Friday, 30 November 2012

Turnberry GC - Pitch and Putt Course - Course no 558

With the sun already ominously low on the horizon and the air temperature plummeting, I'd just about enough time on 28 November 2012 to squeeze in a speedy round over the 12 Hole Pitch and Putt course that's laid out in front of the world famous Turnberry Hotel on the other side of the road from the Turnberry GC's clubhouse.

There was no scorecard available, but the course length was no more than 600 yards or so, with an average hole length of about 50 yards and a total Par of 36.  I'd only taken my 60 degree lob wedge and putter and with the sun sinking fast, time was of the essence.  This course is extremely short, but accuracy is vital, as the greens are tiny and invariably well protected by little pot bunkers.

Here are some views of the course, namely the uphill 2nd (with the imposing Turnberry Hotel in the background), the 3rd and the downhill 8th (both with the Turnberry GC clubhouse in the background) .

This little course was good fun.  I went round in 40 gross, with 21 putts and was only in 1 bunker, thank goodness.  I'll take a net 32.7 any time.  It had been a long day and I still had a 3 hour drive home - but at least I'd be sitting down!
Thanks again to Ricky Hall, the Senior Pro at Turnberry, for all of his help on the day and for his warm welcome, which made me feel right at home.  What a great, great place to play your golf.

Turnberry GC - Arran Course - Course no 557

I played the 9 Hole Arran Course on 28 November 2012 immediately after my round on the Ailsa Course.  The Arran is short at only 1996 Yards, Par 31 and was specifically designed as an extension to the Golf Academy at Turnberry to support coaching on all aspects of links golf and course management.  As such, its a great practice facility and is a real links course in miniature, with the same challenges e.g. undulating greens, tight tee shots, pot bunkers and thick, Scottish rough that you'll find on the Ailsa and Kintyre courses. 
It might be short, but don't be fooled into thinking that the Arran is easy.  I'd only parred the 281 Yard Par 4 1st after a good pitch and run and single putt from around 6 feet. This is the 2nd, an innocent looking 91 Yard Par 3.  An easy wedge/sand iron you'd probably agree, but I'd teed the ball up a wee bit too high, got under it and needed a great recovery bunker shot to leave myself a tap in for par.  I'd obviously had enough bunker practice earlier in the day on the Ailsa!

The 3rd is a 177 Yard Par 3 and also looks easy enough.  I under-clubbed from the tee, leading to a bogey.  This is a view up the 4th, a 316 yard Par 4, with my drive only just missing the first of 3 bunkers.  I doubt this poor drive went much more than 180 yards.  It might have been wiser to have lunch after my Ailsa round, but with sunset a little over an hour away and a 12 hole pitch and putt course still to play, I was trying to play the Arran as quickly as possible.  The conventional way of playing the 4th is to favour the left side of the fairway to avoid these 3 bunkers and leave yourself a short pitch to the green.  Having duffed my drive I tried an 8 iron (another duff).  I'm usually fairly handy with pitch and run shots (I get tons of practice!) but it was still pretty satisfying to birdie the hole from just off the green.
The 5th is a really good 415 Yard Par 4.  The key is to avoid the very right side of the fairway off the tee.  I know, since that's where I went, leaving myself an awkward 2nd shot, blind over gorse bushes.  The green is also one of the most undulating on the course and a bogey was a fair result after another loose drive.  I was getting really tired!  The 6th is an easy looking 184 Yard Par 3.  A good drive with my 23 Degree Rescue set up an easy par.  The 7th is a 138 Yard Par 3, on the other side of an old Second World War airfield runway (and a poignant reminder of the important role that Turnberry played in both World Wars).  A good par there after just missing the green with a lazily swung 7 iron tee shot.  The 8th is a tight looking 268 Yard Par 4 with strong fairway bunkering ready to trap anything even slightly wayward.  I had an easy pitch and run to the green and a comfortable par, but this is a real birdie opportunity for bigger hitters than me.
This is a view of the 9th green, looking back to the tee and to the lighthouse and the mountains on Arran in the far distance.  The 126 Yard 9th is really just a flick with something like 9 iron/wedge.  I thinned my 9 iron a good 25 yards through the back of the green into heavy rough and was lucky to escape with a bogey.  Not how I'd planned it, but I was happy enough with my 33 total, net 27.5, with 13 putts.  The Arran is an ideal practice course for links golf and well worth playing in its own right, either before or after your round on either of the Ailsa or Kintyre Courses.  It's a fair distance between the Arran and the pitch and putt course, so lunch would have to wait....again!

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Turnberry GC Ailsa Course - Course no 556

With many Scottish courses currently closed due to flooding or suffering more generally after one of the wettest Summers on record, I decided to play Turnberry Ailsa on 28 November 2012.  Polly was going to play as well but she's come down with flu, poor girl.  So, an early start was required and the 3 hour drive to the course wasn't encouraging, as there had been a heavy frost and my car was reading the outside temperature at -5C for much of the journey.  I needn't have worried, since there was no frost at Turnberry and with the low sun beating down and only a gentle breeze to contend with, the Ailsa course looked hugely inviting.  The course wasn't particularly busy so I was able to tee off (by myself) half an hour early.  That was to be important as I was also planning to play the 9 hole Arran Course and the 12 hole Pitch and Putt Course at Turnberry, light permitting. 
I'd played the Turnberry Kintyre Course a few years ago and was pretty impressed, particularly by the holes nearer the sea. Indeed, the Kintyre remains one of my favourite links courses.    However, it's no match for the Ailsa, which is of course best known as an Open Championship venue and is listed amongst the very best courses in the World, best in Britain, Scotland, best links course in the World, etc. "Best of" listings are in my view highly subjective, offering scope for endless debate.  Let's just say that having played the Ailsa on a bright late Autumn day in near perfect golfing conditions (well, +5 Degrees C with little wind and no rain is as good as we Scots can expect at this time of year), I'm not surprised that it gets such high ratings.  Ailsa is just a superb course (and by coincidence our youngest daughter's middle name!)  I played Ailsa off the Yellow tees, making the course 6100 Yards, Par 69.  Rather than go through this great course hole by hole, I'd refer my readers this link to the Turnberry website, which as you'll see covers each hole in great detail, with flyover videos etc.

