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.

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