Thursday, 29 September 2011

Muckhart GC - Courses 453 and 454

There are 3 separate 9 hole loops at Muckhart GC, all heathland in nature, that can be combined to form 3 separate 18 hole layouts.  The Cowden, at 3114 yard Par 36, was opened in 1908 (annual subs then were £1 a year per family!).  The Arndean, at 2652 yards Par 35, was opened in 1970 and the Naemoor course, at 3039 yards par 35, was opened in 1998.  These combinations provide three 18 hole courses, namely -

Arndean/Cowden, 5832 yards Par 71
Arndean/Naemoor, 5757 yards Par 70
Naemoor/Cowden, 6153 yards, par 71.

I've listed the total "Casual Yards" from each of the 3 scorecards, each of which equate to Yellow yardages and as might be expected, the Medal Yards courses are longer, but there's an additional twist to the Cowden Course.  The 1st hole is played from a tee outside the clubhouse windows for casual rounds ( a 173 yard hole) but there's a completely different 1st hole for medal play (a 109 yard hole) served by a separate tee and green.  I mention this because although the 1st Medal hole at Cowden was not in play when I played each of the 3 loops back to back on 28 September 2011, I'd played that hole a few years ago with Polly in a Mixed competition over the combined Arndean/Cowden course.

The Muckhart club nominates a course combination of the day and the  club's seniors were out in force on the Cowden course when I arrived, but with advice from the helpful Pro, it was possible to play Muckhart in an Arndean, Naemoor and Cowden sequence without being held up (and 27 holes back to back in under 4 hours in humid 24 degree conditions was good going!)
The Arndean Course is only 2652 yards but is quite hilly, with some pine tree plantations that can snag wayward shots.  The first three opening Par 4s are easy enough, ranging from 278-290 yards and need only a straight drive and short pitch to get you going.  I'd parred holes 1 and 2 and a good wedge to 3 feet on the 3rd, as shown here, set up an easy first birdie of the day.  The views from the Arndean Course are pretty spectacular, especially from the 5th, aptly named "Top of the World."  I'd caught this course early in the day in calm conditions and while most of the holes are short, they are pretty exposed so Arndean on a windy day would be far more testing.  I thought the best hole on Arndean was the 7th, a largely downhill 469 yard Par 5 with a blind second shot.  I managed a bogey after hitting a severe hook onto the adjacent 6th fairway, adding to the dog leg on the hole, so bogey from there was a good result.
I also liked this, the 9th, a downhill Par 3 with OOB all down the left side of the hole. For some reason we were using the Medal tee at 209 yards rather than the shorter 135 yard tee for casual play.  I'd hit an easy 3 wood to within a yard of the OOB and was stymied by some trees, but it could have been worse as the OOB also features a couple of houses, gardens and the road to the clubhouse.  I went round Arndean in 38, only 3 over par, with 14 putts, so I was off to a good start.  Naemoor was next, and as the name suggests, this course is almost flat.  At 3039 yards, Par 35 it didn't look too tricky either.

The contrast in design and turf between Naemoor and the other courses is obvious from the start.  Naemoor is more open, flat and easier walking, but where Arndean and Cowden were free-draining, Naemoor showed more signs of the recent rain, with a few really soggy patches and casual water.  This is the 5th on Naemoor, a short 289 yard Par 4.  The early morning breeze had strengthened considerably, so with a tail wind I only had a blind lob wedge shot up to a plateau green and another easy birdie was in the bag.  I played steadily from there with a bogey on the Stroke Index 1 6th after laying up short of a fairway water hazard and good pars on 7 and 8, but I really came unstuck on the closing 394 yard par 4.
This is the 9th green on Naemoor.  I'd lost a ball off the tee  after another wild hook off the tee and was lucky to escape with a double bogey after a good 6 iron approach. Still, I'd gone round in 39 or 4 over par, with 14 putts, so at least the combined score over Arndean/Naemoor would be good.  The Cowden course wanders its way through mature pine forest over some substantial hills and is a stiffer test than the other two courses.  It's not long at 3114 yards, Par 36, but with the wind having increased further since I'd finished the flatter and lower-lying Naemoor course, Cowden looked set to be a tougher test, and so it proved.
The 1st "Casual Play" hole is a 173 yard Par 3, as shown here, and anything left, right or long would be bad news.  I just missed the green on the right, but the green was faster than those I'd played earlier, so I'd an opening bogey.  The 2nd was a 353 yard par 4 played from an elevated and exposed tee with a blind second shot over a hill, and anything left off the tee would find a swamp. I was happy enough with another bogey, but not so pleased to bogey the 3rd, a short downwind Par 4.  I did at least par the 4th, but Cowden was clearly a more testing course.
This is the 5th, the Stroke Index 1 hole, played from an elevated tee to a narrow fairway which has several severe undulations creating blind shots if you're at all short with the drive or fluff your second shot.  A double bogey there after just such a fluffed second and further bogeys on 6 and 7 were also disappointing.  The 8th is a 307 yard par 4 played over a hill that I suspect plays shorter than it looks.  My drive had run down the other side of the hill to within 20 yards of the green.  I managed to miss the green from there (!) but at least a chip-in saved the birdie.
The last hole on Cowden is a really good 501 yard Par 5, with OOB all the way down the right and a stream that cuts across the fairway 130 yards out from the green.  I had an easy par there after laying up short of the stream in 2, for a gross 42, 6 over par, with 15 putts.

