Thursday, 21 March 2013

Fereneze GC - Course no 564

Fereneze GC is a hilly moorland 18 hole course in Barrhead, a small town a few miles South West of Glasgow.  The course measures 5676 Yards Par 71 off the Yellow Tees, but with temporary greens in play after a slight overnight frost, it was playing more like 5400 Yards, Par 68.  I'd lived only a few miles away as a child, and on reflection, I'd have been able to see this course in the distance from my bedroom window.  However, golf wasn't a realistic option for me back then, as I've previously explained, so it's taken me a very long time to play what back then was a local course.  When I finally played Fereneze on 21 March 2013, the very friendly Pro very kindly let me have the courtesy of the course given our charitable objectives.  Thanks again, Scott!   It was clear that this course would be hilly and physically demanding so maybe it wouldn't be wise to test my troublesome right shoulder by carrying my full bag.  Time would tell.
Fereneze starts with a steeply uphill 270 Yard Par 4.  I'd hit a reasonable drive and it should be just a short pitch and a couple of putts at most.  The temporary greens were pretty small with Winter holes around 6 inches wide to compensate for their occasionally uneven surfaces, so putting was pretty easy, once you'd found the greens, that is.  The 2nd is normally a slightly uphill 140 Yard Par 3, but the temporary green located close to the 3rd tee was up a very steep hill, with little margin for error, as seen here. I was through the back of the green with my 27 Degree Rescue effort, so that cost me a bogey.  The 3rd was also uphill, this time a 469 Yard Par 5 and the Stroke Index 1 hole.  I managed a pretty comfortable par and thankfully the 4th was a flattish 157 Yard Par 3 that enabled me to get my breath back after a physically tough start.  Another bogey there but that disappointment was tempered by the outstanding views across Glasgow in the distance and huge lungfuls of fresh (if bitterly cold!) air.
I'd not played much golf since my round at Cochrane Castle GC, from a combination of poor weather and a week long trip to Barcelona (daily average of 20 Degrees C!) so it was a pleasure to play at Fereneze, despite the cold conditions.  The fairways here are pretty generous and the tight moorland turf meant there was some run on the fairways, a refreshing change from the wet conditions I've experienced in recent months.  The 6th, a 484 Yard Par 5 is the longest hole and one of the best.  The drive is blind, with the fairway turning to the right and slightly uphill.  I'd hit Driver, 3 wood and a pitch and run with my 9 iron and had a 20 foot putt for birdie.  The 6 inch wide hole looked bucket-wide and sure enough my first birdie was secured.  A good hole.  The 7th was a downhill Par 3 playing no more than a wedge, so another par was easy enough.  The 468 Yard Par 5 8th is another really good hole downhill to start then steeply uphill.  A stream running across the fairway adds to the difficulty.  The Front 9 closes with an interesting 302 Yard Par 4, which I played into a strengthening Easterly wind.  The tee shot is blind, with the second played to a small green.  I was out in 38, only 3 over, playing well and the shoulder was holding up well.
