Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Meadowfield Golf Course - Course no 418

As there's no fully comprehensive list of Scottish golf courses, we need to consult local golfers we meet during our travels in order to ensure we're not missing any courses.  I'd heard some weeks ago that there was a small pay as you play course on a minor back road between Galashiels and Lauder in the Borders. So, after I played a round over  Torwoodlee GC with some friends recently, I went exploring.  Sure enough, I found a rather dilapidated driving range, golf academy and 12 hole course a few miles out of Galashiels, so I went back to play it on 28 June 2011.  Although the scorecard shows that there's 12 holes, there are actually 12 greens and 14 tees, with a Par 3 and a Par 4 tee on Holes 3 and 7.  Holes 1-2, 4-6 and 8-12 are all Par 3s, but with these 2 alternative tees, Meadowfield can be played either as a 12 Hole 1535 yards Par 3 course, Par 36, or as a longer  course of 1775 yards,Par 38.    As regular readers of this blog will know, we're trying to play every golf hole on every course,  so under our rules, Meadowfield becomes a 24 hole course measuring 3310 yards, Par 74.  As it was a hot sunny day and the grass pollen was giving me a real headache, I put 2 balls in play from tees 1-2, 4-6 and 8-12 and played separate balls from the 3rd/15th and 7th/19th tees.  Regular readers will remember that we'd first adopted such energy and time saving tactics at Benbecula.  I also adjusted my handicap from 10 to 13 since I'd be playing 24 rather than 18 holes.

There are some good local courses in the area, and given Meadowfield's rural location in farming country a few miles outside Galashiels, I'm left wondering what market this facility is serving.  When I first visited it a few days ago, the place was completely deserted, apart from one guy using the driving range.  Yesterday, there were 2 people using the driving range and one guy on the golf course.  Maybe it gets busier at other times, but I'm afraid to say that the driving range and Portacabin that served as an office had seen better days and as I was to find out, the course also needed some significant attention.

The 1st/13th were a 110 yard Par 3, played downhill from an elderly and worn out mat.  My first ball cleared the greenside bunker and finished barely a foot short of the hole, leaving me a tap in for an opening birdie.  The other ball, played as the 13th Hole, bounced out of the greenside bunker and dribbled down to the back of the small steeply sloping green, so I parred that hole.  The fairway grass was long and lush and since the tiny and mostly sloping greens had been cut only slightly shorter, they were extremely slow, to the point that an uphill putt of any length could stop short and a chip from off the side of the green would stop equally quickly.  I landed in a few more bunkers on my way round the 24 holes, but such was the absence of any sand and the baked hard ground (when not covered by clumps of weeds or untended grass) that I only one tee shot stayed in a bunker after landing in it.  I'd not seen such poor bunkers since our round at Benbecula, and this poor course maintenance coloured my view of Meadowfield.  Maybe it has a future as a beginners' and children's course, but a few lorry loads of sand would help to make it look more presentable as a course.

This is a view of the short 6th/18th, a 100 yard Par 3.  I birdied the 6th with a decent putt from all of 6 feet and also birdied the 12th, after chipping in from just off the green.  I went round in 79 for the 24 holes, less 13 for a net 66 i.e. 8 under the Par of 74, with a total of 36 putts.  Whilst this might sound impressive, the Par 3 holes ranged from 60 - 200 yards, so even if I'd missed the tiny greens with tee shots, it was easy enough to chip close, given the extreme slowness of the greens.  Maybe if I lived closer to Meadowfield (a good hour's drive away) I'd give the driving range a try but I doubt I'd want to play the course again unless the bunkering was given some serious attention.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Craigieknowes Golf Course - Course no 417

This is a pay as you play 9-hole  Par 3 parkland course a few miles away from Colvend, attached to a tea room and nearby  holiday caravan park.  I played here after our earlier round at Colvend on 20 June 2011. Craigieknowes is only 1391 yards long, with holes ranging from 90-197 yards and with small, slow and bumpy greens, this course looked as though it was catering for the casual market rather than the serious golfer.  However, some of the features here made scoring more difficult than might be expected on such a short and basic layout.  For example, this is the 3rd hole, an uphill 173 yard Par 3.  The green is set amongst some large exposed rocks. Only an extremely accurate tee shot would avoid such hazards and hold the green.  I'd hit a pretty good 7 wood, only to hear it hit a rock and see it bounce 50 yards or so to the right, onto the 1st fairway.  From there, I hit another smaller rock only a few feet away from the tiny green and lost my ball as I didn't see where it ricocheted to, so a 6 was not too bad in the circumstances.  I was glad that the course was quiet, since this section of the course was potentially dangerous.  I'd certainly not want to play here without a hard hat when it was busy.

