Monday, 23 April 2012

Torrance House Golf Course - Course no 498

This is an 18 hole parkland course measuring 5984 yards, Par 72, off the Yellow Tees that is owned and operated by South Lanarkshire Council and home to the private Torrance House GC. I played here after my earlier round at the nearby Playsport Golf Heritage Links on 23 April 2012.  As I said in my report on that other course, the Torrance House Starter had told me that his course could be prone to flooding, so I was keen to see whether the 2 courses, being so close to one another, would play differently.  Playsport had been dry underfoot and fast running, but from the first squelch and signs of casual water on the 1st at Torrance House, it was clear that the courses would play very differently.

The start at Torrance House is pretty good, with 3 Par 5s in the first 6 holes.  I don't hit the ball far enough to convert many Par 5s into birdie opportunities, so I was expecting the Front 9 to be quite a test.  The best hole on the Front 9 is probably the 6th, a 499 Yard Par 5.  The tee shot is played blind uphill and the fairway narrows considerably the further it goes, with a stream running across the width of the fairway just where a decent second shot would finish.  I'd mis-hit my second, leaving a simple wedge to the green, but this is a good hole, as shown here. 

I pretty much had the course to myself, meaning I could make decent time and even when I did catch up with a couple of guys on the 9th, they let me play through. This is the 9th fairway, with some ominously dark clouds gathering overhead. Heavy showers had been forecast for the afternoon and at the time it looked as though my round might include a good soaking, but the rain held off until shortly after I'd finished.  The 9th is a pretty typical Par 4 at Torrance House.  A decent drive is required to clear a water hazard, but the hole is only 326 yards, so a reasonable drive should set up a par. With that safely achieved I was out in 40, only 3 over par and since the back 9 is a bit shorter, it looked as though a decent score would be possible.

The Back 9 is also easier and 4 over on those holes meant I was round in 79, net 69, or 3 under net par, with 29 putts.  Torrance House finishes with 2 outstanding holes.  The 17th is a 494 Yard Par 5.  The tee shot is easy enough, to a wide and flat fairway.  However, your 2nd shot is slightly uphill and needs to be threaded between mature trees to leave a view of the green, as shown here.  There are no yardage markers on the course and I hadn't packed my leaser range finder, so the distance the green for my third shot was pure guesswork.  There's a deep gully in front of the green and anything slightly short runs back down the slope.  Anything long or wide catches other downslopes.  I opted for a 9 iron but that was a club short, hence my bogey 6. 

The 18th is a downhill 133 Yard Par 3 and one of the prettiest closing holes you could wish for, spoilt only by some overhead electricity cables.  An easy 7 iron set up a closing par.  It's difficult to believe that within 10 minutes the skies had opened, with torrential rain leading to a couple of nasty looking road accidents on nearby roads that I passed by on the way home.  Torrance House is well worth a visit but as the Starter had advised me, avoid the Winter months. These are a couple of photos of the last hole, with and without the cables.

Playsport Golf Heritage Links - Course no 497

This is a 9 hole course forming part of a new multi-sports (and multi-£ Million!) facility that opened in 2009 in East Kilbride, a largely industrial town a few miles South of Glasgow.  The idea was to create a fast-running links-style course, with the design of each of the holes inspired by some of the UK's most famous Open Championship courses (all of which are of course built on true links land).  However, East Kilbride is many miles from the coast and I'd been a bit sceptical about whether anything like a links course experience could be created so far inland.  One reason for that scepticism was that when I turned up to the nearby Torrance House GC course last October, the Starter advised that whilst the course was open for play, it was pretty saturated and was prone to Winter flooding so if I wanted to enjoy the course, I should come back in the Spring.  I took that advice as plodding through puddles can be pretty tortuous, even for committed golf enthusiasts like me.  Surely it wasn't possible to create a genuine links experience on land only a couple of miles away?  I played the Playsport and Torrance House courses on 23 April 2012 to see whether this was possible and whether the latter would be dry enough to enjoy its particular attractions.

The Playsport Golf Heritage Links course is 2525 yards, Par 32 off the White Medal tees.  I mention this because the hugely helpful and friendly staff on duty at Playsport offered me the choice (without asking the usual "what's your handicap" question first).   As I was to discover, this course offers a real test of your game, regardless of the tees used and with rolling hills, undulating fairways, tight links-like lies, large USPGA specification greens and 51 bunkers according to the website (I only found 2!) every aspect of your game is brought into play. 

The opening hole at Playsport takes its inspiration from the 2nd Hole on the Ailsa Course at Turnberry and at 420 yards, this Par 4 plays into the prevailing wind, with 6 fairway and greenside bunkers ready to swallow anything off-line.  Any doubts about whether the course could offer a true links experience were blown away from my first drive, which ran a good 30- 40 yards more than I'd expected.  I'd left myself 140 or so to the middle of the green, slightly downhill.  I opted for my 27 degree Rescue, a bad choice that finished 20 yards left and 10 yards long.  A delicate lob wedge to the green looked good, but on landing just ran and I would find out, the greens were seriously quick!  Bogey was OK.

