Thursday, 27 September 2012

Millport GC - Course no 543

I played this short 18 hole heathland course on 27 September 2012. Millport Golf Club lies just outside the main settlement on Great Cumbrae, an island off the North Ayrshire coast and was founded in 1888 by a group of Glasgow-based golfers wishing to have somewhere to play during their Summer holidays.  Cumbrae remains a popular holiday destination, particularly for day-trippers and I remember being taken there as a very young boy.  I'd a vague memory of a large painted  rock  shaped like a crocodile on the beach at Millport and sure enough it's still there, freshly painted.   The Millport course is 5349 Yards Par 67 off the Yellow tees and reminded me of Skelmorlie, Largs Routenburn and some of the other courses that border the Clyde estuary.  Holes 1-4 and 16-18 are relatively flat and low-lying with the remaining holes running up, down and across a hillier section of the course, offering great views over the Firth of Clyde, Bute, Arran and the Cowal Peninsula.    One benefit of the layout is that you can see the rain coming and after the worst September storm in 30 years had battered the east of the country, the morning of 27 September appeared to offer the prospect of dry golf until the next rain arrived.  Sure enough, I got round in a little over 2 hours, just before the next rain started (and I pretty much had the course to myself apart from the 2 friendly members who had let me play through on the 4th.)
With the course having no Par 5s and only 2 Par 4's over 400 yards, scoring at Millport is relatively easy if you get your drives away and keep the ball out of a few streams and areas of whin and gorse.  The front 9 is particularly short at only 2523 Yards and I was out in 37 without feeling I was playing particularly well.  Even the odd poor shot, such as a fluffed chip on the 288 Yard Par 4 9th wasn't punished as I holed a decent single putt for my 6th successive par on the front 9.  That run of pars also continued on Holes 10-12, so 9 successive pars was encouraging.  However, the 12th at Millport is a pretty difficult hole.  This is a steeply downhill 150 Yard Par 3, with the red flag just visible in the centre of this photo.  Your tee shot is fully exposed to the elements and although the wind was pretty light from the left of the tee, it was easy to imagine that this could be a hugely difficult hole on a windy day.
I also liked the 15th, a steeply downhill 394 Yard Par 4 played directly into the prevailing westerly wind with the dramatic Arran skyline in the background, as shown below.  I hit a good drive and a 23 Degree Rescue to just short of the green and a couple of putts from there was good enough for another par.

The last hole at Millport is a flat 299 Yard Par 4 with a stream running diagonally across the fairway just to add some difficulty to the tee shot.  I only just missed this hazard, as shown here, but a good pitch and a couple of putts ensured an easy par.  I'd gone round in 74 gross, net 63, or net 3 under par, with 29 putts.  Millport is an easy enough course from the yellow tees if you catch it on a calm day and play reasonably well.  However, I guess it would be a far more difficult proposition on a windy day from the white Medal tees (that add nearly 500 yards to the course).  There's a good ferry service to Cumbrae from Largs and it should be well worth the effort to make the trip to play this excellent little course.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Dullatur GC - Carrickstone Course - Course no 542

