Sunday, 28 April 2013

Another Private Course - Course 572

Craig, Stu and I played an excellent parkland course in the Scottish Borders on 28 April 2013.  This course has 12 holes and measures 2990 Yards Par 44 from the only set of tees.  The owner has requested that we do not publicise either the name or exact location as he wishes to preserve the privacy of his country estate, so out of respect for his wishes, I'll refer to the course simply as "Another Private Course."

This course has 12 separate tees, playing to 6 greens.  One of the greens is played 3 times and one is only played once.  Apart from that, each green is played twice from different angles. A large pond comes into play on Holes 4, 5, 8 and 9 and tall trees are a particular feature on Holes 3, 8 and 12.  However, there's absolutely no rough on the course (I suppose that if you have your own personal course you can set it up to your own preferences!) so there's tons of room on most holes, even for Stu's occasionally wayward drives.   For example, the 1st fairway is at least 300 yards wide and the hole itself is only 295 yards long.  The Par 4 334 Yard 3rd hole is awkward, since we all played our drives towards the wrong green.  That mistake cost me a double bogey after I stymied myself amongst trees that shouldn't have come into play.  This is the 5th Hole, an excellent 170 Yard Par 3.  You need to avoid the pond, 3 greenside bunkers and the OOB behind the green.  I found one of the bunkers, had an awful lie and dropped a shot as a result.
The weather had been the usual April mixture of sun and heavy showers and a swirling wind that made club selection difficult. We'd driven through some pretty meaty showers en route and it looked as though we might get a good soaking somewhere during our round.  The longest hole on the course is the 5th, a 480 Yard Par 5 that we played directly into a really nasty shower that we could really have done without, hence my bogey 6.  That was also the Stroke Index 1 hole so maybe that dropped shot wasn't too surprising.  We all thought that the 131 Yard Par 3 8th was the prettiest and best hole on the course, played between mature trees and (hopefully) over the pond, as shown here.  I hit a very easy 8 iron just short of the green and foolishly opted to putt over a few feet of short fringe grass, hence my bogey 4.  A chip would have been far easier and would probably have saved me a shot.

This is the 9th, a 117 Yard Par 3, with the next shower closing on us fast in the background.  I needed a punched 7 iron to reach the green, but managed an easy enough par.  I finished with a disappointing bogey on the 255 Yard Par 4 12th after fluffing a greenside chip into a bunker, the worst shot I've played in a good few weeks, so not a good way to finish.  I went round in a poor 55, or 46.7 net, after deducting 2/3rds of my 11 stroke handicap, with 19 putts.  The course is pretty compact and like the similarly excellent Tower of Lethendy course in Perthshire, wouldn't be very practical if a large number of players were on the course at the same time.  However, we guess that the course is lightly played and that player safety on this 6 green/12 hole course isn't an issue.
Thanks again to the owner for allowing us to play here and to his very generous donation to Cancer Research UK.  We'd really enjoyed playing the course and his generous hospitality.  Now if only one of us could win the National Lottery.....
Finally, this is me on the bridge to the 4th green, dressed ready for the next approaching shower.    This was the first round that all 3 of us have played together this year and the next will probably be our 10 June trip to play the Lighthouse Keeper's Course on Fair Isle, surely the most remote course in Scotland.  Happy days! 

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Hoddom Castle Golf Course - Course no 571

I played at Hoddom Castle on 23 April 2013 after my round at the nearby Pines Golf Centre in Dumfries.  The original castle dates back to the 1560s (see for details), but the key point for my blogging purposes is that the castle grounds now contain an excellent 9 Hole golf course in addition to a large caravan park and related tourism facilities.  This is a flat easy walking parkland course that has been cleverly laid out between the castle and the slowly meandering River Annan.  Some other courses attached to caravan parks that I've played in the course of my travels around Scotland have been less than outstanding in terms of design and upkeep and offer little of a golfing challenge.  This course is different, in that it was in superb condition and had a some really tricky holes. This course was great fun to play - just pay £13 at the reception desk for the caravan park located in the main castle building. 
Whoever designed it clearly had a devilish sense of humour, bringing some seriously old estate trees into play and making the greens so small that only a really accurate shot will do.  For example, this is the view from the 1st tee.  This opening Par 4 is only 217 yards, but is dominated by an old oak tree and the small green is raised 3 feet above the fairway.  I hit the tree and I opened with a bogey.  The 2nd hole is a 258 Yard Par 4, slight dog leg left to right.  Hit a reasonable drive and it's only a short pitch to  a small fast running green sloping wickedly from front left to back right. 

The 3rd is a 147 Yard Par 3 with a narrow long green, as shown here.  I hit an easy 6 iron to 10 feet and holed the putt for my only birdie in the 27 holes I played that day.  The plateau green looks pretty small from the tee - and you'll get a good view of it coming off the 2nd green. Being a low lying parkland course, the fairways were quite lush and slow, so there was little run.  Accordingly, I was surprised to see that the 4th, all 237 Yards of it, was a Par 3, since I imagine that most players wouldn't be able to reach the green.  I certainly fell a few yards short and took a bogey, despite a good pitch to 4 feet. 

