Sunday, 15 December 2013

A Winter Quiz

We now have 655 courses on our list, with a handful of others likely to be added that are either at the planning stages or under construction e.g GWest near Gleneagles (we'll need to work out how to get access once that private and exclusive club opens next year).  Our list of courses might eventually stretch to around 660, but  for now, it seems unlikely that I'll be playing any new courses for a while.  It's not the weather, it's just that most of the courses I've still to play are likely to be closed for the Winter or are just too far away to reach comfortably.  For example, there's around 8 mainly local authority-run pitch and putt courses in differing parts of the country that only open during the summer months.  There's also a few mainly parkland courses still to be played in the Aberdeen area but I don't fancy driving for 3 hours+ all the way up there to play courses with temporary greens and have to drive back in the dark, given the vagaries of our winter weather. So, it looks as though I'll be stuck on 627 until next Spring.  

Rather than let the blog just sit idle for that time, I thought I'd test my readers' knowledge of Scottish courses. This quiz might be nigh on impossible if you've not actually played here or read most of my earlier posts, but for my Scottish readers in particular, the challenge is to name the courses where the following 20 photos were taken.  All in Scotland, but which courses?

1 - One of the newest holes in Scotland.  I do most of my caddying work here.

2 - Definitely the remotest course in Scotland and one of the best Par 3s I've found - so far!

3 - The only 36 hole course in Scotland

 4 - One of the best closing holes in Scotland.  A remote Par 3 on the mainland (just).

5. Another old course in Fife.

6. The "clubhouse" had seen better days and the course might now be gone.

7. A 9 hole course in the Borders.

8. Another relatively new course.

9. James Braid's last course.

10.  A 54 Yard Par 3 and one of the most remote (and difficult), but where?

11. A flat parkland course in the North-East with a unique railway line running through it.

12. Next Ryder Cup venue and one of the few holes I really liked on the course.

13.  The most southerly golf club in Scotland.

14. The 19th hole on this Colin Montgomerie-designed course, just in case your
match is tied after 18!

15. A local authority-managed course.

16. Me, Craig and Stu on Polly's favourite course.  Mickelson won here this year.

17.  A really difficult Par 3 on an obscure Perthshire course.  The Inn has closed but the course is still there.

18. One of the best Par 3s in St Andrews.  Which course?

19.  Perthshire again.

20. Controversial course development.

Some of these are easy, but others are likely to perplex all but the most far-travelled of golfers. Folk who have read most of my blog postings will have seen some of the photos before. Overall, these photos reflect the diversity of golf in Scotland, so good luck in guessing the courses involved.

I'll post the answers in a few weeks' time!  In the meantime, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


1 Renaissance GC - the hole that's featured is the 10th, a 417 Yard Par 4 from the very back tee.  When I caddied here in January this year, my friend George Thomson drove the green from the back tee and holed a 15 foot putt for an amazing eagle 2!

2 Fair Isle Lighthouse Keeper's Course - definitely the most remote course in Scotland!  Check out the You Tube video at

3 Bruntsfield Links Pitch and Putt Course - The Meadows, Edinburgh.  Golf has been played here for over 300 years!  The Golf Tavern nearby is a "must visit" and the beer's pretty good too.

4 Durness GC This is a great little course with 9 greens and 18 tees on the far north west point of the Scottish mainland.  It's as remote as you can get on the mainland but the journey's worth the effort, as the hole featured is surely one of the best finishing holes in Scotland.  You'll have a small but critical audience, as the clubhouse windows overlook the scene and it's a given that your play will be commented on when you go in for a well-deserved refreshment!

5 Crail GC Craighead Course - another old links course, dating back to 1786 and just round the corner from St Andrews.  Polly and I thought seriously about buying an old house between the 2 courses here - we still wonder whether we should have gone ahead!

6 North Ronaldsay GC a bleak and forlorn place and sadly, the course is probably completely gone by now.

7 Selkirk GC - This is the 9th, with my car.  I didn't need to book a tee time!

8 The Earl of Mar GC - The Erskine Bridge spanning the River Clyde is the clue here.  This is a very good parkland course, well worth playing and the hotel is great too!

9 Stranraer GC - just about as far away from Durness as you can get and another gem that's well worth visiting.

10 Asta GC - a superb  hole on one of the oddest courses in Scotland.  9 holes, but the members play it backwards for 2 weeks every month, using completely different layouts and scorecards.  I've no real idea why and there was no-one there to ask when we played both courses.