I'd not played at all since my rounds in the Aberdeen area at the beginning of November due to a combination of bad weather, sodden courses and a nasty bout of flu, so I was concerned that my game might be a bit rusty and that tackling an easier course might have been more sensible.  Maybe it was just the benign playing conditions and some decent shot making but I played the opening holes reasonably well.  The 1st was only 340 Yards and a good drive set up a short iron to the green.  However, the bunkering is as tricky as you'd expect on a Championship layout, and finding one of the 4 bunkers protecting the opening green cost me a bogey.  At my level, par on a Championship layout is good, so opening pars on holes 2 and 3 were a relief after my long layoff.  The 4th was the first of several "should have" holes.  This is a 157 Yard Par 3 played to a bowl-shaped green with a severe slope to the left that carries anything mis-hit into heavy rough, leaving a  blind lob wedge chip.  I'd only slightly tugged my 27 Degree Rescue and needed almost the full 5 minutes to find my ball.  A great chip later and I'd a 6 foot putt for par.  I'd read that putts on Ailsa usually break towards the sea.  I just misread it slightly, but that was enough.
More bunker trouble at the 5th, a 392 Yard dog leg left Par 4.  I'd found a bunker in front of the  green and was delighted to find it designated as GUR.  My pitch and run looked good but the contours took it into another bunker, in play this time.  OK, maybe my pitch was slightly off-line but that's one of the joys/frustrations about links courses.  Double bogey followed. The 6th is a 187 Yard Par 3 with the green perched at the top of a steep slope and a large deep bunker lurking front right of the green, ready to swallow anything under-hit.  This is a view of the 6th looking back down the hole and across to the iconic Turnberry Hotel.  With the flag towards the front of the green, I took an easy swing with my 3 Wood and should have done better with my 15 foot putt.  Another misread but an easy enough par.

The 7th hole is Stroke Index 1 and at 463 Yards for a Par 4, it's easy to see why.  Good course management was needed to avoid real trouble and I was happy enough with a bogey.  This is a view back down the 8th, one of my favourite holes on the course.  The 8th is a 365 Yard Par 4.  The fairway was generously wide but the subtle contouring means that anything remotely near a bunker is likely to come to grief.  I'd found one of the 3 fairway bunkers off the tee, managed to get out, found a greenside bunker with my 8 iron 3rd, got out again, chipped on and holed a good single putt for double bogey.  The pin position was brutal, but I was loving the course, so who cares?  Nobody died and I knew that the famous 9th was next. 

Much has been written about the 9th at the Ailsa over the years and I couldn't resist wandering across to the Championship tee to have a look at what is undoubtedly one of the most daunting tees on The Open  circuit.  This is the view that Open Competitors face.  The 9th for hackers like me is a more manageable 388 Yards and far less difficult.  Hit your drive reasonably straight and this hole should be relatively straightforward.  However, if it's windy and/or wet, hang on to your hat and hope for the best!

This is a short 300 degree video that I took from the Yellow tee looking back down the 8th, out to the island of Ailsa Craig, down to the 9th Championship tee and up to the marker on the 9th fairway.  Remember I said my daughter's middle name was Ailsa?  She's married to a lovely guy called Craig!

I'd gone out in 42, so not bad.  Next was this, the 415 Yard Par 4 10th.  Anything left is dead.  Anything right risks finding  bunkering almost in the middle of the fairway  and a huge bunker with a grassy island inside it must be avoided if you manage to stay above ground from the tee.  I'd caught up with a couple of guys by this time and had to wait to play.  A passing walker suggested that I go for the left of the fairway, leaving a second shot to the left of the huge island bunker.  I'd seen that route myself and was delighted to find the green with Driver, 20 Degree Rescue and secure an easy par after a good long range putt.  I'd only a small audience, but the walker's "well played" comments were much appreciated.

The Course Guide mentions that on the 146 Yard Par 3 11th Hole the "most obvious the large steep faced bunker on the left." With the hole being slightly uphill and the flag seemingly stuck right behind this bunker I was tempted by the Guide's advice to play for the right half of the green. However, at my level I'm usually happy to hit any part of a green nearly 150 yards away, so I just aimed at the flag and trusted my swing. I'd finished inside 3 feet away, but missed the birdie putt. Bogeys at Holes 12-14 were slightly disappointing but I did at least get another easy par at this the 170 Yard Par 3 15th. This is a view from the left of the green looking out to sea and Ailsa Craig in the distance.

The Par 4 16th is another really tricky hole, with a burn running in a deep gully in front of the green.  The hole is only 385 Yards and although I'd only missed the fairway by a few feet I'd a lousy lie, so a lay up wedge was necessary and a scrambled bogey was slightly disappointing.  The 17th should have been a relatively easy Par 5, but there's a tiny pot bunker 88 Yards out from the green....hence the bogey!

And so to the last hole, renamed the " Duel in the Sun" in honour of the Watson/Nicklaus battle at the 1977 Open Championship.  I'd found a bunker off the tee, but luckily it was GUR after recent rains, so I'd a clear shot into the green.  I swung a bit too quick at my second and needed a good pitch to set up a closing bogey.  I'd gone round the Ailsa Course in 83, net 72 with 34 putts in just over 3 hours.  Net 3 over on such a grand course was pretty good.  I enjoyed every one of those 83 shots, some good, some bad, some lucky, some not.  It was just a privilege to play such a famous course on such a perfect Autumn golfing day.

Do yourself a favour.  Play the Ailsa Course.  Why? - you'll know well before you've finished and like me, you'll be itching to play it again.  Next time, maybe I'll be able to read the greens a wee bit better, so something under 80 is the target.
I work as a caddie so I'll not say any more about misreading the odd putt!  (Which reminds me of a caddying story I know to be true - "That's a great read you gave me on that last green" says the player, to which the caddie jokingly replies "I've given you a great read on every green so far, it's just that you canny bloody putt!)

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

King's Links 6 Hole Golf Course - Course no 555

Craig, Stu and I had been tempted to play this little course between our recent rounds at Royal Aberdeen GC's 2 separate courses.  I'm glad we didn't try, since we'd have missed our second round at RAGC.  We'd thought that this was just a pitch and putt course but it's actually a 1273 Yard Par 21 course, albeit slightly less links' like than the full 18 Hole King's Links Course.  The 6 Hole Course is good for beginners and for general practice and runs parallel to some of the main course's holes.  Access to the course is a kilometre down the road from the Starter's Box for the King's Course and there's a pay machine (£3.30 a round) near the 1st tee, behind the local cat and dog home.  We're not talking Augusta here!
I played here on 6 November 2012 after my adventures around the King's Links Course,  The 6 Hole Course is not the prettiest of courses as these photos of the 4th and 5th holes suggest, but it was in decent condition, using the full greens and permanent tees.

