Monday, 31 January 2011

Strathaven GC - course No 371

Polly and I played this excellent 18 hole parkland course on 31 January 2011 on a cloudy and blustery day with strong winds and occasional light rain. We'd been planning to play somewhere in Glasgow, but opted for here as this seemed the better bet weather-wise. The club's website comments that Strathaven is arguably the best parkland course in the west of Scotland and although I've yet to play some of the other likely candidates, it is easy to see why such a claim is made. Although some Winter tees and a few Winter Greens were in play, the damp fairways, heavy greens and tough weather conditions meant that the course was playing pretty close to its normal 6070 yards Par 70 off the Yellow tees.

We teed off later than we'd planned and left ourselves a bit tight for daylight, so we were trying to play relatively quickly to ensure we could get round. Accordingly, the first few holes were over in a blur. I parred the 1st, a 357 yard par 4, inside 5 minutes and the 2nd, a 193 yard par 3, was equally quick. With the wind from behind, I took a 5 iron from the tee and found the front of the green, leaving a 30 foot uphill putt with a 2 foot left to right break. I missed the planned line on the low side, so was amazed when the ball broke back to the left in the last few feet for my first birdie of the round. Some more modest play over the next 2 holes left me 3 over par and with the wind strengthening even more, some improvement was needed. We'd caught up with a steady stream of 3 balls by the 7th tee, adding to our worries about the remaining daylight. The 7th is an interesting dog leg right 377 yard Par 4. The view from the tee is shown above. There's a lot more room to the left than I'd thought and I'd left myself a semi-blind 150 yard second shot, over a hill. I could see the top of the flag OK, but not the 3 guys in front, or where the next tee might be. This is my ball at the front of the 7th green after my second shot so my apologies to them again for playing just a wee bit too quickly! A good hole, though. I thought the best hole on the front 9 was the 8th, a slightly downhill 495 yard par 5 (surprisingly, the Stroke Index 18 hole). Once again, I'd not thought to buy a course guide, so we didn't know about the lateral water hazard to the left of the fairway or the water hazard in front of the green. I'd hit a really good drive and was planning to go for the green with my 3 wood. However, the traffic ahead had slowed down and by the time we were ready to play I was ready to swing really hard at the ball - anyone who's seen me play knows what's coming, an over fast swing and a duck-hook left, into the lateral water hazard. That cost me a bogey, and the 216 yard Par 3 9th hole, played into a blustery cold wind didn't look too inviting. However, I hit a good driver to 20 feet, just off the left of the green, narrowly avoiding a bunker, the putt looked (and was!) straight, so that was my second birdie. I'd reached the turn in 4 over par. It turned out that the guys in front were only playing 9 holes, so we had a clear course in front of us for the rest of the round. We'd been hoping to avoid the rain, but just as reached the 10th tee, down came a steady drizzle, just enough to get you wet and add to the clothing layers. The 10th is a slightly uphill 477 yard par 5. Playing too quickly (again), I duffed a couple of pitch shots and double bogeyed the hole. The 11th at Strathaven is the Stroke Index 1 hole, a slightly downhill 409 yard par 4 with trees on both sides. I hit what I thought was good drive but the wind caught it and it ended up deep in the pine trees on the left of the fairway. Another double bogey followed here, so that was 8 over after 11 holes. I needed to steady things quickly.

The 12th is a good 330 yard par 4, with a water hazard to catch any really long drives (didn't bother me!) and a steeply uphill second shot with an 8 iron for the likes of me. With 4 layers on including the wet suit (and some spare post-Christmas pounds not helping the swing) I underhit my second, for another bogey. The 13th, a slightly downhill 318 yar par 4, was played directly into the wind and rain, but at least I parred the hole. The 14th was the opposite of the 13th, a 288 yard Par 4 played slightly uphill with the wind behind. I only had a short lob wedge to the flag and managed a comfortable 3rd birdie, but that was the end of my luck for this round. The 15th played to around 150 yards into the wind, but my well-struck 4 iron found a bunker in front of the green. I wasn't sure if the bunker was ground under repair or not, since it had not been raked recently and was half-full of leaves. I had an awful lie in a deep footprint and took a double bogey, so I was now 10 over par, with 3 to play.

