Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Inchmarlo Resort and Golf Centre - Queen's Course - Course no 551

I played this short 9 Hole heathland course after my earlier round on 22 October 2012 over the Inchmarlo Laird's Course.  The Queen's is only 1960 Yards, Par 32 and although it's clearly popular with senior members, juniors and beginners, there are some pretty demanding holes.  The 1st is a 164 Yard downhill Par 3 with a bunker right in front of the green.  Tricky enough, but with the late afternoon sun coming straight at me (and the Club Pro teaching a group of members close by the green) the tee shot was pretty difficult.  I'd no chance of seeing where the ball went due to the low sun in my eyes, so it was great to find my ball only 10 feet away, directly in front of the hole.  I missed the putt, but was happy enough not to sh--- in front of the small audience.  That dreaded shot almost appeared on the 2nd, where the Pro and his pupils had very kindly stood aside.  A dodgy Par 4 went onto the card and I'd a clear run at the rest of the course - if I could find it.  The 3rd runs uphill back to the clubhouse, not as I'd initially thought, 180 degrees the other way.  Thanks again to the Pro for his guidance!
The 4th should have been an easy enough 299 Yard Par 4, but with the low sun again causing problems I hooked my second shot with my wedge into a bunker.  Bogey time again. This is a photo of the sign at the 5th - another hole straight into the sun.  This 125 Yard hole is played over a small pond and a bank in front of the green that feeds anything underhit back into the water.  Again, I'd no idea where my tee shot went and was delighted to find that I'd made the front of the green.  Another par on the card.
The 6th is a 257 Yard Par 4 with another pond in front of the green. I underhit my sand iron from light rough and almost came to grief in the pond, but a good pitch from a steeply hanging lie to 4 feet and a single putt rescued the par. The 7th is a 183 Yard Par 3 that played a lot longer than it looked and the area surrounding that green was particularly soggy, hence my bogey 4. This is the view from the 8th tee, this hole being a sharp left dog leg 269 Yard Par 4.  The fairway extends over the wall in the middle of the photo below, but there's a also another water hazard to contend with beside the wall, so I laid up short of the wall with my 27 degree Rescue club.

However, the green was really tricky to find as I was a few yards short of the ideal position and had only this narrow view to the flag.
I played an easy 9 iron (too easy!) but was a couple of yards short of the green.  The hole was cut at the back of the long green on an upper tier, but a good chip to within a foot left me with an easy tap in for par.  A really good hole that I imagine tests Inchmarlo's members to the full.
The last hole is also quite tricky.  This is a 294 Yard Par 4 played downhill out of a narrow tunnel of trees with a steeply uphill shot to the green, as shown here. I'd skied a sliced drive into light rough on the right of the fiarway, leaving myself with 3 bunkers to clear in order to reach the green.  I missed them all, and the green, on my way to a closing bogey.  Still, 36 gross with 17 putts wasn't bad and my net 30.5 was under the course par of 32, so a decent round.  Like the Laird's Course, the Queen's is great fun to play and I'd strongly recommend it.  We didn't have time to sample anything from the bar and restaurant at Inchmarlo.  Maybe next time.  we were really impressed by the facilities here, and our thanks go again to Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Pro for all of his help and kindness on the day.

