Monday, 16 July 2012

Royal Aberdeen GC - Balgownie Course - Course no 515

In a word, awesome!  The Royal Aberdeen GCs website emphasises that this is a very difficult course suitable only for those with a 24 handicap or better.  Craig plays off 2 at Carnoustie, no less, a championship links course with a formidable reputation.  Anyone who can lay claim to that handicap must know a thing or two about links golf and by the time Craig had finished his round over Balgownie, he was claiming that the front 9 here was more testing than the same stretch at Carnoustie.  I've certainly played nearly all of the great Scottish links courses, apart from Turnberry Ailsa and I'd certainly agree with Craig on that one.  When Polly, Craig Stu and I played the Balgownie course on 9 July 2012, it was dry and cold, with a stiff wind making the outward 9 even longer and more testing.  This is how the club's website describes the course.  I've added my own comments in bold italics, with some photos.

"Balgownie is one of the truest linksland layouts in golf. It's a course to test the better golfer, one who can accommodate the many variable conditions this arduous links can throw at you. Balgownie's front nine holes rank amongst the very best in the world. No two are the same within a natural ecosystem, interspersed with rich turf and tight rolling fairways, that is a sheer delight to behold. The Balgownie course is a classic links layout - out through the dunes and back along a plateau. The 1st offers a wide fairway playing slightly downhill from the elevated clubhouse (the tee box set immediately in front of the clubhouse windows) before dropping into a deep hollow just before the raised green. On a course that is not known for its large greens, the 1st offers one of the more difficult, leaning towards you and sloping off to the left with Aberdeen Beach immediately behind."  This is a view of the 1st green, with my 3 intrepid compadres already sensing the scale of the challenge that awaited us.

"The following holes make up the most unaffected piece of golf terrain you are ever likely to encounter and worthy of all the praise and rancour that gets poured upon it. The 2nd is a wonderfully natural par 5, a long carry over grassy hillocks then on through the windy, winding valley with high dunes on the right and tangling gorse to the left. It can seem relatively calm in the valley and so it is easy to be deceived. Long, low irons along the markedly undulating fairway might help avoid the full strength of any bluster." A stiff wind was blowing into our faces on the front 9, adding to the challenge.  Polly had opted to play from the Red Tees, from which Balgownie is a hugely testing 6000 Yard test for even a low handicap lady golfer.  Now Polly can really play as I know to my cost sometimes, but on some holes even her best and straightest shots didn't reach the fairways, so she really didn't have much chance in those conditions.  I'd hit a really good drive off the 2nd tee, but as with so many of the Balgownie holes, the fairway was really, really  tight.  This is a view of the 2nd hole from the 16th tee.

"The 3rd is an exceptional, and by the stroke index the hardest of the Par 3’s on the course. The challenge is mainly due to its length, an elevated tee shot at 248 Yards off the championship tee and depending on the wind direction it can be everything you’ve got in the bag and more. There is the opportunity to land it short and to the right of the green, there the ball will tend to be gathered by the slopes and run down to the fringe or if it has the legs the green." Our tee shots from the Men's Yellow Tee at the 3rd were 210 yards, directly into the wind, from an elevated tee, playing something like 240+.  I opted for Driver aimed at a patch of light rough 200 yards or so away, in the hope of hitting it, finding my ball and scrambling a bogey.  That was really my only option and I was delighted to achieve it.

"Stroke Index 1 occurs at the 4th where you must initially find the fairway but just like the 3rd hole the high tee creates more of a wind influence. A good tee shot preferably down the right side of the fairway will allow a more favourable line into the long and narrow green." The 4th is only 377 yards from the Yellow tee, but into that wind it was playing 420+.  This is where my 3 wood second shot landed - note the narrowness of the fairway if you can't reach in 2 shots! "If you simply place the ball over 200 yards at the 5th it can be a good birdie opportunity, leaving around 130 yards into a well-protected green. A driver’s clearly not necessary as the hole becomes more difficult the closer in you get." But on a windy day even this short Par 4 is a beast.  The front-right greenside bunker (behind which the pin is often placed) gathers up everything so be longer on the approach.

"The 6th is another birdie chance, not a long Par 5 and hitting into a sunken valley. The 2nd shot is critical as the fairway again bottlenecks and the green is well protected by bunkers just short and front of the green, so going longer is best or lay up for a short pitch in. There is a pinch of fairway showing from the 7th tee indicating a dog-leg right but faint-hearted first-timers shouldn’t take chances and simply play a straight shot for position preferably on the left side of the fairway otherwise the least that could happen is you catch the fairway bunker on the right. From any fairway position, the narrow green entrance with its protective bunkers and mounds calls for judicious play. The two pot bunkers around 10 yards short of the green create an illusion that they are closer. It is a two-tiered green running across the putting surface so be mindful of the pin placement. The 8th is the course’s signature hole, a Par 3 that changes its spots to suit conditions, a 3-iron one day, a pitching wedge the next. Nine bunkers surround the green like dragon’s teeth and the only way home is straight down its throat." For us, the 7th played downwind, 139 yards playing around 125 as shown here.  An easy 8 iron looked about right for me but a 9 would have been better, as I 3-putted from 60 feet - easy enough to do on such difficult greens.