I played here on 21 September 2012 immediately after my round over the Antonine Course.  Like the Antonine, the Carrickstone is a hilly parkland course and at 6001 Yards, Par 70, is slightly longer.  I'd nipped on before a large group of 3 and 4 balls, but the course seemed relatively quiet in front of me, apart from a 4 ball of visitors.  I'd played pretty well on the Antonine and had high hopes for the afternoon.  The 1st on the Carrickstone is a claustrophobic 151 Yard Par 3, as shown here.  Just hit the ball very straight and avoid hitting anyone on the 8th tee, right behind the green.  The 2nd is played blind down a very steep hill and is a meaty 470 Yard Par 4.  I'd already caught up with the 4 ball in front by then and for the next few holes it looked at though I'd become the invisible single player.  It was only after I'd birdied the 466 yard Par 5 8th hole with a single putt from under 3 feet (as watched by the 4 ball from the next tee) that the guys decided to let me play through.  It turned out that there was no-one in front of them so the rest of the round was pretty quick.  I finished around 4 holes ahead of them.  To be kind, maybe they were just enjoying the course rather than thinking about those behind them, since in my view, the Carrickstone is by far the better of the 2 courses at Dullatur.
The Stroke Index 1 hole is the 4th, a narrow double dog leg 357 Yard Par 4, with OOB (and the railway) down the right side.  Your drive needs to thread its way past trees and the OOB to the right and stop short of a pond and more trees and your second needs to be absolutely accurate to find the small green.  I took 6 after blocking myself out by going too far left off the tee.  The next hole is an awkward 170 Yard Par 3, as shown here.  I'd just missed the green to the left with my second ball after losing my first in the bushes to the left of the photo and was lucky to escape with a 5 after a decent putt.  Another good hole, though.
The back 9 turned out to be even better than the front 9, with a succession of well-designed holes.  This is the 14th, a 299 Yard Par 4 played from an elevated tee over a steep hill.  Clear the hill, find the fairway and the bigger hitters would no doubt reach the green on a drier day.  The 15th is a 143 Yard Par 3 played steeply downhill from an elevated tee, with the small green fronted by a stream and bunkers.  Add in 3 really good Par 4s to finish and Carrickstone is great fun to play and I'd strongly recommend it.  I scored a creditable 83, net 72, for a net 2 over par, with 30 putts.  Thanks to the 4 ball letting me play through, I was round in just over 3 hours.  7 hours for 36 holes wasn't too bad overall and I'd still plenty of energy left for the heavy bag I had when caddying again the following day.
Mind you, my old golf shoes have still to dry out, since as this view of the 10th fairway shows, the Carrickstone course was just as wet underfoot as the Antonine had been.
I'm usually not particularly careful to read Local Rules on course scorecards unless I land on a path or am in doubt about a potential immovable obstruction etc.  However, I did notice that the scorecards for the Antonine and Carrickstone Courses contained a local rule that I can't remember coming across before, namely "The Captain shall have priority on the tee at all times."  Indeed, this is the first local rule, coming ahead of the usual stuff about out of bounds and areas of ground under repair etc.  All club officials work hard for their clubs and deserve appropriate respect from other members, but I'm not sure it's necessary or appropriate to formalise the Captain's rights and privileges in this way.  Maybe there had been an incident in the past, but I just wonder whether this works in practice.  If you ever play here, you might like to be aware that the Local Rules provide that cundies are integral parts of the course and that French drains are ground under repair.  No, I don't know either (maybe I should have asked the young lads I met on the Antonine what a cundie and a French drain looked like).