Inchmarlo Resort and Golf Centre - Laird's Course - Course no 550

Polly and I played this excellent 18 hole heathland course on 22 October 2012.  The weather had been pretty poor generally since our trip to play Skibo and even our own course at the Glen GC had been closed for a few days recently due to flooding.  We'd originally planned to play a couple of links course in Aberdeen, but it's a pretty long round trip to do 2 Aberdeen courses, so we opted for the Laird's and Queen's Courses at Inchmarlo, a holiday resort and golf centre in Banchory, a pretty little village in Royal Deeside, south west of Aberdeen.  Both of the Inchmarlo courses had also been closed due to flooding recently and had only re-opened on the 21st and a frost on the 22nd had delayed the first tee times for a couple of hours.  The Laird's Course is basically heathland in nature, measuring 5727 Yards, Par 70 from the Yellow tees.  Some Inchmarlo GC members were an hour or so ahead of us on the course, but as most of the holes weave their way through forest (mainly pine and birch), it felt as though we had the course to ourselves.  The Laird's course was actually a lot drier than we'd expected given the recent closure and the Summer tees and normal greens were still in operation. 
The golfing facilities at Inchmarlo are excellent, including a driving range and the course signage is possibly the best I've seen on my travels around Scottish courses.  Take this example from the 11th hole, complete with a detailed schematic of the hole and a map of the course, highlighting the hole in play (OK, stroke indexes aren't provided, but these are given on the scorecards).  I just wish that every course could be as helpful.  We also appreciated the halfway house, one of the best refreshment and toilet facilities we've encountered on our travels.
The Laird's Course starts with an easy looking 258 Yard Par 4, as shown here.  However, the green is quite narrow and there's a pond to the left of the green waiting for anything slightly wayward.  The greens had recently been hollow tyned and were slower and more bumpy than we're used to (as the Glen's greens are still in great condition!), so putting was quite tricky.  I managed an opening par, but I'm still trying to work out what happened on the 2nd, an uphill Par 3.  The Yellow tee markers were actually on what is normally the Red ladies' teeing ground and my laser range finder showed 152 to the flag.  Since the hole is steeply uphill I went with my 27 Degree Rescue and my straight tee shot looked to be covering the flag all the way and we both thought it could be pretty close.  It hadn't landed short, it wasn't on the green, in the hole or in the very light rough behind or to the sides of the green.  My new ball had simply disappeared,  Crows?  I don't know, but a double bogey was not what my tee shot had deserved.
The Front 9 looked to be pretty short, with only one Par 4 over 399 Yards (i.e. 400!) and a 445 Yard Par 5, but the recent rain meant that there was no run on the fairways, so the course was playing a lot longer than it looked.  We really liked the stretch from Holes 4-6 running parallel to each other with trees, water hazards and huge boulders to be avoided.  This is the view from the tee at the 6th, a dog leg right 377 Yard Par 4.  Just aim at the stand of pines in the middle of the photo and stop short of hitting any of the boulders.  The 8th is another uphill Par 3, this time with a stream short of the green that shouldn't really come into play, other than in the mind!  I'd under-clubbed with a 23 Degree Rescue and was still 10 yards short.  I'd usually have chosen a pitch with my wedge but with the greens being so slow I opted for my 60 degree lob wedge, hit the ball sweetly and holed out for an unlikely birdie.  A par at the excellent 299 Yard 9th meant I was out in 40.
The Back 9 is significantly longer and more difficult and I was glad I wasn't playing off the White tees on the 12th, a formidable 473 Yard uphill Par 4, with no run on the wet fairway.  This hole is still hugely difficult at 443 Yards off the Yellow tee and fully deserves it's Stroke Index 1 ranking.  I just wonder how many pars are scored in Inchmarlo GG competitions and whether this would play better as a Par 5.  Holes 12-14 are all pretty tough and cost me bogey, bogey, double bogey after some indifferent play with my 3 Wood.  This is Polly considering her options on the 13th, a 399 Yard Par 4 dominated by a huge beech tree to the front right of the green.  Another very good hole.
We also liked the 16th, a tricky 292 Yard Par 4.  The drive is blind over a small hill and needs to be long enough to give you a view of the green, steeply downhill over some small trees and boulders on the downslope in front of the green, as shown here.  A large house is currently being built behind the 16th, hence the red container boxes.  The Back 9 also involves a bit of climbing up gentle slopes, leading to the downhill 18th, a 384 Yard Par 4 played from an elevated tee with forest on either side.  A bunker and stream look as though they're reachable from the tee, but I made a complete mess of my drive, ending up OOB to the right.
This is the great view from the 18th tee.  I scored a disappointing treble bogey 7 after my OOB adventure for a total of 84, net 73, with 33 putts.  A net 3 over score wasn't too bad, and I'd hope to beat that quite comfortably when I play here again.  We'd thoroughly enjoyed the course and will definitely be back sometime.  I strongly recommend you pay this lovely course a visit. 