The 5th Hole is really tricky.  It's only a 301 Yard Par 4, but the river runs all the way down the right of the hole and anything left, such as my tee shot, will be completely blocked out by more trees, as shown here.   The river runs immediately behind and to the right of the green, so I chipped to the right of the trees, pitched to within 10 feet and holed out for a very dodgy par.  More trees come into play on the 6th, a 283 Yard Par 4, with OOB all the way down the right and trees blocking the fairway on the left, such that a draw played over the OOB fence is the "easiest" shot.  I was happy enough with a bogey on such a difficult hole. 
Next comes an innocent looking 255 Yard Par 4.  The fairway is wide and the drive is easy enough, but the 2-tier shallow green slopes severely and is set at an awkward angle, as shown here.  It would be easy to 3-putt this green from no great distance, so I was happy enough with another par.  The 8th is a 379 yard slightly uphill Par 4 that plays longer than it looks and I dropped a shot after missing the green with my 3 Wood(!) second.  The closing hole is an easy 244 Yard Par 4 but you must steer well away from the big tree that blocks the right side of the fairway.
I went round in 37 gross, 3 over par, or 31.5 net, compared to the par of 34, with 16 putts.  Hoddom Castle is a joy to play.  I would have gone round again, but I'd a 90+ miles drive home. 

Pines Golf Centre - Course no 570

The Pines Golf Centre consists primarily of an 18 Hole course and a driving range and is on the northern outskirts of Dumfries.  The course is a modest 5271 Yards, Par 68 and is a mixture of parkland and heathland, with water coming into play on several of the holes, either as streams or ponds.  However, when I played here on 23 April 2013 a number of the fairways also had casual water, making parts of the course a pretty soggy experience.  Given the recent mainly dry weather, I guess that lower lying this course must get really boggy over Winter months and when I played it, the course was clearly not at its best.  The course layout is reasonable enough, but I found the quality and quantity of signage disappointing.  For example, the absence of direction poles on particular blind holes made playing these holes frustrating.  Throw in some areas that are clearly ground under repair that are not marked as such e.g. old bunkers with either overgrown weeds/large stones.  When my ball landed on bare earth covering an old bunker on the 11th fairway, it would have been helpful to know that the workings would not take my 185 pounds weight, before I sank up to both ankles in sandy mud.  Equally, most of the hole signage on the tees is temporary following a rerouting of the course, but it's really not good when you play the Front 9 holes in proper sequence,  you find that 2 holes later you're invited to play another hole that is clearly labelled as the 9th (the stick on the temporary sign for the 11th had blown off). 
The Pines course starts with a couple of unremarkable Par 4s in a heathland section of the course, with the very soggy fairways loosely lined with birch and pine trees.  A stream running down the left side of the 3rd fairway will get your attention, as will the proximity of the adjacent driving range.  I'd hit a good long drive into a clearly empty part of the fairway, but by the time I got there, another 2 balls had arrived from the driving range.  The Par 4 4th is probably the trickiest hole on the Front 9.  The fairway looks pretty wide, but the hole is only 335 Yards and the fairway narrows at around 200 yards before dipping steeply downhill to the green, protected by a stream to the right.  A 3 Wood played short of the narrowing of the fairway will leave you with a blind second, so you either accept that or take your Driver for a very straight drive. If like me you've hooked your ball a bare 220 yards, you'll be left with a semi-blind shot over trees.  I rescued par with a decent putt.   I'd reached the turn in 39 in little over an hour and by then had written off the course as one that I'd be unlikely to revisit.
The 11th might be a good Par 5 if there was a direction marker to give visitors a clue about where the fairway might be.  The aforementioned old bunker on the 11th turned out to be a reasonable enough line, but a warning notice about the underlying mud would have helped my humour.  Equally, I really didn't think much of the safety aspects of playing the 14th.  This is a 338 Yard Par 4 with a blind tee shot over a steeply side sloping hill.  A long sliced drive will take your ball perilously close to anyone near the 11th tee.  A marker pole would at least give you a clue where to aim at.  I hit a reasonably good drive but was left with another blind shot of around 140 yards with the ball a good 6 inches below my feet to a small green protected by a muddy litter strewn pond that had clearly seen better days.  This is a view of the green from where I put my prudent 60 yard second shot, a wimpy layup.  I got my bogey and walked on.
Next was the 15th, a 307 Yard Par 4.  The drive is steeply uphill avoiding a couple of overgrown and abandoned bunkers that should either be marked as ground under repair, repaired or removed completely.  The fairway slopes very steeply downhill some 20 yards beyond those bunkers, as shown here, but you'll need to walk forward to check that there's no-one near the green before playing your second.  I didn't see a bell that those finishing the hole might use as an "all-clear" to those behind them.  The dog leg 16th is a good driving hole (as shown in the background of this photo) and the 17th is an enjoyable 307 Yard Par 4.
Last comes another heathland hole, the 149 Yard Par 3 18th, as shown here.  A scruffy looking pond comes into play to the left of the green and miss the  green at your peril.  I hit an easy 27 Degree Rescue to 20 feet but missed the putt.  I finished with a gross 78, net 67 or 1 under net par.  I'd taken 30 putts on greens that were easily the best aspect of the Pines course.  I also finished in 2 hours 20 minutes, without changing my mind about the course.  There are some really excellent courses in the Dumfries area, but I'm afraid that this isn't one of them.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Cawder GC, Cawder Course - Course no 569

Cawder GC lies on the outskirts of Bishopbriggs, a small town just North of Glasgow.  The club has 2 fine 18 Hole courses, the Keir and the Cawder, both designed by James Braid, the renowned Scottish course designer and the first man to win the Open Championship 5 times.  I'd played the Keir Course (a largely flat parkland course) a few years ago and liked it at the time, so I was really looking forward to playing the more demanding and longer Cawder Course.  19 April 2013 was a fine warm and dry Spring day with little wind and a perfect day for golf, so I sought out a quality course after my recent travels around some relatively modest courses in less than prime condition.  Cawder GC as a whole oozes quality, as you'll immediately see when taking the long sweeping driveway through the course to the A Listed 17th Century mansion house, designed by Robert Adam, that is now the Club's impressive clubhouse.