Dullatur GC - Antonine Course - Course no 541

Dullatur GC lies on the outskirts of Cumbernauld a large former new town midway between Glasgow and Stirling, just off the M80 Motorway.  The club has two 18 hole parkland courses, the Antonine and the Carrickstone, as well as floodlit tennis courts and a bowling green adjacent to its modern and impressive clubhouse.  I played both courses on 21 September 2012, starting with the Antonine.  This is by far the newer of the courses, designed by Dave Thomas, the older Carrickstone being a James Braid course updated by Mr Thomas.   The Antonine is 5650 yards, Par 69 from the Yellow Tees.  I'd visited Dullatur GC some years ago after playing at the nearby Westerwood Course (a Seve design), so I knew in advance that both courses would be very hilly.  The Pro said that both courses were quite busy and that after heavy rain the day before, both were pretty heavy underfoot.  Progress might therefore be slow and he hoped I was fit enough for what he clearly thought would be a stiff physical challenge.  I was certainly fit enough but as I'd been caddying for most of the previous week at The Renaissance and Archerfield clubs near where I live in East Lothian, I was not at my freshest.  However, 21 September was a sunny and warm day so it seemed a bit wimpy to drive all the way to Cumbernauld just to play one course.
The Antonine Course runs between the clubhouse and the nearby village of Croy, parallel to the main railway line to Glasgow and a large disused quarry on a hilly site that has great views in almost all directions.  Indeed, one of the best holes on the Antonine, the 5th, is called "Arran View" an island around 60 miles away, with the island's largest mountain being clearly visible from the tee.  The 1st on the Antonine is a 406 Yard Par 4 and if memory serves is the only flat hole on the course.  From there, the course weaves its way over and around a series of steep hills.  The 1st fairway was waterlogged and finding a dryish spot to play my second shot from was difficult.  It was soon obvious that the whole course was pretty saturated and I was glad that I'd worn an old pair of golf shoes, given the squelchy conditions underfoot. 
This is the view from the 5th tee.  This is a 371 Yard Par 4, played steeply downhill with an uphill second shot to a small green cut into the hill.  The tee shot needs to be short of the bunkers (there's a hidden water hazard just beyond them) and the steeply uphill second shot plays a lot longer than it looks, so be warned.  By then I was waiting on almost every shot and making slow soggy progress.  It would clearly be a long day.  The guys in front gave up after only a few holes more and I was now playing behind a couple of junior Dullatur members.  These kids could clearly play, but what really impressed me was their friendliness and apologies for the generally slow play ahead of them, and their concern that as a visitor, I was enjoying their course, despite the underfoot conditions.  Well done lads, you did your club proud.
Best hole on the front 9 was probably the 7th Hole, a 158 Yard Par 3, as shown here.   This hole plays steeply downhill, with the large bunker ready to catch anything under hit.  The green is far longer than I'd thought and with the flag position at the very back right, I'd a really long uphill putt for birdie.  My 3-putt bogey was disappointing, but in mitigation, the greens were pretty slow after the recent heavy rain.  The weakest hole on the course was probably the 9th, a 422 Yard steeply uphill Par 4.  With absolutely no run in the muddy conditions and a very steep hill to contend with, I hit a good Driver, 3 Wood and still had a full wedge to the green.  The hole is called "Blin' Dunt" or "blind hit" as your second and possibly third shots will be totally blind.  This is the Stroke Index 1 hole, but I reckon I'd need a single putt if i was ever to par that hole.  For the record, I managed a double bogey 6 after struggling my way up the hill.
Best hole on the Antonine is definitely the 16th, a really good 513 Yard Par 5, as shown here.  The tee shot is played blind over a hill to a wide fairway.  However, the landing area for your downhill second shot is pretty narrow, with bushes on both sides.  I found the gap easily enough with a solid 3 Wood, but with no run on the soaking wet fairway, I still had an 8 iron to the green over a gully.  I just missed my birdie putt from 20 feet, but a good par and a really good hole.  The last hole on the Antonine is also pretty good if you survive the long walk up the hill from the 17th green. 
The 18th is a 386 Yard Par 4, played uphill and blind to a wide fairway.  I hit 3 Wood for my second and was still short (saturated ground again) but a good pitch and a single putt from under 2 feet was enough for par.  I'd scored a gross 82, net 71 or net 2 over par, with 32 putts, so that was pretty good in difficult ground conditions, with the course playing far longer than it looked.  I'd also gone round in just under 4 hours.  The large car park looked pretty busy and with a substantial number of players milling around the practice putting green and clubhouse area, it looked as though it could be a long day.  I'd been reassured by the Pro that I could jump onto either course if the first tee was clear, so rather than wait to take my chances after a break for lunch, I grabbed my sandwiches from the car and got straight onto the 1st tee of the Carrickstone Course.  36 holes without a break would test my fitness!
The Antonine is an interesting course that for the most part makes good use of its hills and slopes and also offers a good fitness workout.  I doubt I could ever like the 9th, but that apart, it's good fun and I'd recommend it.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Abernethy GC - Course no 540

I played this excellent 9 hole heathland course between Grantown on Spey and Aviemore on 4 September 2012 on my way home after my earlier rounds that day at Nairn Cameron and Cawdor Castle.  I suspect that as 9 hole courses, Abernethy GC (and nearby Carrbridge GC) might sometimes get overlooked by visiting golfers attracted to the nearby 18 hole courses of Spey Valley GC, Boat of Garten GC and Grantown on Spey GC.  But as far as I'm concerned, anyone who misses this course in the village of Nethy Bridge is missing a real treat.  When I played there it was an absolute joy from first to last and was the perfect ending to a great trip involving 7 new courses in 3 days.  This was Highland Golf at its best and although there's only 9 holes here, each is superbly designed and cared for and you get the obvious benefits of playing each twice and knowing where you're going second time round.  My one regret about my visit to play this little gem of a course is that I only had the time and energy for 9 holes!
The 1st is a 292 Yard Par 4 played slightly downhill from an elevated tee over a shallow gully. With the wind behind and even stronger than it had been at Cawdor Castle and Nairn and a wide fairway to aim at, my opening tee shot was really inviting and the green looked almost within range. I hit a good shot, had a short sand iron to the green and holed out from 3 feet for an opening birdie. Here are photos of the shots I had on this lovely looking opener.
The 2nd is a 112 Yard Par 3, as shown here.  Just avoid a water hazard, traffic on the road  in front of the green and some good bunkering, find the right level on the two tier green and don't three-putt.  I managed that and had a comfortable par.  The 3rd and 4th share a wide fairway, with the 292 yard Par 4 3rd being largely downwind.  Your second shot will be totally blind to a small green in a hollow beyond a small hill.  Just be careful that there's no-one playing from the 4th if you wander up to have a look before playing your second.  Another easy par after a good wedge just missed the green.  The 4th was my first test into the wind.  The hole is a short 275 Yard Par 4, with the wind keeping my drive short of gorse separating the green from the nearby 3rd tee.  The approach shot on the 4th was tricky, though, with OOB dangerously close to the left of the green and the strong wind adding to the pressure.  A bogey there after missing the green and almost going OOB.
The 5th is an uphill 172 Yard Par 3 played blind to a small green in a hollow over a ridge.  I'd missed the green short and right but had a good pitch and single putt from 6 feet for another par.  The 6th is a 286 Yard Par 4 played slightly uphill with the green tucked away close to surrounding pine trees.  Another par and I was still level overall, despite the strong winds.