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Kinloss Country GC - Course no 549

Polly and I played here on 11 October 2012.  This is an 18 hole pay as you play parkland course in the village of Kinloss, a short drive east of Inverness and is the home course for Kinloss Country GC (annual subscription is £285 i.e. £15 less than the green fee for a round at Skibo).  My best buddy David had played Kinloss Country some time ago and didn't think it was all that great, so Polly and I weren't expecting the course to be very good.  I'd also played a number of soaking wet parkland courses in recent weeks, so we were both prepared for a soggy round on a mediocre course.  All I can say is that we thought Kinloss Country was in fabulous condition and after our exertions over the past few days, was an absolute treat to play from start to finish.  Indeed, this was the best parkland course I've played for a long time in terms of overall condition and sheer fun.
The course is a modest 5065 Yards Par 68 off the Yellow Tees and unusually for a full 18 hole course, starts with 3 Par 3s in succession.  I'd started bogey, par so had high hopes for a continued downward progression on the 3rd, as shown here, a steeply downhill 192 Yard Par 3.  I'd hit an easy 3 Wood into the fresh breeze to within 25 feet.  I'm a reasonable putter but got the pace all wrong.  As Polly said at the time if I'd missed the putt was headed off the other side of the green.  An early birdie was encouraging, but the next hole (a 335 Yard Par 4) was steeply uphill, so no chance of keeping the score progression going.  The Stroke Index 1 hole is the 6th, a 520 Yard downhill Par 5 - a really good driving hole. 
I also liked the 8th, a downhill 291 Yard Par 4 and another chance to let rip with the Driver.  This hole is blind off the tee, but there's a tree in the middle of the fairway to aim for, as shown here.  Clear that, as I did, and it's only a short wedge to the green.  The Front 9 closes with a 330 Yard Par 4 finishing right in front of the clubhouse windows.  I was out in 36, only 3 over par.  The back 9 is slightly longer and more challenging, the best hole being the 16th, a formidable 441 Yard Par 4, played slightly uphill and into the prevailing wind, with a cleverly designed shamrock-shaped green.  Bunkers help define the shamrock shape and this is a potential card wrecker.  I was happy enough with a bogey!  The 17th is also very good and at 324 yards is a short downwind Par 4.  The difficulty lies in the 50 yard long green, especially when the flag is at the very back, as it was when we played the course.  The green narrows from front to back and is slightly elevated so a tricky hole.
The 18th was slightly disappointing, finishing a good walk away from the clubhouse and it occurred to us whether the separate halves of the course could play better in reverse order, with the course ending on what is now the 9th green.  Just a thought.  I'd scored a gross 76, net 65, or net 3 under par, with 30 putts, so a good round.
Overall, we really liked the course and would strongly recommend it.  There's no great difficulty, it's just a fun place to play golf and was in great condition.  The weather we had was great for the time of year and this round was a fine way to end our short trip round 5 new courses.    If you get the chance to play here, try staying at the excellent Springfield Guest House in Forres and try the Cardamon Spice restaurant in the same town.  Best curry we've had in ages!

Brahan GC - Course no 548

Craig, Stu and I played here on 9 October 2012 after our round at the excellent Skibo course.  Brahan is possibly the newest course in Scotland and is certainly a labour of love by its owners, Claudia and Jon Wiggett.  They'd planned to open the course for play next year, but it actually opened on 1 June last year as a 9 hole course.  Since then the course has been extended to 18 holes by the addition of another 9 tees.  So, Brahan is now an 18 hole heathland type course with 18 sets of tees and 9 shared greens, measuring 6213 Yards Par 72 from the Yellow Tees and a pretty meaty 6656 Yards from the White Medal Tees. 
The Wiggett's overall concept was to create a pay as you play course that is as close to self-sustainable as possible based on an organic philosophy, using no fungicides and minimum herbicide use.  Only organic fertilisers created will be used once the course has fully established itself and there will be no irrigation.  The course has been created with the minimum amount of earth movement and 99% of the work has been done by Claudia and Jon, a staggering effort when you consider that the land is quite hilly and boggy in parts.  I can only imagine the long and exhausting hours involved in creating this course.  When you consider that this couple also run an on-site guest house, the effort to build and maintain the course almost single-handed borders on the unimaginable.  OK, the condition of the course is still quite rough and it will take more time to mature, but given time and yet more hard work an interesting and uniquely self-sustaining course can emerge.   We really admire what they've done so far to establish the Brahan course and wish them well in their efforts to establish the course more fully.
I hope that it's fair to describe Brahan as work in progress.  Recent wet weather had made it impossible to cut and maintain the the definition of fairways, so anything struck offline was at risk of being lost.  Although the greens were already pretty slick, they've been established simply by cutting the land as it lay.  Undulating doesn't begin to describe them adequately, so be prepared for all sorts of humps and hollows adding to the enjoyment.  For example, this is the 1st/10th green.  Getting on the wrong side of the hump in this green will test your putting skills to the full.
Equally, you'll need to avoid a hook when playing from the 5th and 14th Tees, as OOB and a lateral water hazard awaits, as shown here.  The 6th and 15th stretch into the distance beyond the 5th/14th green and at 496 Yards uphill, the 6th is a tough hole.  We were all tight on time so we had decided to play the Front and Back 9s in parallel e.g. playing a ball off the 1st and 10th tees to their shared green.  This certainly saved on time but as on previous occasions when we've adopted that ploy on courses with 18 tees and 9 greens, it's difficult to remember which balls was played from which tee and where the first ball went!
It had been a long day, especially for Stu and Craig, and we were all glad to finish.  Craig had opted to play off the White tees, making his 9th a whopping 630 Yard Par 5.  Stu and I were happy enough to play the 9th as a 597 Yarder over hills and sideways sloping fairway, avoiding trees and water hazards en route.  The 18th is a mere 525 Yards (but 550 off the White Tee!)  This is Polly and Jon patiently awaiting my weary return.  I'd gone round Brahan in a remarkable 98 strokes with 5 lost balls and 35 putts, so that gave me a net 15 over par score.  Hardly impressive but a very enjoyable round nevertheless on a course that I'm sure will improve by leaps and bounds as it matures.  Jon advised me that he had designed the course to be reversible so that'll require a different layout and a different scorecard.  I think the only other courses that are also played in reverse  are Asta on Shetland and Innellan (but please correct me if that's wrong).  We'd obviously need to return to Brahan if and when the course is played in reverse. 
In the meantime, I recommend you give Brahan a try.  It's far from the finished article at present, but Claudia and Jon deserve every support for their efforts to establish another new Scottish course.  Like me, you might be amazed by the efforts that have already been made to create such a large course almost single-handed.

