Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Forbes of Kingennie Golf Course - Course no 466

Just outside Dundee, there's a large country resort, concentrating on fishing and golf, alongside some upmarket holiday lodges and luxury private housing.  I played the 9 hole parkland course there on 28 November 2011, on a blustery cold day that reminded me that the dreaded Scottish Winter is just around the corner. By this time last year, Scotland had already been struck by blizzards and golf was impossible for weeks on end, so getting a game at all yesterday was a bonus.  Polly and I had tried to play at  our home club (Glen GC) on the 27th, but we only lasted a few holes, such was the strength of the bitingly cold gale force wind.  Only the night before (yes, I teed off at 1900!) I'd been playing in shirt sleeve weather, so it really is true that the Scottish weather can be a fickle master.  To explain, I'm also Captain of the Rhodes GC, which plays its golf over the East Links in North Berwick and as it was our end of season Prize Giving night on 26 November, we used night lights and special luminous golf balls on our 1st, 2nd, 17th and 18th holes to play some Night Golf and organised a putting competition on our practice green.  That 4 hole course doesn't really count as an additional new Scottish course, but if any readers are stuck for end of golf season activities, Night Golf is definitely worth a try. I'm still a wee bit embarrassed about being DQ'd under the one ball rule from the putting competition, having recorded the lowest score of 13 strokes for 6 holes with a new Titleist, (all others were playing the special luminous balls!) However, great fun was had by all, but when we tried this last year, the first snow flurries started as we finished our round and a blizzard was in full flow within minutes.  No such dramas at Kingennie, which is a 9 hole parkland course, 2874 yards, Par 34  off the Yellow Tees.  The full greens were still in play, but as the course was a bit damp underfoot, Winter tees were in play, shortening the course by 100 yards or so.  This is the view from the back of the 1st green, with the 1st tee middle right of the picture. 

I'd bogeyed the 1st, a 440 yard Par 4, and much the same was to follow on the 503 yard 2nd after I found a greenside bunker in 3 shots, needing a good single putt to rescue a  bogey 6.  The 3rd was an easy looking 141 yard Par 3, played downwind.  I should have taken the 8 iron, as my 9 found some rough at the front of the green, so 3 over after 3 holes wasn't very impressive.  I did at least get the swing going after that (maybe a warm-up would have helped, Alan!), as I did the last 6 holes in 2 over, for a gross 39, net 34.  The best hole at Kingennie is probably the 6th, a 378 yard dog leg left, as shown above.  The drive is semi-blind and steeply downhill, with ponds either side of the fairway and a series of bunkers to be avoided en route to a raised plateau green.  You can only see part of the flag from the bottom of the fairway and the second shot plays 1-2 clubs more than it looks.  I'd caught up with 3 other players and to my surprise was immediately waived through after they'd found trouble off the 6th tee.  The fairway is quite narrow and with water on either side, 3 golfers to avoid and the strong wind blowing directly up the fairway, this was not the time for a weak drive.  I made good swing but lost the ball in flight (played directly into the sunshine).  I thought one of the guys had found my drive in the middle of the fairway, only for him to tell me that my ball was a further 30 yards or so beyond his, having missed one of the ponds by only a few feet, leaving only a 7 iron up the hill to the green.  Perfect position, but more by luck than skill, as I admitted at the time.  Still, a par there was a good score, as this hole is a potential card-wrecker. 

The 7th is also a really good hole, as shown here.  This is a 315 yard Par 4, played from an elevated tee, with the ideal drive stopping short of a roadway and a stream, leaving a full pitch to the small green.  The low sun meant that it was difficult to see where the fairway ended and the green began.  I played a 9 iron onto what I thought was the green, only to land on a rather muddy section of fairway in front of the actual green and a poor pitch and run from there cost me a bogey.  The greens were pretty slow, as I'd expect at this time of the year, but although I'd generally missed the greens in regulation, I'd pitched close enough to leave easy putts on most greens. Indeed, I single-putted every green but the 3rd, for 10 putts in total.  Sounds good, but in truth my longest putt was around 12 feet, so there's nothing fantastic about that statistic. 

Kingennie is a good layout and as a parkland course would definitely be at its best during the summer months.  The course owner has obtained planning permission to build an 18 hole Championship Course here that would in time almost surround the existing 9 hole course and the extensive fishing lakes and holiday lodges.  Darren Clarke, Open Champion (well done again, Big Man!) will be involved in the design.  Work is on hold at present given the current economic climate, but I hope that this new course is built.  If and when it opens, I'd go back to play it and have another go at the 9 hole course. 

