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."