11 Alford GC - in rural Aberdeenshire.  A very flat parkland course in a little village.  The train is obviously for tourists and our grandchildren would have loved it.  Mind you, Callie might have preferred golfing and she's only 6!

12 PGA Centenary Course - Gleneagles.  I hear that since we played there a couple of years ago even more has been spent re-modelling the holes and improving the drainage.  I just hope it doesn't rain during the Ryder Cup as holding such a major event there so late in our golfing season is brave to put it mildly.  Not the greatest venue they could have chosen, but money talks louder than common sense.

13 St Medan GC - quirky, with a unique safety system on  one of the holes, using old runway landing lights.  Turn them on when you're on the green, turn them off when you leave it and golfers shouldn't play when the lights are on.  Simple and very effective and overall a good little course.

14 Rowallan Castle GC - a new parkland course, already hosting minor pro events.  

15 Ayr Bellisle Golf Course - a good local authority-managed course.  The old stately home that houses the clubhouse etc has seen better days but the course itself is well worth the modest green fee.

16 Castle Stuart Golf Course - an absolute gem of a course.  Put it on your bucket list!

17 Foulford Inn Golf Course - this is a small 9 hole Par 3 course attached to an old inn tucked away on a back road in rural Perthshire.  The inn has closed but the course is still playable on a pay as you play basis.  It was in superb condition when I played it and it's well worth playing, if you can find it.

18 The Castle Golf Course - St Andrews. Opinions on this newish links course are divided, but I liked it and there are some really good holes.

19 Crieff GC Ferntower Course  - another seriously good heathland/parkland course close to Crieff Hydro Hotel in rural Perthshire.  This is one of my favourite courses, with amazing greens.

20 Trump International Links Scotland - maybe one of the best courses in Aberdeenshire, but I'd not rush back.  This is a view from the back tee on the 18th, all 651 Yards of it.

I hope the 70+ readers who tried this quiz enjoyed doing so and that I've whetted their appetite for golf in Scotland.  Use the search box top left of the blog to find individual blog reports about all of the courses I've covered.  

I'm posting these answers on 1 March 2014, the first official day of Spring and I'm on the tee in 55 minutes, so must rush!  My efforts to play every course in scotland resume in a few weeks' time, with Maverston GC a new course that opens officially on 1 April. Check out  

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Darley Golf Course - Course no 629

The small town of Troon lies at the heart of a fabulous strip of golfing country on the Ayrshire coast, from Irvine down to Turnberry (and I'm deliberately excluding the town of Stevenston, home to one of my least favourite Scottish courses - which I'll not name, since I don't think it's worth playing unless you're really desperate).  Troon of course is famous as the home of the excellent and formidable Open Championship course at Royal Troon GC but aside from that and the other 2 courses operated by Royal Troon GC, this little town also has three 18 Hole links courses, all owned and operated by the South Ayrshire Council i.e. Lochgreen, Fullerton and Darley.  I played Lochgreen in early 2010 (Course no 245) and the Fullerton Course in early 2011 (Course no 363).  My all-courses challenge buddies Craig and Stu managed to play all 3 on one day a while ago, their assessment being that Darley was by far the best and most difficult.  Indeed, Craig (who plays off 3 at Carnoustie, so knows what he's talking about) rated Darley as one of the most difficult courses he'd played that year so I was somewhat wary of the challenge that Darley would present to my 11 handicap game. The weather hadn't been great in the past month or so and although my caddying work has almost certainly finished for the year, I'd not played any new courses since the round over Glasgow Killermont.    

28 November 2013 was predicted to be a sunny dry, mild and almost windless day so I got up early and set off on the 103 mile drive, hoping I'd manage respectability at worst.  Darley measures 6016 Yards, Par 71 from the Yellow tees.  The normal greens were in play (soft, hairy, slow and bumpy and very different from the medium paced smooth greens that are still prevalent on my own course and other local courses on the East Lothian coast).  However, winter tees were in operation, meaning the course length was nearer to 5900 Yards - and long enough, given the lack of run on soft fairways.  I'd arrived in time to see a large group of lady members lined up ready to play a pre-Christmas competition on the Fullerton Course, complete with Santa Claus hats and reindeer antlers (is it really that time already?) and although the Darley Course was almost as busy, a more ba-humbug attitude was evident.  I'm well-used to playing behind slow players by now, but the 3 in front managed to lose their place on the course to a 4-ball in front of them, by the 5th.  The bonus of their slow play was that I soon teamed up with David, another single player (and a local member), so at least I had excellent company while waiting for the group of front to play.  

