Sunday, 30 October 2011

East Kilbride GC - Course no 460

Polly and I played East Kilbride GC's excellent 18 hole parkland course on 28 October 2011.  A major fire in January 2010 had destroyed the clubhouse and the club's records and trophies etc., but the members rallied round and a new clubhouse was officially opened a few weeks ago.  Such a catastrophe could have threatened the club's future, so I was keen to see the new building and play the course.  The new clubhouse is hugely impressive and the members must be justly proud of their efforts to recover from the fire.  The course is equally stunning and at 6220 yards, Par 70 off the Yellow tees, was a real joy to play.   Polly and I enter quite a few Mixed Foursomes Opens each year and one of the questions that usually comes up when we play new courses together is whether we'd want to play the course again in such competitions.   In most cases, that question isn't raised until we've finished playing our round, but here, we'd agreed halfway down the 2nd fairway that if the club has a Mixed Open in 2012, we'd be entering, other commitments permitting!

Heavy rain across Scotland in recent weeks had caused problems at most courses.  Indeed, when I'd tried to play the North Inch course in Perth a few days before playing at East Kilbride, I found that 9 of the holes at North Inch were still flooded and that temporary tees and greens were in use on the other 9 holes.  That was a completely wasted journey, so checking ahead, I was delighted to hear that the full East Kilbride course was open for play and was in pretty good condition.  That was a masterly understatement, as the course was in really good nick, with only a few areas still very soft after the rain.  The fairways were pretty slow, meaning the course played to its full length, but at least we weren't splashing our way through puddles, unlike my recent experiences at Wishaw and Larkhall. The greens were also a bit slower than I'd have preferred, but by late October most parkland greens are usually past their very best, so I'm not complaining.  This is a view from the 1st fairway.

The layout at East Kilbride is simply excellent.  At some parkland courses I've played recently, the layout has been disappointingly predictable and bland.  Not here.  Clever changes in elevation and direction abound, making this a really interesting course to play. There's no course map on the scorecard and I'm still slightly confused about the overall layout.  Course signage is also excellent and with mature trees and bushes lining most fairways, we didn't see many other players, despite the course being very busy (another sign of a good course!)  The only downside for me was the noise of traffic from nearby major roads, but as Polly said at the time, this could have been filtered out had I been concentrating properly instead of waffling on about my new clubs.  (A full set of Ping G20 woods, rescues and irons.  Only my old Cleveland lob wedge and Ping Anser 4 putter survived the change.)  The new driver goes further when hit properly, but as with any club change, practice time and a few games will help! 

There's not a weak hole on the course and I'd need to play it again to identify a favourite hole, but on the front 9 I particularly liked the 2nd, a 387 yard Par 4, with OOB beyond trees to the left of the fairway and behind the green.  The drive needs to be long and straight to give a view of the green, which sits at the bottom of a steep slope.  A lateral water hazard and good bunkering protect the small green.  Best of the 5 Par 3's is probably the 17th, as shown here.  This is a 175 yard hole, played slightly uphill to a sloping green.  I'd played a 27 degree rescue club to the right side of the green, but that left me a difficult 30 foot cross-hill putt with a 6 foot break.  That led to my third three putt of the round.  No excuses, just poor putting on the day.

This is the last at East Kilbride and a good view of the new clubhouse.  The 18th is a formidable 543 yards, slightly uphill.  I'd missed the fairway after a poor drive, missed it again after a 3 wood and again with a rescue club.  I'd only a lob wedge to the flag, but that shot found a bunker, so a closing double bogey was disappointing.  Still, an 88, net 78, with 32 putts wasn't too bad.  We'd both thoroughly enjoyed the course and I'd strongly recommend you give it a try.  You might need your sat nav to find it, but it's worth the effort and at £30, the green fee is a bargain.