The Carnegie Club Skibo Castle - Course no 547

When Craig Stu and I began our quest in earnest a few years ago, we quickly realised that apart from the physical challenge of playing well over 600 Scottish courses, our most serious challenge would be in gaining access to some pretty exclusive places.  Since then we've managed to play some pretty obscure courses that few others had heard of, at some of the most famous courses in the world e.g. Prestwick, Loch Lomond and a Highland course so private that we're still obliged not to mention it by name, but one course still stood above the rest in terms of privacy and exclusivity.  I refer of course to The Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle near Dornoch in Sutherland.  Skibo, as most Scots folk know it, used to be accessible by all at a price, but a change of ownership some years ago and subsequent preservation of the privacy and security of its elite membership has meant that access to common golfers like us was completely out of reach.  We'd certainly not wanted to impinge on the privacy of the rich and famous and recognised their right to enjoy the sport on their terms, and although we know the names of a few of its more famous members, it's not for me or this blog to mention who they are.  However, it was  frustrating to think that despite our best efforts in support of cancer research we might ultimately fail in our challenge to play every course in Scotland. 
We were therefore relieved to learn recently that the general golfing public were to be given limited access to Skibo, albeit for just a couple of tee times a day, at a pretty eye-watering £300 a head.  That's more than the annual subscription at some Scottish golf clubs, entitling members to unlimited golf and in caddying terms, I'd need to walk a very long way with a heavy bag to finance such a green fee.  Craig, Stu and I were therefore delighted when The Carnegie Club offered us a very generous discount on that green fee since we were playing for Cancer Research UK.  Thanks again to all concerned and in particular to Jack, who really could not have been more helpful.  We really appreciated that offer and all of the other kindness shown to us when we played Skibo early on 9 October 2012, a perfect sunny windless day and without doubt one of the outstanding highlights of our journey around every Scottish course.  This is me just before we teed off.
I reckon I've now played golf on well over 600 courses in Scotland, England, Northern Ireland, Wales, Ireland, Sweden, Portugal, Spain and Cyprus.  Skibo is quite possibly the best course I've ever played in terms of the course and the overall experience.  As I've said, the green fee is pretty expensive but as a special occasion treat, Skibo is well worth playing, especially if you get the perfect golfing weather that we enjoyed.   I might need to win the National Lottery to apply for membership, but at least I've got the Skibo bag tag, bought the souvenir golf shirt and have the memories of a perfect golfing experience.
Skibo is a links course measuring 6207 Yards Par 71 from the Yellow Tees and is laid out over a narrow strip of links land  between the shores of the Dornoch Firth and Loch Evelix.  As might be expected, no expense had been spared in constructing and maintaining the course as evidenced by the amazingly manicured condition of the fairways and greens, which all ran far faster than we'd expected.  Even the edges of rivetted bunkers had been carefully strimmed to produce clean edges, all paths and gates had been impressively well built and conservation areas (rare plants and lichen) were sensitively protected, with informative signage to explain their significance.  With hardly a divot mark or weed in sight, the course was in the best condition I've ever seen on any Scottish course.   The design is also quite stunning with one great hole after another.  This is the 6th, a 142 Yard Par 3 with a single large pot bunker protecting the plateau green.  I opted for an easy 6 iron, found the green and had a satisfying par on a really tricky looking hole (Stroke Index 16!)