Darley is a fairly flat course and starts with a short Par 5 of only 486 Yards.  An easy opening par there and a single-putt par at the 2nd (this is a view of the 2nd green) and I was wondering what evils Darley had up its sleeve. I didn't have long to wait.  The Par 4 3rd is only 260 Yards but a deep ditch concealing a water hazard runs across the fairway,  the 3 guys in front had all been fishing around looking in vain for balls in the hazard, so I should have noticed that the shortest route across this ditch was to the right of the fairway.  Left isn't really very clever, as the carry over the ditch is quite demanding. I just about cleared the left side of the ditch but had a poor lie in heavy rough, hence my bogey 5. Caddies are supposed to be more conscious of the importance of course management, but I'm clearly out of practice already!

The 4th is a short Par 3 playing to 109 Yards from the tee, so an easy enough par there. The 5th is Stroke Index 1 and at 408 Yards, this Par 4 has the most difficult tee-shot on the course. This is the rather uninspiring view from the tee.  The carry over the gully is only 150 Yards or so, but  the bushes in front of the tee need some trimming so I was happy enough to find the fairway. I'd hit my drive up the right side of the fairway, a wise move since high bushes on the left side come into play for the second shot.  I'd hit a pretty good 3 Wood but a shocking first bounce took my ball into pine straw to the front right of the green, leaving me an awkward pitch to the flag, over a deep bunker.  I was happy enough with a 5 after clearing the bunker.  This is a view of the green from the middle of the fairway.  A good hole, though.

The 6th is a 535 Yard Par 5 and the longest on the course.  The fairway is generously wide and lightly bunkered, so there's really no excuse here.  The only real difficulty is that the green lies in a dip beyond a small hillock, meaning you won't see much of the flag.  Heavy gorse immediately behind the green will catch your eye (and anything over-hit) but this is a fairly easy hole, which I should have birdied after hitting my third to within a few feet of the hole.  Putting was just a lottery though and at least my first putt looked good in the air.

The next couple of holes are short Par 4's and reasonable birdie chances in normal conditions. I was only 10 feet or so away in 2 on the 7th and I hit a decent putt, but the green was pretty bumpy.  Still, I was only 2 over after 8 holes! This is the 9th, an awkward little 160 Yard Par 3. The green is partly hidden by gorse and a heathery bank short right.  For readers not familiar with heather, it's awful stuff.  You can see your ball and think you've a reasonable lie, but these little plants are tough as nails and making clean contact with your ball is hugely difficult.  I'd a severely downhill lie in the heathery bank short right of the green and did well to escape with a double bogey 5 to be out in 40 strokes, at 4 over par.  I'd have taken that position given Darley's reputation as a tough track, so I wasn't complaining on that score.  By this time the sun was  warming our backs and I was too hot in my long sleeve T-shirt and thermal lined trousers, but if only the 3-ball in front would speed up to a crawl!

The back 9 at Darley is slightly more tricky than the Front 9.  There's more gorse and heather to avoid and the fairways are narrower and more undulating. For example, the 10th is a straight 339 Yard Par 4, but the tee is elevated and the fairway cambers steeply to both sides so finding the fairway at all is difficult.  I'd hit a good drive up the left of centre but my ball finished in the rough to the right of the fairway on a steep upslope.  The plateau green was difficult to find from there, so I was pretty chuffed to make par after over-hitting my first putt 10 feet past the hole. The Par 4 11th is also quite tricky, at 404 Yards, slightly uphill to another plateau green. The 12th offers some respite, being a 144 Yard Par 3, again slightly uphill and with a green that's deeper than it looks.  The toughest hole on the course is the 13th, a 446 Yard Par 4.  A ditch and water hazard cuts across the fairway at about 260 Yards from the tee, but I'd no chance of reaching that off the tee.  Realistically, I'd no chance of getting on in 2, and my 3 Wood up the left side took a bad bounce into heather and was lost.  An ugly 7 at this, the Stroke Index 2 hole, was poor.  