There was no scorecard at all this time (another item for the management company to address) but these are the yardages from the tee boxes and my scores on each hole.
Hole       Yardage     Par    Score    Putts
1                 138           3          4         2
2                 307           4          4         2
3                 196           3          4         1
4                 140           3          2         0
5                  242          4          5         3
6                  250          4          5         2
Totals         1273        21        24       10
I've played it once but I doubt I'd ever want to do so again.

King's Links Golf Winter Course - Course no 554

I'd stayed overnight in Aberdeen on 5 November 2012, eager to play another couple of local courses, but there had been heavy overnight rain and another quick look at the Paul Lawrie Golf Centre suggested I should head for a links course.  The King's Links Course is an 18 Hole links course in central Aberdeen that normally measures 5799 Yards, Par 71 off the Yellow Tees.  This course is also operated on behalf of the Aberdeen City Council, and I was issued with a Winter Course scorecard and assured that the Winter course was definitely in play.  As I was to discover, this meant that most of the course was played backwards or that some holes were played out of sequence to the normal Summer layout.  For example, the normal 18th green, as shown here, was the green for the 3rd Hole.  For any readers interested in football, the ground in the background is Pittodrie, home of Aberdeen FC.

Temporary tees were in use and as I went round the course, the scorecard I was given appeared to correlate with distances to temporary greens.  However, the full Summer greens were in play on all holes, meaning that actual distances bore no relation to scorecard distances.  For example, the 10th Hole on the scorecard (the 9th during the Summer) was a 146 Yard Par 3, but according to my Bushnell laser range finder, the hole was a 318 Yard Par 4.  The 12th was apparently a 147 Yard Par 3, yet I measured it as a 341 Yard Par 4, played blind for both the tee shot and second shots.  Confusing or what? The greenkeeper confirmed that the normal greens were in operation over the Winter when the weather was mild enough (as it clearly was when I played the course) and he recognised that there were considerable differences between scorecard and actual distances when the full greens were in play.  However, he confirmed that since the Winter Course was being played in a completely different configuration to the normal layout, there were in effect 2 separate 18 Hole King's Links courses.  A local golfer that I met also confirmed this, adding that although he had offered to give the Dutch management company in charge of Aberdeen Council's golf courses yardages to the normal greens from the Winter tees, that offer had not been taken up and that as matters stood, there was no accurate scorecard matching the course that I was playing.  I'd been following a 4-ball for the few first few holes but when they kindly let me play through I'd no-one ahead of me and with few signs to follow and clear differences between the scorecard and what was visible from the tees, it was pretty difficult to navigate my way around the course.  Thankfully, a guy walking his dog helped me with directions over the closing holes.
I'd found another new course to add to our list, but this was another deeply frustrating round.    I'd not thought to measure every hole as I went round, but I reckon the Winter Course, as played to the normal greens, is about 5700 Yards, Par 70.  Compare that to the Winter Course scorecard as issued to me, which gave the measurement of 4156 Yards, Par 64!  I played pretty steadily despite the distractions of not knowing where I was going and not being able to trust the scorecard.  I was out in 39, back in 35, but the real highlight was the 11th, a 170 Yard Par 3 (as measured by my laser) that's played as the 10th on the "Summer Course" as shown here.  I hit my 20 Degree Rescue to within 20 inches of the hole for the easiest of birdies.  Some good putting on excellent greens helped the scoring too and overall, I was round in 74, net 63, or net 7 under par, with 28 putts. 

The Winter course is a good test of links golf.  It's just a pity that there was no scorecard for the course that was in play.  There's really no point in going to the trouble of creating  a scorecard using temporary greens and then asking golfers to play to normal greens that make the course around 1550 yards longer and increase the par by 6 strokes.  With a little more effort, the management company in charge of this course could easily have made my round more enjoyable.  I still need to play the Summer Course at King's Links sometime, but when I do, I'll also need to remember to ask whether it's the right course and that there's a proper scorecard! 

Hazelhead 9 Hole Course - Course no 553

There was still a couple of hours' daylight left after my round at Portlethen on 5 November 2012 and I was hoping to play the 9 hole course at the Paul Lawrie Golf Centre in homage to the great man after his heroics at the Ryder Cup.  However, that course is low-lying beside the River Dee and looked to be absolutely sodden, so I tried the nearby Hazelhead 9 Hole Course in Aberdeen, as operated by a Dutch company on behalf of Aberdeen City Council.  There are also two 18 Hole courses and a pitch and putt course at Hazelhead that I've yet to play, so this was my first visit to the Hazelhead complex.  
My first challenge was to find the Pay Point/Starter's Box in what is clearly a huge public park.  The effort was worthwhile, but as at Portlethen, temporary greens were in play.  The Starter reckoned I'd get round easily enough in the remaining daylight and issued me with a scorecard that related to something called the Winter Course.  The normal layout of the 9 Hole Course is 2770 Yards, Par 35.  The normal tees were all in play but with temporary greens in operation, the course was playing to something like 2600 yards, Par 35.  However, the Winter Course measures only 2084 Yards, Par 29 and was clearly not the course that was in play.  I played the normal course with temporary greens in operation and as there was no sign of any shorter course that would match up with the Winter Course scorecard, I concluded that the Winter Course does not (currently anyway) exist.
The first clue I had that something was amiss was on the 1st tee.  The scorecard suggested that this was a 207 Yard Par 3, yet the flag looked to be miles away.  I hit a really good straight drive and a wedge after that but was still short of the green, so I reckon the 1st hole was nearer 340 Yards.  The 2nd was supposedly a 184 Yard Par 3, which turned out to be something nearer 400 Yards Par 4, slightly uphill.  This is the 4th, a 163 Yard Par 3 according to the Winter Course scorecard, downhill.  The hole looked to be well over 200 Yards, but I took my 27 Degree Rescue anyway, as it would normally be enough for 163 Yards even with no run on the wet fairway.  Sure enough, I was well short of the green!  The 5th purported to be a 299 Yard Par 4, but needed Driver, 3 wood  a 20 yard chip and single putt for par. 
The tee marker on the 5th said the hole was 507 Yards Par 5, yet the card said 441 Yards Par 4.  This is the view from the tee, using a zoom lens.  This hole was definitely a lot longer than 441 yards!  For the record, I went round in 36 strokes with 14 putts.  Since I reckon I played (almost) the normal course with temporary greens, this was something like 1 over gross par or net 4 under. Decent scoring again, but as you might have gathered by now, I did not enjoy this course one little bit.
The 9 Hole course is intended to encourage beginners and with wide fairways and little rough or bunkering, it probably does that job satisfactorily.  However, I do wonder whether a beginner would be encouraged by the baffling disparity between the scorecard and the course layout.  There's a simple remedy.  Don't issue players with a Winter Course card unless such a course is actually in play.  It's not rocket science. If you're tempted to play this course (and there's nothing wrong with it as a golfing test for beginners), just remember to ask whether the yardages on the card are likely to be anywhere near correct.
It was close to sunset and the sun had already dipped well below the trees by the time I finished the course and the Starter had long since gone home.  A pity, because I just wanted to ask whether I could have the right card.  This is a view down the 1st in the gathering gloom en route back to my car, matching my mood!