I also bogeyed this, the 7th, a 197 yard Par 3 played slightly downhill over a deep hollow, requiring something like a 190 carry.  As at most of the other holes, I'd narrowly missed the small green from the tee.  However, the greens were so slow running and hairy that it was easy enough to get greenside pitches close to the flags.  The downside was that even short putts were not straightforward.  I'd holed out pretty well, but my only single putt of any length was on the 9th, from all of 10 feet, for a solitary birdie.  I went round Craigieknowes in 30, with only 12 (mainly short range) putts, so 3 over par wasn't bad.  However, if I was playing again at nearby Colvend, I doubt whether I'd want to give this course another visit, hard hat or not. 

Colvend GC - Course no 416

Polly and I played this excellent 18 hole parkland course on 20 June 2011.  Colvend is on the Solway Coast south of Dumfries and although short at only 5036 yards, Par 69, this is quite a tricky course, with some testing hills, blind shots, hidden water hazards and small greens to catch the unwary (or unfit!).  Indeed, the course imposes itself on you from the 1st, a severely uphill 251 yard par 4.  This is the view back down to the car park and clubhouse, with the 10th fairway beyond.  I'd hit a decent drive but it was still a long way up to the green.  I'd left some of my longer irons behind in the garage to lighten my bag, so it was the trusty 7 wood again.  Luckily I found the green and managed to sink the 10 foot putt for an opening birdie.

This is a view of the 3rd green from the fairway, with the Solway Firth in the background.  The 3rd is the first of a few blind holes at Colvend.  There's a fairway marker visible from the tee, but with trouble on both sides, the drive requires a steady nerve rather than distance.  The 3rd hole is only 341 yards, Par 4, but miss the fairway and (in my case) overhit your pitch to the green at your peril.  I needed a good pitch down a steep slope and a long uphill putt to make my Par.  It was an almost windless day, thank goodness, because this hole is particularly high and exposed to the elements.

I suspect that local knowledge really helps at this course, as several of the problems are hidden from the tee and there's no course guide or map on the card.  For example, the 8th is an innocent looking 178 yard Par 3, with only one small bunker and OOB behind the green visible from the tee.  However, there's a hidden water hazard in front of the green with a closely-mown bank ready to deflect anything underhit back into the hazard.  Unfair?  Not when the card says that the hole is called "The Burn" (Scots for a stream or river).  I was reading the score card even more carefully after my bogey at this hole!  However, a good  single putt on the steeply uphill 286 yard Par 4 9th and I was out in 37, or 4 over Par.

Where the front 9 had been hilly and very short, the back 9 was 450 yards longer and flatter, but with some really serious water hazards.  For example, this is a view of the 12th green, from the right of the fairway.  This is an excellent 399 yard Par 4, with a blind tee shot over a small rise in the fairway.  The card said the hole was named "Water Hole" - a good clue, as it turned out!  I'd hit a decent drive and taken my 7 wood up the left of the fairway, missing the 2 large ponds and enabling me to score an easy par.  Polly had gone up the right and from where this photo was taken, lost a couple of (old) balls.

This is a view of the 18th green and the last of the hidden water hazards.  The 18th is an uphill 266 yards Par 4, finishing as all good closing holes should, in front of the clubhouse windows.  Like the 8th, the bank in front of the 18th green slopes back to the water, but I was lucky that my slightly underhit sand iron second shot just held on the bank and I scored an easy par after a good pitch and run to under a foot. I'd never heard of Colvend GC before, but it was a real find and a course I'd happily play again. I'd gone round in 77, less 10 for a 2 under-par net 67, with only 27 putts on very good  true-running greens.