The 16th was my favourite hole on the course, a 432 yard downhill Par 4 played directly into the wind to a small green, as shown here. The rain stopped and I played the hole well, with my short wedge 3rd shot finishing within 3 feet of the hole. However, I missed the short putt, so went to 11 over. I should have birdied the 17th, but missed an easy-looking 10 foot putt. The 18th was playing short of its 396 yard length due to some course maintenance work, so I had a 12 foot putt for a closing birdie, as shown below. I didn't hit it quite hard enough through the slight break and missed it left of the hole. Still, I'd gone round in 81, net 71, in testing conditions and only 1 over the net par. My short game was not bad, since I'd only 26 putts, but this was a missed opportunity to keep my recent good scoring run going. Strathaven is a seriously good course which I'd strongly recommend you play if you're in the area. I'd certainly hope to play it again sometime.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Easter Moffat GC - Course no 370

I played this excellent heathland course to the east of Airdrie on 27 January 2011, a bright and cool day with no wind. Easter Moffat is an 18 hole course of 6043 yards off the Yellow tees. All of the greens were in play except the 10th where a Winter green was in operation. Most of the greens had just been sprayed with fertiliser, as will be seen from some of the photos! They'd also been hollow-tined and were very soft, so it was even more important to get approach shots as close as possible. The course had obviously suffered in the recent snow and there was absolutely no run on the fairways, so although some temporary tees were in operation, reducing the course to around 5900 yards, the par of 71 was still a tough test. Easter Moffat is a seriously good course and although relatively short, is a tough walk, with a few hills to negotiate. This is the 1st fairway, showing some of the damage done by the recent snow and frost. The Par 4 1st is only 325 yards, but plays much longer as it is steeply uphill, hence my opening bogey. The 2nd hole is blind, with the tee shot played over a hill. I sliced a short drive into trees to the right, hit a tree with an attempted recovery shot and ended up with another poor bogey, so maybe the run of good scores in 2011 was nearing its end - or was it? A decent par at the 3rd after a long single putt steadied things and a good birdie at the 4th, a 309 yard par 4, suggested that I might be settling into the round. I bogeyed the 5th, a 191 yard par 3 before studying the course map on the scorecard. There are minor roads running through the course that have to be crossed 4 times but the map is pretty good and thankfully the signage is clear.
The 6th is where Easter Moffat really gets serious. This is a 453 yard Par 4 and it would have helped had my 3rd shot, with a sand iron, had not been pulled left, leaving me an awkward lob wedge shot with only the top of the flag being visible. I took a double bogey, so a serious wobble. The 7th is a 421 yard Par 4 slightly downhill and should be not too much trouble. However, I sliced a short drive onto the 8th fairway and hit another slice with a 3 wood and ended up in woods between the green and the 8th Tee, as shown here. I had around 70 yards to the flag and at least I could take a full swing. Miraculously, my wedge missed all of the trees and found the green. I had a slightly uphill 20 foot putt. but at least it looked straight and sure enough, in it went for my most outrageous par so far this year. Easy pars at the short Par 4s on 8 and 9 and I was out in 39 and only 4 over par.

The back 9 at Easter Moffat was pretty tough. The 10th was an easy enough short Par 4, but next was a nasty 495 yard par 5 that plays much longer than it looks (hence the bogey), followed by the 12th, the Stroke Index 1 hole, an uphill 451 yard par 4 with a long blind second shot over a hill. I managed to get within 15 feet with my lob wedge 3rd shot but missed the putt, but at least I'd only had a bogey. This is a view of the 12th green - one of my favourite holes on the course. I also liked the 14th, a 342 yard par 4 with a blind second to a small sloping green. I'd dropped silly shots on the 14th, 15th and 16th, so with 2 holes to go, I was 9 over and probably heading for the buffer zone at best.