This is the 2nd, a 189 yard Par 3 inspired by the 4th at Muirfield and similarly plays from an elevated tee to a deep green requiring accuracy, as the hole also plays into the prevailing wind. The yardage from the tee seemed deceptive and the wind factor and positions of the bunkers protecting the green added to the danger.  This is a testing Par 3 early on in the round and accuracy in your length and line is essential.  The large green also has steep run off areas to every edge... so be warned.  I live only 6 miles from Muirfield and have played it a few times, but I've never birdied the 4th, so it was great to hit a sweet 23 degree Rescue to 15 feet below the hole and sink the uphill birdie putt.

The 365 Yard Par 4 3rd usually plays downwind and is a left hand slight dog-leg inspired by the 4th at Royal Lytham & St Annes GC.  Position from the tee shot is important as it’s possible to run out of fairway on the right hand side which slopes off steeply. The brave shot off the tee is down the left which will leave you with a short iron to the green.  However, the left side of the fairway is protected by a series of bunkers, as is the green itself (surrounded by 5 scarily deep bunkers).  I got really lucky.  My drive was way left of the fairway bunkering but it's early season and the rough was still pretty benign.  I made the green in 3 shots without being anywhere near the fairway, but I was 20 feet away from the hole and the green sloped away from me.  My first putt did well to stay on the green, but I'd still 15 feet left for bogey.  I misread the line but sank the bogey putt - a real lucky break.

The 4th is a 200 Yard Par 3 as shown here, is inspired by the 16th at Carnoustie. The plateau green is protected on both sides by 5 bunkers meaning your tee shot needs to be accurate to avoid trouble and accurate distance off the tee is essential as beyond the green you're heading for OOB. The green is long and narrow with steep run off areas to the left and right.  I'd risked a 3 Wood off the tee, but went slightly long and left, my ball falling off the left side of the green into a grassy hollow.  I played what I thought was a pretty damn good lob wedge, only to see the ball trickle off into another hollow on the other side of the green, so a double bogey was disappointing. 

The 5th is a 475 Yard Par 5, based on the 4th at Royal St Georges GC and has the most demanding tee shot at Playsport.  Two huge bunkers (each lined with railway sleepers) must be avoided and finding the fairway off the tee is a must.  The correct line is well left of these bunkers and don't even think about trying to fly them (as I did!)These 2 bunkers are further way than they look and there's rough over the hill behind them. I found the smaller of these formidable hazards and scrambled my way to a bogey 6 with a single putt.  The 6th at Playsport is based on the 13th at Muirfield and is a 136 yard slightly uphill Par 3, with 5 pot bunkers protecting a long narrow green that slopes steeply down from back to front.  Hollows on both sides of the green add to the difficulty and a par here would be a great score.  I found one of the greenside bunkers and landed my ball a good 20 feet short of the hole, the downslope and gravity taking it 10 feet past and perilously close to another bunker.  A bogey was a relief and considerably better than the 15 I once took on the "real" hole at Muirfield!

The 173 Yard Par 3 7th is based on the formidable 11th on The Old Course at St Andrews.  I scrambled another par after just missing the green on the right and hitting an outstanding lob wedge to within a foot.  The 392 Yard Par 4 8th is based on the infamous Road Hole 17th at St Andrews with some keys differences.  There's a river to cross from the tee rather than railways sheds to avoid and the approach shot to the green plays steeply uphill and blind, especially if like me you hit a poor second way left towards OOB.  However, the road and pot bunker near to the green are faithfully replicated and overall, this is a really tough hole.  My third shot found a small patch of grass by the road and I scrambled an unlikely bogey 5 that could have been a lot worse!

The last hole at Playsport is a 175 yard Par 3, inspired by the 9th at Royal Lytham & St Annes, with  the most obvious difference being the large tree in the middle of Playsport's fairway protecting the green as shown in these 2 photos.  The only shot  is over the tree, avoiding 8 deep pot bunkers and OOB behind the green and to the left of the fairway.  The green is far longer than it looks and sl;opes from back to front.  I managed a par after finding the green with my 23 degree Rescue off the tee. Emboldened by that last good drive, I hit a second ball, just for fun.  All I'll say is that it's just as well no-one was playing  on the 5 a side football pitch some 30 yards left of the OOB fence!