The Cawder Course is 6090 Yards, Par 70 off the Yellow Tees and is a mixture of parkland over its lower holes and heathland in some of its more elevated parts.   The greens looked great and were fast and smooth running and although there were still a few wet patches on some of the fairways, the course was in far better condition than I've seen at other West of Scotland courses so far this year.  The course starts with a short Par 4, with your tee shot played blind over a small hill.  Hit it straight and there's only a short iron to a narrow green well-defended by 4 formidable bunkers.  The driveway to the clubhouse runs to the left of the fairway and in front of the green so take care, even after you've checked for passing traffic.  I found one of the deep greenside bunkers with my second and escaped with a bogey.  The 415 Yard Par 4 2nd Hole is even more tricky and calls for a long and very straight drive between bushes to your left and a stream to your right.  The driveway also comes into play for your second shot.  The 2nd fairway was pretty damp, so with little run I was still short in 2.  Another bogey was reasonable enough. 
The 3rd is a 408 Yard Par 4 and the 3rd tee is where the fun really starts and the course starts to show its teeth.  This is a view from the tee.  It's a 224 Yard carry to reach the top half of the fairway and get a good look at the green.  Anything too far right will catch a severe downslope that runs the length of the hole, so favour the left side of the fairway if you can.  There are no bunkers on this hole, but it's still Stroke Index 2, so be warned.  Another bogey and I was beginning to wonder whether my recent run of decent play was about to grind to a halt.  The 4th was slightly downhill and at 382 Yards, gave me my first par, even if I did need a single putt from under a yard after a good pitch and run from just off the green.
The 5th is slightly uphill (and very blind) to begin with but you should clear a couple of fairway bunkers easily enough if you're slightly wayward off the tee.  However, your second shot needs to avoid a cavernous bunker that protects the right side of the green.  I'd hit a poor second and needed a Mickelson-style lob wedge over the bunker.  A couple of putts later and another bogey.  Four over after 5 holes wasn't the start I was looking for.  The 6th is the first of the 4 Par 3s, at 160 Yards and slightly uphill.  An easy enough par there.  The 7th is probably the prettiest of the front 9 holes, and at 490 Yards, is the first of the 3 Par 5s.  This is a view of the green, with the 8th green in the far background.  I had another easy par at the 7th and scrambled a par at the 133 Yard Par 3 8th, so maybe my final score might be not bad after all. 
The 9th is an uphill sharp left dog leg Par 4 and at 364 Yards is rated Stroke Index 3.  James Braid is credited with creating the fashion for dog leg holes in course design and this is a fine example of his work.  The drive needs to be precisely aimed at a large chestnut tree and if you do that and find the middle of the fairway, you'll be near to a 150 yard marker.  I've been hitting the ball pretty straight of late, but as this photo shows, I hit a really good drive on the 9th!   If only I could be that accurate all the time, though.  The second shot plays a lot longer than 150 Yards, so I was happy enough to scramble a par with a decent single putt from 10 feet.  I was out in 39 with 15 putts.  Not bad.
The 10th is a downhill 346 Yard Par 4 and should be easy enough if you hit even a reasonable drive.  I hit my worst shot of the round, leaving myself 152 Yards to the middle of the green, as shown here.  I tried a low punch with a 6 iron, hit the Silver Birch and had to settle for another bogey.  The next 2 holes are both Par 5s, the first uphill, the next downhill.  The 11th is pretty easy if you can avoid more deep greenside bunkering.  The 2nd shot on the 12th is tricky, since you need to avoid going too far right, where a deep gully lurks, ready to swallow anything wayward.  I'd only an easy 9 iron to the green after 2 decent strikes and after putting that 3rd shot to within 6 feet, my single putt gave me my sole birdie of the day.  I was 4 over par after 11, but  the last 6 holes on the Cawder Course are simply great fun and hugely difficult in their own ways, so the rest of the round was pretty challenging. Overall, this is as good a run of 6 holes as you'd wish to find - anywhere.
For starters, this is the 13th, a tight little 138 Yard Par 3, set amongst mature trees and rhododendron bushes and must be an absolute picture when the rhoddies are in full bloom.  Four deep bunkers also come into play around the front of the green.  Hit and hold the green with your tee shot or risk running up a really big score.  There was hardly any wind but I can just imagine how scary this hole might be on a windy day! I hit my 27 Degree Rescue to the front of the green and had something like a 50 foot putt, easily into 3-putt territory.  I still had 12 feet or so left after under-hitting my slightly uphill first putt, so a par there was really good in the circumstances.
More bushes and trees mean you don't really see the 14th until you get to the tee, but what a great hole this one is, all 445 Yards of it.  This is the Stroke Index 1 Hole on the Cawder Course and one of the most awkward Par 4s you'll ever play.  From the seriously elevated tee your drive needs to clear the big tree to the left of the fairway to give you any chance of reaching the green in regulation.  Get that drive right, and you'll have about a 160 yard shot to clear the pond that cuts across the fairway, some 60 yards short of the green itself.  This pond also comes into play if you tangle with the copse of trees to the right of the fairway with a wayward drive.  You might be glad to know that there are no bunkers around the green.  Make a mistake en route to the green and you'll probably have suffered enough anyway!
I'd hit a great drive and a good 3 Wood to within 40 yards of the green.  I'd also foolishly put my mobile in my pocket (my excuse is that most of my caddying bookings come by phone), although  mobiles are not allowed on most  courses. Sure enough, the phone rang just as I was lining up a pitch and run 9 iron.  My mate Graham phoning from Lanzarote to say hello.  By the time we'd finished talking about how hot it was in Lanzarote, the guy behind had caught up and with my concentration interrupted, I thinned my pitch through the green into light rough and ended up taking a double bogey.
This is the 15th, a left dog leg Par 4 with the pond that I'd avoided on the 14th again coming into play off the tee.  There are different Yellow Tees at 382 and 348 Yards and I played off the longer of the two.  The tee shot is tricky, as the fairway cambers slightly, throwing anything hit too close to the pond even closer.  The ideal shot is somewhere between the end of the white path and the right side of the bridge i.e. no more than 180 yards, leaving  a pretty meaty uphill shot to the plateau green (again, no greenside bunkers).  Hit your drive too far, i.e. anything beyond the right side of the bridge and you'll be blocked out by trees.  However, the dog leg nature of the hole makes it very difficult to judge how far you can safely hit your drive.  I went  at least 20 yards too far and escaped with a bogey after my second shot hit a tree and almost rebounded into the pond.
It's then a short climb up to the 16th tee and the last of the Par 3s.  This one is 144 Yards to a plateau green with severe bunkering and steep run offs that could take your ball into heavy rough (or unexplored jungle if you hook or overhit your tee shot).  Just hit the green and don't 3 putt is the best advice I can offer.  The bunker front left of the green is particularly nasty and with the hole positioned front left, my safety shot would have been to the right side of the green.  However, playing a new course for the first time can be a tough test of my course management skills and it's sometimes too tempting to go for the heroic shot.  In other words, I hit my ball through the green onto the fringe grass.  A few foot further would have been an almost certain lost ball, so I was happy enough to settle for a bogey.
The Par 4 17th is one of those awkward holes that you underestimate at your peril.  It's only 345 Yards, but your tee shot will be completely blind over a large hill.  Pause before hitting your second to get your breath back and be aware that your uphill second shot will be longer than you might expect.  You'll not get much of a view of the green either so check your distance carefully.  I only got my par after hitting a 9 iron chip to within a yard, after under-clubbing with my approach shot from the fairway.
And so to the closing hole, the signature hole for the Cawder Course.  This hole is simply outstanding and as fitting a closing Par 3 as you could wish for to end such a great course.  The hole is 202 Yards, steeply downhill, with the magnificent clubhouse in the background.  The green is circular and completely surrounded by 6 bunkers and the chances are you'll have an audience.  The top photo is from the Yellow Tee, the middle one is from the Medal Tee and the bottom one shows my ball, around 15 feet from the pin (I needed a 3 Wood, by the way!)
I got my par OK, giving me a 78 gross, net 67, with 29 putts.  Three under par net was pretty good.  This is a great course.  Not overly long, but full of interest and character and one which will test your game to the full.  It might also severely test your patience if you don't keep things straight and there's tons of trouble on some holes if you go offline.  Do yourself a favour and play this course if you can and ask someone to show you round the clubhouse afterwards.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Torrance Park GC - Course no 568

