Monday, 22 November 2010

Renaissance Golf Club - course no 364

In our travels around Scotland playing all of the courses we can find, we've played some pretty ordinary courses, of the "seen it, played it" category. We've also been lucky to play some absolutely outstanding courses, where it is a genuine privilege to play. Renaissance has had fantastic write-ups since it opened for play in 2008 and there is currently widespread speculation that the Barclays Scottish Open will come here in a year or two's time. Does the Renaissance course merit all the praise it's been getting? Without a doubt, yes! I've yet to play at Castle Stuart, another new course that has been so highly praised since it opened recently, so I can't offer any comparative view, but Renaissance is certainly up there with the very best links experiences that Scotland has to offer. If the Scottish Open moves away from Loch Lomond there will no doubt be some who will lament the loss of a familiar friend, even one that they have never played. To such commentators I'd simply say if you like Loch Lomond, you'll love Renaissance. We'd really been looking forward to playing here, despite not knowing quite what to expect, since the course is not really visible from the Gullane-North Berwick road. Like the excellent neighbouring Archerfield courses, the Renaissance is tucked away down a quiet access road with only a small road sign to suggest that there is space for such prestige developments. Even close up, the impressive gates to Renaissance offer little insight to what lies beyond. However, the whole experience was simply jaw-dropping, so on behalf of Craig and Stu, I thank again the member who helped us to play here and all of the friendly club staff and other members who made our visit so memorable. As Craig so aptly summed up his day in one word, "Wow!"
We played the course on 20 November 2010 with the member (an old friend of mine) playing a friendly fourball against Craig and Stu. With typical bravado, Craig opted for the Blue tees, a formidable 7426 yards par 71. Recognising our limitations, the rest us opted for the (still testing) Yellow tees, at "only" 6244 yards, par 71. Suffice to say that Craig and Stu footed the bill for Breakfast and Lunch!

I actually parred the first 2 holes, but struggled after that to get the pace of the huge undulating greens, three-putting holes 4-6. There are plans to build 3 new holes on land closer to the sea, with the current 4th hole becoming the new 1st. The 4th is a 488 yards par 4 off the Blue tee, so will be a really tough opener if and when big tournaments come here. I managed a 7 after following my good drive with a 3 wood into the trees and 3-putting. Even so, I had 4 pars on the front 9, to go out in a respectable 42. Here's the tricky 8th, a 323 yard par 4 that will be a definite birdie opportunity for big-hitting professionals (assuming they avoid 3-putting the rollercoaster green!) The pin position we had was back-right, in a hollow that meant Craig couldn't even see the bottom of the flag from his position at the front of the green - another hole to the good guys.

It had been an overcast morning with occasional light showers, more annoying than causing us any real playing problems. Still, it was definitely on the cool side of comfortable, so the unexpected arrival of a waitress on the 9th tee, bearing bowls of hot soup was welcome indeed, allowing us time to savour this, one of my favourite views on the course. The 9th is only 125 yards off the Yellow tee, but the green is tricky and the bunkers are cavernous. I had a bogey after visiting one of them. The front 9 had been a joy to play, but as our genial host so accurately put it, "If you think that was good, wait till you see the back 9!"

The 10th is where the fun (and the rain!) really started. The course wasn't busy, so we took a wander up to the Blue tee to watch Craig tackle the fearsome 593 yard par 5, directly into what for a while looked like a major storm. I parred the hole off the 464 yard Yellow tee before tackling the amazing 11th, quite simply one of the prettiest holes I've played in ages. The 11th is a gently uphill par 4 of 406 yards off the Yellow tee (but an amazing 514 yard par 4 off the Blue) with a wickedly sloping green. Tom Doak, the architect who designed Renaissance, has made great use of an ancient dry stone dyke running through that part of the course and an old gnarled pine tree to create what will, I suspect become a much-photographed signature hole. This is one of the many photos I took around this part of the course. The old wall visible here also cuts in front of the 12th tee. It's barely 3 feet high, but did I clear it? Only a 40 foot single putt (getting longer every time I think about it!) saved the bogey, but another great hole. The 13th tee marks the top of the course and overlooks a stretch of land, hard against the sea far below, where 3 new holes are to be built. The views here will be simply outstanding on an elevated part of the course that is completely exposed to the elements. I took a photo looking down from that tee, but it's not for me to offer any preview via this blog. Let's just leave it that I'm looking forward to seeing what emerges in due course.