The 7th is a hugely difficult 365 Yard Par 4 dog leg left and by far the most testing hole on the course, fully deserving its Stroke Index 1 status.  This is the view from the tee.  The carry to the top of the hill was around 250 yards  into the wind, so my 9 iron second shot was totally blind and at risk of being blown into heavy rough and/or heather.  I played a low punched 9 but still had 126 yards to the pin (with my laser range finder blowing around) playing 145 or so directly into the wind, as shown below.  I tried a punched 20 degree Rescue to the green which eventually landed in heather beyond the green and I was lucky to eascape with a double bogey.  Whoever scores a par here must be a helluva good putter.

The 8th is a 213 Yard Par 4 played downwind, downhill and blind over a ridge, avoiding the village war memorial blocking the right side of the fairway.  I can't remember seeing another such memorial within the line of play on any other course, but why not?  The more shocking thing was the length of the lists of names from such a small village.  Mainly Seaforths and some Gordon Highlanders (my brother's old regiment).  Another good par on the 8th, though.
The 9th was uphill into the wind and at 290 Yards this Par 4 looked to be a good finishing hole, ending right in front of the clubhouse windows.  I'd hit a good long straight drive but the wind was swirling around and the green was actually beyond the side of the clubhouse.  I'd only 105 Yards for my second but in an effort to keep the ball under the wind I tried another punch with my 20 degree Rescue.  I really don't know why, it just felt the right club for that shot! The ball rose far too high, was caught by the wind and hit hard about a foot below a clubhouse window, leaving me almost stymied, as shown here.  This left me with a really difficult shot and another chance to hit the window, so I was relieved to finish with a bogey 5 and no insurance claim. I'd gone round in 36 gross, net 31.5 with only 12 putts.  The Abernethy course was in great condition and I hope I can play it again sometime.  If you're ever in the Aviemore area, spare the time to play at Abernethy.  It's an easy walk, won't take you long and you'll love it.

Cawdor Castle Golf Course - Course no 539

I played here after my round at Nairn Cameron on 4 September 2012.  As a note on the back of the scorecard says, "Cawdor Castle was built in 1370 at a time when clubs were in constant use in Scotland, but not for sporting reasons.  Things have subsequently been refined so that now people enjoy picking on small white balls rather than each other, and they have done so at Cawdor with much delight and occasional oath since 1976.  The Course covers 25 acres of mature parkland.  its 1303 yards (Par 32) offer a variety of challenges that will amuse the seasoned player and welcome the beginner.  The course record is 27 (2001)."  Amongst the usual Local Rules there's the rather quirky "Ducks and deer are protected species and have priority."  This is a decent enough fun course, not to be taken seriously.
The wind was near gale strength when I played the course, swirling unpredictably amongst the many mature trees, so the course was certainly more challenging than I'd expected.  The 1st is a 72 Yard Par 3.  I missed the green long and unsurprisingly, the Cawdor greens proved to be really slow in comparison to the ones I'd just played at Nairn Cameron.  Still, a bogey on such a short hole was disappointing.  The 2nd, a 134 Yard Par 3, is named "No Swearing" presumably because the green has some really crazy slopes.  An easy enough par, but I'm still wondering why the 4th, being shorter than the 2nd, is a Par 4.  This is the 8th, a 194 yard Par 4, and for some unfathomable reason the Stroke Index 1 hole.  The hole plays gently downhill (and severely downwind when I played it!)  Accordingly, I was through the back with a Rescue club, but chipped back well and hold a short putt for a good birdie.
The last hole, as shown here, is a 247 Yard Par 4 and is a final indication that this course is not to be taken seriously.  The tee is bordered immediately to the left by a stand of very tall mature trees and there are more trees 80 or so yards in front.  The hole actually dog legs 90 degrees left after about 60 yards, so the only way to play was with a short chip and with the wind behind me, a 6 iron.  Easy enough, but I had to wait fully 10 minutes for my second shot while 3 non-golfers started their round by playing from the 1st tee to the 9th green, a distance of under 20 yards.  The 1st hole is clearly marked on the Scorecard as 72 yards and faces in almost the complete opposite direction.  I suppose the non-golfers didn't know any better (and couldn't speak any English either when I politely advised them that they'd played the wrong hole), but if you play this course, be aware that it might attract some complete beginners.
I've played Cawdor Castle once and given the number of other more serious courses in the area, I doubt I'd bother to play it again, even on a sunny Summer's day.  My score of 34 (net with 28.5) with 15 putts was nowhere near the course record, but can now stand as my own record score.