I played this excellent 18 Hole course on 11 April 2013.  Torrance Park GC is a relatively new course that opened only 4 years ago on a former brownfield site in the industrial town of Motherwell, to the South East of Glasgow.  There's no clubhouse as yet, and though plans are in place for a £1.2 million+ development, the initial impressions are pretty underwhelming.  Accordingly,  it was pretty impressive to learn that the club already has over 400 members, particularly since there are a quite a few other existing clubs and Council courses in the area.  So what makes Torrance Park so special?  Quite simply, the quality of the course design and construction.  This place will never win any awards for scenic beauty and a number of electricity pylons straddling the course and views of surrounding commercial developments and empty brownfield marshland don't help, but as my round progressed, these minor distractions became irrelevant.  This is a Dave Thomas design and at 5916 Yards, Par 71 is a course that seems set mature into a really good test.  Most of the fairways are pretty generous and with full USGA specification greens and a number of concealed hazards to contend with, the course is great fun to play.  11 April 2013 was a dull, cold and drizzly kind of day and like others in the area, the course was still some weeks short of being at its best. after a seemingly endless Winter.  I played very well, but even allowing for that "halo" effect, I thought this was a really good course.  It's not overly difficult if you hit the ball straight and avoid trouble that lurks unseen on particular holes, but miss a drive or find one of the many water hazards and you'll be punished.
Torrance Park is built on moorland that produces tight lies and in dry conditions such I experienced some of it plays almost like a links course.  The 1st is a good example, a 323 Yard Par 4.  Drive past the bunker on the left and the fairway runs downhill.  A deep bunker protects the left of the green, but the bigger hitters will drive this opener.  The 3rd is an easy looking 341 Yard Par 4, but an elevated green and another cavernous bunker mean your approach shot needs to be precise.  The 4th is called "Getting Wet" for reasons that will become apparent if you don't clear a stream crossing the fairway around 190 yards out from the tee and avoid a large pond to the right, further up the hole.  The 5th is a largely uphill 476 Yard Par 5 that played longer than it looked, as did the 6th, a 370 yarder.  From there, the rest of the course (bar the 18th) is on the other side of a quiet road that splits the course.  The first 6 holes were all good in their own way, but for me, the section over the road was even better.

