Castle Park GC is an 18 hole parkland course in open countryside near the village of Gifford in East Lothian, measuring 5851 yards, Par 71 off the Yellow tees. Castle Park opened in 1994 as a 9 holer (now the back 9) with the intention that it would be extended in due course. I'd played the original 9 hole layout a few times as it's only a 20 minute drive from my house, but although the course was extended to 18 holes a few years ago, I only got round to playing the full 18 on 23 January 2012. This doesn't score as a new course in my ongoing quest to play every golf course in Scotland, but at least I've now played all of the holes at Castle Park! The original 9 holes measure only 2673 yards, so the "new" holes are longer (and thankfully flatter!). Overall, I really like the new layout. It's a good test and well worth a visit.
The "new" front 9 starts with a good 487 yard Par 5, dog leg right and slightly uphill after the drive. The fairway slopes left to right and there's a couple of lakes and a stream to avoid off the tee, as shown here. There had been a touch of frost overnight but the normal greens were in play (though a bit bumpy as might be expected at this time of year). I'd hit a good drive and 3 wood but my wedge was just a yard or so short, so my third ran back down the up slope at the front of the green, leading to an opening bogey. Although the weather forecast had suggested 4 degrees C max, there was a bitingly cold wind, requiring 4 top layers, a woolly hat and mitts to offset the chill factor. Not ideal for scoring, but at least it wasn't snowing.
The front 9 holes are generally pretty flat and open - for now at least. Hundreds of pine trees have been planted that will in time define the fairways and when these mature in a few years the course will change considerably, and hopefully offer more shelter against the kind of wind that I faced! This is a view from the 6th tee, giving you some impression of the openness and tree-planting I've mentioned. This is a 370 yard Par 4 requiring a drive between sections of dry stane dyke (a wall). This is a simple enough looking hole if you clear the wall as I did, but there's already enough trouble to cause problems. It's already the Stroke Index 1 hole and once the trees grow.....
I liked the 7th, a 158 yard Par 3 played directly into the low Winter sun, but the 540 yard Par 5 9th hole is probably the best of the new holes. This hole was slightly downhill and downwind, The drive needs to avoid a bunker on the right of the fairway (that I suspect will be toughened up and/or joined by others in years to come). Then you need to avoid the next fairway bunker, as shown here and stop short of a stream that cuts across the fairway at the bottom of a slope up to the green. This was a fairly easy hole which can only get tougher as this part of the course matures. An easy par for me this time!
The back 9 was just as undulating as I'd remembered it, but the small trees I'd seen some years ago had really grown and unsurprisingly, this part of the course had a more established feel to it. Scoring is easier in principle but you need to be straight and get your distances right. The 10th is a good 363 yard Par 4 played from an elevated tee with an uphill second to a plateau green, and a simple enough proposition, but the 11th and 12th will really get your attention. The 11th is a 358 yard Par 4 played blind over a steep hill 100 yards or so from the tee. Hit a good long drive and like me, you'd have only a sand iron to a small green located well below your feet. Miss and there's an almost certain bogey in store. I don't particularly like Par 3s that don't offer birdie chances to average golfers and the 12th definitely meets that definition. It's only 163 yards long, but the drive is all carry over a pond around 60 feet below the tee and the green is around the same level above the tee. All you see from the tee is a great big hill and at best the top of the flag. If like me you don't clear the hill in the first place, your ball can run back down the hill towards the pond, leaving you with a totally blind shot over the crest of the hill. Take a bogey and walk on!
The 14th is a more fair blind hole test. This is a 276 yard Par 4 played slightly uphill but totally blind (and directly into the low Winter sun). The small green is cut into a steep slope, as shown here and is overlooked by the ruins of an ancient castle. The course is located off a single track country road, so there was only the odd bird song to disturb the peace on this quietest part of the course. I had an easy par after losing the flight of my ball off the tee but this is a really good little hole. The last hole is a 378 yard Par 4 played blind over a hill (once you get your breath back after climbing up to the tee from the 17th!) with a steep hill up to the green. I was happy enough with a bogey after missing a reasonably short putt for par.
This is the 18th green, looking over to the clubhouse. I'd scored 81, net 71, net even par, with 31 putts. The greens were pretty bumpy and a few putts lipped out, so with better luck I'd probably have scored a bit better. Still, this was a good round of Winter golf and by the time I'd finished, it was even warm enough to take my hat and windcheater off. Castle Park is only a few miles from my house so I'll play it again. Net 71 is definitely a beatable target!