Nairn GC - Cameron Course - Course no 538

I'd arranged to stay overnight at the excellent Braeval Hotel in Nairn (basic and comfortable room, great food and an award-winning bar with a huge array of real ales and single malts) after our Stroma adventure and to play a couple of courses in the Nairn area on 4 September 2012.  I'd played the Championship Course at Nairn GC with Polly a few years ago, but I'd missed the  club's 9 hole Cameron Course.  This is normally a 1634 Yards Par 29 course designed to be less challenging than the formidable Nairn Championship Course, a traditional straight out, straight back links course that is undoubtedly one of the best courses of any kind in Scotland.  If you're playing the Championship Course as a visitor, I recommend you warm up over the Cameron first.  It's a lot less daunting, the greens are a lot smaller and probably slightly slower than the big course, but the Cameron is fun on its own and well worth the £15 green fee.
The Cameron starts with a 110 yard Par 3 played downwind when I played there.  The strong winds that had blown in after our round the day before at Stroma were still evident, but at least it was dry and sunny.  I played an easy 9 iron at the 1st to within 15 feet.  the putt proved to be as straight as it looked, so an opening birdie was good.  This is a view back up the 1st fairway towards the Clubhouse. The 9th hole was out of play as a large marquee had been put up on that hole to house part of the celebrations of the Club's 125th Year  Anniversary a couple of days before, so a temporary 9th hole had been built between the 1st green and 2nd tee.  I think that says a lot about the quality of the Nairn Golf Club as a whole, since most clubs would simply have contented themselves with an 8 hole second course for the celebratory period.  The temporary 9th was 8 yards shorter than the normal 128 yard 9th, making the course as I played it 1626 Yards, Par 29.  I'd expected the temporary 9th to be pretty rough, but its condition was almost as good as the other permanent holes, with a fast and true running green that would be the envy of a good many other links courses I could mention.  An easy enough par there, but there were stiffer tests to come, starting at the 3rd.
I parred the downwind 187 Yard flat Par 3 easily enough, but the 326 Yard Par 4 was played directly into the strong wind and was also the Stroke Index 1 hole.  I was happy enough to make a bogey after my tee shot was blown way right of the fairway into some rough.  Holes 4 and 5 were also parred and although the 6th is only 196 Yards, it was played directly into the wind and I needed my Driver to reach that far, missing the green to the right.  A good pitch and a couple of putts for bogey was OK, as this is a tricky hole.  This is a view of the 6th green with the Clubhouse in the background.  The 7th is a 169 Yard Par 3 played slightly down and across a hill, with a strong crosswind from the right.  I missed the green long and left with a 3 Wood but rescued my par with a good chip and putt.
This is the 8th, a 115 Yard Par 3 played downhill from an elevated tee, directly into the wind.  I played an easy 8 iron to within 15 feet but missed the birdie putt.  I was round in 30 gross,  only 1 over par with 13 putts.  That equated to a net 24.5, so go me!
The Cameron is really good fun and is pretty easy walking.  Highly recommended.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Brora Pitch and Putt Course - Course no 537