Portlethen GC - Course no 552

Portlethen is a small town a few miles South of Aberdeen that has grown considerably in recent years, due mainly to the oil industry centred on Aberdeen.  Portlethen GC was founded in 1981 with the aim of adding to the social life of the golfing fraternity in what was then a village of some 1500 residents. A local landowner gifted 138 acres of land to the local community for the course. Title of the land was transferred to Kincardine & Deeside District Council who leased the land back to the Club and provided sufficient finance for construction of the course and clubhouse. The course was designed by Donald Steel, the world-renowned golf course architect, and was open for play in 1989. 

As the club's website says, "The course is maturing into one of the more popular parkland courses in the North East of Scotland having been blessed with natural features, the principal being the Findon burn which, lined with mature broadleaf trees, crosses five of the holes on the first nine influencing either tee or approach shots. The Par 5 485 Yard 4th hole poses a problem of choice of second shots as the burn crosses 90 yards short of the green, the wayward shot punished by ending up in the burn or in the trees. The inward 9 holes carry fewer hazards but the Findon burn continues to create problems at the 15th and 18th. Arguably the 15th is the 'signature hole' of the course. First, the tee shot has to be accurate to cope with the right to left dog leg and then the approach shot, from a downhill lie, has to carry the Findon burn which, moat like, guards the entrance to the green. The Par 507 Yard Par 5 18th is a challenging closing hole featuring a drystone dyke on the left running all the way from tee to green with the risk of out of bounds with every shot. The Findon burn, 100 Yards short of the green creates a further dilemma of second shot selection; to carry or not to carry. Senior golfers and visitors normally play the shorter Par 70 'Blue Tee' course. Course development has seen the planting of around 21,000 carefully selected trees, restoration of drystone dyke, construction of stone bridges, new tees at several holes and a pond at the short 5th."

I'd not played much golf since the trip to Inchmarlo and what I had played was pretty poor, including almost a last place at the Renaissance Caddies' Tournament.  The weather had again been very wet, particularly in the west of the country, so I headed up to the North-East in search of some decent courses and playable conditions.  Accordingly, I played Portlethen on 5 November 2012 on a mild dry day, hoping to find an improvement in form.  This course measures a formidable 6443 Yards Par 72 from the Yellow Tees. Winter greens and the Blue Tees were in operation, meaning that the course was playing to something like 5500 Yards, Par 70.  The course was still in fine condition despite being soggy underfoot in some places, meaning there was little run on the course generally.  Maybe it was just me hitting the ball unusually straight, but on first impressions the fairways were pretty easy to find.  I only missed 3 fairways in total, but more of that later.  Portlethen started with a straightforward Par 4 of around 350 Yards.  The temporary greens were all pretty small but were in far better condition, faster and truer running than some of the normal greens I've found on other courses at this time of year, so no complaints there.  Although the 1st was a gentle opener, the 2nd was a beast of a Par 5, with a blind tee shot and steeply uphill.  The Blue yardage was 477, but the hole played to nearer 500 yards and only a good single putt from around 20 feet saved the par.  The 3rd runs back down the hill and at 350 Yards is an easier hole.  However, the drive is blind and your second shot will be from a downhill lie.  I'd hit a good straight drive and a great wedge to 3 feet.  I missed the putt but 3 opening pars was encouraging.  I'd rediscovered some timing in my swing and not before time.  This is the view from the 4th Tee.  As the club's website suggests, good course management here is vital.  The teeshot is steeply downhill and I was tempted to try to fly the pond with my second, using my 3 wood.  However, 9 iron and wedge was more sensible and with my newly found improved tempo, another par was secured.
The 5th, as shown here, is a 122 Yard Par 3 played over a pond.  Another good swing with my 9 iron and a couple of putts and I'd parred the opening 5 holes.  The 6th is an innocent looking 337 Yard Par 4 requiring a good drive over the Findon Burn to leave an uphill shot to the green.  I'd only just cleared the burn on the left side of the fairway (requiring the longest carry to clear the water) but the second played a lot longer than it looked and I needed a decent single putt for my first dropped shot of the round.  At my level, a first dropped shot is usually followed by another (or worse!) so it was good to par the next couple of holes.

