Thursday, 28 July 2011

Bonnybridge GC - Course no 432

I played this really good 9 hole parkland course just west of Falkirk on 27 July 2011 on another hot sunny day.   The course is 3066 yards Par 36 off the White tees, but since the scorecard doesn't give Yellow tee yardages, I'm guessing that the course I played was around 2850 yards.  The layout is gently undulating, with blind or semi-blind shots on several holes adding to the interest and difficulty.  Although parkland in nature, the course was pretty dry after the recent hot spell, so the fairways were running fast.  The greens also deserve special mention, as they were in really good condition, fast and true running.  Indeed, if I can have only 12 putts over 9 holes, they must be really good!

I'd turned up without booking in advance and was dismayed to see that there was a men's competition on all day.  But as soon as I said I was playing every course for a cancer charity, I was invited to play as soon as I liked and the green fee was waived and one of the club's officials gave me some hints on the course layout etc.  I really appreciated that help and support, so thanks again to Scott Bruce (a great name, by the way!) and to the other club members I met on the day.  
The 1st Hole, a 367 yard Par 4 (off the White tee) is gently downhill, with a blind tee shot and semi-blind second.  A good drive there, but I just missed the small green to the left and rescued par after a good lob wedge and short putt.  The 2nd is a short Par 5, played blind over a steep hill, with a blind downhill second.  I'd only a short pitch and run to the green and holed my birdie putt from 20 feet.  The 3rd was an uphill 392 yard (off the White tee) Par 4 Stroke Index 1, requiring a blind tee shot over a hill.  I'd hit an 8 iron second shot, avoiding the lateral water hazard to the right of the fairway and behind the green but this ran through the green into heavy rough.  Another single putt gave me a bogey after I'd struggled to get out of the rough.  This is the 4th, a tricky 193 yard Par 3, played to a plateau green avoiding a lateral water hazard to the left of the green.  I'd missed the green on the left, ending up between the green and the hazard, so another bogey there after I'd missed a short putt.  The 5th is a downhill Par 5 of only 483 yards (again off the White tee) with a semi-blind drive.  I'd found a shallow fairway bunker with my drive, escaped with an easy 7 iron and found the green with my 7 wood, avoiding a lateral water hazard in front of the green, so another good par there. 

This is the 6th, my favourite hole at Bonnybridge.  This is a short Par 3, playing to around 115 yards off the Yellow tee, with mounds in front of the green, bunkers and heavy rough all adding to the difficulty.  I'd hit an easy 8 iron over the flag to 20 feet, and I missed the tricky downhill putt, but another Par on the card.  The 7th is also good, requiring a long drive and an accurate pitch uphill to an elevated plateau green.  I'd just missed the green to the left, ending up in a bunker a few feet from OOB, but a good bunker shot and single putt meant I'd escaped with another Par.   The 8th was a short slightly crosshill Par 4, playing to around 290 yards off the Yellow tee.  This was my worst drive of the day, a slice that finished in the middle of the 7th fairway, leaving a wedge to the green, 2 putts and another Par.  The last hole at Bonnybridge is a 400 yard slightly uphill Par 4, with a semi-blind tee shot.  I'd just missed the fairway to the left and could only hack out from under low-hanging tree branches, so I finished with another bogey. 

I'd gone round in 39, 3 over par, with only 12 putts.  Bonnybridge is not too demanding if you hit the ball straight and scoring on the day was certainly helped by the excellent condition of the course (and the greens in particular).  I'd enjoyed the round and the friendliness of everyone I'd met, so I'd recommend a visit here.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Lochmaben GC - Course no 431

Polly and I played here on 21 July 2011.  Lochmaben is an 18 hole parkland course in rural Ayrshire, playing to 5933 yards, Par 70.   We'd passed it a few weeks ago after playing at Colvend and liked what we saw, but on closer inspection, this course was slightly disappointing.  The layout is interesting, as befits a course originally designed by James Braid, with a number of holes bordering a small loch, but I'm afraid the experience did not quite live up to our expectations.  The main problem was that the greens were not in great condition.  Maybe we just caught it on a bad day, but courses relatively close to Lochmaben that I've played recently have had better greens.  It may sound trivial, but the scorecard was another irritation.  Its shiny surface meant that my pencil would not leave much of a mark and although the card did well to include Junior yardages, this meant that there was only one set of men's yardages, despite there being separate White and Yellow tees. 

Lochmaben had been a 9 hole course until it was extended in 1995.  The changes have created a reasonably good layout, but the balance of the course is odd, with the front 9 being almost 1000 yards shorter than the back 9.  I'd started reasonably enough to be 3 over after 6 holes.  This is a view of the 7th green.  The 7th was a flat and low-lying 291 yard Par 4, slight dog leg right.  I'd intended to go up the left side of the wide fairway, but poor alignment left my drive headed for tall trees protecting the corner of the dog leg.  I thought I'd cleared them, but my ball had clipped one and gone OOB, costing me a 6 at an otherwise easy looking hole.

This is the 8th, my favourite hole at Lochmaben, a 120 yard Par 3 played over a corner of the loch. Unusually, the ladies tee requires a longer carry over the water, but from the men's Yellow tee I only had a 9 iron, which seemed to cover the hole all the way. In reality, it went about 8 feet beyond the hole, but a rare single putt secured the birdie, leaving me 4 over after 8 holes.  The 9th was anorther good hole, a 295 yard Par 4 with a stream in front of the green and OOB along the right of the fairway.  I'd hit a good drive and had only an easy sand iron to the green off a perfect flat lie.  I'd have been wiser to take a different club, as I didn't make a good connection, sliced the ball into the OOB and closed with a triple bogey 7 for an outward 40.