We'd stayed overnight at the excellent Pennylands Guest House in Thurso (highly recommended and very golfer-friendly!) before our trip to Stroma.  The owner is a member at Royal Dornoch and a mad-keen golfer, full of local golfing knowledge, who told us about the existence of a short pitch and putt course at Brora.  Polly and I had played the excellent links course at Brora (yet another James Braid gem), some years ago but I'd completely forgotten about the 3-hole pitch and putt course between the 1st tee on the links course and Brora Harbour.  I'd booked to stay overnight in Nairn after our expoits on Stroma on 3 September 2012, so it was only a short diversion to check out the 2nd Brora course.
The 3 holes making up the Brora Pitch and Putt course are roughly 45, 65 and 55 yards, making this a 165 Yard Par 9 course.  Some purists (for lack of a better word) might argue that this is not a real golf course, but there are fixed tees and greens for the purpose of playing golf.  Two of these Brora holes are longer than the 12th at Craggan Golf Course and I haven't heard anyone that's worth listening to on the subject of golf courses claiming that that's not a proper course.
Anyway, I played this little course on 3 September 2012 in little over 10 minutes, scoring 3, 4 (I missed the green!) and 3 for a gross 10, with 5 putts. Here are some views of the course, with apologies for the poor camera work - wrong setting, rather than approaching darkness!

Stroma Golf Course - Course no 536

Our visits to Scottish golf courses are all memorable in their own ways.  Sometimes its just the memory of a particularly good hole on an otherwise unmemorable course, or the scene of a great, lucky or appallingly poor shot.  On other occasions its courses as a whole that stick out as being excellent (or poor!) that you'd want to return to (or never see again!)  On very few occasions (and Solles is the only other that instantly springs to mind) we get to play somewhere that's genuinely unique, somewhere you know, even during the visit, that is a very special place that will be remembered fondly long after the day is gone.  My Stroma memories are very fresh after Craig, Stu and I played it on 3 September 2012 and I'm sure that when my journey round every course is finally complete, our day on Stroma will be a memory to cherish.   I think it's important that readers understand something about the history of Stroma, since playing golf there takes you deep into the fabric of the place.
The island of Stroma lies in the Pentland Firth between the Scottish Mainland and the Orkney Isles, one and a half miles North of Gills Bay.  Stroma is just a mile long and half a mile wide at its widest point.  Its thought that the island's population reached around 550 at most, but by 1901 it had declined to 375.  That decline continued into the 20th Century, with the last families leaving in 1962.  Much has been written about Stroma and its slow decline and for those interested, offers a good starting point.  The key issues as I understand them are that although the islanders were renowned as fishermen and maintained good numbers of livestock and grew their own crops, the absence of fuel (i.e. peat) imposed heavy financial pressures.  Coal and peat could be imported from the mainland and islanders had a licence to extract peat around Gills on the mainland, but the absence of a safe harbour meant that transport to and from the mainland was problematic.  By the end of World War 2, the island's economy began to break down as Stroma's younger people were attracted to the mainland by higher wages.  The many jobs created during the construction phase of the UK Atomic Energy Authority's nuclear plant at nearby Dounreay in the 1950s were, economically, the final straw.  Local and central government funded a new harbour on Stroma that was finally completed in 1956 in an effort to ease communications and improve Stroma's viability, but as James Millar wrote in "Stroma" "It was too late.  Cynics argued that the wages from the harbour building enabled some families to find new homes on the mainland.  It was more likely that mainland wages, particularly those on offer from Dounreay, proved too strong to resist."B
Some time after that depopulation the island was bought by Jimmy Simpson, a Stroma man, who now farms the land, rearing large numbers of sheep and cattle.  Jimmy is also a keen golfer and 16 years ago he created a 9 hole course on westerly side of the island by simply cutting some tees and greens - the sheep keep the rest of the course "manageable"  and, as I was to discover pretty quickly, well fertilised.  We'd heard about the Stroma course through internet research and after tracking Jimmy and his son William down, contact was made and our visit to Stroma was arranged for 3 September 2012.  Unfortunately, we'd just missed this year's Stroma Open, an annual event organised by Jimmy and William for local friends and fellow golfers.  Accordingly, we're hugely grateful that Jimmy and William went over to the island on the 2nd to cut the tees and greens in preparation for our trip.  The course was in far better condition than we'd expected, having already played in some wild and remote places e.g. Coll, and Papa Westray.  We'd made arrangements for William to take us across in his boat, as seen here moored at the Stroma harbour.  The winds the day before had died down and although the Pentland Firth was reasonably calm, an Atlantic depression was on its way with expected winds gusting to 60 mph, so we only had a few hours for the return trip. 