The course turns back inland at the 13th, but if it's a slight disappointment to leave the coastline behind, that's more than compensated for by the remaining holes. Play the last hole off the Blue tee (as we all did) if you ever get the chance. From there, it's a 485 Yard Par 4, avoiding fairway bunkers and over old field walls that cross the hole. Here's Craig and Stu on their way. I did the back 9 in a slightly disappointing 48 after taking 4 to get down from the side of the 18th green, turning a reasonable score into a 90 overall, net 80. Still, that's my personal target set if and when I ever get the chance to play here again.
Renaissance is already an outstanding golf course but the thing that staggers me most is that it's really only "work in progress." There's a temporary clubhouse here that would grace many a lesser course, but the permanent clubhouse has still to be built, along with additional residential property for members and of course, the new holes. I'm not a great fan of walking for it's own sake as it just wastes time that could be spent golfing but now that Renaissance is open, there's now an almost unbroken coastal walk taking in the Longniddry, Craigielaw ,Kilspindie, Luffness New, Gullane 1, 2 and 3, Muirfield, Renaissance, Archerfield and North Berwick courses, ending at my own Glen GC clubhouse. If I ever have the urge to do that unique walk, I know I'd need a good pint after it! I'd also know what lies behind the beach that passes the Renaissance course and remember fondly the day that Craig, Stu and I played there. Indeed, when we've all completed our challenge of playing every course in Scotland, I expect that we'll look back on 20 November 2010 as "one of those perfect days." Renaissance will certainly be up there amongst the best courses we've played in our quest to play every Scottish course. If you ever get the chance to play here, take it and think yourself lucky (and privileged), just as we were.


The course layout at Renaissance changed in May 2013 to incorporate 5 new holes and is now 6110 yards, par 71 from the Yellow Tees and a mighty 7303 Yards from the Blue back Tees.   The original first 3 holes and holes 12 and 13 have been replaced and the new layout is a great improvement, bringing in some holes right by the coastline, with spectacular sea views.  The first 3 holes are now part of general practice area facilities at the course, so Renaissance now starts at the original 4th hole, an outstanding 393 Yard Par 4 (a meaty 488 from the back tee!).  New Hole 9 is a 180 Yard Par 3, as shown here, with an infinity edge to the green, with the sea as a backdrop.  There's more depth to the green than you'd think, but the green slopes wickedly and a par here is a great score.  I managed a 4 after coming up just short from the tee.
New Hole 10 will be the new signature hole at Renaissance.  This is a 370 Yard Par 4 dog leg left played along a narrow shelf in the cliff.  Your drive needs to be around 200 yards to reach the fairway, leaving a short iron in.  However, there's really very little to offer encouragement for your drive, since you won't see much of the fairway itself, as it's above you.  Your best bet would be to go for the end of the tree line and trust your swing and abilities.  By all means try to cut off more by going for a longer carry but beware that anything short is dead and your ball is lost.  The green has some wicked slopes on it and if you miss to the left, as I did, you'll struggle to make even a bogey, hence my 6.  From there, it's a climb back up a path to the top of the cliff to the new 11th Hole. 

The 11th, as shown opposite, is a downhill 134 Yard Par 3, played into the prevailing westerly wind.  A deep bunker protects front pin positions.  The hole looks easy enough on a calm day, but you might wait long enough for that, so be prepared for a tricky tee shot that could easily sail away on the wind onto the 10th fairway or worse, be lost down the cliff.  Another bogey there for me. The new 12th is an uphill 392 Yard Par 4 (484 Yards from the back tee!).  The prevailing westerly wind should help, but don't go near the right side of the fairway, as enough bunkers await, hidden from view, ready to kill your score (assuming you've still got one by then).  The new 12th uses the old 13th green and is still tricky to read - there speaks the experienced caddy!  I was on the green in 3 and 3 putted from no great distance.

This is the new 15th, a terrific 160 Yard Par 3, playing to 214 Yards from the back tee.  The plateau green runs off into well-placed bunkering and awkward little hollows that, if found, make a par extremely difficult. Chances are you'll be playing this hole into a stiff head wind.  A pin position on the right of the green will also be very demanding, since a line of deep bunkers will be perilously close to your line of play. Par here will be a good score for most players. I 3-putted again for a bogey.
I played the new layout on 4 June 2013 and went round in 88 with 35 putts and the odd poor shot.  The new clubhouse is now almost fully open and is a hugely impressive building befitting such a prestigious and ambitious course.  The new layout has greatly improved the course and if you ever get the chance to play it, or even get inside the massive front gates, you'll be mightily impressed. 

