Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Kirkhill GC - Course no 374

David (my best mate and doubles partner at the Glen GC) and I had a great time playing this excellent 18 hole parkland/heathland course on 22 February 2011, despite the unexpected rain that dampened much of the round.  We'd turned up without booking ahead, so were really delighted to be given courtesy of the course in recognition of the Cancer Research fundraising I'm doing as part of my challenge with Craig and Stu to play every Scottish course.  Indeed, Duncan Williamson (the Pro) and his wife could not have been more welcoming and we were in awe of Duncan's recent remarkable achievement of raising over £6,000 for a local hospice by playing the Kirkhill course 8 times in a single day, taking 20 hours and walking (I reckon) around 40 miles.  To cap it all, he thought it would be possible to squeeze in a 9th round, next time.  If ever I feel tired doing my own trek, I'll be taking encouragement from Duncan's achievement.  Truly inspirational, but I did wonder whether it was just coincidence that he'd just returned from the physio when we met him yesterday.

OK, it might be possible to go round a short and flat course a few times, but as we were to find out, Kirkhill is neither short or flat, making Duncan's achievement all the more remarkable.  (Neither is it, as David's somewhat whimsical navigational skills suggested, at the top of the hill beside the church).  Kirkhill purports to be 5778 yards, Par 70 off the yellow tees and although there were 3 temporary greens in operation, the fairways were pretty saturated and the steady rain on the front 9 didn't help either.  Unlike many other hilly courses I've played, the Kirkhill course seems to go up and down several times rather than, as at Lothianburn for example (our former club in Edinburgh) involve one long climb up and a steady descent.   Accordingly, Kirkhill was pretty demanding physically and was playing a lot longer than it looked on the card.

The first couple of holes (a par 5 and a short par 4) are straight uphill, so Kirkhill gets your attention pretty quickly.  We'd both played at North Berwick and the Glen in recent days on links greens that were running fast and smooth, so it took us a while (all 18 holes in my case!) to adjust to the slowness of Kirkhill's greens.  The course is pretty high up and exposed to the elements and it's still only February, so it's understandable that the greens should be markedly slower than we were used to, with the grass being kept that crucial bit longer to protect against frost etc. damage.  However, I was finding it really difficult to judge putts and was out in a very poor 47 (11 over par) after a series of missed short putts, poor play in the rain and finding the odd bunker or three en route.  

The rain went off on the 10th tee, the wet suit jacket was stowed away and I'd run out of excuses, so it was a relief to post 6 successive 4's, even if that did include a couple of bogeys on the par 3 10th and 14th holes.  We both thought that the back 9 was particularly good.  The 10th was playing to about 120 yards off a forward tee and again, the slow pace of the green led to a bogey.  The 11th was a 340 yard uphill Par 4, as shown here.  I'd hit my drive just short of the whin bushes on the left, but David, being longer off the tee, lost 2 balls left and right of the fairway and gave himself a 9.  The second shot was blind over a hill but at least I'd had an easy par.  Another followed on the excellent 12th, a 403 yard par 4.  I'd failed to clear a hill 250 or so yards out from the tee, so had another blind shot to a small green.  Another par. 

This is David walking to his drive on the 13th, some 40 yards in front of mine (as usual!) I'd hit an easy 7 iron to the front of the green expecting it to run on, only for the ball to stick in standing water not visible from the fairway, but another easy par.  I should have birdied the downhill 359 yard 15th but left my 4 foot putt short.  We agreed that Kirkhill's signature hole and card wrecker was the 16th, a 145 yard par 3 named "Burn" - a bit of a clue that water's involved, David.  I'd seen the hole coming down the 15th, but David was blissfully aware that his drive needed to clear a fast flowing river in a dip below the front of the green.  I was all too aware of that fact, hence my lost ball and double bogey.  This is the 16th, with the old clubhouse on the left, now a private house, sold under a deal that enabled the club to build an impressive new clubhouse.

We both agreed that the 17th and 18th were also great holes.  The 17th is an uphill (again!) par 5 of 459 yards, playing much longer due to the saturated fairway.  We halved the hole to par.  The 18th was my own favourite hole on the course, a 442 yard downhill par 4.  I'd hit a long (well, for me anyway) drive and had a 7 wood to the green, assuming I could clear the burn flowing in front of the green.  However, I mishit the shot slightly leaving a lob wedge over the big tree that protected the right of the green and ended up with a double bogey 6 after under-hitting a putt.  David had gone down the 1st fairway, but hit a great second shot to 15 feet to win the match by 2 up. 

I'd done the back 9 in a reasonable 40 so I ended up with an 87, net 77, or 7 over net par.  Although I only had 31 putts, many were from short distances and I don't think I holed anything longer than 6 feet all day.  I guess I could have scored better had the greens been quicker, but I'd still enjoyed the course and would strongly recommend it if you're in the area.  You might find many flatter courses, but you'll be hard pushed (and very lucky) to find a friendlier club than Kirkhill.  Even when we dropped into the 19th for a lunchtime refreshment, a kindly member and the bar steward paid for our drinks and we were presented with miniature bottles of the club's whisky as souvenirs of our visit.   It's that kindness which I'll remember from my visit to Kirkhill, long after I've forgotten the poor round I had and the lost ball at the 16th.  Craig and Stu have still to play here and hope to do so later in the year - they're in for a treat when they do.

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