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.