I played the heathland course at Lochcarron GC on 20 August 2012 at the start of a 6 day trip around the North of Scotland with Polly that we'd planned would take us to 11 new courses over the 6 days - Lochcarron, Alness, Invergordon, Tarbat, Bonar Bridge Ardgay, Royal Dornoch Struie, Durness, Reay, Thurso, Wick and Helmsdale. However, the weather forecast for the week ahead was for a mixture of sunshine and heavy showers, so we'd probably need some luck and good raingear to get through all of those courses without taking a good soaking on the way. This ambitious trip didn't get off to the best of starts. Monday 20 August began warm and sunny in East Lothian, but it's a 5 hours+ drive north west to Lochcarron GC in the wilds of Wester Ross and the further we drove the more ominous the clouds overhead became. Sure enough, I'd no sooner paid the £10 green fee when the first cloudburst of the week began. Half an hour later, we were still sheltering in the car, by now surrounded by several inches of water, with the peat-based fairways looking completely saturated and pretty unplayable. Another 10 minutes later, the rain stopped and I risked a quick sprint round the course and its new temporary water hazards and abnormal ground conditions. Polly opted for her book in the security of the car, a wise choice! This is me at the first tee, looking decidedly unsure about the wisdom of my decision.
The Lochcarron course has 9 greens, but there's 11 tees in total, with separate tees for the 7th and 16th and 9th and 18th holes, making Lochcarron an 18 hole course under the rules that Craig, Stu and I apply to such non-standard layouts. With the overhead situation being so delicately poised between downpours, I played a couple of balls off tees 1-6 and 8 and one ball off tees 7, 9, 16 and 18. Regular readers will recall that we first adopted that time and energy-saving practice practice at Benbecula, which is a 9 green course with 18 tees. Lochcarron is therefore an 18 hole course measuring 3575 yards, Par 60. Much of the road to the course is single track with passing places and being so remote, traffic was light on the road that runs through the course. Indeed, with the road being flooded, vehicles were having to take extreme care, with drivers no doubt also being distracted by the sight of an obviously mad golfer braving the recent deluge in pursuit of his sport.
Lochcarron starts with this, a hugely tricky 210 Yard Par 3 to a small plateau green fronted by a river and bordered to the immediate left by the A896 road. Normally there would also be a great view of the surrounding mountains but as you can see, it was still pouring down in the distance. The river isn't particularly evident from the tee. I could see a bridge but I was only there once and opted for a bold 3 Wood with both opening balls. I cleared the river OK, but had awkward pitches from soaking rough to the tiny green and was happy enough with a couple of bogeys. The 2nd/11th Holes are almost as tricky, requiring accurate drives to a narrow fairway. If you're prone to the odd hook, you will definitely not like the 3rd/12th holes, with Loch Carron running the length of the left side of the narrow fairway. Holes 4 and 13 are Stroke Index 1 and 2 and although they're only a 160 Yard Par 3 they played a lot longer than I'd expected. I suspect part of the difficulty of these holes is that teeshots are played across the main road. When I played them a driver had "kindly" stopped on the single track road to let me play, but he'd obviously never seen me play as he was well within range of a slightly mis-directed shot. I was by then trying to play very quickly as the next black clouds were rolling up the loch!
The 5th/14th Holes are a simple looking 144 Yard Par 3. Simple that is if you can avoid the swamp to your left and the occasional "Flying Ant" the somewhat ominous name of these holes. The 6th/15th Holes are the best on the course, being 171 Yard Par 3s played over a stream and hedging to a small sloping green. The main road and the cemetary attached to the village church lie immediately beyond the green and are OOB, adding to the challenge. I parred both holes but I'd only taken a half set of clubs with me and the 3 Wood was far too much club! The 7th and 16th have completely separate tees, resulting in separate 123 and 112 Yard Par 3s. A ditch runs in front of the steeply sloping humpbacked green so par here is a good score.
The 8th/17th are 280 Yard Par 4 that play longer than they look, so be warned. I parred them both, but needed good second shots to hold the small green. The rain had started again by the time I reached the 18th tee. This is a 198 Yard Par 3 played back towards the church and the main road. The 9th is a 176 Yard Par 3, if you can find the tee, hidden high amongst the trees to the left of the 18th. This is a view from the 9th tee, the brown strip being the sea loch (the tide was out).I'd sprinted round Lochcarron in under an hour between rainstorms taking 74 strokes, net 63, only 3 over net par, with 33 putts on slow rain-soaked greens. Lochcarron is one of the most remote courses on the Scottish mainland. It's fun to play but I doubt my travels will take me anywhere near it again.
A closing view of the last green and the local church.