Scoring was much harder on the back 9 given the extra yardage, made all the more difficult by the condition of the greens.  I did well not to 3 putt, but 47 on the back 9 was still disapointing.  This is the 18th green and clubhouse.  I'd just missed the last green to the right in 2 and had only a short pitch to the hole.  However, I fluffed that one in full view of some members looking out the clubhouse windows, so an unimpressive finish.  An 87, net 77, with 32 putts was eminently forgettable.  Lochmaben is a reasonably good course with some interesting holes, but I don't think I'd want to play there again.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Inverurie GC - Course no 430

Polly and I played here on 13 July 2011, the last of 12 rounds I'd played in 12 days.  I'd not known much about the Inverurie course before we played it, other than that it was an 18-hole parkland course, measuring  5430 yards, Par 69, from the Yellow tees.  By chance, we'd saved the best until last, as this turned out to be a really good course, in excellent condition.  The hot and sunny weather helped too, but we both thought that this was probably the best parkland course we'd played in recent days.
The course is moderately hilly, starting with a short downhill 285 yard Par 4.  I'd hit a really good drive and had only a short lob wedge to the green, holing the short putt for an opening birdie.  The next couple of holes are uphill and downhill respectively, making club selection tricky.  I over-clubbed both approach shots and was badly stymied on the 3rd by trees and under-clubbed on the 4th, a testing Par 3 to a plateau green, so I was 3 over after those 4 holes.  The 5th is a good uphill 495 yard Par 5 that plays longer than it looks, so a par there was good.  I then did the next 4 holes in 1 over, getting to the turn in 4 over par.  My one criticism of the course is that the fairway bunkering does not generally not pose much of a test.  For example, I'd found a bunker at the corner of the dog-leg on this, the 334 yard 6th, but from there it was easy to hit the green with a 6 iron.  Later on, I found a fairway bunker on the 17th and got out using a 7 wood.  Maybe some deeper bunkers would set more of a challenge.

There were certainly lots of trees on the front 9, but if anything, the back 9 was even more wooded, with some holes reminding us of the excellent heathland courses at Blairgowrie, with their mixture of pine, silver birch and other trees lining the fairways.  For example, this is the 15th, a gently downhill 162 yard Par 3.  I should have taken a 7 iron but instead opted to go down the grip with my 7 wood, a really stupid choice, as I hit the ground well behind the ball and only moved it 30 yards forward.  I got down in 3 from there but what a poor shot.
There are some really cleverly designed holes at Inverurie, my favourite being the 13th, a 254 yard par 4, aptly named "Dinna [don't] Ditch It" requiring a draw off the tee short of a ditch immediately in front of the green and OOB behind it.  The fairway is quite narrow and the tee shot is semi-blind, with a large tree to the left of the fairway around 100 yards out.  This is where my drive finished, a yard short of the hazard.  A short lob wedge to within a foot, a tap in putt and I'd birdied the hole.  Now if only I could remember how I hit that soft draw!
I'd recovered from my mistake at the 15th by parring the 16th, a 436 gently uphill Par 4, and the Stroke Index 1 hole, so was 8 over with 2 holes to go.  I'd escaped from a fairway bunker on the 17th with my 7 wood, just missing the green but still took a bogey after missing a 4 foot putt for par.  This is the 18th at Inverurie, an uphill 334 yard par 4.  I'd hit a good drive and 8 iron to the front of the green, leaving a long uphill putt with what looked like a double break.  Unfortunately, I left that putt over 6 feet short and missed from there.  I'd gone round in 79, net 69, matching the net par, with 29 putts.  Not bad, but this round could and should have been better.  I'd won against Polly, taking our final score to 7-6 in her favour.
We'd both really enjoyed the layout and excellent condition of the course and I'd strongly recommend it.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Tarland GC - Course no 429

Polly and I had finished our round at Alford by lunchtime on 12 July 2011 so we'd time for another new course nearby, the short 9 Hole parkland course in the village of Tarland in rural Aberdeenshire.  I'd been thinking about playing at Lumphanan (another local 9 hole course) after the round Alford, but the Alford greenkeeper told me it was very hilly and he recommended we try Tarland, which he said was much flatter and in good condition.   It had turned into a warm sunny afternoon and I really didn't fancy a hilly course after all of the games we'd had recently.  We'd also booked to play the next day at Inverurie, so I'll do Lumphanan another time.   Polly opted for a good book and a gin and tonic on the clubhouse veranda. There was a mens' medal competition on, but the course wasn't busy and as at most small village clubs, visitors were still welcome.

The Tarland course is 2764 yards, Par 33 off the Yellow Tees and was in really good condition, with excellent small greens, once you found them.  The 1st was a 293 yard Par 4 with a couple of hillocks in the fairway to add to the difficulty.  I'd hit a poor drive short and left, but a reasonable 7 iron to just short of the small green, a good pitch to within a foot and I'd parred the opening hole quite easily. The 2nd Hole seemed equally straightforward, a 338 yard Par 4, slightly uphill for the second shot.  I'd missed the green to the left but this time I was above the level of the green and the pitch was quite fast downhill, so that cost me a bogey.  This is the 3rd, a slightly downhill 170 yard Par 3.  I found the green with my 6 iron tee shot and had another par, but thencame  to grief on the 4th.

The 4th, as shown here, is an awkward 373 yard Par 4 with a semi-blind tee shot over a small hillock in the fairway.  I'd been waived through by 2 ladies searching for a ball in rough to the right of the fairway.  I sometimes find it tricky to hit a good shot after being waived through, this was one of those times and I hit my tee shot left into equally heavy rough.  I found it OK, but the lie was poor and I'd 170 yards or so to the green.  I gambled with the 7 wood but only just cleared a lateral water hazard around 30 yards short of the green, my ball finishing in another poor lie a few inches from the stream.  Playing back-handed wasn't really an option so I ended up balancing on my left foot, my right in mid-air above the water, trying to play a pitch and run.  I was desperately hoping not to fall backwards into the hazard, since by then the ladies behind me had a good view of the proceedings.  I was happy enough to hit the ball short of the green and preserve some dignity with another pitch and a couple of putts, but a double bogey was not what I'd been hoping for.

The 5th was a 212 yard Par 3, with the left side of the green obscured by trees around 50 yards or so from the tee.  The flag was on the right side of the green but even so, this was a really difficult hole and I was happy enough with a 4.  The 6th was a 410 yard Par 4.  I'd missed the green with my second and had only a short lob wedge to the flag.  Where the sh--- came from I don't know, but that cost me another bogey.  I'd caught up with 3 senior Tarland members by then, but bearing in mind my mistakes on the 4th, I declined their invitation to play through.  The 7th was an uphill 172 yard Par 3, not made any easier after I'd watched these guys play the hole, as I think their best was a 6.  I'd waited until they were on the next tee and hit a good 7 wood to the light rough at the back of the green, leaving a 20 foot downhill putt with around a 2 foot break from the right.  This was one of the most difficult and sloping greens on the course so it was great to hole that putt for a birdie, as witnessed by the greenkeeper, taking a deserved break from bunker repair work after the heavy rain that had affected the area in recent days. 