By this time, the 3-ball in front had really slowed down, but why they thought it necessary to wait until the green had cleared before teeing off on the 14th escaped both of us. The 14th, as shown here, is all of 377 Yards and with little run on the fairway the carry necessary would have been over 370 Yards!  I'd eventually hit a good drive and an 8 iron over a water hazard to reach the green, on an upslope beyond the hazard.  My 3-putt from there was disappointing, but I'd have my "revenge" on the greens later in the round. Meanwhile, David had an awkward hanging lie in heather and his 3 Wood was more than a little ambitious, but at least his shot from there would have alerted the 3-ball in front to our presence, since it landed pretty close to the 15th tee (and 40 yards right of the target line to the 14th green).  Indeed, David's wayward shot seemed to have the desired effect and we managed to play the last 4 holes without waiting around - just as well as daylight was fast running out.

The 15th is a 335 Yard Par 4 but there's a deep gully in front of the green and anything remotely under-hit will leave you an almost blind shot of 40 yards or so, steeply uphill to the green.  I bogeyed the hole after under-hitting a short iron to the green.  In fairness, my second shot was made more tricky by the low sun.  I was 10 over par with 3 holes to go, so I needed a decent finish if I was to beat net par.  This is the 16th, a slightly downhill 140 Yard Par 3.  I mis-hit my 7 iron and was still slightly short of the green and my pitch from there ran a disappointing 10 feet past the hole.  My single putt from there was surprising since anything around that range or over was just a lottery on these greens.  The 17th is a decent 350 Yard Par 4 and again, I was slightly short.  My pitch ended 15 feet short but another fluky putt saved par.  

I needed a par at the 18th, a 464 Yard Par 5, for a net 70, one shot inside the course par of 71. I'd hit a reasonable drive up the right directly into the setting sun and into some light rough, but a poor 3 Wood from there into heavier rough was followed by a couple of equally poor pitches.  I was on the green in 4, around 20 feet away (a distance that get's longer every time I think about it!) but again, my putter came to the rescue.  I'd gone round in 81, net 70, with 31 putts.  Darley is a really stiff test and well worth a visit.  OK, it's not in the same league as the Royal Troon GC courses, but at £1 a hole for the green fee, it's a real bargain.  Play to your handicap here and you'll have played pretty well. 

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Glasgow GC - Killermont Course - Course no 628

Glasgow GC is the world's 9th oldest golf club.  As might be expected of such an old institution, it has undergone some radical changes over the years, the Killermont Course being its 5th different location within the city since the club was founded in 1787.  The present course at Killermont was laid out by Old Tom Morris in December 1903, and was the Great Man's last course design.   The course has undergone some tweaking since then by James Braid and more recently by Dave Thomas to bring the course into line with developments in golfing equipment, but much of the course and in particular the sites for greens, remains as originally designed by Old Tom.  Factor in the magnificent Georgian mansion at Killermont that still serves as the clubhouse and a round here is an experience to be savoured.  This is a view of the clubhouse from the 1st Tee.

The Glasgow Golf Club also owns and operates the fine old links course at Gailes on the Ayrshire Coast on links land between Irvine and Troon, with several other celebrated links courses within easy driving distance. Indeed, the Glasgow Gailes course has been chosen by the R&A as the sole Scottish Final Qualifying Course for the Open Championship for the next 3 years, recognising Glasgow GC as one of Scotland's most prestigious clubs and the Gailes course as amongst the best of our links courses.  I'd played Glasgow Gailes some years ago, before I started the challenge of playing every course, but I'd not managed a round at the Killermont Course.  It's perfectly possible to phone the club to make playing arrangements, but I was fortunate that David McG, one of my former work colleagues is a member, so a few text exchanges later and we'd arranged a friendly 4-ball for 28 October 2013 (me and David McG versus Alastair, another Glasgow GC member, and David L, my best buddy from Glen GC). 28 October was supposed to be a day of sunshine and the occasional light shower, with the weather deteriorating as the week progressed, so we boldly (and as it turned out, foolishly) ventured out.  The bad news was that the 14th and 15th holes were closed following heavy rain on the 27th and a problem with a water pump used to drain that part of the course.  Accordingly, I'd be unable to play every hole on the course.  I'll need to return to Killermont and play the full layout, but given the quality of this course, that's a pleasure I'm really looking forward to.   

