Monday, 27 August 2012

Durness GC - Course no 529

Durness GC is on the far side of the back of beyond and is the most North Westerly course in mainland Scotland.  Being so remote, it's not the kind of place that you'd ever stumble across by accident.  Indeed, having lived in Scotland for most of my 62 years on the planet, I'd never been within 50 miles of the place before playing the course on 23 August 2012 on the latest leg of a North of Scotland tour with Polly.  The Durness course is built on a high clifftop overlooking the Atlantic Ocean to the North and East and mountains to the South and West.  Spectacular is a feeble summary description of the overall land and seascape and is also totally inadequate in describing the course itself.  If your golfing ambitions are limited to easily accessible and bland parkland courses then by all means give Durness a miss.  However, if you are willing to test yourself against a challenging course in the most dramatic scenery you could ever wish for, please do yourself a favour and make the effort to play Durness at least once in your life. 
Your first challenge in playing Durness GC will be in getting there.  The course lies just outside the village of Durness on the A838.   "A" class roads in Scotland are usually wide and easy enough to tackle, but whichever way you approach Durness, you'll be driving on mile after mile after mile of a twisting single track road with frequent passing places with numerous blind summits and unexpected corners.  The traffic volume is very low, but just when you think it's getting easy, there's a sheep in the road or a lorry to be squeezed past.  Great fun if you're a reasonably good driver and keep your wits about you, but there's no need to rush anyway as the course is always open for visitors.  We'd travelled up from staying overnight at Dornoch, a journey of 79 miles that took us nearly 3 hours, so give yourself time and enjoy the best of Scottish Highland scenery en route.
Polly had decided not to play the course, given its exposed position, steep hills and the strong wind that is almost ever present in such an exposed location.  Durness has 9 greens but there are 18 tees, making this an 18 hole course.  I didn't tee off until around 1130 and I was planning to play later in the day at Reay GC, 60 miles to the East, so I decided to play balls from both sets of tees to save time, rather than go round the course twice (a practice that Craig, Stu and I had first adopted when playing at Benbecula GC). This is a view of the 9/18th green from the 1st Tee, but more of them later.

The 1st/10th are 296 and 282 Yard Par 4s and on paper look innocent enough.  However, both are steeply uphill into the prevailing Westerly wind (blowing around 25 mph) with the second shots being played blind uphill to a small plateau green with heavy rough to the left. Given the wind conditions, I played Driver and 7 iron for bogey and double bogey.  It was immediately obvious that scoring could be difficult at best, and any doubts on that front were dispelled by the next couple of holes.  The 2nd/11th holes are also uphill, but at only 321 and 311 Yards might normally be easy enough.  However, it's around 180 yards to the fairway with the wind tugging your ball left into impenetrable rough.  One of the most outstanding features of the course are the wild flowers growing throughout the rough (I'm not about to get all emotional about flowers, so bear with me!)  A lot of the flowers are white, a great help when looking for a golf ball, but the sight and smell of so many flowers is pretty impressive, nevertheless.  A couple of 7s and 2 old lost balls later and I'd actually finished both holes.  This is the view from the 3rd Tee - what you don't see is the 25mph wind whipping directly into me when I took the photo. 

The fairway did expand to something like 30 feet wide and this is what faced me as my second shot on the 3rd, a daunting 408 Yard Par 4.  13 shots later and I'd finished the 3rd and 12th holes.  The 4th/13th were uphill again and I was happy enough with a couple of bogeys.  I'd love to meet the course record holder and ask him how to keep a score going on such narrow exposed fairways and small greens!  The 5th/14th were steeply downhill, played either side of a ridge separating the fairways, with blind second shots over a hump to a green that was a bit further away than I thought.  Another couple of bogeys! 

I was already thinking this was a great course before I reached the 6th/15th, a 443 and 505 Yard Par 5 respectively.  These holes skirt along the left side of Loch Lanlish (no, I'd never hear of it either!) with a couple of water hazards running across parts of the fairway and the loch as a lateral water hazard running the length of the hole and in front of the green.  These are simply great holes.  Par and bogey were very satisfying in the conditions and I stood for a while by the 7th tee admiring this view back up these 2 great holes, buffeted by the wind and regretting that we'd run out of sun cream the day before.  The 7th/16th are 178 and 154 Yard Par 3s played from elevated tees to a small green cut into the opposite hillside.  Again, a couple of bogeys were OK after I'd just missed the green with both tee shots.

I'd noticed the 8th and 17th tees when playing the 1st and 10th, in particular that these holes were steeply downhill and downwind.  There's a basic video function on my camera so here's some brief footage of these holes.  I'd not pre-planned the commentary so I don't really think that whoever put some hidden bunkers in front of the green is an idiot!  I was only joking, honest.

The 8th/17th are magnificent holes that in themselves would make Durness a really memorable course, but these are just side shows in comparison to the 9th/18th, a pair of truly great Par 3s that stand comparison with any I've played on my travels around Scotland so far.  The 9th is only 108 Yards, with the 18th being a more formidable 155 yards.  As these photos show, both are played slightly uphill over the Atlantic Ocean to a small fast-running green.  What you don't see from these photos is that the green is overlooked by the clubhouse windows (surely one of the great clubhouse window views!)  I parred the 9th and bogeyed the 18th, by the way, but scores on such a course were pretty irrelevant (94 gross, net 83, with 32 putts).  Durness is definitely up there in my top 10 Scottish courses and out of 526 so far, that's not too bad for a wee village course the far side of the back of beyond.

Just play it if you ever get the chance and see if you agree.

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