The journey across took around 25 minutes and was uneventful, with 5 local ladies as fellow passengers.  One of the ladies had been born on the island and as a 70th birthday treat she and her friends/daughters were going across for a "picnic" which as we would discover later involved some bottles of wine and spirits. The course was almost half a mile away, so Jimmy kindly gave Craig, Stu and I (and all our clubs) a lift on his quad bike and trailer, while William sped around on another quad bike setting out the flags. The worn out tarred road up from the harbour is pretty steep, so with the quad bike struggling for traction, Craig and Stu walked the steepest section, with me standing at the front of the  trailer to get my weight over the back wheels.  This worked to a degree, but once Craig and Stu had got back on board and Jimmy headed off across rough grazing land, I was getting liberally sprayed from the bike's back wheels by a mixture of sheep shit, grass and muddy water.  This is me on board before the shit really started flying. 

Jimmy only had one scorecard left after this year's Stroma Open which Craig now has, but this is my score, with details from that card -

Hole      Yards      Par    Score   Putts

1               260          4           2          1
2               240          4           4          1
3               250          4           4          2
4               160          3           3          1
5               150          3           5          2
6               255          4           5          2
7               230          4           4          1
8               140          3           3          2
9               140          3           3          1
                1825        32         33        13

Craig also scored 33, but then he plays off 2 at Carnoustie.  So maybe that's not quite the Stroma Course Record, but who knows and who cares!   One of my better scoring rounds and certainly one of the most enjoyable rounds I can remember.

Although I clearly played well, I think the course distances are a bit exaggerated.  The 1st is a blind uphill Par 4 of dubious length, played towards a small marker pole.  I'd hit a good straight drive but we'd all assumed the ball lying within a few feet of the hole, as shown here, was Craig's (whose ball was well through the green within an alarming distance of a sheer 100 foot+ drop off a cliff!) Note the shipwreck in the distance to the right of the flag, a recent casualty of the storm-lashed waters around the island. You'll also see  the sea spray extending over the distant cliff tops - and it wasn't that windy a day.

Had Craig gone just a few feet further, he'd have been over this cliff edge!  Note the rocky outcrop in the distance. That's where one of the tees used to be. The wooden bridge to that outcrop is still in place (just) but is thankfully no longer used on safety grounds.  The scenery around the course was simply outstanding. Jimmy and William were the perfect hosts and as nice a couple of guys as you're ever likely to meet. Overall, playing Stroma was an unforgettable experience for all 3 of us and aside from the golf, it was fascinating to see the deserted island and hear Jimmy's many stories about its past.  We'd taken some Jungle Formula Extra Strength midge repellent with us but that had little effect on the local midges who obviously relished us as fresh blood on the island.  There was some relief to be had down by the harbour after our round, but the little beasties soon found us even there.  Meanwhile, the ladies were still "picnicing" away merrily and were all very well refreshed by the time we headed back to the mainland, 2 hours later than intended, barely before the approaching storms arrived. 

Thanks again to Jimmy and William for all of their kindness and help, and to the ladies who made our journey back so hilarious - and for their generous donation to our chosen charity.  Stroma is, for me, one of the great Scottish golfing experiences.  Just a really perfect day and some great memories.  If you ever get the chance to play here, jump at it, but don't even think of wearing your best white golf trousers - unlike Stu!

Here are some further views of the Stroma Course and our trip generally, starting with me on the way over from Gill's Bay, two of the greens and my ball too close for comfort to a 100 foot+ drop.

