Monday, 28 January 2013

Have clubs, will Scotland

As will be apparent to my regular readers, one of the secondary objectives of this blog is to draw attention to the lesser known golf courses in Scotland and more generally to promote visits to such hidden gems.  Golfers the world over have heard about The Old Course, Carnoustie, Turnberry, Muirfield, Royal Troon, Gleneagles etc and many will, rightly, have ambitions to play such famous courses.  Inevitably, green fees at these courses are not cheap.  For example, the Summer 2013 green fees for The Old Course will set you back £155 for a round and at Muirfield you'll be forking out a cool £195.  You could even spend £300 for a round at Skibo Castle (well worth it, by the way), so a trip to Scotland focusing solely on the "trophy" courses could make a very serious dent in your bank balance.
However, as I've seen on my travels around Scottish golf courses, there's far more to golf in Scotland than just these world famous courses.  I suppose it's inevitable that some golfers will wish to play these courses, irrespective of the costs, but you won't understand what golf in Scotland is really about by playing only our prestige courses.  Scotland is a pretty small place and it's actually quite difficult to visit one of the prestige courses without passing other courses that could offer a great golfing experience at a fraction of the cost (and be more playable for medium and higher handicappers).  OK, so it's fun to get home after a Scottish golfing trip and share 19th Hole tales about how you almost broke 100 at Muirfield (off the Yellow Tees).  But how much better might it be to boast about how you broke 90 on one of the many wonderful courses almost next door to Muirfield that you discovered and enjoyed playing for a fraction of the Muirfield green fee?

By all means play one or more of our famous "trophy" courses, but have a look at what's available nearby.  For example, let's say you've based yourself in North Berwick, where I live, a 5 minute drive from Muirfield.  You'll find another 30 or so courses within an hour's drive, including a number of courses that are used for Open Championship Final Qualifying and offer outstanding value for money as well as an entertaining round of golf.  Alternatively, take the day off and explore Edinburgh, only 25 miles up the road by road or 30 minutes by train to the city centre.  From my job as a caddie in East Lothian, I remember being asked for advice on whether there was a good course on the way to Edinburgh Airport as my player wanted to squeeze in another quick round before flying home the next day. I was able to help easily enough, but in reality it could have taken him around a week to get to the airport!
There are any number of tour operators that will put a Scottish golf package together for you and that's fine by me if that's how you want to organise your Scottish golf trip.  However, you won't experience Scotland by looking out of tourist bus windows and playing only our world famous courses.  For me, one of the greatest joys in playing golf in Scotland is experiencing the diversity of courses that are available across the home of golf, from the great links to the humblest of rough courses laid out for pennies and still maintained by the voluntary efforts of dedicated club members. Equally, it's great to meet local golfers on my travels and learn from them some of the history of their own courses and how best to play particular holes.  As a typically tight-fisted Scot, I appreciate that a really cheap way of playing local courses is to enter open competitions.  All you need is a recognised handicap certificate, the knowledge of where and when these competitions are being held and the foresight to enter in advance.  The best free information source is, the website of the Scottish Golf Union, the body that administers the amateur game in Scotland.  You'll see a tag for Open Competitions on the Home page of this website, with listings for such competitions.  OK, so you put your handicap on the line, but you'll be playing with local members at a fraction of the normal green fees.  Indeed, most Open Competitions have entry fees well under £20 and the prize money can be worthwhile if you play well enough.
It might sound daunting to some, but travelling independently around Scotland following your own itinerary is really easy and will take you nearer to the real Scotland and its people and above all, the full diversity of our golf courses.  One of the "joys" of my challenge to play every course in Scotland is the internet and other research required to identify all of the courses in the first place (and please take my word for it, there is no fully comprehensive commercially available list, despite what various websites and reference books may claim).  Accordingly, I spend quite a time searching around on the internet, finding new courses to play, places to stay and eat, etc for my travels.  Anyone doing their own planning for a Scottish golf trip will of course need to do the same.  I don't get paid for product endorsements on this blog, but if any of my readers is thinking about planning their own golf trip to Scotland, I strongly suggest they start by going to, one of the best websites sites for independent golf travellers that I've come across.  Navigation through this site couldn't be easier and there's a huge amount of unbiased and completely reliable information that should give you the confidence to do your own planning.   Even if you don't have any immediate ambitions to come here to explore the diversity of our courses, is an entertaining site to visit, full of unexpected details and some straight-talking course reviews. 
I'm often asked what my favourite Scottish golf courses are.  A simple enough question, but I always struggle to provide a reasonably short answer.  It's always tempting to go for the usual suspects such Kingsbarns, Castle Stuart, Turnberry, Loch Lomond, The Old Course, Royal Dornoch and Muirfield, but I suspect that doing so just reinforces peoples' views about golf in Scotland, where the best courses are the ones that everyone has heard of.  A more comprehensive reflection on my favourite courses would also probably include a mixture of lesser known (certainly outside Scotland) courses such as Rosemount, The Renaissance, Glasgow Gailes, Royal Aberdeen and Skibo Castle and some pretty obscure places, such as Boat of Garten, Stroma, Scarista, Durness, Stromness and Gatehouse of Fleet, before droning on about the wonders of my own course, The Glen GC in North Berwick.  Such lists are of course highly subjective, but are great fun to discuss over a beer or three in the warmth of the 19th.  If you ever visit Scotland for a golfing holiday, try asking a local golfer about his/her own favourites, and why, and be prepared for a long night!  Some of the courses mentioned above you might recognise.  Others you will come across on a golfing journey through Scotland you might even struggle to pronounce properly or even remember, but I'd be amazed if the personal memories that give rise to such preferences don't get your golfing juices flowing, big time. 