The Killermont course measures 5678 Yards Par 68 from the Yellow Tees.  A temporary green was in place at the short Par 4 1st, but otherwise, we were playing to the full 16 holes that were in play and the course was playing quite long due to the wet and sometimes boggy underfoot conditions.  The 1st hole is pretty straightforward, but Killermont's 2nd is an absolute beast, a Par 3 of 241 Yards off the White Tee. Thankfully it's slightly more manageable at 229 Yards off the Yellow Tee but I still needed a good 3 Wood to reach the front of the green, setting up  my first par.  This is a view from the tee, with the autumn colours in full splendour.  As a caddy, I prefer to offer advice on lines to take rather than hazards to avoid, unless they are not immediately visible, so it was good on the 3rd Tee to hear my partner listing exhaustively all of the places that our opponents should avoid - we won the hole but it's amazing how a little negativity can influence things in friendly match play.

We'd started in dry overcast conditions but it wasn't to last and the first shower arrived just as were tackling the slightly uphill semi-blind 4th, a 138 Yard Par 3 that played a lot longer than it looked.  There's OOB beyond and a gully to the left of the green, so an accurate tee shot here is important.  I'd just missed the green front right and this green was particularly slow, but a bogey 4 was still disappointing.  The 5th is a really good 505 Yard Par 5, slightly downhill back towards the clubhouse, as shown here.  I was just short in 3 and a poor lob wedge to 15 foot short was never going to leave an easy putt, so another eminently avoidable bogey was recorded.  Next, the Stroke Index 1 hole, a 418 Yard uphill Par 4 that played a lot longer.  I'd only an easy third shot sand iron pitch to the green, but by the time we'd finished the hole the rain was fair battering down and I'd scored yet another avoidable bogey. The weather improved on the next 3 holes, all short Par 4s.  I parred the 7th and 8th and was only 10 feet away in 2 on the 339 Yard Par 4 9th.  I missed the birdie putt but was still out in 40.

The 10th hole is one of the best at Killermont, a 394 Yard dog leg left Par 4.  I'd hit a good drive down the left of the fairway but the optimum line is well right of centre, to avoid having to go over high trees at the corner of the dog leg.  The heavy rain was back on and didn't ease until we'd reached the 16th.  I'd struggled to keep my club grips relatively dry and was reminded that I needed a new wet suit, but our opponents had struggled too and we were dormie after the 13th.  With the 14th and 15th obviously unplayable and closed for the day, we only needed a half on the 16th, a 133 Yard Par 3, as shown here.  My good 7 iron looked OK but only reached the front of the green and the actual hole was still 50+ feet away.  I hit a really solid putt but even that came up 6 feet short on the by then  saturated green. I don't much like 3-putting at the best of times, but between us David and I had scrambled a half, winning our match - setting up a "return" at North Berwick GC sometime next Spring.

Here's Alastair and the two David's doing some pitch mark repairing on the soft 18th green, with the impressive clubhouse in the background.

With 2 of the holes out of play, I scored 73 gross for 16 holes, with 30 putts.  The missing holes are a 366 Yard Par 4 and a 436 Par 5 and I'm guessing that I could have done them in around 10 strokes, but I'll need to return to play the full course sometime to find out.  I'm really looking forward to that, since Killermont was still a joy to play, despite the weather.  I strongly recommend you try to play here sometime.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Balnagask 9 Hole Pitch and Putt Course - Course no 627

Coby and I played this little course on 24 October 2013 immediately after our round over the 18 Hole links course at Balnagask. Although this is referred to as a pitch and putt course, the holes range from 64 to 145 yards, so full shots are definitely required on most holes.  The course is laid out on land that became available as a consequence of the re-modelling of the 18 Hole course in 1976. This little course is ideal for general practice and for giving youngsters a first start in the game, without the potentially intimidating pressures of playing alongside adults on the bigger course.  As with most other short courses, the greens are pretty small and difficult to hold, so although all of the holes are Par 3s, the course isn't as easy as it looks.  Indeed, we both took bogey 4s on this the 104 Yard 1st hole.

The course runs from the Stater's Hut out towards The Battery, a formidable defensive fortification from Napoleonic times, before turning back towards the Torry district of Aberdeen. The course also provides great close-up views of the Harbour and at 1010 Yards, Par 27 is ideal for a quick warm-up before playing the bigger course or just lunchtime etc. practice.  Coby works next door to the course, lucky man!  

Here are some general views of some of the holes and the adjacent Aberdeen Harbour.