My combined scores for the 3 courses were -

Arndean/Cowden, 80, net 70 with 28 putts.  A net 1 under par round.
Arndean/Naemoor, 77, net 67 with 27 putts.  A net 3 under par round.
Naemoor/Cowden, 81, net 71 with 29 putts.  A net par round.

Muckart GC is well worth a visit.  You might not want to play the full 27 holes unless you're fit and the weather's fine, but the Arndean/Cowden combination is particularly good.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

PGA National Centenary Course - Course no 452

Polly, Craig, Stu and I played here on 26 September 2011.  This is Craig, Stu and I close to the 1st tee. The PGA National Centenary (catchy name, eh?) is of course the venue for the 2014 Ryder Cup, so we'd been keen to play it to see what lies in store for the teams, spectators and TV viewers.  The Ryder Cup match will be played from the Blue Championship tees and from there, the course measures a formidable 7262 yards.  Craig and I opted to play from the White tees, giving us a course of 6776 yards, Par 72.  Stu went for the Yellow tees, giving him a slightly more manageable 6307 yards to negotiate and Polly was off the Red Ladies tees, at 5270 yards.   Polly and I had stayed at Gleneagles Hotel overnight, enabling us to play the course the next day at a reasonable price and negotiate a discounted deal for the guys to join us, minimising our costs, an important factor since we've still got a lot of travelling etc to do in order to complete our challenge of playing every Scottish course.

There had been heavy overnight rain and although it was still a bit damp underfoot when I'd played the Hotel's Pitch and Putt course before breakfast, the PGA National course was absolutely saturated, with casual water affecting most shots.  Indeed,  we were often splashing our way through puddles or finding that the ground would sink a few inches under our weight (and I'm only 180 pounds!)  We were left wondering what state the course would be in should some really wet weather arrive before or during the 2014 Ryder Cup.  We'd heard rumours of the match being brought forward to avoid the kind of weather-related problems that affected the match at Celtic Manor, but it's been a wet summer in Scotland this year, so we're left hoping that the weather in 2014 will be kinder.  The ground conditions meant that there was no run on the fairways and the greens were slower than we'd expected.  Accordingly, the PGA National course proved to be an absolute beast on the day and if I'd known just how heavy the ground would be, I'd have joined Stu on the Yellow tees.  As it was, even my good tee shots and fairway woods were still short on the par 4 holes and we all struggled to reach greens in regulation.  The views of the Perthshire countryside were as stunning as they are on the other 2 main courses at Gleneagles (the Kings and Queens Courses), but in the contest of Man v Course, the course won hands down in my case. 

Apart from the extreme difficulty of the course itself and the wet ground conditions on the day, my other impression of the course is that it's very long walk, with some demanding elevation changes.  I've been working as a caddie this year at the Renaissance and Archerfield courses, so I'm well used to carrying bags round championship length layouts.  I suppose it's inevitable that a course layout needing to accommodate large crowds needs space for crowd circulation etc. but I'd not want to be on a big bag here for up to 5 rounds in 3 days!
I'm also struggling to identify an obvious signature hole with the kind of wow factor that I'd been hoping to see.  Maybe the 6th on the front 9, a 176 yard downhill Par 3 played over a pond, as shown here.  This hole is called "Mickle Skelp" meaning "small hit" but with the wind against and the tee well above the green and exposed to the wind, I needed my 7 wood just to get to the fringe at the front of the green.  Another bogey on the card and still no par.  In fact, I'd been struggling to find fairways and greens, sat out of bunkers (and get out of them!), so after 6 holes I was 2 under level 6s.  Not good and further 6s on holes 7-9 meant I was out in 52.

The 10th is a downhill 190 yard Par 3 and I'd finally reached a green in regulation, only to 3-putt from 20 feet.  Polly had hit a superb tee shot to within 3 feet and missed from there but at least she'd registered a par. I thought the bast hole on the back 9 was the 16th, a 518 yard Par 5 with the third shot played over a pond uphill to a narrow green (or in my case, the 4th shot!)  Another double bogey there and I was still parless.  The 17th was only 179 yards downhill into the wind.  I'd found a greenside bunker, got it out to 10 feet, so a good chance - missed!
I'm not sure what to make of this, the 18th, a steeply uphill 484 yard Par 5, with the green set in a hollow surrounded by banking that forms a "natural" amphitheatre that, come the Ryder Cup, will no doubt provide space for stands that will accommodate a large gallery of spectators.  Played without such additions, the 18th was just a slog that petered out far from the club house, leaving a decent Par 4 length walk over a soggy field to the car park.  We all felt a sense of anti-climax on completion of the round and although I'm sure that this course will provide a strong test come the Ryder Cup, it's not one that will feature in my own list of top Scottish courses.  There are many other Championship courses that could host an event as big as the Ryder Cup, but I suppose money talks louder than common sense.