This is the 8th, a really awkward right dog leg 350 Yard Par 4. There's not much room to aim at off the tee unless you can carry the water hazard that cuts into the corner of the dog leg.  Get that right and there's a huge bunker right in front of the green.  I hit a good drive a bit too far left and had 152 Yards to clear that bunker.  I'd only taken a half set in the bag, so it was either a big 7 or a 23 Degree Rescue.  This hole is only Stroke Index 13, but a lay up 9 iron and lob wedge to the green looked to be the safer option.  Maybe I was missing something, apart from the 6 iron I'd have used, had it been in the bag!

If anything, the 9th is even more challenging and at 432 Yards mostly uphill is rightly the Stroke Index 1 hole.  I hit a great drive and a good 3 Wood just short of the green, which slopes mainly uphill front to back, as shown here.  From there I fluffed a poor pitch and run, leading to a disappointing bogey.  Still, I was out in 40, only 4 over par.  The Back 9 is over 400 yards shorter than the first half of the course, and begins with a really good Par 5.  The 10th is only 481 Yards, but plays a lot longer, with the green being set slightly above above the fairway and protected by more deep bunkering.  I hit a good Driver, 3 wood and a punched 7 iron to the back of the green.  Fortunately, the hole was only 12 feet away, but I still had a fast running downhill putt.  I'd better mention the greens at this stage - far smoother running and faster than I'd experienced in my recent travels.  They'd been top-dressed recently but were a welcome relief after the lumpy porridge or rutted concrete of recent weeks. My putt looked straight and scarily fast and went in somewhat reluctantly on its final roll after I'd deliberately hit the ball off the toe of my putter to deaden the stroke (try this sometime on a really fast downhill putt).  A good birdie and the score was ticking along nicely.  The downhill 154 Yard Par 3 12th will get your attention - yet another deep bunker!  The 13th looks straightforward enough.  Hit your drive and its a rescue club of some kind up the hill to the green.  However, there's another huge bunker in front of the right side of the green, so run your ball in from the slope on the left of the green and try not to 3 putt.
This is the view from the 14th tee, the Stroke Index 18 Hole.  This short Par 4 is only 308 Yards, but the drive is quite tricky, as you need to carry a stream about 200 yards out and avoid a fairway bunker to the left of the fairway.  Do that, and its only a short wedge to the green.  I managed a 4 easily enough after just missing my birdie putt, but the guy playing behind me lost a lot of ground and at least one ball.  The 15th is another short Par 4, this time with a blind tee shot over a hill.  Come up short, as I did, and its a blind shot to the green, a lot longer than you'd like! It's just as well I can putt!
This is the 16th, a nice little 124 Yard Par 3.  This hole looks easy enough, but the green is severely sloped from the back and you really don't want to hit your tee shot above the hole.  I'd a comfortable 15 footer from below the hole, which I left uncomfortably short!  A par there and I was 6 over with 2 holes to go.  The 17th is a really good Par 5.  It's only 462 Yards, so get your drive away and there appears to be acres of space for your slightly downhill second.  Even if you're still 100 yards short in 2, your third shot will look invitingly simple.  However, Mr Thomas has been up to his tricks again, so there's another bunker tucked below your view to the green, ready to swallow anything under hit towards the left of the green.  I know, because one the pair of guys  in front spent a good few strokes digging his way out.  I scrambled a par after an unconvincing 3 Wood second shot left me with a full 9 iron (luckily I'd put that club in the bag!) 
The 18th is an innocent looking 176 Yard Par 3.  Hit 160 and the ball will run down a slope to the green.  Go too far right and a slope would run the ball right to left onto the green. That was the strategy anyway.  Luckily the flag was on the right side of the green, because the deepest bunker on the entire course protects the left side of the green as shown here.  My tee shot had gone 10 feet past the flag, so I'd a good chance for a closing birdie.  Did I suggest earlier that I could putt?  Still, a gross 77 net 66 was a great score in the circumstances and as I'd taken 34 putts, it could have been slightly better.  I was delighted to finish net 5 under par.
Torrance Park wasn't at its best and probably needed a few weeks of warm sun and the odd downpour.  I won't have time to play the course again this year, but I'd like to go back in a few years' time, maybe when the clubhouse is built and the course is more mature.  Play this place on a  sunny Summer's day and enjoy!

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Hollandbush GC - Course no 567