However, if I ever get back here, I must remember that the tee shot from the 17th is not a driver!  It was either the warm sun (yes, in Scotland!) or my thought Polly might need  driver from her own tee, way to the right of this, the slightly intimidating view from the men's tee.  The 17th is a 266 yard sharp dog leg left (hence it's name on the scorecard "Roon the Bend") so something like a 7 iron and easy wedge would have been ample.  Instead, my driver cleared the line of trees in the middle of the picture, ending up in the middle of the 9th fairway.  Believe me my bogey from there was pretty good, but a driver?  Not unless you're brave enough to carry the high trees to the left and know exactly where you're going.  Local knowledge again, but as a visitor, take your 7 iron!

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Auchenblae GC - Course no 415

The ferry from Shetland had arrived in Aberdeen at 0700 as scheduled (meaning yet another early start) so I had time for at least one more course on the way back home.  The weather was bright and very breezy, but rain was forecast to come up from the South West by late morning.  Rather than head inland or North, I headed south to play Auchenblae, which I'd understood to be a short 9 hole parkland course in rural Aberdeenshire around 25 miles South of Aberdeen.  Auchenblae was certainly short, but there were actually 10 tees and greens, with the scorecard set out as an 18 hole course.  Holes 1-3 and 5-9 are played twice, but Hole 4 is a 160 yard par 3 laid out alongside Hole 13, a 191 yard Par 3, as shown here.  The 4th Hole is on the left, with the Yellow flag and the 13th is on the right, with the White flag.  As rain was forecast, I decided to play 2 balls off each tee and one ball each from both the 4th and 13th tees.  Regular readers of this Blog will recall that we'd previously done this at Benbecula and elsewhere to save time and energy.

We'd been playing on some very slow-running courses in Shetland but here, although Auchenblae was clearly a parkland course,  the fairways looked to be fast-running.  The first 3 holes had apparently been re-positioned in 2002 and looked to be playing particularly fast.  The 1st/10th was a downwind 312 yard par 4, Stroke Index 1 and 2, but with only a 30 yard lob wedge to the flag left after my first drive, Auchenblae would clearly be setting a different challenge.  I thought I'd hit a good second, but this careered straight through the green and only a good pitch and single putt from 10 feet rescued an opening  par.  I bogeyed the 10th after finding the right rough with my drive.  Holes 2/11 were a 120 yard Par 3, surrounded by 4 pot bunkers.  I hit an easy 9 iron for both tee shots, but the green was so slick I bogeyed both holes, taking 5 putts in total from no great distance.  Holes 3/12 were a 246 yard par 4, into a by then strengthening head wind, but I scored 2 easy pars.   

Holes 4 and 13 were as I've said alongside each other and at 160 and 191 yards were both easily reachable downwind with my 7 iron.  I bogeyed the 4th after a poor tee shot.  However, the above photo doesn't show the severity of the slopes on these greens.  This is a closer look at the 13th and yes, the slope really is that severe.  My tee shot had finished just short and left of the green and I thought my short lob wedge was good, but it rolled off into a swale to the front right of the green, leaving me with a 30 foot putt up a 3 foot high hill on the green and a 1 foot slope down to the flag.  I was delighted with a bogey, as 3 or 4 putting on that slick surface would have been easy.

Holes 5/14 were a 134 yard par 3 and I scored a couple of good pars.  Holes 6/15 were a 286 yard Par 4, dog leg right.  I fluffed a wedge playing the 6th, so bogey and par on those holes.  Holes 7/16 (as shown here) are a short 230 yard par 4, with OOB all the way down the right, a (luckily dried up) marsh  to the left and the green hidden behind some hillocks, with trees behind the green waiting to conceal anything overhit.  I'd hit both drives into the marsh, but the lies were OK and I escaped with easy pars.  Holes 8/17 were a slightly downhill 108 yard par 3.  I'd hit my 8th tee shot to 25 feet for an uphill putt, breaking about 3 feet and my 17th tee shot finished 6 feet away but slightly downhill.  I got the unlikely birdie on 8 after a great putt but missed the shorter one, so birdie and par there.  