For the record, I'd limped around in 103, with 34 putts.  OK, the conditions weren't the best and I'd been too ambitious to go for the White tees, but a net 93, 21 shots above par and no pars or birdies? Not my worst round, but at least I'd scored a birdie and had a few good pars when I played the Celtic Manor course before the 2010 Ryder Cup, and had happy memories when watching that event on TV.  Watching the 2014 event, I hope I'm not thinking back to my 8 at the 3rd after failing to get out of a bunker (that I should never have been in) and my tired 7 up the long 18th etc.  Maybe the scars will have healed by then, but for now, at least I've played the course as part of our challenge.  However, I doubt I'd rush to play it again.

Gleneagles Pitch and Putt Course - course no 451

The Gleneagles Hotel has a 9 hole pitch and putt course measuring 550 yards, ideal for complete beginners or early risers like me, before breakfast and a day's golf. Polly, Craig, Stu and I were due to play the PGA National Centenary Course at Gleneagles later in the morning of 26 September 2011, and it had been raining heavily overnight so this was a chance to gauge the likely underfoot conditions.  The longest hole on this course is only 81 yards, so only a wedge and putter are needed and it only takes 30 minutes or so to play.  I went round in level par 27 after birdies at the first couple of holes and 16 putts in total. 

This is a view of the 49 yard 9th hole, with the hotel in the background.  Quite a place overall.

PGA National Academy Course - Course no 450

This is a short 9 Par 3 hole course forming part of the impressive 5-course complex at Gleneagles  Hotel in rural Perthshire.  Polly and I played here on 25 September before our round on the next morning with Craig and Stu over the PGA National Centenary Course at Gleneagles.  The Academy Course, or the Wee Course as its still more generally known, is parkland/moorland in nature and at only 1481 yards, Par 27 is intended mainly as a training course for beginners.  Accordingly, it's not too testing, but some of the holes require straight hitting, so be warned.  This is the 3rd, a 174 yard Par 3.  The plateau green is easy to miss and with the flag tucked away back left and my ball buried in the rough to the right and short of the green, I did well to escape with a bogey.
This is the  7th, a 194 yard Par 3 played from an elevated tee with the Hotel and the 1st tee of the PGA Centenary Course in the background.  I had a 33, net 28 on the course or net 1 over par, with 14 putts.  I thought this small course was overpriced at £25 and offered poor value.  By all means play it if your playing one or more of the 3 main courses at Gleneagles (the Kings, Queens, and PGA National) but you might want to keep your cash for the Dormy clubhouse that serves all of the courses.  At over £100 for a 2 course meal for 2, plus a few drinks, you may need it. 

Gatehouse GC - Course no 449

I still had time for a quick 9-holer after my round at Newton Stewart before driving home, so inspired by a write-up in Derek Adams' "Nine-Holer Guide" I played the excellent Gatehouse GC course in the village of Gatehouse of Fleet on 23 September 2011.  This author's assessment of the Gatehouse course is that "the challenging nine-hole course is one of the most scenic and well maintained courses in south west Scotland."  For me, this is a considerable understatement. 

Bearing in mind that I was already tired from previous golfing exertions, I'd been hoping that Gatehouse would be short and flat.  Well, one out of two isn't bad, but although there's some serious slopes to contend with at Gatehouse, this  daunting view from the 1st tee pushed my tiredness aside.  It was immediately obvious that Gatehouse would be hugely challenging, with gorse, whin, blind shots galore all ready to frustrate even the most skillful golfer never mind a 10-handicapper like me.    There's a steep path up to the clubhouse from the small car park and as you walk up, you pass some houses far below to your left and see the 9th green high to your right, so any hope that this would be an easy walk is quickly dispelled.  The clubhouse is modest and cosy, just as you'd expect for such a small village course.  Who needs the big championship courses and their fancy prices when wee courses like this are to be found throughout the country?  The 1st hole here is 206 yards steeply uphill, requiring absolute accuracy to avoid an opening bogey or worse. By the time I'd guessed (correctly) where the green might be (bearing in  mind it was a Par 3!) and  escaped with a bogey, I'd also realised that this course was in amazing condition.  Wigtown and Bladnoch had been soaking wet, even before the overnight rain and the Newton Stewart course had taken a hammering from the deluge, but here was a hilly moorland course, firm underfoot, with perfect fast running greens and manicured fairways.  I'd even stopped on one of the holes to admire how well a bunker had been raked by the greenkeeper!  For goodness sake get a life, Alan.