The 8th was a 428 yard Par 4 with the fairway sloping steeply from right to left.  I'd hooked a drive and took 3 more shots to find the green, bit a good putt limited the damage to another bogey.  And so  to this, the 9th, a 368 yard Par 4.  This was my favourite hole at Tarland.  The tee shot is from an elevated tee, giving a final chance to open the shoulders.  I'd hit a good straight drive and had only a 9 iron to the green.  However, I had seen that there was a stream running across the fairway a few yards in front of the green, so I opted for an easy 8 iron, finding the middle of the green and leaving an uphill 20 foot putt.  I left that one less than 2 feet short and stopped to waive at Polly, still sitting by the clubhouse relaxing in the sun.  Now I'm usually not bad with straight short uphill  putts, but instead of concentrating on it, I left it short again for a careless closing bogey.  I'd gone round Tarland in 39, or net 34, 1 over the net par, with 14 putts.  The course had been in  great condition and wasn't too tricky but I'd definitely left shots out there.  I'd need to play concentrate and play better at Inverurie the following day.

I liked the Tarland course and would recommend it if you're in the area and have an hour or so to spare.  It's easy walking and a fun course.


Alford GC - Course no 428

Polly and I played here on 12 July 2011 after we'd played with some friends at Dunblane New GC the day before.  Alford is a very flat 18 hole parkland course in rural Aberdeenshire, measuring a modest 5111 yards off the Yellow tees, Par 69.  The heavy rain over recent days that had had such devastating effects on the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart had also affected Alford and we heard that some houses in the village had been flooded, which is a real shame.  The course, being so flat and low-lying is apparently prone to flooding and had only re-opened for play on the 12th after being closed for a few days.  A surveyor was busy at work as we played to investigate ways of improving the course drainage, but with the surrounding land being so flat, I suspect that it might be difficult and expensive to make significant improvements.  The Pro had advised that the course might still be saturated underfoot but although there was little run on the fairways and the odd puddle remaining, the course was remarkably dry and playable.  The  greens were also in excellent condition, so we had a really enjoyable round.

With only one Par 5 (a flat 501 yards) and Par 4s ranging from only 260 to 385 yards,  Alford isn't anything like as difficult as other courses we'd played recently.  From the 1st Tee, also the "highest" point on the course, I was hitting the ball well.  I had an easy par at the short 260 yard Par 4 Ist and an unlucky bogey at the 2nd after my ball got stuck in a greenside puddle.  I'd just missed the green with my tee shot at the 158 yard Par 3 3rd, but chipped in for a birdie.  I'd reached the turn in 38, or 4 over par and had set the the target of keeping a 6 or worse off my card.  We both found the course a bit bland after our recent rounds over more dramatic courses, but what Alford lacked in drama it made up for by being in super condition, with it's own quirkiness.  There are a few courses that run alongside railway lines and some that are split by railway lines, but I can't think of any other courses where a narrow gauge line runs so close to the play, right through the course.  This is me on the 144 yards Par 3 16th, waiting for the local train (popular with tourists) to pass within feet of the green and along the side of the adjacent 13th fairway. 

I bogeyed  the 16th and not because of that unique distraction.  I'd missed the green to the right narrowly avoiding a water hazard, but with only 2 holes left, I was only 7 over and hadn't taken a 6 or worse.  I bogeyed the 17th after three-putting from no great distance and did exactly the same on this, the 18th hole.  I'd beaten the net par by a couple of shots, going round in 77, net 67, with 33 putts, avoiding a 6 or worse.  However, this was a score on a forgiving course that could and should have been much lower.  We'd certainly enjoyed the course and the novelty of close-passing trains, but with so many to choose from, I doubt I'll play the course again.

Hilton Park GC - Allander Course - Course no 427

Polly had decided not to play the Allander Course after our round over the larger of the 2 courses at Hilton Park GC on 8 July 2011.  The Allander is a 5469 Yard Par 69 off the Yellow tees and like its neighbour, is a hilly heathland course.  However, the Allander is much the easier course and with no-one in front of me (until the 8th) I was able to play quite quickly.  The heat of the morning had been replaced by warm cloudy overcast conditions so it was easy enough to rattle round and just as well, given the weather that developed later in the round.  I was also playing fairly well, with a run of 4 successive pars on the front 9 enabling me to get to the turn in 39, only 4 over par.  This is the excellent 5th Hole, a 370 yard Par 4 dog-leg right.  I'd hit a reasonably good drive but my 2nd shot was semi-blind and I really didn't fancy going straight for the green with my new ball.  Instead, I chipped an 8 iron up the fairway, with the intention of playing a short pitch down to the green.  I didn't see that the fairway fell away to the right and ran all the way down to the green so I was really surprised to find my lay-up second shot had finished on the green quite close, leaving me 2 easy putts for par.  If I played this course again I'd use the same tactic, as it's much safer than trying the direct approach.
I was waived through by a Ladies 4-ball on the 10th, just as the rain started.  The first bolt of lightning and roll of thunder (some miles away) was on the 11th, a downhill 524 yard Par 5.  I played the hole far too quickly and took 7 whilst deciding whether it was safe to continue and almost ran the short 285 yard Par 4 12th Hole (another par) as the weather worsened and the lightning got closer.  I bogeyed the uphill 13th and although the rain had got worse, the lightning seemed to have stopped, so I decided to try to finish the course.  The 14th is a 331 yard downhill Par 4.  I'd hit a good long drive and only had a flick with my sand iron.  This the result leaving me with an easy tap in for my only birdie of the round (the rain by this time was torrential, as the photo shows!)

By then I'd caught up with Bob, a local member, who kindly invited me to join him for the last few holes (and subsequently very kindly made a donation to Cancer Research UK - every contributions helps the cause and makes our golfing efforts even more rewarding!)  The rain and lightning stopped just as quickly as they'd started and my good play continued, with further pars on 15 and 18.  I'd gone round in 79, net 69 to match the par of the course, with 30 putts.  The Hilton Course is a far more substantial test, but the Allander is good fun to play and although still quite hilly, it's not nearly as testing a walk.  Together, these courses offer a great day out. 