Last mention of the new clubs (for now anyway) - I even managed to get into the buffer zone in the last competition of the year at my home club (Glen GC) on the day after our game at East Kilbride!  That leaves me clinging on at 10.4, but here's hoping the clubs will help to improve my game next year.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Hermitage Family Golf Course - Course no 459

This 12 hole parkland golf course is part of a complex opened in 2006 in the South side of Edinburgh including a cafe, dance studio and therapy facilities run by Autism Ventures Scotland, a registered charity that supports adults with autism.  The course is primarily designed for  families and youngsters in particular, but is open to all on a pay as you play basis.   The course is a modest 1851 yards, Par 47 off the back tees, but the course is intended to encourage participation by beginners, which I assume explains why the par for individual holes is on the generous side.  To explain, this is the yardage/par of each hole -

1    165 yards   Par 4
2     86  yards   Par 3
3    103 yards   Par 3
4    152 yards   Par 4
5    245 yards   Par 5
6    194 yards   Par 4
7    162 yards   Par 4
8      78 yards   Par 3

9      81 yards   Par 3
10  129 yards   Par 4
11   203 yards  Par 4
12   253 yards  Par 5

In principle, this would be an excellent learning facility, giving youngsters a chance to get started in the game, with the green fees helping to support the charity's important work.  However, when I turned up to play the course on 26 October 2011, I was advised that the green fee would only be a token £1, as the course was barely playable due to continuing problems in managing the rough.  One look at the 1st hole was enough to suggest that extreme caution would be advisable! This a view from the 1st tee.   The narrow fairways had grass about 2 inches long and the rough on either side (no semi-rough in sight) was up to 2 feet long, heavy and tangled after persistent rain in recent days.  Indeed, it looked as though the rough had not been cut all Summer, so anything off-line would probably be lost.  Even a cursory search would result in a good soaking and as the weather forecast was for sun all day, I'd not bothered to pack my wetsuit trousers. 

The downhill 1st is probably the easiest of the Par 4s, since at least you can see the green.  The course hugs the side of a gently sloping valley and with heavy rough, gorse and the odd semi-blind tee shot thrown in, I quickly realised that rather than blast away with long clubs that would normally cover the distance tee to green on the longer holes, risking anything remotely off-line being lost, it would be safer to play irons off the tees and as necessary, rely on my short game.  Just to add to the difficulties, the greens were small, slow, hairy and bumpy.   

This is the 9th, a downhill 81 yard Par 3, played to a double green shared with the 7th.  the 10th tee is to the left of this photo, with the green in the distance to the left of the narrow joint 7th/10th fairway.  I birdied the 9th after an easy sand iron.  This was my second 2 on the card, the first being an eagle at the 4th, a 152 yard Par 4.   The 4th is set out as a dog leg left, but a brave/foolhardy 6 iron over the heavy rough (with an extremely old ball!) set up a lob wedge chip-in from the side of the green.  I managed to finesse my way around The Hermitage course in a gross 44, with 18 putts.  I'd normally be raving about scoring 3 under gross par on any course, but the the par here is ridiculously easy if you play cautiously and avoid the rough at all costs.  For example, the 7th is partially blind off the tee, but a couple of easy wedges are enough to hit the green in regulation.  Sure, something like a 5 iron would in theory set up an eagle putt, but why take the risk? 

This is the 12th green, looking back down the fairway.  I hope that the rough at The Hermitage can be tackled properly sometime soon.  It needs to be severely cropped back and kept short and the fairways also need to be wider to allow for the kind of errant shots that are likely to be made by beginners playing the course.  If this is not done, I suspect that the course will not get much repeat business and that casual beginners might lose interest, along with a good number of balls.  There are a number of local courses that cater for youngsters and beginners e.g. the Gullane and North Berwick Children's Courses, the Templar at New Swanston and the Melville Driving Range Course, so The Hermitage is competing in a tough market.  I hope it succeeds, but to do so, it needs to make the rough far less punishing.  Play here and support the Autism Ventures Scotland charity and take extra care off the tees and/or a bag of old balls!