The 2nd is a scary looking blind 338 yard Par 4.  The marker pole is a good line and there's a wide fairway beyond it.  Go too far right of it and you might be playing this hole for a long time.  Find the fairway and you then have another blind shot to a small green.  Hit that, take your 2 putts and walk away with a smile on your face, just as I did.  On the 3rd tee, try not to question the sanity of the course designer.  Another blind tee shot awaits on this 288 yard Par 4, over a steep hill.  Find your ball amongst the severe undulations on this fairway, guess it's an 8 iron to the green and after your blind approach shot find your ball again and 2 putt, as I did. The 4th is a 316 yard Par 4 with (and you're probably ahead of me by now!) a blind tee shot over a marker improbably near to what I suspected was OOB forestry land.  Trust the marker, but I'd hit a slight hook and could only see the top half of the flag for my second.  OOB awaited anything long or right, so a bogey there was acceptable. 
Next comes the slightly downhill 120 yard Par 3 5th hole.  With the wind from behind, I'd an easy 9 iron to the green and 2 putts later, I was 2 over par with 4 holes to go.  However, the Gatehouse course has an absolute stonker of a Par 5 as its 6th.  It's 532 yards with a generously wide fairway, but is mostly uphill into the prevailing wind.  I'd hit a good long and straight drive but my ball was on a side slope and my second went way left, leaving yet another blind shot.  I limped off with a 7 to go 4 over, but all was not lost.  The 7th is a blind downhill 272 yard Par 4.  This was my best drive of the round, finishing just short of the green.  Aim at the marker sign in the trees and hit it as hard as you can.  I'd an easy par from there.  The photo above is of the 8th, a 186 yard Par 3 and my own favourite amongst the many really good holes at Gatehouse.  Long, right or short is asking for real trouble.  The wind was blowing straight up the hole and there's a slope to the left that feeds down to the green.  Find that and you've still a good chance of making par.  I'd missed the green on that side but the slope carried my ball down to the back of the green.  It was downhill and downwind to the hole from there, but a couple of good putts and I was  4 over with "only" the 9th to go. 
Derek Adams had the 9th as the course's signature hole and I'd probably agree (though how it's only Stroke Index 15 beats me).  This is the view from the Medal Tee and below, the only marginally more informative view from the Yellow tee.  The 9th is a steeply downhill 160 yard Par 3 and there's really very little to aim at from either position, so a final blind shot to finish with.  

When playing one of the bigger courses in Ireland some years ago I'd gone to the expense of buying a Course Guide. On reaching just such a hole, the Pro's tip was "Hit the green and two-putt if you can." There was no escaping the accuracy and succinctness of that advice, but some comments about the prevailing wind direction, depth and receptiveness of the green etc might have helped (or more likely, drained me any remaining positive thoughts!) The view from the 9th tee at Gatehouse reminded me of that hole. Just hit the green and two-putt is sound advice for any Par 3, but particularly here. Gorse, bunkers, the path to the clubhouse, OOB and the gardens of the houses beyond all come into play.  I managed to find the green with my easy 7 Wood tee shot and get my par for 37 in total, net 32, or net 1 under par, with 16 putts in total, without losing a ball. Indeed, finish your round with the same ball that you started with and count yourself lucky, given the large number of blind shots and bushes etc.  Have even half the fun I did and you'll have had a great time.  In my travels around all of the golf courses in Scotland there have been a few courses of the "seen it, played it, wouldn't rush to go back" variety and at the other end of the spectrum, courses that you know will stick in the mind for a long time.  Gatehouse is undoubtedly one of those course that will stick in my mind for a long, long time, for the right reasons.  I was pretty tired before I started my round at Gatehouse but it was only on my way back down the path to the car park that I remembered!
Gatehouse is just a wee village golf club in an area that is blessed by having many other excellent courses so if you ever get the chance to visit Dumfries and Galloway, by all means play the more famous courses such as Southerness, Portpatrick and Stranraer.  However, don't miss the thrills and spills at Gatehouse if you're in the area.  I'm normally not a great fan of blind holes, but given the contours of the land that this course is built on, there's no alternative, so just accept the challenge that the course offers and enjoy.

Newton Stewart GC - Course no 448

The heavy overnight rain that had been forecast had duly arrived and was forecast to go off around 1000hrs on 23 September 2011.  I was a long way from home and I wanted to squeeze in another couple of courses before getting back, so although it was still chucking it down when I arrived at this 5546 yard Par 68 parkland course, I really didn't have much time to spare, so out I went, with wet suit, hat and umbrella all fully deployed. Needless to say there wasn't a queue for the first tee and it was only on the 6th, that I saw anyone else on the course, some 6 holes ahead of me.  As I left the clubhouse a member said I must be either very keen or completely daft.  I replied that I was probably both, and meant it.  I'd caddied for 36 holes at Renaissance on the 17th, played on the 18th, caddied on the 19th and 20th in the Sir Ian Botham and Darren Clarke charity event at Archerfield and played 27 holes over St Medan and Wigtown & Bladnoch on the 22nd, so my energy levels were pretty low.  As I climbed up the long hill to the 3rd tee at Newton Stewart I realised this would be a really tough physical challenge and maybe I'd have been wiser to at least wait for the rain to go off.  David Howell had been playing in the group I'd caddied for at Archerfield but any lingering thoughts of implementing some tips from watching this top European Tour player's smooth swing, course management and impressive iron play had quickly disappeared on that climb.  My challenge at Newton Stewart would simply be to get round the course without getting too wet and dispirited.  This is the 3rd hole, an uphill 172 yard Par 3, with a steep bank in front of the green.  I'd parred the 1st, bogeyed the 2nd and wasn't too hopeful here, but a good swing and I'd almost made the green, so a chip and and a tap in later and I was off to a reasonable start.  As forecast, the rain stopped around 1000 and although the course was saturated and heavy underfoot, I was playing OK and enjoying myself, despite being really tired.
The Newton Stewart course is mainly parkland but it climbs into forested moorland country from the 6th before coming down again from the 11th and this is a really pretty and interesting stretch of holes.  This is the 9th, an uphill dog leg left 338 yard Par 4, complete with a small herd of deer crossing the fairway.  I also liked the 10th, a 147 yard Par 3 played across a ravine and the aptly named "Soup Plate"  12th, a steeply downhill 185 yard Par 3, with the green surrounded by gorse and other bushes and trees.  Hit the green or lose your ball, simple as that.  I did the latter for a double bogey 5.
This is the 17, a 152 yard Par 3.  Nothing special looking, just another hole nearer to the clubhouse and a welcome rest.  I'd hit a 7 wood off the tee as by that time it was just about the only club that I could be sure of hitting reasonably straight.  I'd got my ball to the very back of the green, with a good 50 feet to go.  The greens at newton Stewart were really good, even after all of the rain but I'd not expected to hole the putt for birdie.  A closing bogey down the last and I'd got round in 82, net 72, or net 4 over par.   It ad been a real struggle physically, but I'd seen enough to judge that this was a really good course, well worth playing again if I got the chance.  Hopefully I'll be less tired the next time and the weather will be kinder.  Play this excellent course if you get the chance.