By then I was 5 over par with 2 holes to go. A couple of 4s on the 286 yard 9th/18th Holes and I'd be round in 69, net 59. Now Auchenblae is a very short course, measuring only 3784 yards, par 64 for the 18 holes, but I'm no Tiger Woods. In fact, he doesn't look like me either and I'll take a net 59 anytime.   This is the view from the 9th/18th tees.  I'd hit a couple of really good straight drives close to a marker pole in the fairway, a decent effort considering the strong crosswind that by now was bringing some dark clouds ominously close to the course.
This is a view of the green and the small clubhouse from where my 9th drive had finished, with the 18th drive further on to the right of the picture.  Now I'd not hit a sh--- for a while and the wind was blowing hard from the direction of the clubhouse, but the car park was also within range.  With 90 or so yards left and wind from the right, I'd normally have tried to hold off a wedge, but with glory, the car park and the clubhouse windows all in sight, a low pitch and run with a 7 iron was the safer weapon of choice.  Thankfully, both shots finished on the putting green, enabling me to make easy pars for a rare net 59.  However, I'd taken 36 putts on fast awkward greens, so that was slightly disappointing.  I could have gone on to play somewhere else, but just as I got to the car the first drops of rain started, so that made the decision for me.  Just as well as the further South I drove, the heavier the rain became.  The round over Auchenblae was just what I needed after the Shetland trip.  Easy walking and a satisfying end to some memorable golf with my buddies.  I'd played 6 new courses in 4 days and had 3 days of caddying in a big competition at Renaissance GC starting the following morning, so maybe it was just as well that rain stopped play.

Asta GC - Courses no 413 and 414

All of the pre-visit researching we'd done had suggested that Asta GC had only a 9 hole course.  However, and as this sign demonstrates, there's actually 2 separate 9 hole courses here, known simply as 1st Nine and 2nd Nine.  It's important to stress that these layouts are completely different, with the 1st Nine being played mainly anti-clockwise and the 2nd Nine played mainly clockwise.  For example, the 1st green on the 1st Nine Course becomes the 3rd green on the 2nd Nine Course and what was the 8th green on the 1st Nine becomes the 1st green on the 2nd Nine Course  (I hope you're all still following this!) As the sign shows (click to enlarge) there are actually 10 greens and 18 tees.  To complicate matters further, the 1st Nine layout is played between the 1st and 15th of each month and the 2nd Nine layout is played from the 16th to the end of each month.  When we visited Asta on 8 June 2011 after our exhausting round at nearby Shetland GC, the 1st Nine Course was officially in play. 

Although it was initially confusing, the more we thought about it the more we understood why 2 separate courses were inter-changed.  It simply provides more variety and rests parts of the course (although when we visited we had the 2 courses entirely to ourselves).  We've not experienced such an imaginative use of a course before.  We know that the Old Course at St Andrews is played backwards for a short while each Winter, but nowhere have we seen such frequent switching of tees and greens to provide separate courses.  Can any readers please say in the Comments Box below whether they've seen this before? - it's a new one on us. 

The Ist Nine Course had yellow tee markers with direction indicators and the 2nd Nine had white markers and indicators and the score cards had excellent maps, much like those on the above sign, so it was easy enough to plot our way around.  Although the Ist Nine course was in play, we agreed that it would be too expensive to come back to Asta to play the 2nd Nine Course.  Instead and since the 2nd Nine Course markers were in place and we found some 2nd Nine scorecards, we simply played the 2nd Nine after our round over the 1st Nine course.  Well, at least Craig and Stu did.  I was in dire need of food by the time we'd finished the Ist Nine, so I sat it out before taking the guys down to the airport for lunch and their flight to Aberdeen.  Hot food, indeed anything edible was urgently needed so we all opted for Scottish Fusion at its best i.e. bacon, sausages, chips (French Fries) and chilli beef, washed down by some sugar and caffeine laden energy drinks.  The guys had played both Asta courses, but I still had some time to kill before my overnight ferry, so with renewed energy I went back up to Asta (still deserted) and played the 2nd Nine in little over an hour.

Both Asta courses are short, pretty flat and have completely different turf to the Shetland GC course at Dale, with lush parkland turf that was far easier on the feet than the boggy conditions we'd ploughed our way through earlier in the day.  Both lie in a fertile valley on the shores of the Tingwall and Asta Lochs.   The 1st Nine course is a mere 2023 yards, par 31, with 6 Par 3's, 2 Par 4's and a solitary par 5.  This course starts with a slightly downhill 214 yard par 3.  I'd hit an easy 3 wood to the side of the green for an opening par.  Next was a short 480 yard Par 5 followed by a 317 yard par 4, both of which I bogeyed.  Then came a run of 5 successive Par 3's hugging the shores of the Asta and Tingwall lochs, ranging from 58 to 197 yards. 