Monday, 17 October 2011

Larkhall Golf Course - Course no 458

I played at Larkhall on 14 October 2011 after my earlier round at nearby Wishaw GC.  Larkhall is owned and operated by South Lanarkshire Council and although it's described by them as a 9 hole course, the 3rd hole is a 525 yard Par 5, played as a 438 yard Par 4 from a separate 12th tee.  There's also separate tees on the 9th and 18th, but more of that later.  These differences make Larkhall an 18 hole course, measuring 5742 yards, Par 70 off the Yellow tees.  If anything, the Larkhall course was even wetter than at Wishaw, with pools of water on most fairways.  The fairways are generously wide, but with small greens and some really muddy conditions at various places that took heavy traffic, the course was playing long.   Although it was still dry when I teed off, rain was forecast for later in the day so I decided to play a couple of balls from each of the shared tees rather than go round the course twice.  Regular readers of this blog will have seen that we first did this at Benbecula to save time and energy and that I've done it a few times since when playing 18 holes courses with less than 18 tees.
It was a shame that the conditions underfoot were so wet, as the course was otherwise in really good condition for the time of year.  The greens were particularly good and true running and for once, my alignment was good enough to hit greens in regulation or get close enough to them to ensure easy pars.  This is the 2nd/11th at Larkhall, a 143 yard Par 3.  The flag was at the back of the green, but as the 1st green had been pretty soft, I went with an easy 7 iron, downwind, when playing these holes.  My tee shot off the 2nd went to 4 feet, giving me my only birdie of the day. 

Like most local authority courses, Larkhall caters primarily for the casual golfer who has not joined a local club and local beginners and seniors etc.  As such, the set up of these courses tends to be less demanding.  The Stroke Index 1 hole was the 12th and I was happy enough with my bogey there, given the wet conditions.  Overall, holes 1-8 and 10-17 weren't too demanding and I was only 5 over par approaching the 9th/18th tees.  Accordingly, I was pretty surprised to find that the 9th is a remarkable 481 yards Par 4, Stroke Index 10 and the 18th is a more reasonable 482 yard Par 5, but Stroke Index 9.  Both holes have OOB on the right and play into the prevailing wind to their shared green.  The 3rd/12th play downhill and downwind, so how the 12th merits its SI 1 status over the 9th and why the Par 5 18th is regarded as slightly more difficult than the Par 4 9th beats me, when there's only a yard between the two tees!  This is the view of the clubhouse and shared green from the 9th-18th fairway.  I was tempted to ask the Starter about the stroke indexing but he was busy with some customers when I passed his shop on my way back to the car.  Maybe it's as well I didn't ask, as this is the oddest indexing I've seen for a long time.  A decent enough course, though.

I scored a gross 78, net 68, with 28 putts, so net 2 under par was good, given the heavy conditions.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Wishaw GC - Course no 457

I played this 18 hole parkland course on 14 October 2011 on a dry and warm day.  Although there had been some recent rain where I live in the East of the country it quickly became clear that it had been far worse to the West, as the Wishaw course was pretty saturated. Wishaw GC is south east of Glasgow and at 5761 yards, Par 69, is not long, but with the course being so wet there was no run on the ball at all and high shots onto the fairway would plug, risking a lost ball.  I only found that out on the 10th, since the fairways were narrow and I don't think I hit a single fairway on the front 9!  It was quite an achievement to get to the turn without losing a ball, since although the rough was quite short, Autumn on a parkland course means fallen leaves, so it was quite difficult to find balls even marginally off line.

Wishaw is pretty flat and easy walking.  The first 7 holes run almost parallel to each other, separated by lines of trees and light rough.  The 8th, a short 146 yard Par 3, as shown here, at least provides a welcome change in direction.  My inaccurate driving in a gusting crosswind meant I dropped a shot on each of the first 6 holes, so a poor start.  Pars at 7-9 meant I was out in 41, but the front 9 was pretty bland.  The back 9 was more interesting, with more significant changes in elevation and direction of play.