I'd played 9 courses in the past 7 days and had gone round the last one in net par in just over 2 hours, but it was time for a couple of days' rest before resuming the Challenge at Alford and Inverurie.

Hilton Park GC - Hilton Course - Course no 426

Polly and I played this excellent 18 hole heathland course just north of Glasgow on 8 July 2011, this being the longer of the two 18 hole courses at Hilton Park GC.  The Hilton Course is 5942 yards off the Yellow tees, Par 70 and is a really good test.  8 July was a baking hot day after the heavy rains in recent days, so the course was soft and playing to its full length.  We'd been advised that the course was quite hilly.  With peat-based soil and tree lined fairways, the course was in great condition, with excellent fast-running greens, despite the recent rain.  I'd really need to play it again, but my impression is that some of the longer holes were quite similar, with tee shots from elevated tees, played downhill to narrow tree lined fairways, some with streams running across, before long uphill second shots to elevated greens.  For example, this is the 369 yard 11th Hole, which plays a lot longer thahn it looks.  I played the Hilton Course pretty well and  found it easy to bogey most holes.  However, pars were quite elusive (I only parred 2 of the Par 4s and 1 of the Par 3s). 

This is the excellent 17th, a steeply downhill 184 yard Par 3.  I'd found the course quite tiring and the heat and humidity didn't help.  Being so steeply downhill, I knew the hole would play short, but I still played my 7 wood.  Bad idea, since it went long and right, leaving me an awkward pitch over a bunker to a green well below my ball that also sloped away from me.  I played a decent lob wedge but couldn't stop it from rolling off the front left of the green, taking double bogey from there.  That left me needing a par up the last and for Polly not to score a Stableford points for me to avoid losing our Summer Competition by 7-4.

This is the last on the Hilton Course and another steeply uphill hole, this time a 360 yard Par 4.  I hit Driver, 8 iron to the back of the green, but the green is huge and sloped steeply downhill, from back to front.  Meanwhile, Polly was on the green in net 3, so I really had to hole a 60 foot downhill putt with a 4 foot break (to quote the Scottish double positive, "Aye, Right!")  I had a closing 3-putt for an 89 shot total, net 79, with 32 putts.  Polly had won 7-4, our miniature Claret Jug and a year's domestic bragging rights, so well done Darling!  We'd enjoyed the course and the sunshine, but it was time for a quick beer before I tackled the equally hilly  but thankfully shorter Allander Course at Hilton Park.  I didn't see the irony immediately, but I'd bought myself a pint of a local real ale named "Bitter and Twisted" - but at least I'd avoided the stronger "Theakston's Old Peculiar." 

Williamwood GC - Course no 425

Polly and I played this excellent 18 hole parkland course in Glasgow on 7 July 2011.  Williamwood is one of the clubs  which, like our own Glen GC, was founded in 1906, so in a sense, we felt at home here.  Indeed, the club was particularly welcoming and were looking forward to playing the course, despite the torrential rain that preceded us onto the 1st tee.  We'd booked a time, the starting sheet was pretty full, so out we went.  The 1st was a gently downhill 375 yard par 4.  I'd hit a good drive and a wedge to the left of the green, but by the time we were ready to putt the green was flooded, with streams of rainwater running down the length of the green.  We should probably have waited a few minutes before resuming play to allow the shower to pass, but instead we kept going and I took a bogey in the heaviest rain I'd played in for a long time (with worse to come!)  Given the conditions we agreed to concede short putts if they were affected by standing water.  We both had good wet suits, hats and umbrellas, so walking in wasn't really considered and by the time we'd played the 2nd, an uphill Par 3, the clouds had vanished and we were playing in bright sunshine, with the standing rainwater quickly evaporating to create sauna-like conditions.  Nice.  This combination of cloudbursts and sunshine persisted for the remainder of our round, such that I lost count of the number of times I stopped to get the rain gear on and off.  The course took all of the water pretty well, but as might be imagined there was no run on the fairways.  Overall, the course was in great condition. 

I'd started reasonably well in the soaking wet conditions, but really struggled on the 6th and 9th during further cloudbursts.  I'd duck-hooked a drive on the 6th into bushes and splashed my way up the 388 yard par 4 6th, only to get into a greenside bunker with a second ball and take a 9.  Worse was to follow on the 9th, another slightly uphill 385 yard Par 4.  I'd hit a good drive but pushed my second into an unplayable lie under a tree and after an sh---, taking an 11.  So, 12 over on these 2 holes alone meant I was out in 53.  My Sunderland wet suit still worked OK, but the rain had poured down my neck and my supposedly waterproof new Footjoys had long since sprung various leaks.  My golf bag was saturated, my grips were soaking and I'd long since abandoned my gloves.  With further showers approaching, we could either plod on or give up, but such was the quality of this course that we continued.  Indeed, we were actually enjoying ourselves, despite the deluge and I can only attribute that to the Williamwood course.  Parts of the back 9 had been substantially modified very recently and although I'd not seen the previous layout, I thought the new additions were really good.  The 10th was an excellent 525 yard Par 5 with various water hazards to avoid and this, the Par 4 325 yard 12th was equally good.  The 12th plays from an elevated tee and needs a good second shot to avoid a stream in front of the green and a large pond to the right of it. 

Another pond awaits anything left of the short 119 yard Par 3 13th, and it also comes into play from the 14th tee, as shown here.  We were by this time pretty soaked and I'd hit a really good long drive up the 14th, the 359 yard par 4 Stroke Index 1 hole.  However, the heaviest cloudburst of all we'd face that day broke by the I'd reached my ball, made all of the worse by a sudden strong wind.  I'd hit a good 7 wood to within 20 yards of the green but took another 4 from there.  I've never experienced a full tropical monsoon, but that was a good enough (if cold!) sample.

As you'll have gathered, this was not a day for scoring well.  We were simply enjoying the course and promising ourselves we'd come back when the weather forecast was more favourable.  There are some really good holes at Williamwood and although I'd few birdie chances, I'd hit a really good drive on the 17th, an awkward 392 yard Par 4, with a blind second shot over a hill to a small green. My trusty 7 wood came to the rescue again, leaving me with a tricky 20 foot downhill putt with a 12 inch break.  I mishit the putt, missing the line I'd chosen, but the ball still disappeared down the hole for an unlikely round highlight.  Here's Polly working out the implications!