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Craigielaw South Golf Course - Course no 465

This is a 6 hole Par 3 course, with holes from 100-139 yards, 714 yards in total, Par 27 and is part of the excellent facilities at Craigielaw GC near Aberlady in East Lothian.  I played the South Course on 16 November 2011, prior to a round with Polly over the 18 hole links course at Craigielaw.  This little course is a good warm-up for the demanding main course at Craigielaw (which I'd played a few times before) and is also good for general practice and for beginners.  Some of the short practice courses I've played have been little more than flags on sticks in a field, but the South Course is extremely well-designed and maintained and offers a real test.  The small greens were pretty slick and although not as severe as the undulating inverted saucer greens to be found on the main course, were still really tricky.
This is me on the 4th, a 126 yard Par 3.  An easy 9 iron to the back left of the green and a couple of putts on that one, but I'd found a really awkward lie in a bunker at the 3rd.  I was happy enough to get it onto the putting surface only to see it trickle back down a slope into an even worse lie in the bunker.  A double bogey there and bogeys at the 1st and 5th led to a gross 22, with 9 putts. Not great, but a good warm-up for the main course.  Polly and I had a great round over the main course in bright Autumn sunshine, with no wind.  Perfect for scoring in theory, but the main course is pretty difficult, with tough bunkering and raised greens with run-offs that can really punish a less than perfect approach shot.  I struggled round the main course in 85 (4 over net par).  You'll need to pick your way around Craigielaw carefully, avoiding the bunkers and a good short game is essential if you're not to fall foul of the raised inverted saucer greens.  Accordingly, try to find the time for a quick spin around the South Course before tackling the main course.

A final photo. This is Polly heading up the 6th on the South Course - I think she'd suffered enough by then, watching me hack my way around!

Monday, 14 November 2011

Barshaw Golf Course - Course no 464

Barshaw is an 18 hole parkland course on the outskirts of Paisley, owned and operated by Renfrewshire Council.  Grant, my son in law, had played it a couple of times.  His assessment is that it's not much of a course and after playing it on 14 November 2011, I have to agree.  I'd originally intended to play at Fereneze GC in Barrhead, but when I arrived there in the late morning the clubhouse was locked.  The course was open for play and there were another 30 or so cars in the car park, but no sign of anyone who could give me a scorecard or take my green fee.  I even phoned the club but got no reply, so my game at Fereneze will need to wait.  With under 4 hours of daylight left, it was either a wasted journey or a game at nearby Barshaw.  Grant had previously advised that Barshaw's drainage is not the best and this was confirmed by 2 guys I met who had just finished playing.  Indeed, one was wearing heavy work boots rather than golf shoes, commenting that the course was soaking wet (I've translated from the local dialect and deleted the expletive!)

It wasn't cold, but it was a very gloomy and cloudy day, with the kind of light that makes you think it's just about to get really dark.  I'd been happy to follow the guy in front as signage at Barshaw was poor. At least the names of the holes e.g. Park View, Shelter and Farmer's Hedge gave some assurance that I'd not got lost.  This cunning plan came unstuck after the 7th, when the guy in front took a short cut to the right over to what turned out to be the 12th, but the 8th was called "Summit" and sure enough, there was yellow flag on top of a hill to my left.  Two other players had just finished that hole, so that gave me the chance to follow them on the back 9.  Unfortunately, neither could play golf to even a moderate level, their only knowledge of the rules seeming to be that a single player i.e. me, has no status on the course.  Neither appeared to be aware that they should be ready to play when it is their turn to do so and that I was waiting in the gathering gloom on almost every shot.  I should perhaps have asked to play through, but I thought I'd see just how slow they could be and take my time concentrating hard on every shot.
The Barshaw course is an easy enough layout of 5703 yards off the Yellow tees, Par 68.  There's a few modest hills to negotiate but there are only a couple of blind shots and the fairways are generously wide.  Bunkering here is modest and the greens were slow but reasonably true, the main difficulty being the wetness of the course itself.  Anything hit high risked being plugged and lost.  Preferred lies were in play, so if you could find your ball in the mud, cleaning was essential.  The 2 guys in front certainly cleaned their balls regularly, but usually only after their partner had played, slowing the pace of play even further. 
I'd played other wet courses recently e.g. at Caprington, Palacerigg and Larkhall, so I knew that it would be vital to take a decent preferred lie, take enough club on each shot, allowing for no run on the fairways and slow greens.  I parred the1st, a 363 yard Par 4, playing to almost 400 yards, as shown here, after a good pitch from 30 yards and a 4 foot single putt.   I bogeyed the 2nd, 6th and 9th, but pars at the other holes meant I was out in 37.  That was a good start, but the real test would be whether I could keep it going whilst being delayed by those in front. 
I'd started par, bogey, par, par on the back 9 despite those delays, but the guys in front really surpassed themselves on this, the 14th, a steeply downhill 313 yard Par 4, wind behind.  I didn't count all of their strokes but what I did see came to well into double figures and took about 15 minutes.  When it was finally my turn to play, with the guys safely aboard the next tee, I managed to hit my shot of the day, a great drive to within 20 yards of the green in the middle of the fairway.  I followed this up with a good lob wedge to inside 3 feet and another single putt for my only birdie of the day, with the guys in front were (still) on the next tee.  That was really satisfying and with 4 holes to go I was determined not to let a good round slip away.