This is the 11th, a 156 yard Par 3 played from an elevated tee, with OOB to the left.  I'd hit a reasonably good shot just left of the green and just missed my birdie after a good chip, but at least I was playing pretty well, despite the wet ground conditions.  I also had a good birdie chance at the short 275 yard Par 4 13th after finding the middle of the fairway for once off the tee, in yet another plugged lie.  I'd packed my laser range finder and was a bit nervous about using it as there were a couple of greenkeeping staff working at the back of the green.  The hole was front left of the green, well protected by a large bunker and I'd 84 yards to the flag.  At least the guys stopped working while I played, but they (and the bunker!) were well within range, so I was really pleased to hit a good wedge to within 4 feet. It's tempting to blame my missed putt on the recently-tined green, but I suspect I just misjudged the line.  Still, an easy par there was satisfying.

This is the 17th, a 178 yard Par 3 played directly into the wind, with an upslope in front of the green adding to the  playing length.  Indeed, I needed a decent hit with my driver to make the front of the green for another par.  This hole is called "The Glen" the name of my own home course in North Berwick, one of several holes I've come across that have that name.  Maybe not enough for a composite course yet, but who knows?  It would be nice if there were enough such holes to make up at least a 9-hole composite!

I'm not sure whether there's a clear "signature" hole at Wishaw, but my own favourite was the 18th, a tricky dog leg left 392 yard Par 4.  I'd hooked my drive into trees on the left, but I found a reasonable lie away from the puddle I'd landed in and there was a gap back to the fairway.  An easy 7 wood, wedge and a couple of putts and I'd finished the back 9 in 39, for 80 in total, with 32 putts.   A net 70, or net 1 over par was pretty good really.  Wishaw is probably a good test off the back tees in good weather, but it was not at its best when I played it, due to the soaking wet underfoot conditions.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Palacerigg Family Golf Centre - Course no 456

This golf centre is just outside Cumbernauld, under a mile from the separate Palacerigg Golf Course.  As the name suggests, this centre is primary intended for practice and game development for all ages and playing levels and with a covered 20-bay driving range and indoor training facilities and a PGA Pro, alongside a 9 hole course (and an on-site pub and restaurant), it's certainly well-equipped.

I played the 2675 yards Par 34 course after my earlier round on 4 October 2011 over the Palacerigg course.  I'd only just dodged a heavy shower at Palacerigg by getting round quickly, but the rain had stopped by the time I teed off again.  The views to the west from Golf Centre course extend 10 miles or so to Glasgow, or would have done had it not been raining there when I teed off.  It looked as though I could get most of the way round before the rain arrived, but not so.   My wet suit and rain hat were on by the time I left the 2nd tee and it was fair belting it down by the 3rd, but at least it was only a 9 hole course, so how bad could it be?  Pretty bad as it turned out, since although I was round in under an hour, it seemed longer in the driving rain and even stronger wind.
I've found that at most short courses attached to driving ranges the layouts are pretty undemanding, geared towards beginners. The Palacerigg Golf Centre course serves that market too, but is more of a test than some I've seen on my travels.  The course is also quite hilly and the ditch that cuts across the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 9th holes adds to the interest (and difficulty).  The recent wet weather meant that grass on some of the fairways was on the long side, so the course would have been playing very long, even without the wind and rain when I played it. 
The 1st hole is a steeply downhill short Par 4 of only 250 yards.  There's lots of hang time on the drive and with a strong side wind blowing, I was lucky to find my ball after it had  been blown left into wet and clinging rough.  Add to that a tiny and steeply sloping green (thankfully slow due to the wet ground conditions) and I'd started with a double bogey.  The 216 yard Par 3 2nd is steeply uphill directly into the wind and I needed a good single putt for par.  The 3rd is a 142 yard Par 3, played over a ditch, again into the wind and rain.  Another good single putt there for par.  The 4th was at least downwind, but at 324 yards and with a small green, I was happy enough with a bogey.  By then the weather was pretty awful and on a longer 18 hole course, I'd have been thinking about walking in.  However, there were only 5 holes to go.  The 5th was again straight into the driving rain and at 490 yards over a ditch and heavy rough ready to trap anything wayward, this was a tough test.  Double bogey there!
I'd hit a good drive on the 6th, but I then faced having to hit a wedge over a small tree to a green on the crest of a steep hill.  An 8 iron might have been a wiser choice, so another bogey.  The 7th is a downhill 183 yard Par 3.  It had actually stopped raining by then and the wind had dropped.  Even so, my 7 wood was wide of the small green and only a good pitch saved the par.  Back on came the rain,  another hill to climb up the long 8th and another bogey.  This is the 9th, a closing 347 yard Par 4, with the driving range in the background.  I managed a closing par for a gross 40, net 35, or net 1 over par with 13 putts, a good score given the conditions.  As I climbed the slope back up to the driving range and car park the clouds cleared away and the sun came out.  Just my luck.

