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.

Update

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. 


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