This is a short 1860 Yard Par 30 heathland course on the outskirts of the small fishing village of Helmsdale on the coastal A9 road between Thurso and Inverness. The course is maintained through the voluntary efforts of its small and hardy band of club members, so there's nothing too grand about this course. Indeed, in many ways this is golf at its most basic. I suspect that the club simply does not have the revenue stream, manpower, time or machinery to maintain the course to the highest possible standards, but as with the many other small clubs that are kept going by their local communities, I applaud the efforts being made by the small Helmsdale community to keep this course open.
Helmsdale starts with a 256 Yard Par 4. There's a marker pole but I strongly recommend you go forward to identify where you might try to land your ball in the hope of finding it again as this and most of the other holes are bordered by heavy rough, heather, bracken and/or gorse, with narrow fairways. The next hole is a 92 yard downhill Par 3. Just find and hold the green and hit your putt(s) hard enough. When I played here on 25 August 2012 the greens had certainly been cut that month, but I wouldn't like to guess when. The 3rd is an uphill 137 Yard Par 3 to a small green. Next comes the remarkable 4th, a 301 yard straight Par 4. Play your drive over the middle of the gap between gorse bushes at the top of a ridge running across the width of the hole. I managed that and missed the fairway by a yard. Mind you, the fairway was only 2 yard wide, as this photo of my bag demonstrates. OK, your ball might be visible from the top of the ridge if you are as lucky as I was, but the lush thick rough beyond the "fairway" was a good 4 inches long. As I said, the club's resources are probably very limited, but this hole was just bizarre.
Next comes the 5th, a 179 Yard Par 3 requiring the straightest of drives to avoid more deadly rough. The 6th offers some light relief by means of a 308 Yard hole with a fairway that even I could hit without too much anxiety (well, it was a very old ball!) A ditch and hedge runs across the fairway and I wisely chose to lay up short and chip over the hedge to the small green. The 7th is Stroke Index 1, a 238 Yard Par 3, no less, better played as a short Par 4 if you want to be sure to see your ball again. The 8th is a blind Par 3 of 167 Yards, with no marker pole. There's a course map on the scorecard, but you'll probably want to take a wander up the hole before teeing off, avoiding any balls struck on the 7th hole, which cuts across the 8th (the 8th green lies some way beyond the small gap in the wall that's visible from the tee if you don't want to go exploring before teeing off). This is the 9th, a downhill 192 Yard Par 3, which plays a club less than you'd expect.
I went round Helmsdale in 35, net 29.5 just under the net par with 15 putts and the same elderly golf ball, now resting in a gorse bush behind this, the final green. Helmsdale is a very long drive from East Lothian and although I'd happily play some of the other local courses again, I doubt I'll ever play this particular course again. The Helmsdale course is certainly quirky and if you do play it sometime, for goodness sake take some old balls and your sense of humour with you. You might just need them.