The Back 9 is slightly longer but since most of the holes are downhill, it's an easier walk.  This is a view of the 10th green, with the Glasgow skyline in the background.  The highest point on the course is well over 500 feet and the course as a whole is very exposed to the elements and I shudder to think what it's like playing here in a real storm.  Thankfully I got it on a reasonably good, if cold, day. I'd started the Back 9 with a bogey and 3 pars and was playing pretty well.  The 14th was a slightly downhill Par 3, playing to little more than an easy wedge.  I'd missed the green to the right and had left myself with an awkward 30 foot putt from the fairway with 4 foot of break.  An "interesting" birdie, eased by the width of the Winter hole! 
I thought the best hole on the Back 9 was the 15th, a downhill 456 Yard Par 4 with a blind drive and OOB to the right.  This is a view of the Glasgow skyline from the 15th fairway.  Note that the long roof in the distance beyond the middle tree to the left of this photo is the Main Stand at Ibrox Stadium, home of the still mighty Rangers FC!  The 16th is a modest 281 Yard Par 4.  I'd hit my best drive of the day and had only a short pitch to the green, which finished 5 feet away.  Another birdie and a good score was in prospect if I could par the last couple of holes.
The 17th is a 307 Yard Par 4.  Anything hit short for your second shot will find a deep ditch and stream in front of the green, so be warned, as you probably won't see this hazard after your drive.  When I played it, the temporary green was short of this ditch, so a careful pitch led to an easy par.  The final hole at Fereneze is steeply downhill with a blind tee shot.  There's a lot of sky to aim at but the fairway is reasonably wide.  I just picked a large building in the distance as my target and trusted my swing.  this is a view from the 18th fairway. The 18th is 377 Yards, Par 4, but plays well short of that.  Indeed, I'd only a short iron for my second having taken a free drop from the pathway that runs across the fairway to set up another easy par.  I'd gone round in 73, net 62, some 9 shots under net par, helped by taking only 26 putts.  With temporary greens in play and 6 inch wide Winter holes, Fereneze wasn't much of a challenge on the day.  However, it was obvious that the course would be far more challenging when played to its full length.  I'm not a great fan of hilly moorland courses at the best of times, but I really enjoyed the course and I'd recommend it.  I'd played pretty well and the shoulder hadn't played up at all.
I'd played Fereneze a couple of days after the Spring Equinox so it was officially Spring.  It was unseasonably cold on 21 March 2013, with a strong Easterly wind blowing in cold air from Eastern Europe.  I mention this because the next day I'd got roped into playing in a pairs competition at Leven GC, an old Championship-standard links course on the Fife coast.  The air temperature that day was a heady 1 Degree C, but with the windchill added in, it felt more like -10C at best.  I'd taken the precaution of wearing 3 layers of thermal clothing plus my wet suit and 2 woolly hats but was still freezing cold all the way round.  A near 5 hour round was pretty tiring in those conditions.  I'd packed some energy bars, but they were quickly frozen solid.  Leven is completely exposed to an Easterly wind and can be a stern test for handicap golfers at the best of times. I did well to break 100, without so much as a single par.  I can't remember ever playing in colder conditions, so roll on the real Spring, please!