It turned out that I'd needed a Par 4 on this, the excellent 403 yard 18th hole. I'd hit a good straight drive, but this still left me with a blind second to the green.  I'd come up just short of the bunker to the right of the green but a good pitch and single putt ensured I got a closing par.  I'd just beaten Polly to take our match score to 6-4 in her favour, with 3 more games to come.  I'd taken 99 blows, net 89, to navigate the course.  We'd not needed to concede short putts despite the deluge and remarkably, I'd had only 28 putts on greens that had held up very well.  We both really liked the course and I'd strongly recommend you give it a try.  I'd certainly want to play it again sometime.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Irvine GC - 6 July 2011 - Course no 424

Polly and I had been planning to play the two 18 hole courses at Hilton Park GC on 6 July 2011, but the weather had changed overnight.  Although these hilly heathland courses were still open for play despite the heavy rain, there were already deep puddles  on  some fairways and greens when we got there at 0900 hrs.  I've played in worse conditions, but since it looked as though either course could shortly become unplayable, we headed south west in search of a links course and drier weather.  We'd been planning to play the links course at Irvine GC on 8 July, so we just brought the timing forward and as we drove there, the rain stopped.  Irvine Bogside (as the course is sometimes known as) is an 18 hole championship links course on the Ayrshire coast and is regularly used by the R&A as a Final Open Qualifying Course. In 2003 the Club co-hosted the Amateur Championship with Royal Troon and in 2007, the British Seniors' Open with Turnberry. In 2009, the Ladies Home Internationals were also successfully hosted at the Irvine Golf Club. The club had also hosted the Scottish Senior Amateur Championship a few days before we played here and the course was in superb condition with fast running greens, despite some recent rain that had softened the course and left puddles in some fairway hollows.  This is a traditional links course with an outstanding display of golfing memorabilia in the old clubhouse recoding the history of the club, which was established in 1887 and owes its present day character to the course design of the great James Braid, one of Scotland’s most celebrated course designers.  Irvine is tight, with narrow undulating fairways bordered by unforgiving gorse so anything more than marginally offline is likely to be severely punished.  At 6190 yards par 70 of the Yellow tees it's not long, and strategy rather than power is key here - and the odd lucky bounce helps too. 

The friendly Club Steward had advised us that the course was difficult and testing and that even the top amateurs who had played in the Scottish Seniors' had not scored well on it.  This cautionary advice was backed up by a member we met by the 1st tee, who wished us well and hoped we didn't lose too many balls.  I've played a lot of links golf and we both prefer it to parkland play.  I'd not played too well in recent days, but I'd a good feeling here.  I'd 3-putted the 3rd, but otherwise hadn't hit a really poor shot in the first five holes, yet by the time I boarded the 6th tee I was already 9 over par. I'd simply put my drives in the wrong position off the tee, found a hidden bunker here and there or run through the green into awaiting rough after slightly misjudging a pitch and run.  In other words, I'd forgotten to use my brain and read the course.  Clearly Irvine was a course that needed careful management and strategy.  For example, this is the 4th, a short 289 yard par 4.  The railway line is OOB and with gorse on the right, you must hit it straight, leaving "only" a lob wedge to a plateau green.  However, the green was 30 or 40 feet above me and I couldn't see the flag.  I played what I thought was a good shot, but had left it too short, so another bogey followed.

And what about this, the quirky Par 4 5th Hole? It's only 257 yards, but with no wind to help, there was no way I could fly a drive over the hill and avoid the biggest bunker I'd seen since playing at nearby Prestwick GC last year.  My only choice was to lay up short of the bunker, but then I had a blind wedge to the green.  I played the shotwell, but Polly told me I'd hit the downslope of a small ripple in the fairway, shooting the ball through the green and into a bunker.  A foot shorter and she thought my ball might have stayed on the green.  So that was me, 9 over par after 5 holes, mystified by the course, but loving every minute of it.  The 6th was a 401 yard Par 4, Stroke Index 1, with a blind tee shot over gorse and a blind second over a hill to a distant green surrounded by bunkers.  I hooked the drive slightly, but the fairway was quite wide and I'd finished on an inviting upslope.  From there, the only option was to smash a 3 wood, hope for the best and if possible avoid 3-putting the green if I could find my ball, that is.  An easy par, really, but that was the only real highlight on the front 9.  I'd not lost a ball on the first 8 holes, and I'd hit a great drive up the 440 yard Par 4 9th, only for the ball to bounce away to the right into deep heather.  That bad bounce and lost ball led to a triple bogey and an outward 49.  I'd hardly hit a poor shot, remember and I was loving the course.
I'd struggle to pick a favourite hole on the Irvine course, as there were so many to choose from.  Maybe it's this, the 18th, a 323 yard Par 4, with a blind drive over gorse with OOB down the right and car park and clubhouse windows alarmingly close behind the green.  I'd only a sand iron left to the heart of the green but I'd hit some dead ground just short and took a bogey as a result.  A bolder shot was needed, but there's a downslope at the back of the green that feeds anything overhit down towards the clubhouse and the car park.  Maybe the members can judge it better, but I'd rather have a bogey than hit a car. 

We'd really enjoyed our round at Irvine.  It's maybe not as famous as Prestwick, Royal Troon and Turnberry nearby, but his is simply a great traditional links course and I want to play it again.   Try it yourself and see if you agree. I'd gone round in 94, net 84, with 33 putts so that's my own target for next time.  You'll probably beat that score but you'll be lucky to have more fun that I had here.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Rowallan Castle GC - Course no 423