The 15th and 16th were both short Par 4's (281 and 289 yards) so it was easy enough to get pars, but the 17th was a more formidable 234 yard Par 3.  I missed the green short and right but a bogey there was OK.  The 18th, shown here, is a 433 yard Par 4.  Another really good drive and a 20 degree rescue club to within 20 feet set up an outside birdie chance, but I was happy enough with a closing par.  I'd gone round in 72, 4 over par, with 29 putts i.e. net 6 under par in soaking underfoot conditions.  Pretty fine in the circumstances.  Barshaw is probably a reasonably good course for beginners etc. in the Summer months and on reflection, I should have settled for a wasted journey rather than plough my way around its soaking fairways.  At least it's done now, but I doubt whether I'd want to play it again.   Ralston GC is under a mile away and is a far better course. 

Barshaw was also my 100th new course in 2011.  I'm hoping to play a few more before the end of the year, but the days are getting shorter and the chances of frost and snow are increasing, so much will depend on the weather as most of the remaining courses involve a fair amount of travelling. 

Monday, 7 November 2011

Caprington GC - 9 Hole Course - Course no 463

I played the 9 Hole Course at Caprington on 7 November 2011 after my round over the 18 Hole Course.  The course measures a modest 1894 yards, Par 30.  I'd not noticed that the hole lengths on the 9 Hole Course card were given in metres (the 18 Hole Course Card was in yards, as you'd expect) so that might help to explain some of my difficulties in playing this course.  The course is mostly flat, with only 2 serious hills and the ground was just as wet as I'd expected, following my earlier round over the longer course.  The greens on this wee course were small, but in good condition and true running, so no complaints there.  However, the fairways were too narrow and there was little semi-rough.  Anything off-line would risk being lost.  Indeed, I lost 2 old balls in what I judged to be abnormal ground conditions (mud and standing water). 

This is a view up the 4th fairway, highlighting the late afternoon shadows.  I don't remember ever playing November golf in such contrasting conditions.  Soaking wet underfoot and just a tee shirt in warm Autumn sunshine.  It was just a pity my feet were so wet!  The fairway grass was just too long and unless you saw your ball land....so old balls were the order of the day.  The best hole was probably the 5th, played directly into the Sun, with OOB close by to the right and a very small target for a 189 yard Par 3.  I managed my par there after missing the green to the left.  I also parred the last 3 holes for a total of 35, net 30 or even par, with 13 putts.

This is the 8th, yet another hole at Caprington played blind over a hill.  It was just as well I'd walked forward to see where the green was, since although the card said the hole was a 185 yard Par 3, it looked far shorter and the green was definitely a good few yards to the right of the line of the fairway as it crested the hill.  I gambled with a 6 iron over rough at the top of the hill and found the front of the green, but with little run on the fairways due to the wet conditions, I doubt I hit the ball more than 160 yards, if that.  This 9 Hole course would be good for general practice and a chance for beginners to learn the basics before trying the bigger course, but  some work is needed to widen the fairways and keep the rough under better control.  If money was available, clearance of trees and bushes that presently restrict views of the ruins of an ancient castle in the middle of the course would add to the visual experience, but I can't see that happening any time soon, given the more pressing drainage issues at Caprington.