I scored 38 gross, net 33, only 1 over net par, with 14 putts, and was pretty happy with that.  This course provides a difficult and demanding test of every part of your game especially from the back tees.  Even in April, Playsport played just like a links course should, with fast-running fairways and devilishly speedy greens.  I suspect that on a hot Summer's day when it has fully dried out and the wind is really blowing it could be a hugely tricky.  I've another few courses to play in the area, so maybe I'll get to play this course again sometime.  I hope so, since it's great fun.  Before playing here, I was sceptical about whether the design concept could work.  I was wrong, and it does, in spades!

Do yourself a favour.  If you're in the Glasgow area, try to make the short trip to East Kilbride to play this course.  Unbelievable value at only £15 for 9 holes that whilst maybe not as genuinely intimidating as I know some of the "real" holes are, nevertheless offer a real links-style experience. 


Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Tongland Family Golf Centre - Course no 496

This is a pay as you play 9 Hole Par 3 Course, measuring just 1135 Yards, Par 27, located a couple of miles inland from Kircudbright.  I played here on 16 April 2012 after the round at nearby Kirkcudbright GC.  Heavy rain had been forecast for the afternoon and sure enough some ominously dark clouds were gathering just as we left Kirkcudbright GC after lunch.  This is a view from the 1st tee at Tongland, a couple of minutes before the first downpour.  With the course being so short, I judged that  I could get round pretty quickly, but an elderly couple were also getting ready, so if I was to get onto the course first, I'd need to take my full bag of clubs and run!  Bad idea, as it would be difficult running round even this short and hilly course with a full bag.  The rain duly started in earnest on the 2nd Hole and my competitors for pole position on the tee opted for a cup of tea and the adjacent sheltered driving range.

This is the 3rd, an awkward 120 yard steeply downhill Par 3 with OOB on the right and a small pond protecting the right side of the green.  The rain doesn't show up particularly well but I can assure you it was heavy enough to encourage running between shots, full golf bag or not!  The other feature of play worth mentioning is that although the rough had been cut back severely, none of the clippings had been removed.  The result was that any ball hit even remotely offline risked being lost. 

I scored an impressive 31 gross, net 26, or 1 under net par, with 14 putts, in just under 35 minutes!  Speed Golf after all the golf I'd played in recent days was not what I'd planned, but at least I'd got round Tongland in reasonable time, minimising the soaking.  A good beginners' facility, but unless you can hit it straight take a bag of balls if the rough hasn't been fully tamed when you front up to play here.

A final view of the course from the 9th green just as the rain eased enough to let me get back to the car.

Kirkcudbright GC - Course no 495

This is an 18 hole parkland course measuring 5412 Yards Par 68 off the Yellow tees.  Polly and I played the course early on 16 April 2012 on a day that began brightly but with every passing hour threatened the heavy rain that had been forecast (but more of that later).  We were both pretty tired out after our previous rounds and Polly still had her cold.  The club's Course Planner states that "The gentle slopes...reward the golfer with magnificent panoramic views over the Galloway Hills and the Dee estuary."  The views are indeed spectacular, but I'm not so sure about the "gentle slopes" bit.  Indeed, by the time I'd reached the top of the 7th Hole and surveyed some of the equally high holes yet to come, I thought to myself that if I'd wanted to be a hill farmer I'd have bought a sheepdog.  Maybe that's being unkind, but we both thought that this was a seriously hilly course.  This is a view of the 18th green and the clubhouse.

The Kirkcudbright course (pronounced "kirkoobree") is parkland in nature and starts at street level at the back of the town, winding its way up into lush farmland before returning down to the town.  The 1st should be easy enough, despite having a blind second shot to a small green, but the course really comes to life  from the 2nd.  The fairway runs uphill and slopes steeply left to right, with another blind shot over a hillock to a small green with OOB alarmingly close by.  A couple of opening bogeys were quickly followed by several more, with my opening par coming at this, the slightly downhill 176 Yard Par 3 9th Hole.  A pond guards the left side, but just aim at the right side and the contours take the ball down onto the green.  Polly also scored a good par and this her getting ready to play the hole.

The best hole at Kirkcudbright was probably the 11th, an awkward 279 Yard Par 4, as shown here.  I'd played a 3 Wood to just beyond the marker pole and from there had a short pitch steeply downhill to a small elevated green well protected by a pond and a stream cutting across in front of the green.  A par there was good and although I was finding the course pretty tiring, my game held up reasonably well - but not enough, as Polly won our Stableford match easily to square our Summer 2012 holiday golf matches 3-3 (I'd won narrowly at  the Cally Course). 

We also liked this, the steeply downhill 15th, a 213 Yard Par 3 that played far shorter than it looked.  You've got to respect any hole when the Course Planner warns you twice in as many sentences that the green is difficult to putt on.  There's a flat bit at the top left of the green, but there are seriously steep slopes to contend with and the hole had been cut on just such a slope.  With more time to spare I could have amused myself for hours and still not mastered this green, so a bogey was hardly a surprise.  Thereafter, the last 2 holes are almost completely flat, and a welcome relief after the severe elevation changes on almost all of the previous holes. 

