Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Duke's St Andrews - Course no 373

Polly and I played this excellent and demanding heathland course a couple of miles inland of St Andrews on 15 February 2011.  I'd been hoping to play the Duke's as my 400th new course, but as Polly was due to attend a business dinner on the 14th, we took the opportunity to stay at Russack's Hotel overlooking the Old Course, and play the Duke's the following morning.  We both played the Duke's pretty well but the most remarkable shot of the day was undoubtedly by a hacker playing from the 1st tee off the Old Course while we were having our breakfast.  Now I'm no expert on the golf swing, but I do know that a Reverse C played at warp speed is unlikely to yield the desired result on a regular basis.  Accordingly, I'm not sure how the ball managed to just miss his left ankle and trickle only a few feet behind his somewhat uncomfortable looking address position.   Thankfully, his walk of shame was short and brief, but from the reaction of his 3 playing partners, I suspect he'll not be allowed to forget the day he played the Old Course. "On the tee..and still on the tee..."  To his credit, his second shot as slightly better and at least looked as though he might have played the game before.

The Duke's ranges between a daunting 7512 yards off the professional Black tees to a more modest 5216 yards for the ladies Red tees.  Being the mug that I am, I opted for the White medal tees, which at 6550 yards, par 71, was a pretty formidable test given the cold and heavy conditions.  I'd been quite warm walking around the town after breakfast, but the Duke's is set on an exposed hilly site with impressive views down to the town and the sea beyond, so the temperature was well down and a two-jumper wind was blowing in off the sea.  Added to that, there had been heavy rain in recent days so the fairways were very wet underfoot, with almost no run.  Like most Scottish inland courses at this time of year, the greens were slow, a bit bumpy and very difficult to read.

Just to make things more interesting still, the Pro had advised us that the course was played in reverse order during the Winter, with holes 10-18 forming the front 9 and holes 1-9 as the back 9.  We didn't think to ask why this was done and we were none the wiser after playing the course.  If anything, the "Winter" order seemed pretty natural, since the 9th hole finished immediately below the clubhouse windows, whereas the 18th finished lower down the hill out of sight from the clubhouse windows and left a long and steeply uphill walk to the 1st hole teeing ground.  To keep things simple, I'll go through the round as we played it, starting at the 10th. This is a slightly downhill 400 yard par 4 dog leg left and a good strong opener, with OOB to the right and a burn running across the fairway, as shown above, to catch any mishit second shot.  I played the hole pretty well, just missing the green in 2, but walking off with a 6 after completely misjudging the speed of the green.  I'm not sure what the Stimp meter reading would have been.  Maybe a 3, but to be fair, the Duke's course is pretty high up and greens like these have to be cut conservatively to protect them against potential  frost damage.  After that bad start, the 11th turned out to be a 552 yard Par 5, playing to nearer 600 yards into the cold wind, Stroke Index 1.  I was happy enough to board the green in 4 shots, avoiding some huge bunkers and another burn protecting the green, but 3-putted from no great distance to go 4 over par after only 2 holes.  The 12th is an uphill 189 yard Par 3 that plays a lot longer than it looks.  Sadly, my 7 wood was just short of the green, leaving a 60 foot uphill putt.  Another 3 shots from there, so still no sign of a par to get the round going!

It's then a long walk to the 13th hole, a downhill 386 yard Par 4.  The pin was on the right side of the shallow-looking green, as shown here, so I played an 8 iron to the centre of the green and managed to avoid another 3-putt for my first par of the round.  I also parred the 14th, 16th, 17th and 18th to go out in 41 against the par of 35, but at least I had repaired most of the damage incurred by my poor start to the round. The 1st is a good 479 yard downwind flat par 5.  I'd just missed the green in 3 and hit a wedge to 4 feet.  I'd like to think I'm a good enough putter to be able to knock in the odd straight 4-footer without too much trouble.  However, my confidently-hit putt veered hard left for another bogey, with worse to come on the 2nd.  Still, it had looked pretty good in the air! The 2nd is a formidable 437 yard Par 4 and I missed the fairway off the tee after blocking the drive close to trees on the right.  I gambled with my 7 wood from a dodgy lie, only to find a bunker 100 yards out and walked off with a double bogey after another 3 putt, this time from inside 20 feet.  

The 3rd hole is a 152 yard par 3, Stroke Index 18.  This is Polly, preparing to tee off.  The bunkering at the Duke's was good in general, but I'm still not sure about the insertion of large waste areas as bunkers, as on the 3rd and elsewhere and the deliberately ragged edges to all bunkers, which rather oddly reminded me of the "natural" bunkering at Machrihanish Dunes. That type of bunkering suits links courses, but I think that more manicured edges to bunkers that are typically found in parkland or heathland courses might have made the Duke's bunkering look more in harmony with  the surrounding landscape.  Maybe I took the 3rd too lightly, as my 6 iron found one of these bunkers and I'd bogeyed another hole.  By this time the wind had got stronger and it was even colder, to the point that we were quite uncomfortable.  Maybe that's why I missed the fairway from the 4th tee (for only two missed in the whole round).  The 4th should be a relatively easy 375 yard par 4 but I ended up with a double bogey after missing a short putt that bobbled all over the place (if that's technically possible from inside 3 feet!)

I particularly liked the gently uphill 6th, a 525 yard Par 5 played into the wind (Craig - 596 yards for you mate, off the Black Tee!)  This is a view from the green down to St Andrews.  I missed another short putt here, so another bogey.  The 7th is another very good hole and at 435 yards Par 4, was well beyond my range in 2 shots, given the underfoot conditions.  Even so, I didn't enjoy yet another 3-putt, this time for a double bogey.  The Par 3 8th should be relatively easy, but the hole is uphill and plays a lot further than it looks - another double bogey!  Thankfully, we'd reached our last hole, the 9th.  It had taken us the thick end of 4 hours and a good 7 miles of walking up and down hills.  At least it had stayed dry, but we were pretty cold and beaten up by the course by the time we finished.  I bogeyed the last to come home in a poor 49, for a 90 total, net 80.  I'd gone round in 9 over net par after 3-putting 3 times and missing a number of short putts that I'd normally hole.  I'd driven really well and hit some good fairway woods and iron shots, so my final score was disappointing.  Maybe I should have waited until later in the year to play the Duke's, since such inland courses are not at their best during the Winter months.  Still, playing the Duke's was an enjoyable experience. I hope I'll get another chance to play it sometime in warmer conditions.  I'd strongly recommend the course, but be aware it's a long walk, even if you're playing well.

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