Now if only it would stop raining/snowing and being thoroughly miserable outside, maybe I'd get back to my travels around the remaining 89 courses on my own list of Scottish courses. Through internet research I recently found a 6 hole course on Fair Isle, a small dot on the map midway between the Orkney and Shetland islands must surely be the remotest course in Scotland, but I'll leave that trip for the coming summer, when at least the rain will be warmer!


Thursday, 17 January 2013

Lochview Family Golf Centre - Course no 560

The Lochview Family Golf Centre is located in Coatbridge, an industrial town east of Glasgow and is a re-branding of the formerCoatbridge Golf Course, by its owner and operator, North Lanarkshire Council.  The centre consists of an 18 hole golf course, driving range and modern clubhouse.  I played the Lochview course on 17 January 2013 a bitterly cold day, with a heavy frost that thankfully had frozen parts of the course that would otherwise have been extremely boggy.  The Starter advised that although all of the course was open, most  members of the local Lochview Golf Club, which is based here, usually miss out holes 2-4, where drainage problems are particularly severe at present.  I'd started behind a couple of local members who were adopting that strategy, but since I was intent on playing every hole, this meant that I'd no one in front of me that I could follow.  I mention this because there were no numbers on any of the tees or flags, making navigation pretty difficult.  Temporary greens were in operation on some holes, reducing the course to something like 5000 Yards, Par 69.  However, the frozen ground meant that scoring was extremely difficult, particularly on the frozen greens.  This is the 5th, a 267 Yard Par 4 playing nearer to 250 Yards, with the driving range immediately beyond the OOB fence.  This is an easy enough hole if you hit your drive dead straight (as I did, thank goodness).  Otherwise, you can run up a double bogey or worse.
From here, advanced navigation skills were necessary to find the 6th tee.  There's a course map on the scorecard, but this measures under 2 square inches and with hole numbering at well under a millimetre high, is almost unreadable.  Indeed, I only noticed the map after I'd gone back to the Starter's Office to seek directions!  Holes 6-12 are on the other side of the busy Townhead Road that runs through the course, but you're then faced with a path that runs off in 3 different directions, with absolutely no signage to offer any guidance.  Nor was there any sign of the 2 locals who had started in front of me on the 1st.  The 6th was supposed to be a 165 Yard Par 3, but the flags on holes 1-5 had been Yellow, but there was a Red flag on the hole that looked to be a possible candidate for the 6th.  I gambled wrongly and ended up playing what turned out to be the 12th and then the 10th (with Yellow flags!), before stumbling upon the 6th, complete with its Red flag.  The North Lanarkshire Council has clearly spent a small fortune on the clubhouse and it's also done well  with extensive road-side signage to encourage public participation.  However, it's a real shame that no effort has been made to ensure that casual Winter visitors like myself can actually navigate their way around the course.  I imagine that signage is better during the Summer months, but there's really no excuse for the complete lack of any signage during the Winter.  Even some rudimentary numbering on tee boxes/litter bins would have helped and I do wonder how many potential newcomers to the sport have been put off by the lack of on-course signage. 
The front 9 holes were pretty short, at something like 2100 Yards in total, so my gross 39 (discounting the extra shots over Holes 12 and 10) was reasonable enough.  The back 9 is significantly longer and more difficult and I was happy with a homeward 42 for a total of 81 gross, net 70, with 35 putts.  This was only net 1 over par in really testing conditions, so not bad at all.  This is the 18th, a 345 Yard Par 4, with the clubhouse and driving range in the background.  The best hole is probably the Stroke Index 1 9th, a 372 Yard Par 4, played from an elevated tee and finishing with a good view of a small loch.  However, it was difficult to get enthusiastic about any of the holes, given my navigation problems.
Overall, Lochview is probably a decent enough parkland course during the Summer months, assuming that signage is improved and that currently boggy areas finally dry out.   I've played it once, but I don't imagine I'll ever want to play it again.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Cambuslang GC - Course no 559

