Monday, 23 April 2012

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. 


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