"The 9th curves right over the burn and climbs steadily up the dunes. A new bunker at 290 yards will catch those trying to get the absolute most out of cutting the corner. This leaves a long, uphill second shot so make sure you have enough club– at least one more to reach a long green. With gorse and thick grass on the left a visible deterrent, favour the right side once again."  At 436 Yards and uphill with a narrow fairway and severe rough either side, this is an absolute monster directly into the wind.  I'd played the front 9 well in that I'd hit every drive, found almost every fairway and hit my fairway shots pretty well.  OK, I'd 3-putted twice but after losing 4 balls after only just entering the rough on each occasion I was out in a shattering 54.  Not good and I was still waiting for my first par of the round.

"Home again turning at the 10th with the wind most often coming out of the southwest, Balgownie’s back nine is different in appearance and nature from the seaward holes but every bit the stalwart test and much improved over recent years. Less undulating than the front nine, the remaining holes use blind tee shots, hidden troughs and more difficult putting surfaces to oppose you. On the 10th, drive over the correct marker poles – coloured according to the tee you are on. Depending on wind direction a driver may not be not necessary here and a good tee shot should leave you with a mid to short iron into a green that slopes from back to front." This is a view back up the 10th, with the practice area of Murcar GC to the left - and another new course to add to our list of courses still to be played!  For those pondering their second shot to the green, there's a little ditch and water hazard right in front of the green, invisible from the fairway - nice!

"The 11th hole is straightforward protected mainly by its pin placement on a noticeably undulating green. Consider an extra club to allow for wind and avoiding the three bunkers which surround the front of the green. Find the correct side to where the pin is or you are left with a tricky putt or even in 3-putt country. The 12th to the 16th is a string of holes each with its own set of hazards aptly described by the name of the hole such as Blind, Dyke, Well and Hill. The 12th offers a wide tee shot and it is difficult to find the two pot bunkers on the right at 286 yards. The 2nd shot narrows considerably close into the green; stay around 100 yards short where the fairway remains wide. The green is an upturned saucer so it sheds the ball quiet readily. If you are playing into the wind, go short and wedge into the green avoiding the pot bunkers. The 13th is aptly named Blind due to its blind tee shot, and sometimes your second. Here, the best line is to hug the right side. A long drive that carries the hill will find a fairway that slopes and kicks the ball forward. The 2nd shot is awkward as the green is narrow front to back. Don’t miss this green as there’s trouble behind. A good drive away on the 13th could give you a birdie but make sure you hit the green with your approach. Depending on the tee of the day on the 14th a lay up, short of the dry ditch is recommended. A longer hitter can clear the ditch but it is a big penalty if you go in. Play to the right side of the fairway leaving round180 yards to middle of green so it’s a good two-shotter. Again this is a long green and favour the right side. Another blind tee shot occurs at the 15th with the harbour-side lighthouse being the line. This is another birdie opportunity into a big green with a relatively short second shot although employ enough club to carry the trouble. The concluding three holes form an excellent 4-3-4 finish. The 16th plays to the top of the hill giving a view of the green. Otherwise it’s a blind 2nd shot favouring the right hand side. If you clear the crest it's 160 yards to the front edge of a fast green that slopes front to back quite severely."

"The 187 Yard Par 3 17th is an outstanding example of the excellent short holes on this course. Longish and playing to a three-tiered green you must try and find the correct level. The prevailing southwest wind tends to push you away from trouble although you don’t want to go too long either." This is a sideways view of the 17th green from the adjacent Silverburn Course.  It doesn't look too initimidating from the tee and was playing to 165 yards off the Yellows but none of us made the green, despite 4 good tries.  I landed in the deep bunker bottom left of the photo and escaped with a bogey. Indeed, none of us made par!

"In terms of disguised difficulty, there are few that can top Balgownie’s 18th. From the tee it doesn’t seem so defiant but this is a par 4 to take advantage of the over-confident or over-tired. It requires two cracking shots; most members play it as a par 5. Avoid at all costs bunkers off the tee. In the summer with a great drive you could catch a running bound going through the dip leaving a mid to short-iron home. But mostly it is into wind with captivating rough and gorse either side. The green is slightly raised and like most Balgownie greens well protected with bunkers and this time (for good measure) out of bounds at the back. This ensures that you must remain as focused as you were on the first tee if you are to find this green in two."  I'd hit a good drive but found some heavy rough, finding my ball for once! A good third shot and I was on the left side of the green, only to see my ball trickle down the face of the first of 3 deep and steeply rivetted bunkers protecting the left side of the green.  The safest option was to play away from the hole and hope to 2 putt from distance, as anything played to the flag would go perilously close or into the other bunkers.  I managed the 6 and was finally round Balgownie in 98, net 87, with 34 putts, 2 gross pars and 4 lost balls.  A poor result, but just good enough to extend my lead over Polly to 5-3.5.  To be fair, though, some of the holes out there were just too difficult for her and the club's website is probably right to advise that the course is only suitable for lower handicap players.

Balgownie is a superb course which in past years has played host to the British Senior Open (Tom Watson won) and the Walker Cup amongst other competitions.  Together the Balgownie and Silverburn courses were a fantastic experience and our thanks go again to Royal Aberdeen GC for their generous help towards our efforts to play every course in Scotland.  We all had a great, great day and I'd strongly recommend that you give both courses a try.  Take a few extra balls, though. This is me on the 18th at Balgownie, happy to have survived (just) its test!

No comments:

Post a Comment