Wigtown and Bladnoch GC - Course no 447

I'd booked to stay overnight in Newton Stewart after my round at St Medan on 22 September 2011 before tackling some more courses in the south west, so I'd time to fit in a quick round over the  9 hole Wigtown & Bladnoch GC course.  This is a parkland course measuring 2731 yards Par 34 off the Men's White Medal tees.  The scorecard does not provide any measurements from the Yellow tees.  I'd experienced that oddity on another course some time ago, but I really don't understand why, when visitors and members' bounce games are required to play off Yellows, there were no yardages on the scorecards.  That criticism apart, this was a rather bland experience when compared with my adventures over the nearby St Medan course.  There had been some recent rain and the Wigtown & Bladnoch course was soaking wet, with balls plugging where they landed and my feet splashing their way through puddles of standing water.

I'm still struggling several days after playing here, to pick out the signature hole, but I liked this, the 4th, a short 275 yard Par 4 played from an elevated tee.  With the wind from behind, I'd ambitions of getting near to the green, but my ball plugged on landing and I was lucky to find it, three-quarters' submerged in the middle of the fairway.  I'd no such luck on the 356 yard Par 4 7th, where my tee shot found the light rough and was duly lost.  I can only assume it got completely submerged.  It was a bright sunny and warm afternoon, but I was the only fool on the course and even the greenkeeper had gone home.

This is the 9th, a decent 376 yard uphill Par 4.  I had a closing par for a 39, net 34 with 14 putts.   The weather forecast was for heavy overnight rain, so maybe I'd been quite lucky to catch this course before it got even wetter.  I've played it, but I doubt whether I'd want to play it again.

Friday, 23 September 2011

St Medan GC - Course no 446

St Medan is Scotland's most southerly course at Monreith in Dumfries and Galloway in the far south west of the country.  It's a moderately hilly links course with 9 greens and 18 separate tees, making it an 18 hole course.  At 4405 yards Par 64, it's also extremely short, but since the course is fully exposed to the wind, which was blowing pretty strongly when I played it on 22 September 2011, scoring can still be tricky.  The greens are small and were running fast and true, but miss the greens or get above the hole left awkward shots that fully tested the short game.  This is a view from the 1st fairway down to the green, with the 3rd/12th and 7th/16th greens in the background and the large hill that dominates the course.  I'd wondered what the wall-like features were towards the top of this hill.  On closer inspection, they turned out to be wind-breaks to provide shelter from the prevailing wind on particular tees and protection against wayward shots.  Not the prettiest features, but important nevertheless. The 1st hole is a 208 yard Par 3, playing to 236 yards as the 10th.  Given the strong wind coming almost directly up the hill I was short of the green both times with my driver.  The small green slopes steeply away from the tee direction, so this is a really tricky opener to both halves of the round.  I scored a bogey on the 1st but sneaked a par on the 12th after a good single putt. 
The 2nd/11th holes are played from the same teeing ground and are short par 4s of 268 and 263 yards respectively.  The tee shots are easy enough, but the prevailing wind will narrow the landing area and unless you can hit a huge drive, you're left with a blind second shot over a hill to a small plateau green.  Be too bold or veer to far right and you lose your ball over a cliff.  I parred both holes.  The 3rd is a largely downhill 209 yard Par 3 which played far longer than it looked due to the prevailing wind in my face.  The green is tucked away on a small plateau behind a hillock.  I'd hit my driver, but was still short, but escaped with a par after a decent putt.  The 12th shares the same green as the 3rd and at 249 yards into the wind is a fearsome test.  This is by far the most difficult of the 8 Par 3s at St Medan but it was surprising that it only ranked 11 on the Stroke Indexing.  This is the view from the 12th tee.  I was well short of the green with my driver and needed a full wedge to find the green.  A 50 foot putt secured an unlikely par!

