front 9. I hooked the drive into the trees, got the wet suit on, juggled with the umbrella and generally was the main contributor to our pathetic 11. The weather then closed in, the pace of play became equally dismal and we were already out of contention. However, amidst the wreckage of our round we had some rare signs that we'd actually played the game before. Above is a photo from the 3rd tee a short 264 yard par 4, the blurring being the heavy rain, rather than any fault of mine as duty photographer! Polly hit a great drive, I hit an equally impressive short sand iron to 7 feet and we were only just outside the "nearest the pin" prize marker, but an easy par followed. This is the 4th hole, a 118 yard par 3. My 9 iron tee shot left Polly an awkward 4 feet putt (if anything that short can be so described) but another easy par. Hayston is a mixture of parkland and moorland and although undulating in parts should be generally easy walking. However, with heavy rain, an independently minded umbrella and leaky shoes to contend with a hilly course would really have put the tin lid on the competition. As it was, we were out in a poor 52, with the prospect of beating 100 as our main remaining target. Thankfully the rain stopped after the 9th, a watery sun emerged (for all of 5 minutes!) and we could dry off our gear. We could also start to enjoy the Hayston course better, rather than just try to minimise our soaking. I particularly liked the 14th, as shown here, a 165 yard downhill par 3. We'd watched a couple playing in front of us get pretty close to our earlier 11, so looking back, our double bogey was relatively respectable. However, the shot of the day was on the 16th, a 489 yard par 5 playing its full length after the rain. I'd hit a decent drive, Polly had mishit her fairway wood and I'd left my 6 iron a few feet short of the green. Hayston's greens were really good but were pretty slow after catching of the rain that had actually missed us on the front 9. Therefore, Polly's 50 foot putt was pretty daunting, particularly as one of us (!) had been leaving most putts short. Just when you least expect it, the golfing gods intervene so when Polly's putt found the middle of the middle of the hole for an outstanding birdie, we could only laugh (although I also laughed when our playing partners 4-putted from inside 10 feet on the 14th, and that reaction wasn't the best in the circumstances!)
Hayston is well worth playing and has an interesting last hole, an uphill 145 yard par 3, with OOB on both sides and immediately behind the green and the clubhouse windows alarmingly close for anything hooked off the tee. I tried to hit a hard 8 iron, but only succeeded in finding the OOB in front of the clubhouse and we finished with a triple bogey. We'd gone round in 98, net 83, to round off a poor run in our mixed competitions for 2010. Still we'd enjoyed ourselves and I'd played some more new courses. Next year we're going to target some courses we know and have played well in the past, so Powfoot here we come and maybe Cruden Bay too (our only win to date!)

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Lenzie GC - course no 351

This is another of the good parkland courses to the north of Glasgow. I played the Lenzie course on 14 September 2010 in the club's Senior Open. There had been torrential rain in the Glasgow area on the previous day, but the course had stood up well and the fairways and greens were still pretty firm, aided by a gale force wind which made scoring extremely difficult. The weather forecast was for heavy blustery showers and sure enough, I teed off in one of those downpours. Thankfully the 307 yard par 4 1st hole was downwind and I'd only a short lob wedge to the green. A couple of putts and I was off and running, but the wind was a constant problem. I managed a good par 4 at the 350 yard par 4 4th, played directly into the gale. That's my ball to the left of the green, as shown here, so a rare single putt! The toughest hole on the front 9 is the 5th, a steeply uphill 343 yard par 4. The wind was howling from right to left, narrowing the fairway and with trees and OOB on the left, the drive was particularly tricky. I hit a good drive, but the second shot is blind with OOB on the left of the plateau green. I found the green in 3 but nearly went through the back onto the 6th tee. The exposed green is also far from flat, as shown here, so a 6 was just about acceptable. The short 140 yard par 3 6th should have been a chance to get the score back on track, but clubbing was almost impossible, given the windy conditions. I tried a 6 iron, but my ball went through the green, ending up barely inside an OOB fence, so another double bogey went on the card, followed by a triple bogey at the tricky 7th, where the wind again played havoc with the ball.

I was out in 45 and had an easy par at the downwind 10th, a 500 yard par 5 playing much shorter than its yardage. However, the back 9 is 440 yards longer than the front 9, making the par 4's in particular a real test in the windy conditions and a bad run of 6,6,8 on holes 11-13 (all long par 4's) left me struggling to break 90. This is the excellent view down the last, a 372 yard par with OOB on the left and a couple of water hazards to be avoided. I missed the first water hazard OK, but found the second, just in front of the green, and ended up with a 7, just as the skies opened. It's a long walk from the 18th to the car park and by the time I got there I was soaked. I'd gone round in 94, net 84. Disappointing in a way but I suspect that there would be many worse scores than that, given the conditions. I'd happily play Lenzie again, hopefully in less extreme weather!