I managed a birdie at the 93 Yard 2nd hole, but that was as good as it got, since a few further bogeys took me to a gross 31, 4 over par, with 16 putts. A good little course.  Thanks again to Coby for his excellent hospitality, friendship and a very generous contribution towards our Cancer Research UK fund-raising efforts.  Hopefully, we'll see each other again as the challenge to play every course in Scotland continues.

Balnagask Golf Course - course no 626

It's always good to hear from readers of my blog and particularly from those who invite me to play at what for me is another new course. Craig, Stu and I enjoy each other's company when we play new courses together but since their still working full-time and I'm not, I usually play new courses by myself.  That's good, but it's so much better to play with a local member (apart from anything else, it prevents me from getting completely lost on courses without adequate signage and advice on lines to take and the history of courses etc. can really help add to the enjoyment in playing new courses). Accordingly, I was delighted when Coby got in touch with me a few months ago about playing at Balnagask, his local course in Aberdeen. This is Coby and me by the Starter's Office when we played at Balnagask on 24 October 2013.

Balnagask is an 18 Hole links course on the south side of the Dee estuary, overlooking Aberdeen Harbour and is owned and operated by Aberdeen City Council.  The course is also home to Nigg Bay GC, Pecten GC and Marine GC (a small non-course owning club set up by Coby and some friends).  Regular readers of my blog will know that most of the "Cooncil" courses that I've covered in blog reports suffer from chronic under-investment and are rarely very memorable. Aberdeen Council suffers from the same financial pressures as other Scottish local authorities, but I'm pleased to say that this doesn't show at Balnagask, which is an absolute gem of a course in terms of its design, condition and above all the tremendous views from almost every hole.  The course sits on the Balnagask Headland between the Dee estuary and Nigg Bay and there are great views out to sea, the Girdleness Lighthouse and across to the Harbour and the city beyond.  The course is operated for the good of the local community, but £12 for a round on such an excellent course is an absolute steal, particularly when contrasted against the far higher visitor green fees at other privately-run courses in the area. Visiting golfers to the Aberdeen area will naturally focus on playing at Royal Aberdeen, Murcar and Trump International etc. and whilst those courses are justifiably famous in their own right, Balnagask is probably more playable by the average golfer.  OK, there's maybe no great kudos in playing a Cooncil course that's also a public park (popular with dog walkers etc.) and a couple of holes overlook a jaded-looking housing development, but anyone who turns up their nose at the thought of playing here is really missing out on a quality course.

Balnagask measures 6121 Yards Par 70 and has been substantially re-modelled over the years since it was first established in 1905 as a 12 hole course.  Given its strategic location, the course it was commandeered for military use during and after both World Wars.  Indeed, the course was closed completely for 15 years before re-opening in 1955, under the Council's control for the first time. Over the years it has varied between 11, 12 and 18 holes, with James Braid and Hawtree & Son making substantial design changes at different times.  The current layout dates back to a major re-alignment  (designed by Hawtree & Son, now better known as architects of the Trump International Golf Links and many other famous courses) in 1976.  This work involved larger greens and extensive layout changes that avoided some of the steeper parts of the headland, making the course an easier walk (and providing land for what is now an excellent 9 hole pitch and putt course, closer to the estuary and the Aberdeen Harbour entrance).  I'm indebted to Coby for this insight into the history and development of the course and for his in-round descriptions of the former layout and other features on the course.  

Balnagask now begins with an intimidating looking 368 Yard Par 4 with a blind second shot played steeply uphill, with OOB coming into play on the left side of the fairway.  The course is still quite undulating and if you ever play here, you'll probably linger for a while to enjoy the panoramic view from the 2nd tee, offering your first clear view of the sea beyond the course (and the Harbour, miles of sandy beach and the townscape beyond).  This is a view of the 2nd hole, a 447 Yard Par 4, from the tee and below that, a view from the fairway down to the green.  Coby and I clearly had a warm sunny and almost wind less day for our game!