Yes, 58!  As shown above, this is the bizarre 7th hole, with Stu doing his ball-spotting.  With only the top of the flag showing and the Tingwall Loch dominating the scene, it's difficult to get a feel for distance.  Added to that, the tiny green is set in a hollow, slopes steeply from back to front and towards the water and is well protected by very heavy rough.  I'd played a soft lob wedge to the back of the green.  Craig had somehow managed to hold the green, but if memory serves, he missed his short uphill putt for birdie.  Stu lost his ball, but who needs long Par 3's when really short holes like this provide such novelty.  I really do despair when I see courses with every Par 3 measuring 190-250 yards.  That's fine for the professionals, but for courses that are only likely to be played by club members and visitors, most of whom will have medium to high handicaps, I do wish that designers would throw in the odd novelty hole, such as the 7th on Asta Ist Nine.   On a trip where I played 90 holes on 6 courses over 4 days, this 58 yarder was definitely one of the most memorable and enjoyable holes, so well done to whoever had the imagination to design such a (literally!) hidden gem.

I was round Asta 1st Nine in 36, or 5 over net par, with 13 putts.  The 2nd Nine course is slightly longer than the 1st Nine, at 2320 yards, Par 32, with 4 par 3's and 5 par 4s. I only had an hour or so to spare before I needed to get to the ferry terminal so it was a relief to see that there was still no-one else on the course.  That would have been a real problem, since if anyone else had been there, they would have been playing the 1st Nine layout.  In fact, I'd probably have needed to come back another day, after the 16th, that is!  Anyway, I was playing as fast as I could and I think I played the Par 3 2nd OK, to a spare green with no flag on it by the shore of the Tingwall Loch.  At least that was the only green around 209 yards from the tee, so hopefully I got it right.  My tiredness was by then beginning to return, not helped by a slight feeling of deja vu on this the 5th, which had been the 2nd on the 1st Nine. 

I was happy enough with Pars at 3, 4 and 9 for a total of 39, with 15 putts in just over an hour.  I felt and probably looked pretty knackered by then and time was pressing.  Indeed, by the time I finished I should already have been in the queue for loading onto the ferry, so it was a rush to make it in time.  However, if I looked the way I felt an end of round photo would have been even worse than this one taken by Craig after my earlier round over the 1st Nine course.

Ideally, I'd like to play both of the Asta courses again as both layouts are great fun and easy walking (unless like us you've had little sleep for several days and trudged your way around the course at Dale beforehand).  If there is a next time, maybe by then I'll have found out what some of the Asta hole names mean, such as

Peerie Tattie (little potato?)
Water Traa

I'd also play Whalsay again, but with so many courses nearer to home and the costs of getting there, I suspect that I might not play either again.  However, if you should ever find yourself near Asta GC with an hour or so to spare, just hire some clubs (the clubhouse was open all 3 times I visited the course) and enjoy yourself, as we did and don't miss the 7th on the 1st Nine, a great little hole.

Lerwick GC - Course no 412

We'd got back to Lerwick after our game on Whalsay at around 1800 on 7 June 2011.  Craig and Stu had booked themselves into a hotel, allegedly not far from where I was staying.  Now Lerwick's a pretty small place, with a population of around 20,000, but the guys couldn't remember the name of the street where their hotel was, so the next half hour was spent cruising around, looking for the place.  Just as we were giving up all hope, having drawn a blank with local enquiries, the owner of a small back-street Bed & Breakfast place phoned Craig to ask whether they were still on their way.  By this time, we all needed a refreshment or 3 and at least there was a decent pub close by, followed by the afore-mentioned Chicken Volcano and fried rice.  I'd like to report we had an early night in preparation for another long day's golfing, but no, that would be somewhat wide of the mark.  Suffice to say that I picked the guys up at their B & B at 0730, as we'd 36 holes to play before the guys headed down to the airport for their afternoon flight back to Aberdeen en route to Edinburgh and home. 