Friday, 19 November 2010

Prestwick St Cuthbert GC - course no 363

I played this good parkland course on 19 November 2010. I'd previously turned up on spec during the Summer, only to find that the tee was reserved all day for an Open competition (I played at Barrassie instead), so I made sure I phoned in advance this time! St Cuthbert is an easy walking flat parkland course, 5993 yards Par 70 off the yellow tees. It's a good course to play and was in excellent condition, but of the 3 courses in Prestwick, it doesn't have the trickiness of the St Nicholas course or the difficulty and historic status of the Old Prestwick course. This is a view of the 11th green, showing just how flat the course is. The bank behind the green is just about the biggest hill!

I'd met Bobby, a life member of the club on the 1st tee and we played the first 10 holes together. He'd obviously been quite a player in his younger days and although now well into his 70's was still outdriving me and finished his 10 holes in around 3 over par. Neither of us was concentrating much, but Bobby at least knew where he was going. I took 5 at each of the first 6 holes, dropping 5 strokes in the process (and half of my handicap). Another bogey at the 163 yard 7th, but at least I'd moved to one under five's. A first par on the 162 yard par 3 9th and I was out in 42. Thankfully the back 9 was much better, starting with a birdie at the short 308 yard 10th after a good lob wedge to 2 feet. I should also have birdied this, the 11th, but I missed the short putt. The greens were generally quick slick and true. Indeed, I only had 24 putts in total, but much of that was down to missing the greens in regulation and some good wedges etc around the greens. Still. it's a long time since I've had 12 single putts in a round.

I thought that the 18th was the best hole on the course, a 475 yard par 5, finishing in front of the clubhouse windows, as all good closing holes should (Downfield and certain others please note!) This is the view from the middle of the fairway. I needed a par on the last for a 1 over total of 36 on the back 9. Driver, 3 wood, Sand Iron and a couple of putts (one from off the green), job done. I'd gone round in 78, net 68 or 2 strokes under net par. A good round which should have been even better. Still, I'd enjoyed Bobby's company and had a good stroll around the course in warm sunshine and some valuable practice before tackling Renaissance the following day!

Monday, 15 November 2010

Ballochmyle Golf Club - course no 362

Craig and Stu had played Ballochmyle earlier in the year and really liked it, so I'd been keen to play it myself. When I finally managed that on 15 November 2010 (Happy Birthday, Claire!) the course was in great condition and a real pleasure to play. My only concern was that, like some other courses I could mention, Ballochmyle had taken most of the course signage away for the Winter, leaving visitors like me to plot their own way around as best they could. For example, the nearest tee to the 1st green turned out to be the 10th, with the 12th and 2nd located side by side 30 yards away through some trees. The nearest tee to the 5th green turned out to be the 8th, with the 6th tee located over 100 yards away, past the 7th green. Confused? - join the club! I'd managed to catch up with a couple of elderly ladies playing on the 3rd and had hoped to follow them round. However, they dodged the 6th and 7th holes, adding to my confusion. I had to ask other players and greenkeeping staff for directions four times. The 50% reduction in green fees in place over the Winter by the Ballochmyle club is a bargain, but I was trying to play golf rather than go orienteering with luggage. Some simple tee markers would have helped, but enough of that, because this is a really good golf course.