The tough start to Balnagask continues with the 3rd, a largely uphill 406 Yard Par 4.   As Coby noted, there's space behind the tee to stretch this hole into a Par 5 or make it even tougher, but I think it's fine as it is.  The wall behind the green is OOB, as shown here.  I'd started with a run of 3 bogey 5s, but I was determined to keep a 6 off my card and play to my handicap.  It was an ideal day for golf, I'd great company and the course was in great condition for the time of year.  Just perfect really.  The 4th is a short steeply downhill 360 Yard Par 4 and another chance to really go for a long drive.  I played an easy wedge to the green but I really needed a fuller swing, as my ball got stuck in heavy rough just beyond a path that runs in front of the green.  Another bogey and my hopes for a low round were fast receding. 
The 5th is the shortest hole on the course at 133 Yards, steeply uphill, but the tee markers were forward and my easy 9 iron looked good all the way.  A first par, at last.  Next, the Stroke Index 1 6th, and at 432 Yards, an excellent links-style Par 4.  I had a comfortable bogey there and managed to birdie the shorter 7th, as shown below (at only 310 yards, this was just a drive and an easy wedge).  More steady play and I was out in 40 and loving the course.

The Front 9 is pretty open, but the Back 9 is a bit tighter.  For example, this is the 10th, a 483 Yard Par 5.  The drive is easy enough as the first 250 yards or so of the fairway is generously wide.  However, if you've hit a good one and fancy getting on in 2, your second shot must thread its way between gorse covered hillocks.  I played the hole as a 3-shotter and had a reasonably comfortable 5, despite leaving myself a 5 foot putt for par. The Back 9 is also significantly shorter than the Front 9 and with the first cut of rough being so light, a slightly wayward shot wasn't really punished.  Go further offline and it was a different story, as I'm afraid Coby found out.  His swing change will bear fruit but was still work in progress, but the man can play and was out-driving me - a feat that's becoming increasingly easy!  

I was scrambling pars and the odd bogey (with another birdie at the short 296 Yard Par 4 12th), but a hooked second shot on the 17th left me in heavy rough.  I had this bunker between me and the hole but I managed another somewhat lucky scrambled bogey. The last hole is a 216 Yard Par 3.  The ideal line is a chimney on the horizon, left of the green, to allow your ball to roll down the side slope onto the green. A bunker some 50 yards short of the green doesn't really come into play (and I'd move it far closer to the green, on the same line, to toughen the hole). As it stands, anything up the left side of the hole feeds off the side slope onto the green.  I finished just short of the green with my tee shot and a bogey from there was slightly disappointing, but I'd gone round in 81, net 70 with 32 putts. I'd matched net par and avoided a 6 on my card and thoroughly enjoyed my first ever round at Balnagask.  I hope to play it again sometime.  Coby was the perfect partner and we had perfect golfing weather (the following day was apparently stormy and blowing a gale!).  I strongly recommend you play Balnagask.  If you're very lucky, you'll get good weather too, but be warned, the course is seriously exposed to the elements.

Craibstone Golf Course - Course no 625

This is an excellent 18 hole parkland/heathland course just to the west of Aberdeen that was originally established in 1999 by the Scottish Agricultural College and since 2011 has been owned and operated by Marshall Leisure Ltd.  I played the course immediately after my earlier round at nearby Auchmill on 23 October 2013.  Although these courses are only a few miles apart and are built on similarly undulating land, the differences between the courses are like night and day.  Craibstone has clearly been built with far greater investment in drainage systems and overall was simply a joy to play from start to finish, despite the odd heavy shower and increasingly strong wind that added to scoring difficulties.  I'd arrived unannounced "on spec" at lunchtime and was given the warmest of welcomes.  The clubhouse Bistro was in full swing, but the course itself was pretty quiet.  I could start behind a 3 ball of members and with the surprisingly warm sun now out and almost 5 hours of daylight left, this was set to be a round to be savoured rather than rushed.  

Craibstone lies within a mile of the edge of the city but feels completely detached from it and only the occasional helicopter or plane overhead disturbs the peace of this place. I was hooked on Craibstone by the 1st hole, a downhill 323 Yard Par 4, as shown above. Good bunkering protects an undulating green, built to USPGA standards (and impressively firm, despite the recent rain).  An easy par there.  Next is an innocent-looking 130 Yard Par 3, but again, the green is far from easy to read (and I liked the attention to detail on the scorecard, with slope diagrams of each green).  The 3rd should be a simple Par 4 if you keep your ball straight.  Go left (like me) and a water hazard and heavy rough awaits - I escaped with a 5!  The 4th is really difficult so have a look at this hole from the 3rd tee and note the deep gully, bushes and water to be negotiated by your second shot.  The drive from the 4th tee is actually quite easy, but do not be fooled. Bogey here is good and infinitely preferable to the cricket score you could run up by being careless or over-ambitious.  The 3rd hole also offers you a good view of the long uphill Par 5 5th.  This hole is only 421 Yards but plays more like 500.  A heavy shower on the 4th and 5th holes added to the difficulty, as did being waived through by the friendly 3-ball in front.  I'd reached the 6th Tee in 3 over par.  Scoring well here would be far more difficult than at Auchmill, but I was loving the course, despite it's tricky opening holes and the uncertain weather.

