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.