This is the 7th, a 311 Yard slightly uphill Par 4.  There's a bit more room than you'd think when standing on the tee and thank goodness there was no wind to speak of.  I hit a good drive but my second shot was just short of the green and a bogey followed.  However, scoring was quickly coming secondary to just enjoying the experience.  By the 7th we'd all agreed that Skibo was simply outstanding in all respects.  We'd noticed that the greenkeepers had been laying sand around all of the greens.  Stu wondered why but clearly wasn't impressed when I speculated that it was probably to make them sandier (he'd left his house at 0330 hrs to drive up to Skibo and had clearly hoped for a more exact explanation!)  Part of the fun of playing all of the courses is the easy banter between the 3 of us, so I knew I was on risky ground asking Craig and Stu what the collective noun was for the collection of swans flying overhead at the time.  Stu thought it was a "box" (after the famous brand of matches).  Such are the heady matters discussed between friends during a game of golf.

This is the 8th, one of the holes bordered by the Dornoch Firth.  Again, the fairway is wider than you'd think, but even if you reach the green in regulation there's potential trouble awaiting.  Craig plays off 3 at Carnoustie so can play a bit, but faced with a 30 foot putt from the back of the 8th green to a hole cut near the front, his putt went straight off the front of the green, the ball ending up 40 yards away in heavy rough.  Made my bogey look pretty good, though.  There's a half-way house after the 12th(!), well stocked with free coffee, beers, fresh fruit and chocolate bars etc.  We'd no sooner finished sampling the bananas (honest!) than a guy turns up in a buggy with free bacon rolls and hot soup.  It would have been churlish to decline.

The 11th marks the start of a great stetch of holes bordered by Loch Evelix on your right.  The 11th is a dog leg right 418 yards, Par 4.  Craig tried to take on too much of the carry over the loch, but it was an old ball (another welcome feature of Skibo is that you tend to find new Pro V1s rather than lesser brands).  This is the 12th, a 397 Yard Par 4 where water again comes into play.  Craig found the water again, but we gave him a Mulligan (who was the famous Mulligan and how bad a golfer was he?).   Although I'd parred Holes 5 and 6, I was finding it easy enough to bogey every hole on the Back 9, and  pars were fast becoming like hen's teeth.

Until the 17th, that is, the signature hole at Skibo.  The 17th is a classic risk and reward Par 4, 304 Yards from the very back tee, but a more manageable 267 Yards from the Yellow Tee.  There are 5 deep bunkers to contend with if you take on the drive, but I laid up with an easy 3 wood, pitched on and 2-putted for an easy 4.  This is the view from the tee.  Stu also baled out, finding the left side of the fairway, but Craig easily drove level with the right side of the green (taking 3 more from there).

This is a short video of the views from the 17th Yellow Tee. A stunning hole.

The last hole at Skibo is a left dog leg 515 Yard Par 5 played over a swamp from the tee.  This swamp looked pretty wet but was remarkably dry (I'd failed to clear it from the tee) and a remarkably good place to hunt for Pro V1s!  I'd gone round in 87, net 76 (net 5 over) with 35 putts.  But the scores were pretty irrelevant as we'd all enjoyed playing what we think is probably the best course we've played so far in Scotland (or anywhere for that matter!) Skibo is expensive but my guess is that if you ever get the chance and get the perfect golfing weather we had, you'll not be worrying about the green fee.  You'll probably be like me, desperately keen to play it again sometime.  Simply a great golfing experience.