Shetland GC is an 18 hole moorland course of 5562 yards, Par 68, off the Yellow tees.  The course is laid out on the floor and sides of a peaty valley, known locally as Dale.  It had been raining for most of the night and as we teed off at around 0745, the rain was still falling.  The course was even more damp than it had looked from the high road that almost surrounds the course and we were soon squelching our way across saturated fairways and through soaking clinging rough.  This is Craig and Stu making their way down the 1st hole, a 354 yard Par 4. At least they'd found the fairway.  I'd carved a wild hook into the heavy rough and was lucky to escape with a bogey.  However, that was my shoes and trousers soaking wet.  Perhaps is was just the darkening skies, the treeless landscape and the series of steep hills that looked to be awaiting us, but by the time we boarded the 2nd tee we'd agreed that this was likely to be a once-only visit.

The boggy conditions underfoot made progress difficult and tiring and even small inclines were being greeted by heart-felt promises that regardless of the physical demands of the course, we'd get round.  The front 9 passed painfully slowly, but the 6th was a very decent hole, as shown here.  This was a 297 yard Par 4, playing at least 350 yards in the absence of any run on the fairways.  Although we'd noticed at Whalsay that at least an additional club was required for most shots, club selection at Shetland GC was even more difficult.  I'd hit a decent drive up the left side of the fairway, narrowly missing a lateral water hazard, one of many streams that run through the valley floor, fed by rainwater from the surrounding high moorland.  However, I still had an 8 iron to the green (falling short!).  A good pitch and a tap in and I'd finally made a par.  That was to be the highlight of the front 9, as I had a dismal 45, matching the weather and our gloomy spirits. 

Finished at last!
The rain eased a bit on the back 9, but although this was shorter than the front half of the course, the hills were even steeper, sapping our energies further and doing no good at all to the nagging tendonitis in my left Achilles tendon that had flared up, thanks to the heavy conditions. I did at least manage another 3 pars, including on this, the 18th.  This is me looking suitably tired and not a little bedraggled after scoring an 85, net 75 or 7 over net par, with only 27 putts.  It's not that my putting was especially good, it's that I was missing the greens due to under-clubbing and hitting some good pitches to the flags.

The Shetland GC had one further notable feature, a 150 yard improbably steep climb back to the car park.  We'd gone round in well under 3 hours but none of us had really enjoyed it.  Perhaps we were just tired before we started and the wet overhead and underfoot conditions didn't help, but  none of us thought we'd want to play the course again.  We were soon on our way to nearby Asta, hoping that its flatter fairways would be less tiring.

Whalsay GC - Course no 411

Like our trips to the Western Isles and Orkney last year, this 6-9 June 2011 trip to the Shetland Isles had required extensive planning.  The courses we would be playing were remote and the Whalsay course was at the far end of a 5-mile long island requiring a 30 minute ferry journey from the main island in the Shetland archipelago, so we agreed that I'd take my 4 x 4 on the 12-hour overnight ferry from Aberdeen, so that we'd have a car available.  I'd used that ferry many times over the past 10 years in my previous job as Head of Ferry Operations so I was looking forward to that leg of the journey.  Craig and Stu were to take an early morning flight to Shetland from Aberdeen and meet me around 0900 in Lerwick, the main settlement in Shetland.  We were then to go over to play the 18 hole course on Whalsay and return in time to play at Asta that evening.  It doesn't really get completely dark in Shetland at this time of year and even midnight golf is possible (and some night-time competitions are a highlight of the Shetland golf calendar).  Craig and Stu both enjoy practical jokes, so it was no great surprise when Craig texted me at 0600 on 7 June (an hour before my ferry was due to dock at Lerwick), to say that they'd both slept in and had missed their early flight.  I had their clubs in my car to help minimise their flight costs, but the question was, could they still do the trip?   A quick phone call confirmed that the guys were not joking (and had clearly been enjoying some refreshments into the wee small hours). Flights to Shetland are usually quite busy, but as it turned out, there were 2 seats left on the 0945 flight and I really have to admire Craig and Stu's talent for negotiating their way onto that flight at no extra cost. 