This is the 18th, a gentle 383 Yard Par 4, but take care not to go left.  My second shot was only slightly offline but went perilously close to the clubhouse and OOB, as shown.  I'd gone round in 86, net 76, or 8 over net par, with 34 putts.  Maybe I was just tired, but I did find the hills on this course a bit of a struggle.  I doubt we'll play it again, given the other high quality courses in the area that we preferred e.g. Stranraer and Wigtown County. 

New Galloway GC - Course no 494

Craig and Stu had both played 5 (!)  new Scottish courses on 14 April 2012 before joining Polly and I to play the Cally Course on the 15th, so they drove home after Cally, hopefully for a well deserved rest.  I played at New Galloway GC after our Cally round.  Polly wasn't feeling too great with a cold so sat this one out.  New Galloway is a 9 hole course on the edge of the Galloway Forest Park in the far South West of Scotland.  Although well inland, the course has the bent and fescue grasses typical of our links courses and plays very much like a links course, the main difference being that New Galloway is extremely hilly, with the bottom half of the course laid out amongst woodland and the top half being mainly moorland in nature. 

The club's website offers an interesting perspective on golf course design, mentioning that the course architect George Baillie was originally from Musselburgh and was one of the major influences in the development of golf in Ireland.  He was a founder member of the club at Newcastle, County down which later became the Royal County Down Golf Club.  When Old Tom Morris was engaged to lay out the links there, he is reported to have said of Mr Baillie's work on the course: "I wonder why they send for me; this Mr Baillie kens mair aboot laying golf links than I dae."  New Galloway's history goes on to say that Mr Baillie's fee for designing the New Galloway course was £4 and that when it was built with only hand tools in 1902, the construction costs came to under £18 in total.  Accordingly, this is an entirely natural course and the design simply follows the flow of the land.  Gorse bushes add definition to the fairways and are hazards to be avoided and the greens are as slick as you'd ever wish for on links land.  This is a view from the 3rd tee, but could easily be mistaken for somehere on a links course.

I must confess that I found the course layout confusing.  New Galloway describes itself as a 9 hole course, but there are 10 greens and 10 teeing grounds.  I think the explanation is that the 1st plays as a 199 Yard Par 3 from the Yellow tees to the "Lower 1st Green" and as a 302 Yard Par 4 from the White tees to the "Upper 1st Green."  The 2 holes are certainly named the same "Quarry Knowe" and share the same fairway, but another interpretation would be that there are 10 separate holes available here, with 9 in play for any given round.  The mistake I made was to assume that the 1st was a Par 3 on the front 9 and a Par 4 if and when a back 9 was added to your round.  Accordingly, I played New Galloway as an 18 hole course measuring 4643 Yards, Par 67, playing the 1st from both the Medal and Yellow tees and the rest of the holes from the Yellow tees.  My confusion also stemmed from finding a 15 Hole Scorecard beside the club's Honesty Box, with Holes 3-8 played twice, the 2nd and 9th Holes played only once and the 1st Hole only once as a Par 4.  This unique layout minimises the climbing involved for anyone wanting to play more than 9 holes.  Confused? 

This is the 1st Hole from the Yellow tee, with both the Lower and Upper Greens shown.  Unfortunately, this photo does not show the steepness of the slope, but the views from up on top are spectacular and well worth the effort.  I scored a bogey 5 on both versions of the 1st Hole and from there put a couple of balls in play on each subsequent hole rather than actually walk round the whole course twice.  The 2nd/11th Hole is a short 252 Yard steeply uphill Par 4, played blind from the tee but easy enough if you take your time and admire the views.  The 3rd/12th is more tricky, as the photo above from the 3rd/12th tee might suggest.  The key is to avoid the gorse bushes and leave yourself a short wedge to the green played blind over a hillock, stopping short of the OOB immediately behind the green. 

The 4th/13th is a 117 Yard steeply downhill Par 3.  Just throw a pitch over the large gorse bush 70 or so yards from the tee and hope that gravity does the rest!  The 5th/14th is a 373 Yard Par 4 with a blind tee shot over a wall to a side sloping fairway and a second shot to a small plateau green.  The 6th/15th plays steeply downhill to a wide fairway and then uphill and completely blind over a gorse-covered hillock to a small green.  This hole is only 256 yards in total and if you feel lucky, go for this tiny gap in the gorse and let the ball run down onto the green.  I got lucky and got a par once out of my 2 attempts!