I finally played this course on 9 April 2013.  I say "finally" since Polly and I had entered the Hollandbush Mixed Foursomes Open in 2009.  It's 70 miles from our house to the course so with no phone call to advise us not to travel, we were surprised to find on our arrival that the course had been closed for some days due to flooding.  OK, maybe we should have phoned, but since we'd been monitoring the weather and hadn't seen any significant rainfall forecast for the local area, we didn't think to do so.  Hollandbush was also closed due to flooding when I paid it a visit on 2 July 2012, but at least I got a game at nearby Broadlees.  Hollandbush appeared to be playing hard to get.
The course is owned and operated by South Lanarkshire Council and is home to Hollandbush GC.  Our local authorities are under all sorts of financial pressures these days, but to its credit, the Council is obviously doing its best to maintain this course on a difficult moorland site and clearly cannot be held responsible for the weather. The weather in Central Scotland has been unseasonably cold and dry for several weeks (apart from the odd heavy blizzard), so I took the precaution of phoning before setting out on my third attempt to play this somewhat elusive course.  Hollandbush is an 18 hole moorland course just off the M74, around 20 miles South East of Glasgow.  The course is a modest 5552 Yards Par 70 off the Yellow Tees.  The full course was in play and the ground conditions were dry, but it had obviously suffered over the Winter and was not looking at its best.  The greens were slow, bumpy and almost as brown as the fairways (I spent some time colour-enhancing the photos I took when playing the course).  The greens had also been heavily scarified and sanded (for any readers who don't know, scarification is a linear aeration technique which removes organic thatch build up on the greens to get to the desired smooth playing surface. Thatch build up reduces water penetration and can also lock up nutrients in the soil as well as providing an ideal environment for weeds and disease).  Given a reasonably good Summer, Hollandbush would look and play better and to be fair, I've probably played it a bit too early in the golf season.  However, I do wonder how much optimal golf conditions the members get for their annual subscriptions. 
The Front 9 is by 500 yards the longer of the 2 parts and is considerably more difficult.  Indeed, the course starts with its longest hole, an awkward 479 Yard Par 5, as shown here, played downhill from the tee and steeply uphill to the green, with a couple of streams cutting across the fairway to add to the difficulty.  I managed a par after a short pitch to within 4 feet.  The Par 4 Stroke Index 1 Hole 4th is normally 339 Yards off the Yellow Tee, but when I played it, the Yellow Tee was located towards the front of the Medal Tee, extending the hole to around 430 Yards.  I fluffed a short iron approach to the green and had a double bogey on my way to an outward 42.  The most interesting hole on the Front 9 is probably the 5th, a 319 Yard Par 4.  A stream cutting across the fairway adds pressure to the tee shot and your second will be completely blind up a steep hill.
However, I thought the back 9 was more interesting overall.  I'm not a great fan of blind Par 3s, so I didn't think much of the 10th, an almost completely blind 189 Yard Par 3 (and I didn't like the 6th either, for the same reason).  The 11th is a good 327 Yard Par 4 with a steeply side sloping fairway and in my case at least, a blind fairway shot to the narrow green.  I secured an unlikely par after a poor hooked drive with a 10 foot single putt (my longest of the day!)  The 12th is where the fun really starts at Hollandbush.  This is a left dog leg 330 Yard Par 4 played from an elevated tee over or around some tall trees, as shown here, with a lateral water hazard coming into play for anyone tempted to take the direct route to the left of the biggest tree.  The carry to that biggest tree is only 180 yards or so and the green itself is small, so a tricky hole if you don't hit a couple of good shots.

This is the 13th, a 160 Yard Par 3 played from an elevated tee.  I'd come up just short of the left bunker, but a good lob wedge to within a foot set up an easy enough par.  The 14th is a short 245 Yard Par 4.  A down slope around 190 yards out from the tee will carry your ball almost to the green, bringing a couple of bunkers into play.  I'd just missed the left side of the green and had a simple pitch to leave myself a 6 foot birdie putt.  The greens were really tricky to putt on, so my slightly under hit putt just staggered into the hole on its last vapours. 
By that time I'd caught up with a couple of guys who'd started 4 holes ahead of me and they kindly stood aside to let me play through on the 15th after they'd lost a ball from the tee.  The Par 4 15th, as shown here, is only 268 Yards, but is by far the most difficult tee shot on the course, so not where you'd really choose to be waived through.  The ideal line is just to the right of the small yellow/green fir tree in the centre of the photo, to leave a short pitch to the green.  I hit my best drive  and possibly my worst short pitch of the day, but a couple of putts and a "Thanks Guys" later and I was on my way to the 16th.  This plays as a 350 Yard Par 4 from the Yellow Tee and a 490 Yard Par 5 from the Medal Tee, with a blind tee shot over a hill and the green set high at the top of another steep hill and a couple of streams to avoid.  I was happy enough with a bogey as it could have been worse.
This is the 17th, a 246 Yard Par 4, played from an elevated tee over a stream that doesn't really come into play unless you've  hit a really bad one.  It's the second stream you'll need to think about!  I'd hit a decent drive to the left of the fairway and tried a lob wedge over the left bunker.  This was slightly under hit and I needed a good bunker shot and single putt from 3 feet to avoid a bogey.  I'm not sure what to make of the last hole, a 411 Yard Par 4.  With a stiff wind in my face, there was no way I could carry the stream that cuts across the fairway, far less climb the hill that would give me a look at the green.  At best, this hole was playing as a Par 5.  I decided to play 3 Wood short of the stream, 23 Degree Rescue blind up the hill and hope to find the green from there.  However, I'd a really bad lie for my third shot and scored a disappointing double bogey.

