Tuesday, 17 April 2012

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!

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