This is the 9th, a 348 Yard Par 4 off the Blue Tee but a really formidable 423 Yards off the White, hence its Stroke Index 1 status.  I'd missed the fairway to the right but had a great lie in the light rough.  There's only a narrow gap between mature trees but I'd blocked myself out.  An 8 iron over the trees might work, the lie was good and so was the shot.  I'd gone out in 1 over par and was loving the course.  The Back 9 lies over the busy road that splits the course into separate halves.  I was again glad I wasn't playing off the White Tees, as the 10th would have been a nasty 235 Yard Par 3, slightly uphill.  Thankfully it was a more manageable 175 Yards off the Blue Tee, requiring my 20 Degree Rescue to reach light rough to the right of the green, pin high.  Another par, followed by more on Holes 11-14.  I'd only dropped a single shot in 14 holes, for goodness' sake!
The club's website suggests the15th as Portlethen's signature hole.  The teeshot is blind so it's not obvious that the hole dog legs to the left.  I'd hooked my drive left into heavy rough and could only play a wedge over some trees to the right side of the fairway.  Another wedge form there and I was on my way to another bogey.  A good hole, although I preferred the 4th as a signature hole.  A good drive on the 16th set up another par.  The 17th off the Blue Tee is an uphill 156 Yard Par 3 playing to something like 135 yards to the temporary green and I manged a good par after missing the green with my 6 iron.  The 17th plays to 415 Yards off the White Tee, reinforcing my suspicion that Portlethen would be pretty demanding off the back tees.  Anyway, I was 2 over par standing on the 18th tee, with OOB all the way down the left of the fairway and 431 Yards (Par 4) to the green.  Not where you want to hit your second hooked drive to within a yard of the course boundary.  Double bogey followed, but I'd still gone round in 74, only 4 over par for a net 63 (net 7 under par) with 29 putts.  I really liked the Portlethen course and I'd like to play it again sometime.  It was disappointing to have to play to temporary greens, but I'd played really well and have fond memories of some really good shots.  Something to build on anyway!
I strongly recommend you give this course a try if you're in the Aberdeen area, a city that is already blessed with some great old links courses e.g Murcar and Royal Aberdeen.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Inchmarlo Resort and Golf Centre - Queen's Course - Course no 551

I played this short 9 Hole heathland course after my earlier round on 22 October 2012 over the Inchmarlo Laird's Course.  The Queen's is only 1960 Yards, Par 32 and although it's clearly popular with senior members, juniors and beginners, there are some pretty demanding holes.  The 1st is a 164 Yard downhill Par 3 with a bunker right in front of the green.  Tricky enough, but with the late afternoon sun coming straight at me (and the Club Pro teaching a group of members close by the green) the tee shot was pretty difficult.  I'd no chance of seeing where the ball went due to the low sun in my eyes, so it was great to find my ball only 10 feet away, directly in front of the hole.  I missed the putt, but was happy enough not to sh--- in front of the small audience.  That dreaded shot almost appeared on the 2nd, where the Pro and his pupils had very kindly stood aside.  A dodgy Par 4 went onto the card and I'd a clear run at the rest of the course - if I could find it.  The 3rd runs uphill back to the clubhouse, not as I'd initially thought, 180 degrees the other way.  Thanks again to the Pro for his guidance!
The 4th should have been an easy enough 299 Yard Par 4, but with the low sun again causing problems I hooked my second shot with my wedge into a bunker.  Bogey time again. This is a photo of the sign at the 5th - another hole straight into the sun.  This 125 Yard hole is played over a small pond and a bank in front of the green that feeds anything underhit back into the water.  Again, I'd no idea where my tee shot went and was delighted to find that I'd made the front of the green.  Another par on the card.
The 6th is a 257 Yard Par 4 with another pond in front of the green. I underhit my sand iron from light rough and almost came to grief in the pond, but a good pitch from a steeply hanging lie to 4 feet and a single putt rescued the par. The 7th is a 183 Yard Par 3 that played a lot longer than it looked and the area surrounding that green was particularly soggy, hence my bogey 4. This is the view from the 8th tee, this hole being a sharp left dog leg 269 Yard Par 4.  The fairway extends over the wall in the middle of the photo below, but there's a also another water hazard to contend with beside the wall, so I laid up short of the wall with my 27 degree Rescue club.

However, the green was really tricky to find as I was a few yards short of the ideal position and had only this narrow view to the flag.
I played an easy 9 iron (too easy!) but was a couple of yards short of the green.  The hole was cut at the back of the long green on an upper tier, but a good chip to within a foot left me with an easy tap in for par.  A really good hole that I imagine tests Inchmarlo's members to the full.
The last hole is also quite tricky.  This is a 294 Yard Par 4 played downhill out of a narrow tunnel of trees with a steeply uphill shot to the green, as shown here. I'd skied a sliced drive into light rough on the right of the fiarway, leaving myself with 3 bunkers to clear in order to reach the green.  I missed them all, and the green, on my way to a closing bogey.  Still, 36 gross with 17 putts wasn't bad and my net 30.5 was under the course par of 32, so a decent round.  Like the Laird's Course, the Queen's is great fun to play and I'd strongly recommend it.  We didn't have time to sample anything from the bar and restaurant at Inchmarlo.  Maybe next time.  we were really impressed by the facilities here, and our thanks go again to Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Pro for all of his help and kindness on the day.