Invergordon GC - course no 546

The village of Invergordon is primarily a deep water port on the Cromarty Firth, but it's also got a pretty decent golf course, as Polly and I discovered when we played this 18 hole parkland course on 8 October 2012 after our earlier round over the Loch Ness Wee Course in nearby Inverness.  This is the 3rd at invergordon, a 441 Yard Par 4 and the Stroke Index 1 hole.  The Cromarty Firth is widely used for vessel storage, hence the oil rig in the background.  The course is 5743 Yards, Par 69, but was playing a bit shorter since temporary Winter tees had just been introduced (is it really that time already?).
This is a fairly flat and easy walking course but maybe we'd just been playing too much (or in my case caddying as well as playing) in the run up to this trip, as we were both pretty knackered by the time we'd got half-way round Invergordon.  Although the course itself is pretty short the layout was tricky to follow, even with the excellent map on the scorecard.  Indeed, we were left wondering whether the sequence of holes had been changed at some stage to disguise the fact that 10 of the holes run parallel to each other, reducing the up/down flow of the course. Tip - if you ever play here, the correct route from the 3rd tee to the 4th tee goes behind the 8th tee and the 7th green.  Try to avoid walking round aimlessly for 10 minutes, looking totally lost, as we did!
I'd played quite a few parkland courses in recent weeks that had been saturated with rain water e.g. Lethamhill, so it was a refreshing change not to have to wade through puddles.  Invergordon was in fine condition, with only the 8th showing any signs of the rain that seems to have soaked the country all Summer.  This is the 8th, a short 108 Yard Par 3.  The flag was in an easy position rather than tucked away to the right, behind the pond.  Indeed, all of the pin positions were front centre, giving another sign that the greens were being rested as much as possible in advance of the coming Winter.  I chipped an easy 9 iron tee shot to within a couple of feet for an easy birdie.  Go me!
Although the course was pretty dry underfoot it was still playing reasonably long, with little or no run on the fairways.  Between that and our tiredness from earlier exertions, it was easy enough to bogey rather than par holes, hence my gross 84, net 73, (net 4 over par) with 31 putts.  And just as we staggered our way to the last hole, Invergordon had one final test, this walk up to the 18th green. Your second shot on this 275 yard hole will be blind, so be mindful that the 1st tee is just beyond the back right side of the green. 
Here's a final view of Invergordon GC, looking back down the 18th a few minutes before sunset on a lovely warm Autumn day.  I liked the course and would recommend it.

Loch Ness GC Wee Course - Course no 545

This is a 9 hole pay as you play parkland course in Inverness measuring a short 1408 Yards, Par 29 that  complements the 18 hole Old Course that I'd played some years ago and which is home to Loch Ness GC.  Also available in the golfing complex are a driving range, golf shop, bar, restaurant, children's play area, function/conference suite, petanque, indoor bowls, forest walks, Travelodge, bakery, chiropodist, trophy centre and barbers, a uniquely diverse range of facilities in my experience!  The Wee Course was formerly known as the Wee Monster (doubtless another attempt to ride on the back of the famous and some say mythical Loch Ness Monster).  Application of the word "monster" to a golf course conjures up all sorts of imagined difficulties and challenges to golfing skills, but there's really not much of a challenge (or interest) to this particular course.
Polly and I played the Wee Course on 8 October 2012 at the start of a 3 day trip that would involve another 4 new courses in my golfing travels, but more of them later.  I'd been hoping that this course would be a good warm up for the challenges that those courses would present, but I'm afraid the Wee Course was disappointing in that respect.  The 1st hole is Stroke Index 1 (surely wrong in principle) and was a 154 Yard Par 3.  I missed the small green to the left and took 4.  This is the 2nd, a 109 Yard Par 3 played to a plateau green protected by a cavernous bunker.  An easy enough par there after a good tee shot.
My doubts about the Wee Course started on the 3rd.  This is a 274 yard Par 4 played from  the same tee and fairway as one of the holes on the Old Course, with players on the Old Course having priority.  Our green was located to the right of the fairway, with the Old Course hole going on for another 200 yards or so.  Neither course was busy, but I was left wondering whether this arrangement, repeated later in the round, ever led to delays and/or safety problems.  The 3rd green on the Wee Course is located high to the right of the fairway and is quite narrow, with banking behind it.  I'd hit a decent drive and had only a short wedge steeply uphill, but the banking behind the green is heavy rough and weeds, rather than a closely cut slope that would allow a slightly overhit ball to feed back down to the green.  The Wee Course is intended for family play and is apparently popular with beginners etc. so I wonder, on the strength of the 4 balls I found while looking for my own, whether heavy rough on this part of the course is entirely appropriate.