The closing holes are well worth the walk! The 17th is a downhill dog leg left 484 yard Par 5. I'd hit a good long drive and 7 wood to within 40 yards, so it was no problem to par the hole from there. The last is a classic short 118 yard Par 3 finishing in front of the clubhouse. I had exactly 100 yards from the Winter tee in operation and I only needed a bogey to finish net par. I struck my wedge almost perfectly, for once, and finished only 3 feet away for an easy closing birdie. I'd gone round in 79, net 69, or 2 under net par, with a couple of birdies. That's 21 under net par for my 6 new courses so far this year, thanks largely to some shortened holes, an improved short game and on this course at least, some lucky breaks. I really liked this course and would recommend it.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Grangemouth GC - Course No 369

I played this excellent municipal 18 hole parkland course, as operated by Falkirk Council, on 25 January 2011 with Davie, a 3-handicapper and local member I'd met in the Pro Shop. I'd played my previous 4 new courses this year pretty well (and was also on the winning team in a Texas Scramble played at the Glen GC on 22 January - winning £25!), so I was hoping for another decent score at Grangemouth, which plays to 6049 yards, par 70, off the yellow tees. Some winter tees and 3 winter greens were in operation, so the course was probably playing to about 5500 yards. The greens had recently been hollow-tined so putting was far from easy and a good short game was needed to get the ball close enough to have a chance of a single putt. I'd done some Internet research and found reviews that reckoned this was a really under-rated course and Davie quickly reassured me that not only was the design good, testing all of his game, the greens were normally some of the best in the Falkirk area. The course sits between the M9 motorway and Scotland's biggest petrochemicals refinery and when the wind blows from a particular direction, a large rubbish landfill site nearby is also evident, but don't let those distractions put you off, because this is a really good and interesting course.

The 1st hole is a 365 yard par 4 requiring a good mid-iron to an uphill green that plays longer than it looks, hence my opening bogey. The 2nd was a short blind Par 4, played over a hill to a small green, which I missed with a wedge. However, I redeemed that mistake by chipping in with my lob wedge from 20 feet, so a first birdie (yes, there were more!) I bogeyed the 3rd after a thinned lob wedge to the winter green, some way short of the real green, but managed another birdie at the Par 5 5th hole, playing to about 480 yards off a forward tee. I was back on level par after 5 holes and playing well. This is the 6th green, on a 289 yard Par 4. If you look closely, you might see my ball, inside 3 feet to the left of the hole, after a lovely sand iron from 70 yards. I managed to hole the putt for a 3rd birdie in 3 holes, to go 1 under par. I thought the best hole at Grangemouth was the 7th, as shown here. This is a 183 yard Par 3 played over a fishing pond to a raised green protected by 10 pot bunkers (Davie commented that some club members don't like changes to this hole, as it used to have only 4 bunkers). I missed the green way left of any bunkers, but a bogey was fair enough as this looked a pretty tricky test from the tee. The Stroke Index 1 hole was next, a fearsome uphill dog leg left 399 yard Par 4, played to a small shelf of a green on a hill, with real trouble below and left of the green (where my approach shot ended up!) A double bogey there, followed by a bogey at the 9th and I was out in 39, but still only 3 over par, so there was still a chance of a good score.

Holes 10-15 are played across a hill overlooking the oil refinery, which I'm pretty sure is the largest industrial site in Scotland. The sheer scale of the site is very impressive. You just don't want to think of the implications of an explosion, but it's certainly an unusual backdrop to a golf course! My good play continued on the back 9, despite the odd poor shot that cost me a stroke. No more birdies, so I had to settle for 38 back, after dropped shots at 11, 13, 15 and 18. This is the 18th, a good 401 yard slightly uphill Par 4, and another hole that plays a lot longer than it looks. I'd gone round in 77, net 67, or 3 under net par, with 3 birdies and 28 putts, so my short game was pretty sharp. Another good score on a really good course.
Davie and I had a great blether going round, such that neither of us was really concentrating too hard on the golf. Davie suggested that I should try to play Grangemouth again in the Summer months when the course would be at its best. I don't know when, but this is a course I'd gladly play again.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Kilbirnie Place GC - Course no 368

I played this good and interesting inland course in Ayrshire on 20 January 2011 on a frosty and sunny day. I'd driven over through freezing fog and black ice, giving myself time to find a new course by the coast if necessary. Although the Kilbirnie course was using temporary greens because of the frosty conditions, the course looked interesting, as this view from the 1st tee shows, so I decided that the likes of Irvine Bogside could wait for another day. Kilbirnie Place GC is an 18 hole parkland course of 5370 yards off the yellow tees, but was playing to nearer 5000 yards because of the temporary greens. However, I suspect that the par of 69 was unaffected, as the frosty conditions and the roughness of the greens offset the reduction in length.