I'd gone round in 80, net 69,1 under  par net, with 29 Putts.  I'd enjoyed the Back 9 and played pretty well overall, but I doubt I'd want to play Hollandbush again.  It's not a bad track overall, but check the weather and phone ahead if you fancy a game here.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Colville Park GC - Course no - 566

I played this 18 hole parkland course on 4 April 2013.  Colville Park GC is in Motherwell, a large industrial town South East of Glasgow, and forms part of a former country estate gifted to the local community by the Colvilles, a family once locally prominent in steel manufacturing and the course was extended from 9 to 18 holes in 1925 following a design by the famous course architect, James Braid.  The course is 6011 Yards Par 71 off the Yellow Tees  and is split into 3 separate sections.  The first 5 holes are slightly lower than holes 6-8 (the road to the clubhouse separating these sections) with holes 9-18 spread out over higher land on the other side of a disused railway line.
This was my third visit to Colville Park  the course being partially or completely closed due to flooding on the 2 previous occasions.  Serves me right for not phoning ahead to check, but since I managed to get a game at other local courses that were open, I'd wondered whether Colville Park had particular drainage problems.  There'd been no serious rain in the area for several weeks and with drying winds, so I was hopeful that I'd finally get to play Colville Park.  The course was pretty dry underfoot, but there were clear signs, particularly on the lower first 5 holes, that like a number of other West of Scotland courses, it had suffered from flooding over the Winter.  The full greens were all in play, but were very soft and heavily sanded, making them slow, bumpy and inconsistent.  I suspect that this course is far better during a dry Summer.  The layout is pretty good but I certainly didn't see Colville Park at its best. 
Anyway, the course starts with a downhill 192 Yard Par 3.  Three ladies had just teed off in front of me and immediately let me play through.  With no time to warm up, my 23 Degree Rescue drive went short left into a soggy lie and my chip from there was still just short of the green, a 2-tier affair with some seriously awkward looking slopes.  My downhill putt from the fringe was around 20 feet, with a 3 foot break from the left.  I holed this putt dead centre, thanked the ladies again and sauntered off as though my par was no surprise.  Little did they know.
The 3rd is the Stroke Index 1 hole, a tree-lined 415 yard Par 4.  I'd hit my drive slightly left into an area that was still pretty soggy, so I was left with a long slightly uphill second.  I was still short in 2 so a bogey was OK.  The 4th is a 150 Yard Par 3, slightly downhill and well protected by front bunkering.  My tee shot went just through the back into light rough, but a good lob wedge to within a foot (honest!) was enough to secure the par.  This is a view of the 6th green.  The Par 4 6th is only 303 Yards, but the fairway is seriously narrow after around 200 Yards.  I'd split the fairway with my driver and had only a short sand iron to the 2 tiered green.  A good little hole requiring accuracy rather than power. 
The 7th is another  good hole, this time a slightly downhill 356 Yard Par 4 and a chance to really let rip with your driver from an elevated tee.  You'll also need more power on the 8th, a slightly uphill 528 Yard Par 5.  Maybe the fairway is tightened once there's more growth on the course but I thought this hole was spoiled by the overly-generous width of the fairway when I played it.   This is a view of the 8th green.  From there, you turn right and cross a bridge over the disused railway - not the most scenic part of the course.  The 9th is a tricky  376 Yard Par 4.  There's ample room for your drive, but the green is small and runs off front, left and back, with bunkering protecting the right side to make you think twice about running your second in off the slope to the right of the green.  Again, accuracy rather than power is needed.
This is a view of the 10th green, looking back to the tee.  This is a steeply uphill 176 Yard Par 3.  The Yellow Tee had been moved forward to the Ladies Tee due to maintenance work, so the hole was 153 Yards to the flag, uphill.  I'm not sure why I tried to hit an 8 iron, but an awful swing generating a low hook found the very left side of the green.  A yard further left and I'd have been in deep trouble, since that side of the green slopes down into  heavy rough and trees.  I had a 30+ foot putt on a heavily sanded soft green, 2 cupfuls from the left.  there were no witnesses to my unlikely birdie so you'll have to take my word for it.  Equally, I confess to bogeys at the next couple of holes!
The 13th is the second of 2 successive Par 5s, at 477 yards, slightly uphill. I found a fairway bunker off the tee, but this was so shallow I played a 3 Wood (!) to within an easy wedge distance from the green.  I'd expected to see a more severe hazard, as I've seen more difficult lies on links fairways at other courses.  This is the 15th, a good risk and reward hole.  This Par 4 is only 253 Yards, so is drivable for some.  The plateau green is certainly tempting from the tee, but a deep gully guards the front right of the green and good bunkering adds to the difficulty.  For me, a lay up with my 3 Wood was the prudent option, followed by an easy pitch and a couple of putts for par on the Stroke Index 18 hole.
The 16th is another good hole, a slightly downhill 432 Yard Par that's easily reachable in 2 shots.  However, the fairway slopes left to right and as I found out, the bunker front right of the green is a more realistic test.  I played a good bunker shot (new sand, soft lie) but was still 25 feet short.  Bogey was disappointing as I was playing quite well.  The downhill 17th, a 153 Yard Par 3, looked to have suffered badly with flooding in recent months and drainage looks to be a continuing problem.  I missed the green short and left leading to another bogey, taking me to 6 over par.  The 18th is a short slightly uphill 283 Yard Par 4, as shown here.  I'd only a short sand iron pitch to the green but underhit it slightly, leaving myself just short of the green.  A scrambled par from there and I'd gone round in 77 gross, net 66 (net 5 under par) with 29 putts.  Not bad at all. I'm playing in a season-opening Caddies Tournament at my own course on 6 April, so reality will doubtless return.
I'd not seen Colville Park at its best.  It's a good enough layout, but I do wonder how many weeks a year its members enjoy optimal conditions.  Its not the most scenic course either and on balance I don't think I'd want to play it again, even in optimal conditions, given the variety of other decent courses in the area.