Inchmarlo Resort and Golf Centre - Laird's Course - Course no 550

Polly and I played this excellent 18 hole heathland course on 22 October 2012.  The weather had been pretty poor generally since our trip to play Skibo and even our own course at the Glen GC had been closed for a few days recently due to flooding.  We'd originally planned to play a couple of links course in Aberdeen, but it's a pretty long round trip to do 2 Aberdeen courses, so we opted for the Laird's and Queen's Courses at Inchmarlo, a holiday resort and golf centre in Banchory, a pretty little village in Royal Deeside, south west of Aberdeen.  Both of the Inchmarlo courses had also been closed due to flooding recently and had only re-opened on the 21st and a frost on the 22nd had delayed the first tee times for a couple of hours.  The Laird's Course is basically heathland in nature, measuring 5727 Yards, Par 70 from the Yellow tees.  Some Inchmarlo GC members were an hour or so ahead of us on the course, but as most of the holes weave their way through forest (mainly pine and birch), it felt as though we had the course to ourselves.  The Laird's course was actually a lot drier than we'd expected given the recent closure and the Summer tees and normal greens were still in operation. 
The golfing facilities at Inchmarlo are excellent, including a driving range and the course signage is possibly the best I've seen on my travels around Scottish courses.  Take this example from the 11th hole, complete with a detailed schematic of the hole and a map of the course, highlighting the hole in play (OK, stroke indexes aren't provided, but these are given on the scorecards).  I just wish that every course could be as helpful.  We also appreciated the halfway house, one of the best refreshment and toilet facilities we've encountered on our travels.
The Laird's Course starts with an easy looking 258 Yard Par 4, as shown here.  However, the green is quite narrow and there's a pond to the left of the green waiting for anything slightly wayward.  The greens had recently been hollow tyned and were slower and more bumpy than we're used to (as the Glen's greens are still in great condition!), so putting was quite tricky.  I managed an opening par, but I'm still trying to work out what happened on the 2nd, an uphill Par 3.  The Yellow tee markers were actually on what is normally the Red ladies' teeing ground and my laser range finder showed 152 to the flag.  Since the hole is steeply uphill I went with my 27 Degree Rescue and my straight tee shot looked to be covering the flag all the way and we both thought it could be pretty close.  It hadn't landed short, it wasn't on the green, in the hole or in the very light rough behind or to the sides of the green.  My new ball had simply disappeared,  Crows?  I don't know, but a double bogey was not what my tee shot had deserved.
The Front 9 looked to be pretty short, with only one Par 4 over 399 Yards (i.e. 400!) and a 445 Yard Par 5, but the recent rain meant that there was no run on the fairways, so the course was playing a lot longer than it looked.  We really liked the stretch from Holes 4-6 running parallel to each other with trees, water hazards and huge boulders to be avoided.  This is the view from the tee at the 6th, a dog leg right 377 Yard Par 4.  Just aim at the stand of pines in the middle of the photo and stop short of hitting any of the boulders.  The 8th is another uphill Par 3, this time with a stream short of the green that shouldn't really come into play, other than in the mind!  I'd under-clubbed with a 23 Degree Rescue and was still 10 yards short.  I'd usually have chosen a pitch with my wedge but with the greens being so slow I opted for my 60 degree lob wedge, hit the ball sweetly and holed out for an unlikely birdie.  A par at the excellent 299 Yard 9th meant I was out in 40.
The Back 9 is significantly longer and more difficult and I was glad I wasn't playing off the White tees on the 12th, a formidable 473 Yard uphill Par 4, with no run on the wet fairway.  This hole is still hugely difficult at 443 Yards off the Yellow tee and fully deserves it's Stroke Index 1 ranking.  I just wonder how many pars are scored in Inchmarlo GG competitions and whether this would play better as a Par 5.  Holes 12-14 are all pretty tough and cost me bogey, bogey, double bogey after some indifferent play with my 3 Wood.  This is Polly considering her options on the 13th, a 399 Yard Par 4 dominated by a huge beech tree to the front right of the green.  Another very good hole.
We also liked the 16th, a tricky 292 Yard Par 4.  The drive is blind over a small hill and needs to be long enough to give you a view of the green, steeply downhill over some small trees and boulders on the downslope in front of the green, as shown here.  A large house is currently being built behind the 16th, hence the red container boxes.  The Back 9 also involves a bit of climbing up gentle slopes, leading to the downhill 18th, a 384 Yard Par 4 played from an elevated tee with forest on either side.  A bunker and stream look as though they're reachable from the tee, but I made a complete mess of my drive, ending up OOB to the right.
This is the great view from the 18th tee.  I scored a disappointing treble bogey 7 after my OOB adventure for a total of 84, net 73, with 33 putts.  A net 3 over score wasn't too bad, and I'd hope to beat that quite comfortably when I play here again.  We'd thoroughly enjoyed the course and will definitely be back sometime.  I strongly recommend you pay this lovely course a visit. 

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Kinloss Country GC - Course no 549

Polly and I played here on 11 October 2012.  This is an 18 hole pay as you play parkland course in the village of Kinloss, a short drive east of Inverness and is the home course for Kinloss Country GC (annual subscription is £285 i.e. £15 less than the green fee for a round at Skibo).  My best buddy David had played Kinloss Country some time ago and didn't think it was all that great, so Polly and I weren't expecting the course to be very good.  I'd also played a number of soaking wet parkland courses in recent weeks, so we were both prepared for a soggy round on a mediocre course.  All I can say is that we thought Kinloss Country was in fabulous condition and after our exertions over the past few days, was an absolute treat to play from start to finish.  Indeed, this was the best parkland course I've played for a long time in terms of overall condition and sheer fun.
The course is a modest 5065 Yards Par 68 off the Yellow Tees and unusually for a full 18 hole course, starts with 3 Par 3s in succession.  I'd started bogey, par so had high hopes for a continued downward progression on the 3rd, as shown here, a steeply downhill 192 Yard Par 3.  I'd hit an easy 3 Wood into the fresh breeze to within 25 feet.  I'm a reasonable putter but got the pace all wrong.  As Polly said at the time if I'd missed the putt was headed off the other side of the green.  An early birdie was encouraging, but the next hole (a 335 Yard Par 4) was steeply uphill, so no chance of keeping the score progression going.  The Stroke Index 1 hole is the 6th, a 520 Yard downhill Par 5 - a really good driving hole. 
I also liked the 8th, a downhill 291 Yard Par 4 and another chance to let rip with the Driver.  This hole is blind off the tee, but there's a tree in the middle of the fairway to aim for, as shown here.  Clear that, as I did, and it's only a short wedge to the green.  The Front 9 closes with a 330 Yard Par 4 finishing right in front of the clubhouse windows.  I was out in 36, only 3 over par.  The back 9 is slightly longer and more challenging, the best hole being the 16th, a formidable 441 Yard Par 4, played slightly uphill and into the prevailing wind, with a cleverly designed shamrock-shaped green.  Bunkers help define the shamrock shape and this is a potential card wrecker.  I was happy enough with a bogey!  The 17th is also very good and at 324 yards is a short downwind Par 4.  The difficulty lies in the 50 yard long green, especially when the flag is at the very back, as it was when we played the course.  The green narrows from front to back and is slightly elevated so a tricky hole.
The 18th was slightly disappointing, finishing a good walk away from the clubhouse and it occurred to us whether the separate halves of the course could play better in reverse order, with the course ending on what is now the 9th green.  Just a thought.  I'd scored a gross 76, net 65, or net 3 under par, with 30 putts, so a good round.
Overall, we really liked the course and would strongly recommend it.  There's no great difficulty, it's just a fun place to play golf and was in great condition.  The weather we had was great for the time of year and this round was a fine way to end our short trip round 5 new courses.    If you get the chance to play here, try staying at the excellent Springfield Guest House in Forres and try the Cardamon Spice restaurant in the same town.  Best curry we've had in ages!