The 7th/16th is an almost blind steeply uphill but thankfully short Par 3.  You only see the very top of the flag from the tee. Take a full wedge/easy 9 iron at most and then stop to admire the outstanding views down Loch Ken and the surrounding Galloway Hills, as shown in this photo.  The 8th and 17th is a strong mainly uphill 348 yard Par 4 and the Stroke Index 1 and 2 holes, played from an elevated tee with a blind uphill second shot to a small sloping green.  I bogeyed it both times despite good drives.  The second shot is longer than you think, so allow an extra club (at least!)

The 9th/18th tee is worth the walk on its own. This is the panoramic view from the tee, steeply downhill. 337 Yards Par 4, but get your drive away and the ball just runs and runs and runs... I went through the back of the green both times with a sand iron and scored 2 bogeys, so be warned! This was a fun course to play, despite the climbs involved.  Now that I've studied my scorecard more closely, my Back 9 score of 40, net 35 with 16 putts, as played from the Yellow tees, is probably the score that should count if New Galloway had been played as a 9 Hole Course.  But for the record, I scored 80 in total from the hybrid 18 Hole Course that I mistakenly saw on the day, net 70, or 3 over the net par, with 33 putts.  And for completeness, my 15 hole score would have been 65, net 57.

I recommend you give this excellent wee course a try and admire the ingenious design and the outstanding quality of the fairways and greens.  I just hope you don't get as confused as I did.

Cally Golf Course - Course no 493

Wow! I suspect that when Craig, Stu and I eventually complete our challenge to play every course in Scotland our game on 15 April  2012 over the Cally Golf Course owned and operated by the Cally Palace Hotel in Gatehouse of Fleet will stand out as one of our most enjoyable "Challenge" experiences.  To set the scene, this 18-hole parkland course has no club members or day visitors and can only be played by residents staying at McMillan Hotels in the area, and the Cally Palace Hotel is well beyond our normal price range.  Polly and I had played at the excellent Wigtownshire County GC on 14 April 2012 so we were delighted to receive the McMillan Hotel Group's offer for all four of us to stay overnight at Cally Palace and play the course on 15 April with their complements, on condition we donate £150 between us to the Cancer Research UK charity.  The hotel itself is pretty special, but the Cally Course was simply great.  We played early on the Sunday morning and pretty much had the course to ourselves before some other guests started well behind us.  Craig and I played from the Men's Medal tees, making the course 6062 Yards, Par 71.  Stu played from the Yellows and Polly from the Reds and it was Polly and I playing a 4 Ball against Craig and Stu for the bragging rights.
The Cally Course dates back to 1994 and is laid out over rolling parkland and mature woodland.  The design is fantastic with water and trees coming into play on particular holes.  The course looked as though it could be pretty soggy underfoot over the Winter months, but when we played it on a cool but sunny Spring morning the conditions were pretty near perfect, with dry fairways and true-running medium paced greens.  This is the view from the 1st fairway on a stunningly clear and bright morning.  Our only minor criticism was that the new sand in all of the bunkers hadn't been compacted yet, meaning that balls would plug and it was almost impossible to take a firm stance or get balls out of a bunker first time.  Bunkers are supposed to be hazards, but we quickly realised that these bunkers had to be avoided at all costs.  Our suspicion that they were also magnetic was also confirmed!

The course starts pretty gently with a short downhill Par 4 and a medium length Par 3.  Hole 3 is a straight and narrow 400 Yard Par 4 with a large pond protecting the front of the green, so Tom Macauley, the Course Architect, was clearly asking us whether we'd woken up yet!  The next few holes are increasingly demanding, with trees and bunkers coming seriously into play.  I slumped to a Snowman (8) on the 378 Yard Par 4 5th after finding a greenside bunker in 2, but we were all having difficulties with the sand, so at least that bad hole wasn't the exception.  This is the difficult 8th, a 590 Yard slightly uphill Par 5, with a pond to the right of the fairway, just where our second shots (or maybe the 4th for Stu!) could land.  I missed a short putt for par, but that was my favourite hole on the Front 9.

The 11th is one of the easier Par 4s at only 347 Yards.   A good straight drive and a short iron and a putter from just off the green was enough to secure my sole birdie of the day.  I'd missed the green on the short Par 3 12th, but a putt from the light rough secured another par.  Twelve holes played and only 14 putts in total on the greens was keeping my score respectable.  And so to the Stroke Index 1 13th Hole, a 519 yard Par 5 and easily the best hole on the course.  Craig plays off 3, hits the ball a mile and by the time he'd reached the green in 4 was alreADY claiming that this was possibly the most difficult Par 5 he'd ever played, so let's just say it's more than a wee bit tricky!  The drive has to be accurate to avoid pine trees on both sides of the fairway.  Right side is best, setting up a second shot to minimise the carry over a seriously imposing lake.  The rest of the fairway threads its way between trees and the lake and if you can avoid both, the third shot has to clear a gully and stream running directly in front of the green.  This is the view from around 300 yards out, with the sunlit green in the middle of the picture.  I'd found the right side of the fairway OK, but my only shot was over the left side of the lake and short of the trees, to leave 150 yards or so to the green. 