The 1st was a 120 yard Par 3 played over a burn that was also to make the 18th very tricky in due course. I misjudged the extreme slowness of the 1st green and took 4. The tees were brick hard due to the frost, so driving was also difficult. Added to that the low sun on some holes, particularly the 3rd, suggested I'd do well to finish with the same ball (which I did, just!) and make a decent score. I'd been given a detailed map of the course which was a real necessity as without it I'd really have been lost. Even so, I had fun trying to find the 4th tee, hidden behind a horse paddock all on its own. This was a good hole, though, with excellent views of an old castle behind the green, as shown here. I scrambled my way around the front 9 in 37, missing most greens in regulation but pitching close enough to hole a few single putts.

The back 9 at Kilbirnie is definitely more challenging. Holes 10 and 11 are easy enough, but if you can find it, the 12th is a really formidable par 4. The card says it's only 315 yards, but this hole is all about the tee shot. The 12th tee sits in a wooded ravine beyond the 4th tee. There's a good path, but it was very icy and as I was watching my feet on the ice so carefully that I walked right past the tee and spent the next 10 minutes trying to find it. The tee is actually at the bottom of the wooded ravine, with a distant marker on a hill the only clue about distance and direction. It looked as though I had to hit at least 200 yards up and over the trees. Even then, I'd a blind shot to the temporary green. I escaped with a bogey 5, but the hole is just a card wrecker. If that was hard, the 13th is a 482 yard uphill par 5, with OOB on the left of the fairway. I managed a poor 7 after missing the fairway from the tee. The 14th is a slightly uphill 192 yard Par 3 played over a dyke that conceals a deep gully and a water hazard, so the tee shot has to carry at least 180 yards. I got a 4 after a good 3 wood, but what an awkward stretch of holes. The 15th is a 260 yard Par 4 that I birdied after a good pitch to 3 feet. I had an equally good pitch at the 16th but just missed the short birdie putt. I had another par at the 17th, a good 507 yard Par 5, so needed a par at the last for a gross 77, net 67. This is the 18th, an excellent short Par 3 of 139 yards, finishing in front of the clubhouse windows (as all good closing holes should). I've been hitting my irons well of late, but the sight of the greenkeeper tidying some tree branches 40 yards forward and to my right was a bit disconcerting. He'd certainly not have had much time to duck! However, I hit a good 8 iron and a short pitch to 2 feet for an easy par. I'd gone round in 77, or 2 under net par, with 28 putts on the somewhat dodgy temporary greens. Another good round and a good enjoyable course.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Bathgate GC - Course no 367

I played this excellent parkland/heathland course on 17 January 2011 after my practice round over the nearby sports centre course at Balbardie. Bathgate is a 5827 yard par 70 course off the yellow markers, but the course had been set to Winter Greens, so was probably nearer to 5600 yards. However, the fairways were pretty wet in places and the course was playing long, so I suspect that the par of 70 was fair enough on the day (for me anyway, as a first time visitor).

I'd vague memories of the Bathgate layout as I'd been a spectator at an exhibition match played over the course in the early 1970's (1973?) between Eric Brown and Bernard Gallacher. I'm pretty certain that no other club in the world has produced two Ryder Cup captains and the Bathgate club is rightly proud of both ambassadors for their club and Scottish golf in general. Apart from that match itself, I remember the course being surrounded by a dismal urban and industrial landscape. Some of the grimness of those 1970's surroundings has been replaced in recent years by high quality housing, the recently opened new railway station and the planting of thousands of trees on the course itself. OK, so the approach by car still takes you under the railway line through an impossibly low, narrow and dark tunnel, but don't let that put you off. The course might not be set in the most beautiful of surroundings, but I wouldn't want anyone to think that Bathgate is best avoided for that reason, because this is a seriously good golf course, well worth seeking out.