Monday, 1 April 2013

Mount Ellen GC - Course no 565

I played this moderately hilly 18 hole parkland course on the Eastern outskirts of Glasgow on 1 April 2013.  Mount Ellen is a modest 5115 Yards Par 68 off the Yellow Tees.  Paul, one of the members at my own club (Glen GC) who lives close to Mount Ellen had (I suspect rather uncharitably) described it to me as "prone to flooding and still a bit of a bog at the best of times."  I played it after a reasonably dry and cold spell of weather, with some snow still lying in bunkers and in other hollows.  There were certainly some soft areas where the course had clearly been boggy during the Winter, but it was in pretty good condition, on a par with other courses that I've played this year in the West of Scotland, where rainfall is typically far higher than in the East of the country.
Mount Ellen has no Par 5s and only 3 Par 4s over 400 Yards, with 5 of the 14 Par 4s being well under 300 yards.  The longest  Yellow Tee Par 4s, numbers 1 and 16, are quite difficult and the steeply uphill 228 Yard Par 3 12th isn't reachable by most players, but generally, the course is short.  The 1st is a 407 Yard Par 4, gently downhill and normally also downwind.  A stiff and bitterly cold Easterly wind meant that the hole was playing longer than it looked, so an opening bogey was OK.  1 April was a public holiday, so I was playing behind a solid procession of 3 and 4 balls, waiting around in the cold wind to play every tee and fairway shot.  The course is also compact with little walking between greens and the next tees, so a 4 hour round was disappointingly slow, with the wind chill taking the effective temperature down to near 0 Degrees C.  I managed a comfortable first par on the 2nd, a good hole with OOB to the left and a water hazard to add to the difficulty.  The uphill 3rd, as shown here, is a ridiculously short 235 Yard Par 4. This hole is 273 Yards from the Medal tee, but is almost drivable from the Yellow Tee.  I'd not really warmed up yet and after getting even colder waiting for nearly 10 minutes on the tee I duffed my drive 150 yards or so and took another bogey.
The 4th, at only 273 Yards, is also almost drivable, but the flagstick was tucked away behind a bunker, so a par was the best I could do there.  The next 3 holes are also short Par 4s, requiring little more than a driver and short iron or wedge.  The 7th is a formidable 436 Yards from the Medal tee but is only 331 Yards from the Yellow Tee.  Nevertheless, this hole will get your attention, being the Stroke Index 1 hole, as the green is small and tricky to hold.  The fairway also slopes steeply from right to left, so you're unlikely to have an easy stance for your second shot.  The first of the 4 Par 3s is at the 8th (7 successive Par 4s is too long a run in my view!) and is a pretty easy 163 Yard hole.  The 9th is a tricky 257 Yard Par 4, steeply uphill to a green shared with the 12th.  Your approach shot might be semi-blind so take care, as you might not see anyone putting out on the 12th unless you've hit a really good drive.  I was out in 40, 5 over par.  The Back 9 at Mount Ellen starts with 3 successive Par 3s.  This is the 10th, a steeply downhill 144 Yarder.  The stream running behind and to the left of the green urges caution. There's a large fairway bunker 100 yards or so out from the tee.  Clear that and you'd expect your ball to run down onto the green, but the grass beyond the bunker is longer than you'd expect, meaning you've really got to fly the ball just short of or onto the green, bringing the stream more into play.  Clever course presentation!   Ideally, I'd have played an 8 iron, but I was only carrying a half set and my 9 iron tee shot didn't run all the way down to the green, costing me a bogey.
This is the 11th and by far the best of the Par 3s, at 139 Yards.  This also one of the flattest holes, made difficult by the stream which meanders its way in front of the tee and along the left side of the hole (note the lingering snow!)  I'd hit an easy 7 iron pin high just off the green.  I managed to hit a short pitch with my lob wedge to within a foot, so that was another easy par on the card.  The last of the Par 3s is as I've said 228 yards uphill.  I'd hit a good drive but was still 15 yards short, so that cost me a bogey.  Conversely, the 284 Yard Par 4 14th is just about drivable, even for me.  I'd aimed slightly too far right, leaving myself blocked out by some birch trees - left of centre is the better line - so had to settle for a par.  The 277 Yard Par 4 15th is also quite easy, but you need to score well on these short holes as the closing 3 holes are more testing. 
The 16th is a 408 Yard Par 4 requiring a very straight and long drive avoiding OOB on the left and a water hazard on the right.  I cleared the hazard by inches, didn't have much of a stance and could only move it forward 100 yards or so.  I still needed a 6 iron for my 3rd shot, but since this club was at home in the garage, my hard 7 ended up short, costing me a double bogey.  The 17th is probably the best hole at Mount Ellen, a downhill 350 Yard Par 4.  Split the fairway beyond the bunkers either side and it's an 8 or 9 iron over a stream to the green, as shown here. The wind was tugging my ball left and sure enough I ended up in the greenside bunker, en route to another bogey. 
The last hole is 389 Yards, uphill.  My 8 iron was also at home so I tried an easy punched 7, not realising there was a 2 foot wide water hazard in front of the green.  If only I could be that accurate all the time!  A closing bogey was slightly disappointing, but I'd gone round in 79 gross, net 68 or even net par, with 31 putts on greens that were far too slow and soft for my liking.  However, I still enjoyed the course, despite the funereal pace of play and the bitingly cold wind.  This is a course that's worth playing if you're in the area.  Not a great test, but a decent enough track if you get it in reasonably dry conditions.