Craggan Golf Course - Course no 535

This is a pay as you play 14 hole Par 3 course and the home of Craggan GC on the road between Aviemore and Grantown on Spey (where there's a lovely 18 hole heathland course that's a joy to play and where Polly scored a hole in one!)  The Craggan course is great fun, with a succession of superbly designed short holes ranging from 51 to 209 yards.  The course measures 1741 yards, par 42 from the Yellow tees, but is significantly longer and more difficult from the White tees which I played from.  Craggan is parkland in nature and was in fantastic condition with  small undulating greens that looked great and putted far faster than I'd expected.  Indeed, I soon learned that extreme care was needed to land any pitch in the fringe grass rather than attempt a more direct approach.  As a pay as you play course in a holiday area, I suspect that Craggan has to cater for a wide range of abilities, from casual tourists out for a fun game to more serious golfers keen to sharpen their short game.  Some of the holes are simple enough but others would certainly not be out of place on top-quality parkland courses, particularly off the White tees.  For example, this is the outstanding 3rd.  The Yellow tee is hole-side of the pond and the hole from there is only 111 yards, but from the White tee the 3rd is a more meaty 150 Yards+, uphill to a small plateau green that's well protected by trees on both sides.
The 8th is also very good, as shown here.  This 162 Yard Par 3 is played steeply downhill from an elevated tee and the fairway slopes towards a pond protecting the left side of the green.  When I played at Craggan the strong wind was gusting from the right on this hole.  Factor in that 4 guys in front had stood aside to let me play through and the tee shot became really testing.  I took my 20 Degree Rescue and found the light rough between the pond and the green, hit a good lob wedge to 2 feet and holed out for a good par. 
My friend Douglas reckons the 12th at Craggan is the shortest golf hole in Scotland at only 51 Yards and as he's also trying to play every Scottish course (with around 415 played to date) he's well-qualified to make that comment (although I'm not sure he's right, having just played the 1st at the Brora Pitch and Putt Course, which looked to be well under 50 yards!)  You'd think that a 51 Yard Par 3 would be simple, but this little hole is well protected by trees and the green is very shallow, with a band of heavy rough behind the green, ready to swallow anything remotely overhit.  I managed a par, but it took a good single putt from 12 feet!  Craggan is a must play fun course, ideal as a stop off between the Central Belt and the more distant Highland courses.  There's a good cafe and putting green on-site and I'm just amazed that after driving past this course umpteen times over the years on the way to the Humpties' annual golfing base in Elgin, it's taken me until now to play this excellent course.  Strongly recommended.
A couple of closing photos of the difficult 13th (just hit a 7 iron very straight) and the 14th - is there another 14 hole course in Scotland? I really can't remember any others.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Invereshie House Golf Course - Course no 534

I played this 9 hole parkland course on the morning of 2 September 2012 at the start of a 3 day trip centred round the rarely-played course on Stroma, an uninhabited island in the Pentland Firth.  Craig and Stu were travelling separately and would play here in the afternoon, en route to meeting me in Thurso, where we stayed overnight before our trip to Stroma.  The Invereshie House Course is only open to its members and invited guests (staying at holiday lodges on the estate) and forms part of a private estate a few miles away from Aviemore in the Cairngorms National Park.  A sign at the gate to the course makes it clear that the course is not open to pay as you play golf, so a great big thanks goes to Kate, the very friendly owner who allowed us to play the course for a good-value £10 each. I've learnt on my travels that its always a good idea to listen carefully to advice about the course and Kate's warning that the rough was brutally thick certainly got my attention.  I declined her kind offer to let me have some old balls, but since Kate's advice was also passed on by the elderly couple I met coming off the course as I walked towards the 1st tee, I checked the bag, just to make sure I had some spares!  The Invereshie House Course measures a short 1851 Yards, Par 32 and as you might guess, requires straight hitting.
The course starts gently enough with a 285 Yard Par 4, but the greens at Invereshie are absolutely tiny and fast running, as I quickly discovered en route to an opening bogey.  This is the 2nd, a 236 Yard Par 4 dominated by a large pine tree, with Invereshie house in the background.  The wind was gusting strongly from left to right on this hole and I got myself blocked behind the tree, so another bogey.  The 3rd is a 140 Yard Par 3 with OOB on the right and with the wind factored in, became a very difficult target to find.  I missed the green, chipped close and single-putted for an opening par.
This is the 4th, a 248 Yard Par 4 aptly named "Heartbreak Hill" and deservedly the Stroke Index 1 hole.  The fairway is generously wide, but I managed to miss it by a few inches, had great difficulty finding it and could only hack it back into play.  The gap between trees protecting the hill up to the green is just as narrow as it looks.  I still had my newish ball in play after missing the green with my third shot and a bogey was OK in the circumstances.  The 5th is a 166 Yard Par 3 played over a very steep hill.  You'll want to go up and have a look first and note and how your ball will drift towards the band of rough to the left of the fairway if you get the same wind as I did.  Another bogey and my newish ball was living dangerously! 
The 6th is a really good 171 Yard Par 3, with the green tucked behind some trees, requiring a controlled fade.  That's how it should be played, but in my world, a missed green, decent chip and short putt was good enough.  The 7th is a 227 Yard Par 4 playing to nearer 270.  Another bogey after missing the green and tangling with the rough again.
This is the 8th, a downhill and downwind 230 Yard Par 4 played between trees from an elevated tee and my favourite hole at Invereshie.  My 3 wood would have been enough, as my tee shot with Driver was blown clear through the green.  Still, a par there and at the last, a 147 Yard Par 3, was pretty satisfying in the conditions.  I'd gone round in 37 gross, net 31.5, just inside the net par, with 13 putts on the tiny greens.  This is a good little course well worth playing if you're staying at the estate's holiday lodges.  Hit straight or take some extra balls.