Ballochmyle is a 5672 yard par 70 parkland course, a few miles inland from the Ayrshire coast. As such, it's a wee bit off the golf tourist track, but don't let that put you off. The course starts with an easy downhill par 4, with OOB on the right, followed by a series of good parkland holes, with lots of mature trees waiting to catch anything wayward off the tee. I'd started pretty steadily and was only 3 over after 8 holes, with the short downhill 275 yard par 4 9th to come. OK, the club had moved the tee about 20 yards forward and to the left, opening up what would otherwise have been a slight dogleg over high trees. However, there's a deep ditch down the right and a stream in front of the green to catch anything off line. This is the view from the tee. It was a cold and windless morning and the ball wasn't flying far, so how I managed to drive the green I don't quite know! I'd have been happy with a birdie, but I holed the 12 foot right to left putt for a rare eagle. This is a view of the green. A really good hole. I'd gone out in 36, only 1 over par and made an easy birdie at the 10th. The 11th is a 387 yard dog leg right par 4. the drive is either through a narrow gap in the trees before turning sharp right for a downhill approach, or a blast over the trees, cutting off some of the distance. I took the cautious approach after watching the 2 elderly ladies footering about by the stream that lies half-hidden in the gap between the trees. I bogeyed that hole after a poor approach shot (and also bogeyed 4 of the last 5 holes!). I'd let a really good round slip away and needed a par up the last, a tight 487 yard par 5, for a 41 on the back 9. By the time I got to the 18th, the temperature had dropped alarmingly, and the first flurries of snow blew over the course. I hit a good straight drive and an equally good 3 wood through a narrow gap in the trees, leaving me an uphill wedge to the green, with the clubhouse windows (hopefully toughened glass!) lurking worrying close on the right. Anyone who has ever seen me play will know how easily a sh--- can appear without warning, so it was relief to get the wedge pin high, as shown here. I missed the putt, but I'd still gone round in 77, 3 under the net par of the course, so a good round on a very good course. Play it during the Summer, when the signage returns!

I'd been hoping to play at nearby Muirkirk on the way home, but by the time I got there it was raining hard and a sign on the closed clubhouse advised that scorecards could be obtained in several shops in the nearby village. I decided to press on to Douglas Water, a small 9 hole course deep in the South Lanarkshire hills. It was hidden under several inches of early Winter snow, but at least I now know where it is!

Friday, 5 November 2010

Loudon Gowf Club - course no 361

After the rather dismal round at St Fillans, it was time for a really good course. We'd contacted a number of courses earlier in the year to advise them about our challenge and Loudon amongst others had offered us a courtesy round, to help us to keep our costs down and more generally, support our fund raising. I'd also investigated the club's excellent website and was intrigued by the following entry "the first question usually asked about Loudon Gowf Club is why 'Gowf Club'? It would appear that the Gowf Field of Loudon, so called as far back as records are available, was the private golf field of the Campbell family of Loudon Castle and had been in existence from the early 16th century. Golf or gowf (the old Scottish word for golf) has been played on these fields for over 400 years. It is believed that the ground has never at any time been under the plough in all these years. One can therefore appreciate why the turf at Loudon is unique and probably among the finest of any inland course. Hampden Park, the legendary home of the Scottish national football team, was returfed from the rough along the road side around 1920." The present Loudon club dates back to 1909, but it seemed pretty clear that this was a course with real history and a club worth an early visit.

I visited Loudon, a few miles east of Kilmarnock, on 5 November 2010 on a day more suited to being indoors with a good book and an old malt. Indeed, I nearly turned back on the drive through, but gambled on the weather improving during the day. Indeed, a few minutes away from the course the rain eased to a fine drizzle which was to go on and off during the round. Loudon is a pretty flat parkland course with tree-lined fairways and at 5740 yards, par 67 off the yellow tees, is not particularly long. When I played it the fairways were pretty saturated and I soon gave up trying to find a lie away from standing water. That the course was still open was real tribute to the greenkeeping staff and the quality of the turf. Even so, the course appeared to have some new and temporary water features, such as here on the 12th fairway. The 12th is a 290 yard par 4, aptly named "Marsh", with a lateral water hazard running the length of the fairway. I'd hit a really good drive up the left side and had only a short sand iron to the green. The green is well protected and hidden by a large bunker, so I was pleased to hit a good shot to within 10 feet and hole the putt for my single birdie, hopefully impressing the 4-ball waiting to tee off on the 1st! They'd been spared my splashing about on some of the previous holes - out in 41, or 6 over par. The 14th-16th are pretty daunting, since the main A71 road runs close to these holes, so I was careful not to slice anything. This is the 17th, a good 145 slightly uphill par 3, which I bogeyed (although it is the Stroke Index 18 hole). I'd parred the 7th, the Stroke Index 1, so make sense of that if you can. I went round in Loudon in 81, net 71, or 4 adrift of the course par. Not bad given the underfoot conditions. Although there are many other quality golf courses in the area, it was no surprise to learn from the Club Secretary that Loudon has over 900 members and a lengthy waiting list to join. That probably says a lot more about the course than I ever can, but this is definitely a course well worth seeking out if you're in the area. However, if you play the course just be sure not to slice a ball onto the busy main road alongside the 14th-16th!

