I played here on 21 March 2012 after my earlier round on the Greenock GC's 9 Hole Course. Greenock Whinhill is owned and operated by Inverclyde Council and is home to the local Greenock Whinhill GC, established in 1911. This is a hilly moorland course measuring 5504 Yards, Par 68, with no Par 5s lying high above the town on the old road across the moors to Largs. Although the lowest point on the course is 550 feet and the highest is 625 feet, suggesting that the course is relatively flat, there are some challenging hills and slopes to contend with. Throw in heavy peat-based soil and soggy underfoot conditions in some lower lying parts and this was quite a test. Although temporary greens were in place, it was a Wednesday, so the Greenkeeper allowed players to use the normal greens if they wished. I was advised by a local member that this allowed the greens to be rested over the Winter, while allowing players better playing conditions when the course was frost-free. I've not seen that done in quite the same way before, but it seemed sensible to use the normal greens on what was a warm very early-Spring day. The problem here was that there were no flags on the normal greens, so you either had to take your chances or walk forward and leave your putter in the hole, slowing down play. This is a view over the course from the 18th fairway, across to the 1st green, giving an indication of the openness of the landscape and the moorland nature of the course. I played Whinhill on a mild and almost windless day, but one of the locals assured me that it could be really windy and cold up there - and I believe him, having played on many other moorland courses by now!
Whinhill starts gently enough, with a downhill 370 Yard Par 4. Signage was very poor so I had to scout around, find a medal tee and work out the direction of play from there. But with 4 teeing grounds within a few yards of the 1st green, I really had to gamble that the 2nd was back up the hill towards the 1st tee, so some route markers would have helped. This is the 4th, a 201 Yard Par 3, aptly named "Panorama" with what proved to be holes 5-8 in the background. I'd been hoping that this would be the highest point on the course - not even close! This hole plays shorter than it looks, given the steep slope but I'd found a small patch of Ground Under Repair 20 yards short of the green, but par was easy enough from there. My next challenge was finding the 5th tee, over a small ravine. The 5th is a formidable 407 Yard Par 4, uphill, blind and OOB all the way up the right side, with a plateau green on top of a steep up slope. Anything short of the green just runs back to your feet. There's also a small fast-running burn (a stream, for any non-Scottish readers) hidden amongst the folds of land en route to the green. A triple-bogey 7 was disappointing, but at least my ball was pretty clean by the time I'd rescued it from the burn. Deservedly the Stroke Index 1 hole.
More tee-hunting followed and another local lad helped me find the 6th. At least I was able to follow him after being assured he would be playing a full round (in sequence, as I've been caught out before, following somebody playing only a few odd holes e.g. Ballochmyle). The 6th was downwind (such as it was!) and at only 261 Yards Par 4, offered a good birdie opportunity, one of a few on the course. I'd driven to the front of the green (well, the tee was a wee bit forward!) and a couple of putts gave me my only birdie at Whinhill. The 7th is a 181 Yard Par 3 played to a plateau green over an old quarry. The normal greens were in really good condition and surprisingly speedy, so it was no great surprise when I bogeyed this hole after missing the green from the tee. The 8th is a short 298 Yard Par 4, steeply downhill, named "Twa Burns" i.e. 2 streams, telling me all I needed to know about the need for caution. Sure enough, a burn ran across in front of the green, but I'd played conservatively and got my par easily enough. This is the 9th green, looking back down the hole, with my putter still in the hole as a guide, with a local water reservoir in the middle ground and the Firth of Clyde in the far distance. I'd reached the turn in 38, 5 over par, so not bad.
The 405 Yard Par 4 10th was played from a slightly forward tee but was still a formidable hole, with a wide and deep ravine splitting the fairway lengthwise and a steep climb up to the green and the highest point on the course. I was happy enough to get a 5. The 11th is steeply downhill, but there's no relief yet as the 12th takes you back up again, almost as high as the 10th green, but the views really are worth the trip. This is a view looking back down from the 12th green, with Helensburgh and Ben Lomond in the far background. The 13th is back down the hill again, taking you on to the difficult 14th, a 447 yard Par 4. Go for the left of the fairway to avoid a water hazard as this hole skirts along the side of the reservoir, then take a steep climb up to a green finishing in front of the clubhouse. A 20 foot single putt secured an unlikely par, taking me to Whinhill's signature hole.
The 15th is a downhill 187 Yard Par 3 played almost blind to a plateau green over a deep gully, with the reservoir immediately behind the green. It was a pity that there was no flag to aim at and a bit nerve-wracking that 3 guys in front had waived me through (you might see them waiting in the middle of this picture, ready to jump!) I'd missed the green to the left and with the green a few feet above my head, one of the guys bravely stood directly behind the hole. Now a delicate blind shot with a lob wedge can be tricky enough at the best of times, but add in 3 spectators, one of whom is being aimed at, and the potential for a duff was high. However, my shot of the day finished a yard from the hole and an easy putt secured the par and a round of applause. The guys lingered by the 15th for a while practising their short games so I had a clear run to the 18th. The 16th is a short 297 Yard Par 4, slightly uphill, but the drive must be straight to avoid gorse, whins and water. I played safe with my 3 Wood, but mis-judged my pitch to the green after my heroics at the previous hole. A bogey was disappointing. The 17th is a 275 Yard Par 4, with the green lying hidden behind a small hillock at the end of the fairway. I'd only 40 yards or so left but mis-hit my second shot, leading to a bogey. There's a kind of infinity edge to the back of the green, suggesting that there's a steep drop immediately behind it, but a great views, once again.
The 18th at Whinhill is a strong 459 Yard Par 4, uninspiringly called "Home" like so many other final holes. It's too much to hope for, but I almost wish they'd taken inspiration from the nearby Drumfocher Road, leading back down to Greenock. I'd set my sat nav to go to the nearby Port Glasgow GC a couple of miles away. The female voiceover on my system is very soft-spoken, under-stressing r's and mispronouncing the Scottish "ch" as "ck." For anyone not ahead of me by now, my sat nav pronounced this road as "dumb focker" but maybe that's too cruel a name for such a good closing hole, unless, that is, you've had a really bad round. I went round in 78, net 68, even net par for the second time that day, with 30 putts. I'd started the day with the ambition of playing the 18 Hole Port Glasgow course after Whinhill and the Greeenock 9 Hole Course. I wasn't really very tired, but I still had 100 miles to drive home and at first sight the Port Glasgow course looked to be even hillier than I'd expected. I'll play it another time.
I'd also play Whinhill again. Some "cooncil" courses are pretty basic, but this was a really good test and great fun to play, despite my signage problems and the absence of flags on the normal greens. Give it a try, but if you're tempted there over the Winter, make sure you go on a frost-free Wednesday.