Polly and I played this excellent 18 hole championship length course on 5 July 2011.  Rowallan Castle is the first course in the UK designed by Colin Montgomerie and although it has only been open for a couple of years it is already receiving rave reviews as one of the best new courses in Scotland, hosting its first professional tournament earlier this year.  The course is laid out in over 600 acres of an old country estate in rural Ayrshire, weaving its way past 2 impressive castles dating from the 13th and 19th Centuries, with great views of Ailsa Craig, Arran and the surrounding countryside.  The course also has Europe's only 19th hole, a par 3 designed to settle matches that are even after 18 holes and which is also open for general play, making Rowallan Castle a genuinely 19 hole course.  As the course and its equally impressive golf academy has only been open for a couple of years, there is still further work to be done to complete the package.  Some high quality housing is currently being added and there are plans to develop the castle that dominates the skyline behind the 18th as a luxury hotel, with a 9 hole Par 3 course being added later.  That last addition means I'll return to Rowallan Castle one day and when I do, I'll be making sure I've time to play the championship course again, as it really is as good as the reviews have been claiming. 
As the weather forecast was not too promising, I opted to play off the gents' Yellow tees which reduced the course to a maneagable (or so I thought) 6284 yards,  Par 71, in the hope of dodging the threatened rain.  Polly was rather taken aback that the Ladies Red tees gave her a 5537 yard course, par 73, with 6 par 5s, but as it turned out, she needn't have worried. I'd not played very well at Cowal on the previous day and that poor form was to continue here, with my iron play particularly suspect.  I'd started reasonably well, with a bogey at the testing 410 yard Par 4 1st and a birdie at this, the awkward 153 yard Par 3 2nd Hole.  The Par 3's at Rowallan Castle are all really good and at this one, you need to avoid a swamp, a stream, a pond and deep bunkering.  I'd played a good 7 iron to 20 feet and had a tricky putt with a couple of feet of break.  The greens here are generally large and undulating, but the quality of the surfaces ensured that putts ran fast and smooth.  "All" you need worry about is the line and the pace!  Get it right and make a score, get it wrong and you'll be out there a long time.

This is another of the Par 3's this time the excellent 149 yard 8th, played from an elevated tee over a stream, with a deep bunker protecting the flag.  I hit a good 8 iron shot to the middle of the green and had an easy par, but after some risky excursions into the heavy rough bordering the fairways, and the odd sh---, I'd gone out in 44, with 3 7s on the card offset by birdie, par, par on the outward par 3s.  The semi rough was OK, but although it was easy enough to find a ball in the heavier stuff, the wet tangled long grass was difficult to escape from, so be warned.

My favourite hole here was this, the 12th, a 287 yard Par 4 risk and reward hole, with a series of deep fairway bunkers to be avoided by anyone long and brave enough to go for the green from the tee.  The first of these bunkers is less than 200 yards out, so I opted for a safer 3 wood to the right of the trouble and an easy sand iron to the flag.  I parred the hole easily enough, just missing a 15 foot birdie putt, but this was an excellent hole.  The 13th, a 482 yard uphill Par 5 was also very good, but I'm not sure about the large electricity pylon in the middle of the fairway, 100 yards or so from the tee.  This is visually intrusive, but I suppose it was there a long time before the course was built and that moving it might have been impractical.  It certainly adds to the difficulty of the tee shot and is no bad thing from that perspective, but it just looks a bit incongruous in such a high quality course layout.  Maybe it'll look less odd the next time I play the course.
This is a view up the last, a superb 458 yard Par 4, finishing in front of the less ancient of the castles on the estate.  I'm looking forward to seeing the hotel open in due course as I imagine the views from there will be really impressive adding to the theatre of this excellent hole.  However, I'm afraid there was nothing dramatic about my score for the 18 holes.  I'd taken a triple bogey at the 10th, a 195 yard par 3 after finding a greenside bunker and thinning my escape through the back of the green into heavy rough and more generally hitting some weak shots.  A gross 92, net 82 was disappointing, but at least I'd not 3-putted any of the greens, taking 32 putts in total.  I'd also lost to Polly in our Summer competition, taking the score to 5-3 in her favour.
But here's the unique beauty of Rowallan Castle.  At other courses you'd be heading for the clubhouse and a welcome refreshment.  Here, you need to pass the 145 yard Par 3 19th Hole to get to the excellent clubhouse.  Polly decided to rest on her laurels, but I played a couple of balls on the 19th, scoring 2 final pars after missing the green left and right and hitting a couple of good lob wedges close to the flag.   There are a few courses around Scotland where there is space for an extra hole, either as a 10th/19th or as an alternative to enable a hole to be rested or simply worked on, so why not, if the land and the finances permit? 

Rowallan Castle is ideally placed for easy access from both Glasgow and Prestwick Airports and offers an excellent parkland contrast to the great links courses along the Ayrshire coast.  I strongly recommend you play here if you get the chance.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Cowal GC - Course no 422

Polly and I played here with Gordon, an old friend of mine, on 4 July 2011, yet another stiflingly hot sunny day.  I'd first played with Gordon a few years ago at The Machrie course on Islay, where he has a house. He'd blisters from new golf shoes, so we both played this excellent links course in our bare feet.  Try it if you want more stability and less sway in your swing when hitting the ball - it really works, especially if like me at the time, you tended to drag your right foot through the shot.  I mention that snippet as yet again, Gordon had new golf shoes.  They didn't help his game much, but at least this pair appeared to fit! 
Cowal is an 18 hole 5791 yard (off the Yellow tees) Par 69 course, which, like some others that flank the River Clyde estuary is a moderately hilly heathland course with peat-based soil that can be prone to flooding in wet weather.  Indeed, the course was susprisingly soft underfoot, even in comparison to the nearby Innellan course that I'd played earlier in the day.  With hills come views and this is the 1st green, with the Clyde in the background.  The first 4 holes are all pretty tricky, with the 3rd, steeply uphill with a stream running down through the middle of the fiarway and a second shot that's longer than it looks being particularly hazardous.  I'd started, bogey, double bogey, par, par, so not too bad if I could make a run of pars.
This is the 5th, a 177 yard Par 3, played downwind (such as it was).  I'd only carried a half set of clubs given the heat and the hills, so my 7 wood looked to be about right.  As Gordon said after I'd played and gone 20 yards past the left side of the green into heavy rough and an unplayable lie, this hole plays much shorter than it looks, hence the double bogey.  There was  little run on the fairways due to the damp underfoot conditions, but I'd seriously over-clubbed on that simple looking hole.  Not good.