Caprington GC - 18 Hole Course - Course no 462

The two parkland courses at Caprington on the outskirts of Kilmarnock are owned and operated by East Ayrshire Council.  I played both courses on 7 November 2011 on a warm sunny day. The private Caprington GC plays over both courses and its clubhouse overlooks the 18th green on the main course.   The 18 hole course is a short 5513 yards par 67 off the Yellow tees and is laid out in 2 main sections, with Holes 1-12 being played over undulating land behind the clubhouse and the rest of the holes played over flatter and lower lying land in front of the clubhouse.  Since the last few days had been warm and sunny with no rain, I'd been expecting Caprington to be relatively dry underfoot, but sadly I was very wrong.  I don't know whether much has been spent in drainage here over the years, but from the outset, the main Caprington course was pretty soggy.  The first light frost of the Autumn was still evident in those parts of the course sheltered from the Sun and there were a few Winter greens in operation for a while, but at least the Greenkeepers moved the flags back to the normal greens once the frost had melted away.  The course yardage on the day was a bit shorter than 5513 yards, but with such wet fairways, there was no run on the ball and anything hit high would plug where it landed, particularly in the rough.    Just to make it more tricky (and potentially dangerous), there was at least one blind shot blind shot on 7 of the first 9 holes and no marker poles to indicate the optimum line.  Thankfully I was hitting the ball pretty straight, as it would have been easy to lose a few balls here, particularly on the blind holes.  There was an "all-clear" bell by the side of the 4th green, but I guess it would get pretty confusing and noisy if bells were a feature on each of the blind holes!
This is the 6th, a formidable 447 yard Par 4 and the Stroke Index 1 hole.  The course was quite busy, so the pace of play was relatively slow.  I'd waited a while before driving off, blind over one of the many hills on Holes 1-12.  Even so, I drove through the 2 guys in front and the 3 ladies in front of them.  It took ages to play that hole, so I joined up with Andy, a local member playing behind me, for the rest of the first 12 holes.  I was just short of the green after a good drive and 20 degree rescue club, but a bogey there wasn't bad.  The ladies then skipped a few holes and the 2 guys in front speeded up, so Andy and I had a clear run from then on.  The greens at Caprington were slow but true-running and I was playing well, so 37 to the turn with only 12 putts was good.

The 10th is only 310 yards with a small plateau green.  I'd hooked a drive left onto the practice ground but had a perfect lie and a decent view of the flag.  An easy wedge to 10 feet set up the birdie chance and another good putt converted that opportunity.  This is the 12th, a short slightly uphill 261 yard Par 4.  I'd only a short lob wedge to the green, but I missed a 20 foot birdie chance.  Still, another easy par was pretty good. It seemed as though most players were only doing the first section of the course, since I only saw 2 other golfers when I played the Holes 13-18 section.  I soon discovered why, as parts of this section of the course were absolutely saturated, with puddles and mud in abundance.  Indeed, I couldn't find even a reasonably dry walking line through the first part of the 13th and most of the 17th and 18th holes were flooded.    
The 13th is a 490 yard Par 5, played directly into the Sun, with a blind second shot.  I'd hit a good straight drive, only to find it half-submerged in a muddy lie.  My shoes were already dirty but in rescuing my ball I was lucky not to sink beyond the top of my shoes!  A bogey there led to the first (and only!) 6 on the card.  However, I managed straight 4's over the last 5 holes for a total of 74, net 64, or net 3 under par, with 25 putts.  A good round, but goodness knows what this course is like in really wet conditions.  I suspect it floods pretty easily, so if you want to play here, choose your timing carefully.  This is a photo of the 18th green, taken from 60 or so yards out after I'd picked my way through the first 100 yards or so of standing water and mud.  I doubt I'd want to play the course again, even in dry conditions.  There are just too many blind shots with no marker posts to offer guidance for my liking.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Ballumbie Castle GC - Course no 461

This is a very good 18 hole parkland course on the North side of Dundee, 5716 yards Par 69 off the Yellow tees.  I played here on 1 November 2011, a gloriously sunny and warm day, a rarity at this time of year.  The Ballumbie Castle course is only around 10 years old, having been built by the enterprising landowners.  The course design is really interesting, making great use of 4 separate pieces of former agricultural land.  This makes the course a bit fragmented and I was very glad to have the company of a couple of members, Garry and Stan, since although the signage was pretty good, I suspect I would have found navigation between the separate parts of the course difficult without their local knowledge.  The fairways were in really good condition despite the heavy rain across Scotland in recent days/weeks.  The greens had just been hollow-tined and top dressed in readiness for Winter, so putting was tricky, since the greens were slow and understandably, a bit bumpy.  However, my playing partners assured me that the surfaces were normally very good, fast and true-running and it was easy to imagine that some pin positions could set severe tests.  Overall, I liked the course and would  strongly recommend you give it a try.