So far so good, but I'd gone a few yards too far with my second shot and was completely blocked out by a huge Scots Pine tree.  I'd avoided the lake, as shown here with the impressive hotel in the background, but found deep rough instead.  A double bogey seemed by best hope, but a weak sand iron to the green found an awful plugged lie in the small pot bunker underneath the front of the green, so a rare 10 was the result - we lost that hole!  Another bunker found on the next hole led to a second Snowman, but Polly halved the hole in 5, so we were only 2 down with 4 to play.

The 15th (rightfully named "Mcauley's Best" ) is another great hole, this time a 519 Yard Par 5.  The first 400 yards are slightly uphill, with the rest of the hole steeply downhill, with a pond and  a stream protecting the green, as shown here.   We won that hole with my 6, net 5.  My putting was still good and my 6th single putt of the round (in addition to holing out from off the green twice) helped us win the 16th, taking us back to all square.  The 17th is a 221 Yard Par 3, but I missed my short putt for par and were still all square going down the last.

This is the daunting view from the 18th Medal tee.  Only a 271 yard Par 4 from there, but very considerably shorter for Polly (who had the Course Planner!)  Accordingly, I didn't know that there was a stream running across the fairway 186 yards out, so it was very lucky that my duffed drive finished just short of the stream, leaving an easy pitch to the green.  I'd a 40 foot putt for the match but lipped out to a couple of inches, so our match finished all square.  I'd found a few bunkers and been heavily punished and played a few indifferent shots (which is normal at my standard of golf) so a gross 93, net 83, 12 over net par was disappointing.  However, it could have been a lot worse had I not had only 26 putts, so I'm not complaining.  This was a great game of golf, with some amazingly good and bad shots from all of us on a seriously good golf course.  If you're very lucky, you'll play it in the perfect conditions we enjoyed.  You'll be even luckier if you have the kind of close match that we had, with honours even amongst friends at the end.  Just play it if ever you get the time.

Thanks again to McMillan Hotels for their generous support in helping us to play this excellent course.  Craig is already planning to return with his young family sometime, but even if Polly and I never get back there, we'll at least have fond memories of a truly great morning's golf.  And maybe sometime in my dreams I'll par the 13th!

Monday, 16 April 2012

Wigtownshire County GC - Course no 492

Polly and I had entered the Mixed Foursomes competition played on 14 April 2012 at Wigtownshire County GC, so we added another 4 courses (but more about them in separate Blog entries) to make it a 3-day trip.  Wigtownshire County is an 18 hole links course measuring 6104 Yards, Par 70 from the Men's Medal tees and 5414 Yards, Par 72 from the Ladies' Red tees.  This is a true links course built on sand-based soil by the shores of Luce Bay at the very South-West tip of Scotland.  The course is flat, easy-walking and very tight, with some holes overlapping to the extent that extreme care is required to keep your ball within the confines of the hole you're playing (nothing new there then, Alan!)   There's only one Par 5 and even that plays short, given the fast-running links fairways, and there's only two Par 4s over 400 yards.  Accuracy off the tees is vital as there are lots of tough bunkering and gorse bushes to avoid.  The weather was sunny and cold but otherwise pretty benign when we played "The County" but it's easy to imagine that this could be a really tough test in dry Summer conditions when the wind was really blowing, as it can across our links land.

We'd been quietly optimistic about our chances in this competition as we were both playing reasonably well and the course looked to be in superb condition (which it was).  However, our most recent putting had been on the slow and bumpy greens at Seafield and I at least did not come to terms with the smooth and fast-running "County" greens.  A total of 39 putts (I can't remember the last time we didn't manage at least one single putt green) and the odd miss-hit shot contributed to our downfall.  We finished on 95, net 79.5, so that was slightly disappointing. Still, at least we played with the pairing who finished second (and who might have won had they not gone a few inches out of bounds on this, the tricky 10th Hole).

We both loved the course.  There's not a weak hole at "The County" and the views out to sea to the Mull of Kintyre and the Isle of Man in England are stunning. This is the 4th green, with the Isle of Man clearly visible in the far distance.  This was probably my favourite hole, a 371 Yard Par 4, with the hole hugging the shoreline (OOB) all the way.  Anything right or long could be disastrous - and we still managed a double bogey without finding a bunker, gorse or the OOB!  Indeed, OOB really comes into play on 6 of the holes, so miss a fairway at your peril.