I did at least par the 6th and 7th and birdie the 166 yard Par 3 9th to go out in a reasonably good 39 (5 over) but I wasn't hitting my irons well and although I'd had 4 single putts on the front 9, the greens were tricky to read.  Some were really fast whilst others were less so, and my scoring quickly unravelled on the back 9, with successive three-putting on holes 10-12.  I parred the 425 yard Par 4 13th, the Stroke Index 1 hole, but disaster struck on the 15th where I took an ugly 9.  In mitigation, I was getting tired in the heat and my poor iron play finally gave way to an awful sh---, but at least I'd saved the ignomony of double figures after a good single putt!  The club had sold some of the land on the 18th Hole to a local developer for housing and pending a remodelling of that hole the 16th was being placed twice in order to achieve an 18 hole round.  I'd parred the 16th first time round, but obviously didn't learn much as my final hole was another double bogey.  I'd stumbled to a poor 49 on the back 9 for a total of 88, net 78, with 32 putts, so a disappointing round overall.  I'd also lost to Polly, so she now led 4-3 in our Summer series.  We both liked the Cowal course, despite being bitten by some midges on the way round.  It's a good test.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Innellan GC - Course no 421

I played here on 4 July 2011 before a planned round at nearby Cowal GC in Dunoon.  I'd also thought about playing  the 9 hole course at Blairmore & Strone, but it was developing into another hot day and I'd heard from a couple of guys I met in the Innellan car park that Blairmore & Strone was extremely hilly, so I (wisely as it turned out) decided to leave that one for another day.  I'd not booked to play at Innellan as I'd seen from the club's website that there was a men's medal competition on that day.  I was just hoping to squeeze in somewhere as a visitor, but the guys I'd met were so welcoming and assured me that it would be OK to play.  They no longer played in medals themselves - one was 82 and his pal was 86.  It was a pleasure to follow these guys around the course and to blether to them on the way, since some of the holes are pretty close together.  I just hope I'm playing as well as they did if I get to my 80's!

Innellan starts with a tricky 367 yard Par 4.  The drive is played over a hill, with the fairway sloping away to the right.  I'd hit a good drive and avoided the folk playing on the adjacent 9th fairway, but I had another blind shot over another small hill to a tiny plateau green, well protected by nearby bracken and bushes.  I missed the green but rescued the par after a good lob wedge and single putt.  The 2nd  at Innellan was a 184 yard par 3, steeply downhill.  This is a view from the tee. I'd taken my 7 wood, but that was far too much club and my ball easily cleared the green, finishing in heavy rough just short of the trees.  I rescued a bogey from there.  The morning had started overcast and the ground was wet with dew, but with the temperature already in the 20's, conditions became really sauna-like when the sun came out on the 3rd, as the humidity climbed even higher.

I also bogeyed the 3rd, an easy looking 134 yard par 3, but good pars on 4 and 5 left me 1 under 4s after 5 holes, so not bad.  Next was the 6th a 401 yard par 4, steeply uphill, with a gully and a burn crossing the fairway, Stroke Index 1.  I'd hooked me drive way left, down towards the 4th green and could only hit a wedge sideways, short of the gully.  Three more shots from there for a bogey 5 was a minor miracle as this is a really tricky hole, where a 7 or 8 could have been possible.   I parred the tricky 7th, a steeply uphill 199 yard Par 3 and bogeyed this, the 8th, a downhill 198 yard Par 3, after a poor drive. 

The 9th is an uphill 295 yard par 4, with a blind tee shot over another hill.  I'd missed the green to the right with my second and waited while the greenkeeper cut the green.  The others had been fast enough and my ball finished well above the putting surface, so it was no surprise when my approach putt sped 6 feet past.  The greenkeeper kindly conceded the putt even before I holed it for a closing par.  I'd gone round in 35, net 30, equalling the course par.  However, my putter had saved me again, as I'd taken only 11 putts.  I'd really enjoyed the course, the fantastic views and the friendship of the 2 guys in front (who really could teach a thing or three to the idiots I'd played behind Balfron a couple of days previously).  Polly had sat this one out, keeping her energy for the game at Cowal, but she really missed a treat because I really liked everything about Innellan.  Play it if you get the chance and enjoy.  I just hope you miss the midges, as I did.

This is me suitably relaxing after the round, taking in the view of the 9th green from the clubhouse veranda.  I'd demolished my  first pint of the day by then and was also cheered by the Club Secretary's news that the members play the course backwards at the end of each season.  I was given a copy of the separate card and invited back to play the backwards course later this year, so that's another new course added to the list!

Belleisle GC - Course no 420

Polly and I played here on 3 July 2011, on another (for Scotland) baking hot day, a bit too hot for comfortable golf really, as we're not used to such heat.  Belleisle is a pay as you play 18 hole 6047 yard Par 69 municipal golf course in Ayr operated by South Ayrshire Council.  There's another 18 holer (Seafield) on the same site which I've still to play.  Ideally, I'd have played both courses on the one day, but it was too hot and in any case, we had lots of courses to do over the next few days, so I'll need to do Seafield another time.  Belleisle has a high reputation as one of the best and most difficult municipal courses in Scotland.  This course also marked the resumption of my games with Polly for our Summer Stableford Competition (with Polly leading 3-2 after some previous games in Ireland), so I thought I'd need to play well to draw level.  These 2 courses share the same clubhouse and although some of the buildings need some repairs and refurbishment, the setting is still impressive from a distance. For example, this is a view of the clubhouse from the 1st tee.

Belleisle is a reasonably flat open parkland course and is pretty busy on most days, so we'd booked well in advance.  I don't know whether it was just the weather, but the course was pretty quiet.  I don't know whether it was the heat or the attraction of the nearby beaches, but the 2 young guys in front of us only lasted 3 holes before waiving us through and then walking in.  The course was very dry and fast running, the greens were pretty good and I'd started pretty well.   I thought the best run of holes on the front 9 were 6-8, as shown here.  Hole 6 is a slightly downhill 385 yard Par 4.  I just missed a birdie putt there, but an easy par.  The 7th is a good slightly uphill 140 yard Par 3, well protected by bunkers, with OOB a few yards behind the green.  I'd hooked an 8 iron way left, onto the 8th tee, hit a great lob wedge from there and holed an outrageous 15 foot putt that broke about 4 feet for an unlikely par, but I suspect there's an easier way to play the hole.  I'd hoped to par the 8th too, after finding the green in regulation, but I failed to get down in 2 putts from around 60 feet.  Still, I'd got to the turn in 40, or 5 over par so maybe Belleisle wasn't so fearsome after all.