My thanks and best wishes to Nigel, the owner and Pro for his generous help.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Palacerigg GC- Course no 455

Palacerigg Golf Course is laid out over part of Palacerigg Country Park, just outside Cumbernauld and is an 18 hole course, owned and managed by North Lanarkshire Council and is home to Palacerigg Golf Club.  Most of the course is heathland in nature and apart from a few minor slopes, is pretty flat and easy walking.  I played here on 4 October 2011 and had expected that the course would be relatively dry after some unusually hot and sunny weather at the end of September, but more recent rain meant that the course was completely saturated, with casual water throughout.  Indeed, a couple of the greens were flooded, with temporary greens in play and it was occasionally necessary to take a preferred lie in the light rough to minimise the spray when taking any divot on second etc. shots.  The saving grace was that it wasn't raining (yet!).  The course wasn't busy, so I got round in well under 3 hours, thanks to the 3 guys who let me play through on the 2nd (I later passed them again when playing the 15th.  They were on the 8th by then and would catch some heavy rain later in their round, by which time I was already playing my second course of the day).

With a strong swirling and blustery wind blowing, it was difficult to make club selections and any shots landing in casual water would stop dead or plug.  These conditions meant that the course was playing its full length of 5972 yards, Par 71, off the Yellow tees.  The greens were heavy and very slow, but were true running and in good condition.   The course is laid out in 2 loops of 9 holes with both the 9th and 18th finishing in front of the clubhouse windows.  The front 9 is mostly parkland in nature, set amongst mature trees.  This is the view of the clubhouse from the 9th, a 329 yard par 4 played directly into the strong wind (I needed my Driver and a 7 wood to reach the green in regulation!) but a good couple of putts for par meant I was out in 40, or 5 over par.    That was pretty good, considering I'd lost a ball and had a double bogey on the 475 yard Par 5 7th, the Stroke Index 1 hole.  I'd hit a good 3 wood, but the sidewind blew it into high soaking wet rough, never to be seen again.

The back 9 is more heathland in nature and if anything was even more saturated.  I was therefore surprised to see the greenkeeper mowing the 10th fairway, splashing through pools of water and throwing up spray and cuttings as he went.   The 13th is an unremarkable 265 yard short Par 4, I'd hit a good drive into the wind and had only a short punch with a wedge to the green, as shown here.  My stance was reasonably dry but the ball was obviously on casual water, but the fairways here are generously wide and I couldn't be bothered to take a drop on drier ground.  In the circumstances, my shot to within a few feet pin high must have been pretty good.  I didn't see it, though, as I got my face and clothes washed for free by the spray!  I did at least hole the putt for a solitary birdie and my clothes dried off by a couple of holes later. 

This is the 18th, a tricky 447 yard Par 5, played directly into the wind, with a lateral water hazard down the right side of the second half of the fairway.  I'd hit a good drive but my ball finished on an awkward sideslope.  I should have laid up to the left side of the fairway with a 6 or 7 iron, but was too ambitious with a 3 wood, narrowly missing the water hazard.  I then under-hit a pitch and run into more casual water (in those conditions, definitely the wrong choice of shot!) and bogeyed the hole, for 39 on the back 9.  I'd had a 79, net 69, net 2 under par, with 28 putts.  I liked the Palacerigg course despite the underfoot conditions.  It's not very difficult and would have been even better had it been drier.