A few brief facts about "The County" -
  • originally a 9 hole course opened in 1894 a mere 4 weeks after the land was acquired, so the layout simply uses the land "as was"
  • extended to 18 holes in 1978 and impossible now to guess which were the new holes
  • annual membership costs £280 (£90 over October-March for Winter-only adult membership and £20 a year for under 14s!)
This is the view of the clubhouse from the 18th fairway.  There's a few yards between the back of the green and the start of the car park, but only a few and the 1st tee is also nearby.  We'd parked sensibly, well behind the clubhouse, but this is not the place to hit a wayward shot.  "The County" is a good 3.5 hour drive from our house but it's just off the A75 and within a few miles of the ferry to Northern Ireland, so we might get the chance to play it again en route to Ireland (where we regularly go for yet more golf).  I hope we play this course again, as it's a real treat for anyone who likes the challenge of links golf. 

Play it if you are ever in the area.  Thousands of golfing tourists travel each year to spend a fortune playing the justifyably World-famous courses at Turnberry and beyond, yet I imagine few Turnberry tourists would know that Wigtownshire County is only a hour or so down the road and offers just as true a links golf experience at a fraction of the cost.  That's a great pity, since the average-standard player would probably score better over this wee course and enjoy it just as much. By all means play the famous courses, but do some research to find local courses such as Wigtown County that you'll never have heard of and that are just a joy to play, where the welcome is just as warm and play can be quicker and just as enjoyable.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Seafield Golf Course - Course no 491

Seafield is an easy-walking18 hole parkland course in Ayr, measuring a short 5253 Yards, Par 68, from the Yellow Tees.  The course is owned and operated by South Ayrshire Council and shares the same site as the Belleisle Course, which I played in July last year (see Blog entry 418).  Polly and I played the Seafield course on 12 April 2012 and the plan had been to play another local course (Roodlea) afterwards.  However, Seafield was very busy and it was our misfortune to start behind a group of 4 balls, with the group immediately in front of us being particularly slow, so Roodlea will need to be done another day.  Belleisle is a far more demanding course, which I guess might explain why it was almost deserted whilst groups of mainly elderly men were clogging the Seafield course. 

The Seafield course is compact to the point of being potentially dangerous, with most of the tees located too close (and often immediately behind) previous holes.  Accordingly, and in addition to waiting to play our drives and approach shots to greens, we were sometimes having to wait until the group in front were clear of the next tee before we could play.  All very frustrating, with the group in front losing at least 2 holes to the group in front of them and not having the wisdom/courtesy to let us (or the considerable queue behind us!) play through.  The Council's Course Ranger was on the course throughout, but did nothing to speed up play, being seemingly content to spectate, despite obvious evidence of slow play ahead of us.  The course was in reasonable condition, but the greens were hairy, bumpy and very slow.  The bunkers could have been raked sometime this year - but certainly not recently. I managed to hole this short putt for par on the 1st but any putt over 2 feet was just a lottery.  Maybe the Seafield course just gets too much use or has suffered particularly badly over the Winter, but had we known just how bare some areas were around the greens we'd have played preferred lies from the beginning.  We did eventually adopt that Winter tactic as it was sometimes almost impossible to play decent pitch shots from close in, particularly on some back 9 holes. 

I don't want to be entirely negative about Seafield, though.  OK, the pace of play was ridiculously slow and the course was not at its best, but the actual design is pretty good, apart from the safety issue on some holes that I've mentioned.  On the front 9, I thought Holes 2 and 6 were very good.  The 2nd is a 349 yard Par 4 played blind from the tee, with the small green lying beyond a stream that cuts across the fairway and comes into play on some other holes.  The 6th is a 283 Yard Par 4, sharp dog leg right, with a wall running all the way down the left side.  My bold drive over the corner actually worked, with my ball finishing 20 or so yards from the green.  I'd reached the turn in 37 (4 over par with a couple of 3 putts), but 2 hours for a paltry 2600 yards worth of holes was tedious work.  The back 9 is only slightly longer at 2652 yards, but has a par of 35, with a number of short Par 4s.  The best hole at Seafield is probably the 17th, as shown above.  This is a 301 Yard Par 4, played blind and downhill from the tee, with a stream immediately in front of the green, which slopes steeply from back to front.  Had the green been running faster, my putt from the back of the green could have been pretty testing, but I got lucky that my approach putt finished close enough for an easy par. 

Seafield closes with an interesting 274 yard Par 4, requiring an accurate drive between heavy rough and trees to the right and trees to the left.  There's more space than you think, but a testing drive nevertheless.  This is the 18th green - and yes, I missed the 6 foot birdie putt! For the record, I went round in 81, net 71, or 3 over net par, with 34 putts.  Not too bad, but I 3-putted twice, other putts went almost sideways on the bumpy greens and I fluffed a couple of lob wedge shots from bare lies, so the score might have been so much better had the course been in better condition. 