Holes 1-5 weave their way around a driving range located adjacent to the clubhouse that overlooks the 1st tee and 18th Hole.  This is a view from the 1st tee, so your first shot needs to avoid going left and OOB into the driving range and be long enough through the dip in the fairway to give you a sight of the green.  I was happy enough with an opening bogey after a semi-blind 8 iron second shot that stopped just short of the green.  The 2nd should be an straightforward Par 4 but I'd gone too close to the right of the fairway and had another semi-blind shot requiring a long fade around trees, so another bogey there.  The 3rd is a good Par 4, sharp dog-leg right, with the second shot played almost blind and steeply uphill to an elevated green, so a double bogey there.  I'd not read the club web site's course guide, so I'd no idea what to expect and I'd already used 40% of my handicap on the first 3 holes.  I needed to sharpen up and quickly.  The course was pretty busy and since Garry and Stan had joined me in the queue for the 4th tee we joined up, and the guys were really helpful in guiding me round the rest of the course.  Good players too!

This is the 4th, a 162 yard Par 3, with the driving range to the left.  I'd gone through the back of the green after over-clubbing, but a good lob wedge to 3 feet helped to secure my first par of the day.  The 5th was a potentially tricky Par 4 played from an elevated tee over a pond to the right of the fairway and the prevailing wind blowing towards the pond.  However, a forward tee meant this was less of a hazard, so I managed another par there.  Holes 6-8 are in a separate field, flanked to one side by new executive up-market housing.  Hole 7 is the Stroke Index 1 hole, but as Garry commented, there are other more difficult holes on the course, as I was to discover!  The 9th hole shares a field with the 17th, with both holes being surrounded by more up-market housing.  I'd gone out in a disappointing 43, with only a couple of pars on the card.

Holes 10-16 are in another separate field, with Holes 10-12 being potential card-wreckers, so get through there in par and you're doing well.  The 10th is a short Par 4 at only 338 yards dog leg right, but there's a couple of lateral water hazards to avoid to the left and across the middle of the fairway.  Your second shot will probably be semi-blind.  You'll see the top of the flag and be aware that there's a large pond (immediately) to the left of the small green.  You might guess correctly that a hill to the right of the fairway and in front of the green runs down towards the pond.  If the flag is on the left of the green, be very careful.  Can you hit something like a 7 iron bullet straight?  Is it your new Pro V or an old ball?  I just missed the front left of the green and managed a par from there, but I'd only missed the pond by a few feet.  This is the 11th, 202 yard Par 3 with more water down the left side.  The flag was front right, but Garry advised that a back left pin position was almost impossible to go for safely and that's easy to understand.  I was happy enough with double bogey after finding a path with my tee shot and losing a provisional ball in the water. The 12th is another Par 3, this time 141 yards, slightly downhill.  This hole looks easy enough, but bunkers to the right and a pond to the left of the green are invisible from the tee, so be warned.  I missed the green to the right in light rough but rescued a par from there after a good lob wedge.  Next was a tough uphill 522 yard Par 5, played into the prevailing wind, so another bogey. I parred Holes 14-16 easily enough, but these are some of the easiest on the course, and no great achievement really.  Local knowledge from there is particularly helpful.  There's a long path to the 17th tee, but most members take a short cut through the up-market housing.  I'd have been lost by then.  The 17th is also an easy looking hole, but I fluffed a short pitch and run and bogeyed the hole.

This is the 18th, a really tricky 351 yard Par 4 (402 yards from the back tee), dog leg right, with OOB all the way along the left of the fairway and a second shot played steeply uphill to an elevated plateau green guarded by large deep bunkers and overlooked by a veranda at the front of the clubhouse.  The two-tiered green slopes downhill from back to front, so finding the right level of the green is vital.  I'd split the fairway with my drive (another rarity) and with 145 yards uphill to the flag, I managed to find the left of the green with a rescue club.  The holes was on the bottom half of the green, but my 30 foot slightly downhill putt had at least a 4 foot break, so a closing par from there was pleasing.  I'd done the back 9 in 38 for a gross 81, net 71 with 31 putts.  Net 2 over was not bad, but I doubt I'd have got near that without the helpful advice of my playing partners (well, it was a bounce game!)

There are some really good holes at Ballumbie Castle.  10 is probably my favourite, followed by 18 (I was just glad we didn't have an audience on the veranda, as this must be a pretty intimidating hole in a Medal on a hot Saturday afternoon!)  A very good course, definitely well worth playing again - maybe I'll get back there in Summertime when the greens are at their fastest and best.