Thursday, 4 November 2010

St Fillans GC - course no 360

Polly and I played this 9 hole course to the west of Crieff in Perthshire on 3 November 2010 after our round at nearby Comrie. I suspect we'd just turned up a few weeks too late, as the course had been set for the Winter, with Winter tees and temporary greens. As ever, we can only play the course that has been set by the club, but it was a pity that we had to find our own way around the course, in the absence of any map on the card or hole numbers on the tees and flags. The rain showers and cold wind simply added to the frustration (was it really only 6 miles east and an hour previously that we were playing at Comrie in Autumn sunshine?) St Fillans is a 2760 yards par 34 course, but was playing shorter than that. However, the lamentable signage (one tee per hole, set by a yellow and a red marker, meaning Polly had to play from the same tees as me) gave us no clues on direction or distance. It may of course be that this small club does not attract many visitors in the off-season, but it needs to do a bit more to help casual visitors such as ourselves to enjoy the experience.

That apart, St Fillans is flat, easy walking and a pleasant enough course, once we'd worked out where we were going. There are a couple of decent holes, but the overall impression was pretty underwhelming, despite the excellent views of forests and hills. This is the 4th, a left dog leg 357 yard par 4. My drive left me an 8 iron to the green and a couple of putts gave me an easy par. I thought the best hole on the course was the 5th, a 265 yard par 4 named after the bothy, as shown here, on the left of the fairway. I duffed a short chip on this hole and dropped a shot, but I went round in 38, or 4 over par. Maybe the course plays better in the Summer. If I'm in back the area then I'd give it another try, but I think there are better courses in the area.

Comrie GC - course no 359

Polly and I played this excellent 9 hole course near Crieff in Perthshire on 4 November 2010. Comrie is pretty short at only 2699 yards, par 35, off the yellow tees and is a moderately hilly course that reminded me of Strathtay or even Crieff Ferntower. The many trees in and surrounding the course made Comrie look spectacular in the Autumn sun. Although the course was pretty wet underfoot after recent heavy rain, the course was in great condition for the time of year, the only problem being the many leaves and pine needles on the greens that made putting quite tricky. I'd been advised by a couple of locals some weeks before that Comrie was really good and well worth playing and how right they were. The course is certainly short, taking Polly and I only just over an hour to go round, but this is a must play course if you're in the area.

Comrie starts with a short right dog leg 320 yard par 4 with a blind tee shot over a small hill. Anything right is dead and the line is just to the left of a marker in the trees above the second tee. The steeply sloping green is set in a hollow and was only a short wedge for an easy par. The 2nd, as shown here, is a good 238 yard par 4. A decent drive left a lob wedge and I managed a good birdie after a 10 foot putt through the ever-present pine needles. However, the green is tiny and sits on a shelf in the hill, so although the hole is short and drivable, the 2nd deserves respect. The 3rd hole is an awkward uphill par 3 of 146 yards that plays its full length. As it was cold and the wind was against us, I played a punch with a 5 iron and ended up with a bogey. This is the view from the tee. The 4th is a 355 yard par 4 played into a valley from an elevated tee, with an uphill second shot that I completely overhit into the trees beyond the green for another bogey. The 5th is a good par 3 of 152 yards, requiring an accurate drive to a small green well protected by bunkers. Another good putt rescued my par so after 5 holes I was only 1 over. The 6th is a really good 476 yard par 5 played directly into the prevailing wind. The recent heavy rain meant there was no run on the fairways and after a poor fairway wood I was on in 4, over 20 feet from the hole. However, another good putt secured an unlikely par and another par at the downhill 7th, a 310 yard par 4, meant I was still on track for a good score.

However, and it seems there's always at least one, I lost concentration on the 8th, a tricky 335 yard par 4 into the wind. I'd had a good drive and had only a 7 iron to the green, but blocked the shot way right, leaving myself completely stymied behind a large tree. I then compounded that error by hitting a duffed pitch and run, ending up with a pathetic triple bogey 7. Lunch was beckoning and another mistake off the tee at the 397 yard par 4 9th led to a closing double bogey. I'd dropped 5 needless shots on the last 2 holes, ending up with a 41, or 6 over the par of the course. A disappointing finish, but I really enjoyed the course. This is a view of the 9th and the homely clubhouse. Play Comrie if you get the chance.