Seafield is worth playing, but if you're tempted I hope that you get it on a quieter day than we had and that the course is in better condition.  If by chance you do try it out, say hello to Polly's new Titleist 3 (with 3 red dots around the number), as it may still be firmly lodged near the top of the 60 foot Pine that stands 50 yards out from the 16th tee on the centre-left of the fairway.  Clearly visible from the tee, Polly claims.

Friday, 6 April 2012

If Carlsberg did Par 3s...

This blog is all about my experiences of playing every course in Scotland, but every now and then I feel the need to record some other golf experiences, so here's some waffle about a trip to Vilamoura in the Algarve, Portugal, that Polly and I have just returned from.   We'd heard great things about golf in Vilamoura, so we had to see for ourselves what all the fuss was about.  Our first course was the Royal Course at Vale Do Lobo.  This course has one truly great hole, the 16th, requiring a carry of 215 metres from the Championship tee over a couple of cliffside ravines and a huge bunker.  This is a good photo I've trawled from the Internet that shows this daunting hole at its best. Anything short or left is dead, as are you, if you look for your ball! The course was pretty busy when we played it on 30 March 2012, with the round taking nearly 5 hours.  We'd feared the worst when no-one out of the 3-ball in front managed to break 10 on the 1st, just as the rain started.  Things didn't get much better when we realised that the Royal is probably the most disjointed course we'd ever played, requiring several main roads to be crossed and long walks between holes, typically through surrounding holiday-home housing, much of it lying empty.  The guys in front gave up after 9 holes (after nearly 3 hours!), so at least we could speed things up a bit.  The thunder and lightning started on the 12th, but by then we were resigned to taking whatever the course and the skies wanted to throw at us and although the storm got pretty damn close (7 seconds between lightning flashes and thunder claps) we kept our heads down and toughed it out.  The steeply uphill 500 yard walk between the 14th green and the 15th tee coincided with the storm passing us by, so at least we could tackle the rest of the course in relative safety.

This is me playing from the Championship tee on the 16th.  I'd played from the Yellow tees, but I couldn't resist the challenge.  The Pro Tip in the Stroke Saver invited me to aim to the right and leave myself a short chip to the green, but I'd not braved the passing storm just to wimp out.  Admittedly, I used an old ball and took Driver from the tee, but  a heroic up and down from the middle of the huge bunker in front of the green meant I'd parred the hole, reputedly one of the most scenic and difficult Par 3s in Europe.  As the adverts might say, if Carlsberg did Par 3s....It's just a pity that the rest of this course is so badly disjointed, hilly and otherwise unremarkable.  It's well worth playing in order to experience the 16th, but that hole aside, this was our least favourite course on the trip.

Our next game was over the Ocean Course at Vale Do Lobo on 1 April 2012 a bright, sunny and hot day.  We really liked this course, with its rolling hills and great sea views.  Water comes into play on some holes and you need to steer your ball carefully, avoiding the many water hazards and trees that come into play.  This is Polly admiring the sea view on one of the back 9 holes.    This was my second favourite course.  Polly ranked it 3rd but if Vilamoura is your kind of golfing holiday, this course is a good test, well worth playing.

Our third course was the Oceanico Victoria in Vilamoura, home to the Portugese Open on the European Tour.  This Arnold Palmer design has oceans of water to avoid and is seriously difficult, even off the Yellow tees. This is my view from the 18th tee.  If there was a carbuncle award for Portugese hotel design the monolith behind the clubhouse would surely win hands down.  Truly ugly.  We both played the course pretty well, but again, the pace of play was funereal.  We'd started behind a guy in a buggy and his 3 young sons.  2 hours for 6 holes before they let us through, just as the rain got seriously mean.  Good course though, which I'm proud to say I negotiated without losing a ball.

Our last course was the magnificent Old Course at Vilamoura, easily our favourite of the 4 courses we'd played.  A tremendous course, set amongst mature pine and cork etc trees.  We'd been paired to play with a couple of guys from Aberdeen playing off +1 and 6.  The +1 guy was just awesome off the Championship tees.  I parred 4 out of the opening 5 holes, but a couple of treble bogeys ruined my card.  I'd been hoping to play to my handicap but 7 over ( a gross 90) was not too bad as I'd only really made a mess of 2 holes. This is the 4th, a 149 metre Par 3.  Just carry the pond, tree and bunker and don't 3 putt! Simples.

Regular readers will know that Polly and I play for our own trophy on our annual golfing holidays, a small silver replica of the Claret Jug. 2 matches each so far after our Portugese trip, with another 10 or so matches to play on our 2012 trips, so early days.  I doubt we'd go back to Vilamoura, though.  There's no town as such, just a sprawl of marinas, hotels, holiday homes, bars and restaurants, with inflated prices to match.  A popular destination for the many golfing parties who visit, but not really for us.  We prefer places with more character and it was disappointing to hear from the few locals we met that they couldn't afford to play golf, or even shop in the tourist areas.  A development too far?