The club's website gives the 4th as the signature hole, as shown here.  This is a downhill 284 yard Par 4 played from a very elevated tee to a small green protected by a small hillock.  Railway sleepers create a vertical face to that hillock, but clear them and your ball runs down to the green.  To make things more interesting still, the hole ran almost side on to the wind, so my tee shot risked being pushed left into dense bushes on the downslope of a cliff.  Long, bold and very straight is your only option from the tee.  I'd hit a great drive, but was still a few yards short of the green, but with a decent lie.  Much to my amazement, which will be shared by those who know me, I chipped in for an eagle 2.  Played as the 13th, the hole becomes a slightly more manageable 233 yard Par 4 (appreciably shorter and easier than the 249 yard Par 3 12th hole!).  The 12th is the Stroke Index 1 Hole (the longer 4th being the SI 10 hole for some reason).  Both require the utmost care, but after an eagle at the 4th and a par at the 12th I was quite pleased with myself.
The 5th and 14th holes are both short Par 4s requiring something reasonably straight off the tee and a decent wedge to the small plateau green.  I missed the green in regulation on the 5th but had an easy par on the 14th.  The 6th and 15th are 320 yard and 278 yard Par 4s with a narrow fairway intersected by a small road that runs down to the beach.  I cleared the road with my drive on each occasion, but the green lies on an area of raised beach on a small headland sticking out into the sea, fully exposed to the strong wind.  I bogeyed both holes.  The 7th and 16th Par 4 holes are also pretty tricky.  This is the view from the 7th tee, with the green completely hidden behind the large hill and OOB to the left of the fairway.  The 7th is 281 yards, and the sensible approach is to lay up and hit a wedge over the left flank of the hill.  The road down to the beach also runs in front of the hill and comes into play if you're too ambitious.  Unfortunately, the line of sight from the 7th is quite limited and it's possible (as I did) to ensure there's nothing coming on the road, hit your drive, only to see a car coming into view while your ball is still in the air.  I'd tried to lay up with my 7 wood, but the hole was downwind.  I  missed the oncoming car and the OOB by only a few feet and had a blind second shot.  An easy par followed, but after a more cautious approach when playing the 16th I lost a ball on the far side of the hill and carded a double bogey 6.  

The 8th and 17th are long uphill Par 3s.  There's a good map on the back of the scorecard, but when I drove of at the 8th, I'd aimed at the adjacent 9th and that stupid error cost me a bogey, a feat repeated when I played to the correct green off the 17th.  This is the view from the 9th, a 151 yard Par 3 made all the trickier by the wind blowing hard across the hole towards the clubhouse.  This supposedly the easiest hole on the course  but I needed a good 5 iron to find the green and a couple of putts to secure my par.  Played as the 18th, this hole becomes a difficult 187 yard Par 3 and with the wind having turned into my face, I needed a full 3 wood to reach the green.  I'd a 20 foot putt for birdie and a gross 69, which I duly charged and nearly missed subsequent 5 footer for a closing par. 

I'd gone round in 70, net 60, net 4 under the par of the course, with 30 putts.  Not bad, but a missed opportunity to break 70 on an 18 hole course.  St Medan was great fun to play and if you're ever down that way, don't miss it.  I've now played the most southerly and well as the most westerly (Barra), northerly and easterly (Whalsay) courses on Scotland.  One rainy day I must work out which course lies closest to the middle of the country.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Bearsden GC - Course no 445

Polly and I played here on 14 September 2011 on a bright and cool early Autumn day after we'd had the tail end of the hurricane that had affected the US.  Bearsden is a parkland course just north of Glasgow, and the recent wind and rain meant that the course was soggy underfoot and still strewn with fallen leaves and twigs.  Bearsden plays as an 18 hole course, 5512 yards, Par 68, off the Yellow tees.  There are 11 separate teeing grounds and 15 separate greens, so navigation would be a challenge without the excellent course map on the back of the score card.  I don't know if the club gets many visitors, but this is one of the best course maps I've seen on my travels, so well done to the club for providing such a helpful guide. 

I've been persevering with my present set of clubs for a while now, but an amicable separation is coming soon.  Truth is, I've had enough of my Taylor Made R7 Driver, Ping G10 3 and 7 Woods and Callaway X16 Irons.  They've served me well over the years but it's time for a radical change so I've ordered a custom-fitted set of Ping G20 woods and irons.  It's not quite time for a "What's in the Bag?" feature though, as the new clubs will be set aside until Christmas, but like a woman scorned, my present set have fair taken the huff.  Either that, or the Pro's comments about my swing faults during the fitting session have confused me even further.  Suffice to say I did not cover myself in glory at Bearsden.  Maybe it was the clubs, maybe it was my argument with the sat nav about the quickest and easiest way to navigate through Glasgow to Bearsden, but this was a really poor round of golf.  The 1st was an easy 291 yard Par 4, but I'd hit a duck hook from the tee into a very soggy lie.  I found the fringe of the green with a good 5 iron and shifted enough mud to ensure I'd be more cautious about taking a divot for the rest of the round.  I even missed a 2 foot putt, suggesting my trusty Ping Anser 4 had downed tools in sympathy with its colleagues.  The 4th is the Stroke Index 1 hole, an uphill 377 yard Par 4 that plays far longer than it looks.  The 4th green is also tucked away to the right of the fairway, shared with the 13th.  I'd an easy pitch to the green to set up a par putt, but careless alignment led to me finding a bunker.  A thinned sand iron exit into a hedge on the other side of the green led to an ugly 7 and further frustration.