If you've had to give priority to players on the Old Course when playing the 3rd, chances are you'll meet them again on when playing the Wee Course's 4th hole, a 151 Yard Par 3 that's played from a separate tee to the green on the Old Course that started from the Wee Course 3rd tee.  You might also have to give priority to other Old Course players on the Wee Course's 5th, 6th  and 7th holes, which share either tees, fairways or greens with those on the Old Course.  Indeed, we'd just driven off from the 6th, an 81 Yard steeply uphill Par 3, when a ball landed in front of us from the Old Course tee to our left (which also serves as the 5th tee on the Wee Course).  Confusing and potentially dangerous.

This is the 8th, a downhill 155 Yard Par 3 with a large pond to the right and short of the green (where both of our tee shots finished).  By this time we were just trying to get off the course quickly to avoid the approaching rain shower, but a double bogey was disappointing nevertheless.  I'd gone round the Wee Course in 35 gross with 16 putts in little over an hour, after getting lost twice and looking for balls in needlessly punitive rough.  Neither of us liked the course much and in all honesty I wouldn't recommend it. 

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Lethamhill Golf Course - Course no 544

I'd played reasonably well in a competition at the weekend at my home course (see www.glengolfclub.co.uk) in sunny and very windy conditions, with our fairways running firm and reasonably fast.  So, with the weather forecast looking reasonably good for 1 October 2012 I headed West, with plans to play a couple of 18 hole parkland courses in Motherwell, a large town South East of Glasgow.  My first planned stop was at Torrance Park, but this course was looked to be pretty flooded, with only 9 holes open for play, with preferred lies in operation and fairway matts mandatory. There will be other chances to play there, so I moved on.  My second course was going to be at nearby Colville Park, but only 10 holes were open there and the Pro doubted whether any other local courses would be open, given the recent prolonged rain.   This was a salutory reminder of how lucky I am to be able to play over a course that's rarely closed due to weather problems, even in the Winter months.  (This the 13th our signature hole for those readers who've not played or heard of Glen GC before!)
Anyway, I decided to head into Glasgow to see whether any Council-operated courses might be open.  Lethamhill Golf Course is just off the M8 motorway a couple of miles from the city centre and is a 5419 Yard Par 70 parkland course operated by the City of Glasgow Council.  The Starter advised that although the course was open it was pretty wet underfoot - a masterful understatement as it turned out.  Having been raised in Glasgow, I know that Glaswegians are by nature very friendly, so it was no surprise when John, a local member, invited me to let him show me round the course.  The big surprise was that the course was open, since most of the fairways were completely water-logged, meaning we had to pick our way carefully between puddles of standing water and areas of mud to reach balls that were often plugged in the saturated ground.  Indeed, I doubt I've played in such consistently unplayable conditions anywhere on my travels around Scotland.  Put simply, the course should have been closed.  This was no place for my almost new Footjoys (one of John's pals who joined us mid-round had more wisely opted for work boots and waterproof  leggings). 
As John and his pal Johnnie commented, the course is well-designed, with an interesting layout that winds its way around and over some modest sized hills.  Johnnie had been a member of the local club for over 40 years and was "proud of his wee course" but it was easy to recognise why he was so concerned about its condition, which he reckoned was the worst he had seen it in all that time.  There's still a very good course there if you look carefully, but grass and weeds growing in the middle of unraked bunkers is never a good sign of effective course maintenance.  Serious investment is  also needed to improve the drainage and refurbish/replace dilapidated and wornout buildings.  Given the severe financial pressures facing the Glasgow Council, it seems unlikely that that level of investment will happen.  The course itself might be more enjoyable in dry conditions, but with the Winter coming, I doubt whether Lethamhill will dry out fully before next Spring.  Given the large number of good quality courses in the Glasgow area I doubt I''d want to play Lethamhill again, even in dry conditions.

I played Lethamhill OK in the conditions and putted remarkably well on greens that were faster and in better condition that they looked.  I scored a good 79, net 69 with 28 putts.  Here are some views of the course.  This is the 2nd hole, a 315 Yard Par 4 played towards the motorway with a blind second shot over fairway bunkers.

This is the uphill 13th, a 230 Yard Par 4.  Avoid the line of trees and its a short pitch to the large green.

This is a view over the North of the city from the 14th fairway, one of the few parts of the course relatively unaffected by casual water.