Thankfully, the 6th offered some respite.  This 189 Yard Par 3 is actually slightly downhill and was definitely downwind.  The calm of the morning had been replaced by a stiffening breeze that would make the Back 9 "interesting."  The short walk from the 6th green to the 7th Tee goes past the clubhouse and the car park, but the 7th is downhill and officially the easiest hole on the course, so with the sun poking out from behind the rainclouds again, it was wet suit off and time for another par.  The 8th is another fairly simple hole, this time an uphill 296 Yard Par 4, but I'd found a greenside bunker and that cost me a bogey.  Holes 9-17 lie beyond trees behind the 8th and are more heathland in nature, suggesting that they were a later addition to a previous 9 hole layout.  I don't know if that's the case, but this part of the course has a slightly different feel to the holes nearer the clubhouse and as I was to discover, there were some fearsome challenges ahead.  This is the 9th, a 371 Yard Par 4 with a large pond and deep bunkering protecting the green.  I'd hit a good drive but the strong wind meant that I still needed a 3 Wood for my second shot.  I cleared the pond OK, but only just and a bogey meant I was out in 41.

The 10th is a good looking 128 Yard Par 3, playing far longer in the increasing wind.  I'd just missed the green and took a bogey.  The 11th is called  "Gruesome Glen" and is the quirkiest hole I've played for some time.  For starters, this is an uphill 355 Yard Par 4 played into the low sun (out again!).  The fairway (all of 9 paces wide!) lies in a hollow between gorse on the right and rough on the left.  Find the fairway and your blind second shot will be severely uphill to a long and very narrow plateau green.  Miss the fairway to the left (as I did, by a mere yard) and chances are you'll have a hanging lie with the ball well below your feet.  My second shot from there was uphill, blind, into the low sun and a heavy wind.  I opted for a 3 Wood, just missed the green chipped on to 4 feet and holed the putt for an outstanding par.  This is, unsurprisingly, the Stroke Index 1 hole.  This rather poor photo gives only a weak flavour of this challenging hole.

Having survived, the 11th, it was a long walk to the 12th, mainly uphill, it seemed.  I've had to adjust the colours on the photo below, also taken almost directly into the sun.  The 12th is only 148 Yards, but played to around 190, slightly uphill and directly into the wind.  The pin was tucked away back right of the green, behind a 4 foot high mound.  I'd only just cleared the path leading up to the green with my tee shot, bringing this little mound into play, so my bogey was actually quite good!

I'd reached the top of the course, but stood on the 13th Tee I was faced with yet another hugely challenging hole.  This time the tee shot should be played downhill to a flat area almost surrounded by gorse, trees and heavy rough, leaving a blind second shot steeply uphill towards the green. This is not a hole for the faint-hearted, as this view from the tee suggests.  I decided to try to play it as a Par 5, with a Driver and a couple of mid-irons.  The hole is only 377 Yards, but I'd missed the fairway left, so I hit a 9 iron into position for a blind uphill shot to the green. That strategy came unstuck in one of the bunkers to the right of the green (invisible from where I'd played!) my third shot.  I took a 7 which could have been far worse, given the scope for trouble on this hole.  It wasn't my favourite hole and having played it I'm still not sure whether it's necessary to have such severe bunkers to protect a blind hole.

The rest of the holes at Craibstone are easier by comparison, or perhaps more accurately, holes where seriously high scores are pretty unlikely unless you do something really silly. Even so, I dropped another 3 shots on the last 5 holes for a round of 83, net 72 with 30 putts. This is a view of the 18th fairway and the remnants of a heavy shower that just missed the course late in my round. Craibstone is a seriously impressive set up. I'd love to play it again sometime and would strongly recommend it if you get the chance.  If you're tempted, just don't take Holes 11-13 too seriously.  Par all three and you will have my undying respect!