Brahan GC - Course no 548

Craig, Stu and I played here on 9 October 2012 after our round at the excellent Skibo course.  Brahan is possibly the newest course in Scotland and is certainly a labour of love by its owners, Claudia and Jon Wiggett.  They'd planned to open the course for play next year, but it actually opened on 1 June last year as a 9 hole course.  Since then the course has been extended to 18 holes by the addition of another 9 tees.  So, Brahan is now an 18 hole heathland type course with 18 sets of tees and 9 shared greens, measuring 6213 Yards Par 72 from the Yellow Tees and a pretty meaty 6656 Yards from the White Medal Tees. 
The Wiggett's overall concept was to create a pay as you play course that is as close to self-sustainable as possible based on an organic philosophy, using no fungicides and minimum herbicide use.  Only organic fertilisers created will be used once the course has fully established itself and there will be no irrigation.  The course has been created with the minimum amount of earth movement and 99% of the work has been done by Claudia and Jon, a staggering effort when you consider that the land is quite hilly and boggy in parts.  I can only imagine the long and exhausting hours involved in creating this course.  When you consider that this couple also run an on-site guest house, the effort to build and maintain the course almost single-handed borders on the unimaginable.  OK, the condition of the course is still quite rough and it will take more time to mature, but given time and yet more hard work an interesting and uniquely self-sustaining course can emerge.   We really admire what they've done so far to establish the Brahan course and wish them well in their efforts to establish the course more fully.
I hope that it's fair to describe Brahan as work in progress.  Recent wet weather had made it impossible to cut and maintain the the definition of fairways, so anything struck offline was at risk of being lost.  Although the greens were already pretty slick, they've been established simply by cutting the land as it lay.  Undulating doesn't begin to describe them adequately, so be prepared for all sorts of humps and hollows adding to the enjoyment.  For example, this is the 1st/10th green.  Getting on the wrong side of the hump in this green will test your putting skills to the full.
Equally, you'll need to avoid a hook when playing from the 5th and 14th Tees, as OOB and a lateral water hazard awaits, as shown here.  The 6th and 15th stretch into the distance beyond the 5th/14th green and at 496 Yards uphill, the 6th is a tough hole.  We were all tight on time so we had decided to play the Front and Back 9s in parallel e.g. playing a ball off the 1st and 10th tees to their shared green.  This certainly saved on time but as on previous occasions when we've adopted that ploy on courses with 18 tees and 9 greens, it's difficult to remember which balls was played from which tee and where the first ball went!
It had been a long day, especially for Stu and Craig, and we were all glad to finish.  Craig had opted to play off the White tees, making his 9th a whopping 630 Yard Par 5.  Stu and I were happy enough to play the 9th as a 597 Yarder over hills and sideways sloping fairway, avoiding trees and water hazards en route.  The 18th is a mere 525 Yards (but 550 off the White Tee!)  This is Polly and Jon patiently awaiting my weary return.  I'd gone round Brahan in a remarkable 98 strokes with 5 lost balls and 35 putts, so that gave me a net 15 over par score.  Hardly impressive but a very enjoyable round nevertheless on a course that I'm sure will improve by leaps and bounds as it matures.  Jon advised me that he had designed the course to be reversible so that'll require a different layout and a different scorecard.  I think the only other courses that are also played in reverse  are Asta on Shetland and Innellan (but please correct me if that's wrong).  We'd obviously need to return to Brahan if and when the course is played in reverse. 
In the meantime, I recommend you give Brahan a try.  It's far from the finished article at present, but Claudia and Jon deserve every support for their efforts to establish another new Scottish course.  Like me, you might be amazed by the efforts that have already been made to create such a large course almost single-handed.

The Carnegie Club Skibo Castle - Course no 547

When Craig Stu and I began our quest in earnest a few years ago, we quickly realised that apart from the physical challenge of playing well over 600 Scottish courses, our most serious challenge would be in gaining access to some pretty exclusive places.  Since then we've managed to play some pretty obscure courses that few others had heard of, at some of the most famous courses in the world e.g. Prestwick, Loch Lomond and a Highland course so private that we're still obliged not to mention it by name, but one course still stood above the rest in terms of privacy and exclusivity.  I refer of course to The Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle near Dornoch in Sutherland.  Skibo, as most Scots folk know it, used to be accessible by all at a price, but a change of ownership some years ago and subsequent preservation of the privacy and security of its elite membership has meant that access to common golfers like us was completely out of reach.  We'd certainly not wanted to impinge on the privacy of the rich and famous and recognised their right to enjoy the sport on their terms, and although we know the names of a few of its more famous members, it's not for me or this blog to mention who they are.  However, it was  frustrating to think that despite our best efforts in support of cancer research we might ultimately fail in our challenge to play every course in Scotland. 
We were therefore relieved to learn recently that the general golfing public were to be given limited access to Skibo, albeit for just a couple of tee times a day, at a pretty eye-watering £300 a head.  That's more than the annual subscription at some Scottish golf clubs, entitling members to unlimited golf and in caddying terms, I'd need to walk a very long way with a heavy bag to finance such a green fee.  Craig, Stu and I were therefore delighted when The Carnegie Club offered us a very generous discount on that green fee since we were playing for Cancer Research UK.  Thanks again to all concerned and in particular to Jack, who really could not have been more helpful.  We really appreciated that offer and all of the other kindness shown to us when we played Skibo early on 9 October 2012, a perfect sunny windless day and without doubt one of the outstanding highlights of our journey around every Scottish course.  This is me just before we teed off.
I reckon I've now played golf on well over 600 courses in Scotland, England, Northern Ireland, Wales, Ireland, Sweden, Portugal, Spain and Cyprus.  Skibo is quite possibly the best course I've ever played in terms of the course and the overall experience.  As I've said, the green fee is pretty expensive but as a special occasion treat, Skibo is well worth playing, especially if you get the perfect golfing weather that we enjoyed.   I might need to win the National Lottery to apply for membership, but at least I've got the Skibo bag tag, bought the souvenir golf shirt and have the memories of a perfect golfing experience.
Skibo is a links course measuring 6207 Yards Par 71 from the Yellow Tees and is laid out over a narrow strip of links land  between the shores of the Dornoch Firth and Loch Evelix.  As might be expected, no expense had been spared in constructing and maintaining the course as evidenced by the amazingly manicured condition of the fairways and greens, which all ran far faster than we'd expected.  Even the edges of rivetted bunkers had been carefully strimmed to produce clean edges, all paths and gates had been impressively well built and conservation areas (rare plants and lichen) were sensitively protected, with informative signage to explain their significance.  With hardly a divot mark or weed in sight, the course was in the best condition I've ever seen on any Scottish course.   The design is also quite stunning with one great hole after another.  This is the 6th, a 142 Yard Par 3 with a single large pot bunker protecting the plateau green.  I opted for an easy 6 iron, found the green and had a satisfying par on a really tricky looking hole (Stroke Index 16!)