Monday, 4 March 2013

Cochrane Castle GC - Course no 563

Cochrane Castle is an 18 hole parkland/moorland course in the small town of Johnstone, a few miles west of Glasgow.  I played the course on 4 March 2013 on a cool dry and cloudy early Spring day.  The rains of recent months have finally relented and the sunny weather of the past 2 weeks has helped our parkland courses to dry out.  Accordingly, Cochrane Castle was in pretty good condition for this time of year.  I'd been expecting some temporary greens to be in operation, but the full course was open for play, with the normal greens being remarkably flat, if very slow paced.  Frosts are still a risk, so understandably, the greens hadn't been cut particularly close.  It's also quite normal to play off Winter mats at this time of year, so it was no surprise to see mats in operation.  What was really unusual was that apart from on the 14th where the Medal tee is being rebuilt, all of the mats were at the very back of the Medal tees, meaning that Cochrane Castle played to its full Medal tee length of 6194 Yards, Par 71.  This is a view of the clubhouse from the 1st tee.
The first thing I noticed about Cochrane Castle was that it was alarmingly hilly, so I was glad that I'd only put a half set of clubs in my bag.  The downside of this strategy was that I was sometimes caught between clubs for particular shots!  For example, the 1st is a 166 Yard steeply uphill Par 3, played to a small green cut into the side of the hill.  This hole is named after the redoubtable Barclay Howard, winner of the Silver Medal  awarded to the leading amateur in the 1997 Open Championship at Royal Troon.  Tragically, Barclay died of cancer shortly after that triumph.  This is a view from above the green looking back down to the tee.  Ideally, I'd have gone with my 23 Degree Rescue, but the hole played to something like 180 Yards so 3 Wood it had to be.  I'd not swung a club for a couple of weeks after a steroid injection in an injured shoulder and some physio work, so an easy swing and a couple of putts for an opening par was very reassuring.  No pain!
The 2nd was only 327 Yards, but from the very back of the Medal tee the fairway looked pretty narrow and the second shot was semi-blind uphill.  Another good drive and my 27 Degree Rescue just wide of the green set up another encouraging par.  At 455 Yards, the 3rd is the shortest of four Par 5s on the course.  Another straight drive set up a 3 Wood shot towards the green.  I'd not bought a stroke saver, so didn't know that a stream cut across the fairway at the bottom of a steep hill, around 90 yards out from the green.  This hazard isn't visible from the fairway so finding that with my second led to a disappointing double bogey 7.  The 4th is a tricky long Par 4, this time involving a blind second shot (a 3 Wood for me).  I missed the green short and left, so another bogey on the card.  The Par 5 5th is 493 Yards, but plays far longer as the last 150 yards or so are steeply uphill.  I'd gone too far left with my second and took another bogey.
The 6th is a 156 Yard steeply downhill Par 3, played to a small green well defended by bunkers.  I imagine this is a difficult enough hole for members, but for me as a first time visitor, it was very difficult indeed.  From the back of the Medal tee I could just about see the top of the flag, so there was a lot of sky to aim at.  I trusted my 27 Degree Rescue and finished pin high 20 feet left of the hole, for an easy par.  The 7th is a mere 330 Yards, but is steeply uphill.  I nailed a Driver and 3 Wood (!) to set up a good par.  The 8th runs parallel to the the 7th and is a great hole, at 554 Yards from the Medal tee, all steeply downhill.  Have a good look at the 8th fairway on your way up the 7th, since you won't see any of it from the 8th Medal tee.  Thankfully, there's tons of space, but this is one of the most daunting and exciting drives on the course.  I took driver for my second and an easy 7 iron for my third set up an easy par.  This is the 9th, a gently downhill 210 Yard Par 3.  A poor bogey there and I was out in 41, loving the course and just hoping that the Back 9 would be flatter!

The Back 9 is indeed an easier walk, with the uphill 10th providing the last real climb.  Holes 11-12 are pretty flat and relatively short Par 4s.  The remaining holes are on the other side of the car park beyond the clubhouse, but the signage is good so you won't get lost!  The slightly downhill 13th  is a 347 Yard Par 4 that's easy enough if you get your drive away and find the right side of the fairway.  The 14th is a slightly downhill Par 3 playing to around 150 Yards due to works to the Medal tee.  I scrambled another par after missing the green to the left.   Most of the fairways were pretty dry, but holes 13-18 are lower than the rest of the course so there was no run to speak of.  This meant that these holes played longer than I'd expected.  For example, the Par 5 16th was 483 yards playing more like 520 into a strengthening wind and I needed a good single putt from 10 feet to rescue the par.  This is the 17th, an uphill 162 Yard Par 3, playing more like 175.  My 27 Degree Rescue wouldn't reach, so it was the 3 Wood again.  You know that feeling when you've hit a really good shot that's going to be close?  I'd hit to within 6 feet right behind the hole, but I'd left myself a tricky downhill putt with a good 9 inches of break.  A birdie would have been nice, but an easy par was OK in the circumstances.
The last at Cochrane Castle (yet another closing hole unimaginatively named "Home") is a 400 Yard Par 4, as shown here.  I'd need a par to break 80 but it wasn't to be.  Another bogey and I'd gone round in 81, net 70 (1 under par net) with 29 putts, which I was really happy with after my recent shoulder problems and the fact that the course was playing to its longest.  Cochrane Castle is a good test from the back tees and I'd strongly recommend it.  It's quite a physical work out too, particularly on the Front 9.  A final piece of advice about Cochrane Castle GC - you'll probably need a sat nav to find it!