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Newcastleton GC - course no 350

I played this scenic moorland course on 9 September 2010. Newcastleton is pretty close to the English Border, has 9 greens and 15 separate tees, making it an 18 hole course, measuring 5491 yards, par 69, off the yellow tees. As I was tight for time and had no particular wish to tackle a second circuit up and down this very hilly course, I put a ball into play off the 1st and 10th holes etc. (see the blog entry for Benbecula - course no 278, where we first used this shortcut method of playing). The course was deserted and the clubhouse closed, but a couple of members who arrived in the car park just after me assured me that scorecards were obtainable from any of the village shops, where green fees could also be paid. I was advised that there were a few memorable holes, some others less so and that the greens were slow and hairy. That very honest assessment was correct, but this is a small course run entirely by voluntary effort, so well done to all concerned. The condition of the course was actually pretty good and I can only give my respect to the dedication that the members must have to maintain the course and keep it running. OK, so it wasn't a great golfing experience, but like many other small village courses, the Newcastleton course provides a valuable community amenity and an interest for visitors to the local area. The greens were certainly very slow on uphill putts, and since most of them were also tiny, it was easy to miss them and have an awkward pitch and run. Indeed, anything over 4 feet was very tricky. This is one of the best holes, the 5th/14th, a 155 yard par 3 played downwind to a plateau green sloping steeply left to right. I had a bogey on both holes, missing the green to the left with both tee shots. The most memorable hole had to be the 18th, a steeply downhill 512 yard par 5 (a 452 yard par 4 from the 9th tee). The photo below is from the 18th tee. I guessed that the best line was down the left side of the fairway to maximise the effect of the slope and sure enough, my drive down that side ended up well down the hill in the middle of the fairway. The hole takes a 90 degree dogleg left after about 400 yards. I'd hit my drive about 350 yards but my view to the green was blocked by trees, gorse and bracken, so the only sensible play was an easy chip with a sand iron down to the corner of the dog leg, leaving a short wedge to the green. This is a view of the 9th/18th green, with the clubhouse beyond it. I missed the tiny green with my 3rd shot on the 18th, but managed to get the par with a good lob wedge and single putt. The 18th is certainly memorable, but I'm not sure it works well as a par 5, as (for me at least) there was no sensible way to try for the green after the drive and it just seems daft to have to play a sand iron as the second shot on a long hole. The 9th worked better as a long par 4, since my 300+ yard drive down the hill gave me a clear shot at the green with a 9 iron. I missed the green but scrambled the par with (another!) good lob wedge and single putt. I was out in 41, back in 42 for a gross 83, net 73, for a 4 over par score. Not bad, but I'm not sure I'd be tempted to make the long drive to play Newcastleton again.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

The Castle Course - course no 349

Craig, Stu and I played this superb links course on 3 September 2010 with Susan, a cousin in law to Claire, one of my daughters. Susan plays golf for Scotland and had played the Castle many times before, so we were in good hands trying to play this, the latest addition to the list of excellent courses in St Andrews. Polly came along to help with the yardages and photography. The Castle Course has only been open for play for a few years but was in fabulous condition throughout and looked as though it had been there for many, many years. We all agreed to play off the White back tees, making the course a really formidable test at 6759 yards, par 71. I'd already played all of the other courses in the management of the St Andrews Links Trust (Old, New, Jubilee, Eden, Strathtyrum and Balgove) in all sorts of weather conditions, so it was a real treat to play The Castle on an almost windless and warm sunny day. The course guide tells us that it is "Set on a dramatic cliff top location with stunning views over St Andrews Bay and out to the North Sea. The Castle Course combines breathtaking beauty with wonderful golf." Such blurbs can sometimes be taken with a pinch of salt, but not in this case. Perhaps it was the weather, the good golf (some of us) played or the friendships shared, but for all us of us, this was simply a great course, beautiful to see and play. This is a typical view, taken from the 3rd tee, with St Andrews in the background.