This is the 7th, a 311 Yard slightly uphill Par 4.  There's a bit more room than you'd think when standing on the tee and thank goodness there was no wind to speak of.  I hit a good drive but my second shot was just short of the green and a bogey followed.  However, scoring was quickly coming secondary to just enjoying the experience.  By the 7th we'd all agreed that Skibo was simply outstanding in all respects.  We'd noticed that the greenkeepers had been laying sand around all of the greens.  Stu wondered why but clearly wasn't impressed when I speculated that it was probably to make them sandier (he'd left his house at 0330 hrs to drive up to Skibo and had clearly hoped for a more exact explanation!)  Part of the fun of playing all of the courses is the easy banter between the 3 of us, so I knew I was on risky ground asking Craig and Stu what the collective noun was for the collection of swans flying overhead at the time.  Stu thought it was a "box" (after the famous brand of matches).  Such are the heady matters discussed between friends during a game of golf.

This is the 8th, one of the holes bordered by the Dornoch Firth.  Again, the fairway is wider than you'd think, but even if you reach the green in regulation there's potential trouble awaiting.  Craig plays off 3 at Carnoustie so can play a bit, but faced with a 30 foot putt from the back of the 8th green to a hole cut near the front, his putt went straight off the front of the green, the ball ending up 40 yards away in heavy rough.  Made my bogey look pretty good, though.  There's a half-way house after the 12th(!), well stocked with free coffee, beers, fresh fruit and chocolate bars etc.  We'd no sooner finished sampling the bananas (honest!) than a guy turns up in a buggy with free bacon rolls and hot soup.  It would have been churlish to decline.

The 11th marks the start of a great stetch of holes bordered by Loch Evelix on your right.  The 11th is a dog leg right 418 yards, Par 4.  Craig tried to take on too much of the carry over the loch, but it was an old ball (another welcome feature of Skibo is that you tend to find new Pro V1s rather than lesser brands).  This is the 12th, a 397 Yard Par 4 where water again comes into play.  Craig found the water again, but we gave him a Mulligan (who was the famous Mulligan and how bad a golfer was he?).   Although I'd parred Holes 5 and 6, I was finding it easy enough to bogey every hole on the Back 9, and  pars were fast becoming like hen's teeth.

Until the 17th, that is, the signature hole at Skibo.  The 17th is a classic risk and reward Par 4, 304 Yards from the very back tee, but a more manageable 267 Yards from the Yellow Tee.  There are 5 deep bunkers to contend with if you take on the drive, but I laid up with an easy 3 wood, pitched on and 2-putted for an easy 4.  This is the view from the tee.  Stu also baled out, finding the left side of the fairway, but Craig easily drove level with the right side of the green (taking 3 more from there).

This is a short video of the views from the 17th Yellow Tee. A stunning hole.

The last hole at Skibo is a left dog leg 515 Yard Par 5 played over a swamp from the tee.  This swamp looked pretty wet but was remarkably dry (I'd failed to clear it from the tee) and a remarkably good place to hunt for Pro V1s!  I'd gone round in 87, net 76 (net 5 over) with 35 putts.  But the scores were pretty irrelevant as we'd all enjoyed playing what we think is probably the best course we've played so far in Scotland (or anywhere for that matter!) Skibo is expensive but my guess is that if you ever get the chance and get the perfect golfing weather we had, you'll not be worrying about the green fee.  You'll probably be like me, desperately keen to play it again sometime.  Simply a great golfing experience.

Invergordon GC - course no 546

The village of Invergordon is primarily a deep water port on the Cromarty Firth, but it's also got a pretty decent golf course, as Polly and I discovered when we played this 18 hole parkland course on 8 October 2012 after our earlier round over the Loch Ness Wee Course in nearby Inverness.  This is the 3rd at invergordon, a 441 Yard Par 4 and the Stroke Index 1 hole.  The Cromarty Firth is widely used for vessel storage, hence the oil rig in the background.  The course is 5743 Yards, Par 69, but was playing a bit shorter since temporary Winter tees had just been introduced (is it really that time already?).
This is a fairly flat and easy walking course but maybe we'd just been playing too much (or in my case caddying as well as playing) in the run up to this trip, as we were both pretty knackered by the time we'd got half-way round Invergordon.  Although the course itself is pretty short the layout was tricky to follow, even with the excellent map on the scorecard.  Indeed, we were left wondering whether the sequence of holes had been changed at some stage to disguise the fact that 10 of the holes run parallel to each other, reducing the up/down flow of the course. Tip - if you ever play here, the correct route from the 3rd tee to the 4th tee goes behind the 8th tee and the 7th green.  Try to avoid walking round aimlessly for 10 minutes, looking totally lost, as we did!
I'd played quite a few parkland courses in recent weeks that had been saturated with rain water e.g. Lethamhill, so it was a refreshing change not to have to wade through puddles.  Invergordon was in fine condition, with only the 8th showing any signs of the rain that seems to have soaked the country all Summer.  This is the 8th, a short 108 Yard Par 3.  The flag was in an easy position rather than tucked away to the right, behind the pond.  Indeed, all of the pin positions were front centre, giving another sign that the greens were being rested as much as possible in advance of the coming Winter.  I chipped an easy 9 iron tee shot to within a couple of feet for an easy birdie.  Go me!
Although the course was pretty dry underfoot it was still playing reasonably long, with little or no run on the fairways.  Between that and our tiredness from earlier exertions, it was easy enough to bogey rather than par holes, hence my gross 84, net 73, (net 4 over par) with 31 putts.  And just as we staggered our way to the last hole, Invergordon had one final test, this walk up to the 18th green. Your second shot on this 275 yard hole will be blind, so be mindful that the 1st tee is just beyond the back right side of the green. 
Here's a final view of Invergordon GC, looking back down the 18th a few minutes before sunset on a lovely warm Autumn day.  I liked the course and would recommend it.