I'd not played much golf at all since the games at Turnberry in November due to a really nasty bout of flu and a long spell of wet weather that led to the flooding of various Scottish courses in recent weeks.  So, it was good to get back to "the all-courses challenge" on 9 January 2013 by playing this good little 9 hole parkland course in the eastern outskirts of Glasgow.  Cambuslang is short at 2881 Yards, Par 35 off the Yellow Tees, and is pretty flat and easy walking, with only a couple of small hills to contend with.  A couple of temporary greens were in play and combined with forward tees on some holes, I guess this shortened the course to something like 2600 Yards overall. The Cambuslang course is laid out over a surprisingly small area, meaning that a 9-hole round shouldn't take long, but the downside of that compactness is that the holes are pretty close together, with quite a few fairways crossing each other.  For example, the 1st and 6th holes are crossed by the 7th and the 2nd is crossed by the 4th, so you need to be mindful of other golfers and the risk of wayward shots.  I just followed the guy in front as best I could and noted when he stopped to give way to other players, but it took me a while to notice all of these potential hazards and I completely missed the fact that the 1st is vulnerable from the right by shots from the 7th. 
The 1st is a 501 Yard Par 5 that played longer than it looked, with the green sitting at the top of a gentle upslope.  I'd hit a decent drive and with Cambuslang having a winter mats policy in place I'd another chance to test my new Mark 3 Rocket Launcher smart mat, from  I've lost count of the number of old offcuts of astroturf etc that I've lost on various courses and I'm a mug for new gadgets of all kinds, but this new mat actually works and is a great improvement on anything I've tried before.  It takes a wee bit of getting used to but I'm sold on it as a Winter game improvement aid to the extent that I'll be using it even on courses that don't have a winter mats policy.  Anyway, a great connection with my 3 Wood left me with a short iron to the green and my opening par was easy enough.  The 2nd is a 306 Yard  Par 4.  Aim at the left of the fairway to avoid a stand of trees front right of the tee that might otherwise catch your drive and leave you looking at bogey or much worse.  Be careful on this hole though, as it might not be immediately obvious that players 2 holes ahead may be playing from the 4th tee, to the left and above the 2nd fairway. I managed a good birdie after a 9 iron to 3 feet, using my new mat.
This is the 3rd hole, a 132 Yard Par 3, with Polly walking ahead to assess the lie I'd left myself in the bunker, short of the green.  Easy enough as it turned out, but a costly bogey nevertheless.  The 4th is an awkward 352 Yard Par 4.  The drive is easy enough to a wide fairway, but the green sits at the top of a steep bank and your second will play far longer than it looks.  I'd 139 yards left according to my range finder but the shot played nearer to 160 and I only barely made the front edge with my 27 Degree Rescue.  The 5th is a 317 Yard Par 4 played from an elevated tee, semi-blind over some high trees.  The right side of the fairway gives a better line into the small green.  I'd hit a good drive and a punched 6 iron to within 15 feet.  The greens were slow and bumpy but still reasonably good for this time of year.  Another birdie after a good putt and I was 1 under par with only 4 holes to go.

The 6th at Cambuslang is a 413 Yard Par 4 and rightly the Stroke Index 1 hole.  The drive is easy looking as the fairway is initially generously wide, but the second shot is longer than it looks and the longer the fairway runs, the narrower it gets.  The fairway also dog legs to the right, so a tee shot favouring the left of the fairway gives a better view of the green. The 6th green is also quite small and has more slopes than most others, so  I was happy enough with a bogey 5.  I'll take level par with 3 to go anytime.  Another bunker to the left of the green and a repositioning of the existing bunker would make this hole even more formidable, but some might say the hole is tough enough already! This is a view of the 6th green and the clubhouse.

The 7th is a 344 Yard Par 4.  The small beech tree in the distance is a good line off the tee.  Another good drive and a 27 Degree Rescue set up another easy par.  The 8th is a 168 Yard Par 3.  A stream to the right of the green lurks ready to swallow a really wayward drive but otherwise, this hole looked to be pretty defenceless and I'd be adding some bunkers given the chance.  Another par.  The 9th is a 348 Yard Par 4.  The green sits in front of the clubhouse windows and a gully in front adds to the difficulty.  Unfortunately for me, a temporary green was in play, reducing the hole to a drive and short pitch, as shown here.  I suspect the 9th would be my favourite hole at Cambuslang and maybe one day I'll get the chance to play it to the normal green.  I hope so, since I liked this little course nestled inconspicuously between factories and housing.  OK, it's crossover holes are quirky and straight hitting is pretty important, but I liked the welcoming feel to the place and the friendliness of its members.

I managed my par at the 9th for a gross 35, even par, or net 29.5, with 13 putts.  A good score and a tough one to beat if I ever play the course again.