I'd been planning a leisurely breakfast, but I now  had some time to recce the Asta and Lerwick courses before picking the guys up at the airport and heading off to catch a ferry to Whalsay.  The Lerwick course looked to be alarmingly wet and hilly.  We'd expected Asta to be a 9 hole course, but as I quickly realised, there were actually 2 courses there in a unique course layout (but more about that in due course).  We'd known that Whalsay was the most northerly (and easterly) course in Scotland and that it was at the top end of the island, but apart from that we'd not known what to expect.  Shetland is generally very peaty and windy (hence the almost complete absence of trees), so it was no surprise to find the Whalsay course was peat based, with a few lochans and areas where the land was so saturated that we were almost walking on the equivalent of a water-bed.  The greater surprise was that the course was located on ground surrounded by the sea, with high cliffs on the back 9 adding to the spectacular views.  Indeed, the course was a bit like the more famous Old Head of Kinsale course in Ireland (at a tiny fraction of the green fees!), with the course laid out on a promontory of land jutting out into the sea.  This is a view of the 1st from the left of the fairway.  There's nothing manicured about Whalsay and the sheep added character (and natural fertiliser) to the course.  The 1st is called "Auld Hoose" for obvious reasons, but we could only wonder about the harsh winter conditions living in such a tiny and basic croft house.  Although Shetland's latitude means it doesn't really get fully dark during high Summer, the Winters are long, cold and dark, as I know from previous work-related visits to these islands.

This is a photo of the guys (Stu to the left, Craig on the right), walking off the 4th green.  The 4th tee was on the narrow spit of land to Stu's left, but as we had the course almost to ourselves (only a few hundred people live on Whalsay anyway) we hit some old balls over to the small island in the middle distance.  Craig's cleared the island and landed in the sea on the other side, but if money was no object, there's land over there to make a spectacular hole or two!  I'd gone out in an unremarkable 43, or 8 over par.  The main problem was that since the ground was so peaty, it retained water easily, meaning that there was no run on most shots.  We had all been under-clubbing and leaving our putts short, but the views were fabulous and we didn't really mind.

I guess we were all pretty tired by the time we reached the turn (it had already been a long day and dinner was some hours and another ferry journey away). Accordingly, we hadn't focused on the fact that on the most northerly course there had to be a most northerly hole.  This turned out to be the 11th, a formidable 202 yard Par 3.  This is me putting for par on the 11th watched by a solitary spectator (I missed!).  The front 9 had been closer to sea level, but from the 12th onwards the Whalsay course was laid out high above the sea, with some truly outstanding holes. 

This is the 13th, named "Water Hole", a 337 yard uphill Par 4 that played to nearer 400 yards.  I'd missed the green to the right, avoiding a treacherous water hazard in front of the green that was cleverly hidden from view back down the fairway.  A good pitch to within a few inches and I'd finally scored my second par in the round.  Remarkably, I went on to par the next 2 holes a 165 yard Par 3 and a 490 yard par 5.  By then I thought that I might rescue a decent score, but it was not to be.

Next came the outstanding 16th hole, a steeply downhill 375 yard Par 4.  There's a small rise to the 16th tee from the 15th green, and although you know you're near to some high cliffs and have great views out to sea, the view from the 16th tee must be one of the best I've ever seen on a golf course, anywhere.  We stood there for quite a while, just admiring the view (sadly, the photo below doesn't really do it justice).  The safe option is to aim right, staying well away from the cliffs and a sadistic greens convener would put some bunkers or heavy rough down the right side to prevent such a conservative approach.  However, Whalsay is a small club and probably doesn't need to lose any of its members to the effects of gravity.  I'd come up just short of the green with my 7 iron second shot, alarmingly close to the cliff edge.  The ball was clearly in play but with a 200 foot drop had I slipped, a generous free drop (well, it was a friendly bounce game) was the only safe option.  The photo above is me trying to figure out how to play a 40 yard pitch over a deep chasm in the cliff face between me and the green.  I bogeyed the 16th but didn't care, as this was simply a great, great hole.

As we feared, the downhill 16th, would be followed by an uphill Par 4 17th, the last thing we needed giving our flagging energy.  This is a long 381 yards, playing to 425 yards at least, so another bogey there.  And so to the last, the feature hole on the front of the Whalsay scorecard.  This is a 360 yard Par 4 skirting a small loch, played from an elevated tee with something like a 290 yard carry.  We'd had a great time on Whalsay, but given the distance and cost involved in getting there, we agreed that it was unlikely that we'd be back.  Stu and I opted for the safe route around the loch, but even then, I was too ambitious in trying to carry some of the loch, so that decision cost me a newish ball and yet another bogey.  I'd gone round in 86, net 76, with 32 putts.  Not bad, I suppose. Craig succeeded in carrying the water with his third ball, but we'd given him a couple of Mulligans.  An awesome drive, though.