I'd been thinking about a tip the Pro had given me to stop me hitting the ball out of the heel with my driver and hitting the odd sh--- with my irons.  I needed to change my set up slightly and on the 9th tee something clicked, albeit briefly.  The 9th is a slightly downhill 364 yard Par 4.  The 9th green is to the right of this photo, with the clubhouse and the 18th green to the left. There was little run on the shared fairway after all of the recent rain, so it was a surprise to find I'd actually hit the ball straight, leaving only a short wedge to the green.  A second consecutive par and I was out in 45, "only" 11 over.  Woopy-doo. 

That new swing thought also led to another long straight drive (with a new ball) on the 10th, leaving only a short pitch to the green.  The fairway was still pretty wet, and mindful of the mud I'd disturbed when playing this hole as the 1st, maybe my sand iron was a poor choice.  I'd only 50 yards or so downhill to the green, but there's a lot of bounce on my sand iron and it's easy to thin the shot if you try not to take much of a divot.  There's also OOB just beyond the 1st/10th green, and no doubt some local ball forager will one day find my errant Titleist.  I hope he gets more out of it than I did!  This is the 14th, a 131 yard downhill Par 3, scene of my sole par on the back 9.  I'd feel better if Bearsden was a difficult course, but it's not.  Most of the holes are pretty straightforward and not particularly memorable.

Polly and I agreed that the best hole at Bearsden is this, the 18th, a 408 yard downhill Par 4, sharing a fairway with the 9th.  I'd hit another good drive, but the hole dog legs to the left, with some bushes blocking the line of sight to the green.  I managed an easy bogey there, but a 92, net 82, with 33 putts on slow greens wasn't much fun.  We'd played the back 9 with Will, an American who now lived locally and was thinking about joining the club.  It's his choice, but there are lots of good courses in the area and Bearsden would not be my first choice.  I doubt I'd play it again, but if I did, 92 would be an easy target.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Bellshill GC - Course no 444

Bellshill GC is an 18 hole parkland course east of Glasgow measuring 5818 yards, par 68, off the yellow tees.  As the club's website explains, the course layout has been changed considerably since it was opened in 1905, with the current course being laid out in 4 separate sections connected by pathways, with a main railway line splitting holes 7-14 from the rest of the course.  There are a few elevation changes and modest hills to cope with which add to the interest of the course.  The website also says, and rightly so, that the first 5 holes are particularly demanding so I was happy enough to negotiate these in 3 over par.  The 4th is only 375 yards but is the Stroke Index 1 hole, requiring a long drive to reach the corner of the right dog leg to set up another long shot uphill.  Being a tree-lined course, it doesn't pay to flirt with the corner of the dog leg and an internal OOB all along the right of the hole adds to the difficulty.  I missed a long putt for a par but was pleased enough to get the bogey. 
Holes 6 and 7 are in a separate field accessed by a bridge over the railway line.  This is the 6th, a good birdie opportunity at only 292 yards, steeply downhill.   A cleverly-placed fairway bunker blocks the big hitters from going for the green, so it's all about the second shot.  The green is small and sheltered by mature trees, to the extent that the green was far softer and damper than the other greens.  I missed a reasonable birdie chance here, but I was hitting the ball reasonably well.   The 7th runs parallel to the 6th, back up the steep hill, with a plateau green that's further away than it looks.  I'd just missed the green in regulation to the right, but the rough around the greens at Bellshill is quite tough and though pretty short is tricky to escape from, hence by bogey 5.  An awful lie in a bunker at the short 8th cost me another shot. 
The best hole on the front 9 was the 9th, an excellent 383 yard downhill dog leg left par 4 with a blind tee shot.  My drive had finished in an awkward hanging lie, leaving me this view of the green.  Another bogey there, but I'd gone out in 40, or 6 over par, so not bad.     The 378 yard Par 4 10th Hole is called "Lone Tree" and perhaps it only had a single specimen when the hole was named.  The name was still pretty apt, since I missed at least one of the many trees that now line the fairway.  A double bogey 6 there was actually a good score after I'd gone into trees to the right off the tee and ran into trees on the left with a 6 iron pitch and run recovery shot.  My low 9 iron played under overhanging branches and over a fairway bunker to just short of the green was one of my better shots!
By then I'd just about caught up with 3 local members and after seeing me get my par at the downhill 358 yard Par 4 11th, they waived me through.  I'd not been held up much as they were reasonably quick players but no matter how often it happens, I always find the tee shot on a waive through hole quite demanding.  The guys had hit decent tee shots up the 12th, so it was a pleasant surprise when my drive cleared their best by 25 yards.  Even better, I hit the green with my second, just missed the birdie there, but knocked in a short birdie putt on the downhill 296 yard Par 4 13th.  The 14th is another uphill Par 4, this time a dog leg right.  I'd gone into the trees on the corner of the dog leg, but there was a gap in the foliage if I could get a 9 iron up quick enough.  That was definitely the shot of the day, saving a double bogey or worse, so I was 8 over after 14 holes.
The last 4 holes at Bellshill are particularly interesting and a really strong finish to the course.  The 15th and 16th holes are played from elevated tees across a gully with old furrow lines on the fairways, echoing the course's former agricultural usage.  The club's website highlights the 17th as the course's signature hole.  This is a testing downhill 148 yard Par 3 played over OOB and a large tree that almost completely blocks any sight of the green from the Yellow tee.  It's certainly a challenging hole, but I think it's time to prune the top branches a bit in order to let players see the pin position.
The 18th was my favourite hole at Bellshill, an uphill dog leg right 342 yard Par 4.  I'd hit a really good drive close to the 150 yard marker (to the front of the green) but could only see a bunker to the left and a sliver of the green itself.  The 3 guys who'd waived me through earlier were by then on the nearby 16th tee and advised me to hit a fade, aiming at the bunker.  I'd have been happy enough to land anywhere near the green, but to my delight my 7 wood fade finished only 15 feet away, hole-high.  It was an easy closing par from there, so these locals had seen me make 3 pars and a birdie.  If they ever read this blog entry, my overall score was not quite so impressive i.e.  81, net 71 or 2 over net par, with 29 putts.  Still, I'd played reasonably well, enjoyed the course and dodged the heavy showers that had been forecast.  May you be so lucky if you ever play at Bellshill.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Glenalmond College Golf Course - Course no 443

