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!

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