I also parred Holes 10-12, this being a view of the 12th green, with the clubhouse in the background. Unfortunately, the pub to the right of the picture was closed and boarded up, adding to the feeling that the place was a bit run down and in need of major cash investment - an unlikely prospect these days.  I thought the best hole on the back 9 was the 16th, a 393 yard par 4 made all the more tricky by a burn running across the fairway just far enough out to catch a good drive.  Any hole named "Ca' Canny" (Be Careful) deserves respect, but after laying up with a 3 wood short of the burn, my 7 wood found a greenside bunker, costing me a shot.

Still, I'd picked my way around the first 17 holes without a double bogey or a 6 on the card.  The last at Belleisle is a slightly uphill 503 yard par 5.  This is a view up the 18th fairway.  I'd hit a good drive and fairway wood but found a bunker to the right of the green with my third.  I'd an awkward hanging lie in the bunker, there wasn't much sand and I was a couple of feet above the hole itself, so a par from there would be difficult.  I got the ball out OK, but I'd a 30 foot putt for par to keep a 6 off the card, which I missed, leaving the ball woefully short.  I holed out for bogey and a gross 78, net 68, with only 29 putts.  I'd finished 1 stroke under the course par and drawn level with Polly at 3-3.  Polly had played pretty well, but there's a remarkable 7 Par 5s on the Ladies Card (Par 74), making Belleisle a really tough test and her time would come later in the week.

Belleisle is also a good test off the Yellow markers and it's certainly one of the best municipal courses I've played for a long time.  There are some great courses along the Ayrshire coastline, but Belleisle is well worth a visit. 

Balfron GC - Course no 419

Earlier this year Polly and I had booked to stay in the Loch Lomond area during the Scottish Open as we'd been expecting to marshall during the tournament, but when the event was moved to the excellent new Castle Stuart course, we opted to keep our booking and take the opportunity to play some new courses in the West of the country.  We'd arrived at our rented cottage in Killearn on 2 July 2011, not expecting to play, but then we heard that the Balfron course was only a 10 minute drive away and would probably be open to visitors.  It was unusually hot (24C) and humid, and Polly opted to do the camera work rather than play, so off I went for an extra game and another new course, before resuming the serious business of playing Polly for our annual Summer holiday trophy, a small replica of the Claret Jug.  Modesty and continued marital harmony suggests I continue to skim over who won last year.  Suffice to say that Polly led 3-2 in the 2011 tournament going into this week's trip, with 8 rounds to go. 

Balfron is a relatively new course dating back to 1994, when a new 9 hole course opened after what must have been prodigious efforts by local volunteers.  Further extensive development work led to the course being extended to 18 holes by 2001 and even more work has extended the Shian course to its present condition, as one of the very best "village" courses I've played during my travels around Scotland.  The club's membership is rightly proud of its achievements and as we arrived in the late afternoon, the club's Anniversary Day Competition and celebrations were in full swing.  The Course was still formally closed to visitors, but we were made immediately welcome and advised that the barbecue and party would still be going strong when we'd finished and we were welcome to join in after our round.  No-one had gone out in the past 90 minutes so the course would be clear - or so we thought.....

The Balfron course is a modest 5840 yards, Par 72 of the Yellow tees and is moorland in nature, with outstanding open countryside and mountain views.  For example, this is me lining up my approach to the tricky 8th green. The small hill to the right is Dumgoyne, a prominent local landmark  in the Campsie Hills to the north of Glasgow that was clearly visible from the top of the road where I lived as a child.  I never did climb it, but maybe one day I will.  Anyway, with an apparently still empty course in front of me and no-one behind, I reached the turn in little over an hour in 40 strokes, only 4 over par. The greens were smooth and fast-running and there were no midges in sight!

I really liked this course, so it was all the more frustrating to come across one of my pet hates in golf, from the 12th onwards.  Although a single golfer clearly has no status under the R&A's Rules, I think it is still common courtesy for slower players to wave a single player through, especially when, as at the 12th and later at the 15th, the players in front are searching for a ball.  Remember that I'd been told that no-one had teed off for 90 minutes?  On the 12th I caught up with 2 guys (I'd not class them as serious golfers!) looking for a ball in heavy rough.  They'd seen me from the 12th tee getting my Par on the 11th, so I can only assume that I must have become invisible shortly thereafter.  I even tried coughing loudly while these 2 characters were looking for a ball on the 15th (for well over 5 minutes) in the hope of reminding them that they were holding me up, but to no avail.  Contrast that with the unbounded joy of a very elderly single player I'd met by the 17th tee.  He'd been out for a few holes in the evening sun and had had a birdie 2 on the nearby short 118 yard 6th hole (I took a 4).  He gleefully commented that he'd not birdied that hole in years and was clearly a very happy man as he made his way to the next tee.

That chance meeting helped me to refocus on the task in hand i.e. to play the 17th better than those in front, who had taken forever, and umpteem shots to complete the task.  There are some really good holes at Balfron, the 17th being my favourite, closely followed by the 15th, the 14th, the 5th, the 1st etc.  The 17th is a 426 yard downhill Par 4, Stroke Index 3 with a blind tee shot over a gentle drop in the fairway and a stream around 30 yards from the green and down its left side, making (for me at least) an attempt to get home in 2 shots hugely difficult.  I'd hit a reasonable drive and laid up short of the stream with my 7 wood, leaving a simple pitch to the green, as shown here.  This particular green is probably the most undulating on the course, so I was relieved to 2 putt, especially since the 2 guys in front were still not clear of the 18th tee.

The 18th hole finished in front of the samll clubhouse and the larger marquee and assembled membership still enjoying the evening sun, the barbecue and the beers.  I'd hit a good drive, followed by an easy 9 iron that just trickled off the back edge of the green, down a steep slope.  This was a time for steady nerves as my audience had been starved of entertainment for some hours, save the 2 in front, who had finally finished their round.  I'd like to say that I chipped in to rapturous applause, but in reality a fluffed lob wedge that ran back to my feet was the outcome.  My second effort hit the pin and almost went in, but I bogeyed the hole to go round in 83, net 73, or 1 over net Par, with 29 putts. 

It's now a week since I played at Balfron so I've had ample time to moderate my comments on the 2 in front.  I believe that what goes around comes around but I'd never treat a visitor to my course in that way.  More positive Balfron memories?  The warm welcome and a lovely course, played well in great conditions.  I'd strongly recommend this course and hope that if you play it as a single, you get invited through if those in front are slower or are searching for a ball.