Glenalmond College is located in rural Perthshire a few miles west of Perth and is one of Scotland's leading private independent schools.   Amongst the extensive sporting facilities at the College there's an 18 hole golf course, measuring  5819 yards, Par 69 off the only set of tees.  The Glenalmond course is not normally open to the public as access is restricted to pupils, their parents and college staff etc. and local villagers.  Accordingly, I'm very grateful to the College for allowing me to play the course on 1 September 2011 and for waiving the £10 green fee, which I'll be posting to our nominated Cancer Research UK charity in due course.    There are 9 greens and 18 separate tees at Glenalmond and the course is moorland in nature, with  typically peaty soil.  This is a view of the 9th/18th green, looking over to the small clubhouse.

I'd met 3 club members (all of whom were former teachers at the school) by the quaint old greenkeeper's shed to confirm that there were no scorecards available and to ask for directions to the 1st tee.  Luckily I had an old unused card (from Bunclody Golf and Fishing Club) in my bag that could be used to take notes from the various tee markers.  I'd normally play balls off the front and back 9 tees at courses with 18 tees and 9 greens to save time and energy. However,  I'd failed to spot the 10th tee when playijg the 1st and it was only after I got to the 2nd hole that I discovered an 11th tee, establishing that there were in fact 18 holes. 

Since it seems unlikely that Craig and Stu will have cards when they play the course in due course, I've generated the following card, based on my round on 1 September -

Hole      Par   Yards   Stroke Index    Score   Putts

1            4        364            9                  4          1
2            3        128           18                 4          2
3            5        509            5                  6          1
4            3        130           17                 3          2
5            4        260           16                 4          1
6            4        348           11                 5          2
7            4        396           8                   4          1
8             4        453           2                   5          2
9            4        324          13                  4          1
OUT      35     2912                              39        13

10          4        325           12                 4          1
11          3        197            6                  4          2
12          4        443            1                  6          1
13          3        145           15                 4          2
14          3        215            3                  4          2
15          4        409            7                  5          2
16          4        352           10                 4          1
17          5        510            4                  5          2
18          4        309            14                4          1
 IN         34     2905                              40        14

TOTAL  69     5819                              79        27
                                       Handicap      10 
                                       Net score      69

The Glenalmond course is a good test and was in very good condition overall, testimony to the hard work of Neil, the Greenkeeper, who very kindly walked some of the back 9 with me and gave me some good advice on particular holes and greens.  Neil also gave me an interesting insight into some of the difficulties he faced in maintaining the course.  The course was pretty dry when I played it  but I imagined that drainage could be the biggest course management issue as the heavy peaty soil looked to be prone to water retention and flooding during wet spells, like so many other of our peat-based moorland courses.  It was also easy to imagine that there were no easy solutions and that the creation of ponds on some holes to collect surface water might become a health and safety hazard to young children playing the course on their own. 

As my score suggests, I played the Glenalmond course reasonably well, but it's not every day I get round in only 27 putts.  I guess my short game was good enough to get close to the hole, as none of my single putts were over 8 feet.  Neil's greens were also true running and firm, which helped.  The most difficult hole and my favourite on the course was the 3rd/12th.  As this photo shows,  a stream cuts across the fairway around 100 yards from the green.  It's only 3 feet wide and was invisible from where I played my second shots.    Although there's quite a difference in the length of these 2 holes, I managed to land in the stream both times.  Fortunately I was able to single putt, and presumably the club members know how best to avoid it, but for visitors like me this is a dangerous hole.

I also liked this, the 5th, an easy enough  260 yard uphill Par 4, played to a steeply sloping 2-tier green.  Played as the 14th, this becomes a hugely difficult 215 yard uphill Par 3.  I'd hit a decent enough driver from the 14th tee, but there's no run on peat based upslopes, so I do wonder how many of the young pupils at the College ever score pars on this hole.  I really enjoyed my round over the course, so thanks again to the College for allowing me to play it.