The course straddles a gently sloping clifftop, with each fairway crumpled by all sorts of humps and hollows. The course guide might say aim down the left, but even when I managed to hit a drive in that direction a bad first bounce would take the ball off elsewhere. Equally, a slightly mis-directed drive could be deflected back on line. I'd heard that a common feature of the layout was tussocks of rough grass in the middle of fairways, adding to the difficulty of the course. Thankfully some these features appear to have been removed to make the course more playable, but I was having one of those days, scoring wise. For example, I just missed the fairway on the 404 yard par 4 second and had a poor lie with the ball well below my feet. Rather than take a conservative wedge back onto the fairway, I went for the green with a 5 iron, only to sh--- the ball into the real bundai, for an eventful 8. Anything off line was severely punished. I was hitting the ball well, but just too often. When I did get a kindly bounce and a chance to restore some semblance of order to the scorecard, my putting let me down. I'd been forewarned about the Castle's greens - big, fast, almost impossible to read and full of humps and hollows, but even those warnings didn't prepare me for what was to come. For example, this is my 40 foot birdie putt on the 10th an excellent 167 yard par 3. I'd aimed around 10 feet to the left of the pin, but even that was nowhere near enough, so another bogey went down on the card. I'd actually gone out in a remarkable 53, with 2 pars (including the 536 yard 5th, the Stroke Index 1 hole!), so another bogey was really helpful. Susan and I were playing Craig and Stu and were by then heading for a likely defeat, but such was the quality of the course I didn't really mind.

I'd already taken 90 by the time we got to the Castle's signature hole, the outstanding 17th, a 184 yard par 3 played over a gap in the cliff face. This is me on the tee, wondering how to minimise the damage! I settled on a 3 wood to the left of the green, hoping the slope would carry ball greenwards. That strategy worked reasonably well and a bogey was OK, but I still needed a par down the 18th a 555 yard par 5, to break 100. Thankfully, I was on in 3 but I needed (and got) a smelly downhill 12 footer for the par. Craig, meanwhile, had to apologise to the 3-ball in front for hitting through them on the green with his second (the boy can play and went round in an amazing 73!) My dismal performance had played its part in Susan and I losing 5 and 4. We'll be seeking a rematch at the Duke's or elsewhere in due course, so remember guys, modesty in victory, gracious in defeat.
We'd thoroughly enjoyed our day and agreed that The Castle was a fitting addition to the Trust's other outstanding St Andrews courses. I'd recommend anyone to play it at least once. You might not score well, but I guarantee you'll love the experience, from the welcoming staff and the great clubhouse to the maddening humps and hollows on the fairways and greens. I hope to play The Castle again sometime and knock a few shots off that 99!

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Windyhill GC - course no 348

I'd passed Windyhill after playing at Clydebank and District in July 2010 and was keen to play it, as it was clearly in great condition then. I finally played Windyhill on 31 August 2010 on a warm sunny and (thankfully) windless day. As the name suggests, Windyhill is both hilly and exposed to the elements, and like nearby Balmore GC to the north of Glasgow, it's a really good and interesting parkland course. There are some hills, rolling fairways and awkward slopes to contend with, but the course is well designed and like its neighbour, was in great condition. For example, this is a view along the 3rd fairway. I'd been paired with Ian, another visitor, who had previously been a junior member at Windyhill some years ago so it was good to play with someone who knew the course and was such great company. Thanks for the game, Ian!

The Windyhill greens were in amazing condition and were really fast and tricky to read. For example, this is the 8th hole, a dog leg 461 yard par 5. I was on the back of the green in 3 with what looked like a downhill slightly right to left putt from around 60 feet. I got the pace pretty well but as the ball neared the hole it veered away to the left and off the green down a slope into light rough, leading to a double bogey. I'd also been out of position a few times on the front 9, as accuracy off the tee is pretty important here and scored a very disappointing 48 to the turn.

Windyhill has some really good holes, my favourite being the hugely difficult 431 yard 12th, played over a hollow to a narrow tiered fairway, with a the green set on a small shelf on a hillside. Two (at least!) shots are required to find and hold the small green. I'd missed to the right, but hit a great lob wedge to within 3 feet for an easy par. How about this for a great looking short par 3? This is the 14th, a 142 yard hole that plays even shorter than it looks. Another feature of the course is the amazing views over Glasgow and its surrounding hills. I prefer the countryside to cityscapes, but there are great views across Glasgow from most holes, with the city playing an effective backdrop on some shots. For example, here's the view down the 16th, a scary 323 yard short par 4 requiring an accurate tee shot played blind over some bushes, with only the distant green and the skyline to aim at. Here's the view back up the fairway! My ball is on the right and yes, I did get it in for par. (Ian had his troubles on that hole so his putt was for something more!) I thought that Windyhill was a really good course, full of variety and interest, with some great holes. And if the members we met are anything to go by, this is also a really friendly club. When the pair behind caught up with us on the 12th tee, one of them asked if I had left my ball marker on the 7th green. I hadn't, but it was great that the guy wanted to give a 20p coin back to me in the first place. A small example of the integrity that surrounds the game of golf. Windyhill is definitely well worth playing if you get the chance, but don't be surprised if the course lives up to its name! I'd certainly like to play it again sometime and to beat the poor score of 91, net 81 (9 over par) that I managed first time round.