The course had been closed for quite a few weeks due to snow and frost, 18 temporary greens were in play and a number of temporary water hazards had appeared, not least the large lake in the middle of the 12th fairway. At lesser courses it might have been a case of splashing through the occasional puddles to "tick the box" and get another course done. Not so here, since even on temporary greens the course was a real pleasure from start to finish. Maybe it was because I was playing pretty well or maybe it was the warmth of the welcome from staff and members alike, but this was a very enjoyable round. Craig and Stu played here last year and share my views about the quality of this course.

Bathgate starts with a short 462 yard par 5, with the second shot played over a burn running across the fairway. I'd missed the temporary green in regulation but scrambled a par after a good lob wedge to 10 feet. The 2nd hole is Stroke Index 1 but surprisingly, another easy par. The 3rd, as shown here, was a good short par 4 at only 307 yards, requiring extra care off the tee to get the right position for a left dog leg to the green. Another par and I'd settled into the round. I dropped a shot at the par 3 4th, but rescued good pars on the 5th and 6th. I dropped another shot on the 7th but holed out for a good birdie at this, the short Par 3 8th. The temporary green meant that the hole was only around 110 yards long, but with the green being so far below the tee and a nasty bunker close to the flag, this was still a tricky hole. Another par at the 9th and I'd gone out in 37, only 1 over par. I had a couple of bogeys at the 10th and 11th (where I almost lost the ball long and left of the green), but a good birdie at the 483 yard par 5 12th rescued my hopes for a good score. I'd been a given a plastic mat to play fairway shots from (to protect the course during the Winter) and although these are not to everyone's taste, I really like the way they promote acceleration through the ball (for me anyway!) Accordingly, I wasn't really surprised when my chip shot, played using the mat from the left side of the 12th green, went into the hole for a second birdie.

My back 9 included further bogeys at the 14th, 15th and 17th, but standing on the 18th tee I was only 5 over par. The 18th, as shown here, was playing to about 320 yards and a solid drive and 9 iron left me with an uphill 10 foot putt. The temporary greens were surprisingly good, but the 18th sits on a slope, with the odd fallen leaf making things even more interesting. How I missed the putt by less than an inch I still don't know, but I was happy enough with a par in the circumstances. I'd gone round in 75, net 65, or 5 under the course par, with a couple of birdies. That's -6, -3 and -5 in my 3 new courses so far in 2011, but I know my game pretty well by now and with the new competitive golf season some months away yet, there's time enough for a return to the usual mediocrity and "if onlys."

Bathgate Sports Centre - Balbardie Golf Course - Course no 366

This is a 1237 yard 9 hole Par 3 course attached to the Bathgate Sports Centre, as operated by West Lothian Council. I played this course on 17 January 2011 on just about the first dry and sunny day we've had this year. Like everywhere else in Scotland, the course had been snow-covered until very recently. The course had been set to Winter greens when I arrived, but the greenkeeping staff were working on the course and were helpfully putting the flags back on the greens as they went, meaning I got to play the full course. The snow had melted but the ground was absolutely saturated, so conditions were far from ideal and there was absolutely no run, with tee shots plugging where they landed. The greens were also very bumpy and slow, making putting tricky. This is the 1st green, looking back to the tee. I missed the green but scrambled a par with a 10 foot downhill putt - the longest I holed all round!

The best hole is probably the 4, as shown here, a 160 yarder, played to a small steeply sloping shelf green. I missed the green long and right, but a great pitch with my lob wedge to within a few inches was enough to secure the par. I dropped my first shot of the day at the 6th, a 168 yarder. I'd caught up with the greenkeeper by then, so he advised that I play to the normal greens and move the flags to them as I went round. I'd no idea where the holes were for my tee remaining tee shots and ironically, I mishit the tee shot at the 6th to within a foot of the hole on the Winter green. That would have been a tap in birdie, but the guy was only trying to be helpful and it clearly wasn't his fault that I took another 3 shots to get down from all of 20 yards. I parred the 7th and 8th easily enough, so only 1 over par on the last tee, a 196 yarder and easily the longest hole on the course, played directly into the low Winter sun. It was only after I'd hit my 7 wood tee shot that I noticed the scorecard was set in metres. I can (just) do a 178 yard carry with my 7 wood, but I ended up around 20 yards short and duffed a lob wedge from there. I scrambled a bogey from 20 feet on this, the last green to go round in 29, with 14 putts. That score equates to 3 under par, so not too bad in the circumstances. I suspect that I could have done even better had I noticed that the card was in metres - an easy mistake! The scorecard, uniquely in my experience so far, also has a space for the player's age, yet has no space for the handicap and lists the following local rule "If ball lands in water or in trees you are allowed free drop." Bizarre. Still, this is a good wee course for beginners and for general practice.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Troon Fullerton Course - course no 365