As Craig commented at the time, it's a pity that the soil is so peaty as a more sandy soil would make Whalsay an outstanding links course.  However, that's clearly not a possibility and we'll just have to take Whalsay for what it is, a lovely natural course with great views and some truly memorable holes.  If you are ever lucky enough to play here, take an extra club for your second shots and if the wind blows as it can up there, take at least 2 extra clubs per shot and hold on to your hat.  When we'd finished the round we had a blether with some local members, complementing them on their course.  I'd learnt over the years to understand and appreciate the Shetland dialect and the many Norse words that feature in it, so I understood their comments to the effect that the Whalsay course was better than the Lerwick GC course at Dale, a couple of miles outside Lerwick.  As we were to discover the next morning, they were right.

I'd booked a space on the 1615 hrs ferry from Whalsay but we'd missed that as a result of the earlier delays.  However, the next ferry was at 1700 hrs and we might just about make it if we dragged ourselves away from the course and its friendly members.   I managed to get us there, negotiating 4 miles on a very narrow single track road in decent time, but by the time we reached the ferry terminal there was already a substantial queue.  There was one small space left by the time my 4 x 4 was loaded, leaving only a few inches to spare, but we were safely on our way back to Lerwick.  Although it would still be possible to play at Asta given the many hours of daylight remaining, we were all pretty knackered and we agreed that we'd tackle Lerwick GC first thing next morning and do Asta after that.  That, at least, was the plan, but first we had to negotiate a night out in Lerwick.  Now why on earth did I think that Chicken Volcano (with the highest possible 3 chilli rating) would be a good idea in the excellent Thai restaurant that we found?

A Very Private Highlands Course - Course no 410

There exists in Scotland a course which is so private and exclusive that although the owners had very kindly agreed to give us access, they preferred that we did not name the course or give its exact location, lest this encourage others to seek permission to play it.  The owners' estate management were content for us to publish a few photographs that would be recognisable by the few golfers who have played the course, but please note that this is a very private place, so general public access to the course is not allowed under any circumstances.  Accordingly, I will simply say that this course is located on a large private estate in the Scottish Highlands.  Only the owners, estate workers and their guests can play it so Craig, Stu and I were extremely grateful for the opportunity to play the course on 6 June 2011 en route (with a significant deviation) to the Shetland Isles (where we would be playing the courses up there).    This is a view of the course (the 8th/17th green) that might give any readers familiar with the course and its surroundings the confirmation that we actually played here.

This is a parkland course, set amongst mature forest and farm land beside a river.  There are 9 greens, but since there are 18 separate tees, so it's really an 18 hole course.   The course measured a modest 4766 yards Par 67 off the Men's tees.  We'd played here on a warm sunny day with little wind, but although the course was short, our scoring was poor.  As we discovered to our cost, some fairways were extremely narrow, so we all lost balls.  There was no semi-rough to speak of and anything even remotely wayward was usually lost in thick high rough.  Added to that, the greens were slower than they looked and were soft and tricky to read.  This is the 5th, a 125 yard Par 3, played uphill to a small shelf green set between mature pine trees.  It's a more modest 108 yard hole off the 14th tee, but even at that, the green is small and shallow and as Stu found out, extremely difficult to find.

This is Hole 8/17 a par 4 of 358 and 300 yards respectively, with OOB beyond the heavy rough to the left of the fairway.  I'd hit my driver from the 8th tee, a bad move since I missed the fairway by no more than a yard and lost the ball, despite a 5 minute search in the high grass.  Even if I'd found it I doubt I'd have beaten the double bogey that my slightly wayward drive had cost me, such was the toughness of the rough.  I  managed a par on the 17th after a good single putt.  Overall, I went round in 85, net 75, or 8 over the course par.  We'd really enjoyed the course and agreed that it was a far more severe test than the scorecard had implied.  Thanks again to the owners' estate management for allowing us to play the course.