Craig, Stu and I had been hoping to keep playing through the Winter after our excellent round at Renaissance, but the record snow and freezing temperatures in Scotland since late November have prevented us from getting any new courses in. I've managed a few bounce games over my own course (Glen GC) as it's usually snow-free being right by the sea, but as I write, very few other Scottish courses are open for play. Indeed, it looks as though some may be closed for a few more weeks yet, either through snow, frost or flooding damage. After some Internet searching and phone calls I finally found that some of the coastal courses in Ayrshire were open, so my first new course in 2011 was the Troon Fullerton course on 12 January. Fullerton is a municipal course laid out inside the Troon Lochgreen Course (see my course no 245) and beside the Troon Darley course, which I've yet to play. Like its neighbours, Fullerton is a links course, but at only 4682 yards par 66, it's pretty easy. I liked Lochgreen, but I'm afraid that Fullerton is dull by comparison, with a succession of short, flat and largely featureless holes. It's not much of a test, but would certainly be a useful introduction to links golf for new golfers or a good walk for those of far more advanced years, for whom Ayrshire's many more demanding links courses was too much of a challenge. Despite Fullerton being my first new course in umpteen weeks, it was a pretty underwhelming experience.

The course starts brightly enough, with Hole 1 being the Stroke Index 1 hole, a 428 yard par 4. I'd not warmed up much, so I dropped a shot there after a fluffed lob wedge. After that, the course meanders around within the layout of the Lochgreen course, with a series of short par 4's and average par 3's. The 12th and 15th holes are pretty decent, but those apart, I suspect that the course will not stick in my memory for long. The 12th, as shown here, is a 177 yard par 3 with a devilish valley of sin in front of the plateau green. The pin was back left, so my strategy was to run a 5 iron in from the right - if only I was that good! I underhit the shot and had a very awkward pitch up a 4 foot rise, hard enough to get up, soft enough to hold the green. I was happy enough with a bogey in the circumstances. The 15th is a driveable 265 yard par 4 with a really tricky downslope to the green, as shown. I missed the green to the right, but had an easy par. The greens were small, but bunkering was modest (until the 18th!) and even playing poorly, scoring was pretty easy. I was out in 37, 4 over par, with 16 putts, but nothing very spectacular. My back 9 was better, since the course was so short that even a mishit drive would be within a pitch of the green. For example, the 14th is a 265 yard par 4. I'd hooked my drive way left, beyond some nasty heather, leaving a 30 yard lob wedge to the pin. Another sclaff and I was 50 feet away, having missed the green completely. My putt from there hit the middle of the middle of the hole for a very unlikely birdie, with another coming on the 16th, a 306 yard par 4. A good drive and a sand iron to 10 feet gave me the opportunity, so at least that was decent golf.
It's long walk to the 17th tee, so looking at my card, I realised that I was now only 3 over par, with 2 shortish par 3's to come. Could I break 70? I parred the 17th after missing the green and holing a 20 foot putt, so an unlikely net 59 was still on the cards. The last hole is a 166 yard par 3, hard against the main road that borders that part of the course, with deep pot bunkers left and right of probably the largest green on the course. "Playing safe" with my trusty 7 wood, I found the left side bunker, but missed the 15 foot putt for the par. I'd played the back 9 in 33 with a couple of birdies and taken only 12 putts for a gross 70, net 60 (6 under net par). Not bad, but there will be many stiffer tests to come in 2011 and I suspect that -6 will take some beating. I'll certainly be trying.
As for Fullerton itself? It's a decent enough track for beginners etc but I'll not be rushing back.